December 12. 2014
A couple of weeks ago I visited Leicester and the KRIII Visitors Center. I love exploring England, and photographing the wonderful remnants of history and the living legacy that the past has given us, but have consciously avoided Leicester because, well it made me uncomfortable.
I am passionate about History, in particularly the 15th and 16th century, and have a real interest in Richard III. Richard III inspires debate, discussion and a pure intensity from others.
Since the King was found buried on the site of the old Greyfriar’s church, there has been an influx of press and interest in the last Plantagenet King and with this has come negative after negative story from Leicester.
It has made it nearly impossible for myself and others not to become emotionally invested, and the discovery of Richard has bought us so close to a man that died 529 years ago that it makes you feel you almost know him.
I decided to finally visit Leicester to find out for myself how they had designed the visitors center, what Leicester Cathedral was like as his place of final rest, and generally to get a feeling for the city where Richard had been buried for 529 years. And I wanted to remain objective….
A wander through the city bought me to the cathedral and a statue of Richard. This statue was gifted by the Richard III society and previously stood in the castle gardens, slightly outside the very center of the city. I think it is a nice tribute that it now stands, recently cleaned, directly in front of the visitors center and the cathedral.
I placed two white roses at the foot of the statue, sentimentally representing Richard and his wife, quite clandestine about it as I was a bit shy about gesture. I hadn’t noticed a lady who came up behind me, startled me and said.. “what are you doing?”
She then noticed the roses and exclaimed “oh what a lovely thing to do!” and proceeded to tell me all about him and how honoured Leicester were to be laying him to rest. It made me happy to think that the ordinary people of Leicester do wish him to be at peace and will be proud to have him in their city in a place of sanctity.
I walked slowly to the visitors center full of apprehension… I had heard there was a Stormtrooper suit of armour and Nazi references, rivers of blood and god knows what else so I proceeded with caution.
Firstly, you are invited to watch a video which features people in Richard’s life talking about their role and story.. this is in a throne room and is quite effective.
The river of blood is more a visual representation of the blood shed during the War of the Roses and spells out the background to Richard’s reign.
Point to note here, the visitor center is quite theatrical with ominous music and loud sound effects so you need to be prepared for that.
The next room takes you through the circumstances in which Richard came to the throne, his reign, and the Battle of Bosworth. I thought they did a good job here, talking about the achievements in his reign, and a factual stance on the Princes in the Tower. They included contemporary descriptions of his death at Bosworth.
“He bore himself like a noble soldier and… honouraby defended himself to his last breath” John Rous, a Warwickshire priest. Written in 1490.
The upstairs section of the visitors center starts by telling the story of Richard III in popular culture, and the details of the archaeological dig and how they found Richard.
You are shown examples of how Richard has been depicted in theatre and media and this is where the Nazi uniform is, in reference to the 1995 film “Richard III” which was adapted from the Shakespeare play. There is also a timeline of all the actors who had played
Richard, and finishes with Aneurin Barnard in The White Queen, possibly the most human portrayal of the King.
It does make you realise that most historical depictions are based on the Shakespeare character, rather than the man himself.
The last section is all about the archaeological dig, staring Philipa Langley’s gumboots and the Stormtrooper armour. The gumboots amused me more than anything and the armour? Well I thought it the fact that it was stark white was an odd choice, it states ‘Richard’s armour’ but I interpreted it as more a guide to the different pieces that made up a full suit of medieval armour, rather than Richard went into battle in a suit of gleaming white armour.
The most moving part for me was a representation of the skeleton with a run down of all the battle injuries Richard had suffered. This really makes you take stock of the fact he was just like you and me and you can picture and identify with the way he lost his life.
The exhibition ends with the facial reconstruction of Richard and a copy of a portrait thought to be a realistic representation of the King, and its fascinating to know what he looked like.
Finally you can visit the grave site, and it’s in a quiet room where you can look down through a glass floor and see the grave easily. Richard’s writing in his book of hours is depicted on the wall above
[release me] from the affliction, temptation, grief, sickness, necessity and danger in which I stand, and give me counsel …
I was lucky enough to be here on my own and I found it respectful and moving.. it is a pitiful sight, and brings home how small the grave was. I didn’t take any photos here as it didn’t feel quite right so can’t quite remember how much of the note from Richard’s prayer book is on the wall.
Full prayer below, taken from here
[release me] from the affliction, temptation, grief, sickness, necessity and danger in which I stand, and give me counsel … deign to free me from every tribulation, sorrow and trouble in which I am placed and from all the plots of my enemies … deign to assuage, turn aside, destroy and bring to nothing the hatred they bear towards me. I ask you, most gentle Lord Jesus Christ, to keep me, thy servant King Richard, and defend me from all evil … and from all peril past, present and to come … and deign always to deliver and help me.
Whilst the visitor center is by no way perfect, I did feel a bit happier about it when I left. I think for many people who are invested in Richard like myself or identify themselves as a Richardian, there will always be something that they disagree with.
Next stop was Leicester cathedral. Many people including myself were extremely disappointed that Richard isn’t going to be buried at York, or in the North where he lived most of his life. He knew York very well, invested his son as Prince of Wales there, and attended services in the Minster. York respected him as well and held him in high accord. Leicester wasn’t special to him, and main connection is that he was unceremoniously buried there in 1485. However, there is nothing I can do about it or influence the decision to bury him in Leicester cathedral. All I wanted from the visit was to leave with an understanding of the cathedral, and that it was a beautiful place for him to finally be left to rest in peace.
At least 1/4 of the cathedral is hidden from sight as they prepare the chapel where they will bury Richard. This makes it hard to get a feel for the church, but it is nice, peaceful and… empty. I was the only visitor whist I explored the church.
I wonder how all the visitors that will come after the re-interment will change this. To me, it looks like a nice parish church, and of course it is not York.
There was a note on the door that said:
“Many visitors are here to see the new King Richard III Visitor Centre, Richard III lived through turbulent times and his remains bear the scars of violent battle. Leicester cathedral is to be called a place of peace”
It made me think. All the decisions have been made. He will be laid to rest here. So I should support Leicester cathedral in accomplishing this. It’s a tough call because I still am against many of their plans such as the ‘Tour to Bosworth’ of his remains and the fact he hasn’t been in a place of sanctity since the university finished their research. But what will my opposition accomplish now? Sadly, nothing.
As I left Leicester, I was farewelled by a glorious sunset… I felt better about the city and the visitor center, I think it will educate those who don’t know too much about Richard III. I was disappointed in Leicester cathedral, but that was always going to happen seeing I have visited all the grand cathedrals of England and Leicester can’t compete in grandeur and awe. But as I mentioned, its a nice church and I look forward to the day Richard is buried and can Rest in Peace.
January 10, 2015
As I type, we are all waiting to see if we have won a seat in the ballot to attend one of Richard’s commemoration ceremonies during his re-interment in March.. I don’t hold out much hope seeing there were 14,000 applications for 600 seats, but I live in hope. It would be nice to pay my respects.