Is the body in the car park really Richard III? At last, the answer

...and it could prove that he really didn’t commit the greatest crime in royal history

He was the most reviled and misunderstood monarch in English history, but one of the last remaining mysteries of Richard III could soon be resolved with the help of modern science and a fragment of DNA.

A group of scholars are gathering over the weekend to decide once and for all whether a skeleton found under a council car park in Leicester is that of the king who died in battle at nearby Bosworth Field in 1485.

They will review the latest findings of a series of scientific tests on the bones that are expected to support the theory that the battle-scarred body of the last Plantagenet king was interred under the floor of a medieval church, on a site where Leicester’s social services department later stood.

If the skeleton is confirmed to be that of Richard III, this could lead to fresh calls for DNA tests to be carried out on a set of children’s bones found in the Tower of London in 1674 which are thought to belong to his two nephews, the “princes in the Tower” whom he was supposed to have murdered.

The bones of the children are in a white marble sarcophagus in Westminster Abbey with the inscription: “These brothers being confined in the Tower of London, and there stifled with pillows, were privately and meanly buried, by the order of their perfidious uncle Richard the Usurper.”

However, not all scholars accept this interpretation of history, and some believe that the bones in Westminster are not even those of the two boys. DNA tests could resolve the issue, but Westminster Abbey and the Queen have so far resisted calls to have them examined forensically.

A detailed analysis of the Leicester skeleton, and the collective decision of the experts, will be publicly unveiled on Monday morning, although there seems little doubt in the minds of some that the “body in the car park” is the mortal remains of the most reviled monarch in English history.

Scientists, archaeologists and historians involved in the project have been sworn to secrecy until the final results of radiocarbon dating, DNA tests and bone analysis are officially released, along with a three-dimensional reconstruction of his head and face.

However, one expert close to the study said that he would be surprised if the initial excitement over the skeleton was shown to have been ill-founded. “The circumstantial evidence is just so strong,” he said.

The skeleton, excavated last September, has pronounced curvature of the spine caused by severe scoliosis which would have made the person’s right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left – supporting the Shakespearean description of Richard as “rudely stamp’d… deformed, unfinish’d”. The skeleton seems to have suffered a traumatic blow to the head, which cleaved the back of his cranium, and a barbed arrowhead was found embedded between the vertebrae. Both must have occurred at or near the moment of death, supporting the view that the man died on a medieval battlefield.

But it was the position of the burial site that has proved most tantalising. The skeleton was found under the choir floor of the abbey church of Greyfriars monastery, which although razed to the ground centuries ago has recently been located under the council car park by archaeologists. Only high-status people would have been interred under a church choir, precisely the place that historical records said the body of Richard was buried.

Leicester University geneticists working on the skeletal remains have extracted samples of mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited solely down the maternal line. They have compared it with the mitochondrial DNA of Michael Ibsen, a Canadian-born carpenter living in London who is, according to genealogical records, related to Richard’s sister, Anne of York, through 16 maternal generations.

If the bones are those of Richard III, the DNA tests should show that they share the same “haplotype” or genetic subgroup to that of Mr Ibsen. If the haplotype of Mr Ibsen is a rare one, and if it matches with that of the skeleton, this will be strong support in favour of its being the body of the king.

However, there is one test that could blow the king theory out of the water. Radiocarbon dating could place the skeleton in another period of history, perhaps the 14th or even 13th centuries, long before Richard lived. If so, the skeleton in the car park will remain a mystery.

Contested legacy: A pantomime villian

History belongs to the victors and rarely more so than in the case of Richard III, the hunchbacked king demonised by Shakespeare as a man so “rudely stamp’d” that “dogs bark at me as I halt by them”.

The last Plantagenet monarch fell at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, after which his body was said to have been stripped and publicly displayed for several days. Some accounts reported that his corpse was tipped into the local river; others said he was given a Christian burial at Greyfriars monastery.

Richard’s name became synonymous with evil deeds, epitomised by later accounts that he ordered the murder of his boy nephews, the two “princes in the tower”, pictured. The hatchet job on Richard was perfected by Shakespeare who preserved the dead king’s image as a “bottled spider” with a twisted body – a pantomime villain.

Historians do not know what happened to the two princes, except that they disappeared from the Tower in 1483. Some historians also point out that during Richard’s reign he oversaw some important and progressive changes, such as the command to all judges that they administer the law impartially.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home