Oxford academic creates authentic reburial for Richard III | University of Oxford

Oxford academic creates authentic reburial for Richard III

An Oxford University academic has put together an authentic order of service for the planned reburial of Richard III.

Dr Alexandra Buckle, of St Anne's and St Hilda's colleges, found the only known document explaining how a medieval reburial would have been carried out.

Using this document Dr Buckle, a musicologist, has even recreated what she believes would have been the correct music for the event.

The manuscript, which is a late 17th-century copy of a late 15th-century document, was found in the British Library. The original source does not survive but was copied by the eminent copyist Humfrey Wanley. It had lain forgotten until Dr Buckle rediscovered it and translated it into English from Latin.

Dr Buckle, who is on the committee for Richard III's planned reburial at Leicester Cathedral next year, said: 'This is a historically important document, even more so given recent events, as it details precisely what a reburial service around the time of Richard III's death would have involved – from how the bones should be cleansed, washed and blessed, to what prayers should be said, what clergy should be involved and what music should be sung. Little is left to the imagination.'

The document was discovered during Dr Buckle's research into Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, for her doctorate. Beauchamp was reburied in 1475, and the manuscript contains details of the ceremony. However, it was not compiled specifically for him as 'N' for nomine, or name, appears at several points in the text, indicating the instructions were to be applied more generally.

Among the most interesting aspects of the service are two new prayers known only to survive in this document, although it also contains a number of familiar psalms and the graveside committal still used today. The service – described by Dr Buckle as 'elaborate' – specifically requests a bishop as celebrant, indicating the high status of the people who were reburied at that time, and requires the bones to be sprinkled, censed, covered and blessed before reburial.

Dr Buckle said: 'The new prayers are an exciting find as they draw on the famous "dry bones" passage from the bible (Ezekiel 37.1–14) and the transferral of Joseph's bones from Egypt to Canaan (Genesis 50.25, Exodus 13.19, Joshua 24.32). Both prayers focus on bones and were therefore wholly appropriate for a reburial service. Other prayers show the medieval preoccupation with death and purgatory, graphically discussing the Last Judgement and the desire for the departed to join the Lord and his saints. At one point, the bishop asks for the departed to be protected from the "savagely burning fire of hell".'

DNA tests on a skeleton found beneath a car park in Leicester last year confirmed the remains were those of Richard III. Since then, plans for a reburial ceremony have been taking shape. It is hoped it will take place over a number of days in Leicester in 2014.

Dr Buckle said: 'When news reached me of the discovery of Richard III's remains, I contacted Leicester Cathedral to see if they would be interested in using this. As Richard III died in 1485, I thought a document containing a medieval reburial service from just ten years before his death would interest them.

'They were enthusiastic and invited me along to give a brief to the cathedral chapter and Richard III task force. The brief went well and the clergy said they were actually relieved as they were starting with a blank page but now had something authentic to draw upon.

'I was then invited to join the committee – known as the Richard III Liturgy Group – to help plan Richard III's reinterment next year.'

According to Dr Buckle, reburials – although uncommon today – were a regular occurrence among the elite in medieval society. She said: 'Even Richard III himself was involved in two high profile reburial services – he was chief mourner at his father Richard, Duke of York's reburial and ordered the reburial of his ancestor, Henry VI. His father's reburial was a major event with a procession across the country.

'He honoured a long tradition of kings reburying kings and nobles reburying nobles, and this suggests he would have liked to have been honoured in a similar way today.

'I believe that I have put together a service which very closely resembles the way Richard would have reburied his father and, presumably, given the nature of his own undignified burial, reflects the sort of reburial he would have wanted for himself.'