Where should Richard III lie?

Prospect Magazine

Where should Richard III lie?


The battle over the burial of King Richard III has become savage

When Richard III’s skeleton was discovered, with its distinctive curved spine, all that archeologist Richard Buckley could think was “No way.” © University of Leicester/Rex

On a recent windblown afternoon I went to meet a doctor called Phil Stone at London’s Victoria Station. Stone is in his late sixties and works as a consultant radiologist in Faversham. Since 2002, he has also been the Chairman of the Richard III Society, a historical organisation devoted to restoring the reputation of England’s most infamous King. Since the discovery of Richard’s skeleton in a council-owned car park in Leicester last year, the society has almost doubled in size, to 4,200 members, and stands as one of the chief symbols of the strange power that a monarch who ruled 530 years ago continues to exert on our national imagination.

Finding Richard’s bones was a triumph for the society. The dig was inspired and masterminded by the secretary of its Scottish branch, a screenwriter called Philippa Langley, and throughout the search Stone acted as her mentor. At one point he stepped in with his own savings to rescue the project, and at another he helped Langley put out a worldwide appeal to Ricardians—as Richard III enthusiasts are known—which raised a critical £17,000 to cover about half of the cost of the two-week excavation in the summer of 2012. In the maelstrom of publicity that followed, Stone got used to drafting press releases in hotel rooms and giving interviews between hospital shifts (he is in the process of retiring). His wife prepared a description for journalists going to meet her husband: “White hair. White beard. Think Santa Claus.”

So I had no trouble recognising Stone. It helped that he was also wearing a signet ring engraved with a rampant boar. (The white boar was Richard’s heraldic symbol, and most devoted Ricardians have it on their person somewhere). To be honest, though, he looked exhausted. Like Father Christmas on Boxing Day. He slumped down at a café table. “And I was looking forward to a nice, peaceful reign…” he said.

For many of those intimately involved, the rediscovery of Richard III has been one of the greatest events of their life, but it has also proved exceptionally turbulent. Within weeks of the exhumation, the outlines of a bitter struggle about the future of the remains became visible: Where should the King be reburied? And how? The dispute has gone on to divide cities, archaeologists and Ricardians. In crude terms, the argument has often been characterised as a contest between the city of Leicester, scene of Richard’s downfall and hasty burial in 1485, and York, which claims him as one of their own—Richard was England’s last Yorkist King. But, not unlike the Wars of the Roses, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Just as the nation’s 15th century dynastic war between the noble houses of York and Lancaster contained a multitude of smaller conflicts, the fight over Richard’s bones is also about memory, money and what happens when a university department joins forces with a group of passionate amateurs—and a myth becomes a real skeleton in a cardboard box. “There were some hungry dogs,” as one senior member of the Richard III Society told me, “and they all wanted a bone.”

As leader of the world’s largest group of Ricardians, Stone has had the impossible the task of keeping the peace. He has strenuously maintained the neutrality of his society—refusing to take a poll of members’ views—and faced insults all the while. “One member wrote to me calling me deceitful and a liar,” Stone said mildly. “It was actionable, but you don’t. Do you?” Instead, he has tried to concentrate on the positive contributions that the discovery has made. We now know the King had scoliosis, a spinal condition, rather than a hunchback, for example. “There’s no denying it’s the greatest thing in Ricardian history in 500 years,” said Stone. Even so. He has his moments. He watched the commuters go past. “There are occasions when I wish she hadn’t found him.”


Digging up Richard was never much of a preoccupation for Ricardians. The bones were gone. The monastery where he was buried in Leicester, two or three days after his calamitous death at the Battle of Bosworth about 10 miles outside the city, was pulled down during the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century and—the story went—his remains thrown into the River Soar. The King’s tomb, it was said, became a cattle trough.

Instead, Ricardians have always devoted themselves to something much more intangible: a fair hearing for England’s last Plantagenet King. Horace Walpole, the novelist and son of the country’s first Prime Minister, is generally reckoned to have written the founding Ricardian text, Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III, in 1768. “Does antiquity consecrate darkness?” he asked. “Does a lie become venerable from its age?” Walpole argued that Henry VII, who defeated Richard at Bosworth, invented a creature of moral and physical deformity in order to shore up his own shaky legitimacy. Richard became a hunchback who killed his wife, brother, nephews (the Princes in the Tower), Henry VI, anyone who got in his way—an infamy later embroidered by Shakespeare and sewn into our memories ever since.

Ricardians, therefore, are driven by justice. “It is proof of our sense of civilised values that something as esoteric and as fragile as reputation is worth campaigning for,” said Richard, the current Duke of Gloucester, and patron of the Richard III Society, in 1981. They do not deny the eccentricity of their task and are often at a loss to explain why it drives them. Like many Ricardians, Stone became entranced by the King as a schoolboy—and in particular, Shakespeare’s tragedy, Richard III—but that doesn’t get to the bottom of it: the ache, the sense of calling. “For nearly 30 years I have asked myself this question,” he said, “and you will gather that I still haven’t come to a conclusion: Why Richard?”

The power of these pent-up hopes meant that, for many Ricardians, encountering the King’s physical remains was, at least at first, almost too much to take. Recent scholarship had thrown doubt on the River Soar story, but there was scant support for Langley during the eight years she spent trying to dig up the car park of Leicester’s social services department. Then there was the uncanny manner of the discovery. Richard’s leg bones were found on the very first day of the dig, under the very parking spot that Langley believed they would be, and when Jo Appleby, an osteologist from the University of Leicester, removed a layer of soil to reveal a strongly knotted spine, Langley almost collapsed in shock and recognition. Stone was one of the first people she called. “Are you sitting down?” Langley asked. “Are you sure you’re sitting down?”

Although it took a different form, the power of the find was just as considerable for the academics and city officials who had teamed up with the Richard III Society to carry out the excavation. “No way. No way,” was all that Richard Buckley, the archaeologist in charge, could think. “Bugger,” said Peter Soulsby, the Mayor of Leicester. When Vivienne Faull, then Dean of Leicester Cathedral, called in one of her canons, Pete Hobson, to break the news, he could not fathom what she was talking about. “She said:
‘We’ve found Richard!’ And I thought to myself: ‘Who’s gone missing?’”

This was nothing compared to the wave that broke when the University of Leicester announced that “Skeleton 1” was a “prime candidate” for Richard a week later, on 12th September 2012. “The reaction we got was just literally overwhelming,” Lin Foxhall, the head of the university’s archaeology department, told me. For the next five months, as geneticists, engineers, historians and archaeologists did the delicate scientific work to try and analyse the bones, the university was solidly besieged—mainly by journalists trying to get ahead of the story—until it felt compelled to announce its positive identification on 4th February 2013. “It was dreadful,” said Foxhall, who described the eventual announcement as a “controlled explosion.” “Publishing your research by press conference is not an ideal way to do it. For God’s sake, I’m an academic. I know that.”

The announcements that day also confirmed that, in accordance with a licence issued by the Ministry of Justice, Richard’s bones would be finally laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral. The location of the King’s reburial had been a concern since long before the dig. Philippa Langley told me that it came up in her first meeting with Sheila Lock, the former Chief Executive of Leicester City Council, when she approached the city for its cooperation in early 2011. (The car park was owned by the council). “I said, ‘If we find him, what happens to him?’” Langley recalled. “And she said, ‘No, it stays in Leicester. That’s the deal.’ And I did throw in, ‘What about the Abbey?’ [Richard’s wife, Anne, is buried in Westminster Abbey]. But it was, ‘No.’”

Normal archaeological practice is to rebury human remains exhumed after more than 100 years in the nearest piece of available consecrated ground. Five days before Richard’s bones were dug up, the University of Leicester applied to do just that. Leicester Cathedral is less than 100 yards from where “Skeleton 1” was found and contains masonry from the Franciscan friary where Richard was buried in 1485.

For those running the project, the question of the King’s reinterment was largely settled. So they didn’t pay much attention to the first mutterings about alternative burial places. An online petition was got up by citizens in York—“where he was regarded with much love and affection” they said—and there were noises about Middleham Castle, in Yorkshire, where Richard grew up; Fotheringay, in Northamptonshire, where many of his family are buried; and Windsor and Westminster, where most monarchs of the 15th and 16th centuries ended up. The tone was mostly good-natured. “York people were loyal to him then and remain so,” said a spokeswoman for the city, when York’s civic leaders wrote to the Queen and the Ministry of Justice to complain. “If I’m honest it was a bit opportunistic and with some light-heartedness,” Kersten England, the city’s Chief Executive, told me.

The tone began to turn about a month after Richard’s identity was confirmed. At the Richard III Society’s annual conference, which took place in Leicester in March, Stone told members that a facial reconstruction of Richard, which had been paid for by the society, would be given to the new visitors’ centre being built in the city. There was a discernible chill. “I got an email a couple of days later,” he said. “‘Why are Leicester getting it? Why are Leicester getting everything?’ That’s when I started to realise there was going to be trouble.”

Even so, nobody predicted what would happen next. Within weeks, a brand new Ricardian group calling itself the Plantagenet Alliance emerged. The group announced that it was going to the High Court to challenge the granting of the University of Leicester’s exhumation licence. The lawsuit, in the form of a judicial review, proved surprising for several reasons. First, no one—not even in Ricardian circles—had heard of the Plantagenet Alliance, which claimed to be made up of collateral, or indirect, descendants of the King. (“Quite frankly a lot of people think it’s a scam,” said Joe Ann Ricca, the leader of the Richard III Foundation, an American breakaway faction of the Richard III Society).

Second, the grounds for the legal challenge seemed unlikely to succeed. The Plantagenet Alliance claimed that, as descendants of Richard III, its members should have been consulted about the plans for the King’s reburial—even though demographers think there could be up to 17m other living descendants of Richard, and the group did not even exist when the licence was issued.

Third, and most surprising of all, the case got the green light to go ahead. On 15th August 2013, Judge Charles Haddon-Cave, sitting in London, ordered a full hearing to take place towards the end of the year. “It is plainly arguable,” he found, “that there was a duty at common law to consult widely… [given the] intense, widespread and legitimate public interest” in the reinterment. The hearing would not decide where the bones would end up, but it might throw out the original licence—allowing rival claims for the King to be heard.

Everything changed with the lawsuit. Plans for the reburial in Leicester Cathedral were put on hold. Attitudes hardened. The Ricardian community splintered. Facebook pages—for York, for Leicester—were set up. Yorkists dared to hope. Leicester’s city officials and academics who had overseen the dig became defensive. They had followed standard procedure, after all. Their counterparts in York started to make quiet plans for what they would do if they got the bones instead. There were whispers in high places that the royal family itself was divided.

For those long steeped in the history of Richard III, these manoeuvres—the sight of battle lines being drawn up—have been as familiar as they remain hard to explain. “I think a lot of people may not fully understand their own motives for getting so involved in this,” Philip Schwyzer, a professor of Renaissance literature at Exeter University told me. “People are almost stepping into old roles whether they know it or not.” When I tracked down Charles Brunner, a night club owner in Kansas and 17th great-nephew of King Richard who is one of the leaders of the Plantagenet Alliance, he also spoke of a strong compulsion to right ancient wrongs, without exactly knowing why. “I am going along and doing really what in the depths of my being is the right thing to do,” he said. “I am single-mindedly thinking, ‘This is what needs to be done’… It’s been really weird.”

Richard reborn © Rex/Kippa Limited

Richard was the last King who belonged to the House of York. The historical case to bury him in the city, rather than Leicester, is based on the way he kept coming back during his lifetime. He grew up at Middleham Castle, in Yorkshire, and was lieutenant in the north for his brother, Edward IV, responsible for its government in the 1470s. When Richard took the throne from his nephew, Edward V (later to disappear, mysteriously, in the Tower of London with his younger brother) in the bloody summer of 1483, the new King chose to return to his northern heartlands to display his power.

Over several days that August, 13,000 felt boars were made and distributed throughout the city; the King and his Queen sat wearing their crowns “until the sixth hour of the night”; and Richard’s son, Edward of Middleham, was installed as the Prince of Wales in the Archbishop’s palace. Records from York Minster at the time show that the King intended to build a huge chantry chapel, stocked with 100 priests, to commemorate his family.

But the trail then runs cold. Richard was dead within two years of his triumphal visit, at the age of 32, the back of his skull cleaved off in Leicestershire. He left no will that might have indicated where he wanted to be buried. The chapel was never built. “The good hard documentary evidence that we as historians would look for is really lacking,” said Mark Ormrod, professor of history at York University. “All that we have got is this sort of circumstantial material.”

The circumstantial material, though, is where the Yorkist case comes alive. More than anything, the argument for laying Richard to rest under the pale, rook-filled skies of the north, is about feeling. It is about loss. The day after Richard’s death at Bosworth, York’s city leaders mourned “King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us.” The cause of his downfall, they said, was “grete treason” and he was “pitiously slane and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie.” Two months into the reign of Henry VII, the city records were still talking about “the most famous prince of blessed memory, King Richard.” Transmogrified by the centuries, that grief, in some form, remains—for a time of northern kings, and northern power. “I think there is probably in York a holding on to those moments in which we appeared to be of national and international significance,” said England, the city’s chief executive.

In 1622, almost 150 years after Richard’s death, and 30 years after Shakespeare’s play, Francis Bacon compared the memory of the King in the north to the sediment in a barrel of wine. “It lay like Lees in the bottome of mens hearts,” he wrote, “and if the Vessell was but stirred, it would come up.” This phenomenon, powerful as it is, can be foul—even today. By strange accident, the Dean of Leicester Cathedral, Vivienne Faull, moved to York a few months after Richard was dug up to take the new, much bigger job of running York Minster. Aware of the long-standing arrangements for reinterment in Leicester, and anxious to avoid the sight of cathedrals squabbling, Faull approved a statement saying that the Minster “commends Richard to Leicester’s care.” The result was a torrent of abusive emails and a boycott of the new Dean’s sermons. “It was construed that I was being, if you like, Lancastrian in a Yorkist city,” Faull told me. “It was visceral… I think I did say at one point to the acting Dean of Leicester, ‘We go too far down this and someone dies.’”

The more time I spent in York, the more I got the impression that opposition to Richard’s reburial in Leicester was about more than chantry chapels and even geography. For many Ricardians, rescuing the King from the place where he was killed and humiliated (his corpse was stabbed through the buttock, buried shroudless, and with its hands tied) is also about rescuing him from history. It goes to the heart of the Ricardian project.

It happened to be Guy Fawkes night the evening I agreed to meet Vanessa Roe, the spokeswoman for the Plantagenet Alliance. Fireworks banged across the city. There was usurpation in the air. We went to a pub a few yards from the old walls, where the severed head of Richard’s father, the Duke of York, was once impaled and put on display. Roe wore a fur jerkin.

Roe works with young people with learning disabilities and runs a small farm 10 miles north of York. She has always known about her aristocratic genealogy (she is descended from Richard’s other brother, George, the Duke of Clarence) and told me that she felt compelled to intervene after watching Langley’s documentary about the search for Richard, which was broadcast on Channel 4 on the night that the bones were identified. “Looking after your own,” is how she described her initial impulse. Roe wrote to York City Council, whose communications department put her in touch with other people claiming to be descendants of the King, who were also writing in. That exchange of email addresses is how the Plantagenet Alliance came about. (The group, which now numbers around 40, have never met in person). As the campaign developed, and the lawsuit was filed, Roe felt a deepening sense of conviction. “Like a world war brings a bit of passion—identity, fever, whatever you want to call it—this has sort of brought that back,” she said.

I was struck, talking to Roe, by the direct sense of connection that she felt with Richard. Ricardians like to celebrate a set of progressive legal reforms that the King enforced during his brief reign, and Roe discerned that spirit in the current judicial review. “The way I look at it is: Do I have the same attributes? Do I have the same traits? Do I have the same features? Do I have the same kind of drive?” Roe asked of her ancestor. “I think we are doing what he would have done.”

There are occasions when this Ricardian sense of intuition borders on the frankly magical. Langley has spoken many times of the strange, physical sensation that overcame her the first time she walked into Leicester’s social services department car park, in the summer of 2004. She was drawn to a parking space which had an “R” for “Reserved” on it, and under which Richard was later found. “I had this experience and it became the catalyst and the driver,” she told me. “I needed to know.”

The Ricardian scene is also known for its openness towards ideas of reincarnation. One member of the Richard III Society told me that he would not be surprised if the entire movement turned out to be reincarnated henchmen of the King, and that he would sue me if his name was ever connected with this belief. Charles Brunner, the American prominent in the Plantagenet Alliance, prefers to use the phrase “ancestral memory” to describe his sense of identification with England’s bloody 15th century. “If the reincarnation thing does play into it, there were a lot of people who lost their lives during those events,” he said, “and a lot of what you could call unfinished business in the entire thing.”

Explicable or not, this depth of feeling has made Roe and the Plantagenet Alliance formidable, if unconventional, campaigners. They are not natural negotiators. When I asked Roe whether she would be satisfied if the group were granted the consultation it was seeking, and Richard’s remains were still interred in Leicester, she said: “No. No. Because that is not the right answer. That is not what he wanted. So, no. No.”

Archaeologists on the dig that uncovered the skeleton

I drove down the M1 to Leicester the following morning. The city was apparently encircled by roadworks. After the medieval otherness of York, Leicester—and, in many ways, its argument to keep hold of Richard—represents a return to the real world. It was raining and I was late for my meeting with Pete Hobson, the canon commissioner at Leicester Cathedral, who is  in charge of the day-to-day arrangements for Richard’s proposed reinterment. In contrast to the stocky majesty of York Minster, St Martin’s has the feel of a working, urban church.

Despite hewing to the general tone of deference to Richard (not one person I interviewed was willing to go on the record and say that he killed the Princes in the Tower), Hobson was at least prepared to acknowledge that the late King was no saint. He also insisted that his reburial—if it goes ahead there—would not dramatically alter the character of England’s second poorest cathedral. “Whatever reinterment for Richard here means, it doesn’t mean we become the tomb of Richard III,” said Hobson, who has had to fend off criticism from Ricardians about the modest design of the cathedral’s proposed memorial. “We have got to work out how not to be starstruck.”

For Hobson, and many others in the city who were involved in the search and subsequent exhumation of Richard’s bones, the challenge from York signifies nothing more than wishful thinking. The story of Richard—his rise to power, death, posthumous disgrace and corporeal disappearance—is not a happy one, but that is how life goes. We do not choose the manner of our defeats. “He could easily have won that battle and history would have been different, but he didn’t,” said Hobson. “And isn’t life full of  ‘If only something else had happened my life would be better…’ We have to deal with what happens.”

That’s not to say that Leicester isn’t thrilled to have him. People speak of the unearthing of a lost English monarch and Shakespearean villain in one of Britain’s most ethnically diverse small cities as a kind of galvanising miracle. “Queues in the middle of Leicester, around the block, to look at a hole in the middle of the ground,” said Vivienne Faull, recalling her last summer as Dean, “but from that experience gaining a new sense of their identity, it was quite extraordinary.” It’s going to make money, too. The city that has had roads named after Richard and Bosworth for hundreds of years now has biscuits, sunglasses, DVDs, t-shirts, and paperweights. Hotel bookings rose 20 per cent in the month after Richard’s bones were identified and Martin Traynor, who runs Leicester’s Chamber of Commerce, says that he expects Leicestershire’s tourist and hospitality industry to grow up to 5 per cent on the back of the King’s discovery and reinterment: that’s £70m of trade.

Then there is the paperwork. Richard Buckley, the archaeologist at Leicester University who oversaw the excavation, has been digging up the city since the late 1970s. A tall, broad man, Buckley once exhumed more than 1,300 medieval skeletons to make way for a new shopping centre and has applied to remove human remains dozens of times over the years. On 31st August 2012, he wrote to the Ministry of Justice, asking permission to exhume up to six skeletons from the social services car park. The form required Buckley to specify what he would do with the remains. If they turned out to be Richard’s, he wrote, they would be reinterred at Leicester Cathedral. The licence was granted three days later.

Buckley sees the idea that he, or anyone else, should have carried out a consultation on where to bury an unfound King as a logical impossibility. When should people have been consulted? Before the excavation began? “You can’t have a national referendum saying, ‘We’re going to dig a hole in Leicester, what should we do if we find something?’” said Buckley. And once the bones were identified he, and the rest of the university, argues that they were legally bound to do what they said they would do. The Burials Act doesn’t say anything about a consultation. It is like being told off for something that has never been wrong before.

It is also profoundly upsetting, after doing the archaeological and scientific work of your life, to imagine the removal of Leicester’s spoils to somewhere else. “I would rue the day we ever dug him up,” said Buckley. Worse still to have your conduct questioned by a group of campaigning Ricardians who met each other over the internet. Lin Foxhall, Buckley’s boss, did not bother to conceal her anger. “It’s the whack job factor,” she told me. “How do you deal with people who imagine they are reincarnated members of his court? I’m sorry, I’m a scientist. That’s bonkers. That is not the kind of thing on which a legal judgement should be taken. That is not a basis for a legal judgement in a rational modern society. That is rubbish.”

The trouble is, Leicester may have to listen, whether it likes to or not. The fight over the bones of Richard III is just another incident in the larger, longer battle to make the past into what we want it to have been. Unlike Richard, however, who exhumed Henry VI because it suited him, or the Tudors, who disfigured the humanity of Richard himself, it is no longer possible to write history by fiat. Over the last decade, the drift in archaeological practice in this country has been towards greater consultation with so-called “interested communities”—whack job or not.

In 2009, following a request by the Council of British Druid Orders for the reburial of neolithic skeletons dug up in Wiltshire, English Heritage and the National Trust carried out a public consultation, and opinion poll, before deciding what to do with the remains. Sebastian Payne, the former chief scientist at English Heritage, who helped run the consultation and write the government’s guidance on the treatment of human remains in 2005, told me that there was no reason why something similar should not happen in the case of King Richard. “It’s the meeting of logic and emotion,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean the emotion is wrong. It’s just different, and you have to find a way to take it into consideration.”

The Druids lost in 2009. The Plantagenet Alliance are still in the fight. I went along to their latest hearing, in late November, at the High Court. Philippa Langley was there, giving interviews. Richard Buckley was crammed into a suit. Vanessa Roe came down from York, carrying a plastic bag and wearing a silver boar on her coat. It was a morning of dense legal argument, as Leicester City Council, along with the university, and the Ministry of Justice, were added as defendants in the judicial review. But the development may help the Plantagenet Alliance, as the city’s QC, Norman Palmer, suggested that the council might be open to staging some sort of consultation after all. For now, though, the case rolls on. It was adjourned until the New Year. As the three judges trooped out of the court, I looked up and saw a gothic balcony, lined with red velvet, perfectly positioned to address the room. It was just waiting for King Richard to appear, lithe, 5’ 8” tall, with one shoulder just higher than the other, to tell us what to do.





  1. December 12, 2013

    Linda Brake

    A useful article on the whole. But you did a tremendous disservice to Ricardians when you wrote “The fight over the bones of Richard III is just another incident in the larger, longer battle to make the past into what we want it to have been.” Our aim is, rather, to unearth Richard’s true history from the layers of Tudor-driven propaganda that have buried him for centuries.

    • January 3, 2014

      John Price

      Members of the Richard iii fan club are not trying to establishing the truth or the most likely version of it. They are committed to trying to create a good reputation for one particular historical character – acting, as it were, as an advocate of his behalf. That is not a sound position to take and it means that everything they say should be treated with caution.

  2. December 12, 2013


    Whilst the argument has raged over where Richard should be re-interred, the skeletons of others have been exhumed from the Greyfriars site. One of them is a particularly high status lady who was buried in a lead coffin within a stone one, and it has been suggested that the lead one was used as a means of transporting her body to her chosen resting place in Leicester. The exhumation licence and its reburial instructions are exactly the same as that issued for skeleton 1, and yet there is no suggestion that the “normal practice” is to be followed in her case. She will be consigned to a municipal cemetery outside the city walls. There are three options on the licence, and the only reason that authorities have stuck with St Martin’s is the undertaking required of the archaeologists and Philippa Langley before leicester City Council gave permission for the dig to take place. There was absolutely no need for the University to state their intentions when applying for the licence. Once positive identification had been completed was the time to consider the options. Whatever the intentions, however, the licence authorises the exhumation & reburial of “unidentified remains” which these evidently are not. The Minister of Justice, Chris Grayling cannot stand by his department’s view, that of supporting leicester’s claim, when his deputy, in the debate in Westminster, offered the MoJ’s services as mediator between the sides in the dispute. The whole thing has been handled appallingly badly from the start, and it is quite right that the licence should be quashed. Had Richard been buried where he fell, and his body been discovered when archaeologists recently identified the correct battle site, would the MoJ allow the farmer who owns the land the right to determine a king’s reburial? No. Leicester City Council should have no more right.

  3. December 12, 2013

    Roy Shakespeare

    Very good article although there is one obvious factual error. Richard III was born at Fotheringay, Northants., not Middleham, Yorks.

    • December 13, 2013


      I was just coming to post the very same thing Roy.

  4. December 13, 2013

    Nick Ford

    I find Dr Foxhall’s reported comments rather unprofessional. As far as I’m aware, science has not disproved reincarnation, and therefore to dismiss it out of hand is, ipso facto, unscientific. Since the 1980s considerable research has been carried out but doubtless she considers it beneath her dignity rather than outside her academic sphere of competence (which would have been the professional answer). As a sometime archaeologist myself (as well as a researcher into parapsychological subjects such as reincarnation or ostensible past life memory) I would have to admit that Archaeology itself is actually a pseudo-science, being an interpretative amalgam of complementary humanity and sciencific disciplines. The scientific approach and the materialist approach are different, and Dr Foxall ignores this. The former is a discipline, the latter a philosophy, and the latter can occlude the former.

  5. December 13, 2013

    Marcia Cech

    Thank you for personalizing the argument for Richard III and York. It’s rather difficult to follow English legal procedures from over here (in the colonies)…but the personalities, families and town folk alike bring a different point of view. I do believe that those of us whose attention was drawn to this event are somehow linked by an uncanny, shared history in time. When I bring up the topic in conversation people look at me as though I’ve lost it a little and yet I am strangely focused…there is an uncertain feeling of discontent about a Leicester burial…I would have to vote ‘York’ which is as yet sight unseen for me…just strange!

  6. December 13, 2013


    One of the more even handed articles on the dig and its repercussions I have read. Funnily enough, it also occurred to me that members of the various Ricardian societies might be linked to King Richard in some way in a previous life, most having never considered the possibility, but I had never voiced this for obvious reasons, so it’s with a wry smile that I see a fellow member has been brave enough to do so, albeit with a proviso! No, we’re not barmy, just determined to get to the truth. Sometimes you have to wade through alot of the proverbial stuff to do so.

  7. December 14, 2013

    James Frankcom

    It seems Leicester’s interest is commercial and disguised by a “it’s legal so suck it up” logic. The heart matters. If this is about religion and what feels right it’s Westminster or York. Why is it such a big deal for Leicester to give him up? He’s not their property, or is he?

  8. December 14, 2013


    The location of burial is small beer compared to the matter of the manner in which he will be interred. Richard died a Catholic in communion with the pope. The form used ought then to be Catholic, Sarum use and officiants clergy of that Church. Burying him as a member of the C of E, even with Sarum liturgical text would be perverse and an ecumenical or secular affair equally so. Reburying him under that car park seems a less complicated solution.

    • January 3, 2014

      Don Phillipson

      “Burying him as a member of the C of E, even with Sarum liturgical text would be perverse and an ecumenical or secular affair” seems to make no sense. The C of E burial rubrics nowhere assert that the person being buried is or was a member of the C of E, and the 39 Articles seem not to require it.

  9. December 14, 2013

    Kevin Beach

    The conflict is not just two-way: York or Leicester. There is a third point of view which, given a just hearing, would trump the others.

    Like all English monarchs up to Henry VIII, Richard III was in communion with the Bishop of Rome: he was Catholic. He was first buried in a Catholic abbey church, which was destroyed by Henry VIII within 50 years. It is inconceivable that he would have wanted his remains to be interred in any building that is under the control of what he would have regarded as an heretical organisation founded by the son of the man who usurped his throne and caused his death.

    Richard’s bones should be interred in a Catholic Cathedral in England, with the solemnities of the Catholic Church, until such time as the old Cathedrals are returned at last to the Church which built them. Then and only then, may there be a debate to be had about which currently Anglican building should be honoured by housing his tomb permanently.

  10. December 14, 2013

    Sylvia Cheney-Charlewood

    While i belong to neither the RC or C of E congregations, I agree that King Richard III devout Catholic that he was, would prefer to be re-interred in a Roman Catholic place of Worship. So far as i can see, Leicester City Council,and Cathedral, want his remains because they would attract ( and I quote the mayor of Leicester here ) £57 million, in tourist interest. Surely a man’s religious conviction, to say nothing of his family descendants wishes, should be paramount. His bones, we all knew, were under the ruins of the Grey Friars’ chapel, even I knew where he was!, but Leicester City Council did nothing to find him for over 500 years.It took inspiration, devotion,and funds, from Richard III Society members to find his place of burial.Now his family and his long term defenders should have the right to decide on where his royal bones should be laid to rest.

  11. January 3, 2014


    Of the millions of collateral descendants of Richard III, why should the members of the “Plantagenet Alliance” be the ones to choose his place of burial?

    Wouldn’t this kind of decision usually be made by the deceased’s legal heir, who, presumably, is the current Queen?

    • January 4, 2014

      Larry Kroah

      This is exactly what I would have thought. Regardless of the centuries, he was King of England. To me, an American, I would have thought that Royal Prerogative would hold sway in this matter, but yours is the first comment that I have encountered anywhere that the Queen should decide. It seems rather odd to me since it is ultimately her family. Please anyone correct me if I am wrong.

      • January 7, 2014


        As any dna expert will tell you, you or I are as closely related to Richard as any in the royal household. Where he ends up is purely a matter of sentimental preference. i rather fancy the Queen has rather more on her mind , Scottish referendum etc, to devote time to this recondite issue. In Catholic practice parts of the body might be buried in a variety of “holy” locations. In this case division of the skeleton might appease rival claims. Of course there is still the carpark adjacent to that modern cultic centre the supermarket.

    • March 3, 2014

      Dale Perry

      I would normally say yes,however He was a king after all and part of a larger obligation as service of his people as a community.He should be where he can still be respected and visited into a safe place where he can be protected for the future and for visitors who wish to pay homage to his nobility and rein as King of an important time in history.

  12. January 3, 2014

    Marnie Barrell

    Richard was neither Anglican nor Roman Catholic. The distinction was unimaginable in his time, since the English church he knew was part of the universal, undivided Christian church (other than the long-ago split between Eastern and Western churches).
    Both English Roman Catholics and Anglicans have a reasonable claim to consider themselves descendants of the English church of the middle ages, just via two different streams.

    • January 3, 2014


      True the church of the English people and their French origin ruling class was in communion with Rome. Therefore Richard was a member of the Catholic Church. He was not a Roman Catholic a term he would not have understood as it was coined much later by English Protestants. The Anglican entity is a Calvinist/Lutheran hybridized off-shoot of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church whose visible head is resident in the Vatican. Suggesting that the Catholic Church is “a stream” is a rather questionable and nationalist reworking of religious history.

    • January 6, 2014

      Kevin Beach

      The term “Catholic” was first used in respect of the Church to describe its universal nature in the early 2nd century. By the end of that century it was used to describe adherents to orthodox Christianity, as opposed to heretical sects. It has been used in similar ways ever since. English Christians in communion with the Bishop of Rome in the late 15th century would have known that they belonged to the Catholic Church instead of to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Educated people were familiar with heresies and would have known that their church, the Catholic Church, stood out against them. The heresies of the “Reformation” were not a new phenomenon.

      • January 15, 2014

        Sylvia Cheney-Charlewood

        While it is not unreasonable to discuss where the remains of an English King should be re-buried, this should not descend into the nitty -gritty details of what he would have ‘called himself’ when it came to his religion: he would simply have attended the usual, Catholic, Services which were held in churches during his life,and which he heard privately in his home,wherever he was living. Clearly, the burial or re-burial service would have been familiar to him — and we still have the example of the reburial of his father.
        If it is accepted that everyone has a spirit, surely we should always try to re0bury the dis-interred dead in a way that they would recognize? In which case,wherever King Richard is reburied, he should have a service which he would recognize. ie: a ‘catholic’ reburial mass. As stated previously,I have no religious axe to grind in the matter, being from no Christian ‘church’.

  13. January 3, 2014

    Gregg Durham

    An interesting piece about what to do with Richard III’s bones.

    Best wishes, Monsieur

  14. January 3, 2014

    Elizabeth C.

    “When I tracked down Charles Brunner, a night club owner in Kansas and 17th great-nephew of King Richard who is one of the leaders of the Plantagenet Alliance, he also spoke of a strong compulsion to right ancient wrongs, without exactly knowing why.”

    This is an unintentionally hilarious sentence. Charles Brunner is described perfectly in chapter 19 of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”. I got a good chuckle out of that sentence.

  15. January 3, 2014


    This fantastically British kerfuffle should be written up as a play (Richard III, part 2)

  16. January 4, 2014

    Fergus Aitcheson

    Read your history-Churchill Vol 1 is a good starting point. York wasn’t especially “Yorkist” at the best of times. Richard (even the rehabilitated cuddly version) would have slain the whack jobs without a second thought, and rightly so. This is a Little Red Hen scenario-those that do the work should get the spoils.

    • January 4, 2014

      Nick Ford

      Fergus Aitchison wrote: “Read your history-Churchill Vol 1 is a good starting point. York wasn’t especially “Yorkist” at the best of times. Richard (even the rehabilitated cuddly version) would have slain the whack jobs without a second thought, and rightly so. This is a Little Red Hen scenario-those that do the work should get the spoils.”

      I reply: Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, like much of the Establishment propaganda being spouted uncritically by opponents of any revision of the life and significance of King Richard III, relies on secondary sources and bad science, and is well out of date. Further, it is not a question of York being Yorkist, as any critical student of the period knows, loyalty in the 15thC is one of personal, not political, affinity. The primary sources state that York loved Richard, and Richard loved York. They are wholly absent in respect of that medieval Travelodge known as Leicester. The rest of Mr Aitchison’s remarks about ‘whack jobs’ I forbear to comment on as they are unworthy of intelligent debate, save to say that Buckley only dug where Philippa Langley and John Ashdown-Hill told him to dig, and he gets the OBE. What England needs – as in 1485 – is justice, not a vindication of Realpolitik.

  17. January 4, 2014

    Sylvia Cheney-Charlewood

    Times have moved on since Churchill wrote,and more documents et.c. have been found.
    Shakespeare wrote of the ‘good men do’ being ‘oft interred with their bones’. It does not take too much careful scholarship to discover the good that Richard III did,m before and after he assumed the crown ( which was his right). Our present Queen, although she is an extremely worthy Sovereign, is not descended from Richard III – although one of the successors to the throne.It is normally the family of a deceased person who decide on the burial -sadly, thanks to Henry VII and his son,Henry VIII, there are no direct descendants, but there are family members.As to the Society and its aims – surely justice is justice and remains the same, and cannot be changed?So is Justice not something that is worth fighting for? A man’s reputation is worth more than his purse – read Shakespears’e Hamlet!!

    • January 6, 2014

      John Price

      I do not agree that Richard iii had any right to the throne, nor do most objective historians. For instance, Chris Skidmore in his recent book, talks of him as a usurper and I find it impossible to disagree. The Titus Regulus was a merely a retrospective attempt to justify his coup, its key assertions were unevidenced and its arguments untested by any independent authority.

      As for where he is buried, most of the casualties at Bosworth had no choice, I think burial in Leicester Cathedral is fine.

    • January 6, 2014

      John Price

      Anyone can profess any opinion they like about the fate of the princes. Historians however need to weigh evidence and not just pull a a scenario out of thin air. For instance, if two public figures disappear from view never to reappear and there are rumours that they dead, then they will give credence to those rumours and, in the absence of other evidence, consider they are most likely true. Furthermore, if the ruler who had charge of the disappeared figures could help his reputation by producing them, but fails to do so, then that is an an additional piece of evidence. The fact however, that it is possible to conjure up alternative narratives and for individuals to declare faith in them is not evidence of any kind.

      Incidentally, the Shakespeare quote about reputation being worth more than money comes from the Othello, not Hamlet.

  18. January 4, 2014

    Gary Newman

    We still need to hear from the reincarnation of the Princes in the Tower.

    • January 6, 2014

      Sylvia Cheney-Charlewood

      i do wonder why anyone should think that the ‘princes’ (who,it transpired were born of a bigamous marriage,and so not candidates for the crown) should have stayed in the Tower of London – they went there to prepare for a coronation which could not happen,and were very probably sent up to Yorkshire,and cared for in one of the royal castles – there are even household accounts which suggest they were there until and after Richard III’s death. Reincarnation? I really don’t see why anyone should have to come back to this world to do it all again! We know the elder of the two boys,Edward, was ailing.I personally think he died of natural causes,and that his brother survived. No doubt he was hidden away when Henry Tudor arrived and took the throne ‘by right of conquest’(his description), for the lad would have been in danger from Henry – who never baulked at beheading a possible rival! We may wait a long time for a reincarnation!!

  19. January 6, 2014

    Barbara Hobens

    As a King, being buried at Westminster is his right. Of course, it should have the Queen’s blessing and all ancestors should be pleased with this most esteemed site where his wife also reposes.

    As a distant DNA relative to Richard III and Prince Philip, this would be my choice for this most unchristian-acting Catholic made infamous by the man he knew very well, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. I would have an ecumenical service since he was Catholic.

    As for Leicester, they are in the same position as Stratford-upon-Avon. Neither will ever suffer a lack of tourists to see where the bones were or the statue of the man when his bones lie once thought to have written the plays and sonnets for over 400 years.

    I would certainly cross the pond if an invitation was extended; the Plantagenet Alliance should be included in the planning of this service.

    • January 6, 2014

      Don Phillipson

      This supposed right to burial at Westminster seems imaginary. It asks too much to infer those monarchs buried somewhere else (notably at Gloucester and Windsor) were either deprived of a right or waived it, regardless of who wrote Macbeth.

  20. January 8, 2014

    Elizabeth Borson

    I have not read this whole article yet, but have copied it to read later. I live in the United States and must say that my whole life has changed after learning that the skeleton was identified as Richard III. To me it was one of the most exciting things ever to happen to me in recent years, I joined the Ricardian Society last year after hearing the news. I have always been a lover of English history and have had a special interest in Richard III since I was young. I never thought he was guilty of the crimes he was accused of by Shakespeare and others.

  21. January 15, 2014

    Andrea Willers

    Having met Philippa Langley before that dig and heard about her claims that she would find Richard III 3 years before those diggers moved in, I knew it was a set up. I found some of the Richard III society were in some time vortex. Philippa herself told me she was the Earl of Surrey, from what I have researched that’s nothing to be proud of. I was also told by some dodgy professor that had some connections in Leicester and he told me that they were going to find Richard a year before the dig had started.
    This ‘dig’ is a scam ‘a dodgy deal’ Everytime I see that face reconstruction I want to play football with it. I also found the coverage on this ‘dig’ an insult to the Richard’s Memory, what has happened to showing dignity to a human soul. Its some sick hoax and a very bad one at that.

  22. January 15, 2014

    Sylvia Cheney-Charlewood

    The dig was so well reported, photographed, inspected – how can anyone consider it a set-up?Of course Ms Langley knew where the king’s bones were, so did I,within a matter of a few feet – it only took a map of Leicester and some knowledge of church/abbey buildings and some common sense, and one could work it out.What Phillipa Langley did was to raise awareness, cash,and interest – well done her!
    Leicester Council, who must also have known the bones were in more or less the same place, did not bother about Richard III until they saw £ signs!
    The remarks about playing football with the the reconstruction are un-called for. Dr. Wilkinson and her assistants did their job.The reconstruction happens to look very much like the(reproduced later) portraits of Richard III – ergo,: the bones match the portraits.does anyone mind?Does anyone mind that busts of Charles 1st look like his portraits? Would the lady like to gather up all the busts of British royalty to play football with them? How daft can people get!

  23. January 15, 2014

    Andrea Willers

    This blog is one the best ones I have read, it bring into question the whole weirdness of it all from all parties involved. Common sense is certainly lacking as Philippa going on about her ESP and hammed up acting. You don’t honestly believe that they had found him on the first day on the first hour, believe that you will believe anything. I’m sure Dr Wilkinson is proud of her part in that ‘dig’. Weird how that thing looked like Oliver Lawrence. I don’t care what they do with whatever they found they can throw them back in the river for all I care. I said all along when Philippa had this past life agenda. It’s a hoax, but its strange that nobody has sued me.

    • January 16, 2014

      Sylvia Cheney-Charlewood

      Oliver Lawrence? Do you mean the actor, Lawrence Olivier? I can assure you that the head bears no resemblance at all to that famous actor – who rather ‘hammed up’ his portrayal of Shakespeare’s Richard II – he had a wonderful time, creating a villain of his own imagination! Possibly, since you cannot even get the names correct , you may know less than you think, and be more careful in airing your views.Probably nobody can be bothered to sue you, as your ideas clearly do not amount to much.

        • January 17, 2014

          Sylvia Cheney-Charlewood

          I am, indeed, interested in English history, in finding out the truth,and yes,I belong to the R III Society, but I am not argumentative or rude,I merely pointed out that you clearly have not a very clear knowledge of recent theatre or ancient history.No, I do not consider myself any kind of reincarnation – the jury is out on that topic – I have no axe to grind about where the remains of King Richard are laid – I just think it is a good thing that they have been found, and that they will be decently laid to rest somewhere.If it were my decision, this would be done quietly and according to the rites the king was accustomed to.My opinion is that this should always be the case, who ever the bones belong to, when ancient bones are found.It seems a pity ,to me, thatso many graves are r dug up and the bone redistributed just wherever is handy.Y This happened to my own maternal grandmother ,laid in a London cemetery and unceremoniously moved when the there was a new building planned.No one tried to find her family — we found out later, by seeing the new building being built.It was shocking, and when we asked where Grandmother had been buried, we got no firm reply. So I feel strongly that, wherever there are living relatives, the place of reburial should be their decision. And they should decide on the form of Service. perhaps that makes my position clear? An RIII Enthusiast, but not barking!

  24. January 15, 2014

    Brittany Higdon

    I would like to say thank you, Sam Knight, for writing this article! It is extremely thorough and informative while staying neutral and letting the facts speak for themselves. I also want to let you know I appreciate how you handled some of the more “supernatural” elements without being judgmental or even going as far as to make fun of it. Again, you informed the readers without telling them what to think. There really needs to be more of that.

    I am a strong supporter of a York burial, and it was refreshing to take a step back from the immediate focus and look at the big picture. It has definitely been an interesting and eye-opening journey. In the “website” field, I have put the address for our Facebook page, I hope that is okay? I see there are other York supporters here and thought I would invite them to join or even just take a look :) It is called “Petition to bring Richard III back to Yorkshire”. I’m also going to share your article there, Mr. Knight, because I know a lot of us will enjoy reading it. Keep up the excellent reporting!

  25. January 19, 2014

    Andrea Willers

    I have been keeping a close eye on the local media in Leicester and in its local rag the mercury there has been an article about John Ashdown Hill idea about making a crown.
    This chap knows that ‘dig’ is a hoax but strangley wants to make a statement about making this crown and putting on his tomb. The way they have displayed those bones have nothing to do with respect and even in this blog there is that disgusting photo of skeleton of bones.

    The idea of putting a tomb and crown in Leicester Catherdral as tribute to Richard III, they might as well urinate at the high altar. Again that dig is a hoax.

    Hey at least they never given your Grandmother this treatment, this is an insult.

  26. February 7, 2014

    J Patrick Fracois

    I have much enjoyed reading all of the blogs about HRH Richard III. By doing so, I have realized that there has been not one word that says that he had ALREADY been given a Catholic burial in a Catholic edifice. Therefore, any re-internment will be of no consequence, from a religious point of view. Richard in my view should be fully displayed in the Guild House as an attraction, just as the recent display is now. I had the pleasure of seeing it last year and am glad that the mystery of his death has been solved.

  27. February 9, 2014

    T Liddington

    There seems to be an implicit assumption in these comments that York supporters want his bones interred in York because of a ‘sense of justice’ and ‘loss’ and that the people of Leicester are only interested in the potential for making money. The people of Leicestershire and particularly Market Bosworth (where my family originated) are also capable of having ancestral memories, 500 years worth in fact. Thousands of people in this region (living and dead) have grown up in the areas near the battlefield and in the place of his burial with daily reminders of Richard 111. Richard’s chivalry and heroism are celebrated with a statue in Leicester’s ‘Castle Park’ and there are roads, schools, pubs, parks (to name just a few) bearing his name all over the city.

    Though I can only speak for myself and a few other’s that I know personally, Richard 111′s charisma has been a constant and ‘taken for granted’ presence in our lives since we were born. Nobody can say for sure what Richard would have wanted under these particular circumstances, but being interred in a city/county, that resounds with the memory of him cannot (I think) be a bad thing.

    If there are a possible 17 million people in the world that are connected to Richard 111, and even more descendents of his supporters, there is a distinct possibility that some (if not many) of them live in this area. If DNA is to be the decisive factor, then perhaps we should,(in the name of fairness and justice) track down all 17 million and take a vote! yes, it’s ridiculous.

    What I’m trying to say, is that there is much more to Leicester’s defensiveness and determination to hold on to the remains, than ‘legalities and £ signs’.. Of course there are some who have jumped onto the moneymaking, tourism, side of it all but show me somewhere that this wouldn’t happen with a discovery of this kind.

    Lastly, I think that It would be a good idea for those relatives of Richard that think he would be in the wrong hands in Leicester, should come here, visit the sites, and, most importantly, talk to people and generally soak up what we have lived with for hundreds of years and many generations. I agree that this is not a well thought out argument, it is simply an emotional response to what I have been reading.

    This has been a long comment but I could say very much more.

  28. February 10, 2014

    Andrea Willers

    That ‘dig’ is a hoax and a rather twisted and vile one at that. They may as well claim they have found him but they have just flapped their gums about it. I am now looking at articles about John Ashdown Hill making a crown for his tomb. I am just about to publish a book about Richard III and I will never take a step near Leicester to promote it. I have nothing to do with the Plantagenet Alliance either and I don’t care a iota where they re-inter those bones and they can throw them back in the river Soar for all I care. It would be an insult to have those bones re-interred at Leicester Cathedral, they as well urinate at the high altar. I knew about this hoax long before the diggers moved in and I hope they get exposed.

  29. March 3, 2014

    Dale Perry

    It was a wonderful documentry and I love the fact that he now can be placed into a more Nobel place where he can be respected and pay homage to for his service as a past king. It is a beautiful thing when we can preserve for the future as a learning experience that marks time and history.

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Sam Knight

Sam Knight
Sam Knight is an associate editor of Prospect 

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