Ian McKellen plays the king in 'Richard III' (1995).

Ian McKellen plays the king in 'Richard III' (1995).

        Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass,
        That I may see my shadow as I pass.
        —William Shakespeare,  Richard III
Now that the remains of Richard III have been identified, the King may at last be laid to rest. But before the last English ruler of the House of York comes to his final resting place, authorities will need to agree on where and what that place is, exactly.

In life, or at least, in Shakespeare's tragic history, Richard III, the King lamented that he would not be grieved in death. From Bosworth Field, he cries, "I shall despair. There is no creature loves me; And if I die, no soul shall pity me" (Act V, scene 3). Wretched man, that Richard; his worry was legitimate. And yet, it proved to be unfounded. It was the efforts of the Richard III Society, a group of admirers of a sort, that led to the discovery of Richard III's scoliotic skeleton and its identification using DNA testing.

The remains of the last Plantagenet were discovered in a car park near Leicester Cathedral, where a remembrance plaque stands as the only physical marker of Richard III's life and death. Cathedral authorities have decided to hold a contest to design a more appropriate tomb for the last English king to die in battle.

Yet what stands as appropriate is already the subject of considerable debate. The Richard III Society imagines something more lofty than a plaque (a sarcophagus made from Magnesian limestone). It is easy to imagine how fans of the late medieval might prefer more of a monument for a crucial figure from the War of the Roses. Leicester Cathedral authorities, however, intend to keep it simple. Although there's no restriction on what architects who wish to enter the design contest may draft, the design brief stipulates that cathedral authorities "will be reluctant to site a large memorial in the cathedral which would assume disproportionate significance in a modest building and cannot easily be located in any position in which it would not restrict the capacity of the building on major occasions."

Cathedral authorities, of course, hope to avoid pastiche, citing explicitly the tomb of Reginald, Lord Cobham of Sterborough in Lingfield and the restored Shrine of St. Thomas of Hereford as examples to be avoided. Although not ruling out of hand the sarcophagus imagined by the Richard III Society or other possibilities, including more resplendent graves, the design brief mentions a ledger stone as ideal. Nevertheless, the Leicester Cathedral is also hoping to reorder its interior when the grave is struck, making it a unique renovation project. 

The design brief is here. Interested architects should know that York is also lobbying to host the King's remains. Perhaps Richard III will be involved in one final English battle. No matter the final design outcome for the grave—extravagant or pared down—the design challenge is a complex one. What is a suitable design for a marker or tomb to honor a king who may have been one of the most heinous rulers in English history?