English Debate What To Do With Richard III's Remains

More than 500 years after the Wars of the Roses, the English are again fighting over Richard the Third. Archaeologists from the University of Leicester last year unearthed his remains under a parking lot in the city. Leicester Cathedral has earmarked more than a million pounds to give him a proper burial. But not so fast say the people of York.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now let's hear about a royal comeback in England that's playing out like a real-life "Game of Thrones." There is a medieval king killed in battle, fiercely loyal supporters from the king's ancestral home, long forgotten bones dug up, and accusations of a royal smear campaign.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The king in question is Richard III. His unmarked grave was discovered under a parking lot by some archeologists. Now a year later, the question of where the royal bones will be reburied may be headed to court.

GREENE: But we need to back up a moment. Richard III was the last king of the house of York. His reign ended when he was killed in the Wars of the Roses. This would be in the year 1485 when the Tudors took the throne.

MONTAGNE: It was Shakespeare who sealed Richard's reputation as a scheming hunchback villain, played here by Kenneth Branagh.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "RICHARD III")

KENNETH BRANAGH: (As Richard III) I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days. Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous...

SANDRA WADLEY: He was writing plays for Elizabeth I, who was the granddaughter of Henry Tudor, the man who killed Richard, so I just think it was all Tudor propaganda.

GREENE: That is Sandra Wadley. She's chairwoman of the Friends of Richard III in York. Wadley says that Richard was actually a benevolent monarch.

WADLEY: He was a man who liked justice. He made the Court of Appeals so that the ordinary people, the peasant, could go and get justice. He gave a lot to the city of York. He halved the city taxes and, you know, did various things just for the ordinary people, you know, not just the aristocracy.

GREENE: And that is how it happened that two cities are fighting over who gets to honor a monarch remembered mostly as an evil villain.

MONTAGNE: Wadley wants Richard III back in York, where his royal roots are, not in Leicester, where he happened to fall and die in battle. Still, Leicester Cathedral has earmarked more than a million pounds to give him a proper royal burial in a raised tomb.

WADLEY: I don't think they realized that they were going to have a fight on their hands. I think they thought it was all going to be cut and dried, that nobody would bother about where Richard would be buried. And I think it's come as a shock to them to find out that we do want Richard brought back to Yorkshire.

MONTAGNE: When Wadley helped found the Friends of Richard III branch in York 40 years ago, she says there was nothing in the city to mark this famous son of York. Today, if you visit the city's cathedral or minster, you'll see quite a change.

WADLEY: You would see a stained glass window in the minster, a plaque in the very Medieval Guild Hall, where Richard III was entertained with Queen Anne, and also there's a plaque on the minster library where he invested his son Edward as Prince of Wales.

GREENE: And Wadley and her group are not fighting this battle alone. An online petition to send Richard's remains to York has over 25,000 signatures, and the descendents of Richard's Plantagenet dynasty have now filed suit to stop his burial in Leicester.

MONTAGNE: Although the license that authorized the University of Leicester to dig for Richard's remains also gave it the right to decide where to rebury him, a judge ruled last week that the Plantagenet Alliance can take legal action.

GREENE: Still, the judge did urge the Leicester and York factions to settle out of court to, quote, "avoid embarking on the Wars of the Roses, Part Two."

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