Richard III historian appeals for king to get Catholic burial rites

Dr John Ashdown-Hill helped unearth the remains of Richard III

Dr John Ashdown-Hill helped unearth the remains of Richard III - Credit: Archant

A former Suffolk schoolteacher, whose research led to the discovery of Richard III’s bones beneath a council car park, has called for the king to be given a Roman Catholic funeral.

Dr John Ashdown-Hill taught languages at Farlingaye High School, in Woodbridge, before embarking on the Looking For Richard project, which found the lost grave in Leicester in 2012.

He has backed a petition calling for the monarch to be given Catholic observances when placed in a coffin.

Dr Ashdown-Hill, who now lives in Lawford, Essex, believes the remains of the pre-Reformation king, who was an active member of the Catholic Church, should be prepared for burial in a religious venue instead of a science laboratory.

Existing arrangements will see the skeleton transported from the University of Leicester to Leicester Cathedral without observing a ceremony.

Dr Ashdown-Hill said: “We must recognise the importance of this ceremony so that no unfortunate precedent is set.

“If the remains of identifiable individuals are uncovered in the future, will they be coffined as scientific specimens with no recognition of their beliefs and burial rites?

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“We believe this is a wholly avoidable and dangerous path to go down.”

Meanwhile, a debate continues over whether Richard’s bones should be kept in Leicester – the “nearest consecrated site” to the discovery – or re-interred in York Minster.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols agreed to receive a petition from its author Mary Jepson ahead of the king’s ceremonial re-interment in Leicester’s Anglican Cathedral in March.

The petitioners believe there is still time for Cardinal Nichols to appeal for coffining at a place of religious sanctity.

Mrs Jepson said: “This recognition of his Catholic faith was at the heart of the team’s ethos of searching for King Richard and giving him the honour he should have received in his own day.

“This should include some of the Catholic rites for the dead, which are still very much as he would have known them.”

Dr Ashdown-Hill, who gained a PhD in history at the University of Essex, helped find the former site of Leicester’s Choir of Greyfriars church, where the bones of Richard III were unearthed in 2012.

The controversial king, killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, was accused of locking his nephews in the Tower of London and stealing the throne.

Dr Ashdown-Hill has donated a crown and rosary for the March re-interment. The rosary will be placed in the king’s coffin and was recently blessed at Clare Priory.

He said: “The Looking For Richard Project was about giving King Richard what was denied him in 1485. This was to include the same rites and rituals as Richard accorded to the dead in his own lifetime.”