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 1439.

    Why oh why do journalists insist on using the extremely offensive word"Hunchback" to describe someone with Scoliosis, this is spinal curvature, do not label people who have no control over their appearance, It forms a picture which is completely erroneous. Would newsreaders call Ellie Simmons a dwarf I think not why because it is offensive and rightly so. Please BBC Think before you print

  • rate this

    Comment number 1438.

    I find it amazing that so many people have criticized the funding for this job; on what do they think university archaeology departments should be spending their money, other than unearthing the bones of a lost King of England in their home city?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1437.

    So the question has to, when will he be appearing on the Jeremy Kyle show?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1436.

    I am staggered that some people think this dig is a waste of money. This country needs to make money out of its history- it's one of our greatest assets. This find will make serious money. I can't wait to buy the book and visit the tomb. Just hope it really is him!!! Bit odd that he wasn't beheaded? I thought that was absolutely the norm to display the head to prove your enemy was dead...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1435.

    1423 reasonforit
    Don't believe everything you read - remember, people used to think the world was flat.
    There is no real evidence that Richard III was a murderer. We know Henry VIII was (2 wives) and yet people admire him. They admire Elizabeth I too and she was also a murderer (Mary Queen of Scots).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1434.

    Sounds like rubbish and history searching from south of the boarder to me! No history apart from being defeated by the Romans etc! Poor little englanders!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1433.

    I don't think that Richard 111 was the monster Shakespeare said he was in his play. I first became interested in this period of history when Richard lived through Shakespeare's play as i had seen Laurence Olivier in his film production. Although i admired Olivier's acting and his characterization i did not altogether agree with Shakespeare's historical account. reading other accounts of his life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1432.

    I am delighted to find out that Richard III has now been found and, given the ease with which he was found, amazed that nobody found him sooner. All the more amazing for me, as he was buried under my old school playground (which has only been a car park for a very short time!).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1431.

    @871 History is written by the winners, there is no evidence he had the two princes killed and as they were illegitimate their claim to the throne is lesser than his was. There is also no evidence he had them killed it's just as likely Henry had them killed seeing as his claim was really obscure. HE WAS however crowned king and therefore should be buried with the ceremony associated with that rank

  • rate this

    Comment number 1430.

    1425 CDL. I think that it's because these people love to hate, and you will never convince them because of this. they believe it because they want to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1429.

    @ 1415 Steve

    Did you post that or was it me? Either way, I completely agree!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1428.

    It's not really important watch faith he was or wasn't becasue some of those who his the Valoirs traded their faith for power and poplarity and then went back to they former faith. In my view faith should always come before popularity and power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1427.

    Lets hope the we do the right thing by Richard and bury him with his family under the code of his own faith

    The monks of Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire trace their origins to the monks who used to be in Westminster Abbey before the reformation. Check out the similarity between their coat of arms & Westminster Abbey - this could be an historically significant event for us in the CofE

  • rate this

    Comment number 1426.

    Great use of existing techniques, adding to body of history. Have we learnt anything new? No. Just like finding the Titanic. Nice to know but of no benefit otherwise.

    If a PhD student proposed to dig up a body, use some existing techniques to suggest who he might have been, then draw a picture of what he looked like and just add it to what we already knew from other sources, he'd be laughed at.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1425.

    Given all the "murderer" and "usurper" comments am I to assume that people read Shakespeare and think it historically factual?Very little "fact" is known about Richard III and this is in no small part due to the usurping Tudors.Given that Henry VII had almost no legitimate claim on the throne,his sons marital murdering and Elizabeth's religious genocide I wonder how Richard's name was blackened?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1424.

    I've never seen another country so in love with royalty as England seems to be, i too wish i could get a buzz out of living vicariously through these people, but it's beyond me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1423.

    The Village Idiot has earned his name today. Richard was a usurper and child murderer and does not deserve a burial in Westminster Abbey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1422.

    Not only did his enemies bury him in a car-park - the Romans laid out the road to Bath near Heathrow!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1421.

    A friend of mine was once married to a man who insisted that he was descended from Richard III. He was quite the nastiest piece of work I have ever met - makes you wonder-nature or nurture? LOL

  • rate this

    Comment number 1420.

    Brilliant! Now he can be put to rest as befits the excellent Lord of the North, Prince and King of England. His reputation, so maligned by Thomas More, Shakespeare and others, and rescued by Josephine Tey, can now be celebrated. ColinB - read the history, not the hype, and you will see that he was no murderer, no usurper, but the essence of an excellent king, cruelly usurped himself. Vivat Rex!


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