Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Protestant Funeral For a Catholic King

Richard III
Well, they found the remains of Richard III beneath a parking lot in the English city of Leicester, not far from Bosworth Field where he had been slain in the definitive battle of the War of the Roses.  The dead monarch had few friends in Leicester—the city was a stronghold of his Lancastrian enemies—and his corpse was buried rather ignominiously in the choir of the Greyfriars (Franciscan Church)—a far step down from the Cathedral or Abbey burials of other British Monarchs. 
And now the Dean and Chapter of Leicester Cathedral (Anglican) are fighting the Dean and Chapter of York Minster (Anglican) for ultimate reburial of royal bones.  Richard apparently wanted to be buried in York and he was the Yorkist claimant to the English Throne. 
The Wars of the Roses were a series of struggles between rival claimants to the English Crown in the fifteenth century.  The trouble started when the Yorkist Edward IV seized the throne from the Lancastrian Henry VI.  Both had claims to the throne.  Edward was the great-great grandson of Edward III through his fourth surviving son, Edmund of Langley.  Henry was also the great-great grandson of Edward III through his third surviving son, John of Gaunt.   The problem is that Edward III had a son—the Black Prince—who had predeceased his father.  The Black Prince also had a son—or several sons—who predeceased the old king as well.  The oldest surviving son at the time of the death of Edward III was the Black Prince’s son, Richard (Richard II), but Richard had no children.  Richard’s oldest sibling to produce an heir was Lionel of Antwerp who had a daughter Philippa.  Philippa was then heir presumptive to Richard II—but she died before Richard did.  She had a son who therefore should have inherited the throne—Richard Mortimer.  Unfortunately Richard Mortimer also died before his great-uncle but Richard Mortimer too had left a son—Edmund Mortimer.   In 1399 Henry Bolingbroke—a cousin of Richard II and grandson of Edward III through Edward’s son, John of Gaunt—led a coup against Richard and forced him to abdicate.  But—and I know this is confusing—the legitimate heir to the throne was, as said above, Edmund Mortimer, great-great grandson of Edward III. Bolingbroke seized the throne however under the argument that he was the oldest heir in an all-male line whereas Mortimer was descended from Edward through a female—Edward III’s granddaughter, Philippa.  To be fair to Edward’s claim, at the time there was a legitimate dispute as to whether a woman could inherit the throne and whether the throne could be inherited through a female line.  That issue was only settled definitively with the will of Henry VIII but that would only be in the following century.
The result of this cousinly tussle for the throne led to a war between the supporters of the Lancaster line represented by Henry VI, grandson of Henry IV Bolingbroke and the Yorkist line represented by Edward IV.  While Henry had an all male lineage, Edward had a double claim as he was descended from Edward III both through an all male line from Edward’s son Edmund and through the Lionel-Philippa-Mortimer lineage.
In the end, Edward IV (Yorkist) held the throne.  He should have  been succeeded by his son, Edward V, but his brother, Richard, locked the young king and his sibling, Richard, (ages 12 and 9) in the Tower of London and they were never seen alive again.  In 1674 during renovation work in the Tower skeletal remains of two boys were discovered.  They were reburied in Westminster Abbey as the presumed remains of Edward V and his brother Richard.  Their uncle, who had become Richard III, has always been blamed for their murder but whether he in fact had them murdered or whether this was propaganda from the Tudor dynasty is disputed.  Richard III was, as written above, defeated at Bosworth Field by Henry VII Tudor who succeeded him. 
So after begin defeated and slain on Bosworth Field, the remains of Richard III were brought to nearby Leicester and interred without coffin or even shroud in the Greyfriars Church.  They seem to have been literally tossed into a grave without any ceremony or rites.  When Henry VIII, the son of Richard’s nemesis, suppressed the religious orders in England in 1538, the Franciscans were sent packing and the Greyfriars Church and friary demolished.  There are records of a memorial stone in the early 17th century marking the grave but that eventually disappeared.  An archeological dig sponsored by the University of Leicester in 2012 discovered the remains and DNA testing confirmed they are those of Richard III.
The interesting question will be how they should be reburied.  To Catholics, Richard was a Catholic.  To Anglicans he was an Anglican at a time when the Church of England was still in communion with the Pope.  This is the point that I wanted to get to and for us to begin exploring.  Did Henry VIII establish the Anglican Church (aka the Church of England) or did he take the ancient and well-established Church of England out of Roman Communion.  Catholics will be quick to say that Henry founded the Anglican Church but as we will see in future entries the issue is far more complex.
There is a precedent on this matter of whether the King should be buried according to Catholic Rites or to those of the Prayer Book.  In 1964 the remains of Anne de Mowbray, the eight-year-old “child bride” of that nine-year old Prince, Richard Duke of York, who disappeared along with his brother Edward V in the Tower of London under the connivance of their uncle Richard III, were discovered on the site where the Poor Clare nuns had their monastery in Stepney.  (Yes, you read right.  Anne was five and Richard four when they were married on January 15, 1478 in the Chapel of Saint Stephen in Westminster Palace).    When her remains were reinterred in Westminster Abbey in 1965 there was a debate about the rites.  Anne—like everyone else at this time was Catholic.  But the Dean of Westminster, the Vy. Rev. Eric Abbott, KCVO, insisted that the Church of England now is the same Church of England to which Anne had belonged, only no longer in communion with the Roman See and no longer in usage of the ancient rites.  Thus she was buried according to the Prayer Book rites. Of course those were the days before ecumenism.  Now we live in the days after ecumenism.  That window of opportunity has been slammed shut.          

No comments:

Post a Comment