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The plans to have the former King of England buried in Leicester are now in jeopardy as the matter will be determined by a judicial review.
A group of 15 descendants of Richard III won a court battle last week when they convinced a judge that there was merit to their claims that the remains should be buried in York.
High Court Judge Charles Haddon-Cave explained that a government declaration that Richard III had to be buried at Leicester Cathedral, the closest consecrated ground to where the remains were discovered last year, was done too hastily and without proper public consultation. In his decision, he wrote “the archaeological discovery of the mortal remains of a former king of England after 500 years is without precedent. In my judgment, it is plainly arguable that there was a duty at common law to consult widely as to how and where Richard III’s remains should appropriately be reinterred.”
The judge added that the best option would be for the parties to arrange for a panel of suitable experts who could conduct a wide consultation and make the best determination on where Richard should be buried. He also warned “the parties to avoid embarking on the (legal) Wars of the Roses Part 2. In my view, it would be unseemly, undignified and unedifying to have a legal tussle over these royal remains. This would not be appropriate, or in the country’s interests. The discovery of Richard III’s remains engages interests beyond those of the immediate parties, and touches on Sovereign, State and Church.”
The group seeking the judicial review, the Plantagenet Alliance and their supporters, were happy with the decision. Vanessa Roe, a 16th great niece of Richard III and one of the members of the Plantagenet Alliance, explained, “we want him to go back to where he wanted to be buried – where his spiritual home was.”
JoeAnn Ricca, founder and Chief Executive of The Richard III Foundation, one of the groups supporting a possible burial in York, said in a statement, “the arguments over where the last Plantagenet King should be buried seem to have overtaken the simple joy of the discovery and confirmation of his remains. The decision by Mr Justice Haddon-Cave to grant the Plantagenet Alliance the opportunity to have their case heard and properly examined in the High Court is one of great importance.”
Andy Smith, UK director of the Foundation, added: “We were disappointed by the lack of consultation and what we believe was a hasty and ill-considered decision by the Government as to where King Richard III should be buried. Let there be a proper discussion among all interested parties. The Richard III Foundation has always had King Richard’s interests and wishes at heart. We congratulate The Plantagenet Alliance for persevering with their campaign and for succeeding in securing this Judicial Review. With the return of the King’s mortal remains, let us all work together towards an amicable conclusion so he can be given justice at last and be buried with honour and dignity.”
Meanwhile, those who supported a burial in Leicester were upset by the decision. Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester, said he was “absolutely convinced that the Plantagenet Alliance has no case whatsoever.” He added, “I think Leicester’s case is overwhelming. He died near Leicester, he was buried in Leicester, he laid in the shadow of the cathedral for 500 years and the licence granted during the excavation stated he should be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.”
The University of Leicester also issued a statement, saying they are “currently digesting the content of the judgment, which raises a number of important and complex issues. The University continues to take the view that the claim is without merit and that this is the conclusion which the court is likely to reach once it has had the benefit of hearing detailed evidence and legal argument during the course of the judicial review. That said, the University notes that court does not suggest that the University itself has acted unlawfully by failing to conduct a consultation exercise in connection with the issue of re-interment. Indeed, the judgment makes clear that it would not have been appropriate for the University itself to have embarked on such an exercise.
“The University maintains that it is entirely proper and fitting that the remains of Richard III, Duke of Gloucester, be buried in the magnificent holy setting of Leicester Cathedral, near where his remains had lain for centuries and where they were finally discovered as a result of what the court described as ‘the inspired, determined and meticulous work’ of the University and members of the Richard III Society. The University will now liaise with the Ministry of Justice with a view to ascertaining how it wishes to proceed.”
Finally, the Richard III Society added, their own statement to say “the matter must now be left to the due process of law, but we hope it will be resolved amicably and quickly so that King Richard’s remains can be reinterred with honour and dignity and without controversy.”
Since the discovery of the remains of Richard III in September 2012, there has been much debate about where Richard III should be buried – Leicester, York, or even at Westminster Cathedral in London. There is one petition signed by 26,553 people that asked for the 15th century king be buried at York, while a rival petition in favour of Leicester had gathered 8,115 signatures.
The decision on where Richard III will be buried will also have important economic consequences, with added tourism and a chance for the city to showcase itself when the burial finally does occur. This month, the city of Leicester is holding a series of events to commemorate the first anniversary of the discovery. .