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The sorry saga of the Richard III reburial debate.

For many Ricardians, the first we knew of the attempt to discover his burial was on the day the dig started. It then became apparent that discussions had been taking place behind closed doors for some years, and that the Looking For Richard team had been forced into a corner by Leicester City Council. They would only give permission for the dig to take place if an undertaking was given that should he be found, he would be reburied in St Martin’s Cathedral. For some reason, this piece of blackmail was allowed: the LFR group, whilst instigating the project really had no authority to deliver such an undertaking, as, to Richard’s many supporters world-wide, this is something that should have been in the public domain from day one. Searching for the lost grave of a former king is not something that should have been concealed from the public, and those involved must have realised that there would be significant public interest.

That said, once the discovery was made, the University should not have applied for the exhumation licence in its own name, but as contractors, engaged by the LFR team. The true custodian of the remains should have been Philippa Langley. I accept that the University’s genetics department were required to establish that the remains could be confirmed to be those of the lost monarch by comparison with DNA from a known Mt DNA descendant, and that as such, ULAS needed to have temporary charge, but the agreement was always that once sufficient testing had been done to establish identity, they should be handed to Philippa for keeping in a place of sanctity. Only because of John Ashdown-Hill’s many years of genealogical research did the University have the genetic material to compare, and though they may have checked his research, they did not need to explore all the dead-ends that Dr Ashdown-Hill discovered: they could merely check that his research was correct. If they had had to start where he started, it would have taken years, as it did Dr Ashdown-Hill. Yet, on the day that the DNA results were released to the world’s media, Dr Ashdown-Hill was not even invited to attend!

From Mathew Morris, of ULAS I learned that they had, for years been trying to persuade the City Council to allow them to excavate the Greyfriars site, but not with the aim of finding the king, whose remains were widely believed to have been thrown in the River Soar following the dissolution of the monasteries. The people of Leicester, who knew in 1485 what had become of the body, had failed to pass on to subsequent generations, so their descendants went along with the tale, and even accepted a plaque on Bow Bridge stating this to be fact. Following the dissolution, the Greyfriars site was bought, and the site of the grave was marked by a three-foot high pillar. Some time after this, it came into the ownership of a school. Someone removed the pillar. Someone should have said something, but no, they were content to let him me forgotten & lost. This is the care that the people of Leicester had for the monarch whose mortal remains lay under their feet. They did not erect the statue, or commission the memorial stone in St Martin’s, that was done by the Richard III Society.

On to the licence itself. I have no problem that the University of Leicester has a licence to re-inter unidentified human remains. They are quite at liberty to reinter in St Martin’s the remains of the high-status lady who was found in a lead-lined stone coffin, but the licence specifically refers to unidentified remains.

As far as Richard is concerned, legal precedent was quite clearly set when Lord Mowbray, as a 15th or 16th generation collateral descendant, stepped in immediately the remains of Anne Mowbray, 8 year-old wife of Richard, Duke of York were discovered, and as a member of the House of Lords, his authority to claim her remains and have them re-interred in Westminster Abbey were never questioned. The University thought fit to ask Michael Ibsen, the provider of the DNA sample, who had no interest in Richard, and the Queen, who, quite frankly, regards Richard as a family embarrassment. But she is not more closely related to Richard than any member of the PA, so why should her lack of interest have any greater bearing on the decision than those who are proud to name Richard as a collateral ancestor? The answer lies in who has most influence & clout, and this goes against Richard’s own tenets, that everyone should be entitled to a fair hearing, irrespective of rank or means. Richard III established the Court of Appeal in his parliament of 1484, and from this has developed the principle of Legal Aid and Judicial Review, something that our present Minister of Justice seeks to abolish. Whilst this case may seem to many to be a waste of public money, what it actually seeks to do is to maintain the right of ordinary men & women to a fair hearing in the face of a state which is attempting to deny them that right.

The discovery of the body of a former king is of national importance, and his burial should have been debated openly, and the public consulted. Maybe only a small percentage would have bothered to register an opinion, but we have just sent people to the European Parliament on the basis of a 32% turn-out of the electorate. Not everyone has an opinion. Those who have should be listened to, and not dismissed as a bunch of nut-jobs with nothing better to do than argue about a man who’s been dead for 500+ years. Much more money is spent every year on bankers’ bonuses and footballer’s wages than has been expended on this. The Ministry of Justice can hardly complain when the matter could have been settled with far less expense by initiating a consultation. They chose to employ an extremely expensive QC to plead their case.


The Princes in the Tower

Nearly all the information we have that Richard killed the princes comes from Thomas More’s history, later regurgitated by Holinshead, and upon which Shakespeare drew for his play.

More would have us believe that the deed was done quietly, at night, and that the boys were smothered in their beds. He then says that the bodies were buried “meetly deep” beneath a stair  within the Tower. So, when the skeletons of two children were discovered during renovation work in the reign of Charles II it was widely accepted that these were the earthly remains of the poor unfortunate princes. No regard is paid to More’s next statement that Richard, having pangs of guilt, arranged for the bodies to be exhumed and buried elsewhere. Nor was there any question asked of how the deed(s) could possibly have been accomplished. The remains, now in an urn in Westminster Abbey, were found ten feet down, under a stone staircase, and the burial supposedly took place overnight, without the hundreds of staff then living & working in the Tower being aware that a stone stair had been dug up, a hole ten feet deep been dug, the hole then back-filled & the staircase rebuilt under cover of darkness, when at the time of year it’s suggested it took place, there would have been limited darkness in which to work. If More is to be believed, the disinterment was accomplished by one man. There is no chance that he could have accomplished this without attracting interest. So, More’s story is rubbish. We also know that More, as a child, spent time in the household of John Morton, that thorn in Richard’s side. A Lancastrian through & through, Morton returned to Edward IV’s court after Tewkesbury, where he had been in Margaret of Anjou’s service. He was a party to the Hastings plot, but escaped execution by Richard, who wouldn’t execute a priest, and then succeeded in turning Buckingham, into whose custody Richard had handed him, against Richard, on the promise of what? We don’t know. We do know that Morton then fled the scene and didn’t return to England until his Tudor master had won the day at Bosworth. Some historians have sought to prove that More’s text was actually written by Morton, and that the document available now is but a copy made by More, but more recent assessments have returned to the opinion that it is More’s work. Whether it was influenced by Morton is also debatable, as More was a child in his household, but children listen to what’s being said around them, and remember.

So, if the ones in the Abbey aren’t those of the princes what happened to them? There are various possibilities. First there’s Perkin Warbeck. How did a child of Flemish or Burgundian birth come to have such knowledge of the past of Richard Duke of York? Margaret of Burgundy couldn’t supply the little details, she wasn’t at the English court at the time. Why did she accept him as her nephew? What was on the ship that travelled to the Low Countries that was of such importance that Richard insisted that it should not be inspected?

Then there’s Jack Leslau’s theory that John Clement, who married More’s adopted daughter, was a member of, and later president of the Royal College of Physicians was Richard, the younger of the princes. He alone, of all members & presidents of the college has no history to speak of. Leslau also had a theory that one Edward Guildford was Edward V, and, interestingly, Guildford was the grandfather of Jane Grey’s husband, and also of Robert Dudley favourite of Elizabeth I.

Whether anyone takes these tales seriously, what they do is confirm the doubt of the murder of the princes. When Perkin Warbeck arrived on the scene, Henry did not produce any evidence to prove that his claim was fraudulent. To do that he would have had to have proof of the deaths of the princes, and nothing would have secured his place on the throne better than proof that they were murdered by Richard. The Tower servants who were still there after Bosworth would no longer have had any constraints placed upon them to maintain silence if they had been aware of any misdeed relating to the princes. Morton’s nephew took charge of the Tower in the aftermath of the battle, and would have left no stone unturned to find out what had happened to them, but no information or evidence was forthcoming. It was only two years after their supposed murder. If Henry VII couldn’t find proof positive of Richard’s guilt, what chance now?

What we can be sure of is that by the time Christopher Wren saw that monument, Richard’s character had been so monstrously defiled, that no-one would have been interested in removing his body & giving him a proper royal funeral. After then, he was lost until August 2012.


The Ricardian Journey

I had intended this blog as a tale of my Ricardian journey, but recent events interrupted my musings, bounced them down the order of importance in much the same way that the item due to be shown on Look North two nights ago was bounced by the all important news about Leeds United’s continuing saga. A case of “drop the dead king.”

Richard III is chiefly remembered as the murderer of the Princes in the Tower. I beg to differ.

In our household Richard III is almost viewed as a favoured uncle. He is just there, his picture prominent  as he has been for decades, as we walk up & down stairs. I didn’t go badgering people, not many are really interested in mediaeval history, and if you were to go round with a placard that says “Richard III is innocent” people would, probably quite rightly, think that you’re a nut-job. No, it was just a personal belief, but yes, I would talk to anyone who showed the remotest interest until their eyes glazed over.

I’d read Daughter of Time, We Speak no Treason, a Trail of Blood (Jeremy Potter) and various other novels, but wasn’t a serious student. I just had this gut feeling that if popular history were to be believed, then Richard Plantagenet must have had a complete character transplant somewhere on the A1 between attending his brother’s memorial, at which he and the northern nobility pledged fealty to the new king, Edward V, and Stony Stratford, where he caught up with the Ludlow contingent.

I couldn’t reconcile the man, whose loyalty to his brother was above reproach, with one who could then order the murder of that beloved brother’s sons. Nor could I see why he would do away with two illegitimate boys, whilst caring for the legitimate son of George of Clarence, who, were he not debarred by his father’s treason, had a better claim than Richard. The attainder was easily reversible by parliament, whilst the legitimacy issue could only be overturned by the Pope.

Richard was no fool. Even if he had planned the coup d’état, he didn’t do it unilaterally. He was presented with the evidence of his brother’s pre-contract, and had to be invited by the three estates before he accepted. He was, effectively elected to serve as king. Yes, a minority rule was not ideal, and the leading figures of the day probably weren’t too keen on the idea of a 12 year-old king, but there is nothing to suggest that Bishop Stillington was lying.

So what did Richard have to gain from their murder? Well, removal of the contender to the throne would certainly have made his position more secure, but in that case, why did he not arrange for a very public funeral, so that everyone knew the boys were dead? Why leave people guessing? And if he did have them killed, how on earth did Henry Tudor not discover this and tell the nation? The only answer I can come up with is that the princes were still alive at the time of Bosworth. Henry VII’s plan was to marry Elizabeth of York, but he would not marry a bastard, and by legitimising her, he legitimised her younger brothers, making one of them, wherever they were, the rightful claimant to the throne. It didn’t make them safe, and when Richard died they were still young boys: easy, if Henry discovered their whereabouts, to dispose of quietly, because rumours had already started to circulate about their disappearance.

But I don’t believe that Henry did the deed either, I am coming to the conclusion that at least one, Richard, survived to adulthood, and that he may well have been the man known to us as Perkin Warbeck.

Nothing in either Richard III’s character, or Henry’s actions persuades me that they predeceased Richard III.

The other bodies

One thing that no-one has really addressed is the fate of the other human remains found at the Greyfriars dig.

ULAS is always insistent that their plans for the re-interment of Richard III are in keeping with best archaeological practice: that is that when human remains are discovered in what was a Christian burial site, they should be re-interred in the nearest Christian burial ground, in this case, St Martin’s Cathedral. One must therefore ask why this practice is not being followed for the other remains found on the site. These are the remains of high-status Leicester residents, and one, in particular is of a lady who was buried in a lead-lined stone coffin right in front of the high altar. Mathew Morris went so far as to suggest that this lady may have died away from Leicester, and that her body was transported back to Leicester in the lead coffin before its inhumation in the stone coffin. As I understand it, the eventual resting place for this poor soul will be in a municipal cemetery outside the city walls, or where the city walls once stood. If ever there was a candidate for reburial in the cathedral, it is she, because she quite obviously wished to be buried in Leicester.

If reburial in the nearest consecrated ground is a rule that ULAS insist is the correct rule to follow, then it follows that this rule should be applied to all these burials, and yet, no-one from Leicester is insisting that this should take place. It is perfectly obvious that there isn’t space in the Cathedral for all these remains, but if they are going to say that the reason for insisting that Richard should be buried there is simplu following this particular rule, then they cannot deny that same rule to the others. The difference with the other sets of remains is that they are, thus far, unidentified. The licence as issued by the MoJ will give the same alternatives: either the nearest consecrated ground (St Martins Cathedral)  the Jewry Wall Museum or a place which is licensed for human burial. Either the rule applies to all, or to none.

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.