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Excavating King Richard III

Updated on January 22, 2018
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"the image of Richard as a really bad man came to Shakespeare from histories written as propaganda for the winning side." — Lawrence Venuti, professor of English at Temple University

Richard's "moral degeneracy is attached to his physical deformity, his twisted back, his hump, his withered hand." — Lawrence Venuti

History Of King Richard III

  • King Richard III was the King of England for only 26 months from 1483 - 1485.
  • He was butchered at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, during the uprising ending the Plantagenet rule.
  • Thus concluded the War of the Roses, fighting between two rival factions of the House of Plantagenet - the House of Lancaster (symbolized by a red rose) and the House of York (symbolized by a white rose).
  • King Henry VII, of remote Lancastrian decent, his Tudor rival, took over the throne.
  • Many historians portray King Richard III as a king with a good heart who developed progressive legislation especially in criminal law where it is said he introduced the right to bail and he is said to have lifted restrictions on books and printing presses.
  • The Tudors who succeeded him maligned him and created the image of the cruel tyrant which persists today.
  • He was the last King to die in battle and was humiliated and buried in haste without coffin or ceremony.
  • William Shakespeare imortallized the tyrant king in his play where Richard III is described as a deformed hunchback who murdered his young nephews for the throne.

Scientific Tests Used To Establish The Remains As Those Of King Richard III

1. Radiocarbon dating was used to determine the age of the bones. Mass spectrometry determined that the male in question had eaten a diet comprised of large amounts of shellfish which absorb carbon-14 at significantly different rates than terrestrial organisms. Accounting for this, the radiocarbon dating confirms that the bones date from between 1470 and 1520. These dates fit the time frame of a living Richard III.

2. Osteology was used to determine the condition of the bones and injuries sustained while the individual was alive and possibly shortly after death.

3. Extraction of mitochondrial DNA was successful. PCR amplification would have been used to create from the small sample extracted, a larger sample for more detailed analysis.

4. Either restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis or short tandem repeat (STR) analysis would have been used to create a genetic fingerprint of the remains. Analysis of the mitochondrial DNA of the skeletal remains compared to Michael Ibsen, a 17th generation great nephew of King Richard III showed both shared a rare mitochondrial DNA sequence called Haplogroup J.

A
Bosworth Field, England:
Battle of Bosworth Field, Nuneaton, Leicestershire CV13, UK

get directions

Richard III died at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

B
Greyfriars in Leicester:
Grey Friars, Leicester LE1, UK

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The remains of King Richard III were discovered buried under a car park at the former site of Greyfriars Abbey near Leicester, England.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
 King Richard III at Bosworth Field. Leicester Greyfriars Church site map. Map is OSGB36 with the Church Choir suggested to be at SK58550438. The dotted brown line indicates the area Billson, 1920, identified as the extent of the Greyfriars grounds. The University of Leicester 2012 digThe grave site of Richard III, discovered in Leicester on 25 August 2012.
 King Richard III at Bosworth Field.
King Richard III at Bosworth Field. | Source
 Leicester Greyfriars Church site map. Map is OSGB36 with the Church Choir suggested to be at SK58550438. The dotted brown line indicates the area Billson, 1920, identified as the extent of the Greyfriars grounds. The University of Leicester 2012 dig
Leicester Greyfriars Church site map. Map is OSGB36 with the Church Choir suggested to be at SK58550438. The dotted brown line indicates the area Billson, 1920, identified as the extent of the Greyfriars grounds. The University of Leicester 2012 dig | Source
The grave site of Richard III, discovered in Leicester on 25 August 2012.
The grave site of Richard III, discovered in Leicester on 25 August 2012. | Source

Skeletal Evidence Suggesting The Remains Are Those of Richard III

The skeleton discovered buried at the site of Greyfriars Abbey contains compelling evidence on its own that it is indeed that of King Richard III. A CT scan at high resolution revealed many interesting features.

1. Two fatal wounds were discovered on his skull:

  • At the base of his skull, bone was cleaved off by a halberd which would have penetrated his brain. He would have died in seconds.
  • Another smaller injury caused by a sword was also found at the base of his skull. It too would have been a fatal wound.

2. A cut mark from a knife was discovered on his lower jaw, probably caused after he lost his helmet.

3. A dent in the top of his skull, probably occurring while his helmet was on, was not a fatal wound.

4. A small hole found on the top of his skull appears to have been caused by an arrow.

5. His cheekbone bore a small knife injury.

6. A cut mark on one rib, on his right side, probably occurred post-mortem.

7. There was an injury to the right pelvis suggesting he had been stabbed through the buttocks, possibly as a humiliation injury when his armor was removed after death and he was slung unceremoniously onto the back of a horse.

8. The King was often described as disfigured and the skeleton bears evidence of scoliosis.

Resources Used

Bolding, Jonathan. Archaeologist's Find King Richard III's Forgotten Bones. The Escapist. February 4. 2013

Boswell, Randy. How a Canadian's DNA could be the key to solving the mystery of King Richard III's missing bones. Postmedia News. February 4, 2013.

Boswell, Randy. Canadian family, Vancouver researcher key to dramatic announcement: Richard III’s remains found (with video). The Vancouver Sun. February 5, 2013.

Lawless, Jill. 'Beyond reasonable doubt': King Richard III's battle-scarred skeleton found buried Leicester parking lot. Associated Press. February 4, 2013.

Lawless, Jill. Wounds from the battlefield: What Richard’s remains revealed about war-scarred king. Associated Press. February 6, 2013.

Hunter, Ian. King Richard III's Canadian Connection. National Post. February 4, 2013.

Wikipedia. Exhumation of Richard III of England Wikipedia, February 4, 2013.


Comments

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    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      James, I'd love to some day come visit your beautiful country and tour the myriad of historical sites. My mum comes from near London growing up near Clacton-on-Sea during WWII. I'd love to enrich myself in my historical roots. I'd love to see original pictures of Bosworth Field if you ever get the chance to take and post some. Glad you enjoyed the hub James!

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 

      5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Fascinating article Teresa, I'm lucky enough to live within a half hour drive of Bosworth Field. The landscape is beautiful, quintessentially English. It's hard to believe that once it was the scene of such carnage.

      In relation to Richard III, there has been talk over here, of giving him a proper state funeral. I, for one think he deserves one. Hopefully the Royal Family will do the right thing for him.

    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      So glad you enjoyed the hub Gypsy Rose Lee. I appreciate the vote up!

    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Mistakes will be made but thank God we usually learn much from them. You are still a scholarly man in my eyes. Thanks so much for reading my humble hub. I always learn so much when writing them. It is always satisfying to know there are others out there who appreciate reading them. It is so hard to keep straight the lineage of the many lines of the royal family. No harm, no foul alancaster!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Teresa, you honour me o'ermuch! I made a boob on Edward IV's uncrowned son's cypher. It should have been Edward V. Edward VI was Henry VIII's only son.

      Truth of the matter is, there's always someone knows more (it's called 'Sod's Law'). No doubt there's someone out there tut-tutting about my comment and wrestling with the urge to add some more lines!

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      5 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Voted up and interesting. Thank you for sharing this fascinating and informative hub. I love history.

    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      alancaster, sounds like your knowledge far exceeds my own. I hope you enjoyed my hub. Archaeology of all kinds is a passion of mine and I could've not resist commenting and researching such a terrific story!

    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks so much Bumpsysmum. So glad you enjoyed the hub. U

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      There are more and more pages sympathetic to Richard's cause than anyone might have thought, considering the slander laid on with a trowel.

      Henry VII tried in hos own way to make amends with the Yorkist faction by marrying Edward IV's widow, Elizabeth Woodville. Edward VI (one of the princes in the Tower) was nominally king after Richard, having been given his cypher, but disappeared, uncrowned along with his younger brother Richard after their uncle's death at Bosworth Field. They both had a better claim to the crown than Henry, Earl of Richmond, who had a pretty path to dance to get to the throne. As it turned out, each of the Tudors (with the possible exception of Edward VI, who was slowly poisoned at the behest of his half-sister Mary) was an out-and-out tyrant with a capital 'T', power-mad and not far short of certifiable. It's thanks to the 'Bard Will S' that we have a rosier, cosier image of the Tudors and their successor James VI of Scotland (himself the result of a fraught upbringing, showing in his obsession with witches).

    • Bumpsysmum profile image

      Bumpsysmum 

      5 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Thank you for the information here. The news has been sadly lacking in any real information and this has saved me from having to do my own research. Well done.

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