Monday, 11 March 2013

Richard III: Hide and Seek for 528 Years

In recent weeks an unlikely story has been very much in the news following the discovery of a body beneath a car park in Leicester.  In August 2012 members of the Richard III Society and the University of Leicester began a search for the remains of King Richard III. An archaeological dig uncovered the remains of a man with distinctive skeletal features which suggested the body might be Richard III. A great deal a lot of evidence had to be tested to prove whether this was the lost king. On the morning of 4 February 2013, Leicester University confirmed that the remains found underneath the car park were indeed Richard III.  

Who was Richard III? Famously, he was portrayed by Shakespeare as an evil tyrant who killed his nephews in order to take the English throne.  Despite Richard’s wicked reputation, members of the Richard III Society have, for many years, argued that Richard’s ‘tyranny’ has been hugely exaggerated. 

Richard III was king of England from 6 July 1483 until his death at the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485 which ended the Yorkist line of monarchs.  After the battle his body was believed to have been buried in the Church of the Grey Friars in Leicester. However, during the Reformation in Henry VIII’s reign, many churches were destroyed, including that of the Grey Friars in Leicester.  Since the destruction of the church, the town of Leicester has grown over what remained of the church and the grave. 

How can they be for sure that these remains were Richard’s?  A DNA analysis was made using mitochondria of the cells from the skeleton.  These mitochondrial DNA sequences are usually passed down unchanged over many generations.  Scientists working on the project compared the mitochondria from the skeleton with two people who are believed to be direct descendants of the king.  These results confirmed that the body is indeed the king’s.

The question now is whether the body should be reburied in Leicester or back in Richard’s home city of York.

Facial Reconstruction of Richard III’s remains.

-Alexis Niese

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