LONDON – A skeleton found in the remains of an English church is that of King Richard III, scientists said Monday, solving a 500-year-old mystery of what happened to a ruler immortalized by William Shakespeare as a hunchbacked villain.
The bones unearthed last year are Richard III’s “beyond a reasonable doubt,” lead archaeologist Richard Buckley told reporters in Leicester, about 90 miles north of London. The skeleton was found beneath a parking area built over what was once the church of the Grey Friars, where the king was buried after his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.
Richard III’s demise ended Britain’s Plantagenet dynasty of kings and inspired one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, with the title role performed by actors from Laurence Olivier to Kevin Spacey. In the bard’s play, which opens with the line “Now is the winter of our discontent,” the last British king to die in battle pleads to offer “my kingdom for a horse.”
In the months since the discovery, University of Leicester researchers extracted DNA from the teeth and long bone and compared them to that of London resident Michael Ibsen, believed to be a descendant of Richard III’s sister, Anne of York, as well as another living relative. A separate genealogical study was conducted to verify Ibsen’s connection to the king.
Richard III is sometimes accused of having arranged the killing of two young princes, the sons of the previous king, Edward IV. His death marked the end of the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty. He was succeeded by Henry VII.
Richard spent his last night before the battle at the Blue Boar Inn in Leicester, now the site of a Travelodge hotel, according to the researchers. His body was returned to the city and buried in the choir of the Franciscan Church in the Grey Friars Monastery, according to the group’s website.
The researchers used radiocarbon dating, radiological evidence, DNA work and bone analysis, as well as archaeological studies, to confirm the finding, they said today in a statement. The DNA matches two relatives descended from Richard III’s maternal line, one of whom has chosen to remain anonymous.
Among the findings of the radiocarbon dating was that the deceased had a high-protein diet “including significant amounts of seafood,” the researchers said. That indicates high status in the 15th century.
Ten wounds were discovered on the skeleton, and he was probably killed by one of two injuries to his skull, the researchers found. The corpse was “subjected to humiliation injuries, including a sword through the right buttock.”
The skeleton also indicates severe scoliosis, a spinal curvature that may confirm Richard III’s reputation as a hunchback. “His right shoulder may have been higher than the left,” according to the statement. There was no evidence the body had a withered arm as portrayed by Shakespeare.
Skeletal analysis showed the victim to be in his late 20s to late 30s, consistent with Richard III’s age of 32 at death.
The Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society collaborated with the university on the project.