Bones Under Parking Lot Belonged to Richard III
By JOHN F. BURNS and ALAN COWELL
Published: February 4, 2013
LEICESTER, England — In one of Britain’s most dramatic modern archaeological finds, researchers here announced on Monday that skeletal remains found under a parking lot in this English Midlands city were those of King Richard III, for centuries the most widely reviled of English monarchs, paving the way for a possible reassessment of his brief but violent reign.
At the news conference on Monday, researchers showed photographs of the skeleton as they found it, stuffed into a grave without a coffin, clearly displaying curvature of the spine as chronicled in historical descriptions of Richard III’s appearance.
DNA samples from the remains had been compared with the DNA of two descendants of the monarch’s family, the researchers said. One of the descendants, Michael Ibsen, is the son of a 16th-generation niece of King Richard’s. The second wished to remain anonymous, the researchers said.
The team from the University of Leicester said that the body displayed 10 wounds, 8 of them in the skull and some likely to have caused death, possibly by a blow from a halberd, a kind of medieval weapon with an ax-like head on a long pole. Other wounds seem to have been inflicted after his death to humiliate the monarch after his armor was stripped away and he was paraded naked over the back of a horse, the researchers said.
Since at least the late 18th century, scholars have debated whether Richard was the victim of a campaign of denigration by the Tudor monarchs who succeeded him. His supporters argue that he was a decent king, harsh in the ways of his time, but a proponent of groundbreaking measures to help the poor, extend protections to suspected felons and ease bans on the printing and selling books.
But his detractors cast Richard’s 26 months on the throne as one of England’s grimmest periods, its excesses captured in his alleged role in the murder in the Tower of London of two young princes — his own nephews — to rid himself of potential rivals.
Shakespeare told the king’s story in “Richard III,” depicting him as an evil, scheming hunchback whose death at 32 ended the War of the Roses and more than three centuries of Plantagenet rule, bookended England’s Middle Ages, and proved a prelude to the triumphs of the Tudors and Elizabethans.
In Shakespeare’s account, Richard was killed after being unhorsed on the battlefield, crying: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.”
Officials of the University of Leicester said plans were now in hand to bury the bones in Leicester’s Anglican cathedral, barely 100 yards from where the bones were found. A spokesman for the cathedral said that reburial would likely take place early next year as part of a memorial service honoring Richard as an English king.
The bones were first located when archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar on the site of the former priory and discovered that it was not underneath a 19th century bank where it was presumed to be, but under a parking lot across the street. The remains were located within days of the start of digging.