Exhuming Richard III
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
-- from William Shakespeare's Richard III
The news this last weekend was remarkable. A team of archaeologists in Leicester were excavating a parking garage, presumed to be the site of a former cathedral and found the remains of the English King, Richard III. Richard was the last of the Plantagenet kings, and his death was the final blow in the long and bloody "Wars of the Roses" between the houses of Lancaster and York. Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and the crown passed to the leader of the Lancastrians, Henry Tudor (Henry VII).* His death at Bosworth is noteworthy for two reasons:
- He was the last British monarch to die in battle, and
- the injuries on the skeletal remains are consistent with the same type of weaponry used in the field of that era.
Most of us have heard of Richard III through Shakespeare’s portrayal of him in his eponymous play, and that depiction of Richard as a violent, deformed and overthrown man begging to trade his kingdom for a horse has lived with us till this day. Folks at the Richard III Society have been working for nearly a century to change that image.
But all of these pieces of evidence in literature and historical accounts of the aftermath are only pieces of what led to determining these remains to be those of the English king. Another piece of the story can be found in the mitochondrial DNA that links a matrilineal chain of ancestors to the remains found in Leicester. And while the evidence is not 100 percent conclusive, it is still 98-99 percent conclusive, which makes this combination of evidence so compelling.
If you’d like to know more about Richard III, we have a metric ton of resources for you to peruse. Check these out!
News about the archaeological find
- The New York Times: Bones under parking lot belonged to Richard III
- The New Yorker: The humiliation of Richard III
- The Daily Mail: The real face of Richard III
The Wars of the Roses
Richard III in History
Richard III in Literature
* You may not remember Henry VII but you certainly have heard of his Tudor lineage, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.
-- Eric S. Riley