Alexandra Buckle, an academic from St Anne’s and St Hilda’s colleges, Oxford, has recently been looking in greater detail at the way in which medieval royal funerals and reburial services were conducted. This new scholarly work has given significant indications towards how Richard III should be reburied in the near future.
Dr Buckle is a liturgical advisor to the committee who are planning the last Plantagenet King’s reburial. By finding the only known surviving account noting the elements that made up reburials of medieval nobles, Dr Buckle can now enlighten the committee on how Richard III could be reburied in relation to medieval customs.
In September 2012, archaeology teams found a skeleton underneath a car park in Leicester, amongst the site where the Greyfriars Church used to be. After DNA testing with a descendant of Richard’s sister, Anne of York, it was confirmed in February this year that the skeleton was indeed Richard III. The plans for the King’s reburial in Leicester have currently been put on hold whilst the decision surrounding where his final resting place should be continues.
The Plantagenet Alliance, who are made up of distant relatives of the monarch, have recently won a judicial review challenging the initial plans for Richard to be reburied in Leicester Cathedral. The Alliance are due to attend the High Court next week where they will be giving their evidence to why they believe Richard wished to be buried in York, rather than Leicester. After this hearing, it is believed that a final decision on where the king will be buried will be made in the following weeks.
Whilst this debate continues, Alexandra Buckle’s work has made major suggestions into how nobles and monarchs were reburied in the medieval period. At the time, if someone of the nobility was killed on the battlefield, it was conventional for them to be buried very soon after their death somewhere nearby. Later, their body was then moved, usually to the resting place of their family members or spouse, in a grander ceremony.
Alongside this, it has been noted that families whose status at court grew within this period were renowned for digging up their ancestors and moving their bodies to more respected places of burial as a symbol of status.
Dr Buckle’s research into this unfamiliar area of work began when she found a seventeenth century document in the British Library by scholar Humphrey Wanley. This document is a translation of a medieval manuscript which has not survived to this day. Wanley’s translation recalls the stages of the reburial ceremony and the types of music which would have been used around the time of Richard III’s reign. There is great emphasis on the importance of prayers and ritual within this document. There are references to how elaborate prayers would be said so as to certify that the dry bones of the body would be redressed in flesh in heaven, and that the soul would be saved from damnation and purgatory. Masses would be said and specific psalms have been noted to be sung.
This is a stark contrast to the way in which Richard was initially buried. Richard sustained brutal injuries at Bosworth, and was likely to have had a very quick and undignified burial, particularly for a monarch of the time. With these new findings in mind, it is now the committee’s decision to plan how Richard’s reburial will go ahead.