Reflections on the reburial of King Richard III (26 March 2015)
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore students’ sense of the legacy they create in the community around them (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two readers. Emphasize the importance of pausing between the person's name and their epitaph.
- Have available the song ‘Remember me this way’ by Jordan Hill and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
Leader People have strange words written on their tombstones. Some are fairly positive.
Reader 1 Frank Sinatra.
The best is yet to come.
Reader 2 Dr Martin Luther King.
Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last.
Leader Others aren't quite so sure.
Reader 1 Spike Milligan.
I told you I was ill.
Reader 2 Winston Churchill.
I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.
Leader Alternatively, there's the anonymous:
Here lies an Atheist.
All dressed up and nowhere to go.
Finally, I like the enigmatic:
Here lies Ezekiel Aikle, age 102. The good die young.
What epitaph do you put on the tomb of a king of England? Richard III is at present the only English monarch without a marked grave, after his remains were found buried under a car park in Leicester two years ago.
On Thursday 26 March, he will be reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, following a procession through local settings of significance and a period of lying at rest so members of the public can pay their respects.
The gravestone, which already exists, bears a simple statement:
Richard III, King of England, Killed at Bosworth Field in this county, 22nd August 1485, buried in the Church of the Grey Friars in this parish.
No further epitaph is planned, which helps resolve a dilemma for Church and State.
Richard III has left a fairly mixed legacy. On the one hand, he was a triumphant military leader and, on becoming king, showed a concern for the common people. He was the first king to take the Coronation Oath in English and to publish new laws in English rather than Latin, so that they could be understood by everyone. He also fought corruption in the legal system and sought to provide property rights for ordinary men.
On the other hand, partially due to how he was depicted by Shakespeare, he also has a reputation as a villain who gained the crown as a result of murder and intrigue. He also died on the battlefield, even though his army was larger than that of his opponent, who became king in his place.
Was he good or was he bad? The controversy rages on. The debate has continued for centuries!
Time for reflection
What do you think would be an appropriate epitaph for you? I hope the time is a long way away, but one day your friends and family will decide on the words that sum up your life, the legacy you've left behind, the key memory they have of you. On what will they base their conclusions?
Our histories, like those of the men and women we read of in textbooks and on the Internet, are made up of the good and the bad. Our successes, our achievements, our personal sacrifices and our goodwill may be remembered with pleasure. People may recall the words of comfort, encouragement, inspiration and imagination that enriched their lives. They may tell of how we were team players, valued members of the community, reliable and trusted. They may be pleased to say that they were glad they knew us.
Alternatively, people may remember the hurt we caused them, the words we used to belittle them, the violence we used to bully them. They may remember when we let them down, didn't repay what we'd borrowed, took advantage of a weakness we perceived. They may recall the way we always looked after number 1, rarely shared what we had, never helped solve a problem or a need.
What sort of an epitaph do we deserve? Thankfully, even if things are not so good now, we can do something about it.
On the one hand, we can build up our credit. If we were to live each day with the intention of committing random acts of kindness and speaking kind words to people, then that's the memory we'd build up in their minds. The payback would be that, not only would they benefit from what we did and said but also we'd feel good about ourselves. That's part of what lies behind Jesus' command that we should love others as we love ourselves, which is echoed in all the major religions – do to others as you’d have them do to you.
What about the other side of our nature? To admit our mistakes and ask forgiveness for our failings is actually a very courageous thing to do. By doing so, I think we'd find people might actually consider that this is to our credit and it would make them feel better. We would win both ways. Again, Jesus gave this advice to us when he suggested we pray that God forgives us our wrongs as we forgive those who wrong us.
So, in the hours of today that lie ahead, think of yourself as a balance sheet. Good words and actions go on the credit side, the reverse go on the debit side. The objective of living is to put ourselves solidly in credit. Then we can consider what sort of a splendid epitaph we'll deserve!
Thank you for the opportunity we have to create the memory we leave behind each day, each week, each year and for the rest of our lives.
Remind us of this as we make choices in each moment of this day.
May we create an epitaph of which we can be proud.
‘Remember me this way’ by Jordan Hill