Dr Richard Buckley: ‘I had a real lump in my throat’

Posted by ap507 at Mar 21, 2016 12:35 PM |
Lead archaeologist on Richard III project recalls unparalleled chapter in his career
Dr Richard Buckley: ‘I had a real lump in my throat’

Dr Richard Buckley. Credit: Leicester Cathedral

One year ago this week, the 500-year-old royal remains of King Richard III left the University of Leicester bound for their final resting place at St Martin's Cathedral.

For Dr Richard Buckley, who had led the project to locate and remove the king's skeleton in the summer of 2012, it was a poignant moment.

It signalled the end of an unparalleled chapter in his career – and drew the gaze of the world to Leicester for one glorious week.

It began on Sunday 22 March 2015, with a short service held outside the University's Fielding Johnson Building.

The event marked the departure of Richard's rediscovered remains and the beginning of their journey to Leicester Cathedral for the long awaited reinterment.

It was also the start of a packed seven day programme of events, which celebrated the return of King Richard III as well as the achievement of Greyfriars team.

“The departure of Richard’s remains from the University marked the beginning of what turned out to be one of the most remarkable weeks of my life,” said Dr Buckley, co-director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS). “Like all the events of the week, I really had little idea of what to expect.

“It meant a lot to have the wider team with us outside the Fielding Johnson Building, together with family members, as all had in their own way supported the core team during a couple of years which had been completely dominated by Richard III matters.”

There was a short service televised by Channel 4, and watched around the world, with those who played an integral part in the project, including Philippa Langley and Dr John Ashdown-Hill, placing symbolic white roses on the coffin.

Then the Last Plantagenet King of England was taken from the University and back to the place he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth before starting its return journey through the villages and towns of Leicestershire and to his final resting place at Leicester Cathedral.

“I felt especially privileged to accompany the coffin with the University Chaplain, down to Fenn Lane farm,” said Dr Buckley. “There was no indication on the way of how much public interest there would be – just a few people watching.

“Then from Fenn Lane farm via the villages of Dadlington and Sutton Cheney when it became apparent just how much public interest there was – people were out in their thousands swamping these tiny villages, many of them throwing white roses on the roof of the hearse.

“It was truly humbling to witness all of this from a privileged position travelling in a car behind the hearse.

“From then on, the whole day was rather a surreal experience – ordinary people like me do not usually get to experience events such as this.”

On entering the city, the coffin received a rapturous welcome.

Thousands of people, including those who had travelled from every corner of globe, had lined the city streets carrying flags, banners and roses.

Around the world, television audiences watched as the horse-drawn carriage carrying Richard III's remains paraded past some of the city's best known landmarks and into St Martin's cathedral.

“Nothing prepared me for the arrival back in Leicester,” recalls Dr Buckley. “We stopped by West Bridge where there was a sea of people, and the sight of children with their hand-made heraldic banners.

“This brought a real lump to the throat and I had to work hard to stay in control - that’s why in the pictures I look so solemn!

“We walked up the hill for a short speech from the City Mayor marking the entry into the city and then a brief but beautiful service in Leicester’s oldest surviving church, St Nicholas.

Credit: Leicester Cathedral
“I was then wired with a mic by Channel 4 and then embarked on the walk around the city centre with Sir Peter Soulsby and Stephen Foster, following the horse-drawn gun carriage.

“Again, it was completely surreal - walking in procession around my home town and seeing us on the big screen at the clock tower. How strange is that!

“A few calls from the crowd from people I knew, especially as we passed a certain pub at which Sir Peter asked me whether I knew those people.

“Then, the home straight along St Martin's and our carefully choreographed entry into the cathedral where I had to say a few words to mark the formal handover of the King’s remains to the cathedral for reinterment.”

That was an important moment in the story of the king's discovery.

His bones had been at the University since their discovery in summer 2012, and now, after Dr Buckley and his team has positively identified them and brought back to England one of its most notable monarchs, their job was done, and the king's remains were now in the hands of the cathedral.

“My goodness, what a relief when that was over,” said Dr Buckley. “The words came out in the right order - I’m told - and this moment marked an end to our responsibility for looking after King Richard.

Credit: Will Johnston/Leicester Cathedral
“The service of compline which followed was beautiful.

“I was in a prime spot right next the coffin and watched as peers of the realm carefully laid the pall on top and it was then adjusted by the Duke of Gloucester.

“A young girl then stepped up and laid the replica crown on the coffin – another poignant moment which again really brought it home that this was a King of England.”

For the next three days the remains, housed in a closed coffin, lay in repose (for members of the public to view) and were visited by more than 20,000 people from across the world.

The coffin which was covered a ceremonial pall, designed by artist Jacquie Binns, was kept under constant watch by a military guard of honour, formed from British veterans.

“The day after we officially handed over the remains,” said Dr Buckley. “Mathew Morris (site manager on the Greyfriars dig) and I headed into town to sign some books at the Richard III visitor centre and were stunned to see an absolutely massive queue of people waiting to see King Richard in repose in the cathedral.

“We both felt rather responsible and walked up and down the line to chat to people, many of whom had come from afar.

“Again, very humbling indeed and rather weird to be having our brief period of fame.”

As Ricardians, tourists, visitors - and a lot of local people - came to get a glimpse of the occasion, which included the hordes of television crews, reporters and newspaper journalists who had descended on the city to mark the historic event, Leicester came alive and became – for a very brief time – the centre of much global attention.

Then came the main event. The reinterment.

The royal occasion, which included representatives from the Royal Family, guests of honour, celebrities and all those involved in the project, was held in a packed cathedral – beautifully adorned with garlands of flowers and decorations.

Some 350 million people tuned in to watch the service on television, which included actor Benedict Cumberbatch reading the poem ‘Richard’, written for the occasion by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

The St Martin's choir provided a moving accompaniment to the service, singing a specially-commissioned anthem by Judith Bingham, as the Bishop of Leicester and the Archbishop of Canterbury led proceedings, which saw the royal bones finally committed to the ground.

“Members of the team met up in the Guildhall beforehand before processing into the cathedral to take our seats,” said Dr Buckley. “We had a prime spot in the south aisle, looking northwards into the newly created ambulatory which contained the base of the tomb which had been prepared to receive the king’s remains.

“Another moving service, with an address by the University orator and a reading by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch.

“But I was very conscious that the cameras were on us at all times so I was careful to maintain a dignified countenance.

“It was incredible to be able to see the Archbishop of Canterbury and other senior churchmen officiating at the burial - I have never seen any burial take place before, this was my first.”

Richard III's remains were laid in a lead ossuary which was placed in a coffin made from English oak, and build by Richard's distant nephew Michael Ibsen.

The coffin was then placed in a brick lined vault below the floor of the cathedral, before being sealed beneath the tombstone.

“It’s actually rather unusual to bury bones,” said Dr Buckley. “Following a consultation with Leicester Museum service, amongst others, we decided to pack them with a mixture of unbleached English and Welsh wool and Irish Linen, the latter to be embroidered by Elizabeth Nokes of the Richard III Society.

“The military squad appointed to lower the coffin into the grave carried out their duty faultlessly.”

The next day was still frantic for visitors, who were still arriving in the city in droves for a chance to be part of the historic moment.

But for the University team which had brought them there it was time to wind down.

There was still one more service, the revealing of the Swaledale fossil tombstone, during which Curve theatre provided a specially conceived performance echoing aspects of King Richard’s life, death and rediscovery.

“Friday,” said Dr Buckley. “Altogether a more relaxing day.

Credit: Will Johnston/Leicester Cathedral
“A wonderfully upbeat service of reveal at the cathedral when the world saw the tomb for the first time with beautifully staged performance by theatre group.

“The evening event was really quite something.”

That evening, hundreds of candles were lit across the city, in culminating in a spectacular fireworks display from the roof of the cathedral, drawing to a close a remarkable week.

Dr Buckley said: “The feeling of goodwill in the town when I came back with wife and friends at dusk was palpable and it was great to be in the crowd to experience the fireworks with everyone else.

“And what a spectacle they were - a Richard III emblem projected on to the cathedral, forming a perfect backdrop to the amazing fireworks.

“Afterwards we walked with the crowds to jubilee square and saw the firepots and fire sculpture.

“I felt incredibly proud to have been associated with such an amazing project and to have worked with such talented people – not only archaeologists and specialists, but also those at the cathedral, city council , county council and University who organised the reinterment and the press side of things.

“I also felt very proud indeed to be a citizen of Leicester – the city was on show to the world and really did look incredibly good - and to have had the privilege of having a role in a significant episode of its history.”

Credit: Leicester Cathedral

Since the reinterment Dr Buckley has travelled the globe to tell and retell the story of the amazing discovery.

One of his first stops was the USA, where he embarked on a whistle-stop tour of lectures in a variety of locations.

“Shortly afterwards, I went on a tour of the USA to tell people about the discovery: Minneapolis, St Louis, Columbia, Chicago, New Orleans and New York.

“It was fantastic. There was just as much excitement there as here.

“Since then, I have moved on to new projects – some spectacular Roman discoveries at a large site in central Leicester plus work at a number of rural sites whilst also making inroads into the Highcross Leicester book.

“I've done lots of evening lectures too – it is absolutely brilliant to be able to speak to audiences who are just as excited by the discovery as I am, whilst also being able to use the opportunity to tell them about the archaeology of Leicester generally.

“The future – there is plenty more to learn about the archaeology of Leicester and Leicestershire.

“The publication of Highcross and the Greyfriars projects will both represent major milestones in the City’s archaeology.

“The first telling the story of life in Leicester for ordinary people in the Roman and medieval periods from archaeological evidence via a series of themes, including food and drink, making a living, the people and death and burial.

“The Greyfriars publication – masterminded by Mathew Morris (who has also played a major role in Highcross and other Leicester sites) will present the evidence for the 2012 excavation where Richard III was discovered, with details of the archaeology and the scientific analysis which proved beyond reasonable doubt that we had found the remains of Richard III.”

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