Lost and Found: A King’s Corpse
Five hundred years after Richard III was killed in battle, the English King’s remains are found under a parking lot
PHOTO: Researchers were able to create a likeness of Richard’s face from his bones. (Gareth Fuller / PA / AP Images)
MAP: Richard’s bones were recovered from Leicester, England. (Jim McMahon)
The skeleton of England’s famous King Richard III has been discovered more than 500 years after his death. The search for his body had puzzled historians for centuries.
Richard was England’s last ruling monarch from the House of York. A monarch is a government leader who inherits power by birth, such as a king or queen. He died when a Lancaster named Henry Tudor rebelled against the King in 1485. Richard was the last King of England to have been killed in battle.
Archaeologists discovered the King’s body in August. They were able to locate the area where Richard III was buried—the site of a forgotten religious building that had been torn down and eventually covered by a parking garage. A team of researchers from the University of Leicester then began working to confirm that the skeleton really belonged to the famous King.
Genealogist Kevin Schürer looked at many historical documents to find living members of the King’s family tree. A genealogist is someone who studies how common ancestors from years ago link families together today. He was able to find two people related to Richard III. One, Michael Ibsen, is a furniture maker in London.
“It’s really difficult to come to grips with the fact that there is some part of you that is part of somebody as famous or infamous as Richard III,” says Ibsen.
A geneticist at the university, Turi King, then compared Ibsen’s blood with dried blood taken from the skeleton. Geneticists are scientists who study DNA, a substance found in blood cells and those in other body fluids that links one generation to the next. When King saw that the DNA from both blood samples matched, the team knew they had found the missing King.
Richard III is also known for being a famous villain. Before Richard died, people believed he had killed his young nephews to keep control of the throne. About 100 years after the King’s death, William Shakespeare wrote a play in which Richard is an evil ruler. Shakespeare described the king as so awful that dogs barked when he walked past.
But some historians today say the House of Lancaster, which defeated Richard in battle, falsely created this reputation.
The House of York and the House of Lancaster were two groups of the same family that fought one another over control of the English throne. The struggle, known as the Wars of the Roses, lasted 30 years. Henry Tudor, whose army defeated Richard in battle, was from the House of Lancaster. After winning the battle, Henry married Richard’s niece, Elizabeth of York, to unite the two families and finally end the war. He became known as King Henry VII.
Henry did not want Richard to have a royal funeral. The former King’s grave was lost when Henry’s son closed the small religious building where Richard’s bones were buried. Until now, his final resting place had remained unknown for nearly five centuries.