The battle over the burial of King Richard III has become savageby Sam Knight / December 12, 2013 / Leave a comment
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:…