Book Review: How to Bury a King:
The Reinterment of King Richard III
Pete Hobson, How to Bury a King: The Reinterment of King Richard III. Zaccmedia, 2016
On 26 March 2016, the one year anniversary of Richard III’s reinterment in Leicester Cathedral, three books and a CD were launched in St Martin’s House adjacent to Leicester Cathedral.
The launch was held in the great hall of St Martin’s House, with the choir singing to publicise the release of the CD. He lieth under this Stone features much of the choral music performed at Leicester Cathedral during the reinterment week in March 2015. Of course, it also includes ‘Ghostly Grace’, composed especially for the occasion by Judith Bingham.
The three books were How to Bury a King by Rev Peter Hobson, acting canon missioner at Leicester Cathedral, Flowers for a King by Rosemary Hughes, who was responsible for the floral arrangements in the Cathedral, and Richard III – His Story, by Leicester artist Kirsteen Thomson.
At this time, the book I was most interested in was Rev Pete’s memoir of How to Bury a King. Fortunately, some friends were able to attend, and I now have a highly prized treasure: a copy of the book, signed and dedicated with the date of the launch.
Much has been written about finding the remains of Richard III, from a variety of angles. There are publications about the archaeological dig. The research to establish that the remains really were those of the king, as well as other observations about his life offered by the remains is available to the public.
This one though is different. It deals with what happened to the remains after the scientists had done their research, concentrating on the preparations for the reinterment and that week in 2015 itself. Of course, Rev Pete is well-known for all his contributions to the blog ‘King Richard in Leicester’.
How to Bury a King is the result of a wet summer in Scotland. As Rev Pete told the Leicester Mercury[i]:
After the dust settled last summer I had a three-month sabbatical, for part of which my wife and I drove round Scotland in a campervan.
It was a wet summer, and so to while away the evenings I sat and wrote my own account of the events of the past two to three years, just to get it out of my system.
Just as well that it was a wet summer, because now we get a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes into how it all came together. It’s not a huge tome, just 100 odd pages, but a pure delight.
The cover shows on top a young girl placing the crown on Richard’s coffin, and at the bottom the moment, when the coffin was lowered into the grave. The girl, Emma, is a Brownie. She was chosen as one of the first to successfully complete the Brownie Richard III Badge. Emma was interviewed by Dean David Monteith during the launch, describing her experience as “awesome” and “cool”.
How to Bury a King is arranged chronologically, from finding human remains in a car park across the street from the Cathedral in August 2012 until the fireworks of ‘Leicester Glows’ on 27 March 2015.
The first few chapters of the book deal with the structures within the Cathedral and the Church of England, which would be involved in a project like the reburial of a king, and who is responsible for what. While they might not make the most riveting reading, they are necessary explanations.
Once these basics are in place, the story gets into its stride. We learn that the theme of “With dignity and honour” emerged fairly early in the process. It does indeed, as Rev Pete says, “encapsulate, in four short words, the touchstone of all else that was to be planned and executed”.[ii] And I can only say that all involved achieved that aim brilliantly.
The book deals with all the necessary preparations and arguments on the way to the reinterment, the changes to the fabric of the Cathedral and Cathedral Gardens, the Judicial Review, how to finance such an event, how the seats at the various services were to be allocated, the coffin and the tomb, and all the details which had to be sorted in order for the actual event to run smoothly. The scope of work must have been enormous, much more so than any onlooker would have thought. Congratulations that everything worked out, and it all came together.
At the end, there is a description of the various services and the thoughts behind them. The special service for members of the Richard III Society on the Monday evening is also covered.
A truly mesmerising read for everyone. Those, who were lucky enough to have been in Leicester at the time and even attended one of the services, will find much to bring back their own memories. And for those who could not attend it is an essential part to complete the picture of the archaeological dig, the research of the remains and finally the reinterment.
At the launch, Rev Pete explained that all funds raised from the sale of the book are going to the cathedral. It is also available for Kindle etc, but apparently the Cathedral gets more money from the hard copy sales. I can only encourage everyone to support the Cathedral by buying How to Bury a King, you won’t regret it.
[i] Warzynski, P.A., ‘Richard III book and CD launch held on the one year anniversary of the reinterment’, Leicester Mercury (24 March 2016). URL: http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/Richard-III-book-CD-launch-held-year-anniversary/story-28985595-detail/story.html [last accessed 15 April 2016]
[ii] Hobson, P., How to Bury a King: The Reinterment of King Richard III. Zaccmedia, 2016, pp.19-20