Swan, egret, heron: Revealed - the Richard III diet

Research on the king's remains show the royal liked his food and drink

His daily diet included crane and egret, washed down with a bottle of wine. The reign of Richard III only lasted two years but the king used that time to indulge a secret passion for the finer things of life, according to new research.

The monarch, depicted by William Shakespeare as a Machiavellian villain who murdered his way to the throne, enjoyed a debauched lifestyle of feasting and heavy drinking. His love of fine food and wine shows another side to the king dubbed a "poisonous bunchback'd toad" in Shakespeare's Richard III.

After ascending to the throne in 1483, he embarked upon an orgy of drinking and eating, consuming copious amounts of wine and an array of rich food including exotic meats, freshwater fish such as pike, and birds such as swan and heron.

The findings of the research by experts from the British Geological Survey and the University of Leicester will be shown in a new documentary, Richard III: The New Evidence, to be shown tonight at 9pm on Channel 4.

Richard III's reign was cut short when he died during the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. More than 500 years passed before his remains were found under the site of a car park in Leicester and unearthed, in August 2012.

Video: Skeleton confirmed as Richard III

The discovery enabled researchers to conduct 21st-century scientific tests to reveal new insights into his life. Isotope analysis of bone and tooth samples was used to measure the levels of certain chemicals, such as strontium, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon and lead, which relate to geographical ocation, pollution and diet.

My hearse, my hearse ...
The remains found under a car park in 2012 My hearse, my hearse ... The remains found under a car park in 2012
In a paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science today, researchers state: "Variations in Richard III's diet can be traced through his life using carbon and nitrogen isotope compositions." They add that in medieval England, "the wealthier you were the more variety of meat and fish you consumed".

The results of the analysis demonstrated a shift to "an increased proportion" of freshwater fish and wildfowl "in the latter part of his life", something which "corresponds to an increase in these 'luxury foods' in the last two to five years of his life [during his reign] relative to the average last 10 years of his life," according to the paper.

And the isotope levels when "assessed against historical documentations, suggest a significant increase in feasting and wine consumption in his later years", it continues.

Dr Angela Lamb, geochemist at the British Geological Survey, and lead author of the paper said: "Your body processes the food you eat and the water you drink and they have chemical signatures in terms of their isotope composition which gets preserved in your teeth and bone."

In the documentary, Dr Lamb says: "The nitrogen isotopes show an increase in the amount of meat and protein they were eating, and also an increase in the amount of fish they were eating. And Richard's are at the top end of comparable medieval high-status individuals."

Richard III's reconstructed head Richard III's reconstructed head
Richard III's diet was, she said, "way beyond that of an even equivalent high-status individual in the late medieval period".

As for quenching the royal thirst, an analysis of oxygen isotopes in the king's ribs suggests that he started drinking around a bottle of wine every day during the last three years of his life. It is probable that he was getting through up to three litres of alcohol a day in total. "An increase in wine consumption would explain why he may have had a higher oxygen isotope value at that time," said Dr Lamb. "Our estimations are it's sort of 25 per cent of his oxygen intake. It was a considerable step up from what was his average drinking before."

As well as the revelations over Richard III's lifestyle, the programme shows a modern-day body double for the English king, 27-year-old Dominic Smee from Tamworth, Staffordshire, who demonstrates that Richard III's curved spine would not have stopped him from being able to fight and ride in battle.

Mr Smee has a virtually identical curvature of the spine and a similar build to that of the dead king. He has taken part in a series of tests, from wearing armour and wielding weapons to riding on horseback, to show that Richard III was capable of fighting in a medieval battle.

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