Let’s begin by making something crystal clear.
Leicester was never home to King Richard III. Nor was he Leicester’s king. In his lifetime, Leicester was no more than one of the many places he passed through on the way somewhere else in his realm.
Leicester is only the place his abused corpse was returned after Bosworth, buried in a too short grave without even a shroud, hands probably still tied, and forgotten about for more than 500 years. Forgotten about until outsiders came with money in hand raised from Ricardians all over the world, outsiders who proposed looking for his remains. Previous requests had been denied, but this time around Leicester’s mayor was on the look-out for one-time investments that had the potential for a large return on that investment.
In 2015 Leicester was the site of a week-long celebration of their continuing possession of King Richard’s skeleton. Opinion is still divided about whether these events accomplished anything other than drawing attention to Leicester. And despite which, a recent survey of Leicester residents revealed that a significant portion had no idea that King Richard’s remains are interred there.
Some Ricardians believe that there was little honour or dignity shown when King Richard’s skeleton was taken in an outlandish parade back to the site of his dreadful death, only to be returned to a spot in the city very close to where it left on parade; returned on a refurbished farm cart, the coffin covered in nothing more than a tea towel sized piece of murrey and blue. Nothing to mark that these were the remains of an anointed King of England. To be re-interred under the floor of a space which still displays the Royal Arms sideways, with a 21st century monument made up to reflect the modern views of a church whose vision of Christianity is not Richard’s own.
It is thus distressing to see that the National Portrait Gallery has swallowed Leicester’s PR and decided to send its familiar portrait of King Richard to Leicester as part of its “coming home project.”
One would expect an institution like the NPG to be knowledgeable about the paintings it possesses and what they represent, and hope that they would be more respectful of the king who did, of necessity, actually live in London, and spent over the course of his lifetime much more time there than he ever did in Leicester. It looks very much as if PR has triumphed over historical accuracy, not to mention the particular sensitivities involved in this particular re-interment. This is especially poignant with respect to King Richard whose good reputation earned by hard work during his lifetime has been thoroughly degraded by centuries of propaganda.
After the NPG announced its “Coming Home” project on July 26, 2018, many people wrote to protest sending King Richard’s portrait to Leicester with the idea that it was “coming home.” This is one of the letters sent.
I understand that the portrait you have of King Richard III at the National Gallery is being sent to Leicester as part of his “Home coming”. I would like to remind the Gallery that Leicester was NEVER the home to Richard III. Home was in Yorkshire. He was anointed king of England and as such should have his portrait in London in the National Gallery where it belongs.
Please do not make such an error.
Those who wrote all seem to have received the same reply —
Thank you for contacting the National Portrait Gallery. Your constructive feedback is much appreciated, and I shared your comments with relevant colleagues across the Gallery.
The Coming Home project will allow the National Portrait Gallery to loan portraits of iconic individuals to places across the country with which they are closely associated. In some cases, this will be their home town, but in others there will be a different connection. The partner organisations have been carefully selected and in the case of Richard III, it was felt to be particularly appropriate to lend the Gallery’s posthumous portrait, dating from the late sixteenth century, to a city that has brought the question of the king’s posthumous reputation to a global audience, following the discovery of his remains and their reinternment [sic] in Leicester Cathedral in 2015. This built on interest in relics and sites associated with Richard in the city and country that have been promoted since at least the early nineteenth century. The Gallery has been in dialogue with the New Walk museum over several years about the possibility of lending the portrait and the Coming Home project has given the ideal opportunity. We are hopeful that displaying the portrait in Leicester will allow audiences to consider the way in which Richard’s reputation was shaped after his death by the Tudors and subsequent generations.
I can confirm that your constructive feedback will be used in our ongoing discussions regarding our national programme of events, partnerships and loaned works.
This canned reply demonstrates just how far Leicester’s self-promotion has displaced any accurate understanding of how King Richard’s remains were recovered and who had been responsible for that effort. It also fails to acknowledge that Leicester has done very little to restore King Richard’s reputation to that which he enjoyed in his own lifetime. The phrase about allowing audiences to “consider the way in which Richard’s reputation was shaped after his death by the Tudors and subsequent generations” likewise inspires no confidence, since it echoes the self-serving words of the Leicester clergy who approved the disrespectful performance of Shakespeare’s defamatory play in close proximity to the current burial location of the King’s remains. Nor does the NPG’s response give any evidence of materials provided with the portrait that would encourage a more educated view of the man portrayed.
By June 2019, when the press releases were made about the opening of the exhibition in Leicester the message had changed to claim that the Coming Home Project was sending iconic portraits to the places the individuals were most closely associated with. This again demonstrates no more than the triumph of Leicester’s PR, since it is only Richard’s remains that have ever been “associated” with the city where they were re-interred, as one columnist in the Telegraph noted at the time, according to the “rites of tourism.”
The press release by Leicester City Council at least was headlined “Portrait of King to go on show in city of his resting place.”
3 days later, however, the piece from BBC News Leicester reported “Odd’ Richard III portrait ‘coming home’ to Leicester.” In this the reporter seems to have been particularly impressed with the fact that the “image is frequently used on Richard III-related merchandise.”
To the North King Richard is not a marketing opportunity but a good and merciful King of undoubted piety and with a deep sense of justice. He is our King, he will always be the North’s only true king – the only ruler ever to have lived among us and valued us.
The city of York the day after Bosworth wrote
King Richard, late mercifully reigning over us, was through great treason . . . piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city,’
(recorded by the mayor’s serjeant of the mace)
York city’s records bear witness still to this fact, our loyalty is unchanged and despite clever and determined marketing Leicester cannot manufacture a history for Richard in its midst that involves anything but tragedy and degradation.
Richard III ought to lie at rest in York Minister, a place he knew and had established a chantry which many believe he intended to be his and his family’s mausoleum. He should lie among lands where he had lived and loved and where he was in turn loved.
That he doesn’t is a tragedy and an embarrassment. That our so called National Portrait Gallery will disregard history and spurn the very real objections of Ricardians and those of us in the north who have raised objections in order to write the north out of the History of King Richard’s life is unpardonable.
The north has always remembered Richard III as Good King Richard. It has always respected his memory and treasured his legacy. We always will.