Dispute over Where to Bury Richard III

Skeleton of Richard III found
Skeleton of Richard III, King of England from 1483-1485


England’s Richard III is still having his “winter of discontent.” His skeletal remains were found not “in the deep bosom of the ocean buried,” but under a parking lot. Now there is a dispute over where to bury this “tragic” monarch who reigned from 1483 until his untimely death on the battlefield in 1485.

Richard III was one of the rulers during the 30-year Wars of the Roses. He was the last monarch of the Plantagenet dynasty–his reign ended when he was killed during the Battle of Bosworth. At the battle site, the leader of the opposition, Lord Stanley, placed the crown on Henry Tudor who became known as Henry VII. This began the reign of the Tudor dynasty.

After the new king was crowned on the battlefield, he and his men paraded to Leicester with the body of Richard III tied over a horse. His corpse was visible for two days at Leicester’s Church of the Greyfriars before it was buried without ceremony.

Almost 530 years later, the Greyfriars Project was created to see if the former king’s remains were still buried beneath what once was the Greyfriars Franciscan Friary. Archaeologists from Leicester University, partnered with the Richard III Society and the Leicester city council, started their search in August, 2012. The friary had been long gone for centuries, but members of the project were able to use historic maps to know where to start digging.

Three weeks later, on September 12, 2012, archaeologists uncovered a male skeleton beneath a parking lot. There was no coffin. The skeleton showed signs of scoliosis, a type of spinal curvature, but was not a hunchback. The upper back and skull had indications of severe trauma received in battle.

DNA testing confirmed that this was, indeed, Richard III. The king would finally receive a proper burial. Researchers suggested Leicester Cathedral and the Ministry of Justice granted permission. However, descendants of the king went to court to get this decision overturned. They said the 15th-century monarch should be buried in the cathedral in York because he had close ties to that northern city when he was alive.

High Court Judge Charles Haddon-Cave issued his decision on Friday. He acknowledged that this archaeological find of the king’s remains over 500 years later is unprecedented, and has generated a lot of public interest. The Ministry of Justice should not have given approval for burial in Leicester without getting the public’s opinion. The judge had received petitions from both sides: 8,115 signatures in favor of Leicester; 26,553 signatures in favor of York.

He granted the pro-York Plantagenet Alliance permission to begin a judicial review, and suggested that all parties should refer the matter to a panel of experts. He cautioned both sides to avoid turning this into a legal version of “Wars of the Roses Part 2.”

Supporters of Richard III have felt that history has not treated the former king with proper respect. This goes back to the manner in which he was buried in 1485, and includes the stories told about him by the Tudors. William Shakespeare portrayed him as an evil hunchback in The Tragedy of King Richard the Third. They point out that the play was written over 100 years after the monarch’s death, and during the reign of Elizabeth I, a Tudor.

Written by: Cynthia Collins, Senior Museum Correspondent

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Richard III Battle of Bosworth

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