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UK court orders Richard III's bones to be re-interred in Leicester

One of history’s best hide-and-seek players is finally getting a formal burial after centuries of mystery surrounded his death.

A facial reconstruction of King Richard III is unveiled by the Richard III Society on February 5, 2013 in London, England.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

On Friday, Britain’s High Court of Justice ruled that the bones of Richard III should be given a “dignified reburial” in Leicester Cathedral, located in the town of the same name about 100 miles north of London.

The decision comes over a year after scientists with the University of Leicester determined “beyond reasonable doubt” that a set of bones buried beneath what is now a parking lot were those of the infamous monarch, sparking a frenzy of excitement among historians and history buffs everywhere (in true 21st-century fashion, he even became a meme). The remains were initially found on a dig in August 2012.

A group of Richard’s distant relatives known as the Plantagenet Alliance (he was the last of the Plantagenet dynasty) originally wanted him to be buried in York, as he was the last king of the House of York and should therefore be “brought home” like people killed in a foreign place often are.

However, the government had already granted a burial license to Leicester and three judges on this “unique and exceptional” case ruled that there were no grounds to overturn the decision. The Alliance filed an appeal in March, claiming their wishes as the king’s living relatives were not acknowledged enough, but judge Heather Hallett said no evidence of definitive burial wishes from the king exists. The judging panel also said the group only represents a small fraction of Richard III’s numerous direct descendants.

"It's frustrating, because we want justice for Richard and for York. It's more disappointing for him than anyone else," Plantagenet Alliance member and 16th great niece Vanessa Roe said of the ruling.

Richard III died in 1485 after taking multiple blows to the head at the Battle of Bosworth Field, where his forces faced off with Henry Tudor, who then ascended the throne as Henry VII. His death makes him the last English king to be killed in battle.

The grave in which Richard III was found was reportedly rough-hewn and too small for a body, meaning he was likely placed inside in an odd position. Though the skeleton’s feet were missing, the rest of the bones were recovered in relatively good condition. The bones even showed signs of spinal curvature, a trait that led to a pretty common perception of him having a hunched back over the years (Shakespeare’s partly to blame for that), and the skull displayed eight wounds to the head.

The University of Leicester celebrated the ruling on Friday and currently has a photo of a Richard III statue on its homepage. The school’s News Centre also said it will be working closely with Leicester Cathedral and the County Council to ensure the reinterment will be dignified.

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