Richard III’s Body Discovered in Leicester

This is, to me, one of the most interesting news stories in quite a while: DNA testing has confirmed that a skeleton dug up under a parking lot in Leicester is that of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England and one of Shakespeare’s great villains.

This is what the skeleton looked like when it was discovered amid the foundations of a Franciscan friary, the very place where historical sources said Richard’s body was taken after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485:

The body’s hands appeared to have been tied, and Richard seems to have died from blows to the head, which is also consistent with contemporary accounts. There are indications of other wounds that likely were inflicted after death.

Remarkably, the body showed a severe curvature of the spine, indicating that Shakespeare’s depiction of Richard as a hunchback was close to the mark:

The description of Richard that was reconstructed from the skeleton is interesting:

The skeleton had an “unusually slender, almost feminine build for a man” and was aged between the late 20s and early 30s. Richard died aged 32.

Without any “spinal abnormality”, the skeleton would have been 5’ 8” high, which was above average height for a medieval man, scientists say.

Richard’s teeth seem to have been in pretty good condition, except for an upper front one which is missing; that might have happened, of course, during the battle or afterward:

The most notable thing about the discovery is how well it corroborates contemporary and traditional accounts. (Shakespeare’s withered arm, however, seems to be fiction.) Richard has long been a controversial figure. The Tudors, of course, had every reason to demonize him and his reign. More recently, pro-Richard groups have emerged, inspired in part by mystery writer Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, a spirited, if ultimately unpersuasive, defense of Richard. Historians generally reject the revisionist view that Richard was more or less a hero, and most think, among other things, that he did have the two princes, his nephews, murdered in the Tower of London.

Granted, Richard’s death was quite recent, only 528 years ago. But the extent to which modern science bears out the essentials of accounts that have come to us through fragmentary contemporary accounts and historical tradition is, I think, striking. My own belief is that many traditional accounts that go much farther into the past are likely to be proved true as modern scientific methods continue to be applied.

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