Did I detect just a small amount of provocation at NBSAN when Vicky Gould (from York) said to Rick Thomas (from Leicester), “You got our king”?
Of course, this refers to Richard III, whose bones (as you most likely know) were found under a car park in Leicester, near the battle of Bosworth where he was killed, and were recently reburied with great pomp in the cathedral in Leicester. The city of York had competed for the king’s bones, on the grounds that he was a Yorkist and that was his home town.
Quite by chance, the evening after the meeting I read on the web about the earlier English king Edward the Martyr. His story has something in common with Richard’s, as well as with other topical things such as “Wolf Hall” and “Game of Thrones”.
Edward was the eldest son of king Edgar the Peaceful, and was crowned king of England in 975 at the age of 13, and was murdered three years later. Subsequently, he was recognised as a saint in the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches (maybe one of the few things these three organisations can agree on). Reading what little is known about his life, one gets little impression of saintliness. Moreover, he was not murdered by pagan Vikings, or even by the anti-clerical party in Wessex. Historians have several theories about why he was murdered, but maybe the favourite is that it was a power struggle between his supporters and those of his younger brother Ethelred (the Unready).
I knew very little about this period. I had of course heard of Ethelred the Unready (his appelative is mis-translated from the Old English word which actually means “ill-advised”). But I did note that, when I read the Wikipedia page, it noted that it was last edited on 1 April, so it might be as fictional as Game of Thrones.
Edward’s bones were not lost, but were actually kept in a bank vault for some time because of a legal battle over their ownership between the archaeologist who found them (who wanted them to go to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) and his brother (who wanted them returned to Shaftesbury Abbey where they had been found). The Russians were victorious, and Edward was reburied at Brookwood in Surrey, where there is now an Orthodox foundation including a small monastery and a parish church.
This happened in 1984, well within my lifetime, and yet I don’t recall hearing anything about it. So the reburial of someone revered as a saint in most of Christendom can pass unnoticed, while the reburial of someone who was perhaps a murderer and usurper is a national event. Why? Maybe Richard had the better writer for his life story …
I happened to be reading this on St George’s Day, and it struck me that St George’s connection with England is as tenuous as St Edward’s with Russia or Greece.
Brookwood is itself an interesting place. I have passed it on the train many times; it is at the junction of the line to Basingstoke and the south-west and the line to Aldershot. The cemetery there is one of the largest in Europe, with over 235000 inhabitants. It was created by the London Necropolis Company to offer an alternative to London’s overcrowded burial grounds. The company had their own station (London Necropolis) near Waterloo, and offered three classes of burial (as befitted a class-conscious society like Britain), though most of the burials were third-class. It also re-buried inhabitants of London graveyards whose rest had been disturbed by the building of London’s sewers and underground railways. The main divisions of the cemetery were Anglican and Nonconformist, each with their own station, but it also included several smaller divisions including Parsee (I thought that Parsees practiced air burial, but maybe there are not enough vultures in Surrey), Turkish, and American. The cemetery itself was the subject of a legal battle before ending up in the care of Woking council.