Radio Sandwell Miscellanea

Richard III dig: DNA confirms bones do belong to King

2013-02-04 14:20:20

King 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.

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.

The spine was badly curved, a condition known as scoliosis, but there was no trace of a withered arm, as some Tudor historians had claimed Richard had.

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, 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.

He was given a low-key burial beneath in the church of Greyfriars in the centre of Leicester.

But when this building was demolished in the 16th Century the exact location became uncertain and was eventually forgotten.

Despite this, a team of enthusiasts and historians traced the likely area - and, crucially, also found a 17th-generation descendant of Richard's sister with whose DNA they could compare any remains recovered.

Genealogical research eventually led to a Canadian woman called Joy Ibsen. She 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.

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.

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.

  • 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.
  • 10 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 around 5ft 8in tall (1.72m), 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.
  • Corpse was subjected to 'humiliation injuries' - including a sword through the right buttock.
  • Individual had unusually slender, almost feminine, build for a man - in keeping with contemporaneous accounts.
  • No evidence for "withered arm" - as portrayed by Shakespeare - found.
  • Possibility that the individual's hands were tied.
  • Grave was hastily dug, was not big enough and there was no shroud or coffin.
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