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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?


    “it is surely now time for our bishops, and especially the Archbishop of Westminster, to speak. Will they?”
    Why should they bother which such a trivial issue?

  • W Oddie

    ‘Bishop Malcolm” should be thoroughly ashamed of himself: “any form of ceremony” indeed: ANY form of ceremony? A protestant one, in which they wouldn’t even pray for his soul? What a gross betrayal.

  • Malcolm Farr

    While “any form of ceremony” is an unfortunate choice of words, to say the least, I do wonder if “Bishop Malcolm”, as the local Catholic diocesan, felt himself caught with little or no room in which to manoeuvre.

    For whatever reason – whether it was because of Leicester Cathedral’s apparently significant backing of the search for and exhumation of Richard’s remains, or otherwise – it seems from the various announcements that its choice as his final resting place was something of a foregone conclusion.  The good bishop could then agree to take part, or refuse – and, in the latter case, risk further bad press for the Church from those  who glory so much in dishing it out.  Although it is by no means ideal (or indeed proper), I wonder if he has been offered at least some capacity to shape the service for Richard’s repose, including offering proper and appropriate prayers.  One would like to think, too, that the Church of England would see at least some sense in this. 

  • Eric Futterman

    All that may be true. But then we wouldn’t have had the Beatles! 

  • teigitur

    Have you ever been to one? Without the flashmob of course.

  • Jonathan

    No, teigitur, I haven’t.  I’m not Catholic, and it would seem to me entirely inappropriate for me to turn up at one.

    (I meant the flashmob thing as a joke, btw, not as a sign of disrespect.)

  • Padraig Costello

    Given the current state of religion in the UK, I suggest that the Prince of All Faiths – the future octogenarian king of England – preside over a multi-faith fathering of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, representatives of the multitudinous protestant denominations of which the COE is just one and why not some Wicca witches and druids thrown in for good measure.  They could all meet in Stonehenge and give him a good old ancient British sendoff.on the Spring Vernal Equinox as a symbol of universal resurrection    BTW, let’s ensure that COE priestesses and gay bishops have prominent roles.  I suggest Catholics repair to Westminster Cathedral and pray for the whole bunch.    

  • Marion Luscombe

    I had heard this, and there are precedents. In times of plague and other pestilence, and circumstances of multiple death, then historically multiple graves have been used as necessity, and often especially since the Reformation when the established church was somewhat ‘sniffy’ about who qualified for christian burial, religious rites were not always performed.

    Your point though is a valid one. Sad – but valid.

  • teigitur

    I know you did. You are not really the disrespectful type. Have you been to an “OF ” Mass then?

  • Jonathan

    I don’t think so.  I was a guest at Worth Abbey once, and was present for the offices, but thought it wiser to be absent for the celebration of the Eucharist, so I don’t think I’ve ever been in the presence of a Catholic mass, OF or EF.

    Doesn’t quite seem possible that I’ve never been to one…

    Aha!  I have no idea whether it was OF, EF (or even Catholic, come to think of it) but in my youth, I accompanied some Spanish friends to mass very early one morning at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  They were all from the Complutense University of Madrid and I assumed them to be Catholic, and assume that it was a Catholic mass I witnessed.

  • Mark

     For 500 years Catholics have accepted 2nd class status in Britain and I’m sure they will continue to accept it in this funeral issue. Things will only change if all Catholics understand their history and refuse to allow it to continue repeating.

  • Tridentinus

    If Henry Tudor caused Richard III’s body to be buried in a church and not thrown in the river Stoar as was rumoured then he must have had some respect for his enemy’s corpse. Is it not conceivable then that he also gave him a Christian burial? If not is it not likely that the Friars did after Henry had gone?

    I agree with you that animosity towards Catholics and their Church has not disappeared from the national conscientiousness and surfaces every time there is a hint of scandal. The comments on the Daily Mail’s website, the Telegraph’s and sadly in this Paper, too, bear this out.

  • Guest

    I am a Methodist in Texas and I agree with the writer,let it be Westminster and a Roman Catholic Requiem Mass.
    It is the right thing to do.

  • Solent Rambler

    I’m reminded of St Edmund Campion asked speech after his trial for treason.

    “It is not our death that ever we feared. But we knew that we were not lords of own lives, and therefore for want of answer would not be guilty of our own deaths.

    The only thing that we have now to say is that if our religion do make us traitors we are worthy to be condemned; but otherwise are and have been true subjects as ever the queen had.

    In condemning us you condemn all your own ancestors—all the ancient priests, bishops, and kings—all that was once the glory of England, the island of saints and the most devoted child of the see of Peter.

    For what have we taught, however you may qualify it with the odious name of treason, that they did not uniformly teach?

    To be condemned with these old lights—not of England only, but of the world—by their degenerate descendants is both gladness and glory to us.

    God lives; posterity will live; their judgment is not so liable to corruption as that of those who are now going to sentence us to death.’

  • kinkysox

    Point taken. Though buried without either a shroud or a coffin was still undignified and the Greyfriars would not have left him there without a proper burial rite.

    That being said, it does not take away from the fact that King Richard III deserves a Roman Catholic Mass in the Latin Rite to honour him for his re-internment.

  • guest

    I am surprised no one has suggested another alternative, next to his brother Edward IV in St George’s Chaple at Windsor.  For the man who chose “Loyalty Binds Me” as his legend, I would find it appropriate to have his resting next to the one he was loyal to throughout his life.

  • teigitur

    Could have been Catholic( though not necessarily Latin Rite) or Orthodox. If it was quite long probably the latter.

  • Jt12w09

    I hope English Catholics rise up against this offense. God save Catholic King Richard III!

  • Tieh Ard

    cant see your logic….. 
    He was more than familiar with …he was Catholic, anointed in priestly rite  by Holy Oil by Mother Church and as King he was called to a special role ..God’s anointed. He would not, nor would his contemporaries see him in secular manner. Indeed a secular view is anchronism.
    I think however as he was found in the grounds of the Franciscans we can assume the friars gave him his rights and a Catholic burial.

  • Steve D’Arcy

    Thanks for that information.  I was wondering why St Thomas would be involved in such a critical account of Richard III if there was no truth it.

  • Jm27

    It is abundantly clear that Richard should be buried according to the rites of the Church of which he was a member i.e Roman Catholic. The notion that the Church of England is a reformed continuation of the same church does not stand up to rational analysis.

  • Barbara Mcgowan

    I entirely agree.  This is a critical issue for the re-internment of Richard II’s remains.  I am an Anglican, but fully respect that Richard was a pre-Reformation Catholic, and should be honoured with a full Requiem Mass in accordance with the religious practices he would have expected.  I sincerely hope the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster will support this view, and use his influence to secure for this man, and an anointed KIng, the respect for his burial that was not offered 527 years ago.

  • Barbara Mcgowan

    There is no evidence at all that there was any ‘formal’ burial rites.  A contemporary chronicler, Polydore Vergil [1470-1555], reported that Richard was buried ‘sino ullo funere’ [without funeral rites].

  • Barbara Mcgowan

    Where is the evidence that ‘the friars did the necessary rites?  On the contrary 
    the current archaeological evidence contradicts this view – far from there being any kind of ‘formal burial’ it looks as if it was all done in great haste: the skeleton was found in a grave that had not been dug big enough to accommodate the body; there was no coffin; there was no evidence of a shroud; they had not even untied his hands from the journey of his corpse from the battlefield at Bosworth.  Similarly, the historical evidence supports this conclusion:
    the contemporary chronicler, Polydore Vergil [c.1470-1555] records that the burial was 2 days after the battle and without any funeral rites ['sine ullo funere']

  • Jonathan

    Was this genuinely in response to my post?  Your response seems (to me) to be entirely consistent with mine?  Maybe I’ve missed something…

  • Jonathan

    Jm27, I hope I indicated my belief that was a “significant rupture” by using the words “significant rupture” and by adding “(sort of)” after the word “continuity”.  I might, I admit, have been overly dry.

    As to whether or not the Church of England can rationally claim to be a reformed continuation… well, rationally, I think it can, but only with caveats aplenty and in the fullness of context.

    I think that it can equally, and equally rationally, be considered a New Thing Entire, separate from that which went before.

    Identity is a complex notion, and I think that your dismissal is overly peremptory.

  • Charles Martel

    Hear hear! The Sarum Rite would be a fine idea and would be a great witness to the splendour of our sacred traditions. It would also open contemporary Catholics’ eyes to the insufferable impoverishment of the modern liturgy.

  • kinkysox

    Your ignorance astounds me!

    This is FAR from being a trivial issue.

  • kinkysox

    Yes. What a lily-livered, gutless, cowardly cop-out!

  • Thomas Girvan

    As all his descendants are Protestant, I think it’s only reasonable that he should be buried in accordance with their wishes.
    At the end of the day it won’t affect him, he’s been dead for over 500 years.
    He should be given a good Christian burial in accordance with the rites of the Anglican Church, the established church of his country.
    This issue should not be used as propaganda by Catholics to try to divert attention from the scandals their Church is embroiled in..

  • Michael Seraph

    I am not a Roman Catholic, nor am I a citizen of the UK.  But I agree with the thrust of this article — that King Richard should be buried *according to the custom of his time* which would have been a Medieval Catholic Requiem Mass.  That is proper respect shown to him according to his own understanding in his own day.

  • GrahamCombs

    As a Catholic convert from Episcopalianism as well as a descendant of English colonists (as well as Scots Irish ones) it seems entirely inconsistent with the times for this man to be denied a Catholic funeral.  Surely the Church in England and Wales should raise a protest.   If he had been Cherokee or Inuit or Muslim deference and respect would be considered his due.  And an Anglican funeral an insult to his heritage.   There’s more than a whiff of hypocrisy here.

  • rpl

    Absolutely right. There was no ‘national’ church in Richard’s time. The only church he would recognise and wish to be buried in would be the Catholic Church.

  • polycarped

    There’s an obvious solution here….he should of course receive a Roman Catholic burial but the Mass should be celebrated by a priest of the Ordinariate. :)

  • buckingham88

     Yes .The obvious solution.
     There must also be recognition of other faiths of the realm, with invitation to take part in the liturgy.

  • Dbarchard

     If you are saying that the decision belongs to the Queen, I agree with you. But Her Majesty and all the rest of us are not ‘descendants’ of Richard III. So far as is known he has none. It is usual for an individuals wishes or presumed wishes to be honoured. Your last sentence is a bit of a giveaway about your intentions, isn’t it?

  • Thomas Bourchier

     More appropriate surely if Bishop MacMahon, perhaps on the advice of his superiors, reversed his decision.

  • Thomas Bourchier

     Well, the Sarum Rite is for southerners, surely? I suspect that if Richard himself was able to voice an opinion on the matter, it would be “The Use of York” which is surely finer in some ways. But the standard Roman Rite would surely do.

  • lroy77

    I think before he’s given a Catholic burial, a more thorough research on true historical facts and documents (if such even exists), perhaps documented eyewitness accounts from the day. And yeah, he was good looking and the hair style very much reflects even the 60′s generations.

  • spudie

    Would the Franciscans, in whose choir, Ricahard III was buried, not have offered a Requim Mass for him and prayed for him (at least until the friary was emptied)?

    Are we sure he was denied a requim mass? No doubt, it would have lacked the pomp and splendor of a reigning monarch but surely the Franciscans would not have let him down so badly.

  • tinhatter

    As an English Roman Catholic now living in Aus, but from Leicester (every time we drove over the bridge we would get told the story of Richard and the old woman forecasting his death) I have an interest in RIII.
    And I totally agree with you. I do see it as a break with the past, but for you it is a development, and to paraphrase Michael Wood, England lost a lot of it’s past culture and history, but became a modern nation because of the Reformation.
    RIII should be buried in Lcs, in a CofE ceremony with the RC Bishop present. He belongs to an age when there was no division.

  • MultitaskingLitigator

    I have come to this a bit late due to being out and about the last couple of days but  I believe that Richard specified in his lifetime that he wanted to be buried in York Minster not least because that is where his infant son is also buried. I have to say I do think this is all a bit rum. For the C of E to bury the Mary Rose sailors was just about arguable given when the ship went down but there can be no possble argument that Richard would have been entirely entitled to expect the rites of the Church of which he was a member conducted by clergy in communion with Rome and it doesn’t actually matter whether it is a funeral proper or reburial. A Requiem Mass would be perfectly fitting whatever the occasion, I also agree that there is a distinct hint of double standards here. If the archaeologists had found someone who was known to be a Medieval Jew or even a Muslim who had been brought back from the Crusades I very much doubt whether an ecumenical service would have been suggested.

  • W Oddie

    The epetition is at

  • Arthur Rusdell-Wilson

    One problem with using the Sarum Rite is that, though according to the principles laid down by the Council of Trent it is a lawful liturgy, one of the Roman Dicasteries, when asked the question some years ago, ruled that it was not.

  • Arthur Rusdell-Wilson

    If there was no national church, why does Magna Carta, in its opening words, refer to Ecclesia Anglicana? One can be Catholic without being ultramontanist.

  • Thomas Bourchier

    “State ecumenism”  is the new civil religion, a useful tool for the city PR department and godless academics in need of cash for research. No one with an ounce of religious feeling could have come up with such an idea and the announcement of where and how the bones will be buried was almost certainly dreamed up at a ‘communications and planning’ meeting and intended to be pre-emptive. It is depressing that the local Catholic bishop went along with such a daft idea–what quality of advice does he get? It is also sad that the real arbiter of this, the Queen, has had nothing to say.

    But if there is a secular ecumenical service, I hope that as much as possible Catholics will boycott it and denounce it. It is just a money-making ploy by city bureaucrats and local politicians.

  • Presbyter

    Remember when we were being told that Richard III was a “bunch-backed toad”? All “Tudor propaganda” we were told. Well…looking at that skeleton it seems there night be something in all that “propaganda” after all?
    It now seems to be de rigueur to take the “Ricardian ” view of this King, However, the fact that his bones have been located does not alter the fact that there is ( sorry) serious contemporary evidence and Richard III usupred the throne with trumped-up charges of illegitimacy against Edward V ( to whome he had sworn a solemn oath of allegiance) and the young Richard of York, his brother’s sons. The French King openly referred to him as a child-murderer in Richard’s lifetime as well as reports of the Venetian ambassador who left England while Richard reigned. The two imprisoned boys did in fact disappear soon after their deposition. The relative lack of support for Richard at Bosworth is telling.

  • kinkysox

    That’s the point, exactly.

  • kinkysox

    You miss the point entirely. It is not propaganda – that belongs to the Tudors who made sure Richard’s name and reputation stank through the centuries.

    You Tudors have had your fun for half a millennium. Let us accord His Majesty the Late and Beloved of Memory, King RIchard III, with a ROMAN CATHOLIC REQUIEM AND BURIAL!

    It is too much to ask? It appears it is.

    Just because Richard’s descendants were protestant/CofE, it does not meant to say that he should be buried according to a faith alien and heretical to him.

    The Tudors established the Church of England – have you forgotten that?

    Or do you enjoy rubbing salt in the wounds of Roman Catholics?

  • Parasum

    POI: England and Britain are no more the same country than Canada & North America are the same country. Despite the habit some people have of calling the United States of America simply “America”. Canadians & inhabitants of Latin American countries are every bit as American as anyone from that country in the middle of the continent, that is below Canada.   

    The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland is a nation made of two kingdoms (Scotland, England); a principality (Wales); six counties in Northern Ireland; and a large number of islands off the Scottish & English coasts. There is no reason why any Briton outside England, Catholic or not, should be interested in Richard III, who was king only of that country. The others have their own history, which the US confusion of England with Britain ignores. Someone from the US ought to be able to understand the importance of not confusing a country with the nations or principalities it is composed of.