England's Richard III finally gets burial fit for a king

26th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

England's slain king Richard III, exhumed from an undignified grave under a car park, will finally be buried with honour on Thursday in an unprecedented ceremony filled with pageantry and poignancy.

Some 530 years on from his brutal demise, thousands of people came out for the procession and ceremony at Leicester Cathedral, many of them clutching white roses, the symbol of Richard's House of York dynasty.

"I feel he was badly treated at the time of his death and all through history," said May Doherty, a 62-year-old pensioner from Coleraine in Northern Ireland who was dressed in full medieval costume.

"We believe he was innocent and this is the burial he deserved. This is a once in a lifetime occasion. It's brilliant to be here and be part of history."

As bells rang out and the service got under way, spectators craned their necks for a view of the cathedral, draped with Richard's personal standard.

The last English monarch killed in battle, Richard is being laid to rest in a new tomb inside the cathedral, across the street from where his remains were located in 2012 in a feat of archaeology.

The story of the king in the car park has captivated Britain in the build-up to Thursday's spectacle and caused people to reconsider the tale of a man long caricatured as a villainous tyrant.

Queen Elizabeth II sent a written message for the service, saying Richard would now "lie in peace in the City of Leicester in the heart of England".

Richard was "a king who lived through turbulent times and whose Christian faith sustained him", she said, adding: "The reinterment of King Richard III is an event of great national and international significance."

The queen's daughter-in-law Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, attended the ceremony on the sovereign's behalf, along with the queen's cousin Prince Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, patron of the Richard III Society and a blood relative of the slain king.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the head of the Church of England, presided over the reinterment.

Packed in with wool and linen, Richard's battle-scarred bones are sealed inside a lead ossuary contained within an oak coffin made by Canadian carpenter Michael Ibsen, one of his closest living relatives.

"He is, at last, being given the burial that he ought to have been given in the first place, regardless of his reputation," said Ibsen, Richard's nephew 16 times removed.

- Cousin Cumberbatch reads poem -

With the coffin lowered into the grave, actor Benedict Cumberbatch will read a specially-commissioned work by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

The Oscar-nominated star, who is due to play Richard in the BBC television series "The Hollow Crown", is also the king's third cousin 16 times removed.

The religious ceremony, which referenced Richard's formal title as king of England and France and lord of Ireland, will be a moving event for many in the cathedral.

"It is a quite an extraordinary story and people have taken Richard to their hearts," said Tim Stevens, the Bishop of Leicester, after a week in which tens of thousands of people queued for hours to file past the coffin.

"It could only happen in this way in England," he told AFP.

"He deserves a grave on which his name is carved forever, and from now on he will have that."

- Niece's 'shivers down spine' -

Identified by his DNA, radiocarbon dating and his distinctive curved spine, the discovery of Richard's skeleton has triggered a revival of interest in his reign.

The last of the Plantagenet dynasty, Richard ruled from 1483 until his death at the Battle of Bosworth near Leicester in central England in 1485.

It was the last major conflict in the Wars of the Roses and changed the course of English history.

Richard's defeat saw the crown pass from the Plantagenets to the Tudors, with his victorious opponent ending the blood-soaked day as king Henry VII.

Richard was hastily buried with minimal ceremony in Greyfriars monastery, which was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538.

His exhumation has encouraged scholars to look again at his record of social reform, rather than rely on William Shakespeare's Tudor-era portrayal of him as a scheming murderer.

Richard's closest living relatives, all direct female line descendants of his eldest sister Anne of York, were at the service.

"I feel shivers going down my spine," said Australian-born researcher Wendy Duldig, a niece 18 times removed.

Ibsen's sister Leslie added: "It will be quite emotional. You're attending the funeral of a relative but it's a happy time because he was found and identified. It's family pride."

© 2015 AFP

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