Lawsuit of the Centuries: The War of the Roses redux

Many years ago, while standing in Mary Queen of Scots bedroom, right on the spot where her secretary had been murdered in front of her, I got hooked on English and Scottish history. (English, because the instigator of the murder was Mary’s husband, an Englishman, and if you begin with ancient Scottish history, you will inevitably roll into English history, whether you like it or not. For the record, I don’t like it; I have some sort of atavistic memory of the slaughter at Culloden, but hey, that was in another life.)

For a number of years after I “met” Mary, I read my way through history books. They still occupy four or five shelf feet in my apartment.

Since history is, in essence, lives, I was actually absorbing biographies. I used to be able to recite the entire royal line from Edward the Confessor to Queen Elizabeth II, and I remembered it not through rote, but because I really knew those people.

Natch, I developed affections, favorites. To this day, my two favorite kings are the first and last Plantagenets, Henry II and Richard III, whom many of us would argue was history’s most famous victim of defamation.

I know where Henry is buried (France). I can even quote part of his epitaph (it’s thrilling). And now I know where Richard is bur-… well, that’s the problem. He’s not buried. His bones were tossed into a municipal parking lot in Leicester, England.

Yes, yes, I do know it wasn’t a parking lot when some monks lugged and dumped his body there. And no, I do not know when the area in which he was buried was paved over. (Should I quote Joni Mitchell? Maybe not.)

But the whole point of this sad-funny tale is: Richard was a York, not a Lancaster. And although Leicester has developed some grand, if belated, plans for the (very) late king’s bones (he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485), York wants him. And a London high court judge, Charles Haddon-Cave, has ruled

that a group backing York’s case, called the Plantagenet Alliance and involving several distant relatives of the slain monarch, could take legal action against the government and the University of Leicester.

Yes. A lawsuit.

The judge did urge Leicester and York to settle the case out of court (I don’t think he meant fight it out again on Bosworth Field, even though Bosworth Field is definitely “out of court”). I like the way the judge put it:

“In my view, it would be unseemly, undignified and unedifying to have a legal tussle over these royal remains,” the judge said, appealing to the two sides to avoid engaging in a “Wars of the Roses, Part 2.”

So the War of the Roses, once fought on horseback with halberds and swords and bows and arrows and maces and all that stuff, is now about to resume. In court.

Thank you, John F. Burns, for the New York Times story.

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