Posted by: marymarthatours | February 8, 2013

Finding the bones of Richard III

richard iii

OK, I admit it – I’m one of those people who think that King Richard III of England wasn’t nearly the monster that Shakespeare made him out to be.  In fact, for a monarch of his time, the late middle ages, he was amazingly progressive and was thought of very highly by the people, especially in Yorkshire and the north.

So I have been following with great interest, the story of the archaeological dig in a city-owned parking lot in the city of Leicester, England, where scholars were convinced that Richard had been buried after his death in 1485 at the battle of Bosworth Field.   No, he wasn’t buried in the car park, but records from the time indicated that he was buried in the Church of the Greyfriars, the remains of which lie today somewhere under that parking lot pavement.

Greyfriars, map,

Suspected location of the Church of the Greyfriars, Leicester

And can you believe it, with the help of modern science and the work of archaeologists, DNA specialists, and genealogists, THEY FOUND HIS SKELETON right where they thought it should be.  The skeleton itself told a story that led researchers to believe that it most probably is that of Richard III.

  • The spine had a very marked curvature, typical of scoliosis, a physical feature that is reported about Richard in contemporary documents.
  • The skull shows all the signs of several severe battle injuries.
  • There are post-mortem wounds in the bones that could have come during the time that Richard’s naked body was put on a horse and publically paraded to Leicester by Henry Tudor, the victor in the battle.
  • Radiocarbon dating of the bones revealed that the man died somewhere between 1450 and the early 1500’s.

Most amazingly, those bones still contained enough genetic material to do a DNA scan.  Genealogists were able to trace the line of Richard’s sister Anne of York to a man in Canada.  This week the announcement was made that his maternal DNA is a match with that of the skeleton in Leicester.

I became a convert to the theory that Richard III did not kill his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, after reading Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time”.  In the book, a bed-ridden detective investigates the very cold case of the murder of the Princes.  The detective asks the question, “Who had the greatest motive for getting rid of the Princes”?  Was it Richard who had already had the boys declared illegitimate and barred from the succession; or Henry Tudor who revoked the declaration of illegitimacy in order to marry the boys’ sister Elizabeth and after gaining the throne, eliminated every other surviving Yorkist claimant?  I recommend “The Daughter of Time” as an antidote to Shakespeare’s version, written over 100 years after Richard’s death for Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of Henry Tudor.

  monk bar, Fingalo Christian Bickel, CCASA2.0       DSCN3484

The Richard III Museum at Monk Bar, York

Last September, on our free day in York, Martha and I visited the Richard III Museum.  It’s housed in a 14th century gatehouse, Monk Bar, along the wall that surrounds central York.  There we saw and listened to a portrayal of Richard III on trial for the murder of the Princes, with arguments both for and against.  The audience members are the jury and at the end of the trial, they are asked to vote on whether Richard was innocent or guilty of the crime.  As the Museum’s website asks: “Calculating, murderous villain or popular king, an innocent victim of Tudor propaganda?  You decide.”


Richard III on trial at the Richard III Museum York

Whatever the historical truth, and whether or not we will ever know it, I am looking forward to the renewed interest in the reign of Richard III that finding his skeleton will undoubtedly arouse.

(By Mary)

Photo credits:  Richard III portrait, Public Domain;  Map of Greyfriars, Leicester, copyright Ordinance Survey Date and licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license;  Monk Bar, York, copyright Fingalo Christian Bickel and licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 license;  interior of Richard III Museum, York, by Mary Wallace.




  1. I suffered from scoliosis until some recent surgery. While Richard III may not have offed his nephews, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear he was one surly dude. Having a body out of alignment is really painful! Not only did he get bad press for the disability, he also got dinged for having dark hair and olive skin. He lived in tough times for sure.

  2. And now the next chapter is under way: Who gets the bones for a proper burial? Leicester Cathedral next door to where the remains were found, York Minster (Richard had strong ties to the city or York) or even Westminster Abbey, where many monarchs are entombed. The War of the Roses is now the War of the Bones. Or is it, The War of the Roses part II; Leicester and York were on apposing sides. Richard III has risen from his grave for a new war over his remains. What location do you vote for? Martha

  3. Very interesting!

  4. I’ve been following the discovery of Richard’s bones for several months – I subscribe to three archeology magazines, two science magazines, and BBC History magazine; they’ve all had stories about the progress of discovery. Isn’t it thrilling to look for something so significant and actually find it! Wouldn’t it be cool to look in the dusty-musty archives and discover a document about the little princes? Not much chance, I’m afraid.

    Ellen of Olympia: I’ve always been amused by the English term “black” for anyone of dark hair or complexion, as in “black Irish.” As anyone with chronic pain knows, one does get weary and crabby. I’m glad you’ve had successful surgery and wish you well. I have a good friend with scoliosis, but her surgery at age 12 left her in more pain and disability than before.

    One of the adventures of traveling is experiencing the actual places and objects of history. I’m so looking forward to our trip! ~ Ginny

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