War of the Roses, part II

A renewed legal tussle over where to bury King Richard III’s remains

<p>Undated photo made available by the University of Leicester, England, Monday Feb. 4 2013  of the remains  found underneath a car park last September at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester, which have been declared Monday  &#8220;beyond reasonable doubt&#8221; to be the long lost remains of England&#8217;s King Richard III, missing for 500 years.  Richard was immortalized in a play by  Shakespeare as a hunchbacked usurper who left a trail of bodies — including those of his two young nephews, murdered in the Tower of London — on his way to the throne. (AP Photo/ University of Leicester)</p>

University of Leicester/AP

Richard III king of England, painting by an anonymous artist, no date. (Getty Images)

A week before the 528th anniversary of King Richard III’s death, a British judge has granted permission for relatives of the slain king to contest plans to rebury the last Plantagenet monarch in Leicester Cathedral. The location is near where he was hastily entombed after being killed on Bosworth Field in 1485 by Henry Tudor’s invading forces. There has been controversy over where his final resting spot should be ever since the skeletal remains of the controversial king were positively identified earlier this year under a car park in Leicester that was once grounds of a medieval church. While the government and Leicester want him buried in the city’s cathedral, several locations have been bandied about. As I wrote in the magazine in February:

Leicester, where he lay after being felled on nearby Bosworth Field, made the first claim. Then there’s London’s Westminster Abbey, where 17 other monarchs, as well as Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, are buried. Andrew Roberts and many other historians want the last monarch to die in battle to be buried there, as is “only right for a former head of state.” The City of York wants the last Yorkist king buried in the seat of his power. While clergy of York Minster have sided with Leicester, local politicians are amping up the pressure with an online petition. “To be perfectly blunt, the people of Leicester misplaced him for more than 500 years,” thundered Yorkshire politician Tom Fox. “Would we really wish to entrust his remains to them again? I think not.”

In granting permission for a hearing later this year, Justice Haddon-Cave noted that the licence to excavate the car park stipulated that the remains were to be “deposited in [Leicester’s] Jewry Wall museum or else be re-interred at [the city’s] St Martin’s cathedral or a burial ground in which interments may legally take place,” according to the Guardian. However, since the discovery of a monarch’s remains is so unprecedented, Haddon-Cave wrote this: “In my judgment, it is plainly arguable that there was a duty at common law to consult widely as to how and where Richard III’s remains should appropriately be reinterred.”

Though allowing the appeal, Haddon-Cave warned against entrenched views, such as those during Richard III’s time during the War of the Roses, when England was wrought by civil war and unrest. “It is ironic that the Wars of the Roses appear to be returning whence they started—the Temple [an area of London stuffed with law firms and courts]. Legend has it that John Beaufort and Richard Plantagenet picked the symbolic red and white roses in Inner and Middle Temple gardens,” he commented. “I would, however, urge the parties to avoid embarking on the (legal) Wars of the Roses Part 2. In my view, it would be unseemly, undignified and unedifying to have a legal tussle over these royal remains. This would not be appropriate, or in the country’s interests. The discovery of Richard III’s remains engages interests beyond those of the immediate parties, and touches on sovereign, state and church.”

He even went so far as to offer a possible solution: “I would strongly recommend that parties immediately consider referring the fundamental question—as to where and how Richard III is reburied—to an independent advisory panel made up of suitable experts and Privy Councillors, who can consult and receive representations from all interested parties and make suitable recommendations with reasonable speed.”