It’s more than a year since King Richard III was reinterred at Leicester Cathedral in March 2015 after famously being discovered under a car park.
In addition to the rather large slab of Swaledale stone fashioned to represent a sarcophagus there are two fine new windows in the north side of St Katherine’s chapel designed by artist Thomas Denny which are truly beautiful.
The reds and golds are particularly eye-catching. The more you look; the more you see. There’s even a football in the window for those who look carefully enough – a reminder of Leicester’s successful 2015-2016 football season.
I love the window depicting Leicester’s archeology including mosaics, Saxon treasure and a skeleton – presumably Richard’s.The window on the left shows women tending to bodies in the aftermath of battle – Bosworth, although it could, of course, be any Wars of the Roses field. Above the women a window depicts a body slung over a horse reflecting Richard’s last undignified journey back to Leicester. Study of his skeleton revealed that his body was not treated honourably in the aftermath of his death.
The central panel depicts the road to Emmaus. Above this scene young man learns to ride a horse at Middleham Castle and three children play at Fotheringay. Richard was born in Fotheringay Castle in 1452 and grew up in Middleham in the care of his Neville relations who held Middleham at that time. Later it would become his own home.
The window on the right depicts Richard and Anne Neville mourning the death of their son Edward of Middleham who died on April 9 1484. Richard’s journey through the shadow of the Valley of Death continued with the death of Anne in March 1485. Richard was dead five months later. Above the main panels there’s a boar – Richard’s emblem; the Battle of Tewkesbury and Kirkby Muxloe built by Lord Hastings. There’s an oak and a castle representing a kingdom. Richard became king in 1483 after serving his brother Edward IV loyally throughout his life. Richard’s motto was “Loyalty binds me.”
Richard reigned for two years. He was the last Yorkist Plantagenet king of England. It is the events leading up to his claiming the kingdom and the disappearance of his two nephews which focus people’s attention away from the loyal and good service that he fulfilled on his brother’s behalf. There’s a discarded crown as well in the main panel on the right as well as an orb and sceptre. Richard can be seen riding across Leicester’s bridge on his way to battle.
Half a millennia after Shakespeare’s hatchet job on the last Plantagenet king, Richard III has acquired a breath taking monument which seeks to redress the balance. I’m not saying the man was a saint – he was a medieval king and generally speaking they probably weren’t the type of people you’d wish to meet down a dark alley but neither was he the monster that the Tudors portrayed. Politics was a bloody and brutal affair-just ask Lord Hastings who was summarily executed for reasons we don’t fully understand even today and equally consider Francis, Lord Lovell who remained loyal to Richard when all hope was lost.
I’m not sure it it was intentonal or not but knowing the story of Richard III and his missing nephews I found it impossible to look at the Emmaus scene without pondering on the fates of King Edward V and his brother Richard of York – although the two young men are too old to be the princes their presence is something that continues to haunt Richard’s history. Whether the question as to what happened to the princes will ever be answered is another matter – and generally speaking there’s nothing like a conspiracy theory to keep writers and academics in employment.
But that’s not to say the truth won’t eventually surface. We now know that Richard III wasn’t the hunchbacked monster of Tudor propaganda but that he did have scoliosis which developed as he grew to maturity – so a sort of middle ground between two differing historical views. Perhaps more than anything Richard III was the one thing which no medieval king could afford to be – ultimately unlucky. He was the last English king to die on the battlefield. Henry Tudor dated his reign to the day before Bosworth to ensure an act of attainder hung over the heads of all the nobility who’d been loyal to Richard.
But for all that, the one medieval king who most people can name whether they’re interested in history or not is King Richard III.
A trip to Leicester can also involve a visit to Bosworth Field and Kirkby Muxloe Castle. There’s even a Richard III experience opposite the cathedral though I must admit I didn’t avail myself of that particular facility. I was more than happy with Thomas Denny’s windows.