By Michael Holden
LEICESTER, England | Mon Feb 4, 2013
(Reuters) – A skeleton with a cleaved skull and a curved spine entombed 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 in a bid to keep his crown at the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field, immortalised by the words: “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 which were to the head clearly inflicted on the battlefield. A photograph showed a sword had cleaved away part of the rear of the skull. A metal fragment was found between Richard’s vertebrae.
After the battle, 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 the nearby city of Leicester on the back of a horse. All of the wounds were from swords or daggers and it appeared his hands had been bound.
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.
Admirers of Richard hope that the discovery will fuel interest in the mediaeval monarch and dispel Shakespeare’s physically impaired protagonist who said: “And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover … I am determined to prove a villain.”
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The curvature of the spine, so ruthlessly mocked by Shakespeare and famously depicted by Laurence Olivier, was striking.
After a detailed presentation focusing on the life, wounds and physique of Richard, Buckley, announced his conclusion to world media amidst cheers and applause. The project almost ended prematurely, but funds from countries ranging from the United States and Germany to Australia and Belgium kept it afloat.