The late King Richard’s remains. Note the pronounced spinal curvature.
The news that ancient remains, discovered under a Leicester car park, have been positively identified as those of King Richard III of England has led, predictably, to a bit of a tiff over where the late King should be re-interred. There are some calls from traditionalists for the royal bones to find a final resting place at Westminster Abbey, where so many of our rulers are whiling away eternity. Then again, there are those who argue that Richard’s own desire was to find a resting place at York Minster; and he was indeed the last king of the House of York – but he left no explicit instructions, and the sudden, violent nature of his demise would have made it difficult to be certain of the Royal Prerogative.
The argument for the remains to travel “home” to York may, in any event, be a little dubious, as the identification of the House of York with the geographical area of Yorkshire is less than completely accurate. Those who see the Wars of the Roses as a battle between factions equivalent to modern-day Lancashire and Yorkshire, are somewhat wide of the mark – the alignments were more upon ancient heraldic lines than any local rivalry. So estates and houses of the Duchy of York were spread throughout England and the Welsh Marches, rather than being confined to the Broad Acres.
In any event, it has to be said that some of Richard’s alleged activities during his lifetime would not reflect well upon any region claiming him as an Old Boy. On the death of his older brother, Edward IV in 1483, Richard was named Lord Protector, with responsibility for the 12 year old King Edward V and his younger brother Richard. However, our potential fellow Tyke acted swiftly to have his late brother’s marriage to the boys’ mother declared invalid, resulting in their illegitimacy – and meaning young Edward was ineligible for the throne. Richard was subsequently crowned King, and the two young princes were never again seen in public. Accusations were rife that Richard had fatally disposed of them, thus creating the legend of the Princes in the Tower.
Richard’s reign proved to be short – only two years – and tempestuous. After suppressing a rebellion led by supporters of the late Edward IV, including the Second Duke of Buckingham who was then executed at Salisbury, Richard was less fortunate when Henry Tudor challenged for the throne, and he eventually became the last English king to die in battle, slain on Bosworth Field in 1485. Due to the manner of his death, he was afforded only a cursory battlefield burial, and there he remained until he was recently unearthed from beneath that Leicester car park.
So Richard’s place in history owes much to a fairly negative press over the centuries since his death. The taint of innocent royal blood on his hands has never really gone away, despite many scholarly efforts to discover the fate of the lost princes. The identification of his remains will do little to solve that particular mystery, though it does now seem clear that Shakespearian references to a withered arm were false, though poor Richard did indeed have a distinct curvature of the spine – but again, not the “hunchback” of popular legend.
It would seem that the late king’s supposed wishes as to his long-term home after his death are unlikely to bear fruit, just as his ambitions in life were doomed to be thwarted, and perhaps that is no bad thing It seems after all more than likely that he was a fairly unscrupulous sort of chap, and given to the sort of behaviour in his own interests that we’d like to think ill befits a proper Yorkshire lad.
In any event, it would appear that the Ministry of Justice license permitting the excavation to proceed in the first place also provides that the legal partners, Leicester City Council and Leicester University, have the right to choose where Richard will end up; so a reburial with all due ceremony at Leicester Cathedral is set for early next year.
It is not yet known whether any of the present-day Royal Family plan to attend.