An American Novelist in King Richard III's court — Page 2
Story and photos by Karla Tipton



Parade

The procession started 14 miles from the city near the site of Richard's death on Bosworth Field. After traveling through neighboring villages, it entered Leicester over the Bow Bridge, continued through the city center and arrived at the cathedral. Catholic and Anglican clergy awaited, where they would later conduct a special "blended" religious service. Although unusual, it was appropriate. Richard III had been a king in a Catholic country, yet England was Protestant now, and his reburial would take place in an Anglican church.

Knowing the wait would be a long one, I climbed upon a tree planter to sit, and struck up conversations with the locals. They told me stories about how they had grown up surrounded by the landmarks of Richard's last days. They'd been taught in the local schools that he was a villain, and yet that only fueled their fascination with his legend.

"D'ya think he killed those poor princes in the Tower of London?" asked one woman. "I don' think he did it."

I first met Sarahleigh MacKenzie Richardson there, and we immediately hit it off. She was a lifelong Leicester resident with an unrivaled memory for detail about both Richard III and the history of the city she grew up in.

crown spear

Sarahleigh doesn't fit the definition of a highbrow historian. The 32-year-old sci-fi aficionado owns a cat named Malfoy, listens to pop music and lives in a working class neighborhood in a the most ethnically diverse city in England.

One wouldn't think a 15th century king would rank high on Sarahleigh's list of interests. And yet, her fascination with the medieval English monarch Richard III may be as intense as the archaeologist who meticulously cleaned his bones.

Sarahleigh's grass roots enthusiasm is infectious. "It has put Leicester on the map," she said. "It has forever changed the way our city is viewed by the world."

We waited for hours, staring down the street, blinking into the glare of the setting sun, hoping to catch the first glimpse of the horse-drawn wagon carrying the coffin. The evening grew chilly, but the weather remained clear. When the coffin passed with its entourage of knights in armor and dignitaries, the crowd cheered and tossed white roses in honor of the Yorkist king.

At the time I finished my novel, there were few people who knew or cared about Richard III. Now, it seemed, he had achieved rock star status.

After the procession rolled past us, I joined the crowd gathered at the commons where a big screen had been set up, and watched as the coffin arrived at the church, followed by the service.

The day marked the beginning of an extraordinary week.

All Hail the King

The next day, it was estimated 5,000 people stood in line for a glimpse of the coffin inside Leicester Cathedral. This went on all week. The biggest queues occurred as people were coming off their workday in late afternoon.

I experienced this as I stood in my own long line to tour the award-winning King Richard III Visitor Centre, constructed on the site of the original grave. The museum tells the tale of the "perfect storm" of events that occurred leading up to the discovery of the kingly remains and the successful DNA sequencing. The forensics of the project are depicted via state-of-the-art exhibits, such as a hologram showing the position of the skeleton as it would have lain beneath the medieval tiles of the ancient Greyfriars church.

bones

I also visited the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre where special events are staged annually. In 2015, the celebration is scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 22-23, marking the 530th anniversary of the battle with a full-scale reenactment taking place exactly on the day.

The Bone Lowering

The central event of the week took place on March 26 with the formal re-burial of the bones in Leicester Cathedral. The occasion marked the first time in history the public would be allowed to view the lowering into the ground of an English monarch's remains.

It was both a solemn and celebratory religious service, based on the reburial of medieval nobleman, Richard Beauchamps, Earl of Warwick, in 1475. The event was distinct from a funeral, which the slain king had already had in 1485. However, that funeral had been a hasty affair said over a shallow grave by the priory's monks, upon order of the battle's victors. This re-interment ceremony meant to confer the dignity and honor the English monarch deserved.

Like most people, I was not one of the 700 invited into the cathedral, and so watched the service in my room on Channel 4. At the moment Richard III was lowered into the ground in the cathedral, I felt immensely moved. It struck me how we were all witnessing history in a very strange way—a juxtaposition of medieval and modern, public and personal, celebrating life through death.

As Ricardians, we're all in this together, taking turns writing historical articles or piecing together research providing more insight into Richard's life—or like Philippa Langley, being the one who refused to give up until the powers-that-be had committed to an archaeological excavation to find Richard's remains. No matter what walk of life, nationality, city or social class we come from, we are all members of the same family. Now our time had come—to not only read and write about Richard's history, but to participate in it.

On Friday, the day after the re-interment ceremony, I joined up with Sarahleigh and we shared our experiences of the "Richard Effect" over a pint of ale at the aptly named Last Plantagenet pub. Afterward, we walked to Leicester Cathedral, where we took turns tying prayer ribbons on the iron fence, thanking the universe for this experience and new found friends.

lanterns

As she told stories about the city she grew up in, we took in the surreal sights of "Leicester Glows," the city's finale to the week: a "fire garden" of 8,000 flaming candles built into sculptures throughout the cathedral gardens and lining the streets.

Magic ruled the night. I began to feel like a resident myself.




Karla Tipton is the author of Rings of Passage: A Time Travel Novel with Richard III. Her second novel, Dangerous Reflections: A Historical Fantasy through Time, was recently named a finalist in the 2015 National Indie Excellence Awards. Her website is www.karlatipton.com.



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Related Features:
Agamemnon's Fan Club by Tony Perrottet
Heretics on the Cathedral in Como, Italy by Samuel Jay Keyser
The Covert Casanova Tour in Venice by Tony Perrottet
I Remember Adlestrop by Joseph Gelfer

See other Europe travel stories from the archives


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Rings of Passage

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Dangerous Reflections

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