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I don’t mind where they bury Richard III; but having been denied Christian burial by Henry Tudor, he must now be given a Catholic funeral Mass

To bury England’s last Plantagenet King, a man of considerable piety, as though he had been a Protestant would be an utterly offensive act

By on Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Richard III Society member Philippa Langley stands beside a facial reconstruction of the king (Photo: PA)

Richard III Society member Philippa Langley stands beside a facial reconstruction of the king (Photo: PA)

I am finding that, though yesterday’s disastrous vote on gay “marriage” is obviously of more contemporary relevance, I am today more fascinated and stirred by another story entirely: the fact that scientists at the University of Leicester (as it happens an alma mater of mine) have stated that beyond any reasonable doubt the skeleton recently found there is indeed that of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England. Based on the skull, a facial reconstruction has now been made; it’s very like the famous portrait, but better looking. Our idea of him is, of course, now probably beyond recall, formed by Shakespeare’s evil monster, the supposed murderer of the princes in the tower. But Shakespeare’s version was based on Tudor propaganda, that is, on Holinshed, whose account is in turn based on the narrative cooked up by one John Morton, who was, wait for it, Henry Tudor’s Archbishop of Canterbury, an open enemy of Richard III who conspired against him and spent some time in captivity in Brecknock Castle: he was released and promoted by Henry VII. Richard almost certainly did not murder the princes (there was no contemporary accusation that he did, even from Henry Tudor himself). The best reconstruction of what happened is in Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, which is also one of the best discussions of how history can be fabricated for propaganda purposes: she discusses also, as a modern example, the scurrilous lie, still widely believed, that Winston Churchill ordered troops to fire on miners in Tonypandy, killing many (he actually refused to send in troops, restoring order by means of unarmed Metropolitan policemen, who killed nobody).

Early in Richard’s reign, Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David’s, accompanied Richard on a royal progress through his kingdom, and wrote to a friend that “He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by him and his commands in his progress. And in many great cities and towns were great sums of money been given him which he has refused. On my truth I liked never the conditions of any prince so well as his; God has sent him to us for the weal of us all”. There were more critical accounts of course; there always are. But Richard was not the monster we have supposed.

Whatever he was, he was England’s anointed king: and he was of course a Catholic. He was, in fact, austerely religious, a public benefactor and protector of the Church, a founder of charities, who throughout his life upheld a strict code of sexual morality, in marked contrast to many of his fellow courtiers. Had he not been toppled by the wretched Henry Tudor, there would have been no Henry VIII and no consequent apostasy of the Ecclesia Anglicana: we might still be a Catholic country, with a Catholic monarchy. His burial took place without any funeral rites at all: he was just shoved in a hole by the impious Henry. All this makes it surely unthinkable that he should be given a Protestant funeral service and buried in a Protestant cathedral. But that is what is now proposed: Leicester Cathedral is a post-reformation Cathedral. Richard himself wanted to be buried in York Minster, and that would be fine, as long as the funeral is a Catholic Requiem Mass. The historian Andrew Roberts thinks not only that “the bones of the last British [sic] monarch to die in battle now must be treated with dignity and venerated properly, as is only right for a former head of state”, but that like monarchs before and after him, Richard III deserves a burial ceremony in accordance with his former status. That means, he says, Westminster Abbey, where 17 English kings and queens are buried. He points out that Richard was anointed and crowned King at a grand, solemn and very well-attended ceremony at Westminster Abbey on July 6 1483, and thinks that he should be buried there with all the proper honours this summer, 530 years later.

I agree with all that. But the funeral service itself must surely be one he would not himself indignantly have repudiated. It must be a Catholic Mass, preferably conducted according to the Sarum Rite: the same rite, that is, accorded to most of the other Kings buried there.

That is the essential. As long as it’s not in Leicester Cathedral (close by the site of his final humiliation), I don’t mind where it happens. But for the last Plantagenet King of England to be buried as though he had been a Protestant would be an utterly offensive travesty of our history, and something English Catholics should simply not accept without vigorous protest: it is surely now time for our bishops, and especially the Archbishop of Westminster, to speak. Will they?

  • Maccabeus

    Will they speak? Don’t hold your breath.

  • ian Williams

    There is an e-petition concerning this at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38533.

  • JabbaPapa

    A petition in favour of this basic religious duty can be found HERE :

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38533

  • DelawareMom

    I am an American Catholic, and know very little about King Richard. However, I find the timing of this all to be interesting, in light of how much persecution the Church is going through at the current time.  It is as if King Richard wants to be part of this battle as well.  Please don’t let him down.  I hope British Catholics will demand a proper Catholic burial for him. It will be an example to the world that being Catholic matters. I will be following this story with much interest.

  • Mikethelionheart

    Thanks for this article. This had been on my mind the past few days. Thanks, also, to the starter of the epetition. I have signed it and will encourage others to do so. We need some leadership on this. I would like to see our bishops speaking out about this. I am going to email as many bishops as I can. Can others please do the same. Too many of our bishops (and priests) are pompous old snobs who don’t like to ‘rock the boat, old bean’.  

  • Richard Collins

    Sadly, there is also an issue of commercial interest as to where the remains end up. A considerable revenue stream will become available to the church or cathedral that becomes the final resting place via tourists and others.
    The Protestant church may dig in their heels with the promise of the riches to come.

  • Dewey

    I’m afraid I must respectfully disagree. The cathedral plans to hold a
    multifaith ceremony so I trust the Diocese of Nottingham will send a
    representative, preferably one of the good brothers from Holy Cross
    Priory on Wellington St. Regarding the petition I believe that singling
    out any individual, even a catholic former sovereign, in this fashion
    ignores the vast numbers of human remains excavated from former church
    burial grounds during archaeological surveys on building sites in the UK
    that lie neglected on shelves. English Heritage and the CofE in 2005
    issued guidance
    which is largely ignored by the Anglican church and completely ignored
    by the catholic church. Ask the good folks at the Museum of London and
    they will tell you they have tried to get the churches interested for
    years in holding services, but for the most part these mortal remains of
    our English ancestors end up in mass burials in municipal cemeteries
    outside our cities, forgotten by the living, known and cherished only
    unto God. Requiescat in Pace Richard. 

  • http://twitter.com/marion_luscombe Marion Luscombe

    If anyone is waiting for +Nichols to speak on this I fear they will have a very long wait, possibly until after the whole matter is settled judging by previous ‘interventions’ .

    Of course it is right and just that the last of the Plantagenet Kings should be buried according to the Rites of both his faith and the faith of his fathers, but I wonder, with all the commercial considerations of the Cathedral and City of Leicester and CofE in general – if this will ever come about.

    Unless many more raise their voice, vote on the e-petition, and the protestations of our Church and its Bishops this would-have-been great Monarch will suffer one final indignity – to be buried within an ecclesial community of which he would have no knowledge, in a church that did not even exist during his lifetime.

    The whole idea is shameful.

  • ChantryPriest

    if you have read the press release from Leicester, they are not even giving him an Anglican funeral service [which, at least, in the BCP had elements of Sarum in it.] No, first of all it is merely a ‘re-interment’ [the authorities seemingly not knowing the circumstances of Richard's burial, recorded in the Chronicles and confirmed by the archaeology] and, secondly-and infinitely worse- a ‘Christian-led, ecumenical [sic, i.e. multifaith??] service.’
    Those of us who were Traditional Anglicans are ashamed of even noting this tawdry sham which certainly has nothing remotely protestant about it.

  • http://twitter.com/marion_luscombe Marion Luscombe

    Having had some practical experience of re-burial of excavated bones, I must say, where they have been identifiable (i.e. by historical record of the site being excavated) it has, at least in the area in which I worked, been normal practice to bury according the religious beliefs practiced - it being a normal assumption that bones discovered on the site of a Catholic foundation would imply the necessity of a Catholic burial. 

    I suppose if there are no identifiable origins then, as the army used to say, they would be defined as ‘odds and sods’ (which meant CofE in the absence of any other recognizable belief!

  • JabbaPapa

    The cathedral plans to hold a multifaith ceremony

    What a PERFECTLY HORRIBLE suggestion !!!

  • Jonathan West

    How about the Catholics get half the bones, the Anglicans get the other half, and both bury the bones they have in accordance with whatever ceremony they think appropriate?

  • W Oddie

    There’s an epetition at http://epetitions.direct.gov.u….

  • RufusChoate

    Yes, I fully agree.  

  • JabbaPapa

    As a troll, you have a vested interest in the gnawing of bones.

    What for the place of internment ? Under a certain bridge ?

    Your characteristic lack of even common decency in this matter does not surprise …

  • JabbaPapa

    This ghastly attempt at the public humiliation of a Catholic King and Englishman’s Faith in Our Lord Christ resonates in its evil with the fleshly and paganistic ritual held last night in the Houses of Parliament.

  • OldMeena

    I fully agree. He was a Catholic and should have the “rights” of Catholics: Requiem Mass and burial, that are used for Catholics.
    I hope it embarrasses the Establishment. 

  • Maydown56

    Absolutely King Richard deserves a Catholic Mass and burial…

  • David

    I would hope that King Richard will be afforded an interment according to Catholic Rites, preferably in a   Catholic church or cathedral but suspect that the CofE and our political masters will not agree to it.  Not only will His Majesty’s remains suffer an undignified ‘multifaith’ travesty, I suspect his final resting place will be turned into a tawdry tourist attraction.

  • Jonathan West

    There’s not all that much of his body left. Why would it matter that you bury only 5% of his original body instead of say 10%?

    What difference would it make. I’m asking in all seriousness.

  • JabbaPapa

    You compound the evidence of your crass irreligiosity by this black-hearted questioning.

  • Jonathan

    Tough to disagree!

  • Jonathan

    I think they’d have to be split more ways than that, Jonathan West!  What about the Methodists?  And then there’s the Free Church of England… there must be plenty of others to stake a claim…

  • Jonathan

    “tawdry tourist attraction”

    Shrine?  Shurely?

  • JabbaPapa

    Heck — in the face of such concerted desire towards evil and desecration, just organise an independent Catholic Latin funeral Mass at the place of internment anyway …

  • kinkysox

    I have been interested in King Richard III for many years, after watching documentaries about him, Horrible Histories and visiting the Richard III Society regularly.

    When the idea was mooted about finding his grave, I fervently hoped that if they found him that he would be given a full Roman Catholic burial in the Latin Rite.

    Anything else - including this ignorant, pathetic idea of an ‘ecumenical’ service – would be more offensive, humiliating and insulting to the memory and soul of King Richard than what happened to him on Bosworth Field, the character assassination done to him by those rotten, god-forsaken squatters the Tudors, Shakespeare and Thomas More… and those historians who filled subsequent generations of schoolchildren the world over with crappy falsehoods instead of the facts.

    If that is the best that could be suggested for giving King Richard a requiem mass and a proper laying to rest, then they might as well put his royal remains back in the grave in the car park where they found him and walk away right now.

    When the Imperial Russian family’s remains were found in Ekaterinburg and DNA to confirm their authenticity, they were re-buried with the full rites of the Russian Orthodox Church which was their faith. No objections, no worries, no moaning and whingeing from liberals or overblown politicians quibbling over not-offending-anybody malarkey.

    Well, they should take a tip from the Russians. They know what it is was like to live under a communist, atheist regime. Russia is by no means a perfect country but they know now the value of faith and the rising numbers of churches re-opened and attendances bursting at the seams. They still saw it fit and proper to accord their slain monarch and his family a burial according to the rites of their faith.

    So, what is the problem with giving King Richard III a full Latin Requiem Mass?

    The old suspicions about Roman Catholics since Henry VIII continue to prevail. No one will convince me otherwise.

    If anyone tells me that the Roman Catholic Church is behind the times with their attitude towards this- and-that, then they’ll get a mouthful from me.

    There is an order of Franciscan Greyfriars based in Trafford, Manchester – the same order that laid King Richard to rest – why not invite them to be celebrants at his requiem? Or the members of the Birmingham Oratory? The Archbishop of Birmingham? Or how about we respectfully ask the Papal Nuncio of the UK to wade into the hurt that is being caused by not even bringing up the fact that King Richard was a king anointed and crowned by the Holy Mother Church?

    It is worth a try. We Roman Catholics have not gone away and won’t go away.

  • kinkysox

    I meant to say ‘visiting the Richard II Society WEBSITE regularly’

    I haven’t physically visited them.

    Apologies for the error.

  • Dewey

    It is good to read your area abides by the guidelines. 

    There are presently the remains of 17,000 individuals in London’s Centre for Human Bioarchaeology, thousands more have already been reinterred in cemeteries outside the city without rites.

  • Jonathan

    Do it! Flashmob TLM.

  • Steve D’Arcy

    Mr Oddie, don’t forget St Thomas More’s history of Richard III which also promoted the pro-Tudor anti-Richard viewpoint.

  • Guest

    I’m aware that the official position of the roman catholic church disagrees with this, but as an anglican i can understand why his burial is with the c of e. We don’t see ourselves as a break from the church that existed in England before the reformation, and we do see ourselves as a catholic church (just reformed as well). So for me it’s right that he gets buried with the same national church of which he was a key member in his time.

  • Jonathan

    Erm, I’m not Catholic myself (and never have been) but, notwithstanding the organisational continuity (sort of…) of the English Church, would it not be fair to agree that Richard III was familiar with the unreformed version of the English Church?

    As to “it’s right that he gets buried with the same national church of which he was a key member in his time”… well, the Catholic Church has never (I think) had a notion of “national church” in quite the way that is meant here.

    I think an objective reading must at least acknowledge a significant rupture at the time of the reformation and also acknowledge that although we cannot be sure in which direction Richard III would have leapt (if we anachronistically imagine…) he was familiar with the original, unreformed, Catholic church.

  • kinkysox

    As soon as the web page was made available, I signed the petition straight away.

    I ask fellow Roman Catholics to do the same.

    It’s scary that people who spin doctor through the media that they actually have brains (i.e. politicians) underestimate just how relevant and important this issue is.

    It is more than finding bones in a car park, mark you.

    As one who has always been very passionate about history AND a practising Roman Catholic, very few historical events have touched my heart as profoundly as this.

    Pope Pius XII suffered the same and there are still people who believe he did nuff-all for those opposed to the Nazis. Heck! He was the first to sound the alarm bells about Hitler and the Nazis, for crying out loud!

    About St Thomas More. I still admire St Thomas More and St John Fisher – however the untrue King Richard III stuff serves as a large MINUS against Thomas More, in my book!

    More was a man of his time and a good friend of Henry VIII, no doubt about that – but look what happened to him when he stood up to him … and others who trod on their pox-ridden toes!

    The Tudors were an insecure, paranoid lot and toxic, to say the least.

  • kinkysox

    You disrespectful piece of faecal matter!

  • Mark

    Hear Hear. A Catholic burial for a Catholic King. We must insist!

  • Isaac

    The words “we don’t see” were very well chosen. There is indeed a failure to see here: 

    First, it ought to be very clear, to anyone who bothers to look, that very many things did “break” in the change from the church *in* England to the church *of* England. Secondly there was no reformation in England, only a “reformation”. Finally there is no such thing as *a* catholic church, just *the* Catholic church.

  • Richard’s friend

    The article is incorrect in stating that Richard had no funeral at all.  The friars did the necessary rites, but there was no pomp or sung Mass.  Therefore, the new service must be a reburial, not a funeral.
    I do not think he should be buried in Westminster, as he would be surrounded by Tudors.  I would prefer him to be buried in York, but powers that be are not going to listen to me.

  • Leslie

    The point is not what you think is right, or that you see the Church of England as catholic; it is showing a decent respect to the beliefs of the person whose remains are being buried.  Given that the Church of England was founded by the son of the man whose followers killed King Richard and, it seems, humiliated his body, and that he was a devout Catholic who would almost certainly not have agreed with you about the Church of England, it would be wrong to bury him by what he would see as the rites of a church that was heretical.

    For the record, if for some reason Henry VII or Elizabeth of York or even Margaret Beaufort needed to be reburied I would say the same thing; whatever their son or  grandson did, they were Catholic.  And I don’t even like Henry VII or Margaret Beaufort.  (Jury’s still out on Elizabeth of York).

  • Hikarugenji18

    I’m Jewish so I don’t have a dog in this hunt. But it seems grotesque to me to bury him in any way but  according to Catholic rites. The man was a pre-Reformation Catholic, for goodness sake; the Tudors were his enemies, and had their way with his reputation for the entire existence of the dynasty. And the people of York loved him, and he them. I am hoping that the British government will bury him in York with the appropriate Catholic service – or in Westminster near his wife. Not in Leicester – for heaven’s sake!

  • kinkysox

    Er, hello! Catch yourself on. Wake up!

    There was NO NATIONAL CHURCH in King Richard III’s time or before him. If you don’t believe me, look it up! A history book is a good place to start.

    King Richard III was born Roman Catholic, baptised Roman Catholic, confirmed Roman Catholic, married Roman Catholic, anointed King of England by the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. He went to Roman Catholic Mass regularly and prayed and confessed to a priest as such.

    Do you not know your own history?

    The Tudors – who brutally slain and humiliated Richard then grabbed the throne for themselves and went on to brutalise the nation with their reign -  broke with Rome because Henry VII’s son, Henry VIII, didn’t get his own way with the Pope re his marriage.

    The Tudors established the Church of England with Henry VIII as its head.

    The Greyfriars monastery where he was buried was destroyed by Henry VIII, for heaven’s sake!

    And you want King Richard III to be buried to a C of E rite?

    Get out of here!

  • kinkysox

    Spot on!

  • susieofutah

    You don’t see yourself as such, but you are not in communion with the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that Richard was part of.   Anglicanism was a profound rupture with Rome and continues to hurl headlong into an abyss of abomination such as women priests, gay marriage, etc.  Spare poor Richard the gross indignities. 

  • Malcolm Farr

    I don’t know that I can agree with the claim that “throughout his life [Richard III] upheld a strict code of sexual morality”, bearing in mind that he is known to have sired two illegitimate children, and possibly a third. Still, he was acknowledged by many as a good king during his lifetime, and I suspect that the general opinion of him may have been quite positive, had his reign not been cut short at Bosworth.
    Moving to his re-interment, it seems certain that this will be at Leicester Cathedral, and that the Catholic Church has agreed to this (or at least conceded it).  In Leicester Cathedral’s website, at http://www.cathedral.leicester.anglican.org/Visit%20&%20support%20us/RichardIII.html, a statement of a representative of the (Catholic) Bishop of Nottingham, the Right Revd. Malcolm McMahon O.P., is quoted:

    “The Bishop is pleased that the body of King Richard III has been found under the site of Greyfriars Church in Leicester, in which it was buried following the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and that it will be reinterred with dignity in the city where he has lain for over five hundred years. Richard III was one of the last Catholic monarchs of England and his death was a decisive moment in British history, but the ultimate decision as to what form the interment takes lies with the Government and the Church of England, since he will be buried in Leicester Cathedral.

    In accordance with long-established ecumenical practice, Bishop Malcolm will be happy t take part in any form of ceremony which takes place to mark his final burial.”

  • Jonathan West

    I notice you don’t have an answer, you attack the questioner instead.

  • Jonathan West

    Would you prefer then that the Anglicans get the whole body to bury as they see fit? Is the Catholics having none of the body bettter than having part of it? It is in pieces already of course.

  • Jonathan

    I get what you mean, Isaac, about there being “the Catholic church”, but worth understanding for a moment the CoE’s understanding of itself as catholic as well as being a national church.

    In part, it’s claim to be catholic derives from its openness and readiness to engage with every person within its parish boundaries, baptise anyone who presents themselves for baptism; marry any couple (er, with some caveats!) presenting themselves for marriage; burying the dead etc…

    It’s a different understanding and application of the word.

    There are probably other understandings and applications of it within the CoE, but this one is at least one of them.

  • Jonathan

    “abyss of abomination” Crikey.

  • JabbaPapa

    Your intervention in this thread deserves nothing but the uttermost contempt.

  • Inquisator

    Like St Peters?

  • W Oddie

    No: The MS account of Richard III’s life in St Thomas More’s handwriting is almost certainly a transcription of Cardinal Morton’s account, and wasn’t composed by St Thomas.