Descendants of Richard III won a court battle on Friday over where to bury the medieval monarch, whose bones were found under a car park last year, but were urged not to embark on a legal version of the Wars of the Roses in which the king died.
In one of the most remarkable archaeological finds in English history, a skeleton with a cleaved skull and a curved spine was formally identified as Richard’s remains by DNA testing in February this year.
Depicted by William Shakespeare as a deformed tyrant who murdered his two young nephews to strengthen his grip on power, Richard was killed in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, the last king of England to perish on a battlefield.
The University of Leicester, which led the quest to find, exhume and identify Richard’s remains, obtained permission from the Ministry of Justice to reinter the king at the cathedral in Leicester, which is close to Bosworth in central England.
But descendants of the monarch, who was the last king of the Plantagenet dynasty, went to court arguing that Richard should instead be laid to rest in the cathedral in York, the northern English city with which he had close links during his life.
In a ruling delivered on Friday, High Court Judge Charles Haddon-Cave said the ministry had been wrong to give the green light to the Leicester burial plan without engaging in wider consultation on a matter of wide public interest.
“The archaeological discovery of the mortal remains of a former king of England after 500 years is without precedent,” the judge wrote, granting permission to the pro-York Plantagenet Alliance, a group of descendants and enthusiasts, to initiate a judicial review into the issue.
“I would, however, urge the parties to avoid embarking on the (legal) Wars of the Roses Part 2,” he wrote. “In my view, it would be unseemly, undignified and unedifying to have a legal tussle over these royal remains.”
Tudor triumphThe Wars of the Roses were a 30-year civil war fuelled by a dynastic power struggle between two rival Plantagenet factions. Richard’s death ended Plantagenet rule and heralded the start of the Tudor era under King Henry VII.
Judge Haddon-Cave suggested that instead of pursuing the Leicester-York dispute through the courts, the parties should refer the question of where and how to bury Richard to a panel of suitable experts who could conduct a wide consultation.
He said the issue had generated strong public feeling, noting that 26,553 people had signed a petition that Richard’s remains should be buried at York, while a rival petition in favour of Leicester had gathered 8,115 signatures.
“Richard III has remained a historical figure of significance and controversy,” the judge noted.
Passionate supporters of Richard have long argued that he was unfairly maligned after his death by the triumphant Tudors and his reputation was further damaged by Shakespeare’s play, written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a Tudor.
The enduring image of Richard in the popular imagination is that of Shakespeare’s power-crazed hunchback calling “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” after being thrown from his courser during the Battle of Bosworth.
Judge Haddon-Cave described the work of the University of Leicester in finding Richard’s remains as “inspired, determined and meticulous”, but found that approval of the plan to bury the monarch in Leicester had been too hasty.
“Counsel for the Plantagenet Alliance submit that the law of England is not simply based on ‘finders keepers’, particularly where the remains of a former king of England are concerned. There is obvious force in this submission,” he wrote.