Richard III expert: The skeleton in the car park may not be missing monarch after all

 

Such was the certainty with which a twisted skeleton found in a Leicester car park was identified last year as the remains of Richard III that a High Court battle is being fought over the right to decide where to bury the fallen monarch.

But confirmation “beyond reasonable doubt” that the hunchbacked king demonised by Shakespeare was found has been challenged by two leading academics, who claim there can be no confidence that the bones belong to Richard. They suggest an inquest-type hearing should now be held to examine the evidence.

The announcement last year that the remains of the monarch accused of ordering the murder of his nephews - the Princes in the Tower - had been found was billed as one of the biggest historical discoveries for decades and made headlines across the globe.

But Michael Hicks, an expert on Richard III and professor of history at Winchester University, has come forward to say he is not convinced that the remains identified by a team from the University of Leicester are those of the Yorkist monarch. He says they could belong to one of many victims of the Wars of the Roses which ravaged 15th century England.

Professor Hicks said that evidence from DNA testing and radiocarbon dating, which featured prominently in the claims that Richard had been found, could not be relied upon to prove the case and the remains could belong to one of dozens of descendants of the king’s female forebears.

Richard’s maternal grandmother, Jean Beaufort, had 16 children and many of her descendants would have been involved in the fighting between between the houses of York and Lancaster, and perished on the battlefield.

Experts at the Leicester found a match in mitochondrial or maternal-line DNA, which supposedly passes unchanged between generations, between two female descendants of Richard’s sister, Anne, and the skeleton found in a grave on the site of the medieval Greyfriars Church in Leicester.

Prof Hicks told The Independent: “If mitochrondrial DNA doesn’t change over time, descendants in the female line from Richard’s maternal grandmother, great-grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother can share the same characteristics.

“There is potentially a considerable pool of people who could meet the scientific criteria without being Richard III. We are going way beyond the available evidence if we say this is definitely Richard III. It could be – but it is not proven and we should not confuse possibilities or probabilities with certainties.”

The academic, whose concerns are highlighted in the BBC History Magazine, said many who had fought and been killed during the Wars of the Roses, including the 1485 Battle of Bosworth at which Richard was killed, would have suffered injuries similar to those inflicted on the Leicester skeleton. He added there was also no proof from his lifetime that the king had suffered from the the scoliosis or curvature of the spine found on the remains.

Martin Biddle, a leading archaeologist and former fellow of medieval archaeology at Oxford University, also cast doubt on the identification, saying the records on the original 2012 excavation had yet to be published and further work was needed on the Greyfriars site to establish how many burials took place.

Prof Biddle told the magazine: “Without further excavation there is… no certainty about the burial that it has been claimed was that of Richard III.

“Before all this goes any further, it would be wise to be certain the body really is his. Something akin to a coroner’s court should be set up to consider all the evidence.”

The identification of the royal skeleton has provoked strong emotions from many quarters, including a group of descendants of Richard calling itself the Plantagenet Alliance which has launched High Court proceedings challenging the decision to bury the remains in Leicester Cathedral and calling for a consultation on their final resting place.

Leicester University said its identification was based on at least six separate lines of evidence, including a contemporary reports of the location of Richard’s grave and the nature of the skeleton.

In a statement, the university said: “The strength of the identification is that different kinds of evidence all point to the same result. Professor Hicks is entitled to his views but we would challenge and counter them.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - London, £60k

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - Central London, £60,000...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Agent / QA Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an est...

Recruitment Genius: C# / XAML Developer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity for a talented...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness