- Writing for the VCH
- VCH Explore
There's huge excitement here in Leicester, as the bones found under a council car park in August have been confirmed 'beyond reasonable doubt' by an inter-disciplinary team from the University of Leicester as those of Richard III.
At first, the chances of finding Richard III seemed remote. History records his burial in the choir of the Greyfriars' church, but the plan of the building was unknown, the whole area has been disturbed many times by later buildings, and there are still buildings on part of the site, so whether the choir could be identified and excavated was down to luck. Moreover, there was a long-standing story that Richard III's bones had been thrown into the river by local people when the religious houses were dissolved at the Reformation.
We now know that there was no truth in that story and that by sheer chance the choir area of the Greyfriars church was never built over.
So what has been announced today? How do we know that his bones have been found?
1. The excavation has confirmed the layout of the church and that the bones found on 25 August were in the choir
2. Radio carbon dating have provided a date of 1455-1540, consistent with death in 1485
3. The bones are those of a very slender man aged between late 20s and late 30s. Richard III was 32 when he died
4. The body was buried without clothing, shroud or coffin, which accords with historical accounts of Richard III's burial
5. As already announced, the man has scoliosis (severe curvature) of the spine.
6. The man died from two wounds to his head, either of which would have been fatal, both consistent with death in battle after loss of a helmet, a slice having been taken off the head consistent with an injury from a bladed weapon such as a halberd and the other caused by a weapon penetrating the skull to a depth of 10.5 cm. The penetrating wound would have caused almost immediate loss of consciousness and possibly instant death.
7. Genealogical lines have been checked, and two descendants from the female lineage of Richard III have been identified and their DNA taken
8. DNA was recovered from the body, is consistent with it being male and the mitochondrial DNA of the body matches that of the two descendants of the Plantagenet line.
The man was not a 'hunchback' and did not have a withered arm
9. Unlike other local skeletons of this period the arms were crossed at the wrists, suggesting that the hands of this individual had been tied at the wrists.
10. There were 8 other peri-mortem injuries to the skeleton, including two to the body which could not have been inflicted to a person wearing armour. These wounds are consistent with ritual humiliation of a stripped body. Although there were wounds to the jaw and cheek, the face was damaged minimally, perhaps to prove to contemporaries that this was definitely the body of their former king.
11. The piece of metal found in the spine which was mentioned at the first press conference appears to be a Roman nail disturbed during the burial of the body
12. In accordance with the permission for exhumation given by the Ministry of Justice, the body will be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral, just over the road from where it was originally buried (in 1485 the Cathedral was St Martin's church, and Greyfriars was in the parish of St Martin's).
Further details are available on a dedicated page on the University of Leicester website