Wrong-footed on Richard III

As the Ministry of Justice deliberates a potential challenge to the High Court decision to grant permission for a judicial review, there have been a number of peripheral developments which are summarized below.

21 July 2013: In its Press Release, “King Richard lll will get a raised tomb” Leicester Cathedral states “[t]here are several possible designs for the tomb, which are being developed by van Heyningen and Haward architects, on behalf of the Cathedral, and a working party that includes representatives from the Richard III Society, the University of Leicester and the City Council  . . . . . . Speaking after seeing the plans Dr Phil Stone, Chairman of the Richard III Society was delighted. ‘I think that the design is absolutely fantastic’ he said.”

19 September 2013: The BBC reported “Leicester Cathedral has unveiled its plans for a tomb to hold the remains of King Richard III” – a tomb of Swaledale fossil limestone with a rose carved in white limestone, surrounded by a band of dark Kilkenny limestone and carved with king’s name, dates (1452-1485), motto (Loyaulte me Lie – ‘Loyalty binds Me’) and boar badge.  The tomb with its deeply carved cross is tilted slightly to the east as a symbol of resurrection, and the area is defined by wooden screens.

Leicester Cathedral quotes Dr Stone as describing the design as “utterly inspired’, although the Plantagenet Alliance and others were less complimentary.  Those clicking onto the video link on the BBC report above will see the preliminary excavations at the site of the tomb – but are trainers the approved PPE footwear for those operating a pneumatic drill? [1].

23 September 2013: The Cathedral announced that it had now formally submitted its proposals to the Cathedrals Fabric Commission or England regarding all the changes to the fabric of the Cathedral it believes will be necessary for the re-interment of King Richard III, here, and here.  The submission stated “key external consultees have included: CFCE, English Heritage, the Victorian and Twentieth Century Societies, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), the city and county councils, the University of Leicester, Leicester Tigers, regimental organizations, and the Richard III Society”.

23 September 2013: A further report from the BBC indicates that “members of the Richard III Society have withdrawn funding meant for the king’s tomb at Leicester Cathedral because they are unhappy with the design”.  Members of the Society had pledged about £40,000 to go towards the tomb but Philippa Langley, who initiated the search for the remains, was quoted as saying some large donors had contacted her to ask for their money back. She concurred with the international members of the society who had contacted her and indicated that it was “a very difficult design” which is “ too modern and stylised, and designed with a cathedral in mind – not a medieval warrior king”.

For the cathedral, Canon Peter Hobson [2] countered by saying that it appeared as though some of the “Richard III devotees” were only approaching the design from their own perspective whereas the cathedral had to consider all aspects, including planning restrictions placed by the Church’s Cathedrals Fabric Commission, as well as keeping it as a place of worship.

However, the Society’s contribution is less than half the costs of the tomb and vault, £96,000, and substantially less that the overall £1.3M costs of the project.  The Cathedral stated that it had never relied on the offer of money from the Society to pay for the tomb, and has quite rightly indicated that whilst it would rather have the support of the Richard III Society, this is “not at any price”.

24 September 2013: The Leicester Mercury ran a story suggesting that the Richard III Society is yet to make a final decision on whether it will donate cash to help fund the king’s tomb at Leicester Cathedral, stating

“Society spokesman Richard Van Allen spoke to the Mercury yesterday, following reports the group had “withdrawn” funding as some of its members were not happy with the design.  It has been suggested we’re withdrawing funds. We are not. The cathedral has never said it was going to take the funds in the first place. We want to take the time to have a look at the design and talk to our members to see if they still want to contribute.”

 and in addition to these developments

20 September 2013: A guest contributor to The Tablet blog, Finally, the judicial review raises hopes of a Catholic burial for Richard III” announced

“Sir Charles [Haddon-Cave] . . . . mentioned two online government e-petitions, one calling for the king to be buried in Leicester and another advocating York Minster. But he didn’t mention the petition for a Catholic burial, which, although it attracted more than 1,200 signatures, gained far less support than the others. That petition has now closed but I have started a new petition, arguing the case for a service and burial in a Catholic church.”

Readers will be aware of our views on the significance of e-petitions, here.


Recent events have been marked by a series of communications faux pas, from which no party appears to have been totally immune.  A common feature is the uncertainty as to whether the spokesperson quoted in the media represented the view of the organization as a whole, or was sought out by a reporter as someone who could be relied upon to express a particular point of view.  As with most news stories, the initial headlines tend to have the greatest impact and those indicating “Funds for Richard III’s tomb are pulled” have greater weight than subsequent statements of “clarification”.

The confused picture emerging from the Richard III Society has been detrimental to the image of the Society with its Royal patronage, which until recently had adopted an impartial but cooperative approach to the re-interment. For the cathedral, although there have been a number of named spokespersons – the Bishop, the Dean and the Canon Missioner – they all appear to have been “on message” and, as might be expected, “singing from the same hymn sheet”.

Since anyone can raise an e-petition, the recent call for a Catholic burial for Richard III clearly does not represent the views of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.  However, initiating a new e-petition on the back of an earlier poorly-received one is not necessarily a good idea, and the poor take-up (47 signatories at the time of writing) will send a message to some that the Church as a whole is not concerned. On 24 September, a BBC headline read “Richard III parliamentary petition misses target”, alluding to the fact that the pro-York petition had ended and at only 31,260 names fell short of the 100,000 required to trigger a parliamentary debate.

[1] See video clip at 33 to 34 seconds.  These may have been one of the brands of safety footwear that incorporates a degree of protection, i.e. a steel toe cap, into a trainer shoe, but they did not appear to be particularly robust for this application.

[2] Canon Peter Hobson, formerly Director of St Martins House, was seconded to the Cathedral Team as Acting Canon Missioner with a view to concentrating on Richard III and Cathedral Gardens as well as assisting with liturgical and preaching duties

4 thoughts on “Wrong-footed on Richard III

  1. Thank you for this comprehensive, factual report. If the Ministry of Justice does challenge a judicial review permitted by the High Court I hope we are privy to the precise grounds on which they do so.

  2. The Ministry will succeed and Richard will remain where he belongs in Leicester. The 15 people who made the challenge are not relatives of Richard III and their claim is rubbish. Leicester have the work well in hand and they do not need that of the Richard III Society who have their own agenda. The Catholic Church have stated they are willing to take place and for the Cathedral to have a united service which is most likely. The media reported all sorts of nonsense since this all started. There have been more myths in the 12 months since he was found than in the 529 years since he was buried. Remember before God the soul and person of Richard last of the Plantagenets and may he rest in peace in Leicester.

  3. Pingback: Leicester Cathedral, 29th August | Calling on Cathedrals

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