Fiona McCade: Some royal skeletons are best left hidden
TYPICAL. You wait 528 years for one dead king, then three come along at once.
On Monday, archaeologists proudly proclaimed that the skeleton found underneath a car park in Leicester is definitely that of Richard III of England. Now, there is already excited talk of having a proper ferret around for Alfred the Great of Wessex and even Henry I of England, whose bodies have also gone awol over the centuries.
No-one loves history more than me, and I’ve been watching the developments surrounding Richard’s exhumation with great interest, but if we start digging up all the monarchs who missed out on a nice tomb, there are going to be quite a few car-parks turned over before we’re finished.
Frankly, I find it strange how many people are demanding that Richard be given a big funeral – some even want a state funeral – when all that’s happened is that we’ve found a bunch of bones that used to be a king.
It doesn’t hurt to recall that Richard wasn’t actually buried in a car park. He was laid to rest, with suitable religious rites, in Leicester’s Grey Friars Church (like a lot of other people, who we’re not bothering to dig up, because they weren’t royal enough). It’s nobody’s fault – well, perhaps Henry VIII’s – that the church isn’t there any more. A state funeral would be redundant, since the state of which Richard was sovereign disappeared in 1707. Besides, he catastrophically lost his crown in battle, so he couldn’t very well expect an all-singing, all-wailing wake at Westminster Abbey, could he? Given the circumstances, his original resting place wasn’t too shabby at all. I doubt that Haile Selassie would have complained.
Richard has already had his funeral, so really, all the Catholic church can do is give him a Service of Remembrance (although nobody remembers him) somewhere sufficiently big to please his fans, and a shiny new coffin.
But it won’t end there. Many archaeologists are so enthused by the resurrection of Richard and the attention it’s garnered, they’re gearing up to find Alfred, and Henry, and heaven knows how many other crowned skulls currently lying undiscovered beneath NCP properties across the land. Seriously, where do you stop? Searching for Harold somewhere under Hastings?
I blame the Russians. They felt so guilty about the underhand way they murdered the Romanovs, they tried to make themselves feel better by re-burying their royals with huge pomp and circumstance.
Since we can’t raise the Titanic, we’re going to raise our monarchs instead, but we should remember that, on the whole, if a king doesn’t get a big funeral, it’s because he failed miserably and either got killed in battle, or was exiled, or ran away as fast as his little anointed feet could carry him. What worries me is that public money might be spent, say, checking out where the hopelessly incompetent James VII/II ended up (his bones were lost during the French Revolution), or having a scratch about in northern France for the equally ineffectual John Balliol. In the pantheon of monarchy, these are not people I’m keen to be reminded of.
The final fate of Alexander the Great’s body has always intrigued me, but if we really must find a missing king, I vote for James IV of Scotland, whose corpse was said to have been flown away from Flodden field by four ghostly horsemen. I’d be genuinely interested to know where he ended up.
However, if rehabilitating dead royals is going to become a 21st century obsession, maybe I should set up a new firm, just for regal types who have expired, ceased to be and generally shuffled off this mortal coil in unprepossessing circumstances: Injury Lawyers 4 One. Did one suffer a usurpation that wasn’t one’s fault? Has one been unjustly deposed and one’s body lost to history? Has one been constantly denied the right to a big, fat, royal funeral at the venue of one’s choice? Then contact Injury Lawyers 4 One and we’ll make the biggest fuss we can to get one’s reputation reassessed and restored by qualified academics, quickly followed by the glitzy, fanfare-laden, ermine-lined kick-off into the afterlife one has always felt one deserved.
After all, if England’s utterly useless Edward II can get into an actual cathedral, surely everyone deserves the chance?
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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