Fr Kit Cunningham
LAST SATURDAY at St Etheldreda's, Ely Place, London, I celebrated a Requiem Mass for the repose of the soul of King Richard III (reigned 1483-1485) and Anne Neville his Queen. I have done this now for several years for the benefit of the Richard Ill Society, a far-flung group dedicated to the restoration and maintenance of the good name of the monarch.
It seems a very active Society, full of vigorous ladies from Yorkshire and with branches in Australia and the US. The overseas membership is indeed very large, and no doubt it is a puzzle as to why so many people who live in Trentham, New Zealand or Bremen, Germany, should be interested in this King of ours. I would love to ask the Spanish senorita from San Sebastian, who is on the membership list, what is her interest.
The aim of the Society is to promote research into the life and times of King Richard III, to secure a reassessment of the material relating to his life and of the role and reputation in English history of this monarch. Indeed a tough task! For English history has not dealt kindly with this man. The aftermath of the Wars of the Roses was probably not the best time for honest assessment. And (though I am sorry to say it) Bishop Moreton of Ely is in great part instrumental in blackening the character of King Richard. St Thomas More did not help, either, and then what they had written was incorporated by Holinshed in his Chronicles, which Shakespeare used to develop his play of Richard III. Even in our day, our minds are blurred with the image of the hunchback king played sinisterly by Lawrence Olivier to a background of music by William Walton, which implies his guilt.
For years, the memorial service took place in Anglican churches, until it was realised that Richard's religion and that of those celebrating his life did not coincide. So a proper Requiem Mass for the repose of his soul was deemed appropriate. Many who attend this Mass are indeed Anglicans, of a very gracious spirit, who are always appreciative of the nature of the Mass. One can preach to them about the importance of praying for the dead, which has never been an Anglican strong point, and also about the cult of the saints, which were both very strong liturgical factors in the Middle Ages. They are quite prepared to hear me say something that no Anglican parson could have said to them, that if Richard had won at the Battle of Bosworth, there would have becn no house of Tudor, no Henry VIII or Elizabeth and the Reformation of this country would have been negligible in terms of the structure of society. There would, of course. have been some Protestant influence from the continent, but the history of the United Kingdom would have been very different.
In his brief reign of two years, Richard proved an enlightened legislator, founded the College of Arms, was patron of Caxton and of Cambridge University, and a great benefactor of the Church. He deserves better than the picture of a melodramatic monster which has come down to us. If history is to be re-written, and for those who want to help, all enquiries can be addressed to: The Richard III Society, Membership Department, Wells House, 15 Elmfield Road, Bromley, Kent, BR1 1NW.
When I was a student in Rome, my parents kept most of my letters home, and looking through some the other day, I came across October 27, 1958, written a few days after the election of Pope John XXIII. I wrote: "No Pope has been elected yet. I was down in St Peter's Square this morning for the fumate (smoke signals), which came at eight minutes past eleven, about half an hour earlier than those of yesterday , when I was also there. I did not go down yesterday evening. If the smoke is white, we soon hear, and can be down to the Piazza for the announcement and the blessing Urbi et Orbi, which comes about an hour later.
"Yesterday morning the piazza was fairly full, with people waiting quite passively. When the smoke appeared first of all, it had a whitish hue, but that was to be expected and the crowd hummed with excitement. I had a pair of binoculars trained on the special chimney that climbs the wall of the Sistine Chapel — a thin tube with a cap to it. My first reaction was that the smoke was not white enough. After the first puff, about half a minute elapsed, then came some whitish smoke. The crowd, or at least part of it, were convinced a Pope had been elected — the name of Agaganian was to be heard — but the note of joy was soon stilled by a cloud of dirty black smoke that left no doubt.
"Yesterday evening, so I am told, it looked definitely white for about half a minute, and then became nondescript in colour, which led to considerable confusion. However, this morning, no doubt through practice, the signal was unambiguous, for soon after eleven there appeared a cloud of black smoke.
"Last night I believe there were well over a hundred thousand people in St Peter's Square...today at 11.00, possibly fifty thousand, and the conclave enters on its third day, which is not altogether surprising. Cardinal Agaganian, the bearded American, seems to be a popular bet, though the chances of Cardinal Sin are high as well. Of the two, I feel it would be Agaganian, though probably it will be some complete outsider.
"I have just come back from the piazza, where an hour ago, the new Pope John XXIII gave his blessing to the city and the world. The news of his election came through the lips of Cardinal Canali, and there was a moment of alarm when we thought that he was announcing his own election! The names of Canali and Roncalli, over a loudspeaker system, heard through the buzz of an Italian crowd. could easily be misunderstood. "The scene was indeed memorable, with the facade a blaze of light. The crowds streamed to the piazza as all Rome moved on to the square as soon as the news was abroad that the smoke was bianco. I was not down in the square at that particular moment, but I am told there was so little smoke that it was only when a light went on in the Hall of Benediction that the people in the square really knew. I reached the square as the Pope's name was being announced. A tremendous roar greeted the news that "Habemus Papam" —"We have a Pope". A sea of handkerchiefs wafted over the scene, though what was most noticeable was that clapping seemed the accepted way of greeting.
"Ten minutes later the Cardinals filled the balconies to the right and left of the central loggia, and then came the new Pope, hardly distinguishable from the rest (I was using binoculars), wearing a red mozzetta over the white cassock. In a very strong voice, Papa Roncalli blessed the people, acknowledged the cheers and greetings of half a million people gathered below ,and then retired.
"Standing by me in the piazza was Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC. As we left I bought the first paper to carry the news of the Pope's election. It was the communist Paese Sera. At least their economics were sound and they were happy to make a lira or two out of a good Catholic event."