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Tribunal delays ruling on tomb of the “Sun of York”

The Cathedral Fabric Commission for England (CFCE) has declined to give its endorsement for plans for a tomb for Richard III at Leicester Cathedral. On 8 November 2013 the CFCE notified the cathedral that it would defer its decision at this time, noting the pending legal challenges to the last Plantagenet king’s reinterment in Leicester.

The last of the Plantagenet kings, Richard III (1452-1485) ruled for two years until his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485.  After the battle he was interred in Grey Friars Church in in Leicester, but the location of the church and the grave were lost over time.

On 12 September 2012 archaeologists from the University of Leicester unearthed a skeleton with battle wounds and curvature of the spine while excavating a Leicester City Council parking lot, the reputed location of the lost Grey Friars Church – the reputed resting place of Richard III.

Last year the University reported that it had “exhumed one fully articulated skeleton” in what was believed to have been the Choir of Grey Friars church. The skeleton “appears to have suffered significant peri-mortem trauma to the skull which appears consistent with, although not certainly caused by, an injury received in battle. A bladed implement appears to have cleaved part of the rear of the skull,” said Richard Taylor, Director of Corporate Affairs at the University at a 12 Sept 2012 press conference, adding that a “barbed iron arrowhead was found between vertebrae of the skeleton’s upper back.”

The skeleton should signs of “severe scoliosis – which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder. This is consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard’s appearance,” he said.

Using DNA taken from the descendants of Richard’s sister, the university determined the skeleton was Richard’s. It is “beyond reasonable doubt the individual exhumed at Grey Friars on September 12th [2012] is indeed Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England,” Dr. Richard Buckley told a 4 Feb 2013 press conference.

After scientists completed their examination, the remains were given to Leicester’s St Martin’s Cathedral for reburial and plans were prepared for a tomb in the cathedral’s chancel. However, the Plantagenet Alliance, whose members include 15 descendants of the Plantagenet family objected saying, Richard should be buried in York.

Last August a high court judge gave permission to the Plantagenet Alliance to challenge plans to rebury the king’s remains in Leicester rather than York. Mr Justice Haddon-Cave ruled: “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.”

“I grant permission to the claimant to bring judicial review proceedings against the secretary of state for justice and the University of Leicester on all grounds,” he held, setting a 26 November 2013 hearing date. The discovery of Richard’s remains, concluded the judge, “touches upon our history, heritage and identity”, adding: “The public interest requires that these issues are resolved.”

The Rt Hon Frank Field MP, chairman of the CFCE, last week noted: “The case at Leicester has raised national interest and excitement. However it is the job of the CFCE to look at each case on its own merits and consider the impact of proposed works on the heritage values of the building and on the primary purpose of all as centres for Christian worship and mission.”

“On this occasion we decided not to determine the case because of uncertainty over the fate of the body and the need for more information.”

“We remain committed to working with the cathedral and other interested groups to achieve the best outcomes for the cathedral and its communities,” he said.

The Very Rev David Monteith, Dean of Leicester said the cathedral “recognises the complexity of the case the Cathedral Fabric Commission for England is having to deal with and therefore understands why, at this juncture, the commission failed to reach a verdict on our comprehensively-researched proposals for a tomb for King Richard III as part of a major reordering of the cathedral.”

“We are disappointed but we appreciate that it is rare for a major application of this kind to be approved at the first discussion owing to its complex nature. It is estimated the works necessary to provide the tomb and its place of honour will take six months, so this development does appear to rule out a reinterment date before summer 2014 at the earliest.”

The dean noted that a final decision could only be made after legal challenges had been adjudicated. “We fully respect that legal process,” he said.

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