A few weeks ago, I wrote about the discovery of King Richard III’s remains beneath a car park in Leicester, England. The last Plantagenet king, he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 as the families of York and Lancaster fought for possession of the throne.
The skeletal remains were positively identified through DNA testing done on a 17th generation nephew, a furniture maker living in Canada.
England’s Ministry of Justice is charged with the task of deciding where the body will be reinterred. Several groups want a voice in the disposition, including members of the Plantagenet Alliance, consisting of a group of 15 living relatives of the king, the Richard III Society, and the University of Leicester.
A petition in favor of reburying the king in York has gathered more than 23,000 signatures, while a second petition in favor of the Leicester reburial has been signed by some 8,000 persons.
A law firm in Leeds, a city near York, has advised the ministry and Leicester Cathedral of the family’s rights in the decision. Steven Nicolay, a 16th great-nephew of the king and member of the Plantagenet Alliance, believes they will succeed in their quest to have him reburied at York Minster, the most appropriate site.
Their lawyers are filing an application for judicial review, charging the family was not consulted before the burial license was issued, a breach of their right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They argue that Richard III, a native of York, would have wished to be buried in York Minster cathedral.
King Richard’s childhood home was Middleham Castle in the Yorkshire Dales. He was known as Richard of York before his coronation, often visited York during his 26 months as king, and contributed to the fund for construction of York’s medieval gated walls.
York today is the home to several reminders of the king, including the Richard III Hotel in Middleham and the Richard III Museum. Even the popular Richard III Wensleydale cheese is made in York.
The Leicester City Council, however, refutes the family’s right to have a voice in the disposition on grounds that the king has no living descendants. Since all relatives today descend from his siblings, tens of thousands of persons now alive could be entitled to have a say in the issue.
The council claims when remains are more than 100 years old, there is no obligation to consult living relatives about reburial.
Meanwhile, the ministry issued a license to the University of Leicester granting their archaeologists permission to determine where the burial should be. They naturally decided he should be reinterred at Leicester Cathedral.
The Leicester City Council plans a Victorian-style exhibition centre overlooking the car park where the body was found. A major factor in the debate is the significant boost to tourism the site will ultimately experience.
The Richard III Society, in partnership with the university, has developed plans for a new tomb inside the cathedral. The cathedral’s design brief specifies a ledger stone placed flat in the floor, possibly with a decorative border.
While the remains are historically significant, they maintain it should not be forgotten that in life he exhibited both honorable and dishonorable human characteristics. His memorial will focus on sin and redemption, and justice and peace while offering an opportunity for prayer and reflection.
The outcome of this case could impact other families and genealogists. If one wished to move or otherwise affect an ancestor’s remains, it could be costly to locate all descendants to gain their consent.