Archeologists from Leicester University have uncovered an intact skeleton which they believe is that of Richard III, the king whose reputation as a ruthless hunchback comes from William Shakespeare’s play. The skeleton has a deformed spine, and is at the site of Grey Friars church, where Richard was thought to have been buried after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, where he was defeated by Henry Tudor.
His grave is now underneath a council car park in Leicester. DNA tests will reveal whether he’s really the king or not – it’s an adult male, with spinal abnormalities that point to scoliosis, which would have made his right shoulder higher than his left. The skeleton also shows injuries consistent with battle. Richard III was the last of the Plantagenets, and his death a decisive one in the Wars of the Roses.
Tests will be carried out on Michael Ibsen, a 55 year old Canadian furniture maker, who is a direct descendant of Richard III’s sister.
“We are not saying that we have found Richard III. What we are saying is that the search for Richard III has entered a new phase. Our focus is shifting from the archaeological excavation to laboratory analysis. We are all very excited,” said Richard Taylor of the archeology team, quoted on The Telegraph.
A controversial figure
Richard is “one of the most controversial figures in British history,” said Ben Macintyre in The Times. Though Shakespeare showed him as a monster, other sources show a “popular monarch, a fair arbitrator and defender of education who died bravely.” He did execute plotters, and had his brother’s children made illegitimate; whether he murdered the Princes in the tower or not is not certain. It’s not even certain that he was deformed – he may have been the victim of Tudor propaganda. We won’t know whether he was good or bad, but we do know “that history never stands still and that there are extraordinary discoveries waiting to be dug out of the past.”
The last English King
When we find out if it’s him or not, said Simon Heffer in The Mail, we should decide to give him a better resting place – he was, after all, “the last truly English king.” We should bury him as the Russians buried the last Tsar. There’s more to him than the Tudor account – he won Berwick-upon-Tweed back from the Scots; he started to allow procedures for the poor to have their legal grievances heard; he introduced bail, and was a defender of the Press. Henry Tudor was Welsh; he was followed by Scots and Germans. Richard III was “really the last English king” and should be given “a decent burial.”
Let’s hope it really is Richard III
Greg Jenner on Huffington Post said: “They went looking for a dead body with a hole in its head, and they found one. It’s not exactly Atlantis, is it? However, it could be a thing of tremendous potency; a reminder that historical and archaeological research does warrant all that effort and diligence. We can, if we’re patient, gradually piece together the story of what went before us, and that is of limitless usefulness to us in the future. A society that doesn’t know where it’s been is a society as amnesiac, destined to get lost and wander round in circles. So here’s hoping it really is King Dick III.”
More on history