The re-burial of Richard III

Prior to the confirmation “beyond reasonable doubt” that the remains exhumed from a Leicester car park were those of King Richard III, Leicester Cathedral issued a Press Release which stated:

 “If the identity of the remains is confirmed, Leicester Cathedral will continue to work with the Royal Household, and with the Richard III Society, to ensure that his remains are treated with dignity and respect and are reburied with the appropriate rites and ceremonies of the church.”

Other than determination of the identity of the remains, this  still holds for the present situation, the legal issues of which were clarified in a Westminster Hall debate on 12 March 2013.  The University of Leicester has “custody and possession” of the remains under a licence issued by the Ministry of Justice under section 25 Burial Act 1857.  However, the Plantagenet Alliance, “the living, collateral descendants of King Richard III [1]is seeking permission for a judicial review of the decisions of the Ministry of Justice and the University of Leicester in relation to consultations.

Leaving aside the possibility of a judicial review and an outcome that requires changes to be made to the current programme, Leicester Cathedral is progressing its long-planned reordering of the building, an important part of which involves the reburial of Richard III [2].  Many will welcome those aspects directed at “removing some of the features which have been added over the years – particularly associated with the attempt to impose a gothic cathedral topography on a parish church reality”. Movement of the pulpit and the installation of raised plinth are in progress in order to be ready for 22 August, the date of King Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Leicester Cathedral’s burial plans

The Brief for Architects for the grave of Richard III was published in March, and included an indicative timetable leading to a “Procession and Reception of Remains” between 4 and 25 May 2014, and a Memorial Service between 8 and 29 May 2014 [3] .  The Brief indicates that the Cathedral Chapter is the commissioning body, and it “would be working in partnership with Leicester City Council, the Mayor’s Office, the University of Leicester (as the license holder) and consulting with the Richard III Society and other interested bodies regarding the placing and design of the grave within the context of the cathedral, cathedral gardens and the wider city.”

From the point of view of ecclesiastical law, the potential Architects are reminded that account must be taken of the general duties imposed by section 1 of the Care of Cathedrals Measure 2011, viz.

“Any body on which functions of care and conservation are conferred by this Measure shall in exercising those functions have due regard to the fact that the cathedral church is the seat of the bishop and a centre of worship and mission.”

More importantly, the Measure details the approvals required for alterations to Cathedrals, the bodies concerned, (Part 2), and the powers of the bishop to prevent or stop contraventions of these requirements and the reinstatement of the status quo, (Part 3). However, whilst section 2(1)(a)(iv) requires the appropriate consent for works which would materially affect any human remains in or under the cathedral church or within its precinct, as written this relates only to those remains which are in situ.

The Brief further notes that any design is subject to the recommendation of the Fabric Advisory Committee (FAC) and the approval Cathedral Fabric Commission for England (CFCE).  Although the initial Press Release intimated that Leicester Cathedral would be “working with the Royal Household”, it is unlikely that any such considerations will readily be placed in the public domain.

With regard to the burial of Richard’s remains at another Church of England Cathedral,  the same legal constraints would apply, and in the case of York Minster, on 11 March its Chapter issued a statement stating inter alia:

“The Chapter of York has maintained a neutral position regarding Richard III’s re-interment, based on the current legal position. The Ministry of Justice granted the University of Leicester the authority to determine the place where the body from Greyfriars would be reinterred”

Burial at Westminster Abbey would additionally require the permission of the monarch in view of its status as a royal peculiar, but this possibility is unlikely in view of space considerations: in 1769 George II became the last UK monarch to be buried there.

Alternatively, were the remains to be buried in a CofE church, the re-interment would then be subject to the legislation governing faculty jurisdiction.  Regardless of which regime the re-interment falls within, the views of all interested parties would be need to be taken into account, although it will be the application of Church of England legislation that determines whether re-interment is permitted or not.

The Dean of Leicester, the Very Reverend David Monteith, has confirmed that  the plans as outlined in the Brief were changed, influenced by feedback from several sources, including members of the general public who had visited the Cathedral and had made comments to the media.  It is now planned that the remains will be placed in a brick-lined vault, under the ground, surmounted by a raised tomb rather than a simpler floor level slab, initially favoured by church authorities.  The final submission will go to the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England (CFCE) for final approval, due sometime in November.

Re-interment and memorial service

Some have argued that since Richard III was a Roman Catholic he should be buried in accordance with Roman Catholic funeral rites of the time.  However, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham, Rt Revd Malcolm McMahon OP has stated:

 “The Bishop is pleased that the body of King Richard III has been found under the site of Greyfriars Church in Leicester, in which it was buried following the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and that it will be reinterred with dignity in the city where he has lain for over five hundred years. Richard III was one of the last Catholic monarchs of England and his death was a decisive moment in British history, but the ultimate decision as to what form the interment takes lies with the Government and the Church of England, since he will be buried in Leicester Cathedral.

 “In accordance with long-established ecumenical practice, Bishop Malcolm will be happy to take part in any form of ceremony which takes place to mark his final burial.”

The form of service will need to take into consideration the rites, if any, that were thought to be performed when Richard III was first buried, and some indication of these is included in a recent publication by the team of archaeologists and others involved in the excavation of the site and exhumation of Richard’s remains [4].  The article notes that there was no evidence of a shroud or coffin, and states

“[a]ccording to contemporary accounts, Richard III was buried without any pomp or solemn funeral . . .  The archaeology of the grave, and the position of the body in it, reflect this.

The body appears to have been placed in the grave with minimal reverence. Although the lower limbs are fully extended and the hands lay on the pelvis, the torso is twisted to the north and the head, abnormally, is propped up against the north-west corner of the grave . . . . . . Irregular in construction, the grave is noticeably too short for the body”, [emphasis added], [at 531]


“The hands were crossed at the wrists, most likely right over left, and placed above the right pelvis. This is unusual for burials in medieval Leicester, although it is common elsewhere . . . . . . . .It is therefore possible that Richard III was buried with his hands bound”, [at 535]

It therefore appears that the initial burial was accompanied by few if any burial rites, and this will need to be taken into consideration when planning the re-interment.

[1] Dr Lucy Worsley notes in her blog, “Plantagenet Alliance members are “relatives” of the king, no less. And no more, either. As he had no children, they can’t claim to be his descendants.” The Guardian article in which these comments first appeared was subsequently corrected and now states: “This article was amended on 9 April 2013. The original said Richard III had no children. He had one legitimate son, who died as a child, and acknowledged two illegitimate children.”

[2] Identified in the Information Pack (February 2013) provided to candidates for the post of Dean.

[3] The MoJ licence stipulates an end date of “no later than 31 August 2014” for their re-interment in “St Martins Cathedral or in a burial ground in which interments may legally take place” or their “deposit at Jewry Wall Museum”.  The timings in the Brief take account of the date of Ash Wed 5 March 2014 and Easter 20 April 2014, noting “it would be possible, but not preferable for the memorial service to take place during Lent”.

[4] R Buckley, Mathew Morris, J Appleby, T King, D O’Sullivan and L Foxhall, “‘The king in the car park’: new light on the death and burial of Richard III in the Grey Friars church, Leicester, in 1485”, (2013) 87 Antiquity, 519–538, < >, accessed 1 August 2013.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "The re-burial of Richard III" in Law & Religion UK, 5 August 2013,

22 thoughts on “The re-burial of Richard III

  1. Pingback: No Catholic Burial for Richard III » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  2. Pingback: No Catholic burial for Richard III

  3. Pingback: Religion and law round up – 11th August | Law & Religion UK

  4. Pingback: Richard III, reburial and judicial review | Law & Religion UK

  5. In Spain a number of churches and cathedrals have changed between moslem and christian over the centuries. As Leicester has one of the largest immigrant populations, it may be that christianity eventually disappears in Leicester and the cathedral becomes a mosque. The city is heading that way and in a hundred years it may be a totally unsuitable place for an English Christian King.

    • There is no evidence that the city is likely to be a Muslim city and it will never be allowed to turn our Cathedral into a Mosque. The Cathedral will always be a Christian place of worship and as a church has stood there for hundreds of years; it is more likely that it will stand for hundreds more. Even if it did change: it is not likely that anyone would remove the tomb from the Cathedral. The situation in Spain goes back to the conquest and these buildings referred to are now back in Christian hands where they belong!

      • In England, especially Yorkshire, many Christian churches and chapels because of lack of attendance and also other cultural people moving into certain areas, e.g., Bradford, they are now non-Christian, e.g., Sikh Temples, etc., also some have become Asian Community Centres,!.


  6. Could this be interpreted as more anti-Catholic racism? If Richard would have wanted a York burial, he would have also wanted a Catholic burial.

  7. Most of us would conclude that King Richard the 3rd would have wanted a Christian burial; making note that before the Reformation most people today who have British roots would have had Catholic ancestors. Indeed any Christian churches, Cathedrals/Minsters and most other Christian buildings constructed before c.1560 would have been Catholic worship places.
    St.Martin’s parish church in Leicester only gained Cathedral status in 1927 and Grey Friars was in St.Martin’s parish. So, King Richard the 3rd’s remains and respect for his funeral rights would be maintained by his remains staying within the same holy-consecrated parish when they are placed inside St.Martin’s Cathedral. The issue is not Catholism or any other Christian denomination.

    Kind regards,
    Raymond E.O.Ella.

  8. I am in agreement with Raymond.
    Also, excluding some public cemeteries in recent centuries, most Christian burial-ground (churchyards, etc.) are consecrated for burials and let’s say after a battle whatever way a person “is quickly buried”, that person by whom they are buried would give “last burial rites” before the grave is filled-in.


  9. If King Richard the 111 was bound and had his hands tied at the wrists and feet by the ankles this would seem feasible if his body was transported by horse or horse and cart into Leicester. However, his body still could have been taken into Leicester without binding. It would have been more practical to bind a living prisoner by his wrists and/or feet before their execution.

  10. It was concluded that King Richard III may have had just his hands bound but why just his hands bound and already dead?. If he was found to be still alive after the battle then he could have had his hands bound but allowed to stand but probably could not because of his wounds and soon died after?. Whatever the case and whatever way he had been secretly and hastily buried (making note he and his army had lost the battle) his body was still put in consecrated Christian ground and has Raymond E.O.Ella points out that holy-consecrated area of Grey Friars was in the same parish has St.Martin’s church later to become a Cathedral. – It is only fitting that the king’s remains stay within the same consecrated parish.


    • Richard III was definitely dead, his wounds conclude that. He was placed over his horse, his hands bound as a practical measure. It is still open as to whether or not his hands were bound in the grave as sometimes hands were crossed over or in prayer, not always by the side. The lack of threads in the grave, rope, leaves the question open. At least one historian challenged the conclusion that his hands were bound in the grave. He was killed by two fatal blows to the back of his head in the fighting, one may have been a coup de grace, but he was definitely dead. He was put on display as was the way, to prove that he was dead. His body was found and some abuse can be seen, he was bound, but when he was given to the monks to bury it he was given a quick but proper service. As a Catholic, not excommunicated, it is not possible that he would not have a proper service. The fact that he was recovered from the battlefield guaranteed a burial place and as a King, the rites of the monks in a place of honour. The grave site may have been carelessly cut but it was August and hot so the time to prepare and measure the size. The fact that he was laid out correctly and his head placed higher means that someone was in the grave to receive the body. The problem is that the grave was too short, but his head was placed at raised height with care. His body was laid out correctly and carefully. He was not dumped in the grave. We don’t know if he had a shroud as none survived. The body probably was washed, this was a practice in the friary, the diggers would have been lay brothers, not soldiers. Another historian believes that Richard was buried in a friars robe as a penitent. The friary may have had Yorkist sympathy. The grey friars have a connection to Richard. The grave was covered, the tiles replaced and a new plaque placed there. He was close to the altar. The church was not open to the public. Henry Tudor raised a tomb ten years later but it was lost in 1538 in the dissolution. A marker post in the house garden stood in 1612, but when the house was sold and the council buildings placed there, it was lost. Up until the dissolution prayers would be said every day. I too thought that Richard should have had a Catholic service, but he was buried as a Catholic. However, I also wanted him buried in Leicester. After the combination of services last year, a Catholic Mass was said and he had prayers and services by both Catholic and Anglican communions, the ancient and modern rites, the almost state service, the state progress, the knights, the crowds, the beautiful dancers, the poem, I am satisfied that my King Richard III was finally honoured. Three visits to his tomb and grave have left me pleased and deeply moved. Richard III honour and dignity at last RIP YNWA

  11. All this seems a popular debate today.

    Because one of King Richard’s emblems was the white boar, it was speculated that after his death he was “hog-tied”, but this could not have been so if only his hands had been bound.

    I have recently viewed some rare pictures from the period c.1480s of King Richard the 111 and his Queen Anne, also their son. They are postings by Raymond E.O.Ella via

    They are near the end postings.


  12. David Partington, of Sovereign Chambers in Leeds, has posted a note on Richard III and Judicial Review in which he concludes that Richard III should be buried in York Minister: “It is not, for me, a question of public consultation, but of the right of an anointed king to be buried in the Minster of his choosing. In my book, that trumps all hands, legally”.

    But I’m afraid I still don’t understand why people on both side of the argument are so steamed up about the issue – and still less do I understand how collateral descendants of someone killed in 1485 can have locus to seek judicial review.

  13. Many people want to be buried or cremated in a certain place and they even may mention it in their Will but because of circumstances, e.g., too far away, etc., it does not always happen. However, regarding the last rites of King Richard III and respect for the holy-consecrated burial ground and parish, I agree with Raymond E.O.Ella and also Martha Kelling that it would be fitting for his remains to stay in the same parish. The issue here is not legally the law of the land but religious and of a Christian respect.

  14. I have read David Partington’s note/review and agree with most of what he has written in a supportive way about King Richard 111 but he ends with what he thinks-has a legal burial. A Will may become a legal document but any mention of where a person wants to be buried or cremated is a formal request and it becomes a responsibility of the executor(s) and in some cases the request by the demised is respected by the executor(s) of a Will but the executor(s) actually decide where the demised person is buried or cremated.
    The person or persons (perhaps Grey Friars) who performed the Christian burial and last rights of King Richard 111 should also be respected and I am in agreement with Raymond, Martha and Jill, that the king’s remains should stay in the same holy-consecrated parish and if not that would be what I call ” a disrespectful Christian insult”.
    It should not have anything to do with “a legality”; but should have something to do with faith and respect for it; making note that respectful religious burial rights and holy-consecrated burial ground is not the same type of respect for where a person would want to be buried; or cremated, or deep frozen,!.
    Note: Walt Disney in his Will requested his body to be frozen and this today is of much debate if at all it ever happened, some reports saying he was actually cremated.


  15. I cannot believe that King Richard , had he been given a choice, would have opted to be buried away from his wife at whose funeral he wept.

    Leicester University should be given the greatest credit possible for their wonderful work but I do not believe that Leicester should be final resting place of King Richard 3rd.

    Westminster Abbey would be the best place as there is an abundance of both Catholic and Anglican monarchs interred there, including the Catholic Confessor himself…… Westminster was a Catholic Church long before the Anglicans took it over.. It should welcome all Christian Monarchs whatever the time.

    • Dear Rosamund, you don’t seem to get the point of most previous postings.
      King Richard the 3rd’s final resting place is in the same holy-consecrated parish and that is respectful to his first consecrated burial.


      • Westminster Abbey is full. Anne Neville’s body was lost. Richard III hated Westminster and London. He would not have chosen to be buried there although as a King he would have been had he won Bosworth. If not then in St George in Windsor. He did not, he fell in battle and was buried in holy church in Leicester. St Martin’s was the nearest holy church to first grave so buried there. He was there for 530 years.

  16. Pingback: Blogging our way through 2013 | Law & Religion UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *