Leicester as the final resting place of Richard III

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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2 Comments

  1. Toby Thatcher
    Posted 09/02/2013 at 03:41 | Permalink

    A truly wonderful piece of historical, archaeological and forensic science, which either way has put Leicester on the map. However, the fact remains that Richard was not exactly buried with due dignity in 1485 under the auspices of Henry Tudor’s mercenaries at the time. Speaking as a westcountryman, I will look back on these times with greater respect to the City of Leicester, were she now to grant Richard the final dignity of burial in York as was his last wish, though I’m quite aware this cannot be easy decision to make. Nonetheless the finality should be considered and it is important that England’s folks can look back centuries from now and know that we did this right. I therefore propose that although lying in state in Leicester, he should finally be buried in York or Middleham, where he was loved and respected during his lifetime.

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  2. Andrea Dawkins
    Posted 06/02/2013 at 16:28 | Permalink

    Congratulations to all those involved in the project. AS a Canadian of British decent I am very proud of the expert work by all those involved. I have no connection to any of the parties involved in the various disputes, opinions on where he should be buried. In the end, Richard was a human being with thoughts, experiences,feelings and religious beliefs however. Subsequently, I do not agree with the author that Richards’s personal wishes are “beside the point”. By many accounts one could reasonably presume that he wanted to be buried in York. Leicester was just where he left for battle, where his dead body was abused and hastily buried in a grave too small for his body,slumped over and hands still tied. Leicester and it’s university will have the dig site and the history and academic accolades forever regardless of where the body is laid to rest. Surely then it would be the decent thing to do and honour the last wishes of the person and bury him where would have wanted with the type of religious service that reflects his values at the time of his death- In York Minster.

    [Reply]

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  1. […] 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.  […]

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