May 23, 2013
Last September, a team of archaeologists in the UK made a remarkable find: under a city council parking lot in Leicester, they found the remains of King Richard III. The king ruled England for just two years (from 1483 until 1485) before his violent war-time death.
In February, after comparing DNA taken from the skeleton to surviving descendants of the king and testing its age, the group officially confirmed the identity of the body. Since then, forensic analysis indicated that the king was killed by traumatic sword blows to the head—perhaps with enough force to drive his crown into his skull.
Now, the first academic paper to be published on the discovery provides more unnerving details on the circumstances of Richard III’s death. In a study to be published tomorrow in the journal Antiquity, the University of Leicester team writes that the king’s body looks like it was buried in a hurry, crammed into a hastily-prepared grave that was too small for him. Further, he was left in a strange, slightly folded position, perhaps even with its hands tied together.
Instead of a carefully-dug grave with straight walls, as was customary during the era, Richard III’s has sloping walls, with a larger size at the surface than at the bottom, as the team determined by comparing the layered patterns in the dirt abutting the grave with the unordered soil filling it and surrounding the king’s remains.
What’s more, the king’s head was left leaning against one corner of the grave, indicating that a gravedigger stood in the hole to receive his body and didn’t bother rearranging him at the center after putting him down on the ground, and there’s no evidence that a coffin or even a death shroud was used. Given the historical context of Richard III’s death, none of this is a huge surprise, although the apparent lack of care surrounding the burial of this king might exceed even what historians had previously expected.
Richard III was killed at age 32 during the Battle of Bosworth Field, close to the end of the infamously violent War of the Roses period—a 30-plus year battle for power between supporters of competing branches of the royal family for control of the throne. After he was defeated and killed in battle by the forces of rival Henry Tudor (who would become King Henry VII), the new king reportedly kept the burial location intentionally secret—he feared it would otherwise become a rallying location for his enemies—and knowledge of Richard III’s grave was lost over time.
Now we know that Richard III’s body was brought to the nearby city of Leicester, passed along to Franciscan friars and buried at what was then Grey Friars church “without any pomp or solemn funeral,” according to the contemporary historian Polydore Vergil. (Legend holds that his body was stripped naked, transported on the back of a horse and mocked by passers-by during the entire journey.) Eventually, the church was dismantled, and the site was paved over.
Apart from analyzing the unusual characteristics of the king’s grave, the new paper also provides the first peer-reviewed forensic details about his remains. As the archaeologists had previously mentioned in public statements, the body matches the physical details of Richard III as described in historical sources: a curved spine, due to childhood scoliosis, and slim features. In addition to the fierce blows to his head, there were a total of 10 wounds discovered on his body, including stabs in his buttocks and back that the researchers believe were probably made after he’d already been killed, because of their location and the fact that they couldn’t have been made while he was still wearing armor.
So, did Richard III die in violent humiliation? The new findings seem to support this idea. At the very least, he was buried in a manner that certainly didn’t befit a king. But now, a number of groups and localities are suddenly interested in giving him a proper burial. The cities of Leicester and York are dueling over the right to preserve his remains and attract the tourists that will flock to see the king who was buried in a parking lot. We can only hope this new battle doesn’t last for another 30 years.
Richard III dig: DNA confirms bones are king's
A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III.
Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch's family.
Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: "Beyond reasonable doubt it's Richard."
Richard, killed in battle in 1485, will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.
Mr Buckley said the bones had been subjected to "rigorous academic study" and had been carbon dated to a period from 1455-1540.
Dr Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist from the university's School of Archaeology and Ancient History, revealed the bones were of a man in his late 20s or early 30s. Richard was 32 when he died.
His skeleton had suffered 10 injuries, including eight to the skull, at around the time of death. Two of the skull wounds were potentially fatal.
One was a "slice" removing a flap of bone, the other was caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull - a depth of more than 10cm (4ins).'Humiliation injuries'
Dr Appleby said: "Both of these injuries would have caused an almost instant loss of consciousness and death would have followed quickly afterwards.
"In the case of the larger wound, if the blade had penetrated 7cm into the brain, which we cannot determine from the bones, death would have been instantaneous."
Other wounds included slashes or stabs to the face and the side of the head. There was also evidence of "humiliation" injuries, including a pelvic wound likely to have been caused by an upward thrust of a weapon, through the buttock.
Richard III was portrayed as deformed by some Tudor historians and indeed the skeleton's spine is badly curved, a condition known as scoliosis.
However, there was no trace of a withered arm or other abnormalities described in the more extreme characterisations of the king.Missing princes
Without the scoliosis, which experts believe developed during teenage years, he would have been about 5ft 8ins (1.7m) tall, but the curvature would have made him appear "considerably" shorter.
Dr Appleby said: "The analysis of the skeleton proved that it was an adult male but was an unusually slender, almost feminine, build for a man.
"Taken as a whole, the skeletal evidence provides a highly convincing case for identification as Richard III."
Richard was a royal prince until the death of his brother Edward IV in 1483. Appointed as protector of his nephew, Edward V, Richard instead assumed the reins of power.
Edward and his brother Richard, known as the Princes in the Tower, disappeared soon after. Rumours circulated they had been murdered on the orders of their uncle.
Challenged by Henry Tudor, Richard was killed at Bosworth in 1485 after only two years on the throne.DNA trail
He was given a hurried burial beneath the church of Greyfriars in the centre of Leicester.
Mr Buckley said the grave was clumsily cut, with sloping sides and too short for the body, forcing the head forward.
"There was no evidence of a coffin or shroud which would have left the bones in a more compact position.
"Unusually, the arms are crossed and this could be an indication the body was buried with the wrists still tied," he added.
Greyfriars church was demolished during the Reformation in the 16th Century and over the following centuries its exact location was forgotten.
However, a team of enthusiasts and historians managed to trace the likely area - and, crucially, after painstaking genealogical research, they found a 17th-generation descendant of Richard's sister with whose DNA they could compare any remains.
Joy Ibsen, from Canada, died several years ago but her son, Michael, who now works in London, provided a sample.
The researchers were fortunate as, while the DNA they were looking for was in all Joy Ibsen's offspring, it is only handed down through the female line and her only daughter has no children. The line was about to stop.Tomb plans
But the University of Leicester's experts had other problems.
Dr Turi King, project geneticist, said there had been concern DNA in the bones would be too degraded: "The question was could we get a sample of DNA to work with, and I am extremely pleased to tell you that we could."
She added: "There is a DNA match between the maternal DNA of the descendants of the family of Richard III and the skeletal remains we found at the Greyfriars dig.
"In short, the DNA evidence points to these being the remains of Richard III."
In August 2012, an excavation began in a city council car park - the only open space remaining in the likely area - which quickly identified buildings connected to the church.
The bones were found in the first days of the dig and were eventually excavated under forensic conditions.
Details of the reburial ceremony have yet to be released, but Philippa Langley from the Richard III Society said plans for a tomb were well advanced.
She said of the discovery of Richard's skeleton: "I'm totally thrilled, I'm overwhelmed to be honest, it's been a long hard journey. I mean today as we stand it's been nearly four years.
"It's the culmination of a lot of hard work. I think, as someone said to me earlier, it's just the end of the beginning.
"We're going to completely reassess Richard III, we're going to completely look at all the sources again, and hopefully there's going to be a new beginning for Richard as well."
Richard III 遺骸重現 或無補於對於文學文本的了解與欣賞
Laurence Olivier's 1955 Shakespeare adaptation remains the dominant source for our assumptions of all things Richard III. Dressed in black, scowly as hell, and with that creepy, reedy intonation, Olivier's interpretation defined Richard as evil Crookback, of whom we should be grateful to Henry Tudor that we are rid. Perversely, punk rocker John Lydon cited him as a major influence, and clips from the film pop up in Julien Temple's Filth and the Fury doco. (Look for him at 1:45 in this clip.)
Richard Loncraine's 1995 film, starring Ian McKellen, is set in a fictional fascist England in the 1930s, and based on an earlier highly successful stage production. Only about half the text of the play is used. The first part of his Now is the winter of our discontent... soliloquy is a public speech, while the second part is a private monologue. The famous final line of Richard's A horse, my kingdom for a horse is spoken when his jeep becomes trapped in debris.