Monday, February 4, 2013

The Bones of England's Richard III

Earliest Surviving Portrait of King Richard III

BBC News 4 February 2013

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 caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull, a depth of more than 10cms (4ins).

Dr Appleby said: "Both of these injuries would have caused an almost instant loss of consciousness and death would have followed quickly afterwards.

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"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.

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 seen in the more extreme characterisations of the king.

Without the scoliosis, which experts believe developed as a teenager, 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.

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.

University of Leicester findings
• Wealth of evidence, including radiocarbon dating, radiological evidence, DNA and bone analysis and archaeological results, confirms identity of last Plantagenet king who died over 500 years ago

• DNA from skeleton matches two of Richard III's maternal line relatives. Leicester genealogist verifies living relatives of Richard III's family
• Individual likely to have been killed by one of two fatal injuries to the skull - one possibly from a sword and one possibly from a halberd
• Ten wounds discovered on skeleton - Richard III killed by trauma to the back of the head. Part of the skull sliced off
• Radiocarbon dating reveals individual had a high protein diet - including significant amounts of seafood - meaning he was likely to be of high status
• Radiocarbon dating reveals individual died in the second half of the 15th or in the early 16th Century - consistent with Richard's death in 1485
• Skeleton reveals severe scoliosis - onset believed to have occurred at the time of puberty
• Although around 5ft 8in tall (1.7m), the condition meant King Richard III would have stood significantly shorter and his right shoulder may have been higher than the left
• Feet were truncated at an unknown point in the past, but a significant time after the burial
• Corpse was subjected to "humiliation injuries" - including a sword through the right buttock
• Individual had unusually slender, almost feminine, build for a man - in keeping with contemporaneous accounts
• No evidence for "withered arm" - as portrayed by Shakespeare
• Possibility that the hands were tied
• Grave was hastily dug, was not big enough and there was no shroud or coffin

"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.

The church was demolished during the Reformation in the 16th Century and over the following centuries its exact location was forgotten.

Despite this, a team of enthusiasts and historians traced the likely area - and, crucially, also found a 17th-generation descendant of Richard's sister with whose DNA they could compare any remains recovered.

Genealogical research eventually led to a Canadian woman called Joy Ibsen. She 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.
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 confirmation: "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 was born at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, where Mary Queen of Scots was later executed. As Duke of Gloucester, Richard took a rampant white boar as his sign.

His coronation took place in Westminster Abbey, in a ceremony very similar to HM the Queen's.

Richard had one of the shortest reigns in English history - 26 months.

He was the last English king to die in battle, killed by the forces of the future Henry VII.

In respose, this article appeared in The Guardian

Digging up Richard III will not bury old arguments:  I have a bone to pick with those who claim the maligned monarch's skeleton will rewrite the history books

Paul Lay
The Guardian, Monday 4 February 2013

Leopold von Ranke, the father of modern history, described his discipline as "an endless argument". Never was this more so than in the case of Richard III. While the science appears conclusive – it is the skeleton of the last Plantagenet king, claims Leicester University's team of archaeologists – the historical arguments that surround Richard's reign of two years and two months will go on, not least the immortal question of who killed the princes in the Tower.

Was it Richard? Probably. The Duke of Buckingham? Possibly. Henry Tudor? Almost certainly not. Scepticism remains the mark of the historian and so the claim that the discovery will "rewrite the history books" is unconvincing. Even so, the Middle Ages got their day in the sun. The press conference, watched by a global audience, was expertly paced, like a cerebral X Factor, and it told us something of the tactile brutalities of 15th-century warfare: eight wounds to Richard's head, two to his body and the postmortem humiliation of a knife to the buttocks, giving new meaning to the expression "gettin' medieval on your ass". If such drama excites people to explore history and archaeology still further, then all to the good.

The less-than-impartial Richard III Society, arm-in-arm with Leicester University during the entire project, sees this as its best chance yet to restore the reputation of the "rudely stamp'd … deform'd, unfinish'd" villain of Shakespeare's boundless imagination, though what opportunity this discovery presents for such revision is unclear. That Tudor accounts of the reign of Richard III – including Shakespeare's – are propaganda is hardly surprising. It is a commonplace that victors rewrite history, though how far they deviated from the truth remains an open question.

The idea of Richard as villain began almost as soon as his reign came to an end in the writings of John Rous, the first to describe his "unequal shoulders". Polydore Vergil, an Italian at the court of Henry VII, picked up the theme to please his monarch, and Thomas More developed it still further in his History of King Richard III, imagining Richard, on the latest evidence at least, as "little of stature and ill fetured of limmes".

The myth was made immortal in Shakespeare's history play, though the skeleton's scoliosis suggests that the "crookback" jibe picked up by the Bard – damning in a more enchanted age – was more exaggeration than invention. Whatever side we take, we must admit that Richard would be all but lost to the public if not for Shakespeare.

If this episode tells us little new about the past, it does shed light on the future of history in this country. The University of Leicester, while rightly proud of the forensic skills of its archaeological team, has milked this for all it's worth, abandoning impartiality with its embrace of the Ricardians, aware of the need to make the widest public splash in these days of impact. Leicester city council's involvement, too, smacks of the imperatives of urban regeneration and ignores the fact that Richard found only death in the city where he will now be buried. He would have preferred Richmond. We can at least say that with certainty.

One mystery remains. Why does such an unsuccessful monarch inspire so fierce a loyalty among his 21st-century followers, surpassing even that of the Society of Charles the Martyr, who strode Whitehall last week in remembrance of their similarly flawed sovereign, Charles I?
The website of the Richard III Society has been revamped in anticipation of new members who think that Josephine Tey's vivid work of historical fiction, A Daughter of Time, is historical fact. Richard's loyal followers will now proclaim victory.

Paul Lay is editor of History Today

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