‘Beyond reasonable doubt’: King Richard III’s battle-scarred skeleton found buried Leicester parking lot
Jill Lawless, Associated Press
He wore the English crown, but he ended up defeated, humiliated and reviled.
Now things are looking up for King Richard III. Scientists announced Monday that they had found the monarch’s 500-year-old remains under a parking lot in the city of Leicester — a discovery Richard’s fans say will rewrite the history books.
University of Leicester researchers say tests on a battle-scarred skeleton unearthed last year prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that it is the king, who died at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, and whose remains have been missing for centuries.
“Richard III, the last Plantaganet King of England, has been found,” said the university’s deputy registrar, Richard Taylor.
Bone specialist Jo Appleby said study of the bones provided “a highly convincing case for identification of Richard III.”
And DNA from the skeleton matched a sample taken from a distant living relative of Richard’s sister. Geneticist Turi King said London, Ont.-born Michael Ibsen, a 55-year-old Canadian carpenter now living in Britain, shares with the skeleton a rare strain of mitochondrial DNA. She said combined with the archaeological evidence, that left little doubt the skeleton belonged to Richard.
Ibsen said he was “stunned” to discover he was related to the king — he is a 17th great-grand-nephew of Richard’s older sister.
“It’s difficult to digest,” he said.
Richard III ruled England between 1483 and 1485, during the decades-long tussle over the throne known as the Wars of the Roses. His brief reign saw liberal reforms, including introduction of the right to bail and the lifting of restrictions on books and printing presses.
His rule was challenged, and he was defeated and killed by the army of Henry Tudor, who took the throne as King Henry VII.
REUTERS/Neil Hall/FilesCanadian connection: A painting of King Richard III from the 16th Century.
The last English monarch to die in battle, Richard was depicted in a play by William Shakespeare as a hunchbacked usurper who left a trail of bodies — including those of his two princely nephews, murdered in the Tower of London — on his way to the throne.
Many historians say that image is unfair, and argue Richard’s reputation was smeared by his Tudor successors. That’s an argument taken up by the Richard III Society, set up to re-evaluate the reputation of a reviled monarch.
The society’s Philippa Langley, who helped launch the search for the king, said she could scarcely believe her quest had paid off.
“Everyone thought that I was mad,” she said. “It’s not the easiest pitch in the world, to look for a king under a council car park.”
Now, she said, “a wind of change is blowing, one that will seek out the truth about the real Richard III.”
For centuries, the location of Richard’s body has been unknown. Records say he was buried by the Franciscan monks of Grey Friars at their church in Leicester, 160 kilometres north of London. The church was closed and dismantled after King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538, and its location eventually was forgotten.
Then, last September, archaeologists searching for Richard dug up the skeleton of an adult male who appeared to have died in battle.
ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty ImagesDr Jo Appleby, a lecturer in bioarchaeology at Leicester University, addresses a press conference in front of an image of the skeleton of Britain's King Richard III, at the university in central England, on February 4, 2013.
So many and unlikely are the twists in the discovery and identification of the remains of King Richard III, the last Plantagenet, dug up in a car park in Leicester, England, that one scarcely knows where to begin.
Let’s proceed chronologically.
Appleby said the 10 injuries to the body were inflicted by weapons like swords, daggers and halberds and were consistent with accounts of Richard being struck down in battle — his helmet knocked from his head — before his body was stripped naked and flung over the back of a horse in disgrace.
She said some scars, including a knife wound to the buttock, bore the hallmarks of “humiliation injuries” inflicted after death.
The remains also displayed signs of scoliosis, which is a form of spinal curvature, consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard’s appearance, though not with Shakespeare’s description of him as “deform’d, unfinished,” hunchback.
Researchers conducted a battery of scientific tests, including radiocarbon dating to determine the skeleton’s age. They found the skeleton belonged to a man aged between his late 20s and late 30s who died between 1455 and 1540. Richard was 32 when he died in 1485.
Significantly, project genealogist Kevin Schurer stated that he had confirmed the validity of earlier research by British historian John Ashdown-Hill — author of The Last Days of Richard III — that had traced the king’s maternal lineage to Joy Ibsen, Michael Ibsen’s late mother, in 2004.
Earlier on Monday, Ashdown-Hill had told a BBC interviewer how his genealogical sleuthing had led him from a line of descent starting with Anne of York — Richard III’s sister — to a long-sought “living link”: a British-born, retired journalist living in Canada, Joy Ibsen.
AP Photo/ University of LeicesterUndated photo made available by the University of Leicester, England, Monday Feb. 4 2013 of remains found underneath a car park last September at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester, which have been declared Monday "beyond reasonable doubt" to be the long lost remains of England's King Richard III, missing for 500 years.
“It took me about two years, and an enormous family tree grew on my computer, because obviously one has to trace every possible line of descent — you don’t know which one’s going to die out in 1745, and which one is going to carry on to the present day, so you have to trace them all,” Ashdown-Hill recalled. “And it was a lady in Canada. The person we’re dealing with now is Michael Ibsen, but it was his mother, Joy, that I contacted in 2004, and fortunately her background was in journalism and she had an inquiring mind. She was also interested in her family history, but she had no idea about this connection. She was fascinated to be told this.”
REUTERS/Darren StaplesArchaeologist Mathew Morris sits in the trench where he found skeleton remains during an archeological dig to find the remains of King Richard III in Leicester, central England, September 12, 2012.
Joy Ibsen died in 2008 at age 82, but the so-called “mtDNA” marker she shared with Richard III is also carried by her children: Michael, who now lives in London, England, Jeff of Toronto and Leslie of Vancouver Island.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Michael Ibsen told Postmedia News after the skeleton was discovered in September. “You couldn’t have written a movie script better than this. They find a skeleton with an arrow in its back, a spine with scoliosis and a head wound from a sword. They might as well have found him with a plaque saying HERE I AM.”
The discovery is a boon for the city of Leicester, which has bought a building next to the parking lot to serve as a visitor center and museum.
The mayor, Peter Soulsby, said the monarch would be interred in the city’s cathedral and a memorial service would be held.
Asked if the late king would get a state funeral, Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman Jean-Christophe Gray said it was a matter for the university.
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