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."


More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1159.

    #1119. Gammarus Hmmm. Calculate the odds of looking for and then finding 2 descendents of R3s sister, then later finding a skeleton in the documented burial place of R3, and then finding there's a clear match? The skeleton, arguably, proves that they are descendents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1158.

    In a car-park! Oh, how the mighty are fallen...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1157.

    Well you supporters can say what you like about him, but for a 32 yr old it's quite obvious he had a high cholesterol diet and did'nt look after his teeth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1156.

    Oxxxymiron bad won't advise! Interesting article.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1155.

    @206. jack thorsen

    You feel sorry for the council, I feel sorry for you. You seem to have lost something important which defines us as human. Curiosity and thirst for knowledge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1154.

    Totally inappropriate to bury him in Leicester for commercial reasons with the truth about what happened to him there coming out, and it being common knowledge that he wished to be buried in York. It would seem that yet again 'Dickon our master is bought and is sold'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1153.

    The loony conspiracy theorists are in their element here, it was some other hunchback with battle wounds, phoney DNA data etc - they did not dig there by accident - he was supposed to be there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1152.

    The problems in the 15th C began in 1399 when Henry IV usurped the throne and eliminated Richard II. There was another claimant ahead of Henry but too young. All was well until the 1450s when Henry VI went mad. Richard of York then asserted his superior claim but got killed in battle but his son Edward IV successfully gained it and by 1471 all other Lancastrian claimants were dead or exiled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1151.

    I truly believe the significance of this find cannot be over estimated. The Battle of Bosworth Field completely changed the face of English history in as far as, less than 50 years later, the Church of England was formed, changing the dynamics of power across Europe through the relationships and wars it caused. If Richard had won, we would be in a completely different situation today, this is huge

  • rate this

    Comment number 1150.

    1142. AlfredEarnestRamsey
    ..sorry it’s all a bot bad science for me.

    Enlighten us please - what scientific qualifications do you have to refute the evidence? And as an expert, who do you think it might be?

    I think I'm more likely to go with the team of historians, archaeologists and scientists who have worked together looking at all the evidence, above "it all sounds a bit dodgy" :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1149.

    It's odd how people are still swallowing the Tudor "hunchback murderer" propaganda 500 years...
    I know, where would he have found so many hunchbacks to murder, there can't have been that many hunchbacks around, even in these days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1148.

    Have to say that after all this debate and associated Googling for "facts" there won't be much point watching it, so it's a good job a "Plebgate" documentary precedes it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1147.

    I notice that the royalist historians voted my previous comment down but didn't see fit to explain what was wrong with my statement that 131,072 people would be a DNA match 17 generations back. God help us if we ever get a DNA database with you lot eligible for jury service!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1146.

    I cannot believe some of the negative comments on here!
    A waste of time and effott?? Try telling that to the team at Leceister University.
    And for all those bleating about taxpayer money better used elsewhere - it was PRIVATELY funded!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1145.

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

    what can I say ... I make you right.

    Although I've noticed people steer away from irony here (let alone stupidity)... you tend to get stared at.

    I was joining in with the general BBC blog theme here: ''it's BBC make up your own version of history day''

    ... and failing

  • rate this

    Comment number 1144.

    A few facts:
    1.There was historical evidence for Richard to be buried at Greyfriars.
    2. A king (even a deposed) one would have a high status burial (RIII body was in the Choir)
    3. Trauma wounds consistent with battle
    4. Age of skeleton correct.
    5. DNA matches known surviving relatives
    6. ..........Aw! Just watch the telly tonight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1143.

    4 Minutes ago
    When history comes alive in such a remarkable way one can only be grateful to the people who have worked so hard to make it possible.
    and also in the great British tradition, a source of much merriment

  • rate this

    Comment number 1142.

    So Socliosis, mitochondrial DNA mtch, approximate dates from carbon dating, died from cuts to the head, had a high protein diet which equates to high status. He was slight of build.
    Richard was a season soldier of the scottish border wars as well as the wars of the roses, why so slight. High status Yorkist DNA, no doubt a few died at Bosworth...sorry it’s all a bot bad science for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1141.

    I am 'gob-smacked'! This is stunning news, and I feel thrilled by the excellent science that has gone into this. Well done! After reconstruction of facial features, I do hope they will have a permanent display of the dig, the find, the testing and the history involved. This educational tool close to his burial site would make an amazing school 'History Trip'. I hope a book comes out!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1140.

    #1072 NonLondonView What are you talking about? 2 known descendants from Richard III's line; carbon dated with 70% confidence; scoliosis; buried in the documented location; fatal head injuries consistent with battle wounds. Even with ongoing analysis, the conclusion so far is probably more certain than many other remains in existing tombs.


Page 22 of 79


BBC Leicester



3 °C 0 °C


Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.