The Anglican puzzle and the burying-place of Richard III

Is it wrong to bury the Catholic Richard III in a Protestant church? Maybe not.

Andrew Sullivan is annoyed that Richard III is to be buried in an Anglican church. After all, living before the Reformation, he must have been a Catholic; why bury him in a Protestant church?

Well, that’s one way to look at it. But it’s not the only way.

Institutionally, the Church of England maintained its continuity through the Henrician schism, the Edwardian reformation, the Marian counter-reformation, the Elizabethan counter-counter-reformation, and all the changes of doctrinal and disciplinary “line” to which the Vicar of Bray had to adapt himself. Justin Welby is – and the Archbishop of Westminster is not – the successor of Thomas Becket.

Of course Richard would not have allowed himself to be called Supreme Governor of the Church of England, but neither would he have allowed the Papacy to choose English bishops; that’s what the Statute of Provisors was designed to prevent.

The Church of England has always claimed to be the English branch of the one undivided Catholic Church. Sometimes that viewpoint has expressed itself in persecution. But it has also expressed itself in generosity. Thomas More, John Henry Newman, and George Fox are all venerated as Saints of the Church of England.

Whether Richard Plantagenet is buried in Leiscester Cathedral, York Minster, or Westminster Abbey, he will be buried in what he would have regarded as consecrated ground. That couldn’t be true were he buried in any Roman Catholic church in England.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

22 thoughts on “The Anglican puzzle and the burying-place of Richard III”

  1. Richard’s skeleton was found under a car park that had been built over the churchyard of Grey Friars Church, a former abbey. So he had been buried in consecrated ground, if not very prestigious. Henry was always cheap.

    I suggest Fotheringay for the reburial, a very handsome collegiate church near Peterborough. It still has Yorkist sympathies, going by the white roses on the hassocks. Fotheringay was a Yorkist castle in Richard’s day; and it’s notorious as the last prison and execution site of another distinguished loser, Mary Queen of Scots. The castle has gone, but not the motte under it raised by some energetic Norman knight in the 11th century.

  2. I would venture that Our Founder might just be the most erudite atheist religious historian in all of Christendom.

      1. McCullough’s History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Strongly recommended for anyone interested in a well-written, even-handed take on the history of the Christian Church in all its forms.

  3. I’m surprised any church wants to claim this child-murderer. Put his skeleton on display in a museum … a modern version of how his corpse was put on show?

  4. This is surprising of Andrew Sullivan. It makes sense that the Church of England claims England’s religious history and real estate for itself. What were they supposed to do? Dig up every corpse buried in the churches before the English Reformation and throw them out as not being truly of the Church of England?

    ALSO, I am uncertain how generous it is to consider as saints people, whether Quaker or Catholic, who had deep doctrinal differences from the core beliefs of Church of England, especially in their own times. That seems considerably more strained and less subtle than the Christian interest in holy figures of the Jewish Scriptures, for example.

    1. “That seems considerably more strained and less subtle than the Christian interest in holy figures of the Jewish Scriptures, for example.”

      Evidently you’re not Jewish.

    2. That’s right, if you – like Sullivan – consider the C of E just another sect (as Episcopalians are in the U.S.). But the Church of England’s self-concept is that it stands for all of English Christianity, and that therefore any English Christian who displayed extraordinary sanctity deserves recognition by his (her) national church. The honor paid to More and Campion strikes me as especially fitting. I suspect that More (but not, perhaps, Campion) would have agreed. More’s son-in-law Roper, after his death, recalled him as having predicted the defeat of his own side in that controversy:

      It fortuned before the matter of the said matrimony brought in question, when I, in talk with Sir Thomas More, of a certain joy commended unto him the happy estate of this realm, that had so catholic a Prince, that no heretic durst show his face, so virtuous and learned a clergy, so grave and sound a nobility, so loving and obedient subjects, all in one faith agreeing together: “True it is indeed (son Roper),” quoth he, and in commending all degrees and estates of the same went far beyond me, “and yet (son Roper) I pray God,” said he, “that some of us, as high as we seem to sit upon the mountains, treading heretics under our feet like ants, live not the day, that we gladly would wish to be at league and composition with them, to let them have their churches quietly to themselves; so that they would be content to let us have ours quietly to ourselves.”

  5. “Institutionally, the Church of England maintained its continuity through the Henrician reformation, the Marian counter-reformation, the Edwardian counter-counter-reformation, and all the changes of doctrinal and disciplinary “line” to which the Vicar of Bray had to adapt himself. Justin Welby is – and the Archbishop of Westminster is not – the successor of Thomas Becket.”

    Institutionally, the Republican Party maintained continuity from the mid 19th century through to today. I’m guessing – going out on a limb here – that you do not regard Mitt Romney as the successor of Abraham Lincoln in any meaningful sense. There is more to the soul of an organization than its mailing address after all.

    1. It’s awful that the Party of Lincoln has become what it has become. But I’d be delighted to see it become instead something that wouldn’t make Lincoln look sad. Its failure to live up to its antecedents is disgraceful. But Romney is as much the successor of Lincoln as Elizabeth II is of Henry II.

    2. A political party is an institution exists for the express purpose of obtaining power in the present and wielding that power. It’s relationship to tradition is to use it in the present to obtain or maintain power in the present or for the future.

      A religious institution exists in order to record and disseminate the history of a culture. The power that any religious institution has in the present is directly related to its success in maintaining the cultural history that is its source.

      Mitt Romney’s flip-flops and flat out lies were the actions of a politician, not of a priest or preacher. He had no intention of maintaining any tradition if it would hinder his efforts to gain power, and no one expected him to maintain any tradition older than 1980. The name has been massively rebranded and the effort of Republicans today to reenact that magic is quite obvious. No religious institution can survive with that kind of attitude. Continuity back to the beginning of time is the stock in trade of a religious institution.

      No, the Republican party of today has no meaningful connection socially to the Republican Party of Lincoln in spite of their acquisition of the party name. Nor does anyone really expect them to. The same cannot be said of any major Christian denomination.

  6. What I don’t understand is why he’s not being re-buried with all the other kings. The paper said something about a tradition that you’re supposed to re-bury someone in the closest cemetery, but I’d never heard of that.

    1. The other kings are buried all over the place. There’s an argument for Fotheringhay because his parents and his brother Edmund are buried there, but Leicester Cathedral is as good as anywhere.

    2. The queen nixed this idea. I have to say that I was amused by the notion that Richard has “supporters” as one article put it, but the queen apparently isn’t one of them, though I doubt there a modern day rump group advocating that Richard’s successors assume their rightful position as heirs to the throne of England. The current queen descends from Richard’s brother, Edward IV, through his daughter Elizabeth, who was the oldest sister of the murdered princes. Richard was never really supposed to be king because England didn’t technically prohibit succession by a female so even if the princes died, Elizabeth was still a legitimate contender.

      Fun thought: some of the most riotous and eventful periods in England’s history occurred when a younger brother assumed the throne. John, Richard III, Henry VIII and Charles I were all younger brothers.

      1. Barbara,

        I second your speculation about the ‘younger brother effect’. George VI was another, though pretty exclusively a figurehead politically. Richard II’s minority (his father, the Black Prince, predeceased him) could be considered a variant as well — contributing to the whole “Roses” dust-up 🙂

        1. I have to put in a plug for Nicholas I and Alexander III Tsars of All The Russias as a fine pair of disastrous crowned younger brothers.

  7. I think you mean Elizabethan Counter-counter-reformation, not Edwardian.

    And wasn’t there also, arguably, a Cromwellian counter-counter-counter reformation, a Carolian counter^4-reformation, a Jacobite counter^5 reformation, a Williamite coup-d’etat, and maybe a few others after that as well?

    1. The Seymours used Edward VI’s reign to do some serious ‘countering’ of their own, so Edwardian counter^2 reformation isn’t a mistake. Elizabeth by contrast was sort of a ‘trimmer’ — just tinkering to get the balance right.

      But sure, the ‘counters’ can be multiplied the way skipping a stone makes more and more diminishing ripples.

  8. It’s awfully nice that noted Anglo-Catholic Andrew Sullivan has realized the injustices in the Anglican church expropriating the remains of his most Catholic majesty Richard III.

    Now, can we talk about the innumerable highly comparable expropriations by the Catholic Church and by Sullivan’s native England? The Elgin marbles and the Vatican library’s collection of confiscated Jewish writings come to mind – and for 1500 years Saint Peter’s claimed to hold the relics of the Maccabees, which would be an extremely similar issue, only more extreme – imagine if there were still a people led by the House of York and if England had spent a millenium periodically torturing Yorkists to death!

  9. The Church of England has always claimed to be the English branch of the one undivided Catholic Church.

    In fact, a minority of members of the Church of England have claimed to be the English branch of the Western Church. Even after the Oxford Movement, the branch theory has by no means been accepted even by all Anglo-Catholics.

    The question is unavoidably a theological one. If you’re an AC, you’ll argue (at great length) the validity of the CoE’s apostolic succession. If you accept the arguments in Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of the Edwardian ordinal, you’ll believe that the CoE’s succession is merely what Christopher Hill (now the Bishop of Guildford) called “bums-on-seats” rather than “hands-on-heads”. (And that’s without getting into the implications of the fact that the creation of the present Diocese of Leicester post-dates the RC dioceses of Westminster and Nottingham, despite belonging to a body that also claims the historic sees of Canterbury, York, Durham, etc.).

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