Experts find remains of England's King Richard III (Update 4)

Feb 04, 2013 by Jill Lawless
Jo Appleby, a lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology, at University of Leicester, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, who led the exhumation of the remains found during a dig at a Leicester car park, speaks at the university Monday Feb. 4, 2013. Tests have established that a skeleton found , including this skull, are "beyond reasonable doubt" the long lost remains of England's King Richard III, missing for 500 years.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira, PA)

He was king of England, but for centuries he lay without shroud or coffin in an unknown grave, and his name became a byword for villainy.

On Monday, scientists announced they had rescued the remains of Richard III from anonymity—and the monarch's fans hope a revival of his reputation will soon follow.

In a dramatically orchestrated news conference, a team of archaeologists, geneticists, genealogists and other scientists from the University of Leicester announced that tests had proven what they scarcely dared to hope—a scarred and broken skeleton unearthed under a drab municipal parking lot was that of the 15th-century king, the last English monarch to die in battle.

Lead archaeologist Richard Butler said that a battery of tests proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that the remains were the king's.

Lin Foxhall, head of the university's school of archaeology, said the discovery "could end up rewriting a little bit of history in a big way."

Few monarchs have seen their reputations decline as much after death as Richard III. He ruled England between 1483 and 1485, during the decades-long battle over the throne known as the Wars of the Roses, which pitted two wings of the ruling Plantagenet dynasty—York and Lancaster—against one another.

His brief reign saw liberal reforms, including the introduction of the right to bail and the lifting of restrictions on books and printing presses.

But his rule was challenged, and he was defeated and killed by the army of Henry Tudor, who took the throne as King Henry VII and ended the Plantagenet line. Britain's current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is distantly related to Richard, but is not a descendant.

After his death, historians writing under the victorious Tudors comprehensively trashed Richard's reputation, accusing him of myriad crimes—most famously, the murder of his two nephews, the "Princes in the Tower."

Undated photo made available by the University of Leicester, England, Monday Feb. 4 2013 of the remains found underneath a car park last September at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester, which have been declared Monday "beyond reasonable doubt" to be the long lost remains of England's King Richard III, missing for 500 years. Richard was immortalized in a play by Shakespeare as a hunchbacked usurper who left a trail of bodies—including those of his two young nephews, murdered in the Tower of London—on his way to the throne. (AP Photo/ University of Leicester)

William Shakespeare indelibly depicted Richard as a hunchbacked usurper who left a trail of bodies on his way to the throne before dying in battle, shouting "My kingdom for a horse."

That view was repeated by many historians, and Richard remains a villain in the popular imagination. But others say Richard's reputation was unjustly smeared by his Tudor successors.

Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society—which seeks to restore the late king's reputation and backed the search for his grave— said that for centuries Richard's story has been told by others, many of them hostile.

She hopes a new surge of interest, along with evidence from the skeleton about how the king lived and died—and how he was mistreated after death—will help restore his reputation.

Undated photo made available by the University of Leicester, England, Monday Feb. 4 2013 of the remains found underneath a car park last September at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester, which have been declared Monday "beyond reasonable doubt" to be the long lost remains of England's King Richard III, missing for 500 years. Richard was immortalized in a play by Shakespeare as a hunchbacked usurper who left a trail of bodies—including those of his two young nephews, murdered in the Tower of London—on his way to the throne. (AP Photo/ University of Leicester)

"A wind of change is blowing, one that will seek out the truth about the real Richard III," she said.

Langley, who helped launch the search for the king, said she could scarcely believe her quest had paid off.

"Everyone thought that I was mad," she said. "It's not the easiest pitch in the world, to look for a king under a council car park."

The location of Richard's body was unknown for centuries. He died in August 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field in the English Midlands, and records say he was buried by the Franciscan monks of Grey Friars at their church in Leicester, 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of London.

The church was closed and dismantled after King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538, and its location eventually was forgotten by most local residents.

There were tales that the king's bones had been dug up and thrown in a nearby river in the 16th century.

Jo Appleby, a lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology, at University of Leicester, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, who led the exhumation of the remains found during a dig at a Leicester car park, speaks at the university Monday Feb. 4, 2013. Tests have established that a skeleton found , including this skull, are "beyond reasonable doubt" the long lost remains of England's King Richard III, missing for 500 years.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira, PA)

Then last year a team led by University of Leicester archaeologist Richard Buckley identified a possible location of the grave through map regression analysis, starting with a current map of the general area of the former church and analyzing earlier maps to discover what had changed and not changed. Ground-penetrating radar was used to find the best places to start digging.

The team began excavating in a parking lot last August. Within a week they had located thick walls and the remains of tiled floors. Soon after, they found human remains—the skeleton of an adult male who appeared to have died in battle.

He had been buried unceremoniously, with no coffin or shroud—plausible for a despised and defeated enemy.

Undated photo made available by the University of Leicester, England, Monday Feb. 4, 2013 of the earliest surviving portrait of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, ahead of an announcement about the identity of the skeleton found underneath a car park last September. Richard was immortalized in a play by Shakespeare as a hunchbacked usurper who left a trail of bodies—including those of his two young nephews, murdered in the Tower of London—on his way to the throne. (AP Photo/ University of Leicester)

Increasingly excited, the researchers set out to conduct a battery of scientific tests, including radiocarbon dating to determine the skeleton's age, to see whether, against the odds, they really had found the king.

They found the skeleton belonged to a man in his late 20s to late 30s who died between 1455 and 1540. Richard was 32 when he died in 1485.

Archaeological bone specialist Jo Appleby, a lecturer in human bioarchaeology at Leicester, said study of the bones provided "a highly convincing case for identification of Richard III."

Undated photo made available by the University of Leicester, England, Monday Feb. 4 2013 of the skull found at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester, potentially the long lost remains of England's King Richard III, ahead of an announcement about the identity of the skeleton found underneath a car park last September. Richard was immortalized in a play by Shakespeare as a hunchbacked usurper who left a trail of bodies—including those of his two young nephews, murdered in the Tower of London—on his way to the throne. (AP Photo/ University of Leicester)

Appleby said the 10 injuries to the body were inflicted by weapons such as swords, daggers and halberds and were consistent with accounts of Richard being struck down in battle—his helmet knocked from his head—before his body was stripped naked and flung over the back of a horse in disgrace.

Appleby said two of the blows to the head could have been fatal. Other scars, including a knife wound to the buttock, bore the hallmarks of "humiliation injuries" inflicted after death.

The remains also displayed signs of scoliosis, a form of spinal curvature, consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard's appearance, though not the withered arm Shakespeare describes.

Jo Appleby, a lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology, at University of Leicester, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, who led the exhumation of the remains found during a dig at a Leicester car park, speaks at the university Monday Feb. 4, 2013. Tests have established that a skeleton found , pictured behind, are "beyond reasonable doubt" the long lost remains of England's King Richard III, missing for 500 years.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira, PA)

DNA from the skeleton matched a sample taken from Michael Ibsen, a distant living relative of Richard's sister. The project's lead geneticist, Turi King, said Ibsen, a Canadian carpenter living in London, shares with the skeleton a rare strain of mitochondrial DNA. The same DNA group also matches a second living descendant, who wants to remain anonymous.

King said that between 1 and 2 percent of the population belongs to this genetic sub-group, so the DNA evidence is not definitive proof in itself of the skeleton's identity. But combined with the archaeological evidence, it left little doubt the skeleton belonged to Richard.

Ibsen, a 17th great-grand-nephew of Richard's older sister, said he was "stunned" by the discovery.

"It's difficult to digest," he said.

Some scientists felt qualms about the haste with which the Leicester team announced its results. The findings have not been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, though the university said they soon would be.

Jo Appleby, a lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology, at University of Leicester, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, who led the exhumation of the remains found during a dig at a Leicester car park, gestures at the university Monday Feb. 4, 2013. Tests have established that a skeleton found , including this skull, are "beyond reasonable doubt" the long lost remains of England's King Richard III, missing for 500 years.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira, PA)

"It's a bizarre way of going about things," said Mark Horton, a professor of archaeology at the University of Bristol—although he said "overwhelming circumstantial evidence" identified the skeleton as Richard's.

Archaeologist Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology magazine, also said he found the evidence persuasive.

"I don't think there is any question. It is Richard III," said Pitts, who was not affiliated with the research team.

The discovery is a boon for the city of Leicester, which has bought a building next to the parking lot to serve as a visitor center and museum.

On Monday, the king's skeleton lay in a glass box in a meeting room within the university library. It was a browned, fragile-looking thing, its skull pocked with injuries, missing its feet—which scientists say were disturbed sometime after burial—and with a pronounced s-shape to the spine.

Soon the remains will be moved to an undisclosed secure location, and next year Richard will, at last, get a king's burial, interred with pomp and ceremony in Leicester Cathedral.

It is a day Langley, of the Richard III Society, has dreamed of seeing.

"We have searched for him, we have found him—it is now time to honor him," she said.

Explore further: New branch added to European family tree

More information: Press release: phys.org/wire-news/121440048/u… ing-richard-iii.html

The Search for Richard III: www2.le.ac.uk/projects/greyfriars

Richard III Society: www.richardiii.net/

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Shakescene21
not rated yet Feb 04, 2013
DNA analysis is becoming a powerful tool in archaeology and history. This confirmation of Richard III's skeleton was done on the basis of mitochondrial DNA. If they were able to obtain good nuclear DNA, this would open numerous possibilities, including a comparison of Richard's Y-chromosome with that from the skeletons of two boys that was discovered in the Tower of London.
Much of the funding for this project was arranged by the Richard III Society, based here in Virginia. These guys are slightly kooky, but I have to admire them for making this archaeological project happen.
be4r
1.8 / 5 (4) Feb 04, 2013
Or we could clone him and open up Tudor Park where modern anti-royalists can hunt him for sport.
NeptuneAD
not rated yet Feb 04, 2013
Wouldn't it be better to advance the DNA technology so that we can gather all of his distant relatives and persecute them for his sins.

On a serious note, I hope this is not a hoax, it all seems rather convenient that they go searching for a needle in a haystack in a field of haystacks and find him that easily, perhaps the technology they have used is really that good, if so, I hope it is used a lot more, I am a firm believer of facts over opinions and we tend to believe the written word far too much, in this case it would appear his name was purposely smeared.

Looks like the world hasn't advanced much in that respect.
EBENEZR
2.5 / 5 (2) Feb 04, 2013
Ugly and loathed, Leicester was an appropriate burial place for Richard III.

Neptune, they had reasons to believe he was buried where he was.

It's worth noting that King Richard III was not really all a bad guy, for a start he invented bail so that property was not seized whilst the suspect was locked up and that they hadn't imprisoned an innocent person who they'd be indebted to.
obama_socks
1 / 5 (2) Feb 04, 2013
King Richard:
A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!

Catesby:
Withdraw, my lord; I'll help you to a horse.

King Richard:
Slave! I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die.
jsdarkdestruction
not rated yet Feb 05, 2013
At long last the mystery has been solved. congratulations to the team for this.
Neinsense99
1 / 5 (3) Feb 05, 2013
"a Canadian carpenter living in London" London in the UK or London in Ontario?
runrig
1 / 5 (1) Feb 05, 2013
"a Canadian carpenter living in London" London in the UK or London in Ontario?


England.
Maggnus
1 / 5 (1) Feb 05, 2013
"a Canadian carpenter living in London" London in the UK or London in Ontario?


England.


No, Canada:
Norm Ibsen sits in the living room of his London, Ont., home as he holds a photo of his late wife, Joy, who could be a descendant of King Richard III on Wednesday
runrig
1 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2013
"a Canadian carpenter living in London" London in the UK or London in Ontario?
England.
No, Canada: "Norm Ibsen sits in the living room of his London, Ont...."


No, sorry you're wrong. I have seen the documentary of the discovery here in England ( 90mins long ), in which the presenter vists him in his workshop in London, England. He also turns up later in the documentary as the DNA results are given in person to him and the chief instigator of the enterprise Philippa Langley, member of the Richard III society.

From Channel 4's website ..... "The descendent is a Canadian-born carpenter now living in Paddington, Michael Ibsen. With just one saliva swab Mr Ibsen has found himself at the centre of a historic media frenzy."

PS: Paddington is a district of dear old London town.

The documentary cannot be seen on the channel's online video player 4od - but here is an ad clip.

http://www.youtub...;index=9
Maggnus
1 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2013
After looking deeper, it's actually both runrig! There has been a ton of hoopla over here about a Canadian family in London, Ont providing DNA evidence to help determine if he skeleton was Richard III. See here fo eg:

Canadian DNA proves corpse is King Richard III

http://www.toront...earchers

The first article I quoted waa from a London, Ont paper and you'll note the article I linked here starts out:

LONDON, Ont. – A London family's DNA helped solve a 500-year-old royal mystery.


However I note that they also mention a Micheal Ibsen from the UK. Must be who you're talking about. Lol small world!
runrig
1 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2013

However I note that they also mention a Micheal Ibsen from the UK. Must be who you're talking about. Lol small world!


LOL no problem.
It's a shame you cant see that doc ( as yet anyway ) - it really is the most remarkable thing. All credit must be given to Phillipa Langley, without whom it just wouldn't have happened.

If they had dug the trench just a yard away .... if there hadn't been a car park there, as much of the remains of the Abbey had buildings on it.
Hythloday
5 / 5 (2) Feb 09, 2013
RIII Speaks from the Grave. . .

"Though long ago to Hell I embarked,
My remains great excitement have sparked.
I just hope in due course
They disinter my horse---
For five centuries now double-parked!"

Richard III Vaunts, Kind of. . .

"My battle-scarred skeleton--at last, Sir!--
Proves I died a most valiant Lancaster.
My kingdom, of course,
Was worth more than some horse
(Though I could have retreated much faster)."