Saturday, 28 March 2015

King Richard, long lost, forever found

Kevin Spacey as Shakespeare's Richard
as the poem by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has it, rather beautifully. I do believe the finding of Richard in 2012 was providential. It is so unlikely that the redevelopment (and destruction) which happened on the site in Leicester, most recently a council car park, over 500 years managed to do no worse than cut off the feet of King Richard's skeleton (we think that is why the feet are missing). It was so unlikely that the remains would be found, when there was so little evidence to go on that the likelihood of the remains ever being found was pooh-poohed even by ardent Ricardians over the years. But found they were, by a melange of scientific rigour, evidence, and personal intuition. And it is only now that it is possible for DNA evidence to establish that the bones are Richard's. And only now that the identified descendants are here to act as confirmation - because none of them has children, and the mitochondrial DNA line dies (it appears) with them. Although, Benedict Cumberbatch is apparently a descendant too, but his DNA has not so far as I know been sampled. He read the Carol Ann Duffy poem quite beautifully at the reinterment ceremony.

I went to Leicester for King Richard. Once it was clear - and I will not bore you with the various opinions, lawsuits and other controversies on the subject which have emerged since the discovery of the remains in 2012 - that Richard's remains would be buried in Leicester, near where he was killed, and very near the site of his hasty burial by the Franciscans at Grey Friars in Leicester, I knew I would not want to miss this occasion. Me, and many thousands of others. The Leicester city and Leicester Cathedral authorities have counted those who were there, but by no means all of them. They did not count the retired Caribbean widow who lives in Surrey and who took the the train to Leicester on impulse on Wednesday. She was too late to file past the coffin, as by the time she got there they were closing the Cathedral to prepare for the reinterment ceremony on Thursday. But she was there, and wept as she told me her late husband would have loved to be there. They did not count the Polish family from Nottingham who turned up for the light and firework display on Friday evening - the parents thought the children would enjoy it and that it would be good for their education about English history. There must have been many many others.

This week I have spent a LOT of time queueing at the Cathedral. But I didn't mind. And neither did anyone else, from what I saw. It was a very English queue - no one pushed in, there were stewards with not that much to do - although far from everyone was English. I heard American and Australian voices in quite some numbers, and on Friday while waiting (barely two hours this time) to see the finished tomb, got talking with some Canadians. I met an American playwright named Nance Crawford who grew up and still lives in Hollywood and has written a book in verse about King Richard (I bought it, natch). I met another American lady, age about 70, called Maggie Thorne, who wore a baseball cap to the Bosworth battlefield and who said "Richard has been my king since 1976". There were white roses everywhere. The wooden coffin looked small and lonely last Sunday as it was brought into Leicester by black horses. Thirty-five thousand people, including me, lined the streets to see it pass. We all die alone, even if we are remembered by multitudes.

Why were the events of the past week so important? There have been carpers and nitpickers. Polly Toynbee, inevitably, in the Filth, said it was ludicrous to pay tribute to Richard, because he was a king. Some tosser, writing in some rag or other, called Richard a "psychopathic killer". Jon Snow did himself no favours when he called the church services "mumbo-jumbo", to the disapproval of a Hindu gentleman to whom he addressed those words. There have been those who objected to the church services (most of them) being Anglican, because Richard was a Catholic. My view is that if Richard had had a burial with due dignity and honour in 1485 it would have been in a Catholic church, because that was what there was in England at the time, and after all no one makes a fuss now about any royal grave pre Henry VIII being in an Anglican church, as they now are. One otherwise sensible historical blogger referred in passing to  "Protestant" rites. No. The Church of England is not a Protestant church.

But ordinary people, in huge numbers, came spontaneously to pay tribute, and many more who were not present posted their feelings on line. This was a moment in the history of England. The last English king, and the last king of England to die in battle on English soil - and no one disputes Richard's bravery - and the first to be DNA tested. Plantagenet is not, as some think, a French name, but an English one, derived from the Latin for the native English plant broom - Planta Genista. It was Richard's ancestor Geoffrey of Anjou who adopted the name. It works as well in English as in French. An important moment, and one the ordinary people of England and more understood better than those writing in the Guardian and its ilk who claim to speak for them. The lost king, who is now found. He has had a media profile that almost no other king has had, thanks to Shakespeare, who was hired as a propagandist against him by the Tudor usurpers (100 years later, why did they still think it necessary?) but whose spin ultimately failed as the truth began to come out.

Laws in English. A Bible in English. The precursor of legal aid. The abolition of benevolences. In less than two years on the throne, and having to deal with rebellion and plotting in that time, to say nothing of losing his beloved wife and son, and thus leaving no heir. I'll defy most rulers to do as much. This is the best-known portrait of Richard, though it is from long after his death, and is thought to be a copy of a now-lost portrait made during his lifetime.

I went to Bosworth. It is a Leicestershire field. It looks like this now. There would have been no trees or hedges in Richard's time.

Bosworth, edge of the battlefield

The tomb made for Richard is of Swaledale stone (from Yorkshire), and is so designed, with a deep cross-shaped cut, that the light of the rising sun will make a glowing cross when it strikes the tomb through the stained glass window. Remember what happened to the winter of our discontent? Made glorious summer by this sun of York? Yes, Shakespeare had the words, all right. I came to Richard first through Shakespeare, at the age of fourteen.
Rest in peace, King Richard

Leicester City Council (Leicester became a city, and St. Martin's Church a cathedral, in 1927) did not put a foot wrong. Thank you Leicester for your welcome, and for the dignity and honour you have given King Richard. Thank you too for not trying to appropriate, or even comment on, his reign, his political base, anything he did, but for doing the right thing and giving him the honourable resting place he deserves. Thank you Leicester Cathedral for your commemoration of him. Thank you for using the theme of defeat (for after all Richard was defeated in battle at Bosworth in 1485, and that is how the usurper Henry Tudor got the throne) and death, in what your preachers said this past week about Richard. Many of us are defeated in life, or at the end of it. And all of us die. And that makes us all the same, at the end, king, or priest, or commoner. Rest in peace King Richard. I consider myself blessed to have been in Leicester this week. Loyaulte me lie (Loyalty Binds Me, Richard's personal motto). 

This is how Leicester ended the week - with thousands of lights, and fireworks from the Cathedral roof.

Friday, 27 March 2015

rubbish about Richard

People who know me know that I am a Ricardian, namely someone who thinks King Richard III has been unfairly maligned over the centuries. I am in Leicester this week for what is being called locally The Return of the King. Wrongly, because this is where he was killed. It is beginning to look as though we have got our king back. More on this to come, but in the meantime here are some intelligent remarks.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

fisking the Salter

well, he should keep quiet about things that don't concern him if he doesn't like it. Now he has instructed His Master's Voice, aka the Reading Evening Post, to publish the following. A little light fisking is, I think, in order.

the body language is hilarious
Former Reading West MP Martin Salter has launched an attack on his successor Alok Sharma for being a “party political clone”. Pots and kettles, anyone?
The former Labour MP, who stepped down and then tried to un-step-down when he realised the seat was not necessarily lost for Labour despite his having spent most of his time in Reading East while an MP before the last General Election in 2010 in which Conservative Alok Sharma won the seat, has written to his former constituents what, all 70K plus of them? with a second-class stamp at - oh, you do the math. The Angling Trust must be paying him better than their website indicates if he's got around 40K to spend on postage saying: “I fought long and hard for my constituents and you recognised that with your support at three General Elections for which I’m profoundly grateful.
“I had hoped that my Conservative successor, Alok Sharma, would do as he promised and put local people before his party interests and his own career.
“Sadly, he has turned out to be a big disappointment and has spent five years toeing the party line so he can occupy a minor role in government as a bag carrier for a junior minister. Pots and kettles, again. At least Alok Sharma has kept the job. When Salter got his first taste of life as a ministerial bag-carrier, he lasted five weeks before being sacked
Reading West deserves better than this and I know that Vicky Victoria Groulef, a business woman who seems to be a sound candidate. She ought to stop having her picture taken with Salter if she knows what's good for her will be an MP that puts you and your families first and who will fight day and night for the best deal for her constituency irrespective of party politics.” She won't, you know, for the simple reason that she would be deselected if she did

Mr Salter went on: “When I stepped down as MP five years ago, I had hoped my Conservative successor would continue the tradition hollow laugh of putting the people of Reading West before the wishes of the party whips which Mr Salter did not do, voting precisely as the whips instructed him to do on Iraq, which was not to vote at all. Yep, a noble tradition of abstention and cowardice. Don't go there Victoria

Mr Salter still lives in Reading West, was a Reading Borough councillor and deputy leader of the council before becoming an MP, and currently works for the Angling Trust as campaigns co-ordinator. gushes the Post. How about coming up with a reason for publishing this muck produced by a nobody and a has-been, or better still, investigating who paid for the 70,000 letters we are informed have been sent to people in Reading West?

update: the Reading Chronicle says (so it must be true), the following:

Martin Salter, Reading West MP from 1997 to 2010, launched the scathing attack in a letter which is to be sent out to all 73,000 constituents.

So, tell us, who's paying for this bilious self-serving pyramid of piffle to be mailed on behalf of a clapped-out former politician whose career ended in ignominious failure? Huh?

anyone notice there's an election coming? it's time to kick a teacher

aaaand here we go again! It's election time, so I thought I would cast an eye into the pit of darkness that is Reading, UK. Well, a pit of darkness politically, anyway, otherwise it's an OK town, and one I was pleased to live in for 21 years, still the longest I have lived anywhere. My children went to the excellent E.P. Collier primary school there, and went on to the comprehensive school north of the Thames called Highdown. I thought the school was OK, but neither of them did. My older one had left by the time Tim Royle took over as head. He was excellent in my view, and I was very pleased to be able to introduce him to the then Education Secretary David Blunkett back at the end of the 1990s. Later (I do not say the two events are connected) Tim Royle became a national leader in education, and the school improved a lot under his leadership. Well, there were those who did not like that, and Tim Royle found himself accused of fraud. Fortunately the charges were thrown out, but the darkness remains. Tim Royle was not the first head teacher of that school to be pushed out and accused of misdeeds. When that happens (a previous head this happened to, Alan Furley, is now dead, and the things that were said at his funeral (I was there) would make your hair curl) there is dark muttering in Reading Labour Party (a number of teachers are Labour Party members, and one former Highdown teacher, Jan Gavin, is a councillor) from those who claim to know all about What Has Really Been Going On. You'd think, wouldn't you, that if councillors had real concerns about what was happening at a school they would investigate and try and do something about it, in the interests of the pupils and of education in the town? No, it doesn't work like that. So, only a few people at the heart of Reading Labour Party know why two head teachers have been variously attacked, dismissed, and dragged through the courts on trivial and trumped-up charges. I think they should tell us.