Richard the Third – still controversial – updated

King Richard III was a polarizing figure during and after his brief reign over England and he continues to generate controversy still.

You may remember that his bones were found in a Leicester parking lot last year and confirmed to be his earlier this year.  The discovery and my subsequent re-reading of Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time” were subjects for several posts.  Now Leicester and York are in court fighting over where to bury his bones.  The New York Times story appeared yesterday.

As if 500 years of ignominy lying in a grave hastily dug after his defeat in battle were not enough, King Richard III now faces a new battle in the English courts over which of two cities, Leicester or York, will be his final resting place.

A high court judge in London, Charles Haddon-Cave, ruled on Friday that a group backing York’s case, called the Plantagenet Alliance and involving several distant relatives of the slain monarch, could take legal action against the government and the University of Leicester.

The university has laid plans for Richard’s reinterment in Leicester based on a government license that authorized the dig that found the remains. The license specified that the university should decide where the dead king’s remains, if found, should be reburied.

The skeleton of King Richard III was unearthed beneath a municipal parking lot late last year.

The skeleton of King Richard III was unearthed beneath a municipal parking lot late last year.

The plans for a tomb in the near-by Leicester Cathedral and a visitor center began shortly after the remains were discovered.

But in the case heard in London, York’s champions argued that Leicester was never more than a waypoint for Richard on his last night before the Battle of Bosworth Field on Aug. 22, 1485, 20 miles from Leicester. They contend that the slain king’s ancestral home, and the place he had designated as his preferred burial place, was York. They have described Leicester’s haste to lay permanent claim to Richard as a “hijack,” prompting some in the Leicester camp to retort, tartly, that king or not, it is a case of “finders keepers.”

The link with York was underscored by no less an authority than Shakespeare, who began his play “Richard III” with a monologue in which the future king, speaking as the Duke of Gloucester before the tortuous events that would make him monarch, speaks of his older brother, Edward IV, in one of the playwright’s most quoted lines, as a Yorkist. “Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this son of York,” Richard says, before laying out the treacherous schemes that form the webbing of Shakespeare’s work.

It is all quite wonderful.  Maybe the War of the Roses will begin again.

In his ruling on Friday, Judge Haddon-Cave urged Leicester and York to settle the case out of court and to not renew the animosities that drove the 15th-century period known as the Wars of the Roses, between two rival branches of the Plantagenet dynasty, the houses of York and Lancaster. The hostilities ended with Richard’s defeat at Bosworth Field, which gave rise to the Tudor kings under the Bosworth victor, Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII.

“In my view, it would be unseemly, undignified and unedifying to have a legal tussle over these royal remains,” the judge said, appealing to the two sides to avoid engaging in a “Wars of the Roses, Part 2.”

He added that it was inevitable that the question of Richard’s final burial place should arouse “intense, widespread and legitimate public interest” since it involved “the remains of a king of England of considerable historical significance, who died fighting a battle which brought to an end a civil war which divided this country.”

It will be interesting to see where Richard ends up.  Maybe he can be buried in London in Westminster Abbey as a compromise.  And according to the BBC, there are seven other kings (well, six kings and a ruler) whose burial places are unknown.  They are:  Alfred the Great, Harold II, Henry I, Stephen, Edward V, Oliver Cromwell, and James II.  Some one needs to get to work!

UPDATE:  The New York Times reported on May 24, 1014

A British court ruled on Friday​ that King Richard III should be ​re​buried in a cathedral in Leicester,​ the city​ where his remains were found in a parking lot two years ago. The ruling was a defeat for the king’s descendants​ who wanted his remains to be reburied in York,​ arguing that he had spent ​much of his life there. But archaeologists who discovered the king’s remains decided to keep the body in Leicester, a decision backed by Britain’s Justice Ministry. The judges said, ​”There were no public law grounds for the court interfering with the decisions in question.”

Photograph: Getty Images