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 1079.

    Im sure im completely wrong but here goes anyway. Wouldn't a descendent of the King of England be entitled to some claim of the royal fortune?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1078.

    I read 'The Daughter of TIme' by Josephine Tey many years ago. It is a novel/thriller exploring whether Richard III might have not been responsible for the death of the two princes. It captured my imagination. I do not know whether it is still in print, but it comes to mind as a good read in light of these fascinating discoveries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1077.

    Delighted with this news. As a Leicester boy I am proud of the work the team at the University has done. Money well spent on discovering a missing piece of English history. I am pleased that Leicester is where he will rest, as it already has a rich Tudor history with Wolsey and Robert Dudley. It fits perfectly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1076.

    "Let's get real in this age of austerity. A state funeral is far too late and much too costly. "
    How about something gaudy with a rocket along the lines of 'first royal in space'?
    The government needs a distraction now the olympics are over and it seems somehow appropriate for a monarch who had transportation problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1075.

    I am surprised at the level of partisenship in many of these comments. I would summarize as "Don't mess with my beliefs. I have to go to my grey job on monday. I'd rather have a fixed soccer match than fixed history. Car parks are more important." I say that if you don't want history, move to the US. (No royalty but they do have Donald Trump.) Let's celebrate all our past & make money on it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1074.

    I think Richard should be buried in Westminster Cathedral (that's the cathedral just down Victoria Street from Westminster Abbey) because it is Roman Catholic and so was he.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1073.

    1049.Fox in Halifax
    "...... thus is a reburial in anywhere other than a Catholic church or cathedral appropriate?

    All ancient churces were Catholic in Richard's day, so as a place of burial any ancient church could be said to be valid. It is the rites that are more important. I'd say Fotheringhay a family seat has the best claim outside Leicester.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1072.

    Good science but dodgey analysis.
    The testing is based on mitochondrial DNA, passed only through the female line.
    All that is proved with the match with the living descendent is that they shared a common female ancestor. This could have been several (or many) generations EARLIER that Richards sister.
    The evidence may be "consistant with" Richard, but is far from proof.
    Poor science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1071.

    Richard of York to be buried in leicester, the crisp capital of Europe. That will confuse the americans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1070.

    Actually Henry VII had as much to gain, if not more. And Henry later had every known living relative hunted down and killed. Giving him "form" too.

    There is also a pretty good chance that it was done by somone thinking it would help Richard and get them a tasty reward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1069.

    1050 Mikebuzz

    Lots of people have this image of the Tower being a horrible, dank place full of torture chambers because that's how it's shown today as a tourist attraction, but as you said, it wasn't in those days. It was a Royal residence and a place of luxury. The Tower was where monarchs prepared for their coronation, which is why the Princes were there in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1068.

    A major support of Henry Tudor's claim to the throne was his marriage to Elizabeth, sister to the "Princes in the Tower". If either if them had been alive, she wouldn't have had any right to the throne. If they were dead, she was the heir.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1067.

    @1042.Lynda Arnold
    Surely York Minster would be more appropriate for Richard of York?

    Firstly, richard was a muslim (little known fact). Secondly, in olden days York was in a different place to where it is today. What you call York then was actually situated in London near my own Islington home.

    In Richard's day there wasn't even a York Minster (Queen Victoria built that in 1922).

  • Comment number 1066.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1065.

    Oh for heaven's sake!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1064.

    I'm Scottish so don't really know a great deal about English history but this is fantastically exciting! It's wonderful to see Richard's been found and can be relaid to rest regardless of his true, or historically tainted, reputation. I guess it's things like this that really link us with the past. It's like history's come alive, and it's fascinating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1063.

    He should, as per his last wishes, be buried at the Minster in York. Of course this would have nothing to do with my wish to go and watch the internment ceremony whilst I am still at university here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1062.

    @459. samxool
    3 Hours ago

    "Typical of this government.
    More money wasted on utterly pointless vanity projects such as this.

    Or on education perhaps?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1061.

    So, what did happen to those princes? Did Henry Tudor have a supporter on the inside who got rid of them to cement his own tenuous position? Was it Henry Tudors supporters who promulgated their original illegitimacy? Where are the princes buried now, weren't they found in the Tower many years ago?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1060.

    They are going to start rolling in by tomorrow so let's start the comic relief now. 'A parking space; a parking space my Kingdom for a parking space.'


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