What’s in store for Richard III in 2014?

Digging for Richard

One small dig made 2013 an extraordinary year for British archaeology. Yet 2014 may bring even more to interest those following the Richard III story. It’s been seven months since I wrote the second of my two main blogs about the excavation (And Richard it was, Feb 6, and The peers in the car park, May 29). After that, I had a fascinating (and very busy) time talking to many of those involved in the project, and my book about it all comes out in May – more on that later. First, let’s catch up.

Richard III statue in Leicester, soon to be moved

There can be no doubting the international interest. Look at this list of 2013 lists:

Archaeology magazine top 10 discoveries of 2013, no 1: Richard III

Fox News (Live Science) 10 best science stories of 2013, no 1: Richard III rediscovered

Live Science 10 coolest archaeology discoveries of 2013, no 1: Richard III bones

NBC News year in science, five leading themes no 1: DNA unravels history’s mysteries, leading with Richard III

International Business Times top ten archaeological finds of 2013, no 1: King Richard III Grave

Heritage Daily top 10 archaeological discoveries for 2013, no 1: University of Leicester announces discovery of King Richard III

Discover Magazine top 100 stories of 2013, no 64: Skeleton of King Richard III found in England

BBC News, Year in digs: How 2013 looked in archaeology, lead story: The king in the car park

Metro newspaper 2013 news quiz, first question: Who is Michael Ibsen?

Observer science quiz no 22: In which country was Michael Ibsen born?

Times news quiz of the year 2013: Richard III’s long winter of discontent has ended, the toppled King made glorious at last in the sun of a Leicester car park. Why is a new Plantagenet Alliance fighting on his behalf? [See below…]

Observer 12 faces of 2013: Philippa Langley

Guardian people who made headlines in 2013: Mathew Morris

BBC News magazine super-shared stories of 2013, includes: Scientists confirmed a skeleton buried under a car park in Leicester was that of English king Richard III

Charlie Brooker’s 2013 Wipe on BBC2 featured the announcement of Richard III’s identification.

Leicester University Press Office: Ather Mirza (centre) with Mark Cardwell (left) and Peter Thorley

This is why I’ve called the find a Tutankhamun for our times: not because there was any treasure involved (or for any information the dig might bring us), but because of the relentless media pressure for new stories, driven by a public eager for insights into everything from the state of Richard III’s teeth to the personal lives of archaeologists (for those who don’t work in media, the University of Leicester Press Office’s collation of comments offers striking evidence of how unusual this all was). The physical remains do what archaeology always does, which is to offer a tangible link to the past, making its presence felt in our own lives: but unusually, the discoveries do this with a charismatic and puzzling known individual, made celebrity by history, Shakespeare and more. The mix has taken us into new territory: we learn more about archaeology, and ourselves, as every month passes. So what next?



First up, we are still – as you would expect – waiting for most of the research results to be published. Leicester University was extremely free with detailed information about the dig early in 2013. Its website remains a mine of information, though relatively little about the archaeology has been added since last March. The Richard III Society’s website too has much information, naturally stronger on history than archaeology, and keeping up with events.

Scientific studies of the finds continue. There was a bigger dig at the site in July (described in a blog – to follow in order, you read part 2, then part 1; British Archaeology reported on this in the Nov/Dec 2013 edition). Three more burials were excavated, including that of an older woman, who had been encased in a lead coffin and a fine outer stone coffin – clearly an important medieval figure, though unidentified. The tentative layout of the friary church was confirmed, and remains of a new building, possibly an earlier church, were also found. Pieces of stone tracery believed in 2012 to be medieval turned out to be Victorian demolition rubble, from alterations to the adjacent school.

Excavation in 2013, Richard's grave protected with fresh sand
Excavation in 2013, Richard’s grave protected with fresh sand

Following the Antiquity article in May, we had one peer-reviewed paper, in September, a very specific study of soil samples from around the skeleton. These revealed that Richard was infected with roundworms:

“The intestinal parasites of King Richard III”, by Piers Mitchell, Hui-Yuan Yeh, Jo Appleby & Richard Buckley, The Lancet, Vol 382, issue 9895, page 888 (2013).

The paucity of further material (perfectly normal for a research project at this stage) is emphasised by a curious article published in the British Dental Journal in April. It’s written by one A Rai, identified only by email and mobile phone number, and looks superficially like a peer-reviewed article. Perhaps it is. But the information on Richard’s teeth comes from Leicester University’s website and press releases, and I understand that Rai has not seen any of the remains. I can’t help but wonder what the point of it is.

I understand further peer-reviewed articles have been written and are awaiting publication – in the meantime, their contents will be embargoed, and we depend on journal schedules. Work continues on the main project, the excavation, analysis and publication of the friary.

We had two books on the story in 2013.

First came The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III, by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones (October). Reviewers preferred Jones’s chapters (“measured, reasonable and elegantly written… sound history”, Sunday Times) to Langley’s (“much madder”, Sunday Times; “the idea that there is a cabal of historians trying to foist some Tudor caricature of Richard on an unsuspecting public is baffling”, Guardian; “sentimental, special pleading codswallop”, Sunday Express). The book is an insight into why Langley wanted to find Richard’s remains, revealing how the discovery and resultant new information had no apparent impact on her views.

Mathew Morris and Richard Buckley’s Richard III: The King Under the Car Park followed in November. This is a well illustrated paperback that puts the story of the 2012 dig and study of the remains into the contexts of Greyfriars and medieval Leicester, written by the two men who directed the excavation. It packs much information into its 64 pages.


Memorial plaque in Leicester Cathedral: this view will look very different if Richard's remains are reburied here
Memorial plaque in Leicester Cathedral: this view will look very different if Richard’s remains are reburied here

The biggest fuss, however, has been about the proposed reburial. The archaeologists and the Richard III Society seem to have kept largely out of it, which is wise. For the debate has often been ignorant and unseemly, and sometimes deeply disrespectful.

The issue is not whether or not the king’s remains should be interred (I’m quite sure many people would like to look at them), but where. In August a lobby group which would see the bones buried in York – apparently unconcerned that York Minster has itself said they should be buried in Leicester – was granted permission to bring judicial review proceedings against the Ministry of Justice and the University of Leicester.

The Plantagenet Alliance Ltd (PA), an obscure organisation calling itself “living, collateral descendants of King Richard III” and “his Majesty’s representatives and voice”, asked that the bones be “returned” to York. It backed a UK government e-petition for “Richard III to be re-interred at York Minster”. Some weight was put on the fact that the York petition had more votes than a similar one urging burial in Leicester (“Keep Richard III remains in Leicester”). However, when these closed (York on September 24 and Leicester on October 12), Leicester had shot ahead –  31,300 for York, 34,300 for Leicester – so understandably the PA dropped that line.

North wall of Leicester Cathedral
Reserved parking spaces on the north wall of Leicester Cathedral

There have been several other reburial petitions:

King Richard III should have a state funeral & buried at Westminster Abbey.

Bury King Richard III in Gloucester Cathedral.

King Richard III to be re-interred at Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire.

Richard III to be re-interred in Lancaster.

Burial of King Richard the III at a catholic burial site.

Service and Burial of King Richard III should be held in a Roman Catholic church or Cathedral.

Richard III should be reinterred at Arundel R.C Cathedral. read this and see if you can deny.

The City of Leicester should be allowed to keep the remains of Richard III.

If the bones found in Leicester are proved to be Richard III they should be reintured at Leicester Cathedral.

Richard III remains to be interred at Priory Street Centre car park, York (28 votes for this one so far).

Richard III to be re-interred in York Minster

(note the “in”; this took 600 votes from the “at” version, though Leicester would still have won if “at” had them all).

This puts me in mind of the Times, which also had difficulty in making up its mind. The newspaper opted in two leaders for two places: Westminster Abbey (Loser’s justice, February 4), and Leicester (Royal rumpus, November 27).

The fact is (if you hadn’t already guessed where this is going), there can be no simple answer to where Richard III’s remains should be buried, if you ignore standard procedure, which would have them buried near to where they were found – which happens to be Leicester Cathedral, just across the street. Despite widespread belief, historians have found no evidence as to what Richard III would have wished, and they are unlikely to do so. There are essentially two choices: Leicester (as convention would determine), or anywhere in the world (to be determined by whim).

Friar Lane, Leicester
Friar Lane, Leicester

Nonetheless, on August 15 Mr Justice Haddon-Cave supported the PA’s wish for judicial review proceedings. Despite the belief of some and the PA’s expressed hope, however, this was not to challenge the case for reburial in Leicester. In granting the excavation licence, said Haddon-Cave, the secretary of state for justice had not consulted “relevant interests”.

Which begs the question, whose interests are relevant? Collateral descendants, responds the PA, narrowing it down a bit to between one and 17 million people scattered around the UK and the world (almost all of whom, says Kevin Schürer, pro-vice chancellor at the University of Leicester and responsible for genealogical research in the Richard III project, will not know they are descendants: they would need to be identified and tracked down).

We are entering Alice in Wonderland territory. With so many collateral descendants, the select number in the PA, who I think we can safely guess have not consulted their fellow relatives, have no evidence on which to base a claim that they represent the larger group. Yet the judicial review which they achieved is being held because the decision to bury the remains in Leicester was supposedly taken by an unrepresentative group of people.

Selling sunglasses in Leicester
Selling sunglasses in Leicester

Haddon-Cave argued that the Ministry of Justice should have consulted on the future of the remains before granting the excavation licence. The University of Leicester applied for the licence on August 31 2012. At that point, no remains had been excavated. The request was to dig up six sets. So, according to Haddon-Cave, there should have been a public consultation on six groups of human remains, before they had been identified, or even excavated – indeed, five of them had not even been found. But that’s not all: any licence granted should have been re-visited once it became clear that Richard III’s grave had been found.

Suppose this had been a more typical urban excavation, in which a much larger area had been opened up, and the best part of the friary cemetery had been found. The archaeologists are waiting to dig, and a developer is waiting to move in and build. But first, consultations need to be conducted on the future of 200 graves whose contents are completely unknown. As the principle is consultation before we know what’s in a grave, this would apply on every archaeological excavation across the UK – not to mention industrial cemetery clearances.

The Plantagenet Alliance first made itself known after the 2012 excavation and preliminary research were completed; it cares a lot about where the remains are reburied, but appears to have little interest in the research and has not, I am told, contributed any funds. Linked names include Charles Brunner, of Kansas, USA, and Stephen Nicolay, who has described himself as “a former field archaeologist of some 20 years”, who had “probably exhumed 10–15 Roman individuals” (a typical professional archaeologist who had worked in the field that long, would wonder, how come so few?).

Originally set for November 26, the judicial review was adjourned (Annette Carson gives a useful summary of the day’s proceedings) and now takes place this year on March 13 and 14, in London. In August last year it was revealed that the university had by then spent £28,000 on legal advice, and the Ministry of Justice £8,000 (a total of almost exactly twice the Richard III Society’s contribution to the cost of the 2012 dig); regardless of the review’s outcome, UoL and MoJ are to pay costs.

One of many street signs in Leicester commemorating Bosworth and Richard III
One of many street signs in Leicester commemorating Bosworth and Richard III

Other things coming up in 2014:

The reburial itself (perhaps). Originally planned for Leicester in the spring, the grand event would appear to have been delayed by the judicial review. The Bishop of Leicester recently said he still believes it will happen in his cathedral, but last November Matthew Howarth, representing the PA from the Yorkshire law firm Gordons, said the review will not be over by August this year. Leicester City Council did not help, appearing to part with the university at one point in mysteriously claiming “ownership” of the remains, and then backing down again. The Lawyer has useful articles about this.

If it does happen in Leicester (I’m on the bishop’s side), we will see the newly designed memorial tomb for Richard, which stirred up a minor controversy last year (should its style hark from Eric Gill – who taught David Kindersley, responsible for the memorial slab set in the cathedral floor in 1980 [see photo above] – or Furniture Warehouse?).

Leicester will open its new £4m museum and visitor centre, Richard III: Dynasty, Death and Discovery (and perhaps they will come up with a better name? This one sounds like a Hollywood movie franchise). This will mostly be inside the former Alderman Newton School that overlooks the dig site. Plans were approved in August last year, and Morgan Sindall began work in September.

Richard III’s statue will be moved from Leicester’s Castle Gardens (see photo above) to the front of the cathedral. The cathedral itself will open its newly laid out gardens, a major £2.5m project that coincidentally began before the excavations.

Meanwhile we should hear the results of a competition for a new sculpture, sponsored by Leicestershire County Council. I favour Michael Sandle’s idea – dark and powerful, and not sentimental – though its cost would mean an additional fundraising campaign.

Richard Buckley will be a guest at Buckingham Palace – twice. Once in February, with Leicester University colleagues to accept a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher & Further Education, and again for his OBE, “For services to archaeology” (one of only two such awards made in this round, the other being to Lindsay Allason-Jones, director of The Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies at Newcastle University).


Mathew Morris on site in 2013
Mathew Morris on site in 2013

So finally, my book. It tells the complete story of how Richard III’s burial was found – the inspiration behind the quest, the historic research, the archaeological fieldwork and the scientific and other studies – featuring all the key people involved through their own thoughts and words. It throws in a bit of history (unlike some historians, I don’t believe everyone knows all about the Wars of the Roses), but it doesn’t consider what sort of king Richard was, an increasingly tired debate that is more than well covered elsewhere. It does, I hope, capture the mood of the times, which were genuinely extraordinary. To quote the publisher’s blurb:

“The vivid tale of a king, his demise and now his rediscovery, this is also an insider’s gripping account of how modern archaeology really works, of how clues meticulously assembled and forensically examined are pieced together to create a narrative worthy of the finest detective fiction.”

Digging For Richard III: How Archaeology Found the King, is published in May by Thames and Hudson.




19 thoughts on “What’s in store for Richard III in 2014?

  1. Just another person jumping on the bandwagon……. that is all Richard is to Leicester…. a way to make money. No respect.

  2. I agree with Justice Haddon-Cave’s assessment that the discovery and identification of the remains of a King of England is unprecedented and warrants a thorough, national consultation process and should include parliament.

    I believe that the exhumation license was a standard document permitting archaeological exploration and that the term you mention regarding reburial in the nearest hallowed ground relates only to the discovery of unidentified remains.

    Richard III received vile and abusive treatment following his death at Bosworth and I would imagine that is the last place on earth he would wish to be reinterred, but I am not at all ‘disrespectful’ of Leicester University’s great work and this amazing find. I just don’t believe in finders keepers for a Monarch. Nobody ‘owns’ him but conversely we all do to a degree.

    Can’t we at least give him a decent tomb, and an appropriate service in a place which he relates to? He was a Yorkist King.

    1. York being the family name of course, not the city.

      He was King of England, however his remains are of no more significance that any others exhumed in such circumstances.

      1. How can you say that? He has been maligned and ‘lost’ for 500 years +. His remains are known, he is an anointed KING of England. How can you say he is ‘no more significant’ ?? If one wants to follow that principle – then let him be re-intered in York, Leicester won’t miss him and then they will have plenty of room for the other bodies found at Greyfriars.

  3. Yet more unfounded abuse hurled at Leicester. I presume you support a reburial in the Minster, but it appears that the Minster staff have behaved like total hypocrites. In February they denied that they were interested in reburying Richard III,but when the odious Plantagenet Alliance and their hyena pack of supporters came along, the Minster was quite happy to let them do their dirty work.
    No doubt they are rubbing their hands at the thought of the money his tomb will generate.

    1. As are Leicester. . . the sunglasses, the chocolate bars, the over inflated connections Richard had with Leicester etc etc…… it has been quite embarrassing to watch to be honest. I have never seen anything so disrespectful in my life!

      1. I am afraid there is a lot more disrespect to come. The King probably wishes he’d never been found.

  4. What an excellent review of the situation, laden with fact and good common sense as well.

    The fact is that no matter where his remains shall be laid, they will generate considerable financial benefit for that area, to simply chastise Leicester for this fact is a sign of complete and utter ignorance.

    The fact remains that no one knows the Kings intended burial wishes, so a consultation would be based on personal opinion, not ascertained fact, which is not a valid reason to alter history.

    I would not want anyone who never knew me to dictate my final resting place.

    1. One wonders if Richard would have want the fate of his remains dictated by the descendants of traitors, his brother Clarence and Thomas St Ledger, the husband of his sister Anne.

      1. However that is what happened.

        Now unless there is some evidence supporting the contrary beyond doubt, history should not be altered on a whim.

  5. My two issues with the reburial in Leicester are as follows:
    1) Leicester City Council would only agree to permit the excavation – of a site of historical significance to Leicester and indeed the country even if they hadn’t found Richard – if the University agreed that he would be buried in Leicester Cathedral if they did make a positive identification. no such undertaking was offered for anyone else exhumed, and I think it’s rather beyond the council’s remit to demand it.
    2) The argument in favour of Leicester are that he was buried there and should remain there. He was buried there in a grave that wasn’t big enough for him, with his hands tied and without even a shroud, and as a traitor. Should we preserve that as well? His burial was degrading and undignified and shouldn’t be taken into account. This is a chance to bury a former King of England as his usurper (29th in line to the throne and illegitimate and barred on both sides) denied him.

    1. I’m trying to figure why an undersized grave is and the manner is relevant to location?

      Still does not alter the fact he decreed no preference, that we know of, for a specific place to be buried.

      To relocate on no evidence other that what one interprets is completely wrong. Yes we should preserve it, its the truth.

      What would you prefer? A re-write of history because it didn’t turn out as you wished?

      1. Because he was buried by his murderer. Because it might not be clear where he wanted to be buried, but the nearest place to where he died that his supporters couldn’t get to wouldn’t have been it. This isn’t rewriting history, it’s making it, and there is already plenty of precedent for relocating remains to somewhere more suitable. Henry VIII, for instance, had his grandfather moved to St David’s Cathedral at the dissolution of the monasteries, because his chosen burial site was no longer considered suitable, and Richard III had the dead of Towton moved to a newly built chapel, because they were buried in a mass grave.

    2. Buried by his murderer? Really? Not passed into the hands of Greyfriars who buried him in one of there most prominent places in their church?

      What you cite was either a descision made by a direct descendant, then out of necessity, the other out of respect, no doubt with the consent of those families.

      Again, there is no record of where Richard wished to be buried, nor are there any legitimate direct descendants to express their wishes. Therefore a reburial anywhere else is based on personal opinion, not ascertained fact.

      1. In what way was it one of the most prominent places in the church? It was the furthest he could be curried from the altar whilst also denying access to anyone but the monks, who didn’t take the extra 10 minutes to square off the grave.
        His family may have had him moved, if the Tudors hadn’t had most of them executed.
        A reburial in Leicester would be regardless of fact. Is there one good reason for his burial there other than that being where Henry (again, the man who usurped him, declared him a traitor and had his body paraded naked through the city) chose?

      2. Alexandra is absolutely correct in all her posts and these are factual statements not hypotheses.

  6. Did Tudor have most of Richard’s family executed? People forget that at the time of his death there existed a number of Richard’s family who could have had a say. The daughters of Edward still lived, one actually becoming Queen, a position of influence. His mother and sister Margaret remained, both seemingly content with the location. In fact Margaret requested burial in a Grey Friars church. The offspring of his other siblings still lived. It was only when they were involved in rebellions against the new regime that they suffered the consequences. Ironically the fact we have the collateral descendants now is proof their ancestors did survive long enough have children. Today’s commentators should remember these family members made no effort to move his remains then or during the subsequent five centuries.

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