The battle to bring the remains of Richard III to York has been taken to Westminster. In a House of Commons adjournment debate blows were traded and blood spilt.
In the white rose corner, York Central MP Hugh Bayley who wants to bring King Richard III’s remains to York Minster. In the red rose corner, various Leicester MPs fighting to keep the bones in their cathedral, close to where they were rediscovered.
But who won the bout? Here’s a blow-by-blow account…
Round one: Hugh Bayley starts the fight
“In this debate I do not want to set York against Leicester. Rather, I want to use the stupendous discovery of King Richard’s remains to bring our cities closer together, perhaps as a metaphor for the one-nation politics that all our parties nowadays stand for,” said the York Central MP in his opening remarks.
“I do not hide the fact that I believe that King Richard III’s mortal remains should be buried in York. However, that is not the purpose of today’s debate.” That purpose is to persuade the government that it must take responsibility for where the former king goes. “It is not a decision that should be delegated to a group of academics at Leicester university, as is currently specified in the licence for the dig, issued by the Ministry of Justice.”
David Tredinnick, MP for Bosworth (as in “Battle Of”) hits back: “The overwhelming opinion in the county of Leicestershire is that King Richard III should be buried close to where he has lain for more than 500 years.”
Bayley counters: “An e-petition with 7,500 signatures supports the proposition that the King’s remains should be laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral. There is also an e-petition with 24,000 signatures supporting the proposition that the mortal remains should be buried in York Minster, which is where Richard, during his life, gave notice that he would like to be buried.”
Round two: Keep it in the family
“The late king’s descendants – 17 of them – published a statement recently supporting the proposition that their ancestor should be buried in York Minster,” says Bayley.
Leicester South MP Jonathan Ashworth responds with a jab to the ribs: “The licence was clear that any remains should be deposited at the Jewry Wall museum in Leicester or else reinterred at St Martin’s cathedral in Leicester. The reason for that, presumably, is that it is archaeological good practice that remains are reinterred at the nearest consecrated ground, which is Leicester Cathedral.”
Bayley hits back: The licence was concerned with “persons unknown”, battling Bayley points out. Now the person is known – and he was a monarch. “In the case of a king’s remains, reburial is absolutely necessary. The remains should not be kept in a museum in Leicester or anywhere else.”
An intervention from the referee, MP Chris Skidmore: “I am a member of the Richard III Society and I have written a book on the battle of Bosworth. My standpoint is neutral, being a Member of Parliament for Bristol, neither from Leicestershire nor Yorkshire. Would he consider my compromise, whereby even if Richard is buried in Leicester his body might lie in state at York for a week?”
Bayley takes the ref’s words on board: “The idea has been considered by the Church, and the Dean of York mentioned it to me last week. It is the sort of proposition that could be considered under the process I am asking the Government to set in train.”
Round Three: it gets nasty
“I am emotionally inclined to believe the remains are those of King Richard, but the Government would clearly be foolish to set in train arrangements for the burial of the remains of a king—a head of state – if it is not certain that that is what has been found,” says Bayley. In other words, we only have preliminary evidence that those are royal bones, research yet to be tested by other scientists.
And he reveals that some of the correspondence about the issue has gone too far. “I talked to the Dean of York yesterday, and some of the letters she has received at the Minster are so extreme that she has referred the correspondence to the police. I would say to everybody: calm down.”
Having lulled opponents into a false sense of security, Bayley hits out: “I do not have time to make the case for Richard’s burial in York, except to say it was what he requested in his lifetime.”
Tag! York Outer MP Julian Sturdy takes over: “York clearly held a very special position in his heart, and that was reflected in his plans for a chantry of 100 priests in York Minster, where he wished to be buried.”
Ashworth counters: “It is certainly true that Richard planned the extension to York Minster that the hon. Gentleman referred to, but there is no evidence that he said he wanted to be buried there, is there?”
Yes there is, says Sturdy, and adds: “It is true that Westminster Abbey, Leicester Cathedral and York Minster all have claims as suitable locations to bury Richard III – I do not doubt that at all—but instead of allowing campaigners on all three sides to debate this issue in a democratic fashion, the Government and the university of Leicester have hashed out an important decision behind closed doors and concluded a finders and keepers agreement.”
Final round: the Government hits back
Justice minster Jeremy Wright steps in: “Much has been made, not least today, of the fact that the people of York want Richard III’s remains to be buried in York, and I understand the strength of feeling in York and in Yorkshire more widely. However, I should make it clear that York Minster has openly supported the reinterment of the remains in Leicester Cathedral.”
The blow hits home. The minister continues: “The university of Leicester could apply to vary the terms of the licence if it wanted to. However, the broad terms of the licence allow it to reinter the remains effectively where it wants…
“I hope and expect that those at Leicester university with that responsibility will take into account what he has said. We would be happy to facilitate a meeting between the people he identifies and the university to enable that to happen.”
Judges’ overall decision: York wins the debate on points
- Read all our Richard III coverage here