Dead But Not Buried

king_richard_iiiMost of our readership will know of King Richard of Gloucester, and the story of his murdering his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.

Probably you will also know of the Richard III Society, which desires to redress the view of this King as an unmitigated ogre. Steely-eyed hero or conniving cabalist, friend of the people or wanton regicide, it can still be said with some assurance of King Richard III (reigned 1483-1485) that he would have hoped to receive a Christian burial. And so it’s rather important for a number of people to decide exactly where that burial should be.

Until May, it seemed clear that the King’s remains should be interred at Leicester Cathedral. This accorded with a licence granted to the University of Leicester before the start of their excavations for the King’s remains, three years ago. But public protest was strong.

In May an organisation called the Plantagenet Alliance launched an application for a judicial review, which was granted on August 16, 2013. This was because of their campaign for the King to be buried in York Minster; King Richard was a member of the House of York. King Richard is thought to have planned to endow a royal chantry, or cycle of masses, at the Minster, and so it is believed that he may have wanted to be buried there.

But Leicester returns with strong arguments of its own. They have the benefit of the backing of the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling. They also have the argument of precedent, because it is not standard practice for exhumed bodies to be reinterred far from the excavation site.

Furthermore, it has been observed by the York university historian, Professor Mark Ormrod, that there is not satisfactory evidence to demonstrate that the King wished to be buried at York.

The whole question is now being examined by an independent panel, which testifies that the whole problem is unlikely to be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties for quite some time to come.

But there is a third prospective sepulchre for King Richard III. That’s in Fotheringhay, where the King was born. There is currently an e-petition lodged on the Government’s website for this purpose, which received over 31,000 signatures. The name of the originator of the Fotheringhay e-petition is Mr J M Nichols, who was unavailable for comment.

None of the Oundle residents have hitherto been identified as petitioners, but there are certainly many who have an opinion on the subject. One of these is historian Colin Pendrill, who says that “he should stay where he is. It was consecrated ground.”

Mr Pendrill observed that everyone had formerly believed that King Richard had no known resting-place, but that in fact the exhumation of King Richard’s body had demonstrated that the friary on the Leicester excavation site had intercepted his body, and buried him properly. He cited this as an example of how people have various beliefs about the truth of history, which are found later to be completely false.

Richard van Allen, press secretary of the Richard III Society also said that he was unaware of the Fotheringhay e-petition. He reiterates that the Richard III Society is officially neutral, not because its members have no opinion, but because of the variety of different opinions between them.

There are certainly a number of different opinions in this debate, stigmatised as “[potentially] unseemly, unedified, and undignifying” by Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, who permitted the Plantagenet Alliance to initiate judicial review proceedings against the Lord Chancellor and the University of Leicester challenging the decision for the king’s bones to be interred in Leicester.

The review has been adjourned to allow Leicester City Council a possible role in the decision in what should happen to the remains.

By Richard Taylor