LEICESTER, England — Days after the yellowed bones found in a Leicester municipal-parking lot were declared to be those of King Richard III, a less-than-seemly tug of war erupted between the cities of Leicester and York to claim the remains.
Others revived the centuries-old dispute about Richard — whether he was William Shakespeare’s “poisonous, hunchbacked toad” and ruthless murderer of two princely nephews he imprisoned in the Tower of London, or champion of the common man and author of reforms that channeled charity to the poor. But it took Leicester and York little time to compute the benefits in having him buried in their precincts, generating revenues from tourists eager to see the burial site and tour the visitors centers the two cities have planned.
Though barely 100 miles apart, Leicester in the English Midlands and York in the country’s northern reaches have widely differing claims. Leicester notes it is a couple of hours away by horse from where Richard was slain in 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field, and that he lay for centuries in a shallow grave in the heart of the city. York’s response has been to depict Leicester as little more than a way-station in Richard’s life.
York officials have noted that Richard’s ancestral roots lay in the House of York, a protagonist in the Wars of the Roses that lasted 30 years and pitted the Yorkists against the House of Lancaster in rival claims to the Plantagenet monarchy, which disappeared into history with Richard’s death. It was in York, the city’s champions say, where Richard spent much of his youth and where he told contemporaries he wished to be buried.
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Leicester seems likely to win because it is where the skeleton — affirmed by a team of scientific and historical experts to be Richard’s — was discovered last fall, in a corner of the parking lot of the city’s social-services department.
The mundanity of the location has, if anything, elevated Leicester’s profile and given rise to a feast of newspaper cartoons and lame Twitter jokes, many about the size of the unpaid-parking ticket awaiting Richard’s heirs.
The king’s remains were buried in a corner of the chapel of a Franciscan monastery, Greyfriars Priory, that like Richard fell victim to the Tudor kings when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and seized their wealth about 50 years after Richard’s death. Long before there was a parking lot, the priory had disappeared, its stone walls and tiled floors looted, until all that remained were the trace foundations that were discovered when the dig supervised by a team of experts from the University of Leicester uncovered Richard’s bones in September.
The cities have lost no time in starting their campaigns for the royal remains. By midweek, York had drawn 7,000 signatures to an online petition for the government to support its bid; Leicester’s petition lagged with 2,000 signatures. Leicester, though, could celebrate that Chris Grayling, the justice minister in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Cabinet, had affirmed in the House of Commons that an exhumation license required the reburial to take place in Leicester. That cut little ice with the Yorkists.
“Let’s not have another war on this matter,” said Kersten England, chief executive of York’s City Council, who said she would write to Queen Elizabeth II asking for support. “Possession may be nine-tenths of the law,” she said, referring to Richard’s bones, now under tight guard in Leicester. “But we definitely have the moral high ground.”
She was backed by Paul Toy, an official at York’s Richard III Museum, which has long existed in the Monk Bar gatehouse at the entrance to the old city. “It’s purely by chance that Richard III was in Leicester, because he got killed at Bosworth,” he said.