Richard III mania: why have been people queuing for hours to see his coffin?

More than 20,000 people have this week queued for up to four hours to catch a glimpse of Richard III’s coffin – a turnout that has surprised both organisers and the research team responsible for his discovery

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So why has the nation been so caught up in ‘Richard III mania’? We asked historians and people who lined up to see the coffin to share their views…

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“It’s an opportunity to give something back to Richard”

Many people have a strong sense of justice. When confronted with stories like that of Eva Peron in Argentina [whose embalmed corpse disappeared three years after her death in 1952, removed by the Argentinian military in the wake of a coup that deposed her husband, President Juan Peron. Its whereabouts were a mystery for nearly two decades], or of Richard III in England, they find themselves embroiled in the injustice of the unlevel playing field of history.

Richard III was such a kind man that he left very strong key enemies both alive and at liberty. Those people – including Morton, Stanley, and Margaret Beaufort – were therefore able to wreck Richard’s reign and life, and subsequently blacken his reputation. This obviously gives many ordinary people a strong sense of injustice.

Of course, no one pretends that Richard III was a saint. But those who wish to do so now have a wonderful opportunity to give something back to a legitimate sovereign who, ironically, has had his reputation tarnished for 500 years, and who is still often called a usurper. Hence the white roses, the crowds, and the royal salutes…

John Ashdown-Hill is an independent historian who traced the lineage of Anne of York to Michael Ibsen, and who inspired Philippa Langley to instigate the search for Richard’s remains.

 

“People want to say ‘I was there’”

I talked to a lot of people queued outside Leicester Cathedral this week l because I was curious as to why they were there. Their interests are similar in many respects – the one thing that most comes across is that they felt they wanted to be present, or at least pass by in some way, because they thought it was something unique historically.

Maybe it’s a human desire to be part of something bigger than yourself. But really we’re all part of the story, because we’re all alive at the time that the discovery [of Richard III’s remains] happened. How wonderful it is to be able to say that you’ve experienced it in some slightly vicarious way. You can say ‘I was there’.

Michael Ibsen is a descendant of Richard III’s sister Anne. His DNA was used to identify the remains of Richard III’s skeleton.

 

“It exploits modern infatuation with forensic programmes like CSI”

No English king failed as completely as Richard III, or had such an evil reputation. Finding his supposed remains changes nothing.

The brilliant campaign of the Richard III Society persuaded the public that Richard was the victim of Tudor propaganda, and his reburial is a media triumph even greater than the quincentenary in 1983.

It is the most notable occurrence in Leicester for 500 years (so a resident said on television!), and exploits modern infatuation with forensic programmes like CSI. It also demonstrates how successfully public opinion can be shaped.

Michael Hicks is the recently retired head of history at the University of Winchester, who questions whether the remains are those of Richard III.

 

“We wanted to pay homage”

It’s an opportunity we never thought we’d have, and something we never thought would happen in our lifetime. It’s phenomenal that they’ve found him. We think it’s right to pay homage. It’s quite emotional being here.
Clearly, Richard’s charisma resonates across the centuries. Perhaps this will be the dawn of a new era for him.

Carol Winstanley, Chris Roberts and Chris Broadbent are members of the Richard III Society who travelled from Liverpool to see the coffin.

 

“It’s not every day you get to see a medieval king’s funeral”

I’ve travelled four hours to be here. There’s a real sense of history. It’s not every day you get to see a medieval king’s funeral! Having said that, I’m really surprised by the turnout.

David Evans is a BBC History Magazine subscriber from Montgomery, Powys.
 

To read what it was like to see Richard III’s coffin, click here.

To find out what Leicester DNA expert Dr Turi King told us about the 6.7 million to one weight of evidence that the skeleton is Richard III, click here.

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You can also read the social media reaction to the reinterment here