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A State Funeral for Richard III?

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RICHARD III
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So we have received the news that Richard III fans have been waiting for. The skeletal remains found last year in Greyfriars car park in my Leicester South constituency are indeed those of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England.

It was a truly historic day for the city of Leicester and I wholeheartedly congratulate the hard work of the team at the University of Leicester, who performed a pivotal role in what has been a highly interesting and exciting story. Particularly I want to pay tribute to the fantastic team behind this historic discovery - Richard Buckley, Dr Jo Appleby, Professor Lin Foxhall, Dr Turi King, Mathew Morris, Professor Kevin Schürer and of course Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society.

At the press conference we were presented with a wealth of evidence, from radiocarbon dating to DNA and bone analysis which confirmed that beyond all reasonable doubt the skeleton discovered in Greyfriars car park is Richard III.

The DNA results, which involved matching DNA from the skeleton with DNA from two of Richard III's maternal line relatives, ultimately led the team at the University of Leicester to confirm the skeleton's identity.

Using radiocarbon dating, the team were able to prove that the skeleton had a high protein diet and ate significant amounts of fish, meaning he was likely to be of high status. As well as this, skeletal analysis carried out by Dr Jo Appleby revealed that contemporary reports of Richard's appearance very much match those of the skeleton discovered. For example, the skeleton had severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine), and was killed by a blow to the head.

It served as a reminder of the tremendous research that our universities are capable of.

But the question now is what happens next.

Since last year I've argued that Richard III should be reinterred in Leicester's splendid Cathedral battling it out both in Parliament and the media with counter claimants from York, Westminster Abbey and - would you believe it - Worksop in North Nottinghamshire.

The University who have been granted the appropriate Ministry of Justice license giving them responsibility for the remains of Richard have now confirmed the last Plantagenet King's remains will indeed be reinterred at Leicester Cathedral.

This final resting place is entirely appropriate. Richard been buried in consecrated ground in Leicester for 500 years, just yards away from where the Cathedral is today. But we also have had for many years a memorial to Richard in our Cathedral - the only cathedral memorial to Richard in the country - which acts as a focus for remembrance especially on the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth.

So having won agreement on Leicester Cathedral the next question is what should the nature of the service be?

Tory MP Chris Skidmore, who is publishing a book about Richard and the Battle of Bosworth, has already called for a state funeral. I too have suggested this in the past though it wasn't been universally welcomed. Some have argued that a state funeral could potentially reduce the whole event to a circus. While I still think serious consideration should be given to a state funeral that would be the first, to the best of my knowledge, outside of London. There are, perhaps, more serious questions over the nature and content of any funeral service whether state or not. Chris Skidmore, for example, argues that should Richard be laid to rest at Leicester's Anglican Cathedral, then he should as a catholic have catholic rites performed as part of the overall service too.

But who decides whether Richard is given a state funeral? Usually heads of state are entitled to a state funeral, but these are very unusual circumstances.

The Palace have indicated it is a matter for Parliament to decide. Meanwhile No 10 have apparently suggested it's a matter for Leicester University

There have certainly been instances in our history in which other 'exceptionally distinguished persons' have been given state funerals. This can happen only with the approval of the Queen and following a Parliamentary vote in both Houses. Such exceptionally distinguished individuals have included Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Nelson and The Duke of Wellington. Could it be that the decision as to whether Richard III gets a state funeral is made in this way? For this to happen David Cameron would have to advise the Queen on whether Richard III should be given a state funeral, and the Queen would then send a message from Her Majesty would be presented to Parliament and voted on.

So for example in 1965 Harold Wilson presented a "Message from Her Majesty the Queen to this House, signed by Her Majesty's own hand." The message which was read by the Speaker declared "Confident that I can rely upon the support of my faithful Commons and upon their liberality in making suitable provision for the proper discharge of our debt of gratitude and tribute of national sorrow, I have directed that Sir Winston's body shall lie in state in Westminster Hall and that thereafter the Funeral Service shall be held in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul." (HC Deb 25 January 1965 vol 705 cc667-79667)

Harold Wilson then moved that "Her Majesty's Most Gracious Message be taken into immediate consideration." To which the Commons agreed.

Effectively Parliament has to vote for a state funeral and agree the funds for a state funeral.

So whether Richard receives a state funeral or not will no doubt be hotly debated in the coming weeks and it remains to be seen whether the prime minister receives a most gracious message from Her Majesty.

Of course he might not be granted a state funeral where the gun carriage carrying the coffin is pulled by members of the Royal Navy. Perhaps Richard will instead be granted a cermonial royal funeral where the carriage is pulled by horses.

Whatever happens, it will not detract from the astonishing and historic revelations that have been revealed in Leicester and I am know people across Leicester are immensely proud that a former King of England looks set to be finally laid to rest at Leicester Cathedral.

Around the Web

Richard III of England - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Face of Richard III to be revealed | UK news | guardian.co.uk

Richard III | UK news | The Guardian

It's him: Richard III rises from grave - Telegraph

BBC News - Richard III dig: Facial reconstruction shows how king ...

England's King Richard III found after 500 years | Reuters

UK confirms finding Richard III's skeleton - Europe - Al Jazeera English

Was Richard III really the most evil monarch we have ever had? By ...

Richard III: the King in the Car Park, Channel 4, review

Skeleton found in car park is that of Richard III – as it happened