I opened my Facebook author page to discover my new friend Sarahleigh of Leicester had posted about the gift I sent her, a paperback of my novel, Rings of Passage. On the title page, I had written the inscription, “The Sunne in Splendour shined on us the day we met.” It was so true.
Meeting Sarahleigh among the crowd gathering the streets of Richard III’s “funeral” procession, marked the beginning of an extraordinary week for me in which I celebrated the life of a long dead English king. It’s as if this 500-year-old English monarch had suddenly become a rock star.
History geeks, scientists, writers, literary experts, members of the Richard III Society, and everyday working citizens of Leicester, came together for an international event that was as unlikely as it was miraculous.
Against the Odds
Excavated three years ago from beneath a “car park” in the city’s center, the bones of medieval King Richard III matched the DNA of a living descendant of Richard’s sister.
That’s the miraculous part. As Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist for the University of Leicester’s Greyfriar’s project said, “The chances of finding Richard was, I don’t know, a million to one.”
From ignominy to celebrity
On March 22, these royal bones were being transported via motorized hearse and then horse-drawn carriage in a dignified procession along the same route Richard III’s corpse traveled, ignominiously thrown over the back of a horse, the day he died.
He was on his way to Leicester cathedral, where within a few days’ time on March 26, he would be re-buried with the honor he never received the first time, when he was thrown into a shallow grave, 530 years ago. Henry Tudor, the victor of that battle and usurper of the throne, wanted to erase the memory of the last Plantagenet king from the minds of the citizens of his newly claimed realm as quickly as possible.
A medieval city’s transformation
When Richard came through this medieval city in 1485, it had a population of only 3,000. Leicester today has nearly 400,000 residents. Britain’s most ethnically diverse city, it was now undergoing what the news media called the “Richard Effect.”
Many of the people lining High Street waiting for the procession were from countries other than the United Kingdom – America, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France. But the majority were Midlanders, born and bred in and around Leicester, who had heard about Richard III all their lives because they grew up among the landmarks of his final days. They had been taught in school the textbook facts about how he had been slain 14 miles from their city on the battlefield of Bosworth – the last English King to die in battle.
My novel unearthed
The entwining of my life with Richard III’s legend began over two decades ago. Reading Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time turned me into an instant Ricardian, chaffing against Tudor propagandists and Shakespeare’s smear campaign. I eagerly joined the Richard III Society and wrote my first novel, Rings of Passage. In it, Richard is a romantic hero worthy of happiness – not the Bard’s crouch-backed monster.
Many years my novel had languished on a computer hard drive.
Then, suddenly, Richard became newsworthy. Not long after the excavation of his bones and DNA identification, I unearthed Rings of Passage. The advent of e-publishing now made it possible for readers specifically interested in Richard III to discover my novel.
Not long after it came out, my novel passed the acid test when the Richard III Society publication Ricardian Bulletin reviewed it. I had my facts “pretty much bang to rights,” wrote the reviewer.
Whew! I passed the history test.
That kind of obsession
My visit to Leicester in March 2015 was not my first. In 1990, I took a self-guided tour of as many Ricardian landmarks I could get to during a month spent in England. I had been to the Bow Bridge, where Richard had been carried after the battle, his naked body slung over a horse. I had made a pilgrimage to Bosworth Field, which required me to catch a city bus to Market Bosworth, and then hike the remaining few miles to the battlefield, walk around it, and back again – a total of 10 miles on foot.
That kind of obsession is what compelled Philippa Langley to become the squeaky-wheel for the Ricardians, urging public and university officials to finally excavate the site where Richard had most likely been buried, the social services car park on the former location of Greyfriars Priory, destroyed during the Reformation.
I went to that car park on my long-ago trip to Leicester. Because of a locked gate, I could not get as far as Philippa Langley’s parking space marked with the letter ‘R’ under which Richard had lain for five centuries.
Yet, as I stood soggy in the cold rain, like Philippa, I swear I could feel him there.
The Richard Effect
Come full circle to Leicester, March 22, 2015.
Arriving in Leicester by train just in time to make it to City Centre before the streets closed to car traffic, I stood not far from that car park once more.
Like thousands of others stacked six deep along the High Street, I waited for the solemn, horse-drawn procession carrying Richard’s coffin. Many only wanted the chance to toss a white rose in the Yorkist’s honor as he passed.
I first met Sarahleigh in this throng of Richard “fans” at a tree planter along the street, upon which the most “vertically challenged” of us could crawl and stand at a height lofty enough to stare down the street, blinking into the glare of the setting sun, and hoping to catch the first glimpse of the procession.
After that, Sarahleigh kept in touch with me online throughout the week, as we shared the experience of the “Richard Effect” on the city of Leiceister. It’s as if we were old friends long parted who had found one another again.
On Friday, the day after the re-interment in the Cathedral, we joined up for the remarkable and surreal experience of “Leicester Glows,” a “fire garden” of 8,000 flaming candles built into sculptures and trails throughout the cathedral gardens and lining the streets.
The week nearly over, Sarahleigh and I took our turns tying prayer ribbons at Leicester Cathedral, and giving thanks to the universe for allowing us to share this remarkable historical event.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch described it perfectly: “It’s just an extraordinary thing to witness history through death brought back to life in order to be placed back to death again.”
Rings of Passage is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.
Dangerous Reflections is a time travel historical fantasy set in Edwardian London. After Martie is bequeathed a magic wand from her grandmother, she steps through a mirror into the arms of a powerful wizard and a truly magical romance.