An archeological team from the University of Leicester have been searching a Leicester parking lot for the long-lost bones of Richard III, and it looks like they may have hit paydirt.
Most people are probably familiar with the monarch from Shakespeare’s play of the same name, that depicted the end of the War of the Roses — the war that placed Queen Elizabeth I’s family, the Tudors, on the throne. Richard was part of the York faction, that is, the losing side, so in Shakespeare’s play he is decidedly villainous — a hideous hunchback who would do anything, including killing children, to retain his hold on the crown.
The real man was only king for two years, from 1483 to his death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. This was the last major battle in the War of the Roses and placed the first Henry Tudor on the throne. It was said that his body was taken to Leicester and buried in the Church of the Grey Friars, which had since been lost. But the University team found the 400 year old church earlier this month, when they found window tracings, window glass, and medieval floor tiles with heraldic markings on them. The size and shape of the excavated building was also consistent with reports of what the church looked like. Richard III was said to have been bured in the Grey Friars choir, in an elaborate alabaster tomb that was paid for by the man who vanquished him, Henry VII, but Henry VIII destroyed both the tomb and the church during the Protestant Reformation, and the location of the church and tomb was lost. Simply discovering the location of this important landmark is a major archeaological breakthrough, but by September 12th, the team made another major discovery: bones.
Richard III was known to have a hunchback, something that would probably be nowadays disagnosed as scoliosis — or an S curve in the spine. The bones that the University of Leicester team found beneath the church showed signs of this malformity, though they also appear to be the bones of an active man in spite of it. There are also signs that the owner of the skeleton died in battle — there is major trauma to the skull, and even an arrowhead lodged in the vertebrae of the upper back. The condition of the body of course does not match later, Tudor descriptions of the man, who exaggerated his ugliness and deformity in order to emphasize his evil, which was common in the literary tradition of the time.
The next step, and really the only way to confirm that it is indeed the body of the long-lost king is of course DNA testing. Luckily, the team tracked down a couple of Richard’s descendants and have taken swabs for comparison with the bones.
I think it’s pretty awesome that the bones would be found right now, when one of the biggest television and book series out there right now, Game of Thrones, is inspired by the War of the Roses.
[Source: The Toronto Star]