Richard III: found!

4 mins read

Richard III's remains in situ - copyright University of LeicesterAt a Leicester press conference today (4 Feb), experts announced that the human remains found beneath a city centre carpark last August are ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ those of Richard III.

Addressing over 100 journalists from all over the world, the panel reported that the skeleton was that of an adult male, aged in his late 20s or early 30s when he died. Richard III was 32 when he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Two radiocarbon dates obtained from the remains also pointed towards the skeleton being that of England’s last Medieval king, giving a range of AD 1455-1540.

The crucial detail, however, was whether the researchers had been able to extract DNA from the 500-year-old remains, and whether these had shown a link with Michael Ibsen, a known descendant of Richard III’s sister, Anne of York.

Prof Kevin Schurer and Dr Turi King, who have worked on this aspect of the research, explained that they had in fact been able to identify two descendants along the maternal line, both of whom had provided a sample, enabling the experts to triangulate their results, comparing both to a sample taken from the Medieval individual’s tooth.  Analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down the female line, provided a conclusive match.

‘Our academic conclusion,beyond reasonable doubt, is that this individual is indeed Richard III,’ said Richard Buckley, who led the initial excavation.

Identifying the king’s remains has enabled the team to rewrite our understanding of how the monarch died, and how his body was treated after his death.

Richard's skull, showing some of his severe injuries, copyright University of LeicesterWhile initial conservation had revealed two wounds to the king’s remains, today the team announced that they had identified ten – 8 inflicted on his skull, and two more to his rib and pelvis. The corroded iron object initially interpreted as an arrowhead has now been discounted as a Roman nail that had intruded into the grave.

Team osteologist Jo Appleby described the injuries.

‘They are all characteristic of perimortem wounds, meaning that they were caused at or just after the time of death,’ she said. ‘They are consistent with battle injuries, and some would have been fatal.’

A small penetrating wound to the top of the skull is thought to have been caused by a direct blow from a weapon rather than a projectile, and would not have been fatal. There was a more severe wound to the back of the head, however, where a sword or halberd had sliced away a large piece of bone. Another nearby blow had cut 10cm into the skull.

‘Both of these would have caused immediate unconsciousness with death following shortly,’ said Jo Appleby.  ‘Three more shallow wounds to the surface of the skull had shaved off small areas of bone, but these are not likely to have been fatal, unless blood loss was left untreated.’

This concentration of injuries to the head suggests that Richard had lost his helmet at some point during the battle, Jo added. The other wounds, however, could be interpreted as evidence that the body had been mistreated after death.

A small cut to the cheekbone, consistent with a dagger, and a cut to the lower jaw, were very shallow to have been battle injuries, Jo suggested.

‘While we cannot say this definitely, they are much less severe than injuries you tend to see on victims of Medieval warfare, and I wonder if they were inflicted on the King’s remains after his death as a final humiliation,’ she said.

The other two wounds seem to support this theory – a cut to hisMistreated after death? A cut to Richard's pelvis suggests his corpse may have been attacked. Copyright - University of Leicester rib, inflicted from the back, and another to his pelvis, from a blow thrust through the right buttock, should not have been able to penetrate his armour, the team say. Historical sources describe how the king’s body was stripped naked and thrown over a horse to take back to Leicester. It is possible that the wounds were inflicted to his vulnerable remains at this time.  Analysis of the king’s grave also points to an unceremonious end.

‘The grave was very irregular, with sloping sides and a concave base,’ said Richard Buckley. ‘It seemed to have been hastily dug – it was too short for the individual interred in it.’

Richard’s remains seem to have been dumped unceremoniously into the grave cut; his legs were lower than the rest of the body, suggesting they had gone in first, and his torso was twisted, with his head propped up by a corner of the grave. Unusually for Medieval burials, his arms were not extended at his sides, but crossed at the wrists over his pelvis. While no trace of any binding survives, the team have speculated that this might suggest that his hands had been tied when he was buried.  No evidence of clothing, a shroud, a coffin, or personal effects were found with him.

But while much of the research has revealed a rather ignominious end for England’s last Plantagenet king, the team  were also able to lay to rest some myths about Richard III’s appearance – while he did suffer from severe scoliosis, he did not have the withered arm popularised by Shakespeare.

The full skeleton, with no sign of a withered arm - copyright University of Leicester‘He was unusually slender, with an almost feminine build that was unusual for men of this period but consistent with historical descriptions of Richard,’ said Jo Appleby. ‘Both his arms were the same size and had been used normally during his life – there is no evidence that one was withered.

‘He did suffer from severe scoliosis, however. It is ideopathic adolescent onset scoliosis, which means he wasn’t born with a crooked spine, but would have started to develop scoliosis when he was around 10. With a straight spine he would have been about 5’8″ tall – above average for the time – but this twisted spine would have made him significantly shorter.

‘This condition could have put pressure on his heart and lungs, and perhaps caused pain, but we cannot know for sure.’

ichard's twisted spine. Copyright University of Leicester

As the conference closed, it was announced that Richard III’s remains will be buried in Leicester Cathedral.

‘It is best archaeological practice to bury human remains as close to where they were found as possible, and Leicester Cathedral is the nearest consecrated ground,’ said Richard Taylor.

The exhumation licence obtained from the Ministry of Justice requires the team to bury Richard III by August 2014 but it is expected that his interment will take place later this year.

The Richard III Society have raised funds for a grave marker which will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

‘We have found him – now it is time to honour him,’ said Philippa Langley, who first launched the project.


Read our full feature about the discovery and identification of Richard III in CA 277






  1. It is a good thing that the observations to the rumours were not believed here otherwise King Richard III would still be at the bottom of the river near where he was slain. What a find. AWESOME Work to the team and all their efforts.

  2. As a South African I am absolutely amazed & fascinated by the work & dedication that went into putting this all together. I am almost driven to tears that at last Ricahrd III has been found & he can be laid to rest & get the honour & acclaimation due to him. He is my favourite of all the English monarchs. I never believed all those terrible things that were said of him anyway.

  3. Geneology is not science. While DNA from this burial links these remains to at least two living English people, is that so unusual for an island? “Meet The Ancestors” has had at least three programs in 2 years alone where ancient remains were linked by DNA to living English citizens. One was a resident in the same area as the ancient burial remains. I’ve no argument with finding Richard the Third. Frankly it would be incredible and marvelous. But the absolute beyond any reasonable doubts proof would be to link these remains to the remains of one his relatives from HIS time, not ours. Mistakes happen in geneology even with the best trained people. Much easier mistakes than in DNA analysis. DNA has proved living people are related to these bones but ONLY geneology has proved these living people are related to these bones. That is tenuous. I’ve also watched Ms. Langley’s very emotional pursuit of this and feel it hampers rather than helps this mystery. Does romance belong in science? From her “feelings” about the burial site in the to be excavated parking lot to her insistance that these remains be covered with Richard’s coat of arms when removed from it’s grave before any tests were done to her emotional breakdown when first viewing the remains restructured in a lab. What has been driving this interesting incident? I’m not sure it has been science alone. And only science should be THE driving force to solve this mystery. Not Ms. Langley, not the Richard the 3rd Society, not the University of Leicester’s justifiable ambitions to have a grand story. Only science. This is too important. For me, when DNA links these remains to Richard’s sister Anne, not her modern descendants, or to one of his other deceased relatives, his parents perhaps but relatives from his own time, will I be convinced these are the remains of a King. Until then it is the best evidence available. For such a landmark development, the combination DNA AND geneology is simply not good enough. Only one of these disciplines is a true science. The other even with the best intentions and training is prone to misinterpretation and mistakes. I do hope this is King Richard the Third. But until such time as science links these bones to one of his contemporaries, for me it will be only a romantic theory and speculation. And I do not think that is good enough.

  4. P.S.
    Richard the Third’s sister lies in St. George’s Chapel. Anne St. Leger. Why not link her DNA to the remains in the parking lot? Why not? Then you know for certain without any doubts whatsoever whose burial this is.

      • How interesting that this site decided to delete my initial remarks about this discovery. My post script was only additional information. There is a rush to judgement about this discovery that is odd to say the least. A rush to judgement by the University and perhaps a bias. Why not submit these remains to another less involved DNA lab and less involved group of specialists who have no interest in the outcome nor have their services been funded by a group intent on rewriting history and rehabilitating a character from that history. Or haven’t people heard that Richard III did not commit any murders; could not have committed any murders. Why? Well, as Ms. Langley states just look at his image? Bollocks! The outcome of this exhumation was foretold the moment Ms. Langley draped the box of remains just out of their parking lot grave with the colours of the Plantagenets. That is not science. That is not history. That is not truth. Now let’s see if this website also deletes these remarks!

        • @D Christine Carr – Remarks not deleted – we just hadn’t got round to approving them. Due to Spam, a human approves all commments. We love a healthy debate!

          • Yet my post script was published prior to my remarks in chief. Thank you for printing them. This discovery demands a healthy debate. Has it really received it?

        • You are talking rubbish not the scientists! Yes putting the colours on a box of bones was stupid; but it was also a mark of respect for the dead. Dr Jo Appleby the bone expert pointed out that she was not happy with this and she tried to stay neutral during it all. She was stood back the whole time and made sure everything was done correctly. The evidence taken as a whole proved it was Richard III. The DNA was taken by two strands of the family and a third also matched. The bone examination and the wounds also proved it; the face looks as his portrait, and the actual description of Richard matched. Several other tests also matched. He is also male, the right age and died in the right time period, although this was a bit out. All in all the evidence pointed to the bones being Richard.

          What has whether or not he killed his nephews or anyone else got to do with the identificaion of his bones? The finding of his bones does not re-write history or anything else; it actually confirmed one thing: he did have a curved spine! He could have the blackest heart or the purest heart in history; I do not understand what that has to do with the finding of his bones. You cannot show if he killed anyone from his skeleton or facial reconstruction. But your demand that he is again examined by another lad is ridiculous. All of the experiments were carried out over several months and according to proper protocols. He is Richard III and you cannot change that fact.

  5. The search for the relations of Richard has taken a couple of years and this search for his remains have also taken some investigation over a couple of years. The Victorians seem to have had some interest in trying to find Richard as with other ancient sites and people and an antiquarian went to look for his body. However, this gentleman went to the site of the Black Canons and not the Greyfriars Church, where Richard was buried. When he did not find Richard or any remains he believed a tradition and said that the remains had been put into the River Soar at the disolution of the monastries. He wrote this in a leaflet and the rumour came down to us. Some historic books have this claim still as they have not been updated or corrected. It was not a serious claim and there is some other evidence that the tomb was not emptied in the 16th century.

    For example it was seen in the house of Christopher Wrenn senior in 1618 that this place was the burial place of Richard III and it was noted that a pillar marked the place. There was a later tradition that Richard had a coffin of stone and this was kept on the site and was then at some time put on public view. This coffin is in the grounds of the Bosworth Heritage Centre. The coffin was known in the 18th century but was not connected with Richard at all. However, some records of Richard being still buried in Greyfiars was passed down in later records and the White Rose Society, now the Richard 111 Society kept the tradition alive. Philippa Langtrey who persuaded Leicester Cathedral to look for the site under the carpark that used to be over the friary, showed some old plans that indicated that the choir held a tomb and other records pointed to the body still being here. Fortunately the hunch was correct and when they dug in September 2012 they hit gold.

    Richard was placed in the choir, the most important part of the church, and the society had a hunch that he was here. A trench was opened here and as if by magic, although more likely because it was an educated guess bones found at once. Thanks to the science that we now have and DNA, bone studies, age science, the wounds on the bones being measured and identified and so on, Richard was finally identified as well as how he died. The main shock of course was his deformed spine. This does not make Richard a monster but it proves that his enemies did not make everything up about him. We have other relatives buried here and there that can also be used to tell us even more about Rchard and his DNA. We can identify other cousins and so on and even how they died as well from his DNA. We could confirm if the boys in the urn in Westminster Abbey that are meant to be the Princes in the Tower really are his nephews or not. It is an incredible discovery and again congratulations to the work of the University of Leicester and the Richard III Society.

  6. I cried tears of joy on that day when results of investigations given that it IS Richard the Third. Joy didn’t last long before an unseemly fight began over who had the right to re-bury the King. Richard had turned from a much maligned King into a Cash Cow for wherever built his tomb. I’ve rarely felt such disgust and anger. Even now, when all “seems” settled, the anger still lingers. Perhaps because I think, cynically that perhaps it isn’t ” settled” at all. That protesters at the place and those who believe it’s NOT Richard will continue to grumble on. To all. These bones once were a human being. Please give them the dignity befitting every person, Royal or Lowly.

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