The remains of Richard III are to be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral – likely next spring – a judicial review concluded today (23 May).
Addressing crowds of journalists in the cathedral, shortly after the High Court handed down their decision at 10am, the Rt Rvd Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, announced that the judges had ruled that the Ministry of Justice license granted at the outset of the University of Leicester’s excavations on the Grey Friars site (see CA 272 for more on this project), – which stated that, if found, Richard’s bones would be reburied in Leicester Cathedral – should be upheld.
The license had been contested as, after the identity of the skeleton had been confirmed (see CA 277), the Plantagenet Alliance, a group of 15 distant relatives of the king, argued that there should have been wider consultation before Richard’s final resting place was determined. But now, following nine weeks of deliberation, their legal challenge has been dismissed.
‘We are of course delighted that the ruling has gone in our favour – we can now begin planning for the re-interment to proceed with dignity and honour, ‘ said Bishop Stevens.
He went on to read out a postscript that the judges had appended to their ruling:
‘Since Richard III’s exhumation on 5 September 2012, passions have been roused and much ink has been spilt. Issues relating to his life and death and place of re-interment have been exhaustively examined and debated. The Very Reverend David Monteith, the Dean of Leicester Cathedral, has explained the considerable efforts and expenditure invested by the Cathedral in order to create a lasting burial place “as befits an annointed king”. We agree that it is time for Richard III to be given a dignified reburial, and finally laid to rest. ‘
‘Wherever you sat on this matter, everyone is welcome to participate in what comes next,’ he said. ‘We are going to lay a man and an annointed king to rest, and we should do this as one community and one nation working together to ensure it is done with dignity and honour. ‘
Plans for the reburial itself are still in progress, though it is expected that the ceremony will involve events over four or five days, during which Richard’s remains will be taken back to Bosworth battlefield, before being processed back into Leicester via a number of sites associated with the battle, and churchyards where other people killed on that day are buried.
Richard III will then lie in state in the cathedral for a number of days to allow members of the public to pay their respects, after which he will be buried in a tomb (the revised design of which is to be unveiled in 3-4 weeks) just a few feet from the ledger stone currently dedicated to him in the cathedral’s choir.
‘The cathedral is a working building so the location of the tomb had to allow for the circulation of people, and the performance of services, ‘ said Richard Buckley of University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), who directed the Grey Friars Project. ‘The choir is also the part of the church where Richard was originally buried at Grey Friars, but the new location is a definite upgrade: before, he had been laid to rest in a place of ambiguous honour – he was only just inside the choir, about as far from the altar as you can get, and hidden away in a part of the church that the public did not have access to. But now he will be at the eastern end of the choir, very close to the altar – it is a much more honourable position.’
The judges’ ruling also sets an important precedent for future archaeological work, he added.
‘It is normal practice, when excavating burials that are around 100 years old or less, to advertise in the local press to give close relatives the right to come forward and be consulted before exhumation, ‘ he said. ‘But with Richard III’s remains, the bones were over 500 years old, so normally you wouldn’t be expected to consult on them. Our worry was that, if the review had gone against us, in future excavations we would be looking at a situation where, if any earlier burials were found to be identifiable, whether at the excavation or analysis stage, we would potentially have to consult all of their relatives – that would just be unworkable. You can imagine, we are very relieved that the result has gone the way it did!’