Las Vegas woman fights for King Richard III's legacy

Joe Ann Ricca doesn’t know when or how she developed her interest in medieval history; it seems like it was just always a part of her.

But 20 years ago, her passion nudged her to create the Richard III Foundation, and today this Las Vegas woman is fixated on the latest historical controversy: Where should Richard III’s bones be buried?

At this time, the remains are at the University of Leicester, after experts there located the bones under a Leicester parking lot last fall. Leicester wants to be the reburial site. York, a city Richard loved, is competing for the honor. A small faction thinks Westminster Abbey is the right place, since that’s where English kings are buried.

Ricca and her roughly 650 members are among the players pushing for York, about 100 miles north of London. They say it was where Richard indicated he wanted to be buried before he died in the Battle of Bosworth near Leicester in 1485. He was on the losing side, so his body was quickly buried without fanfare in a church and his remains were, well, sort of lost over the centuries. He had only been king for two years following the death of his brother, Edward IV, but he had ruled the north for his brother for 12 years from York.

Recently, another group of indirect descendants of Richard, who died at 32, called themselves the Plantagenet Alliance and threw their support behind York. They say they have a right to decide where he is buried. Meanwhile another group, the Richard III Society, favors the Leicester Cathedral.

The discovery last fall and the DNA confirmation in February that the remains were definitely Richard III has brought joy to Ricardians as well as squabbling over where to bury him.

“How many of us can say in our lifetimes we were alive when the remains of a king were discovered?” Ricca asked.

One must wonder why a woman who is married and has a full-time job as an executive assistant at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is obsessed with Richard Plantagenet.

She has a reasonable explanation. He had two qualities she admires: loyalty and commitment.

“He was king of England, and he deserves a proper tomb,” Ricca said. “I want to change the public perception of him and restore his reputation.”

Ricca pointed to his accomplishments, specifically that he insisted that justice for the poor should be the same as justice for the rich. He advocated publishing books in English as well as Latin so commonfolk could understand the law. And for any bail bondsman reading this, he should be your patron saint. Richard started the system of bail.

This isn’t William Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” which Ricca discounts as “a lot of bunk.” But, Shakespeare was writing during the Tudor era. It was Henry Tudor’s forces during the Battle of Bosworth that defeated Richard, and to the victor goes the history.

Shakespeare maligned Richard, making him a villain for causing the murder of his two nephews so he could ascend to the throne.

“It’s great drama, but very poor history,” Ricca said recently, dismissing that Richard was responsible for the murders of the two princes.

Ricca, a doe-eyed brunette who doesn’t reveal her age, grew up in New Jersey and moved to Las Vegas in 2005. As a young woman, she had hoped to go to the United Kingdom and get a degree in medieval history, but family challenges made that impossible. She became a self-taught historian who has been to England at least 26 times and has a home library of 800 books about Richard, the War of the Roses and the 15th century.

She’s not interested in re-enactments of medieval history, but since 2002 she has organized an annual academic conference.

This year’s conference is Oct. 11-12 in Leicestershire near the site where Richard died and is titled “Richard III: Monarch and Man.” Anyone interested can check out the foundation’s website at www.richard111.com, and Ricca’s email is richard3foundation@aol.com

Ricca is practical when she discussed the competing burial spots. She knows wherever Richard ends up will become a tourist spot and the place must be able to handle crowds. She believes Leicester is wrong, because “it’s the site where he was betrayed.” But the Leicester mayor is hoping it will boost tourism.

“Richard III is a commodity right now. People are looking to make money off his remains. And that’s a basic fundamental truth.”

For her and many other Ricardians it’s not about tourist dollars; it’s about restoring a king’s reputation and overcoming the stigma that Shakespeare slapped on a king whose motto was “Loyalty Binds Me.”

Ricca’s foundation uses a similar motto, “Loyal to the Truth.”

That could be the right motto for journalists, although “Question Authority” works just fine.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275.