Convention of the Australasian Branches in New Zealand

   Posted by: Julia Redlich   in Conventions

Friday, 23rd October saw a grand number of Ricardians arrive at the Angus Inn in Lower Hutt for our biennial convention. The evening found us in the Inn’s Tatler Room, having the pleasure of greeting old friends and making new ones. New Zealand’s chair, Deirdre Drysdale, and Secretary/Australasian Vice President Rob Smith welcomed us with a rundown of proceedings and read a message from Dr Phil Stone wishing us a successful and rewarding gathering. A highlight of the evening was, of course, the traditional candle ceremony when representatives of each Branch lit a candle representing our members and for Richard. Then delicious nibbles (a feast in themselves) and wines and great conversations were enjoyed.

Saturday morning, we arrived promptly at 9am in the Woburn Room for two days of splendid programming organised by Annette Parry, covering a wealth of topics to keep everyone considering and sometimes rethinking for a long time to come.

Tony Dodgson (from Yorkshire) took us on The Road to Middleham, an imaginative interpretation of what might have been Richard’s life. This was followed by Margaret Manning’s account of Richard’s head – and her recent meeting in Scotland with Dr Caroline Wilkinson whose incredible skills had created the new image of King Richard that now seems so familiar to us all. Comments afterwards revealed our pleasure in his assured and untroubled appearance – and the fact that he wasn’t a blond!

Memories of Leicester came from several of those fortunate enough to be in the city for the re-interment. The overwhelming feeling was the warmth of Leicester, its people, the hospitality, the volunteers and the genuine interest in Richard III from the thousands of visitors, not just the Society members. Denise Rawling particularly remembered the Bishop of Leicester, fully robed, walking among the lengthy queues early each morning, happy to talk to everyone.

White roses were of course everywhere, but Denise also mentioned that there had been some ardent Tudor supporters placing red roses where they weren’t wanted and how they had been quickly hidden. Victoria’s Michael Iliffe spoke about meeting our Patron, HRH the Duke of Gloucester, whose interest in Richard III and Australian Branches led to an interest in Australian cricket and the Ashes …

Following this, Julia Redlich said “Let Us Tell Stories”, with a look at medieval prose and poetry ranging from Chaucer and the Pastons, to Julian of Norwich and Mallory. This included some delightful input from other Branches’ members as well as our own Maureen Gray, whose lovely reading of “I Sing of a Maiden” was one of the poems by the ubiquitous Anon. The finale was the rousing ballad “Bring Us Good Ale” in which all delegates joined in the chorus. And of course, an excellent buffet lunch followed!

Before the afternoon events there was a chance to buy raffle tickets for the covetable array of prize options, as well as swoop on the display of Maureen’s delightful White Rose jewellery that she had brought. New South Wales members will not be surprised to know how rapidly they were all sold. A white rose necklace was presented to Deirdre on behalf of the NSW Branch.

First talk after lunch was from Kaye Bachelor who intrigued us about her experiences of taking part in an archaeological dig, although not the one in the car park. She told of the slow process of removing top soil, bad weather, detailing and identifying the finds and the poignancy of uncovering human remains, always treated with respect. The gradual connection of items, so painstaking until the final picture, be it of a pottery jar or a king’s skull is revealed. The worth of sound research seemed familiar.

A complete change of subject followed with the Victoria Branch’s “An Interview with Henry VII”, another of Michael Iliffe’s clever interpretations of history, following his “Battle of Towton” and “An Interview with Richard III” at previous conventions. We were royally entertained by seeing Henry’s sneaky ways of avoiding the truth and the manipulative skills of his followers. Then we were taken on a trip of places with history with great illustrations: Emma Holmes told us of the Isle of Man and its connection with the Stanley family, and Pam Killalea spoke of the stories behind Belvoir Castle and Haddon Hall.

Time to go back to the future when Jane Orwin-Higgs, whose Ricardian short stories are familiar to many of us, chose to talk about Richard III Online. How different the world has become since the founding of The Society of the White Rose that later became The Richard III Society. Richard is now a man of the 21st century where he is talked about worldwide – and not just the man in Shakespeare’s play, although there are still plenty of objections from the traditionalists. But we contact each other by email, via Facebook, Twitter and through our websites – and books about Richard III and his life and times are available at the click of a mouse. There are pros and cons with all the new formats we use, but with this virtual world King Richard, as it has been said, is boldly going where no king has gone before.

Last item on Saturday’s programme was from NSW’s Helen Portus and Denise Rawling with a presentation titled Controversy. A wealth of illustrations showed how the world, since the discovery in the Leicester car park, has taken a fresh look at the last Plantagenet king. We saw how the media regarded him – the good and bad reports, the absurd ads that featured him and golden oldies that made us smile. There were messages from Philippa Langley and John Ashdown-Hill, comments from Phil Stone and Michael Ibsen, plus a rundown on the impact the discovery of Richard’s skeleton had made on Leicester, the attention, involvement AND the income. And, of course, the awards and recognition for Philippa and John, and Leicester University. Then came a dvd of journey from the university via Bosworth to Leicester and the crowds who were there to acknowledge King Richard passing by and finally the reinterment. Could any of us see it too many times?

With the promise of a continuation of this presentation on Sunday, the business end of the day ended. By 7 o’clock though we were all gathered together again in the Tatler Room, most in sumptuous medieval costumes and enjoying some bubbly before heading back to the Woburn Room that had been transformed for the banquet. Toasts were proposed and drunk to Her Majesty the Queen of Australia and Queen of New Zealand, to King Richard III and to the Richard III Society. A splendid feast for us followed, and conversation flowed throughout the evening when all delegates realised the reward of friendship with our fellow Ricardians.

Sunday morning saw us eager for the final day’s programme. Annette Parry took us on a tour of Wakefield, with many illustrations from her recent visit there. We viewed the battlefield, the positions taken by Richard of York and Margaret of Anjou’s armies, the tower where Richard of York’s papercrowned head was hung. Later we were taken to Fotheringay to visit the church and the remains of the castle to which his youngest son Richard, now Duke of Gloucester, escorted the bodies of his father and brother, Edmund of Rutland for dignified burial.

Hazel Hadju from Victoria took the stand next, her subject was Bosworth: The Birth of Tudors. She particularly wanted to recommend this book by Yorkshire MP Christopher Skidmore, which takes a fresh look at Bosworth and further exploration of the role of Catherine de Valois, Henry V’s widow, and Somerset, the man who may have been the father of Edmund Tudor. An excellent bibliography was included, and Hazel is looking forward to the publication by Wiedenfeld and Nicolson of Skidmore’s next book The Lives of Richard III.

Consideration of Margaret Beaufort followed and Victoria’s Gillian Laughton picked up on the implication of the Tudors’ parentage. Margaret’s marriages were many, wed so very young to Edmund Tudor to whom she bore her only child, Henry. After Edmund’s early death, she was married to Henry Stafford, the second son of the Duke of Buckingham. Another Lancastrian you might imagine, but in fact, he fought for the Yorkists, although recognising her ambition for her son. Their marriage ended with his death, and her final marriage was to the then Yorkist supporter, Thomas Stanley.

Denise and Helen took up the tale of the reinterment and some inconvenient truths, such as the lack of mentioning the contribution of Philippa, John and the Society on university websites (thankfully adjusted). It was as John Ashdown-Hill commented like “the Wars of the Roses Part Two”. There were countless abusive and hurtful comments about the Society online and the unfortunate clash with the newly minted Plantagenet Alliance that wanted its way regarding the site for reinterment, and then the lengthy, expensive inquiry and final judgement that the first decision was the right one. Even the undertakers, the Leicester firm of E. C. Gilbert responsible for the basic reinterment arrangements, had been refused the loan of a special carriage by the Royal Household and the Military, hence the simple and effective carriage with its growing tributes of white roses that were more effective than all the regal trappings that might have been.

Then we had the privilege of meeting many of the unsung heroes introduced by Helen and Denise. They included Fraser and Jenny Gilbert, Richard Buckley and the chaplain from the University of Leicester, the pallbearers from the army, the horse handlers, the volunteers and the little Brownie who laid the crown, designed and donated by John, on the coffin. At Bosworth Field, we met Becky, the falconer presenting a display there; in Leicester those staffing the tea-carts to refresh those in the massive queues. And, maybe the most moving, we were taken to Swaledale in Richard’s Yorkshire to see the selection the stone for his tomb.

This was the final presentation of the convention in a year that has meant so much to all Ricardians, one in which the world is coming to realise that we are not myth-makers but have a genuine cause to research the life and times of Richard III.

And our work in this will not stop. The necessary business end of the convention was conducted by Rob Smith, unanimously re-elected as the Australasian Vice President. He spoke of the important meeting that he, Dorothea from NSW, and representatives from the USA and Canada had with the Executive earlier in the year. The subject of proxy votes would be seriously considered for the USA, Canada and the Australasian branches, and the momentum of the Society’s work meant the acceptance of online communication, the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and the ever-developing number of programs created for instant information and connection. It is vital for all individual branches and groups to accept this. It is the way the world lives now, totally embraced by the new generation who will carry on the work of the Society for us in years to come.

The Australasian Branches will meet again in 2017, the convention being in the safe hands of the Western Australia Branch. The convention ended with the raffle draw and results of the two quizzes – the revised History by the Stars from Julia and a challenging one based on the Dukes of York in history from Lorraine McArthur. And so to lunch and laughter before rather reluctant farewells and thanks to the New Zealand Branch for a truly memorable time.   Loyaulte me lie 

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