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 1099.

    the last english king killed on the battlefield leading his troops . since our country is led by parliament .....afghanistan and under equipped dave ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1098.

    Will they do one of these face reconstructions of him?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1097.

    Now we can have discussion of the little known facts. Why did the mother of the two little princes leave her sanctuary to live at Richard's court if he had killed her sons? Why did Henry VII shut her away?If Richard was so evil, why did he spare the man married to Henry's mother who went on to betray him. Usurper/murderer Henry was not as evil? Why did he murder Richard's very elderly aunt?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1096.

    1072. NonLondonView
    Mitochondrial DNA is not passed unchanged, it mutates a little bit and that rate of mutation is more or less constant. Based on this fact it's possible to calculate when most recent common ancestor of two individuals lived. In this case it would have coincided with the time of RIII's mother, which according to scientists it did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1095.

    1067, I take your comment is meant to be 'tongue in cheek' as Queen Victoria died in January 1901

  • rate this

    Comment number 1094.

    I don't see how this DNA "proof" works. If you take a living descendent then that person has two parents. Each of them had two parents and so on for 17 generations. Surely that results in two to the power 17 different people (131,072) who would be a DNA match in Richard's time, a time when the population of the whole country was only about two million. How is that "proof"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1093.

    The DNA is only one piece in the jigsaw. There is also the evidence that this is the likely site of his burial - the fact that the carbon dating matches - the wounds to the body which tie in with Richard's death in battle - and the curvature of the spine which matches accounts of some physical deformity. Overall, it's a strong case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1092.

    Completely amazed by the fantastic archaeologists involved, and by the tremendous science behind it. Richard’s body should be given a full ceremonial burial; well done to all those involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1091.

    He was unceremoniously dumped into a grave that was too small for him. He was the Son of York and should be brought home to York for burial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1090.

    Hope you would'nt condamn anybody in a civil matter with only such tests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1089.

    Just now
    Richard of York to be buried in leicester, the crisp capital of Europe. That will confuse the americans.
    We could just out-source the burial to India.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1088.

    1066.John Byng - ".......The BBC just perpetuates the dumbing down of science in this country for the sake of celebs and B-list politicians."

    Everyone pays the license fee so the Beeb, rightly, has to provide some content for everyone - I don't like the dumbed down stuff (take Top Gear) but others do & they pay too so they get it.

    Fair enough mores the pity, but there you go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1087.

    I knew it was him all along, only one front tooth missing and still has the suntan, obviously just back from Benidorm when they police got him.

  • Comment number 1086.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1085.

    The stupidity of people never ceases to amaze me.

    Half of the comments on here are people complaining about the disruption of the car park or the wasted money, claiming that no-one even knows who 'this guy' is. Is this really what our country has come to?
    'This guy' was a king of English, a very famous one, not the most loved but still. A little patriotism people??

  • rate this

    Comment number 1084.

    I don't think anyone is suggesting we completely disregard anything Richard III did or didn't do and make him a de facto saint. If we vilified every monarch who in hindsight we now deem to have done something "wrong", the unfortunate truth is we would celebrate none of our monarchs from the past. The historical significance of Richard III alone means this is a huge discovery worth celebrating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1083.

    I've read two comments on where he should be buried, both of them convincing.
    One was the traditional burial area for a monarch - being Westminster"

    Many, probably most English/British monarchs are NOT buried in Westminster abbey. None before Henry III, most between him and Queen Anne are; most since are at Windsor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1082.

    Whilst celebrating the science involved, we ought not to forget the young princes, aged 12 and 9 respectively, whom Richard placed in the Tower of London, and who were subsequently murdered - either on his orders, or with his acquiescence. They were his nephews (one of them being the rightful King), and he was their uncle (charged with their protection).

    He took the throne for himself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1081.

    Perhaps they should consider spending loads of money on tracing and reburying all the soldiers, after all a King is on a King if they have an army to led, yet again the amount of money spent on this could have been used to keep our current army, not to mention all those nurses fired of recent, do not get me wrong, long live the queen, I do admire her, but priorities people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1080.

    whoever he is he dont look too well


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