Feb. 25, 2013 at 6:15 PM ET
Nine distant relatives of King Richard III are demanding that the British government reverse its decision to have his skeleton reburied at Leicester Cathedral, near the parking lot where it was found, and give it a resting place in York instead.
The open letter, published late Sunday by British newspapers such as The Telegraph and the Daily Mail, is just one of several efforts seeking a burial at York Minster for the more than 500-year-old remains, which were discovered last year by researchers from the University of Leicester. This month, the researchers said DNA analysis and other forensic tests proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that the skeleton was that of Richard III.
The English monarch reigned for just two years before he was killed in battle in 1485, but he was immortalized in William Shakespeare's play, "Richard III," in which he was portrayed as a hunchbacked villain. Richard III's legions of modern-day fans say he wasn't really all that bad — and the row over what to do with his bones has added a new twist to the drama.
"We, the undernamed, do hereby most respectfully demand that the remains of King Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England and our mutual ancestor, be returned to the city of York for formal, ceremonial reburial," the statement from his relatives says. "We believe that such an interment was the desire of King Richard in life and we have written this statement so that his wishes may be fully recognised and upheld. King Richard III was the last King of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty which had ruled England since the succession of King Henry II in 1154.
"We, the undernamed blood descendants, unreservedly believe that King Richard is deserving of great recognition and respect and hereby agree to dutifully uphold his memory.
"With due humility and affection, we are and will remain His Majesty’s representatives and voice."
The statement was signed by nine individuals who have traced their ancestry back to Richard III's siblings. The nine signers are Charles E. Brunner, Stephen Guy Nicolay, Vanessa Maria Roe, Jacob Daniel Tyler, Paul Tyler, Raymond Torrence Bertram Roe, Linda Jane Roe, Eleanor Bianca Lupton and Charlotte Jane Lupton. Richard died childless and thus has no direct-line descendants.
Even before the remains were found, the British Ministry of Justice granted a license putting the University of Leicester in charge of the parking-lot dig and the disposition of any remains found there."The University of Leicester specified in its application that reinterment would occur in Leicester Cathedral if the remains were proved to be those of King Richard III," the institution said in a statement.
The university is currently working with the cathedral and Leicester's city council on plans for his reburial by August 2014. In the meantime, researchers are continuing to study the remains.
The long lead time means that the tug of war between Leicester and York, two cities that are 100 miles (160 kilometers) from each other, could continue for months. There are even those who want to see the remains interred in London's Westminster Abbey. But the nine relatives behind this week's open letter have no more standing than the other descendants of Richard III's family, who doubtless number in the thousands by now.
In that light, Leicester seems to have the strongest case, by virtue of legal grounds as well as the less rigorous "finders, keepers" rule and the dictum that possession is nine-tenths of the law. Do you disagree? Feel free to weigh in with your comments below.
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Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.