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To bury a king

March 24, 2015

On the 4th of February 2013 it was confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that the human remains found beneath the choir at the site of Greyfriars priory in Leicester, did indeed belong to Richard Plantagenet of England. Relief, celebration and euphoria for the archaeologists and supporters of the cause. But it seems the biggest sigh of relief, followed by celebration would come from the town council and more specifically the mayor, who decided to, in a fit of inspiration and forward-thinking purchased the old school house ajacent to the car park where Richard was discovered. The school house swiftly became the focus of frantic activity as it became a centre for all things Richard III – an education hub, a tourist den and overall cash cow for the good folk of Leicester.

On Thursday Richard will be buried in a vault, in a coffin made in America(odd) beneath a limestone block within Leicester cathedral. Surely a somewhat puzzling choice of resting place. Of course, he was slain during the battle of Bosworth field, which is indeed where modern Leicester stands. However, Richard himself was born in North hamptonshire and was raised in York. Why then is he to be buried in Leicester? Surely York, North Hamptonshire or even in the grand precincts of St. Paul’s or Westminster would be more fitting for a king.

I can’t help but think that the pressure to bury Richard in Leicester was largely considerate of the financial injection the town would enjoy from the tsunami of tourist that would now descend. Stratford has Shakespeare, Leicester has Richard… but surely it is a tenuous link…? are we to set a strange president and be laid to rest where we died? If prince Charles was savaged by a flock of marauding kiwis in New Zealand, would he be buried in Auckland or Wellington? If the queen sadly died from a freak attack by a low flying Frisbee in Montana, would she be buried in a distant chapel? The answer is surely no – they would be repatriated and buried here. So why is Richard to be buried near the field where he died? Why not either ship him home or leave him be, to lie in peace beneath the choir that is now silent and dusty.

Sadly Richard is going to be a magnet for tacky camera-hungry visitors and curious rubber-necking tourists. Leicester will be rebranded and a carnival of tat and mayhem will descend. We will forget about the bigger historical picture and remember only one battle that took one man’s life – Richard, the last warrior king of England.

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