Forensic test results announced on Monday confirmed the skeleton that had been found in a Leicester car park does indeed belong to Richard III who died in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: “Beyond reasonable doubt it’s Richard.”
Series of tests were carried out to determine whether the bones found buried under the floor of a medieval church belonged to the late King. The tests, along with DNA results and the collective decision of the experts, conclusively proved that the remains are indeed those of Richard III. Scientists have compared DNA sample from the bones with the mitochondrial DNA of Michael Ibsen, a Canadian-born carpenter who currently resides in Britain. Mitochondrial DNA can be inherited solely down the maternal line, and Ibsen is a direct matrilineal descendant of Anne of York, Richard III’s sister.
Even before official results came, however, there was little doubt the skeleton is indeed that of the later Plantagenet King of England. The skeleton has pronounced curvature of the spine caused by severe scoliosis which fits Richard III’s description (albeit not contemporary one). The skeleton had also suffered from a traumatic blow to the head, and an arrowhead was found embedded between the vertebrae. Both injuries have occurred at or close to the moment of the death which supports the account of the last moments of the King’s death as well.
Another piece of evidence to support the identity came from the position of the burial site. The remains were found under the choir floor of the former Greyfriars Monastery – and only people of very high status could be interred there. One of the experts working on the case said he would be extremely surprised if the DNA is not a match, adding that ‘the circumstantial evidence is just so strong’.
Most details of the amazing find were kept secret and released only bit by bit, to generate more public interest. In fact, scientists, historians and archaeologists involved in the project have been sworn to secrecy until the final DNA results were released.
The burial site for the remains has already been selected. Although Westminster Abbey and York Minister were strong candidates (the former because Richard III was after all a King, and the latter because of the strong ties the King had with York), it now seems that Leicester Cathedral is the likeliest choice. It does make sense: the King spent the last 500 years in Leicester so it will be fitting for the Leicester Cathedral to be his final resting place.
While questions of identification and burial ground are now resolved, the very personality of the King is subject to much debate. Although he was much maligned in the past, recent studies suggest he was far from the evil tyrant immortalised in Shakespeare’s play. Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society is among those who call for reassessing the King’s character and history.
To read more about the last Plantagenet King, have a look at this article – Richard III: A villain or a victim of character assassination?