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 1199.

    The non-science/historical related complaints on this subject are pathetic. Someone even complained about the waste of money in digging up a car park - seriously?? The team didn't just come in and start digging, they were approved by the Leicester council, who are elected officials. The petty, small-minded complaints on this board can be staggering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1198.

    Richard? Are they sure it's not a King Edward?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1197.

    Henry VII's claim to the throne is as "strong" as mine would be if Charles died and I married Camilla.

    And people on here are talking about how he was a more legitimate king than the Son of the Previous King.

    The Irony!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1196.

    If he is re-interred in Leicester Cathedral does this imply that demolition will follow to make way for another car park?

    Humour aside this is an exciting find and a chain of events unlikely to have been foreseen when he was laid to rest.

    One can only wonder what technology will be available in another five hundred years time and where it will lead?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1195.

    Richard was an annointed king of England and should be buried as such.
    Richard was a good and just king and was vilified by the Tudors who really had no right to the throne...The winners always write history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1194.

    "is reburial in anywhere other than a Catholic church...appropriate?"

    British Catholics get buried in the same cemeteries as everyone else. Burial places like York Minster or Westminster Abbey aren't limited to the CofE: Darwin was agnostic, for example.

    What Catholics DO get are Requiem masses. Richard deserves one - preferably in Latin, sung by an Anglican cathedral choir

  • rate this

    Comment number 1193.

    Why is this story second on the BBC homepage, under the MP who lied about speeding? Who really cares about another lying MP compared to such an important historical discovery ??

    Agreed - weird how somebody at the BBC still feels that a lying politician is actually news nowadays...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1192.

    Colin B

    They were all murderers

  • rate this

    Comment number 1191.

    1152 cont
    When Edward IV died, Richard of Gloucester had his sons declared illegitimate and he took the throne. Dissatisfaction with his rule broke out and the Lancastrians swung behind Henry Tudor (descended from Edward III via John of Gaunt and also of the Valois Kings of France). Whilst his claim was still weak he solidified it by marrying Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1190.


    Actually the Armed forces, sware allegiance to both, it is part of the restitution settlement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1189.

    #991 Tanglefoot - We had a quiz at work a few years back & my colleagues didn't even know that Passchendaele was fought in WWI! We are not taught British political history. It's "How we used to live" & Hitler, Hitler, Hitler. "A country that forgets its history has no future" (Churchill) & we are governed by people who don't want Britain to exist in the future: they need us to be ignorant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1188.

    A deformed medieval king has been discovered under a car park in Leicester? - Did Ricky Gervais write this story?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1187.

    People wnat to give a suspected child murderer a state funeral!

    No, chuck him in the sea with bin Laden.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1186.


  • rate this

    Comment number 1185.

    Who cares about a minor king, who ruled just 2 years usurping the Crown and killing 2 nephews? I don't understand this big fuss in the British public space. This whole affair sounds to me more like an ill placed nationalist hubris.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1184.

    The more I hear about Richard III, the more I'm getting to like him.

    But I detect there is a group of people out there determined to blacken his name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1183.

    1151. bigli

    But this is already known, what more is this discovery going to add to the existing knowledge of this man or the events at the time.

    Don't get me wrong, this is an interesting find but exactly what additional knowledge is it going to add.

    The excitement seems to be more about who will profit most from the tourist attraction.

    Which tells us more about this age than that of Richards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1182.

    cockney rhyming slang doesn't lie!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1181.

    Can't help but wonder what other royal mysteries could be solved with these techniques. What about the Princes in the Tower? Could it be time to exhume the bones discovered in the Tower?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1180.

    Those picking holes in the DNA evidence are missing the point. The skeleton was found at the site where Richard was known to be buried, and had both the wounds AND the deformities consistent with contemporary evidence. They THEN found that his DNA matched a known descendant. Taken as a whole, this is compelling evidence. But if you are looking for certainty, look to religion, not science.


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