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.