The body of King Richard III of England was conclusively identified earlier this week through the use of DNA evidence.  The King’s body was located on September 12, 2012, beneath what is now a parking lot in modern day Leicester in the UK.  He died in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the last English King to fall in combat.

After his death on the battlefield, the King was buried at Greyfriars Church in Leicester.  A now discredited legend had suggested that his body had been thrown into a nearby river.  The location of the church had been lost to history until the site was rediscovered last year. 

The archaeological discovery has received much attention from the Canadian media because of the involvement of Canadian Michael Ibsen in the identification of the long lost monarch.  Michael is the son of the late Joy Ibsen, a 16th-generation descendant of the King.  He provided a cheek swab DNA sample for comparison to the mitochondrial DNA from the remains.  Humans inherit their mitochondrial DNA exclusively from their mothers, which makes it useful for tracing maternal lineage.  

The BBC reports that the cities of York and Leicester are currently embroiled in a dispute about who has the right to King Richard’s remains.  York is the place where Richard met his wife.  His son is buried in the city as well.  Those in favour of Leicester argue that the body had been resting there for five hundred years.  Further, the exhumation was allowed on the grounds that the body would be reburied there.  Other arguments rely on the King’s will, the existence and content of which is a matter of dispute. 

In Ontario, the determination of where an individual is to be buried depends not on the will, nor does it depend on historical or familial connections to one place or another.  The estate trustee is empowered with making the decision of what to do with the remains of the deceased.  Although burial instructions may be included in a will, they represent only the wishes of the deceased and the decision is ultimately in the discretion of the estate trustee. 

When preparing a will, this is another reason that a testator should be very careful in choosing the right estate trustee.  Confusion over burial could result in a dispute between family members – a tragedy of Shakespearean proportion.

Suzana Popovic-Montag