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 1399.

    1072 NonLondonView
    Sorry to be picky, but if you are criticising their science, we can critique your use of English ('dodgey', 'consistant', lack of apostrophes etc etc). If we are going to criticise others' precision, we need to be precise ourselves, don't we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1398.

    Looking at the bones of the spine with that severe a curve it is unlikely he could sit a horse let alone wear armor and lead an army. Richard was a warrior. Either the bones were bent artificially or this isn't the same man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1397.

    There is plenty of historical writing to show that Richard was neither usurper or murderer. History can be re written to the advantage of those who need a new story. Will scientists now seek the exhumation of the bones found in the Tower of London in 1674 and believed to be the two Yorkist Princes. It will never prove Richard had them killed but it will at least prove they died in childhood.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1396.

    @ ColinB - "usurper and murderer"? I'm sorry, but are you referring to Richard III or Henry VII?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1395.

    It is people who lived 600 years ago who make us who we are today - of course its relevant

  • rate this

    Comment number 1394.

    @ all_about_news - the one who questioned the legitimacy of Edward IV was his mother, Cicely, who you think would know something about it. There was also a big celebration at the birth of the SECOND son, Edmund (d.1451), which was before Richard and George were born. Seems they knew.

    They also knew, in the 1460s, how long pregnancies lasted. People in the Middle Ages were really pretty smart.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1393.

    Of course, there are other candidates for his burial place - Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire where he was born and Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, and Peterborough where Mary was interred until her son had her transferred to Westminster and where Katherine of Aragon stll lies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1392.

    Certainly a murderous and bloody period of our history that went on for centuries- I always suspected the Tudors were just as likely to have murdered the princes in the Tower though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1391.

    Has human knowledge progressed one jot as a result of this story. At best it has only confirmed things we already knew.
    What it does do is shine at light on the vast amounts of tax payers expended by irresponsible universities to investigate vanishing small facts of no value. Like stamp collectors counting the number of perforations on a stamp.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1390.

    I think this is great, car park "Royal" fantastic loving it :o)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1389.

    Richard III to go in Leicester Cathedral? Far too grand a place to bury the alledged killer of two little Princes I think - they should have left the twisted old goat in the car park to rot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1388.

    Loving all the non academics here stating that this is not important. It is, folks. Just because it doesn't interest you personally does not make it unsignificant. With this discovery, historiography (the study of historical approaches and the writing of history, to the uninitiated) of this period is given another dimension in so many ways. The orthodox opinion of the Tudors is challenged!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1387.

    I think that he should have a state funeral, because new evidence suggests that Richard III wasn't nearly as bad as he was made out to be by Shakespeare (a play write who wasn't known for his historical accurateness), and that he actually did a lot of nice things for this country, like lowered taxes, put money into the reconstruction of damaged buildings, and increased agricultural productivity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1386.

    Finding King Richard's body won't change rhyming slang, or rewrite Shakespeare but it's got the Nation interested in Late Medieval History.

    Money well spent, even in a recession.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1385.


    Well, as it's a way of giving us all a massive amount of self respect not to have these people shaming us,and there IS massive doubt, it's only reasonable that we should have DNA proof of parentage.

    Now that would be worth funding, don't you think ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1384.

    Thousands and thousands of pounds wasted and for what. Some bloke who died 600 years ago and who has absolutely no bearing on life today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1383.

    I think a tomb should be made in Leicester rather than burying in London. If it is true he murdered his nephew to take thecrown then burial amongst kings is not apt, plus give Leicester a new tourist attraction. They deserve it for doing the work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1382.

    One salient point to learn is that when we bury Tony Blair it needs to be in concrete, without a state burial and preferably under a car park and then for someone to forget where it is. Then, in the future, some overpaid wastrels can rewrite his glorious warmongering and lies and perhaps facially reconstruct his wife into something less horrific.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1381.

    Re 1355 I meant should no judge history by today's standards
    To add further. Back in the relevant period and indeed until the dissolution of thwe monastries our our nations politics and religious matters matters were with those of France, Italy and Portugal Spain beacuse the Valoir blodd line decended from Italy (Catherine Di Medici)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1380.

    Its on days like this i am glad that I am not an intellectual. I think i would end up very confused.


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