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Documentary - Secrets: Richard III Revealed (2013)

By Edited Jan 1, 2016 1 2


By way of introduction to this fascinating film, a few facts concerning Richard III should be made known.

Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, was supposedly the protector of his deceased brother Edward IV’s two sons, Edward V and his younger brother Richard, who were confined in the Tower of London, never to be seen again.  The Duke of Gloucester then became King Richard III. 

Richard’s controversial reign as king lasted only two years from 1483-85.  He was the last king of the House of York.  His notorious, turbulent reign was depicted by Shakespeare in his play, King Richard III.  In 1485, Henry Tudor boastfully claimed the English throne to become King Henry VII.  Two weeks later, Henry defeated Richard, fighting for his own claim to the throne, at the battle of Bosworth.  Richard was killed on the battlefield when he was just 32 years old.


King Richard III

                                                         King Richard III - Wikimedia

A Team of Archeologists

This film is about a team of archeologists and researchers including Philippa Langley, Simon Farnaby, Richard Buckley, Matthew Morris, Dr. Jo Appleby, Dr. Turi King, and historian John Ashdown-Hill, who are investigating the possible burial place of King Richard III in Leicester, England at the former site of the Grey Friars church.  If they are successful, they will have solved a mystery that is 500 years old.  Was the real King a bloody tyrant or simply slandered by his enemies?

The monastery was gone, but there was a parking lot in its place, with strange R marks on the tarmac.  The archeologists proceeded to dig up the parking lot, where Philippa Langley’s intuition led her.

In the first part of the first trench that had been uncovered, they found a bit of bone.  However, they know it’s a church; they know it has a graveyard, so they aren’t too excited at this point.  There are two leg bones perpendicular which is a good sign that it is a human burial.

The team feels that they need to find the choir.  That is where important people are buried.  They make a breakthrough.  The first trench is the Cloister; the second is the Chapter House; the third is the Church itself.  They sense that they are about to uncover one of the more astounding archeological finds ever unearthed.



                                                 Credit:  Gersdorff-Feldbuch Skeleton - Wikimedia

A Skeleton is Located

They located a skull in the grave, higher than where they found the legs.  The legs seemed to be normal.  They located the arms, which seemed not out of the ordinary.  Next, they excavated the spinal column.  The vertebra was displaced, considerably off to one side.  Interesting, since Richard III is reported to have a crooked back.  The skeleton is, in fact, a hunchback; there is an abnormal curvature.

This was bad news for Philippa Langley.  She is a member of the Richard III Society which has challenged the Shakespearean image of a deformed King.  She is visibly upset.  A curved spine; a skull with evidence of trauma.  It was quite a moment.  Dr. Jo Appleby warns, however, that the clues do not say it was the King.

It was a simply constructed grave.  There was no coffin.  The corpse might possibly have been in a shroud, which did not remain.  The spine was the last thing to be lifted out.  Care was needed for this procedure.

There was neither a tombstone nor an inscription.  It was not yet known if it was a man, how he died, and what was his age.  Only the bones can reveal this now.  The skull is where the DNA will be extracted.  It is carefully wrapped up, and Dr. Jo Appleby is carrying it away in the car.  The box of bones could create a global sensation.  They are ready for their first announcement to the media.  They have a man, respectably but simply buried, with severe scoliosis.  It is potentially an historic moment.


Mitrochondrial DNA vs. Nuclear DNA

                                         Mitochondrial DNA vs. Nuclear DNA - Wikimedia

Innumerable Tests Must be Done

There is much to be done:  CT Scans, carbon dating, DNA sequencing, facial reconstruction, and bone analysis.  It could be the notorious King Richard III.  It still remains a mystery.  Dr. Turi King must find the fragile DNA in the bones.  The teeth, fortunately, are well preserved.  They need to be crushed to extract the DNA.  It takes months of painstaking work.

The CT Scan has to be done first, before washing the bones.  Washing could remove traces of abnormalities or injuries.  There are 206 bones in the human body.  Each has to be positioned precisely.  Scanning will give a complete record in case the skeleton falls apart during cleaning.  The vertebrae are not normal.

We have only had a few paintings of Richard III for over 500 years.  It is possible to reconstruct his face.  It is an anatomical process.  Once the CT Scans are complete, the skeletons can be carefully cleaned.  They are able to determine the age and sex of the skeleton.  He would be 5 feet 8 inches tall.  The skeleton is between his late 20’s and early 30’s.  Right on, because Richard II was 32 years old when he died.

There is a 3D twisting of the spine which indicates scoliosis.  It has the appearance of an S-shaped spine with a huge curve between 60 and 80 degrees.  Philippa Langley is upset to hear that he is a hunchback, which her society has fought to refute.  Hunchback is not a medical term.  You can be born with it.  In Richard, it began in his early teens, somewhere between 10 and 13 years of age.  It would have caused massive pain.

The Final Proof is in the DNA

First, they need proof that it is Richard III.  The final proof is in the DNA, and only in the type that is passed down through the female line, called mitochondrial DNA, found in the eggs.  Richard III’s mother, Cecily Neville, had a number of sisters, but some did not marry, some had only male children.  Dr. John Ashdown-Hill was successful in locating one preserved all-female line up to this final day.  The subject is a living relative named Michael Ibsen.  He is directly related to the family of Richard III; he is 17 generations removed, but he is a direct descendent.  A researcher from the University of Leicester took a spit sample from Michael Ibsen to sequence his mitochondrial DNA.  The DNA must be a perfect match.  Lo and behold, the DNAs are a match.  They two DNAs share Haplotype J1C12C.  Only 1% to 2% of the population have this type, which makes it a better match.

Another test: Carbon dating is ready.  The amount of radioactive Carbon-14 left in a skeleton can determine the date of death.  It was 94.5% close to the time of Richard III’s death.


Archeological Dig

                                                          An Archeological Dig - Wikimedia

The discovery of the remains of the missing English Monarch Richard III makes headline news around the world.  The team is now able to reconstruct his face.  A likeness begins to emerge.  A clear picture of Richard III is developing.  

Richard had ten identifiable injuries on his body.  All injuries occurred at the time of death because none were healing.  There were injuries to his jaw, skull, face, ribs, and backside.  This last one was no doubt a humiliation wound to the buttocks, probably administered after his death.

The team felt the need to revisit the site of his death, where the Battle of Bosworth occurred.  He was a warrior king, and he died as a warrior king.  His death was the end of the reign of the House of York and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty, which ruled for 118 years.



King Richard III (Cambridge School Shakespeare)
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Nov 6, 2015 10:39am
I found the process by which the researchers determined that the skeleton was indeed that of Richard III fascinating. Great review!
Nov 6, 2015 1:22pm
It was fun to learn about this process. I loved the film. Thanks, Lesley
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  1. "Richard III." The Official Website of the British Monarchy. 5/11/2015. 4/11/2015 <Web >
  2. "Richard III Biography." bio.. 5/11/2015. 4/11/2015 <Web >

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