Annette Carson, Philippa Langley and John Ashdown-Hill from Looking for Richard

John Ashdown-Hill, Annette Carson and Philippa Langley from the Looking for Richard team ©Richard III Society

Where are the Bones of King Richard III?

They are most certainly not in a box in the history department of the University of Leicester. So adamant is the University that the bones are no longer in a cardboard box that they recently complained to the Colchester Gazette, leading to the removal from the paper’s website of an entire interview with Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, genealogical researcher, historian and a founding member of the Looking for Richard team, in which Dr. Ashdown-Hill discussed his wishes for Richard to be moved to a “prayerful environment”. The university also objected to his understanding that scientific research has actually been completed on Richard III’s remains.  Considering the Plantagenet Alliance has been bearing the brunt of the blame for the delay in King Richard’s burial, perhaps the university would be happy to share the responsibility now, if they indeed have not yet completed their research. The remains have been at the university since they were exhumed in August of 2012. Whether they are in a cardboard box in an office or in a “controlled environment” is a moot point. Almost a year after the remains were identified as King Richard III they are still not in a sanctified place of rest.

Dr. Jo Appleby, lead osteologist on the Greyfriars dig, with King Richard III's remains

Dr. Jo Appleby, lead osteologist on the Greyfriars dig, with King Richard III’s remains

The Looking for Richard team was a key part of the discovery of the remains of King Richard III. Looking for Richard was formed in 2009 by Philippa Langley, who secured the funding and convinced the then-dubious University of Leicester Archaeological Services to partner the Looking for Richard project on an archaeological dig to search for the remains of King Richard III. However ULAS only agreed when Philippa sold them the concept of looking for the site of the Greyfriars Church, destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and not for Richard III. “Archaeology is not about going in search of a famous person, it’s not what we do,” Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist on the project, told Philippa. It seemed that the Leicester archaeologists were still convinced by the four-hundred year old rumour that Richard’s bones had been dug up and thrown in the River Soar. Indeed, they put this on the application form for the exhumation licence. The university was, however, certainly quick to re-name “The Greyfriars Project” the “Search for Richard III” after his remains were discovered.

Dr. John Ashdown-Hill

Dr. John Ashdown-Hill

Looking for Richard members told us that “the founding members have confirmed that as far as they are aware there was nothing in the Colchester Gazette article that was incorrect.” The university has been reluctant to afford credit to the Looking for Richard team’s contribution to the discovery. The Looking for Richard team is buried at the bottom of their acknowledgements page as the “Richard III Society”. When queried about the university withdrawing an invitation to Dr Ashdown-Hill to attend the private announcement of the DNA results on 3 February, a spokesman for the university sarcastically answered “Perhaps we should have invited the creator of DNA fingerprinting as well, seeing as he played a part?” More disturbing is the university questioning Dr. Ashdown-Hill and his publisher, The History Press, about their right to publish an updated edition of his own book The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of His DNA. Dr. Ashdown-Hill’s book was first published in 2010, two years before the dig and his years of research were integral in helping locate and identify the remains of King Richard III. Was the university trying to claim ownership?

Dr. Ashdown Hill told us in October that relations between the two groups had improved, but in light of the latest incident the Looking for Richard members told us that they were “deeply concerned at this development.”

Perhaps what the university was actually objecting to in the Colchester Gazette article was the statement that “The Looking for Richard project had won agreement the university would only hold on to the bones until the scientific research had been completed.” The university is keen to stress that they are responsible for the reburial of King Richard III’s remains. “The [exhumation] licence was granted to the University of Leicester and makes the University responsible for the location of re-interment” the university stated. They also state that since the remains are more than 100 years old they have no legal obligation to consult living relatives. The “living relatives” are the Plantagenet Alliance, a group of descendants of Richard III’s brothers and sisters which formed after his remains were discovered, and which has questioned the university’s right to decide where he is re-interred. The University are far less keen to discuss that Philippa Langley is the named custodian of the remains of Richard III according to the terms of her agreement with her contractor in the project, University of Leicester Archaeological Services.

The Client

“In our opinion, UoL should never have had the exhumation licence,” Looking for Richard members told us “They received it because confusing information was submitted in the exhumation application form so that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) mistakenly granted the licence to the UoL. The MoJ can only grant a licence on the basis of the information provided. ULAS applied for the licence which should have gone to Leicester City Council, as the landowner granted Philippa Langley permission to dig, and with whom she has her (signed) agreement. Philippa was the named client in the project and she commissioned and paid ULAS to carry out the archaeological work with the funds she had raised.” Philippa also personally instructed exhumation of the remains found in Trench One as the archaeologists were not interested in them at that time, believing them to be in the nave of the church and therefore most likely those of a friar, and she paid for the exhumation with the remaining funding from the Ricardian International Appeal.

Philippa Langley at Trench One

Philippa Langley standing over Trench One

The university has denied that Philippa Langley is the custodian of King Richard’s remains, saying that their original agreement was not signed and is simply a project management tool, and they were therefore not required to transfer Richard III’s remains to Philippa’s care. However this agreement was entered into in good faith and David and Wendy Johnson, founding members of the project with Philippa, have previously outlined the agreement between Philippa Langley and the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, where Philippa is the named Client in the project, and the established Custodian of Richard III’s remains. A clause states 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.

Philippa Langley and John Ashdown-Hill drape a reporduction of Richard III's standard over his remains | Image ©Channel 4

Philippa Langley and John Ashdown-Hill drape a reproduction of Richard III’s standard over his remains | Image ©Channel 4

Despite the agreement that the remains be transferred to the custody of the client, in February of 2013 the university proposed to put Richard III’s remains on public display in the Leicester Cathedral. This was contrary to the original agreements between Philippa Langley and 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’. Letters were sent to the UoL by lawyers acting for Philippa Langley, and putting the UoL on notice of the terms of her agreement. Further, a spokeswoman for Leicester Cathedral stated the church would not take part in any public showings, saying “Scientists may have a reason for seeing them, but that is different from public display in the cathedral.” The Leicester Mercury took an online poll that showed 69% of respondents were opposed to public display. The plans were quietly dropped. But on 8 May 2013 a document was distributed to the Fabric Group (one of three groups formed by Leicester Cathedral to facilitate the interment process) telling them they were required to “ensure the remains are conserved for posterity and accessible for future study” to the alarm and distress of Richard III Society members.

Much of the Looking for Richard team’s plight has been eclipsed by the publicity of the legal battle between the Plantagenet Alliance and Leicester. The case was adjourned, yet again, in 2013 until this year. It is hoped that the Judicial Review taking place on March 13 – 14 will finally decide the case.

Looking for Richard members told us “Philippa Langley is the named custodian of the remains of Richard III according to the terms of her agreement with ULAS. This stated that the remains would be handed over to her and her representatives following confirmation of identity, in order that she could take them to a Catholic place of sanctity and rest prior to reburial in the cathedral. In fact the founding members are now preparing for a legal battle with UoL to get them to honour this agreement in the event that the current Judicial Review upholds the exhumation licence held by UoL. The official ID of Richard III’s remains was confirmed on Feb 4 2013, nearly a year ago, yet the remains are still in the university’s premises.”

When King Richard III will finally be afforded the peaceful burial he deserves after 500 years remains to be seen.


The Essex Country Standard has re-published their article with John Ashdown-Hill’s interview. Click here to read the original interview.

Read our interview with Dr. John Ashdown-Hill on his discovery of the matrilineal descendants of Richard III’s sister Anne of York and his work on the Looking for Richard project.

About The Author

Olga Hughes is currently pre-occupied with fairy tales, fantasy, misanthropy, medieval history and the long eighteenth century. She has a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Victorian College of the Arts and is currently majoring in Literature and History at Deakin. She has contributed to websites such as History behind Game of Thrones, The Anne Boleyn Files and The Tudor Society.

22 Responses

  1. Mary Walker

    I’ve tried to be polite and gracious towards Leicester’s perceived ‘ownership’ of King Richard III and the UoL’s coveting behaviour towards the King’s remains, but my patience is wearing very thin.

    It has been my opinion all along that the exhumation licence was flawed and it is an absolute travesty that the Looking for Richard team, and in particular Philippa Langley, without whom he would never have been found, seemingly have no voice on the matter of his remains now, and subsequently his reinterment in his final resting place.

    So it’s the Plantagenet Alliance versus MoJ and UoL only in court in March, not the people who really found him. The Richard III Society (largely Philippa, probably) had designed the most perfect tomb for him which befitted a King of England. Knocked on the head by Leicester Cathedral.

    Thank you for such a concise update, Olga. It’s also given me the opportunity to express to all the people involved in this spectacular discovery who are hurting, angry and frustrated that they are not alone.

    Reply
    • Patricia Rice-Jones

      I agree with everything you have said Mary. Let s hope that now the truth is out, the University will be shamed into acting more honourably. King Richard needs to buried with respect. Thank you Olga for a splendid and honest article

      Reply
      • Mary Walker

        Thank you Patricia! Yes, here’s hoping for a major climbdown and some overdue decency and respect. I don’t think this will happen in a hurry, but perhaps the judicial review might just turn things around.

        In the meantime I think it’s incredibly important that all the King’s people have a voice. He was a very just and pro-active monarch after all.

        No one would dare close down one of Olga’s web pages!

      • Olga Hughes

        It’s very strange the Colchester Gazette didn’t simply publish a correction or update the article with the university’s comment. The article was hardly controversial. The Essex Country Standard has republished the original article with the correction, I’ll pop a link in at the end of the article so you can all have a look.
        Thanks for reading everyone, and spread the word!

  2. Neil Kemp

    In my opinion the UoL have acted appallingly in this matter.
    They were dubious about becoming involved in the first instance, but upon the discovery of Richard’s remains have seemed intent in trying to keep the credit for this remarkable discovery totally to themselves.

    John, Philippa and the whole of the Looking for Richard team have been treated shamefully by the UoL who seem more intent on personal prestige than in resolving these issues and finding a solution as quickly as possible.

    Let us hope that the UoL do not compound what I perceive to be previous errors of judgement and that Richard’s remains can be afforded a resting place that is suitable for a King of England without further delay.

    Reply
  3. Anthony

    Simon Abney-Hastings 15th Earl of Loudoun is direct descendant ( Great.. Nephew )of George Duke of Clarence, ( Grandfather ). Richard III’s brother. It is he who should decide where the remains of his Great.. Uncle are re-interred. Not some outsiders.

    Reply
  4. John Ashdown-Hill

    Let’s be completely accurate about this. The Earl of Loudoun is a great …. GRANDSON of the Duke of Clarence, and in my view certainly has a right to be heard if he wishes to express an opinion. But Vanessa Roe, one of the Plantagenet Alliance leaders is a great … GRANDAUGHTER of the Duke of Clarence, and also has a right to be heard. Other members of the Plantagenet Alliance are great GRANDCHILDREN of either King Edward IV or of Anne of York, Duchess of Exeter – and also have a right to express an opinion. In the end it may not be possible to satisfy everyone, but those with opinions should be able to express them and then, I think, some INDEPENDENT body will be needed to make the final decisions.

    Reply
  5. Kim Harding

    What a coherent and calm account of the background to the dig and licence, Olga – thank you! I hope that much of this evidence will be used in the Judicial Review so that the current licence can be revoked and a proper assessment made of where King Richard should most fittingly be re-interred, and the Alliance, as legally authenticated collateral descendants, allowed their opinions in this matter.

    Reply
  6. Alice

    Echoing the thanks extended to Olga for a reasoned, intelligent but truly heartfelt article.
    Many of us have watched, totally appalled, whilst the armed ranks of certain academics have ridden roughshod over the dignity of an Anointed King of England. They have arrogantly sidelined those without whose own academic expertise and incredible tenacity there would have been no re discovery.
    Justice must surely prevail as must the human decency we should give to the bodily remains of all our fellow human beings.

    Reply
  7. Dianne Penn

    This article MUST be shared everywhere. Do not allow Leicester to silence this as they have tried to do with others. It is shameful that anyone who speaks against Leicester is either banned or their post deleted….. that is not being ‘neutral’ as a certain society claims to be.

    What a shame that instead of being forever known as ‘the University That Found King Richard’ they will be known as ‘The University That Lied and Cheated About King Richard’.

    Reply
    • Mary Walker

      Dianne, I have had posts refused and deleted – and have had abusive posts from residents of Leicester. One such also insisted that King Richard was no different from any other archaeological find and therefore deserved no special treatment.

      Some of these people are just trolls and I would never advocate interfering with freedom of speech. However, there has been some deliberate distortion in the Leicester press.

      Reply
      • Dianne Penn

        That is just the tip of the iceberg unfortunately. What the University conveniently forgets is that they ONLY found Richard because of Philippa and John’s bloody minded persistence that they DID dig in the spot they indicated which they had researched over several years. Now to read anything the U of L put out – it was all down to themselves. Richard Buckley suggested in the very beginning that this should be put out to public discussion and he was told to be quiet.

        I wish sometimes that Richard had never been found.

      • Liz Titley

        What ULAS conveniently forgets to mention, but was acknowledged in a talk given by Mathew Morris, is that they had been asking permission from the city council to dig the Greyfriars site for some years, not in the hope of finding Richard, but because it was a site they wished to explore. The excavation of a mediaeval monastery would not have been of any great interest or financial benefit to the city council, however, once it became known that there was an outside chance that he was there, the council saw the cash registers jingling & gave the go ahead, but only on condition that should he be found, he would be buried in St Martins. Without that undertaking, they would not give permission. This was an act of blackmail, and went way beyond their remit.
        When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, he knew where Richard was buried, just as he knew where his grandfather was buried, also in a Greyfriars establishment, but in Carmarthen. Edmund Tudor was reinterred in St David’s Cathedral. Richard was left to be forgotten by the good folk of Leicester, which rather shows how much they cared. It also shows, despite their attempts to blacken his name, just how much the Tudors were worried that people still remembered Richard with fondness. Henry VIII could not allow a proper reburial that might become a shrine, even 50-60 years after Bosworth.

  8. Margaret Hart

    This is a splendidly clear and lucid article. I read it with a feeling of great relief that the situation regarding the discovery of King Richard’s remains and their future re-interment has at last been so well expressed. The article deserves the widest possible readership, and hopefully will come to the attention of those with the powers to make the necessary decisions. Thank you so much, Olga.

    Reply
  9. Nick le Becheur

    Says it all, Olga. It’s a bloody tragedy that it takes an Aussie blogger to tell it like it is, when the British press is full of regurgitated press releases from ULAS or, if they dare to carry an interview with one of the real experts behind the discovery, they get browbeaten. There are clearly other vested corporate interests at work behind ULAS and I hope the Judicial Review in March will lift some stones so we can see who and what tries to scuttle away from the light. Keep it up!

    Reply
  10. Terry Clarke

    What a splendid article. At least we now know more of the facts and one cannot help but wonder at the tactics of the University of Leicester and certain influential members therein. Phillipa Langley and others close to her have used their best endeavours to FIND Richard, and amazing feat in itself. She has paid for the works to find Richard as the University only dig for bits of old buildings not bodies! Yet they very quickly got into the act when the discovery was made to such an extent that they will now not honour their agreement that Richard should be placed in the care of Phillipa and into a place of rest until he could be re buried with the dignity befitting an anointed King of England.

    It all comes down to money and power and the ULAS have plenty. Yet this MUST be brought to the knowledge of the people. The misguided people of Leicester who in their local papers vilify the true finder of Richard as though she is kind of Vulture seeking to keep Richard to herself, which is not of course the case. All she wants is a decent and reverent place of rest and burial fit for a King. is this such a bad thing that she be treated in this way?

    Whatever has happened in the past, who did what or why the facts are there:

    Richard has been truly identified.
    He should be afforded the common courtesy of a burial with Dignity according to his rank.
    And more importantly, the person who paid for that find should have the legal custody of his remains until such a suitable time and date is agreed.

    Nothing and no one, for reasons of, vanity, glory etc., should delay that process any further.

    529 years ago, Richard was thrown into a hole in the ground. not laid properly to rest, as the position of his remain indicate. H e now rests in the vaults of the university.

    The majority of the people in this land want him laid to rest. Particularly the people who were singularly responsible for finding him, Phillipa Langley and her brave team.

    For God’s sake – Let’s get on with it

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      Why do you “expect” your comment won’t be approved Freda? I’ll hand out gold stars to anyone who can read one of Pitts’ stupendously boring articles in one sitting.

      Reply

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