By Ruth Mumbi
On the 26th of March 2015,I traveled to Leicester to witness a historical moment.It is a significant day in the history of England.I was privileged to witness history in the making watching thousands of British people young and old in the streets of Leicester who had turned out in large numbers to pay their respects to their King who died in battle over five centuries ago.The events of the day made me have deep reflections about my home,Kenya.
Five hundred and twenty seven years can easily sound like a period erased out of the memory of history.But that is the period that has elapsed since the death of King Richard III of England ;Richard the last King from the house of York who died on the 22nd August 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field is considered one of England’s historical heroes.
History documents that On 22 August 1485, Richard met the weakened army of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field Richard’s army was about 8,000, against Henry’s estimated at 5,000.Richard III led a cavalry charge deep into the enemy ranks in an attempt to end the battle quickly by striking and killing Henry Tudor himself.
Accounts note that King Richard III in defense of the throne, fought bravely and ably during this manoeuvre, unhorsing Sir John Cheyne, a well-known jousting champion, killing Henry’s standard bearer Sir William Brandon and coming within a sword’s length of Henry Tudor before being surrounded by Sir William Stanley’s men and killed.King Richard III was the last English king to be killed in battle.
Richard III’s body was buried at Greyfriars Friary in Leicester in a crude grave in the friary church. After the friary’s dissolution in 1538 and its subsequent demolition, Richard’s tomb was lost.
With the help of archeologists,a search for Richard’s body commenced in August 2012, initiated by the Looking for Richard project with the support of the Richard III Society. Headed by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services and in partnership with Leicester City Council the excavation process was initiated.
Preliminary DNA analysis also showed that mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones matched that of two matrilineal descendants, one 17th-generation and the other 19th-generation, of Richard’s sister Anne of York. Taking these findings into account along with other historical, scientific and archaeological evidence, the University of Leicester announced on 4 February 2013 that it had concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the skeleton they had found belonged to Richard III.
On Sunday 22 March 2015,King Richard III’s remains were moved from the University of Leicester to Leicester Cathedral via the site of the Battle of Bosworth at Fenn Hill Farm and then through local villages (Dadlington, Sutton Cheney, Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre, Market Bosworth) retracing part of Richard’s last journey before death.
On the Monday 23 – Wednesday 25 March 2015: stayed at the cathedral for viewing and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, celebrated Mass for Richard III’s soul in Holy Cross Priory, Leicester, the Catholic parish church and Holy Cross Church.
Today, 26th March 2015,a final and dignified farewell for King Richard III was done in what was described by the Bishop of Leicester as a “solemn, but hopeful extraordinary moment” in English history brought about by Richard’s death on August 22, 1485.
The search and final interment of King Richard III is a great lesson for Kenya to borrow from.It is a challenge to us as a nation and we should be embarrassed that its only 58 years since Mau Mau hero Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi was executed at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison by the colonial government yet we are yet to know exactly where the remains of Dedan Kimathi are.
The Kibaki tenure’s effort of erecting the statue of Dedan Kimathi along Kimathi street is a commendable gesture,but that alone is not enough.
It will be dishonourable for us as a generation to continue lazing around instead of taking a decisive measure to locate,exhume and rebury our freedom hero in dignity.Ours will be much easier than Richard III’s because Kimathi’s immediate family relatives are still alive and thus the DNA samples wont be such a hectic challenge.
I challenge not only the national government through relevant ministries ,but other relevant stakeholders like the British government, Archeological Scholars,University of Nairobi’s department of Anthropology and the civil society.The county governments of Nairobi(being the capital city),Nyeri(Kimathi’s place of birth) and Kiambu(where the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison is located) should also be involved .
Let President Uhuru Kenyatta honour Kimathi by ensuring his reburial process occurs during his tenure in office.
Ruth Mumbi is a visiting fellow at the University of York,UK