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Associated Press
The remains found under a parking lot in Leicester, England, have been declared “beyond reasonable doubt” to be those of Richard III, who died in 1485.

Remains confirmed as King Richard III’s

Associated Press
In Leicester, England, on Monday, researcher Jo Appleby describes a skull believed to belong to King Richard III.

– He was king of England, but for centuries he lay without shroud or coffin in an unknown grave, and his name became a byword for villainy.

On Monday, scientists announced they had rescued the remains of Richard III from anonymity – and the monarch’s fans hope a revival of his reputation will soon follow.

In a dramatically orchestrated news conference, a team of archaeologists, geneticists, genealogists and other scientists from the University of Leicester announced that tests had proven what they scarcely dared to hope – a scarred and broken skeleton unearthed under a drab municipal parking lot was that of the 15th-century king, the last English monarch to die in battle.

Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley said a battery of tests proved “beyond reasonable doubt” that the remains were the king’s.

Lin Foxhall, head of the university’s school of archaeology, said the discovery “could end up rewriting a little bit of history in a big way.”

Few monarchs have seen their reputations decline as much after death as Richard III. He ruled England between 1483 and 1485, during the decades-long battle over the throne known as the Wars of the Roses, which pitted two wings of the ruling Plantagenet dynasty – York and Lancaster – against one another.

His brief reign saw liberal reforms, including the introduction of the right to bail and the lifting of restrictions on books and printing presses.

But his rule was challenged, and he was defeated and killed by the army of Henry Tudor, who took the throne as King Henry VII and ended the Plantagenet line. Britain’s current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is distantly related to Richard but is not a descendant.

After his death, historians writing under the victorious Tudors comprehensively trashed Richard’s reputation, accusing him of myriad crimes – most famously, the murder of his two nephews, the “Princes in the Tower.”

William Shakespeare indelibly depicted Richard as a hunchbacked usurper who left a trail of bodies on his way to the throne before dying in battle, shouting “My kingdom for a horse.”

Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society – which seeks to restore the late king’s reputation and backed the search for his grave – said that for centuries, Richard’s story has been told by others, many of them hostile.

She hopes a new surge of interest, along with evidence from the skeleton about how the king lived and died – and how he was mistreated after death – will help restore his reputation.

Unknown tomb

The location of Richard’s body was unknown for centuries. He died in August 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field in the English Midlands, and records say he was buried by the Franciscan monks of Grey Friars at their church in Leicester, 100 miles north of London.

The church was closed and dismantled after King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538, and its location eventually was forgotten by most local residents.

Then last year, a team led by University of Leicester archaeologist Richard Buckley identified a possible location of the grave through map regression analysis, starting with a current map of the general area of the former church and analyzing earlier maps to discover what had changed and not changed. Ground-penetrating radar was used to find the best places to start digging.

The team began excavating in a parking lot last August. Within a week, they had located thick walls and the remains of tiled floors. Soon after, they found human remains – the skeleton of an adult male who appeared to have died in battle.

He had been buried unceremoniously, with no coffin or shroud – plausible for a despised and defeated enemy.

Increasingly excited, the researchers set out to conduct scientific tests, including radiocarbon dating to determine the skeleton’s age, to see whether, against the odds, they really had found the king.

Archaeological bone specialist Jo Appleby, a lecturer in human bioarchaeology at Leicester, said study of the bones provided “a highly convincing case for identification of Richard III.”

Appleby said the 10 injuries to the body were inflicted by weapons such as swords, daggers and halberds and were consistent with accounts of Richard being struck down in battle.

The remains also displayed signs of scoliosis, a form of spinal curvature, consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard’s appearance, though not the withered arm Shakespeare describes.

DNA evidence

Furthermore, DNA from the skeleton matched a sample taken from Michael Ibsen, a distant living relative of Richard’s sister. The project’s lead geneticist, Turi King, said Ibsen, a Canadian carpenter living in London, shares with the skeleton a rare strain of mitochondrial DNA. The same DNA group also matches a second living descendant, who wants to remain anonymous.

King said that between 1 percent and 2 percent of the population belongs to this genetic subgroup, so the DNA evidence is not definitive proof in itself of the skeleton’s identity. But combined with the archaeological evidence, it left little doubt the skeleton belonged to Richard.

Some scientists felt qualms about the haste with which the Leicester team announced its results.

“It’s a bizarre way of going about things,” said Mark Horton, a professor of archaeology at the University of Bristol – although he said “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” identified the skeleton as Richard’s.

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.

Soon the remains will be moved to an undisclosed secure location, and next year Richard will, at last, get a king’s burial, interred with pomp and ceremony in Leicester Cathedral.

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