Guest Blog

Looking for Richard Project: A Statement by David and Wendy Johnson

In February 2009 Philippa Langley launched the Looking for Richard Project. As close friends and fellow Ricardians we joined forces with Philippa to become the project’s founding members, working behind the scenes on documentation and guidance. Our principal objective was to recover King Richard’s remains and reinter them with the honour and dignity so brutally denied in 1485 following the battle of Bosworth. We now wish to correct a number of important misconceptions about the project and make clear why we are now actively supporting the campaign to inter King Richard’s mortal remains in York Minster.

There is a general perception that no one from York was involved in the search for Richard III and that the city only became interested when discovery and identification took place. This is completely false. We have lived and worked in York since 2003 and have been involved in the project on a day-to-day basis from the very beginning. In addition the campaign is based on the firm conviction that Richard planned to be buried in the Minster and is not a promotional exercise on behalf of the city.

The initial decision to bury Richard in Leicester was based on what appeared to be two incontrovertible factors. First, archaeological protocol required exhumed remains to be re- interred in the nearest consecrated ground (i.e. Leicester Cathedral), and second, the landowner, Leicester City Council, granted Philippa Langley permission to search for Richard on the condition that he would be buried in the cathedral. There did not appear to be a legal or practical alternative to Leicester Cathedral.

When Richard was discovered events began to develop in a quite unexpected and alarming fashion. As holders of the exhumation licence the University of Leicester quickly replaced the council as lead agency in Leicester and we became progressively more frustrated and disenchanted.

Public Display

Once Richard’s remains were identified the university sought to exploit their publicity value by proposing to put them on public display. Not only was this contrary to our agreements with the authorities in Leicester, it also breached the terms of the Ministry of Justice exhumation licence. The licence clearly stated that before reburial the remains shall ‘be kept safely, privately and decently by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services’.

On Wednesday 13 February 2013 the Leicester Mercury reported:

The University of Leicester has not ruled out the possibility that the remains of Richard III will be put on public display.

However the university’s proposals were met with a hail of opposition from Leicester Cathedral, the Richard III Society, Philippa Langley, and the people of Leicester. The Mercury report continued:

A spokeswoman for Leicester Cathedral said it was up to the university, but the church would not take part in any public showings.

She said: "Scientists may have a reason for seeing them, but that is different from public display in the cathedral."

Dr Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, and Philippa Langley wrote to the university in the strongest terms. A Leicester Mercury online poll revealed that 69% of respondents were opposed to public display. Such was the scale of revulsion that the proposal was quietly dropped. Nevertheless we were deeply concerned and Philippa took immediate legal steps to prevent a repetition of this distasteful episode.

Client and Custodian

Our concern to protect the remains from unwarranted public display had been enshrined in an agreement drawn up on 1 June 2011 between Philippa, as Client, and University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) as contractor. The ‘Written Scheme of Investigation for Archaeological Investigation’ (WSI) confirmed Philippa’s status as Client in the project and established her as Custodian of Richard’s remains. Clause 5.7 of the WSI stated that:

Any human remains which are positively identified as those of Richard III will, after specialist DNA, osteological and archaeological recording, be transferred to the custody of the Client and/or the Client’s representatives for reburial.

Clause 5.7 also stipulated that the Client (i.e. Philippa Langley) would then place the remains in a carefully selected place of Catholic sanctity where a cycle of continual prayer and worship would spiritually prepare the remains for re-interment.

However, it soon became clear that the University of Leicester had no intention of honouring Clause 5.7. They argued it was not a signed agreement, simply a project management tool, and were therefore not required to transfer Richard’s remains to Philippa’s care. During the course of the dig the WSI had in fact functioned as a working agreement. When human remains were first discovered Philippa permitted ULAS to amend Clause 4.3.7 of the WSI to provide strictly controlled filming and photographic evidence for the archaeological record. This is an important point. If the WSI were not a binding agreement why did ULAS seek Philippa’s permission to alter its terms? In any case Philippa has a signed agreement with Leicester City Council (12 August 2011) in which the council’s Strategic Director and the council’s city archaeologist approved the WSI. To our great sadness this situation remains unresolved.

Tomb v Slab

The project’s early planning stage involved the design of a tomb. Philippa believed our respective academic and artistic skills meant we were an ideal design team. In August 2011 (a full year before the archaeology began) we informally presented our initial design to the Dean of Leicester Cathedral. We were warned that it would have to be considered along with others (the Church of England has detailed and lengthy procedures) and it was by no means certain to be accepted. Nevertheless, the discussion proceeded along the lines that if Richard was discovered and positively identified he would be honoured with a tomb and our design would enter the process as a candidate.

But when Leicester Cathedral published its ‘Brief for Architects’ in March 2013 it was clear that the situation had changed. The cathedral was now arguing for a slab instead of a tomb. Our design, endorsed by the Richard III Society and welcomed by the Leicester Mercury, would not be considered in its present form. The Brief stated that:

The preference of Chapter, following informal consultation with the CFCE (Cathedral Fabric Commission for England), is to mark the place of burial with a ledger stone [and that] it is unlikely that a large table top tomb of effigy would be acceptable to the Chapter or CFCE.

It seemed that our tomb was deemed unsuitable even before the design and consultation process got underway.

With Philippa fighting for a tomb behind the scenes, the good readers of the Leicester Mercury once again came to our rescue. An online poll (12 March 2013) revealed that a staggering 91% of respondents believed Richard III should be honoured with a tomb. In the face of overwhelming public opposition the cathedral backed down and has recently announced that a variety of tomb designs are under consideration. While none of these are our design it is a great victory for Philippa and the people of Leicester. If King Richard is buried in Leicester Cathedral he will be laid to rest beneath a tomb.

Accessible for Future Study

However, far more disturbing news was beginning to emerge. We learned that at the first meeting of the Fabric Group on 8 May 2013 (one of three groups formed by Leicester Cathedral to facilitate the interment process) a document was circulated requiring the Fabric Group to:

Ensure the remains are conserved for posterity and accessible for future study

Once again we were deeply alarmed, particularly as this appeared to contravene accepted procedure. Annexe S8 (reinterment: technical aspects) of the Guidance for best practice for treatment of human remains excavated from Christian burial grounds in England (English Heritage and The Church of England 2005), states on page 50, paragraph 294, that ‘Prior to reinterment’, and following the completion of testing and research, ‘the curatorial requirement to preserve the long-term scientific potential of a collection is removed’.

We were confronted by the appalling prospect of Richard being dug up at some point in the future. It was all too clear why the University of Leicester refused to honour Philippa Langley’s status as custodian under clause 5.7 of the WSI. They have their own plans, preparing Richard for burial so as to allow future analysis, which would be impossible if the remains were transferred (under Philippa Langley’s custody) to the peace and sanctity of a spiritual environment. More recently Leicester Cathedral has come under pressure from the Cathedral’s Fabric Commission for England to adopt conservation practice as they prepare Richard’s remains for reburial. Sadly it is our understanding that the university and cathedral are still proceeding towards interment on this basis.

Judicial Review

So when the Plantagenet Alliance applied for judicial review to challenge the decision to bury Richard in Leicester we decided to support them. It appeared that there was, after all, a legal alternative to Leicester.

We had always believed Richard III wished to be laid to rest in York Minster, and we were familiar with the historical evidence that had convinced a number of eminent historians of this. We were originally content to inter Richard in Leicester because there did not appear to be another option. However, a judicial review offered a complete re-examination of the whole issue. If the exhumation licence could be set aside then there was a chance of resurrecting Philippa’s status as Client and Custodian. Richard would no longer be viewed as a scientific specimen and we could begin the spiritual journey to interment that had formed such an important part of our original plans.

We were heartened when, on 16 August 2013, Mr Justice Haddon-Cave granted the Plantagenet Alliance’s application on all grounds. We hope the judge’s recommendation of an independent advisory panel to settle the question of where Richard is buried will be agreed as soon as possible.

As Justice Haddon-Cave proposed that public opinion should be considered, we are urging everyone who believes King Richard III wished to be buried in York Minster to sign the e- petition before it closes on 24 September 2013.
David and Wendy Johnson York, September 2013
Dr David Johnson, a freelance historian, and Wendy Johnson, who specialises in portraits of people and animals and has been fascinated by Richard III since childhood, live and work in York. They are long standing members of the Richard III Society and founder members of the Looking For Richard Project.

York Minster