By Professor Norman Housley, University of Leicester.
Some heavyweight scholarly voices are supporting the case for York Minster as the final resting place for Richard III’s rediscovered remains. In a letter to today’s Guardian, A. J. Pollard refers to the king’s ambitious plan in 1484 to found a college of 100 priests at the Minster to pray for his soul, the implication being that his body would have been buried nearby. And in a commendably dispassionate statement on the website of the University of York, Mark Ormrod sets out at length the historical case for the remains being reinterred in York Minster. Ormrod describes the king’s strong links with the north, which are indisputable, and it is true that Leicester’s contemporary associations were with the House of Lancaster – the Newarke in particular being a foundation of Henry of Grosmont, who was Henry IV’s maternal grandfather.
Ormrod concedes that both church law and archaeological practice favour reburial in the church closest to the location where the remains were found. But in my opinion history also favours Leicester’s case. The question of what Richard might have wanted to happen to his remains is not just improvable but rather beside the point. We should be guided by the course that events took in 1485. The king rode out from Leicester in August 1485 to defend his crown, and after his death his corpse was unceremoniously interred in the city’s Greyfriars church. Now that its remains have been discovered, they should of course be reinterred with due respect in a setting that reflects his historical status and significance. By a stroke of good luck – given that St Martin’s only became a cathedral in 1927 – just such a church is ready to receive the remains, no more than 100 yards from the place where they lay for over half a millennium.
For centuries the city of Leicester has been conscious and proud of its close association with the king’s last days. It would be in keeping with that association for the remains to find their final resting place in the cathedral. It makes eminent sense to follow the pattern of history, respect Leicester’s Ricardian legacy, and benefit from the serendipity of the cathedral’s remarkable proximity to the Greyfriars burial site, here in the city’s historic heart.
Professor Norman Housley, Department of History, University of Leicester.
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