‘Beyond reasonable doubt,’ bones are the remains of England’s King Richard III

February 4, 2013

A team of archaeologists confirmed Monday that ancient remains found under a parking lot belong to long-lost King Richard III, successfully ending a search that sparked a modern-day debate about the legacy of the reputed tyrant.

Details of the findings were released hours after DNA tests came in late Sunday. The 500-year-old remains were discovered five months ago, using ancient maps and records to uncover the ruins of the old friary where Richard III was laid to rest.

“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,” Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist of the University of Leicester, said at the announcement Monday in the city 90 miles northwest of London.

The verification came after scientific tests were used to match DNA samples taken from Canadian-born Michael Ibsen, a direct descendent of Anne of York, Richard’s elder sister.

“For me it’s an absolute privilege to be a part, even in a small way, of such a historically significant series of events,” said Ibsen, a furniture-maker in London.


In this Sept. 12, 2012 photo, men dressed as medieval knights pose for pictures in Leicester, England, at the site where a skeleton later identified as that of British medieval king Richard III was found. (Gavin Fogg/AFP/Getty Images)

The debate that has risen out of this finding has provoked the nation to rethink the legacy of Richard III, cast in British history by Shakespeare as a deformed villain, who locked his young nephews — rivals to the throne — in the Tower of London, where they are thought to have met their demise.

Richard III’s grave, which was found underneath the Leicester site in the remains of Greyfriars friary, had been lost during the religious reforms of Henry VIII. Richard, the last king of England to fall on the battlefield, was slain in the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field while defending his crown against the raiding upstart, Henry VII. He was famously depicted in Shakespeare’s “Richard III” crying out before his death: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Richard III supporters such as Philippa Langley, a screenwriter and member of the Richard III Society, were driven to find the lost king’s remains by a desire to reopen the debate over his place in history. Experts say that most of what is known today about the medieval king is largely “propaganda” of the Tudor monarchs who followed him.

“I think the discovery brought the real Richard into sharp focus,” Langley said. “People are realizing that a lot of what they thought they knew about Richard III was pretty much propaganda and myth building.”

Langley, who helped pull together $52,000 to fund the project, worked with a team of archaeologists at Leicester University who were able to locate the hidden monastery and Richard’s remains.

When archaeologists uncovered the skeleton of a man in what was once the choir of the Greyfriars Church — exactly where texts said the monarch was buried — the evidence was so compelling that Langley believed the remains were those of King Richard.

From the time the bones were found, there was strong evidence to suggest the remains belonged to the monarch. The skeleton indicated a personage who was well nourished, who had suffered cranial trauma during battle and who exhibited spine damage from scoliosis, a type of curvature of the spine — all signs that pointed to Richard III.

Trauma analysis of the skeleton found 10 battle wounds, eight on the skull and two on the body, which were inflicted around the time of death, according to Jo Appleby, project osteologist of the University of Leicester. Many of the wounds provided evidence of “post-mortem humiliation injuries,” exacted on Richard III after death by his adversaries. All skeletal evidence was considered highly convincing in support of identifying the remains as those of Richard III.

The next task for authorities was to decide where to reinter the king. This has been a contentious issue, which was hotly debated on the floor of the House of Commons between members of Parliament from York — for whom Richard was the last hope against rival Lancastrians in the War of the Roses — and Leicester, where the remains were found.

Church of England protocol suggests that the bones stay where they were found and be reburied in nearby Leicester Cathedral. But some supporters insisted that his remains be reinterred at the Anglican cathedral in York, where history suggests that he wanted to be buried.

The mayor of Leicester, Peter Soulsby, announced an agreement Monday to bury the king’s remains at Leicester Cathedral. This could prove to be a tourist boon for the Leicester City Council, which plans to open a visitor’s center at the excavation site, across from the church, that will tell what it considers the “real” story of Richard III.

Before this announcement, some of Richard’s staunchest supporters argued that a royal burial at Westminster Abbey would only be appropriate for the much-misunderstood monarch. That option seemed to have been vetoed by Queen Elizabeth II, whose royal lineage would not have been possible without the chain reaction caused by Richard’s death.

“We understand the queen has suggested that she doesn’t want him there,” said Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society. “But it would be nice if we could at least have a procession, with the coffin being carried in a stately carriage.”

When contacted by The Washington Post, a Buckingham Palace official said that this was not a matter for the royal household to decide.

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