After 500 years, Richard III's bones yield their secret

Mon Feb 4, 2013 2:34pm EST
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By Michael Holden

LEICESTER, England (Reuters) - A skeleton with a cleaved skull and a curved spine dug up from under a car park is that of Richard III, archaeologists said on Monday, 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 as he fought to keep his crown at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, crying out: "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

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 them to the head, clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting the king had lost his helmet. The skull showed a blade had hacked away part of the rear of the skull. A metal fragment was found in the vertebrae.

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 from the battlefield to nearby Leicester on the back of a horse. All of the "humiliation" wounds in his final hours were from swords, daggers or halberds and it appeared his hands had been bound. The feet were missing.

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.   Continued...

A television image of King Richard III's skull is seen next to a portrait of him during a news conference in Leicester, central England February 4, 2013. REUTERS/Darren Staples