This battle for the bones of Richard III

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WHEN a 500-year-old skeleton was found beneath a Leicester car park in 2012 no-one could have predicted that it would lead to a ‘battle royal’ involving the likes of actors Steve Coogan and Mark Gatiss, not to mention historians, MPs and thousands of petitioners.

The discovery of the remains of Richard III inflamed regional passions in Yorkshire and Leicestershire of the kind that helped tear apart medieval England.

The earliest surviving portrait of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral.

The earliest surviving portrait of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral.

Half a millennium after Richard III’s grisly end at Bosworth Field (in modern Leicestershire) a new battle raged on Twitter, Facebook and in newspapers over where the Yorkist king’s remains should be reburied after distant relatives decided to challenge Leicester’s desire to keep the bones and benefit from the tourism.

The honour went to Leicester following a court ruling yesterday. On Twitter there were taunts of “finder’s keepers’ as the victors claimed their spoils.

That court victory followed hard-fought and occasionally bitter campaigns which involved characters as diverse as Geoffrey Boycott and writer Julian Fellowes (pro-York), opposed by former Dragon’s Den panellist Hilary Devey and Mark Gatiss.

Mr Gatiss had said: “Where should Richard III’s bones rest? Obviously Leicester. York has heritage coming out of its ears. Leicester could do with a leg up.”

For some, Leicester deserved to win because, they argued, there wasn’t much there for tourists, unlike York.

The resentment and anger continued yesterday on social networking sites.

Yorkshire MPs reflected the anger and disappointment.

Conservative MP Julian Sturdy (York Outer) said: “It is immensely frustrating that despite the unprecedented discovery of such a historically, politically and culturally significant monarch, the Ministry of Justice still refuses to listen to the public on such an important issue.

“Over 60,000 people have signed petitions on where they think the reburial should take place and such strong public feeling should not be ignored. Many of my own constituents believe they have been cheated out of the democratic and open debate that should have taken place over such an important chapter in our heritage.

“It is only right and proper that King Richard should return to his home city of York, even if on a temporary basis, after spending the last 500 years under a car park in Leicester. The people of Yorkshire deserve the chance to pay their final respects to the last Yorkist King, whose death brought about the end of one of the most brutal conflicts in our history.”

And York Central Labour MP Hugh Bayley said that while he was “disappointed” on behalf of the King’s descendents, who had campaigned for a York burial, it was time to move on.

He said: “It is now time to accept the ruling. King Richard should given a dignified reburial in Leicester Cathedral and allowed to rest.”

In Leicester there was jubilation as judges ruled there were no legal reasons why plans to rebury him at Leicester Cathedral should not go ahead.

The lawyer who spearheaded the descendents’ legal challenge described the verdict as “highly regrettable”.

Matthew Howarth, partner at Yorkshire law firm Gordons, said an appeal was under consideration. He said there were “no regrets about fighting the case, which we can look back on with pride.”

He added: “My client is a not-for-profit entity and many people were amazed that we got as far as we did.”

The three judges acknowledged in a joint ruling that “passions have been roused.”