Richard brought to Greyfriars for Burial. Artwork Emma Vieceli
And so once more the awful date has come and gone. Many fictional Ricardian novels have been written based on Richard and his life but surely the scenes of the aftermath of Bosworth in We speak no Treason written by the late Rosemary Hawley Jarman must rank amongst the most moving. Many Ricardians will already be familiar with this book but for those who have not yet read it, part of the story is told through the eyes of the Maiden who had ever loved Richard from when she was a young girl and, after losing him from her life, events had led to her becoming a nun. She had not seen Richard for many years but in the aftermath of the battle Richard’s body has been brought to her convent to be laid to rest by loving hands.
‘Men came to kneel by me, first one cloaked like the stranger, then another still clad in harness and with a neck wound from which the red oozed wearily, then four or five together. One of these wore a hermit’s robe carelessly donned with the strength of his mail winking beneath it. They say that the church filled up from the porch to rood screen with men who entered like ghosts and wept like babes. There were running feet and a voice that burst through the whispering silence with ‘My Lord! My Lord Lovell!’ – crying that they were hanging the prisoners and fugitives in Leicester market and Lovell must fly at once, and for answer came only the deep, dreadful sound of men’s grief, the hasty feet clattered nearer and stopped short, the voice said “Ah Dickon!’ as a child might wail in the night, then swore like a man in the face of murder. And the church was filled with love and hate and vengeance, and a heaviness that one could touch with the hand…. Then suddenly Ursula came, hurrying, hobbling in, smiling joyfully, her eyes blinking joyfully like a mole in the dark. unseeing and heedless of the silent work, the sadness or the Mother’s prone, praying form beneath the candles, she came while the ranks of mourning men parted for her. It was days since she last left her cell. In her arms she carried a sheaf of satin riches, green as love, each shining rose perfect and proper, each spray a living frond, each colour a jewel, with the stern words of the Absolution limned like lustrous soldiers around the edge. ‘I’ll make penance for the rest of my days’ she said in a joyous whisper. ‘I’ve missed Mass, I’ve missed confession but, Oh Lord, sister! ‘Tis finished! Is it not fair’. She came close blind to the grief or the figure on the bier. ‘And for you child, see!’ with a daring, naughty look. ‘So small and in his honour too’. She had fashioned a silver Boar in each corner. ‘Ursula, I said, Ursula’. She did not hear me. She was looking at his body, his murdered naked body, so white so still. ‘Ah!’ she said with deep compassion. ‘Ah the poor young knight’..
And she unfurled the beautiful frontal like a banner. It was heavy, but with one movement of her old arms, she threw it out upon the air, so that it caught and glowed in the light, green, the colour of hope, with its roses like stars, its crosses of flame and the eternal words of the Absolution tall and clear. And it fell, as she had intended, upon the body of Richard and he lay beneath it wrapped in green fire and was magnificent’.
Miss Jarman, who had the most extraordinary ability to paint pictures with words, captured the essence of Richard’s character so well when a character in the book, upon catching sight of him whispered “Jesu how he shines‘...and so he did. Loyaulté me lie.
Artwork Emma Vieceli
NOTE: It should be remembered when this book was published in 1972 it was still believed by many, including the author, see R.H.J’s Forward, that after the Dissolution of the Monasteries Richard’s remains had been disinterred and thrown into the River Soar. Of course we now know the truth and that Richard’s remains have been reinterred with the honour due to him at Leicester Cathedral.