Inside Out 03.02.14
Last night’s programme sounded, to the casual observer, like a well-balanced debate, but look a bit deeper & start asking questions. This is what we have to do when looking at the life of Richard III too. It’s what wasn’t said, the economy with the truth that wasn’t mentioned.
Richard Buckley quite rightly said that the procedures they followed with the Greyfriars dig was exactly the same they have followed for every other dig that involved the exhumation of human remains. However, the human remains in this dig were the skeletal equivalent of treasure trove, and should have made those involved with the licence sit back and think “hang on a moment….”. It is not normal, I concede, for archaeologists to be able to locate living family members when remains are over 100 years old, but these aren’t an unidentified individual, and people do trace their family trees, and it would have been simple to ask for people who knew that the were related to the last Plantagenet monarchs to contact the team. The formation of the Plantagenet Alliance proves this. I don’t know if the members knew each other before Richard was found, but I do know that from my family history research, having traced an ancestor, I will then get a message from someone in another country saying “Hi, I think we are related”. It’s interesting to note that they still quote Michael Ibsen, the man whose MtDNA proved the identity of the remains, as being happy with the decision to bury in Leicester, as if the opinion of one collateral descendant, who had no previous interest in his genealogy, is more important than those who already cared & knew of their ancestry.
We know that very early on, but once the identity of the skeleton had been established, Richard Buckley suggested that there should be wider consultation, but that idea was very quickly knocked on the head, because it goes back further, to before the first lump of tarmac was lifted. The charming mayor of Leicester had the team over a barrel. “Give me your undertaking that if found, Richard III will be buried in Leicester, or THOU SHALT NOT DIG!!” Well, what choice was there? Maybe, if Time Team had accepted the challenge, they would not have been so easily coerced. Soulsby and the equally unshaven Dean Monteith believe that it is perfectly reasonable to bury a mediaeval monarch with tenuous lifetime connections to Leicester, in its largely Victorian former parish church. But this is not in order to honour a monarch who died valiantly attempting to save his throne from a man whose claim to the throne was, to put it kindly, tenuous, this is to enrich a city, something that they continuously deny, whilst in the same breath telling us how many extra tourists the expect will be drawn to the city.
The argument that he’s been there for the last 528 years (529 now) is irrelevant. He would not have chosen to be buried in Leicester. There may be a debate as to whether he would have chosen Westminster Abbey, where his wife is buried, or Windsor, his brother’s choice, but the plans he had for York Minster speak louder than words. Anne was buried in Westminster because that’s where she was when she died. Richard was known for reburying family members in a place he considered more appropriate to their lives, and may well have been considering re-interring her and their son, Edward, in York once his buildings there were complete. We don’t know, but we do know that he had no plans to build anything on this scale in Leicester.
What Leicester does acknowledge is his connections with Yorkshire. Why otherwise produce a design that incorporates the Yorkshire rose and a lump of Yorkshire stone in the tomb design? It’s not even the Rose-en-soleil of the house of York, it’s the Yorkshire rose. The poet & the composer they’ve commissioned for a musical tribute are both Yorkshiremen. That says loud & clear that Richard’s life-long links are with the county where he chose to make his home.
Dr Buckley was also questioned about the licence, and whether there had been anyone from the Ministry of Justice who asked whether this was not your ordinary exhumation. They didn’t, but consider: the current Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, took up his post on the day after the licence was issued. His predecessor, Ken Clark, would probably have cleared his desk before August Bank Holiday, or at least by August 31st. So who issued the licence? We don’t know. The signature was redacted. Some lowly clerk who was unable to get the time off? Someone who really didn’t understand the emotions that even to this day are stirred up by the last Plantagenet?
There are so many questions that are not only unanswered, they haven’t even been aired publicly. And this has never been a question of which city should benefit from the kudos of being the final resting place of a monarch, who for 528 years has had no proper tomb. It’s about a king, and where he deserves to be laid to rest. Through his ground-breaking legislation, he sought justice for all the people of his realm, irrespective of class or wealth, and it’s time that he was given appropriate and honourable burial in a place he regarded as home.