Richard III dig: DNA confirms bones are king's


The skeleton is 'beyond reasonable doubt' the remains of Richard III

A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III.

Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch's family.

Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: "Beyond reasonable doubt it's Richard."

Richard, killed in battle in 1485, will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.

Richard III graphic

Mr Buckley said the bones had been subjected to "rigorous academic study" and had been carbon dated to a period from 1455-1540.

Dr Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist from the university's School of Archaeology and Ancient History, revealed the bones were of a man in his late 20s or early 30s. Richard was 32 when he died.

His skeleton had suffered 10 injuries, including eight to the skull, at around the time of death. Two of the skull wounds were potentially fatal.

One was a "slice" removing a flap of bone, the other was caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull - a depth of more than 10cm (4ins).

'Humiliation injuries'

Dr Appleby said: "Both of these injuries would have caused an almost instant loss of consciousness and death would have followed quickly afterwards.

Who was Richard III?

The earliest surviving portrait of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral
  • Richard was born at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, where Mary Queen of Scots was later executed
  • As Duke of Gloucester, Richard took a rampant white boar as his sign
  • His coronation took place in Westminster Abbey, in a ceremony very similar to HM the Queen's
  • Richard had one of the shortest reigns in English history - 26 months
  • He was the last English king to die in battle, killed by the forces of the future Henry VII

Source: BBC History

"In the case of the larger wound, if the blade had penetrated 7cm into the brain, which we cannot determine from the bones, death would have been instantaneous."

Other wounds included slashes or stabs to the face and the side of the head. There was also evidence of "humiliation" injuries, including a pelvic wound likely to have been caused by an upward thrust of a weapon, through the buttock.

Richard III was portrayed as deformed by some Tudor historians and indeed the skeleton's spine is badly curved, a condition known as scoliosis.

However, there was no trace of a withered arm or other abnormalities described in the more extreme characterisations of the king.

Missing princes

Without the scoliosis, which experts believe developed during teenage years, he would have been about 5ft 8ins (1.7m) tall, but the curvature would have made him appear "considerably" shorter.

Dr Appleby said: "The analysis of the skeleton proved that it was an adult male but was an unusually slender, almost feminine, build for a man.

"Taken as a whole, the skeletal evidence provides a highly convincing case for identification as Richard III."

Richard was a royal prince until the death of his brother Edward IV in 1483. Appointed as protector of his nephew, Edward V, Richard instead assumed the reins of power.

Edward and his brother Richard, known as the Princes in the Tower, disappeared soon after. Rumours circulated they had been murdered on the orders of their uncle.

Challenged by Henry Tudor, Richard was killed at Bosworth in 1485 after only two years on the throne.

DNA trail

He was given a hurried burial beneath the church of Greyfriars in the centre of Leicester.

Mr Buckley said the grave was clumsily cut, with sloping sides and too short for the body, forcing the head forward.

University of Leicester findings

Richard III's skull

• Wealth of evidence, including radiocarbon dating, radiological evidence, DNA and bone analysis and archaeological results, confirms identity of last Plantagenet king who died over 500 years ago

• DNA from skeleton matches two of Richard III's maternal line relatives. Leicester genealogist verifies living relatives of Richard III's family

• Individual likely to have been killed by one of two fatal injuries to the skull - one possibly from a sword and one possibly from a halberd

• Ten wounds discovered on skeleton - Richard III killed by trauma to the back of the head. Part of the skull sliced off

• Radiocarbon dating reveals individual had a high protein diet - including significant amounts of seafood - meaning he was likely to be of high status

• Radiocarbon dating reveals individual died in the second half of the 15th or in the early 16th Century - consistent with Richard's death in 1485

• Skeleton reveals severe scoliosis - onset believed to have occurred at the time of puberty

• Although about 5ft 8in tall (1.7m), the condition meant King Richard III would have stood significantly shorter and his right shoulder may have been higher than the left

• Feet were truncated at an unknown point in the past, but a significant time after the burial

"There was no evidence of a coffin or shroud which would have left the bones in a more compact position.

"Unusually, the arms are crossed and this could be an indication the body was buried with the wrists still tied," he added.

Greyfriars church was demolished during the Reformation in the 16th Century and over the following centuries its exact location was forgotten.

However, a team of enthusiasts and historians managed to trace the likely area - and, crucially, after painstaking genealogical research, they found a 17th-generation descendant of Richard's sister with whose DNA they could compare any remains.

Joy Ibsen, from Canada, died several years ago but her son, Michael, who now works in London, provided a sample.

The researchers were fortunate as, while the DNA they were looking for was in all Joy Ibsen's offspring, it is only handed down through the female line and her only daughter has no children. The line was about to stop.

Tomb plans

But the University of Leicester's experts had other problems.

Dr Turi King, project geneticist, said there had been concern DNA in the bones would be too degraded: "The question was could we get a sample of DNA to work with, and I am extremely pleased to tell you that we could."

She added: "There is a DNA match between the maternal DNA of the descendants of the family of Richard III and the skeletal remains we found at the Greyfriars dig.

"In short, the DNA evidence points to these being the remains of Richard III."

In August 2012, an excavation began in a city council car park - the only open space remaining in the likely area - which quickly identified buildings connected to the church.

Laurence Olivier as Richard III in the Shakespeare play of the same name Richard's villainous reputation owes much to the way he was characterised by Shakespeare

The bones were found in the first days of the dig and were eventually excavated under forensic conditions.

Details of the reburial ceremony have yet to be released, but Philippa Langley from the Richard III Society said plans for a tomb were well advanced.

She said of the discovery of Richard's skeleton: "I'm totally thrilled, I'm overwhelmed to be honest, it's been a long hard journey. I mean today as we stand it's been nearly four years.

"It's the culmination of a lot of hard work. I think, as someone said to me earlier, it's just the end of the beginning.

"We're going to completely reassess Richard III, we're going to completely look at all the sources again, and hopefully there's going to be a new beginning for Richard as well."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Truly fascinating and a credit to science.

    However, I would like a thread to comment on their colleagues in the nuclear sector leaving us, the taxpayer, an ever rising bill, presently 67.5 billion, to clean up their mess at Sellafield, thanks, BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    I shall be a bit more careful parking next time. After all, I might have royalty under me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Richard III was lucky - some people take far longer to get out of the car park outside the Sainsburys at Green Lanes, Haringey!

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Why find a direct descendant of Richard's sister? The queen is a direct descendant of Richard's brother thro' Elizabeth of York's marriage to Henry7. Is it because there are rumours that Victoria was not her father's daughter, or is this conspiracy theory. Also Richard had a son -is his grave not known
    Richard should be buried alongside his wife ,Anne Neville in Westminster abbey

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    Yes, why re-bury him again in Leicester? Surely York minster or Westminster abbey are infinitely more appropriate places.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    @Gammarus Yes, it is can be conclusive. Remember reading in a previous article Mitochondrial DNA was used, which is a different to nucleic DNA used in crime fighting. Nucleic DNA is individual with common markers for relatives. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child and doesnt change. Everyone from the same maternal line has the same mitochondrial DNA. Plus there would be other evidence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Well it would be a bit of a coincidence if any random skeleton in a car park turned out to have a DNA match to a named well descended person -- why should it otherwise?

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    An absolute disgrace that the broadcast of the press conference was interupted by the Huhne business. You don't dig up skeletons of kings very often these days but bent MPs are ten a penny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    He should be given a state funeral, using the Roman Catholic funeral mass rite that would have been used at the time of his death, and preferably in Westminster Abbey or York Minster. Leicester was merely the site of his ignominious burial on the orders of the traitor and usurper Henry Tudor and has no other significance. He should not be re-interred there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    I hope that they'll remember that he was a devout Catholic when they rebury him.

    Shakespeare, of course, was a spindoctor - he had to trash Richard to keep the Tudors happy, and then he trashed MacBeth in the interests of the Stuarts. Playwrights write plays, not history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    162. Ellenora
    He should be buried at westminster, like every king and queen has! Especially when he is the last of a line!

    Why Westminster? Henry VIII, Charles I, George III, George IV, William IV, Edward IV, George VI, Henry VI, Edward VII and many more are buried in St Georges Chapel Windsor

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    My friend parked her car in that car park for many years, little she knew underneath the tarmac was Richard III's remains.

    Also to add a bit of a strange but true story, her husband is Richard King and her maiden name was York!

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Just to remind those people calling for a state re-burial: Richard III usurped the throne and apparently murdered his two nephews, both children.

    Did he now?
    I think you need to go back to school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    Cannot see any justification fro digging up the car park, investigations, research & subsequent DNA testing & now a reburial ceremony. Have to feel sorry for Leicester council tax payers. It's a waste of money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    If he had beem buried in the top car park in haworth he would have been clamped long ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    British monarchs have not only been buried in Westminster Abbey. They have been buried at many different places around the country, including Gloucester, Winchester, Reading, Windsor, Canterbury and Worcester, and some abroad. The last eight monarchs were not buried at Westminster Abbey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Let us hope that he not only gets the burial place befitting a much (wrongly) maligned monarch of this country - but also the funeral he deserves - with the full panoply of honours that a king should have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Well done to all those involved, on behalf of the AS Early Modern History group at Scarborough 6th Form College - we may not be studying him, but this is still an inspirational example of history in action.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    This was brilliant to watch. Congratulations to the team, and thanks BBC for carrying it live!

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Does this mean that a DNA test could be done on the remains of the young boys found in the Tower to see if they are the missing Princes? How exciting that a historical mystery could finally be solved!


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