The final tomb design for King Richard III’s resting place was revealed yesterday. The design, which is almost unchanged from the original design revealed last year, is still causing contention. Previously there has been some opinion that the modern design is not fit for a medieval king. In an official statement, the the Dean of Leicester, the Very Revd David Monteith, said ‘This is a tomb which reflects the era in which it is designed as well as the solemn purpose for which it is commissioned. To do anything else would be a pastiche of a medieval tomb and would ignore the fact he is being reburied in the 21st century. That is part of King Richard’s story now.”

BBC Radio Leicester covered some of the issues surrounding the tomb design. Ben Jackson spoke to the Dean of Leicester and to the founder of the Looking for Richard project, Philippa Langley.

David Monteith, speaking just before the unveiling of the design, said: “The design that has now been approved seems to me to combine three elements. It is very distinctive and elegant, secondly it is a design that evokes memory and is deeply respectful of history and thirdly and very importantly given that this memorial will  sit in a…Church of England Cathedral it’s a design deeply imbued with spirituality and with a sense of stillness that will evoke, I think, a degree of wonder and awe in people which is very much part of our mission.”

Reverend Mandy Ford discussed the changes to the plans for the interior of the Cathedral. “We have long conversations with the CFCE about the stone floor and the rose motif which some people really liked and others felt just jarred a little bit; they weren’t entirely happy with it, so the architects went back and looked at it again and we now have this simpler dark plinth which really makes the tomb itself stand out very strongly and which will be a lovely foil to the letter cutting, so that Richard’s name, his coat of arms and so on will really sing out from that dark marble.”

The original floor design that surrounded the tomb

The original floor design that surrounded the tomb

On the controversial design of the incised cross on the tomb, she said “What you will see as you come towards the tomb is actually not a dark cross but light coming through the cross…you’ll also be looking up towards these wonderful new stained glass windows being commissioned by Tom Denny which shows stories of Richard’s life, the whole thing framed by a new chapel on one side and the relocated Nicholson screen on the other.”

The King Richard in Leicester website also details the spiritual ideas behind the tomb design “It is tilted slightly, as if rising to meet the risen Jesus. For centuries Christians have been buried with their feet in the east and heads in the west, ready to stand and face Jesus when he returns – usually assumed to rise again in the east just as the sun rises in the east each morning. The cut is cross shaped, to show that this new life was won through the death of Jesus, a Christian belief which would have been fundamental to King Richard himself.”

The design of the tomb has been a contentious topic since it was revealed last year. The Richard III Society has been vocal about their disapproval, withdrawing an initial £40,000 contribution. Philippa Langley discussed her reservations about the tomb design with Ben Jackson. “79% of people in Leicester, when they were asked about the slashed cross design voted against it. As Ricardians we’ve made no secret that [we think] the gashed sort of cross dishonours the King really, in every possible way. They see the slash marks as making a mockery of the way the man died on the field of battle and sort of caricaturing the wounds that he received…he was an incredibly pious man and he revered the Christian symbol of the cross, it was a big sign of his faith. When the Cathedral launched their very first design it had a beautiful cross on top of it and that was received with almost universal acclaim, so we’re really disappointed that the slashed cross is still there.”

A modern coat of arms by Andrew Jamieson commissioned by the Richard III Society

A modern coat of arms by Andrew Jamieson commissioned by the Richard III Society, depicting the Warrior King

When Jackson asked Philippa if she was not reading too much into it she replied: “That’s a general perception…across the board…when the design was released this morning it kind of went into meltdown here, with people saying they don’t understand why a contentious design would still be chosen. What they’re saying is, with the black plinth, his name will now be carved into black so there’s now all these connotations with Shakespeare’s black legend, he’s now got no white roses from the house of York, he’s now got black roses. We’ve asked for a meeting in Leicester on Monday so that we could put some proposals to them, and we hope we still can put some proposals to them…our thinking was there’s ways we can slightly modify the design where it won’t be contentious any more.”

Philippa agreed with Jackson that the goal was now indeed to move forward with the burial. Philippa added: “When you visit Leicester the people…are so proud of Richard III, the last Warrior King and their associations with him. All we would be saying is let’s put it to the people of Leicester, let’s ask them, let’s bring them into the process. There’s three things [we would ask]. Can we give him white roses, on the corners on the floor…give him small white roses on the corners so we have the white rose of York, is there something that can be done so that his name is not carved in black and can we give him a raised cross? What we would ask, and what everybody has been asking me, is if [we could take] those two designs, if we could then put those to the people of Leicester and ask them which one they want?”

Jackson then spoke to Rev David Monteith and asked for his response: “It’s always good to hear Philippa, and she’s been part of this story all along, she’s a significant voice and we’ve listened quite carefully to her and members of the Richard III Society. But of course Richard III doesn’t belong to Philippa nor the Richard III Society, he belongs to the whole nation.” Jackson then emphasised that we wouldn’t be here without Philippa’s determination, and asked if there are not areas where they could negotiate on the design. The Dean replied: “Actually the white rose aspect is a very minor little thing, it’s always been talked about in the process and…I think that is the sort of thing we can do. I don’t think that’s contentious in any way but I think the fundamental design in both the Kilkenny limestone plinth and the main stone with the deep incised cross, that’s the design which has now been accepted and that’s no longer up for debate.”

“We’ve gone a long way addressing many of their concerns already and actually that’s been a really helpful process, they’re a significant voice in the conversations that led to the designs that we’ve got. There’s many things there…for example they were very keen for us to include the arms of England, well we’ve done that and that’s a clear win. This is a complex process involving many voices. Philippa said she’s heard from many people who aren’t happy the the design, well I’ve heard from loads and loads of people who are very happy with it. Whatever we do is going to cause a degree of controversy.”

Addressing the placement of Richard’s remains in an ossuary box, the Dean said “It’s about treating his remains with the most profound respect. If you just lay him out anatomically in a coffin then of course when he’s buried we have no idea what will happen to those remains underground over time, and it would seem a very irresponsible thing to bury him in such a way that would deliberately result in the degradation of those remains. We need to take on-board what the historical conservationists and the archaeologists say in creating an ossuary that will potentially take those bones with the maximum amount of care.” The Dean confirmed the bones will not be laid out anatomically. He added he understood the emotional response to that but thought it did not bear scrutiny, pointing out that remains of many monarchs, popes and saints have been placed in ossuaries. “I certainly don’t want to go down in the history books as the dean who was irresponsible in the way that his bones were treated.” He also denied that the remains were being treated with a view to being exhumed again in the future. “I cannot make that assumption, and as a priest when I bury him I am burying him for good. I can’t be the person, nevertheless, that treats his remains with disrespect.”

The meeting between representatives of the Richard III Society and the Cathedral will take place on Monday the 23rd of June.

26 Responses

  1. Wendy

    Isn’t it a shame that the Richard III Society are being so thoroughly ignored when they were the only ones who cared about Richard for so many years, not to mention the fact that it was their money which paid for the dig in the first place. The incised cross makes the tomb look like a block of cheese on a plate. A gold cross on the top would be so much more fitting.

  2. Patricia Rice-Jones

    These designs and the use of an ossuary are not respectful to King Richard and in way represent the place of burial of a medieval King. Dean Montieth is arrogant and dishonest to the Christian Faith.

    Interesting too that Philippa Langley now seeks consultation, albeit only with the people of Leicester! What a pity the R3Soc and LFR did were not more pro-active on Richard’s behalf from the start. This matter should have gone to the Nation fro consultation at the very beginning and they should have had that written into the agreement. Leicester never has been a suitable place to bury Richard III.

    With a more pro-active approach from R3Soc and LFR we would not be in a position whereby the dignity of a King of England are being rode roughshod over by the Leicester Cabal.

    Shame on you Philippa for allowing this to come to pass

    • Tommy Rotherham

      Wasn’t an ossuary used for Henry VI? His exhumation in the early 1900 described a disarticulated body. Henry VI has been used time after time by supporters of the Richard to York campaign as a sign of how he treated a previous king with respect and thus should also be treated with respect. Clearly, being disarticulated in burial is not a disrespectful act.

  3. Gini Wells

    The squabbles over Richard III’s tomb design and place of burial do nothing to enhance the memory of and respect for a deceased King of England, but rather reveals a somewhat childish-sounding petulance on the part of the squabblers. In the greater scheme of things, the tomb design and exact resting place are insignificant when compared to the importance of finding Richard’s remains and ensuring their Christian reburial. All those who helped this happen should rest content that this can now happen and put aside arguments about superficialities. Whatever the tomb looks like, I shall be happy to go and pay my respects after the reinterment next year.

    • Jasmine

      I couldn’t agree more, Gini. The squabbles, the often emotive language which has been used and in some cases disreputable allegations made against almost everyone involved in it, particularly if they are associated with Leicester, have not provided a good image for people in general who were excited by the discovery. There is a risk that if things continue in the same way, it will have a detrimental effect on the Society’s efforts to change people’s perceptions of Richard III.

      For a long time, supporters of Richard III were dismissed as ‘fruit cakes’ who had an entirely romantic view of him. The Society and its supporters have worked hard over the years to change that image. Unfortunately recent outpourings all over the Internet will only reinforce the previous negative image and reduce the effectiveness of making an alternative case for Richard’s reputation.

      • Gini Wells

        Thank you for endorsing my comments, Jasmine. I so dislike this kind of petty bickering – it only detracts from the bigger picture and tarnishes reputations and takes the edge off the excitement and joy of the discovery of Richard III’s remains and the chance to rehabilitate him within the society of his time. Let’s hope those who are indiscriminately airing their views without consideration of their effect will learn the value of silence soon – or at least be less strident!

    • Lyn

      I agree. I think the design is irrelevant in a way. It’s thrilling that Richard III’s remains have been found & his reburial is the important thing, not the design of the tomb. The new information that has already been gathered about Richard – his appearance, the manner of his death – is fascinating & I’m much more interested in the research than the nitpicking over the design of his tomb. I am pleased that Michael Ibsen will be making the casket for the ossuary, I think that’s a nice gesture.

      • Gini Wells

        Yes, I thought Michael Ibsen making the casket was a great idea. For me, one of the most important things to have come out of Richard’s re-discovery is the possibility that a new generation of children, and perhaps a host of adults as well, may become interested in history through the excitement of this find. The ‘story’ and the science should not be buried under the petty bickering.

  4. LauraS

    What I can’t understand is why the Cathedral spent money to commission a tomb design when Philippa had already done so AND raised all the money to fund it. Her design is very dignified and respectful, not ostentatious, and reflects things important to Richard. And did I mention it was paid for?!?

    • Jasmine

      Decisions about the tomb design do not rest entirely with the Cathedral. They have to get approval from a central body which looks after the fabric of all Cathedrals in the kingdom. Perhaps there were issues we know nothing about.

      I saw a sample of the stone proposed for the original design and it was a rather bright yellow which I didn’t really care for.

    • Jasmine

      There is a video on Youtube of the Cathedral’s press conference about the design, where they explain what the symbolism if the design in. They also talk about the light flooding through the incised cross and what that means. It is an interesting explanation and well worth watching.

  5. Janine Lawrence

    I think the tomb is hideous. I am a Richard lll Society member and gave a donation towards the tomb – but not this thing The cathedral have come up with. The design Philippa and co originally came up with was representative of Richard with his boar and Yorkist rose proudly displayed. This lump of stone looks like a great heap of pumice and is far too modern. I hope they don’t get away with this modern travesty. And as for the ossuary… NO!!! It is disrespectful to an anointed king.

    • Jasmine

      Ossuaries are relatively common forms of burial. I do not understand the objection to them. Why are they particularly disrepectful to an annointed king? In this instance, the coffin, with Richard inside will be moved several times during the process of reburial. How would an articulated skeleton remain in position during that?

      I have visited the Escorial in Madrid, the burial place of Spanish monarchs since Phillip II. There the bodies are put into small burial chambers and left until the flesh is gone, then the bones are collected and reburied in the final tombs some time later. These are all Catholic and annointed kings and queens, yet this process is not seen as disrespectful.

      Going back to the idea of a modern tomb for Richard – he is being reburied in the 21st century. When people have been reburied hundreds of years after their original funeral, the tombs provided have been of the time of the reburial, not a reproduction of an earlier period’s design.

      • Gini

        I appreciate your reasoned response to Janine’s comment, Jasmine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on a subject, but to use emotive language, such as ‘hideous’, ‘thing’, and ‘travesty’ is unhelpful. I think many people mistake their personal taste for ‘correctness’ and much of the argument I have read about the design of Richard III’s tomb seems to me to be the emotional promotion of personal tastes. I, too, am a member of the Richard III Society and I don’t think it’s going to help engender an interest in his life and times, or add to the excitement of discovering his remains, to be airing my personal views on the tomb design or the ossuary. I am just very happy that Richard will be interred with due reverence and solemnity and I have no doubt that the Cathedral and Local Authorities in Leicester will do his memory proud. We all bring our personal thoughts and desires to this subject – please, let’s stop airing them publically when they cannot now influence decisions already made!

      • Olga Hughes

        Thinking on that, Richard’s parents have an Elizabethan tomb. Elizabeth I replaced their original tomb in the style of her own era.

      • Jasmine

        True, Olga and as far as I know, all ‘later’ tombs are produced in contemporary style rather than trying to recreate a past style. I guess it would not have occurred to Elizabeth or others to try to reproduce a design which could have been decades, if not scores of years old.

        I suspect that had Leicester Cathedral gone down that route, those opposed to the location of the reburial would have complained that the design didn’t represent the 21st century.

  6. Jasmine

    I agree wholeheartedly, Gini (again!) however I think there are those who are so angry about the JR decision that they will take any and every opportunity to use emotive language to describe anything to do with the reburial from the design of the tomb, to the service being considered, to the celebration events after the reburial.

    I find it a very sad situation, especially as Richard has been rescued from a hole under the car park and will be reburied in a religious establishment in all honour.

    • Carole Wilson

      Sorry I agree that the deign for this tomb is hideous it resembles a chest freezer. Last time I looked in the poll in Leicester Mercury it was 89 percent against this design. It is ugly and totally unsuited for the last English king to die in battle. The design by Richard 111 Society was beautiful and dignified Leicester seem rushed ahead with their own wishes and have not consulted other parties. I am very disappointed and hope they will seriously reconsider this design

      • Carole Wilson

        In reply to Olga where do you get the information that Richard’s parents tomb was recreated by Elizabeth 1. His parents are buried in the church at Fotheringhay along with their son Edmund.

      • Olga Hughes

        Hi Carole, it’s a well-known fact. The latest book to mention it in some detail is Amy Licence’s biography of Cecily Neville. The church and the tombs were damaged during the Dissolution and Elizabeth had them rebuilt after visiting Fotheringay. They were her great-grandparents after all.

      • Jasmine

        As I said before, the tomb design has to be approved the the Cathedrals Fabric Commission which is a national body (and, who would have had to approve any plans for a tomb in any other Cathedral, including York Minister)and Leicester Cathedral has to abide by their decision, regardless of the Cathedral’s own views or the views of people expressed in a newspaper poll.

        As the poll created by the newspaper is not in anyway an official poll, and is open to people regardless where they live, and the pro-York burial groups have been encouraging people opposed to the Leicester reburial to vote, it doesn’t have any validity certainly in the eyes of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission.

      • Carole Wilson

        Sorry Jasmine cannot Cathdedrals Fabric Commission could approve of this design it is beyond belief.