Human remains found buried beneath a social services car park in Leicester are those of Richard III who was killed in battle in 1485, archaeologists confirmed today.
In an extraordinary discovery which rewrites the history books, the skeleton of the last of the Plantagenet kings was identified by DNA analysis after researchers traced his living descendants.
Investigators from the University of Leicester today revealed that the remains bore the marks of ten injuries inflicted shortly before his death.
More gruesome, however, was evidence of ‘humiliation’ injuries, including several head wounds – part of the skull was sliced away – a cut to the ribcage and a pelvic wound likely caused by an upward thrust of a weapon, through the buttock.
The skeleton was described of that of a slender male, in his late 20s or early 30s. Richard was 32 when he died.
Newly-released pictures also show a distinctive curvature of the spine synonymous with the hunchback king immortalised by Shakespeare.
There was, however, no evidence of a withered arm, which was also part of the Richard myth.
Speaking to 140 journalists who had travelled from across the world for the announcement, the university’s lead archaeologist Richard Buckley described the identity of the remains as ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’
‘It is the academic conclusion of the University of Leicester that the individual exhumed at Greyfriars in August 2012 is indeed King Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England.’
Deputy registrar Richard Taylor described the discovery as ‘truly astonishing’ and said it could ‘prove to be one of the biggest archaeological discoveries of recent times’.
The long-awaited announcement was greeted by cheers.
Richard, depicted by William Shakespeare as a monstrous tyrant who murdered two princes in the Tower of London, died at the Battle of Bosworth Field, defeated by an army led by Henry Tudor.
According to historical records, his body was taken 15 miles to Leicester where it was displayed as proof of his death before being buried in the Franciscan friary.
The team from Leicester University set out to trace the site of the old church and its precincts, including the site where Richard was finally laid to rest.
They began excavating the city centre location in August last year and soon discovered the skeleton, which was found in good condition with its feet missing in a grave around 680 metres (2,231 feet) below ground level.
It was lying in a rough cut grave with the hands crossed in a manner which indicated they were bound when he was buried.
To the naked eye, it was clear that the remains had a badly curved spine and trauma injuries to the rear of the head.
But archaeologists were keen to make no official announcement until the skeleton had been subjected to months of tests.
Speaking at today’s press conference, University of Leicester geneticist Dr Turi King described how researchers had traced Richard’s descendants to confirm the body was indeed that of England’s last medieval king.
These were Canadian born furniture maker Michael Ibsen, a direct descendant of the Richard’s sister Anne of York, and a second person who has asked to remain anonymous.
Dr King said: ‘The DNA sequence obtained from the Grey Friars skeletal remains was compared with the two maternal line relatives of Richard III.
‘We were very excited to find that there is a DNA match between the maternal DNA from the family of Richard III and the skeletal remains we found at the Grey Friars dig.’
The analysis showed the individual had a slender physique and severe scoliosis – a curvature of the spine – possibly with one shoulder visibly higher than the other.
This is consistent with descriptions of Richard III’s appearance from the time, the researchers said today.
Trauma to the skeleton showed the king died after one of two significant wounds to the back of the skull – possibly caused by a sword and a halberd.
Dr Appleby said this was consistent with contemporary accounts of the monarch being killed after receiving a blow to the head.
The skeleton also showed a number of non-fatal injuries to the head and rib and to the pelvis, which is believed to have been caused by a wound through the right buttock.
Dr Appleby said these may have been so-called ‘humiliation injuries’ inflicted after his death.
‘The skeleton has a number of unusual features: its slender build, the scoliosis and the battle-related trauma,’ she said.
‘All of these are highly consistent with the information that we have about Richard III in life and about the circumstances of his death.
TIME FOR A RETHINK ON RICHARD?
Few monarchs in history have been so vilified and scrutinised as King Richard III.
For centuries historians have put forward varying cases as to whether he should be remembered as a visionary reformer and brilliant administrator, or as an ambitious usurper and ruthless murderer.
The monarch is famous today for his death at the Battle of Bosworth, which effectively ended the Wars of the Roses – as well as the disappearance of his young nephews, and his derisory portrayal in William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy Of King Richard III.
But his reputation is surrounded by apparent myths and half-truths.
Described as a ‘deformed’ and ‘unfinish’d’, jealous, and ambitious hunchback in Shakespeare’s play, which was first performed in the 1590s, it is difficult to know if the man the playwright said battled on foot and cried out ‘A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!’, is a true reflection of the king, or merely an act of creative dramatics.
These days loyal Ricardians battle to repair Richard’s reputation but the traditional view is that Richard, while not as evil as Tudor historians said, was probably responsible for removing his nephews from the royal line.
Under a page headed ‘Loyal to the truth’ on The Richard III Foundation’s website is an extract that reads: ‘King Richard III is one of England’s most controversial historical figures often associated with his quest to seize the throne of England.
‘The prime sources of defamation of Richard are superstitious fiction, although this was not understood by some for centuries.
‘The vilification may be absurd, such as two years in the womb, magically withered arms, and the murder of innocent babies, but it is repeated ad nauseum.
‘It may take the form of ghosts passionately listing the wrongs of an evil king, regardless of their own dwelling in hell.
‘Or it can take on a more sinister nature, such as what happened to Edward V, a query that moderns cannot positively answer.
‘By blaming Richard for everything, (Henry) Tudor escaped blame for anything for two hundred years, until people were at last free to pose questions.
‘Although it is obvious that Tudor had overwhelming motivation to spread malicious gossip and to smear a dead man, some cannot let go of even the most outrageous slurs.’.
Source: The Daily Mail