For details of Richard III’s genetic and genealogical connections, and his burial in Leicester, see my Richard III page.
The Plantagenet Alliance
The Plantagenet Alliance was formed in 2013 by thirty descendants of the siblings of Richard III, in order to oppose the burial of his bones at Leicester, where they had been found buried under a car park earlier the same year, and to re-inter them properly in York Minster, where they believed he had wanted to be buried. Although their campaign was unsuccessful, it was worthwhile in increasing awareness of the issues around what to do with Richard III’s body, and indeed what to do with the body of any long-dead ancestor or relative who has been unexpectedly exhumed.
I was approached by the Alliance for advice concerning how many descendants of his siblings there might be at all. A sensible estimate seems to be about a quarter of a million. How many such people know that they are descended from one of Richard’s siblings is open to question. I found my own connection about 30 years ago – and more people are discovering their own links every day. It was only in 2012 that the American genealogist Chris Child proved that an illegitimate daughter of Richard’s brother Edward IV was the ancestor of a baronet who died in poverty in Chester-le-Street Workhouse, whose own descendants were Harrison coal miners of Co. Durham, whose daughters included Dorothy Harrison, the mother of Carole Middleton, the mother of the Duchess of Cambridge. Who knows – you, tracing your own ancestry, may be the next to discover a link back to Richard III’s family!
Once I understood the Alliance’s aims, I offered my support and a message from me was added to their page of statements of support, the other supporting statements being from the Mayor of Middleham; Professor Mark Ormrod; Dame Judi Dench; the Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire; Julian Smith MP; Professor David Pallister; Professor Barrie Dobson; the Chief Executive of York City Council; Edward Fox; Geoff Boycott; George Galloway MP, Hugh Bayley MP, Jim Cunningham MP, Sir Derek Jacobi, Philip Davies MP, Mike Hancock MP, Alan Johnson MP, Alan Meale MP, Austin Mitchell MP, Albert Owen MP, Gerry Sutcliffe MP; Jonathan Brownlee the British Olympic Duathlete and Triathlete; Julian Fellowes; author Conn Iggulden, actor Duncan Preston and Brian Blessed – an impressive line-up whose voices will hopefully not be ignored. My own message read as follows:
As a professional genealogist, I am aware every day of the strong ties which family trees create between we in the present and our ancestors in the past, so it’s entirely natural that the descendants of Richard III’s siblings should feel strongly about the choice of his last resting place. I should know, because I’m descended from his brother George, Duke of Clarence. If we don’t stand up for our ancestral uncle, and encourage others to do likewise, who else will? Leave Leicester for King Lear. York Minster seems an entirely fitting last resting place for Richard III, that other ‘son of York’.
The final court ruling went against the alliance: it did not rule that Richard III should be buried Leicester, but simply that it say no reason to interfere with the original agreement authorising the archaeological dig, which had stipulated that, if the King’s bones were found, they should be buried in Leicester Cathedral. So there it is: Richard was slain at Bosworth, he has lain beneath the earth in nearby Leicester ever since, and will be re-interred there in 2015.
It was an interesting case, though. Many bones of ancestors are exhumed by archaeologists and in the course of new building work ever year, and now DNA testing means that many more of them can be identified, and living relatives will find themselves drawn into similar quandaries over what should be done with them. Our relationship with our dead ancestors seems set to become more personal than ever before.