It is Richard III: ‘beyond reasonable doubt’

DNA and other tests have confirmed that the body found in September does belong to Richard III, King of England from 1483 to 1485. Richard Buckley, Project Manager on the dig and director of University of Leicester Archaeological Services, said it was “beyond reasonable doubt” that the remains were of Richard.

Philippa Langley, secretary of the Richard III Society and the driving force behind the archaeological project, said during the eagerly anticipated press conference that “we have searched for Richard and found him. Now it is time to honour him.”

The press conference included presentations detailing the archaeological process, an evaluation of some of the historical texts, the DNA testing, and an osteoarchaeological analysis of the body. A full facial reconstruction will be shown later today on a documentary airing on Britain’s Channel 4.

DNA tests were done on remains found at Greyfriars, using the teeth and a femur bone. Dr Turi King revealed that the remains are indeed that of Richard III, as the Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) present were a match that of Michael Ibsen, the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Richard’s mother. “In short,” she states, “the DNA evidence points to these being the remains of Richard III.”

Michael Ibsen, a Canadian-citizen who lives in London, told the Globe and Mail, “It’s just remarkable to think that 500 years down the line that there should be some part of myself and my siblings that is indeed part of Richard III…I didn’t think there was any possibility after that length of time. But what do I know.”

Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, whose book The Last Days of Richard III revealed the geneological link between Michael Ibsen and Richard III’s family, and who was able to track down the location where Richard III was buried, told that even without the DNA analysis the evidence this was Richard III was almost conclusive. He explains: “Male remains, right age, right period, right social class, found in the right place, left shoulder lower than the right, evidence of a violent death, evidence of rough handling after death – plus the evidence of the overall physique and the facial reconstruction. I think that comes to a total of 9 positive points – with just the DNA missing – so I reckon that constitutes about 90% proof of identity.”

An osteoarchaeological analysis reveals that Richard III suffered ten wounds, eight of which were on the skull. There was a large wound on the base of the skull, likely caused by a halberd, and another smaller blade wound close to that spot, both of which would have been may have been instantly fatal, and would have probably caused Richard to lose consciousness and die within moments.

The other wounds on the head included small cuts that shaven off pieces of the skull, a dagger wound that woud have pierced his right cheek, and another dagger wound on his jaw, which may have been caused after he died (accounts of the battle do mention that Richard’s body was mistreated after he was killed). There were also wounds on the right pelvis and on the ribs. These wounds may have also been made after the King was killed and his body stripped – the pelvis wound was made when someone pierced his right buttock with a dagger.

Richard III would have stood at 5 feet 8 inches, but he suffered from a type of scoliosis that caused a spinal deformity that would have left him somewhat shorter. The analysis suggests that this disease would have affected him after the age of 10. Meanwhile, the analysis also showed that there was no indication that Richard had a withered arm, as had been claimed by some sources. Dr Jo Appleby, the osteology expert from the University of Leicester, adds that Richard had a “slender, almost feminine frame.”

Dr. Ashdown-Hill remarks that “for many years Richard’s defenders had sought to overturn the Tudor and later story that he was deformed, and one of their arguments against this was that he was a successful military commander, so his physique must have been normal. But it now seems that Richard may well have suffered from a deformity of the spine – but that he overcame this to wear armour, wield heavy weapons, and do everything a man was expected to do in battle. Incidentally, this also raises interesting questions about our view of physical deformity. In the 16th century this was seen as a sign of an evil character. Hopefully we don’t see it that way today — but in that case why were Richard’s supporters so concerned to argue that he had no physical deformity?”

Richard Buckley commented on the archaeological process, and how he believed “it was always a longshot” that they could find any remains. Three trenches were dug in a car park in the centre of Leicester, which uncovered the remains of eastern end of the church of the Greyfriars. On September 5th the remains of a male body were discovered. The curvature in his twisted torso was an obvious indication that this may indeed belong to the English king. The archaeologist also noted that the arms were crossed in the burial site, with his right hand over his left. This is very rare for a burial from this period, and Buckley believes it may indicate that the hands were tied when he was laid to rest in the church.

Radiocarbon dating of the remains show the body was buried between the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and also that the individual had a high protein diet, including significant amounts of seafood. Another piece of evidence uncovered in the research was that grave was hastily dug, and was not big enough for the body to be placed horizontally in. There was no shroud or coffin, which suggests that Richard was quickly and quietly buried in the church.

The discovery of Richard III’s remains is being lauded as one of the most important archaeological finds in English history. It will also create much new interest in the medieval period and in the life and reign of Richard III. Joe Ann Ricca, Chief Executive of the Richard III Foundation, which contributed £5000 to the archaeological dig, said ” it is my hope a new and renewed interest will begin on the reputation of King Richard III and people will begin to see the great potential he demonstrated during his short reign.  We anticipate a new day for history and for King Richard III.”

Medieval historians are also excited about the find. Kelly DeVries, Professor of History at Loyola University Maryland, tells “I think it is just cool to have something that we have that link to the past.” He says of Richard III’s reign, “at best we could say he was a bad king. He usurps the throne and then loses the throne to an upstart. At worst he is a murderer” – Richard III has been suspected of killing Edward V and his younger brother Richard, both of whom were 12 and 9 years old at the time.

Preparations are now being made to rebury the English king in Leicester Cathedral. Following best archaeological practices, bodies should be buried in the nearest consecrated ground from where they were found. David Montieth, Canon Chancellor of Leicester Cathedral, says they will give Richard a “lasting and dignified sanctuary.” Philippa Langley adds that the Richard III Society is designing a historically-accurate tomb for the cathedral and has already raised £10000.

Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester, revealed that a temporary exhibit about the Richard III discovery will be opened later this week, and that a permanent visitors centre will be created next to the car park where the body was discovered.

It is expected that Richard III will be reburied early in 2014.

Richard Buckley adds, “It has been an honour and privilege for all of us to be at the centre of an academic project that has had such phenomenal global interest and mass public appeal. Rarely have the conclusions of academic research been so eagerly awaited.”

Click here to read: Have the remains of Richard III been found? Archaeologists discover skeleton at Leicester dig

Click here to read: Search begins for lost grave of King Richard III

Click here to read more about Richard III

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