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It’s Official, It’s Richard III


Bone specialist Jo Appleby describing the condition of Richard III's skeleton

Bone specialist Jo Appleby describing the condition of Richard III’s skeleton


They chopped off his feet.

 In every legend there is a kernel of truth. The legend of the death of King Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485 included the gory story of how his body was hacked to pieces and thrown in the Tweed River. His coronet (everyday crown) was allegedly retrieved from a hawthorn bush and presented by Henry Tudor (Henry VII) by Lord Stanley.

 The legend was spread in spite of the historical record that Henry VII had Richard III’s body stripped, strapped on a horse and paraded through Leicester before allowing it to be buried in an unmarked grave inside the Grayfriars Church. The church was demolished during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII in 1536. A second legend said the Richard’s body/skeleton was disinterred, disarticulated and thrown in the Soar River at that time.

Undated portrait of Richard III.

Undated portrait of Richard III.

Legends always had a way of getting thrown at Richard and sticking. The worst one was that he murdered his nephews, the sons of his brother Edward IV. The boys had been declared bastards by both the church and Parliament at Richard’s request because he knew that a 12-year-old boy could not be king in such turbulent times. Scholars have been arguing about the boys in the Tower and Richard for 500 years. I’ve always favored Richard. The so-called witnesses against him had huge timeline gaps, Richard had nothing to gain by killing the boys because his own wife and son had died, and dear Henry, founder of the Tudor dynasty, murdered anyone he could get his hands on who could have challenged his claim to the throne, including children and Richard’s illegitimate son and daughter. The Tudors were not nice people.

 Last year, archeologists at the University of Leicester began digging up a parking lot in the city which they believed was the site of Grayfriars Church. They found two skeletons. The female skeleton remains unidentified, but may have been the woman whose family endowed the church.

 The male skeleton bore all the injuries that had been ascribed to Richard and with a DNA sample provided by Michael Ibsen, a Canadian carpenter who lives in London, they were able to prove that the skeleton was indeed that of the long-lost King. Ibsen is a descendant (17-times-great grandnephew) of Richard’s sister, Anne, Duchess of Exeter, through her daughter, Anne St. Leger, Baroness de Ros, who was the only one of Richard’s siblings, nieces or nephews to have children who survived to found families. The Plantagents had a very rare form of mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed down through the female line, in this case from Joan Beaufort to Cecily Neville, mother of Richard and Anne.

 At today’s press conference, the University’s Deputy Registrar, Richard Taylor, proudly announced, “Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England, has been found.”

 Bone specialist Jo Appleby and geneticist Turi King gave a run-down of all the science and history that went into identifying the bones, the massive injuries that Richard suffered, the scoliosis that warped his spine and led to the descriptions of him as a hunchback, the age of the bones and the age of the person they had belonged to. Richard was just 33 when he died.

 Among the ten injuries that were visible in the bone, Appleby found the death blow, an axe to the skull, and some wounds like a knife wound to the rear of the pelvis that was a “humiliation injury” inflicted after death. The bones would not show if other post-mortem injuries were inflicted on soft tissue that may have accounted for the legends of Richard being hacked apart.

 Now, the decision has to be made as to what to do with Richard’s bones. One option is to bury him with his beloved wife, Anne Neville, in Westminster Abbey, but it appears that somehow, the Abbey doesn’t know exactly which crypt is Queen Anne’s. Various places that had significance in Richard’s time have put in their bids, including the city of York, family seat of his family, and, of course, Leicester.

 What most people know of Richard III comes from Shakespeare’s play, which was written to please the granddaughter of Henry VII, Queen Elizabeth I. Novelists and playwrights have long rewritten the stories of England’s history to suit a sitting monarch or conform to a new political or social reality. King Arthur’s been rewritten so many times he’s virtually unrecognizable from the High King of the West Country who lived in the 5th century But Richard not only took control of a country that had been involved in a civil war for thirty years, though the origins went back over fifty years before that, but he put in place many liberal reforms. He created the right of bail for accused criminals and lifted restrictions on the printing and ownership of books. Not bad for only being on the throne for two years and spending all of that fighting his brother’s power-mad in-laws and the Lancastrians.

 The Richard III Society, which has fought for years for a more balanced presentation of Richard’s life and reign, was instrumental in getting the search done. Philippa Langley, admitted that “Everyone thought that I was mad. It’s not the easiest pitch in the world, to look for a king under a council car park.” Hopefully, now, “a wind of change is blowing, one that will seek the truth about the real Richard III.” A council car park is the parking lot for a housing development owned by the city.

 The opening words of Shakespeare’s Richard III have taken on a whole new meaning today. “Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York, and all the clouds that lour’d upon our house, in the deep bosom of the ocean buried. Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths, our bruised arms hung up for monuments….”




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