Remains of Richard III appear to have been found in Leicester

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CHARLES MIRANDA From: News Limited Network

January 19, 2013 12:00AM


Richard III

Men in medieval costumes dress up the announcement that may rewrite history. AFP PHOTO / Gavin Fogg Source: AFP

IN the next couple of weeks, there will be a plate of hat-shaped biscuits in front of archaeologist Richard Buckley.

Late last year, he was standing in the car park of the Leicester City Council social services unit in a fluoro vest and hardhat about to crack the bitumen of the outdoor car park floor and lead a dig for a 500-year-old missing person, albeit a former King of England.

"The only bones they will find will be inside an old Kentucky Fried Chicken box," a councillor from the city council remarked at the time. Most, including Buckley, agreed.

Others were just unhappy at having to give up a car space on the whim of a historical society looking for a long lost king. Not just any king mind you, but Richard III, despised in history, courtesy of Shakespeare, as a murderous, withered-armed hunchback royal, killed in battle with a swipe to the skull and an arrow in the side.

For his part, Richard Buckley said he would eat his hat if any evidence of his namesake was found.

You got it. His colleagues are now baking hat-shaped biscuits, after the team dug up the skeletal remains of a 500-year-old body complete with a cleave to the skull and a metal arrow in the side.

The odds of finding any trace of the king or the priory he was believed to have been buried in would have made a betting agency blush, they were too long to be real, but not only has a body been found, within a fortnight it is expected to be confirmed as that of the lost English King Richard III, the last king to die in battle.

Richard III

Archaeologist Mathew Morris of the University of Leicester at the likely site of the grave of Richard III. AFP PHOTO / Gavin Fogg

The story is incredible to say the least and involved years of research using old maps and historical references and records and the dedication of the Richard III Historical Society hell-bent on not only restoring what they saw as the name of a good king smeared, but also the restoring of the king literally himself.

And the historical detective work is expected to be conclusively validated by equally stunning super sleuth work, with an exhaustive search finding the only known living descendant of the king a humble Canadian-born cabinet maker to DNA match with the found bones.

"It really is all an incredible story," Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said yesterday.

"There was quite a level of scepticism when we began to dig the car park.

"The general expectation was that the only bones that would come up would be in the Kentucky Fried Chicken box. What they found of course was a site that had lay undisturbed for 500 years and that was what was remarkable about it."

On August 22, 1485, the House of York's King Richard III rode out of Leicester to face the enemy from the House of Lancaster in the decisive War of the Roses' Battle of Bosworth, largely regarded as marking the end of the Middle Ages.

Richard III

Archaeologists and local officials announce the possible discovery of the skeleton of Richard III at Leicester. AFP PHOTO / Gavin Fogg

He would return to the city dead and naked, tied to the pommel of his horse.

It was the horse which apparently had become stuck in marsh during battle, leaving Richard to take to ground and, according to Shakespeare, famously cry "a horse a horse a kingdom for a horse" before a Welshman conscripted into Henry Tudor's army stove Richard's head with a poleaxe.

To that point he had only been king for two years but was despised by many, not least of all because his young nephew was to be crowned king, but controversy over Richard's brother Prince Edward IV's marriage ruled his two young sons, Richard's nephews, invalid to rule.

Richard, who reportedly had ordered the probe into his dead brother's marriage, was thus crowned king and his nephew princes disappeared in the Tower of London. Richard was rumoured to have murdered them, as well as his brother, and also his wife.

His body was displayed in town for three days, then buried below a choir in what was then known as the Church of Grey Friars. Such was the controversy at the time, one chronicler recorded the body as thrown into the River Soar thereby leaving no trace of the hate figure. Years later, with the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII levelled his Grey Friars resting place and it and the body of the king was lost forever. In the 16th and 17th century the Mayor's home existed on the site and at one stage a stone in the gardens purportedly recorded that the area had been a burial place for the king. But that too was only recorded in ledgers and the site changed several times until today it was nothing more than a car park behind old council buildings.

Then, the archaeologists and researchers mapped out what they thought may have been the priory and dug where they guessed was the choir.

It's not yet proved to be the king, but the chances are high.

The skeleton, complete except for its feet, is that of a high status man with an arrow in the back and a cleaved skull showing he clearly died in battle. Other evidence pointing to it being the king rests with the skeleton having a spinal curvature, largely declared in olden times as hunchbacks that fits with Shakespeare's description of a back deformity. But final proof rests with DNA from the bones, being analysed at the University of Leicester, which also led the dig, being matched to DNA being extracted from a mouth swab from 55-year-old Michael Ibsen.

Mr Ibsen, who now lives in North London, had no idea he was the 17th generation nephew of the lost king nor did his British mother who 60 years ago as a 19-year-old set sail for a new life in Canada unaware she was a direct relative of Richard III's sister, Anne of York. Historians traced the king's ancestry to Mr Ibsen's mother Joy in 2005; she died three years later. The link was largely forgotten by Mr Ibsen until he then got a call out of the blue and asked whether he would like to witness the September dig for his relative. Four months on and today he, liked the whole of Britain, is waiting for the DNA results to come back.

Leicester already had a very long history dating back to pre-Roman times and already attracts tourists to see its sites. And while there is a Richard III School, A Richard III road and a pub in his honour, as well as a small statue, the king is largely ignored. That will change. The council, directed by Sir Peter, has bought a school that partly sits over the old site of Grey Friars and adjoins the council car park and plans to turn the area into a visitor centre to restore the king's honour in words and pictures and of course tour the site which since the find has been covered over again with bitumen and a tent, to preserve it until a dig can continue in the warmer months. A skeleton of a woman was also found in the car park, believed to have been the friary's female founder, Ellen Luenor, as well as a medieval silver penny and some ornate window fragments.

And while there is one very popular portrait of the king, scientists are already rebuilding his face using the skull and forensic techniques usually used with murder victims.

Plans are also under way to rebury the king in the Leicester Cathedral St Martin's, which ironically has cast its shadow over the car park tomb for centuries from across the road. He would be the first king to be reburied in centuries.

Leicester has not struggled as much during the current double dip recession as other English cities, but Sir Peter said the body find would none-the-less boost visitor numbers and rejuvenate the city centre.

"The bones have lain in the shadow literally of the Cathedral for 500 years there can be no more appropriate place for them," he said.

"There has been so much interest since he was found, from around the world, including the US and Australia. These are exciting times, enormously exciting times. It's particularly good time for me because we were already investing heavily in the city centre and attracting visitors and telling the story of Leicester so he (Richard) ticks all the boxes."

A spokesman for Leicester University is coy about confirming the skeleton as that of the king, saying only the circumstantial evidence was extremely strong but the DNA tests were still being performed. No doubt so too are plans for the baking of the biscuits for those who doubted that history even after 500 years can still throw up some extraordinary discoveries.

Remains of Richard III appear to have been found in Leicester |

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