Dr Alexandra Buckle (Magdalen 2002), lecturer in music at both St Hilda’s and St Anne’s Colleges, has discovered the details of the reburial ceremony for Richard III.

Richard III Reburial

What is your main field of research?

I specialise in ‘early music’ from the late medieval and Renaissance period in England, in particular music used by English institutions and royal and noble households. My doctorate focused on Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, in around in the 1400s. He was Henry V’s closest friend, and then became guardian of Henry VI, so I was looking at all the music he used within his household and in the church he was a patron of in Warwick.

How much time do you spend poring over historic musical scores?

Surprisingly little. For my masters I spent a lot of time in the history faculty learning Latin and deciphering household accounts from that period, as it’s these that will often take me to the music. Very few of the actual scores have survived from that time, so I often have to explore manuscripts in the national archives to find out about the music indirectly. 

How did you discover the details of the reburial ceremony for Richard III?

I first came across a reference to it in the Bodleian in a dusty 17th-century volume, then I found the original document in the British Library. It was a general rite that was used for medieval reburials and we know this ritual was specifically intended for use at a reburial because it refers to bones and not a body. It also calls for a bishop, so that’s how we know it was a ceremony for an important man. We know a lot about funerals during this period but very little about reburials, so that’s also what makes this discovery so exciting.

How did it feel to discover your medieval research had such a timely contemporary relevance?

As Richard III hadn’t been found at that time, I had no idea it would eventually be used again as part of a national service. It took over a year between finding the ritual and then going to meet the team that discovered the burial site in Leicester. But I’ve always been passionate about bringing my research into the public domain. I was the first music consultant ever employed by English Heritage and I worked with them on the music as part of a reinterpretation project for Henry II’s Tower at Dover Castle. Finding this reburial music was a bit of a dream come true as I enjoy finding ways to reach a wider audience with my work. 

What are the plans for Richard III’s reburial?

Nothing is confirmed yet as there will be a judicial review in March into where the reburial will take place, to make a decision on whether it will be in York or Leicester. I’ve got the framework for how a reburial would have looked about ten years before Richard III died and that involves all the music, prayers, rubrics about how the bones were to be treated and where the bishop should stand – it’s really detailed. The document I’m working with doesn’t include the actual music, so I had to go and source that from another manuscript.

Is this the first time this music will have been performed for nearly 500 years?

The last time this rite would have been performed would certainly have been pre-Reformation as it’s closely linked with Catholic doctrine. The last case I have found was the early 1500s, but it definitely would have stopped by 1540-50 in its current form. It was breathtaking to hear New College choir recording the music for BBC Radio 4 and for a BBC news piece, it was absolutely beautiful and a wonderful opportunity to bring my research to life for the public to enjoy. (Ed: see video above.)