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

Richard the Third the last Plantagenet

Richard III was, according to Shakespeare, one of the worst villans to rule England.  On the other hand, there were many, including Josephine Tey who believed otherwise.  And now, his bones have been found and identified.

The bones as discovered.

Greyfriars car park, Leicester, where the remains of King Richard III were found

Grey Friars car park, Leicester, where the remains of King Richard III were found.

According to the BBC

A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III.

Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch’s family.

Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: “Beyond reasonable doubt it’s Richard.”

Richard, killed in battle in 1485, will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.

The Guardian detailed the careful science behind the declaration.

There were cheers when Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist on the hunt for the king’s body, finally announced that the university team was convinced “beyond reasonable doubt” that it had found the last Plantagenet king, bent by scoliosis of the spine, and twisted further to fit into a hastily dug hole in Grey Friars church, which was slightly too small to hold his body.

But by then it was clear the evidence was overwhelming, as the scientists who carried out the DNA tests, those who created the computer-imaging technology to peer on to and into the bones in raking detail, the genealogists who found a distant descendant with matching DNA, and the academics who scoured contemporary texts for accounts of the king’s death and burial, outlined their findings.

The skeleton’s injuries were consistent with accounts of Richard’s death.

Richard died at Bosworth on 22 August 1485, the last English king to fall in battle, and the researchers revealed how for the first time. There was an audible intake of breath as a slide came up showing the base of his skull sliced off by one terrible blow, believed to be from a halberd, a fearsome medieval battle weapon with a razor-sharp iron axe blade weighing about two kilos, mounted on a wooden pole, which was swung at Richard at very close range. The blade probably penetrated several centimetres into his brain and, said the human bones expert Jo Appleby, he would have been unconscious at once and dead almost as soon.

The injury appears to confirm contemporary accounts that he died in close combat in the thick of the battle and unhorsed – as in the great despairing cry Shakespeare gives him: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Another sword slash, which also went through the bone and into the brain, would also have proved fatal. But many of the other injuries were after death, suggesting a gruesome ritual on the battlefield and as the king’s body was brought back to Leicester, as he was stripped, mocked and mutilated – which would have revealed for the first time to any but his closest intimates the twisted back, a condition from an unknown cause, which began to contort his body from the age of about 10. By the time he died he would have stood inches shorter than his true height of 5′ 8″, tall for a medieval man. The bones were those of an unusually slight, delicately built man – Appleby described him as having an “almost feminine” build – which also matches contemporary descriptions.

According to the Boston Globe story

Richard III ruled England between 1483 and 1485, during the decades-long tussle over the throne known as the Wars of the Roses. His brief reign saw liberal reforms, including introduction of the right to bail and the lifting of restrictions on books and printing presses.

The discovery of Richard’s bones will not resolve the controversy surrounding him, however.  Most believe in the Shakespearean image of him as a the evil hunchbacked killer of two young princes in the Tower of London.

After I read Richard III in high school, my mother introduced me to Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time.  Her detective character, Alan Grant, takes up the case while in the hospital with the help of a young researcher who does the leg work.  The Wikipedia article about the book has a good summary of what Grant concluded and Tey believed.

The main arguments presented in the book in defence of King Richard:

  • There was no political advantage for Richard III in killing the young princes. He was legitimately made king.
  • There is no evidence that the princes were missing from the Tower when Henry VII took over.
  • Although a Bill of Attainder was brought by Henry VII against Richard it made no mention of the princes. There never was any formal accusation, much less a verdict of guilt.
  • Henry never produced the bodies of the dead princes for public mourning and a state funeral.
  • The mother of the Princes, Elizabeth Woodville, remained on good terms with Richard.
  • The Princes were more of a threat to Henry VII as the foundation of his claim to the crown was significantly more remote than theirs.

Grant and his American collaborator argue that there is little evidence of resistance to Richard’s rule (ignoring Buckingham’s rebellion). They allow that there were rumours of his murdering the princes during his lifetime, but they decide that the rumours had little circulation, and attribute them to the Croyland Chronicle and to the Lord Chancellor of France, and ultimately to Tudor sympathiser John Morton. They also propose that Morton was the actual author of Thomas More‘s biography of Richard, suggesting that the incomplete manuscript found after More’s death was an unfinished copy by More of Morton’s lost original. They conclude that the princes probably remained alive throughout Richard’s reign and were later killed by Henry.

The Richard III Society which sponsored discovery and will have his bones reinterred will still have work to do to clear his name.  Where are the alleged bones of the princes and can we now do DNA on them?

Photograph of car park Darren Staples/Reuters