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Leicester, England - Until it was discovered beneath a city parking lot last fall, the skeleton had lain unmarked, and unmourned, for more than 500 years. Friars fearful of the men who slew him in battle buried the man in haste, naked and anonymous, in a space so cramped his cloven skull was jammed upright and askew.
On Monday, confirming what many historians and archaeologists had suspected, a team of experts at the University of Leicester concluded on the basis of DNA and other evidence that the remains were those of King Richard III, for centuries the most reviled of English monarchs. But the conclusion, said to have been reached "beyond any reasonable doubt," promised to achieve much more than an end to the oblivion that has been Richard's fate since his death on Aug. 22, 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field, 20 miles from this ancient city.
"I think he wanted to be found, he was ready to be found, and we found him, and now we can begin to tell the true story of who he was," said Philippa Langley, a writer who has been a longtime and fervent member of the Richard III Society, an organization that has worked for decades to bring what they see as justice to an unjustly vilified man. "Now," Langley added, "we can rebury him with honor, and we can rebury him as a king."
Other members of the team at the University of Leicester pointed to Langley as the inspiration behind the project, responsible for raising much of the estimated $250,000 it cost to carry out the exhumation and the research.
Langley's account was that her research for a play about the king had led her to a hunch that Richard's body would be found beneath the parking lot, in a corner of the buried ruins of the Greyfriars Priory, where a medieval historian had recorded him as having been buried.
Even before the DNA findings came in, team members said, evidence pointed conclusively at the remains being those of the king. These included confirmation that the body was that of a man in his late 20s or early 30s - Richard was 32 at his death - and that his diet had been rich in meat and marine fish, characteristic of a privileged life in the 15th century.
But perhaps the most conclusive evidence was the deep curvature of the spine that the research team said pointed to a form of scoliosis, which causes a hunchback appearance.