LEICESTER, UK: A skeleton found under a car park in the English city of Leicester last year was yesterday confirmed as that of king Richard III, widely depicted as one of history’s most notorious villains.
In one of the most significant archaeological finds of recent English history, scientists from the University of Leicester matched DNA from the 500-year-old skeleton with descendants of the king’s sister, while the skeleton had the twisted spine and battle injuries consistent with contemporary accounts.
“It is the academic conclusion of the University of Leicester that, beyond reasonable doubt, the individual exhumed at Greyfriars in September 2012 is indeed Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England,” lead archaeologist Richard Buckley said to applause at a press conference at the university.
He said the king’s remains would now be re-interred at Leicester Cathedral, in keeping with archaeological practice to bury remains on the nearest consecrated ground.
The find has caused huge excitement among historians, as it provides firm evidence about a monarch whose life has been shrouded in controversy ever since his death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.
Richard’s body was paraded naked and bloody on the back of a horse in Leicester, in central England, before being buried in an unmarked grave at Greyfriars, a friary in the city.
The crown passed to Henry VII and the Tudor monarchs, who, with the help of William Shakespeare and other playwrights, painted Richard as a brutal, hunchbacked villain who stopped at nothing in his quest for power, even murdering his two young nephews to secure the throne.
The skeleton confirms that Richard did have severe scoliosis which caused his spine to be twisted and his right shoulder appear higher than his left, but there was no evidence of the twisted arm depicted by Shakespeare.
The man was the right age — Richard died aged 32 — had a high-protein diet consistent with someone of high birth, and had a slender, almost feminine build, which matched contemporary accounts.
In a forensic search that at times resembled a television crime drama, there were also clear signs of the person having been in battle. A slice was taken off the back of his head by a weapons such as a halberd, a type of axe, which with another injury nearby would have probably killed him, according to Jo Appleby, the project’s lead osteologist.
There was also evidence of “humiliation injuries” to his face and his buttocks, which may well have been inflicted on his naked body by rivals after his death.
The researchers were confident they had found Richard, but the final green light came just hours before more than 150 journalists were due to gather for the announcement, with the confirmation of the DNA results.
Geneticist Turi King revealed that the skeleton’s DNA matched that of two descendants of Richard’s sister, Anne of York — a Canadian-born carpenter, Michael Ibsen, and another person who wishes to remain anonymous. It presented a “strong and compelling case that these are indeed the remains of Richard III”, King said.
Ibsen, the 17th generation descendant, said he was “stunned” at the discovery, and was looking forward to seeing the facial reconstruction of Richard, although he added: “It won’t look like me.”
Historians now hope to dispel some of the myths about Richard, publicising evidence that he never killed his nephews and looking again at what he achieved in his brief two-year reign, including the establishment of a system of bail and legal aid. Philippa Langley, a member of the Richard III Society who coordinated and helped fund the search, said she hoped a new image would emerge of the king and “the two-dimensional character devised by the Tudors will be no more”.
“We have searched for Richard and we have found him. Now it’s time to honour him,” she said. There had been debate about what to do with the bones amid calls from some for them to be buried in the city of York, Richard’s power base, but it has been decided that his final resting place will be Leicester Cathedral.