How the puzzle of Richard III was finally solved

Portrait of King Richard III of EnglandIn a press conference in early February 2013 the University of Leicester confirmed that a skeleton found under a car park in the city was that of King Richard III of England. The release of the information was the culmination of months of DNA analysis and genealogical research, and made headlines around the world. This led to a new level of interest in King Richard III of England, his life story, and how he came to meet his end.


The back story to the discovery of King Richard III of England

Historical documentation had suggested that King Richard III of England had been buried in the Church of the Grey Friars in Leicester. However, the church and surrounding monastery had been subsequently destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII, which meant that a lot of research was required to pinpoint its precise modern location. Eventually it was discovered that the site of the church lay beneath a modern car park, and the excavation work began.


The Skeleton of King Richard III of EnglandCredit: quickly after the first trench was cut, coincidentally at a parking space that bore the initial 'R', a skeleton was discovered. The archaeologists were initially very sceptical that these remains could be those of King Richard III of England, although the location certainly matched contemporary accounts of his burial. Intriguingly, the skeleton showed a prominent curvature of the spine. Richard III was reported to have a hunchback, a claim disputed by many modern historians, but nevertheless this was another important piece of evidence.


The find was deemed important enough for the remains to be taken away for further analysis, with hopes raising all the time that the remains of King Richard III of England had finally been found. Months of painstaking research followed: the bones were carbon dated and analysed for injury; Richard's genealogy was researched and his modern day descendants traced; and finally DNA was extracted from the skeleton and compared with that of the descendants. The skull of the skeleton also provided an opportunity for a likeness to be created using facial reconstruction techniques.


Facial Reconstruction of King Richard III of England

The results

The details that were established as a result of the research were truly astonishing. The researchers at the University of Leicester could tell that the skeleton was of a man in his late 20s or early 30s, that the bones dated from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, that the man had scoliosis of the spine, that he had a diet which was rich in protein, and that he had suffered a severe head trauma in addition to other stab wounds. All of this fit the profile of King Richard III of England, but the final confirmation only came when the DNA results showed a perfect match between the skeleton and Richard's known living descendants.


Who was King Richard III of England?

Richard III was the last of the Plantagenet line of English kings, and he had a white boar on his coat of arms. He was born in 1452 in Fotheringhay Castle to Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. He lived during the time of the Wars of the Roses, where his own family, the House of York, battled for control of the crown with the opposing House of Lancaster. His brother, Edward IV, regained the throne in 1471, and reigned until his death in 1483. At this point Edward's twelve year old son, Edward V, was named as successor, and Richard III as Lord Protector. However, shortly afterwards both Edward V and his nine year old brother were placed in the Tower of London, and Richard III declared himself King of England. He ruled England for only a short time, and died in battle in 1485


The death of King Richard III of England

King Richard III of England had a large amount of military experience, and was known as a skilled soldier and military technician. Nevertheless, it was on the battlefield that he met his end, and he was actually the last ever English monarch to die in battle. The conflict in question, the Battle of Bosworth Field, was the final decisive battle in the Wars of the Roses, and saw Henry Tudor of the House of Lancaster win to take the throne.


HalberdCredit: www.nps.govContemporary accounts of the Battle of Bosworth Field tell of King Richard III losing his horse, but fighting bravely to the end as he was surrounded by Lancastrian soldiers. Interestingly, the researchers of the University of Leicester could tell from the skeleton found over 500 years after the Battle of Bosworth Field that King Richard III suffered small injuries to his face, pelvis, and the top of his head, as well as a catastrophic blow to the back of his skull that would have killed him instantly. This blow would have come from a heavy bladed weapon, most likely a halberd.


The princes in the TowerKing Richard III of England – Man Vs Myth

Throughout history King Richard III of England has been one of the country's most despised rulers. He was said to be a hunchbacked tyrant who locked his nephews in the Tower of London before having them murdered. William Shakespeare's play depicts him in very unflattering terms, and it is this version that has survived throughout the centuries.


However, many modern historians believe that much of this reputation was founded on propaganda by the new Tudor dynasty. They believed that if Richard III of York was discredited then their claim to the throne would be secure.


The Richard III Society, which has members from all over the world, has made it their mission to set the record straight about King Richard III of England. They point to contemporary accounts highlighting the people's grief about the death of Richard to prove that he was not a tyrant. In addition, to say that he was a hunchback is a gross overstatement. With the discovery of his skeleton it is now known that he had scoliosis of the spine, which would most likely have simply made one shoulder slightly higher than the other.


The claim about the princes in the tower is slightly harder to dismiss. Although there is no definitive proof of their murder they certainly disappeared. If Richard III did have them murdered it would have removed a challenge to his position as king. He had the motive and the opportunity, but we may never know if he ordered the crime to be committed.


The final resting place of King Richard III of England

Now that the skeleton from the car park has been confirmed as that of King Richard III of England he will be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral. For the Richard III Society, and for historians in general, this is a much more fitting final resting place for England's previously lost monarch.