This skull, which archaeologists say belongs to Richard
III, is part of a skeleton found under a city car park in
Greyfriars, Leicester, last year. REUTERS/University of
A skeleton with a cleaved skull and a curved spine
entombed under a car park is that of Richard III,
archaeologists say, solving a 500-year-old mystery about the
final resting place of the last English king to die in battle.
Cast by Shakespeare as a deformed tyrant who murdered two
princes in the Tower of London, Richard was slain in a bid to
keep his crown at the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field,
immortalised by the words: "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for
In one of the most significant archaeological finds of recent
English history, a team from the University of Leicester said
evidence showed a skeleton found last year in excavations of
a mediaeval friary under a city car park was that of Richard.
"It's the academic conclusion ... that beyond reasonable
doubt the individual exhumed at Grey Friars in September 2012
is indeed Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England,"
lead archaeologist Richard Buckley said.
The skeleton had 10 wounds, eight of which were to the head
clearly inflicted on the battlefield. A photograph showed a
sword had cleaved away part of the rear of the skull. A metal
fragment was found between Richard's vertebrae.
After the battle, the victor, the future King Henry VII, had
Richard's naked body exposed to the people of Leicester to
show the battle was won, ending the bloody 30-year civil
conflict known as The Wars of the Roses between the houses of
York and Lancaster.
Other wounds were consistent with being caused after death
when his body was taken taken from the battlefield to the
nearby city of Leicester on the back of a horse. All of the
wounds were from swords or daggers and it appeared his hands
had been bound.
Confirmation the bones were Richard's hinged on DNA taken
from the skeleton matching that of Michael Ibsen, a
Canadian-born furniture maker in London who genealogists said
was the direct descendant of Richard's sister, Anne of York.
Admirers of Richard hope that the discovery will fuel
interest in the mediaeval monarch and dispel Shakespeare's
physically impaired protagonist who said: "And therefore,
since I cannot prove a lover ... I am determined to prove a
CROOKED BONES REVEAL KING'S SECRET
The curvature of the spine, so ruthlessly mocked by
Shakepeare and famously depicted by Laurence Olivier, was
After a detailed presentation focusing on the life, wounds
and physique of Richard, Buckley, announced his conclusion to
world media amidst cheers and applause. The project almost
ended prematurely, but funds from countries ranging from the
United States and Germany to Australia and Belgium kept it
Richard, who died aged 32 after just two years on the throne,
will be interred at Leicester Cathedral, which traces its
history to a Saxon bishop in AD 680, in line with guidelines
about burying bodies close to where they are exhumed.
The grey, concrete car park with its red-brick walls and a
payment hut, under which the bones were found contrasts
sharply with the grandeur of traditional sepulchres for
English kings and queens at Windsor Castle and Westminster
Asked whether the prime minister agrees with some
Conservative MPs who said they believe the late king should
receive a state burial, a spokesman for David Cameron said:
"The decision on burial is a matter for Leicester University
who hold the licence to exhume the remains."
The evidence ends the centuries-old mystery which has
fascinated historians in Britain and around the world and
which has provided material for a welter of legends, one of
which maintained the body was dug up in the reign of Henry
VIII, thrown in a river and the stone coffin used as a horse
One of the most famous English kings, Richard's grave, which
was lost after Henry VIII ordered the monasteries dissolved,
had been as elusive as his reputation. Richard was cast by
Shakespeare as a monster but supporters say he was
enlightened and unfairly maligned by a victorious House of
There was also a DNA match with another unidentified
descendant of Anne of York who wished to remain anonymous.
The genetic match was especially significant as it was a rare
type of DNA found in only a few percent of the population,
said Turi King, a geneticist at the university.
"It's really difficult to come to grips with the fact that
there is some part of you that is part of somebody as famous
or infamous as Richard III," Ibsen said in an interview,
adding that he was stunned to find his royal connection.
Unlike his mediaeval ancestor, Ibsen said he did not plan to
put forward his family's claim to the throne: "I think our
chances are long gone." Buckingham Palace declined comment on
the importance of the discovery, which is expected to
increase interest in Richard and bring more visitors to
The remains of the king were put on display on a black velvet
cloth encased in a glass box for the media and other guests
in a small room with a worn red carpet that is part of the
University of Leicester's library.
There was reverential silence as two security guards manned
the door and a chaplain looked on. No photography was allowed
as a mark of respect to the remains of the man who once ruled
While the findings may solve the mystery about the
whereabouts of the grave of Richard, the last Plantagenet
king of England remains a complex figure whose life, made
famous by Shakespeare's history play, deeply divides opinion.
In a sign of the widespread public interest in Richard,
photographs of his skull were published on the front pages of
national newspapers in Britain on Monday and the academic
briefing on the find was shown live on television news
A tough soldier and popular in northern England, Richard was
crowned at Westminster Abbey in July 1483 after replacing his
12-year-old nephew Edward V on the throne after claims that
the young prince and his brother, the sons of Richard's elder
brother Edward IV, were illegitimate.
The two boys later disappeared from the Tower of London, and
their fate is one of the greatest unanswered historical
questions. However, Richard has long been blamed for
ordering, or even carrying out, the murder of the "Princes in
SHAKESPEARE'S TYRANT RICHARD
Much of that is thanks to Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of King
Richard the Third", which portrays him as a power-crazed,
evil hunchback who killed off his rivals to get to the
Richard has been played by a multitude of actors including
Olivier, David Garrick and Kenneth Branagh. Lines from the
play include "Now is the Winter of our discontent" as well as
"Where Eagles Dare" which became a film title.
His supporters say Shakespeare's play is misleading, written
as it was over a century later when Queen Elizabeth I, the
granddaughter of Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII after his
victory over Richard at Bosworth, was on the throne.
"People can see he's been done a massive injustice and I
think it gets them angry and I think they want people to look
at the facts about this man and change everything that we've
... been told about him," said Philippa Langley, of the
Richard III Society which launched the four-year search for
the lost king.
The level of international interest in the project was shown
when the money nearly ran out and supporters from the United
States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium,
Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Britain came forward to
Langley's mission is to re-write history.
"No disrespect to Olivier because he was a brilliant actor,
but that portrayal of Richard III is going to be consigned to
the dustbin of history. (He) was a mediaeval man and
mediaeval king," said Langley, adding:
"He just wasn't the monster of Tudor legend."
And the answer to the burning question of whether Richard
killed the princes in the Tower?
Langley, a pro-Richard devotee, was adamant. "The evidence
that we have says he did not".