Richard III: Petition or tradition?

Richard III is a controversial figure and it’s not only car-parking charges that he has to answer for. When his brother Edward IV died in 1483, he ruthlessly arrested or executed anyone that got in his way, until he was safely sat on the throne. And it seems that the former king is not without followers; the Richard III society is fiercely protective of his memory and countless others feel he has been unfairly represented, especially in his depiction by Shakespeare.

The recent discovery of his body has reignited debate over the monarch, but it seems the popular consensus is that he comes back home to York. A recent e-petition calling for Richard III to be re-interred here has received over 18,000 signatures; compared to only 7,000 for Leicester. Richard III has many connections with the city of York, and despite his birth in Northamptonshire he did rule the North from the ancient seat of York for a considerable part of his life. The family symbol, the white rose, is still ubiquitous across the city and the university, featuring on city architecture and used by university sports teams to represent York.

The petition to have him at York is backed by Welcome to Yorkshire, York Council, and the owners of the Richard III shrine in Monk Bar. Some historians claim that it was always his intention to be buried at York, pointing to his plans for a college of priests built in the Minster to say masses for him and his family. Quoted on the BBC website, Charles Brunner, a descendent of Richard’s sister, said “We repatriate those who give their lives in battle, so why is this different?” It’s tempting to agree with Mr Brunner, who is obviously still attached to his 452-year-old relative, but burying Richard in the Minster would be unhistorical for a number of reasons.

Although having great connections with the city, this wouldn’t have been enough to qualify for burial as his death occurred within a 500-year stretching tradition of burying monarchs at Westminster Abbey. The University of York’s Mark Ormrod addresses the idea that Richard wanted to be buried at York surmising that historians have made too great an historical leap in equating the building project with a desire to be buried here. He concludes that there is no direct evidence that Richard planned to be buried anywhere.

Looking deeper into the historical context, burial at York would have been bad propaganda. Richard was a usurper who had done away with his two young nephews in order to grasp the throne. He constantly fought off illegitimacy claims, compounding the rumours that he had killed them. It seems highly unlikely that such a king would want to deviate in any way from the traditional burial at Westminster. Richard’s heroic charge at Bosworth to personally defeat Henry Tudor was death or glory, he was willing to accept death in battle just as his father had done, but was prepared to accept the consequences if his cavalry charge failed.

Had Richard died peacefully, he would likely have been laid in Westminster Abbey. As it was, he ended up near Bosworth, and in which case Leicester Cathedral is the next best thing. Unfortunately for the people of York the body of Richard would lie uneasy in the Minster; he’d probably have preferred the car park.

19 comments

  1. 14 Feb ’13 at 8:05 pm

    Andrew Collins

    “Unfortunately for the people of York the body of Richard would lie uneasy in the Minster”

    What utter nonsense. If he could be asked I doubt Richard III would’ve wanted to be buried anywhere near Leicester, a Lancastrian stonghold. Westminster Abbey or York Minster are the two obvious locations and yes, popular concensus does indeed seem to indicate that York Minster is, by far, the preferred choice.

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  2. “Popular concensus [sic] does indeed seem to indicate that York Minster is, by far, the preferred choice”

    An e-petition fuelled by sour grapes is hardly popular consensus. And the e-petition calling for the remains to be transported to York is probably quite unpopular in Leicester.

    Is there a petition anywhere for those to sign who are in favour of a decent cremation?

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  3. 14 Feb ’13 at 11:27 pm

    Charles Brunner

    I am, as you say, still attached to Richard. I believe a great injustice has been done to his reputation, and that Tudor was in fact the usurper. Richard III belongs in York. Leaving him in Leicester is absurd; would you want your relative buried in the city where they were brought after death and laid out on public display? I think not. Richard disliked London, so Westminster is not a good option either. It should be York.

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  4. He lost

    In his time (is it not always?) losers were disposed of in ways that benefited the victor.

    Pick the bones out of that one!

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  5. Richard wanted to marry his own niece to legitimise his claim to the throne. Even in Medieval times that was seen as a disgusting abomination.

    As proven by Richard’s skeletal scoliosis, there are elements of truth within the Tudor propaganda.

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  6. ‘A recent e-petition calling for Richard III to be re-interred here has received over 18,000 signatures; compared to only 7,000 for Leicester.’

    The comparison is meaningless as the decision to rebury him in Leicester has already been taken. That is why I (and, I suspect, many others) I didn’t bother to sign the latter petition.

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  7. 15 Feb ’13 at 5:42 pm

    John of Leicester

    Leicester does not to need to match york’s website. He has been in Leicester for 527 years,was discovered and identified by Leicester University and the cathedral is next to his grave, which lay in Grey friars church. His final battlefield is less than 10 miles away.

    York has done nothing to find him, the Minster does not want him and it is highly unlikely he will go to Westminster.

    Leicester’s museum is already up and running and a design for his tomb has been designed for Leicester cathedral courtesy of the Richard 111 society.

    Sorry York, he is going nowhere.

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  8. Given the number of assumptions, assertions and speculations in the above piece I can only trust for the sake of the credibility of the discipline that it was not written by a historian

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  9. I’m just throwing this out there, but given that the War of the Roses was over 500 years ago, and this man has no living relatives. . . who gives a shit?

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  10. 16 Feb ’13 at 2:12 pm

    Lawrence James

    Interesting viewpoint. Nobody can seriously argue that Richard III was a good man and it makes a change from being so pro-york. Good historical perspective.

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  11. ‘Richard was a usurper who had done away with his two young nephews in order to grasp the throne.’

    This is just one of many statements in this article that is founded on nothing but rumour and hearsay. There has never been any evidence tying Richard to the disappearance of the two princes – two bodies were found beneath the Tower but the remains have never been tested for DNA or even gender, and more significantly, the tomb of Edward and Elizabeth (the princes’ parents) was found to contain a vault with two children’s bodies inside. The graves were unmarked. These bodies were never tested either. I’d just like to point out something else – from the point of view of Henry, as someone seeking to seize the throne, why stop at murdering Richard? The Tudors’ claim to the throne would have been severely undermined if the two princes were alive. All I am saying is that Richard was not the only one who might have stood to gain from the death/disappearance of the two princes, and the fact that articles like this can still be published as fact is nothing but a testament to the abiding legacy of Tudor propaganda.

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  12. 16 Feb ’13 at 7:06 pm

    Richard Whitbread

    When rumours spread around London that he’d killed his nephews, he failed to deny it or display the young boys alive. And, they disappeared long before Tudor arrived. Samantha’s comment is a testament to the abiding cult of Richard III, based on no evidence at all.

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  13. I have already signed the petition to have Richard’s remains buried at York because so much of his political & family life was based in the north where he was greatly revered. The negative response of at least one of the senior York clergy is because he comes from Leicester but should be neutral though if that town was Lancastrian it would not be a correct resting place. Fotheringhay on the other hand would be a viable alternative. It would be a great shame if this laudable petition were to be dismissed out of hand. Scholars of Richard 111 note he had many positive qualities as do the very thoughtful well researched novels by Josephine Tey & Sharon Penman. He should be buried in his much loved heartland.

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  14. Whatever happened in the past (which can neither be proven nor disproven), is it not normal to bury somebody where they would wish to be buried.

    If Richard were alive today, what would he answer: Westinster Fortheringay, Middleham, Leicester, York or even St Georges Chapel, Windsor (with this brother)?

    I think we should do what he would have wanted and that would also be showing him some respect rather than claiming his remains for mercenary reasons – tourism and profit!

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  15. The Chapter appear to be having second thoughts given the strength of the opinions held. As to Richard’s guilt, the worst that can be said of him is that in those days you could be a bad man and a good king, or a good man and a bad king. And with the recent example of Henry VIs minority he seems to have had a good sense of history.

    Leicester had a sad and brief part in his history, York a major part in his life. I think he should be brought back to York Minster, he had his son invested as Prince of Wales in the Minster and the Chapter recorded York’s sorrow at his death – a brave act. Are they equally brave now I wonder?

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  16. He should be interred in York. YORK MINISTER

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  17. He was only slain in Leicester…. it is where he was fighting.
    He made it clear that he wanted to be buried in York which he loved and they loved him… bring him back to YORK

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  18. 30 Mar ’13 at 10:47 am

    Matthew Shardlake

    I encourage you to Google Leicester Cathedral.
    In comparison to York Minster, Leicester is an Old Langwith aspestos brick.
    York Minster is the mighty Kings Manor; a building already standing and frequented by Richard during his life. His son was invested in the York Minster Bishop’s house, a stone’s throw from the minster itself.

    It is truth to say Richard had not specified a burial ground – Mark Ormrod and this article were right to raise that. There was also a long tradition of burial at Westminster.
    However, our choice is between York and Leicester. Which is more suitable?
    It would be folly to argue against the notion that Richard himself would have vastly preferred the York Minster.
    As a place of rest, England’s foremost Gothic Cathedral would be better suited to the medieval king than a modern generic construction.
    If, even after this, the decision is still in the balance(?!) then consult the people:
    over 23,000 people now want him to be interred in York. Take heed.

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  19. 11 Sep ’13 at 11:10 pm

    Rosamund Carpenter

    I think as an anointed king, Richard lll should be interred with his wife( for whom he piteously grieved )at Westminster Abbey……..Certainly NOT Leicester though the University should be praised for their hard and diligent work which made up in part for the disgusting way his body was desecrated in that City after his death. He should be honoured wherever he is buried and the Tudors spurious propaganda laid to rest.

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