History tells us Richard of York (Richard III) was killed in the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485. After his defeat, he was stripped, tied to a horse, and taken naked to Leicester. His body was then displayed, abused, and potentially buried in a shallow grave at the Church of the Grey Friars. Some stories report his body was thrown into in the nearby River Soar. The Church of the Grey Friars, destroyed during the Reformation in the 1530s, has since been used as a garden, a playground, and even a parking lot.
In April 2011, Leon Hunt, a member of the University of Leicester’s Archaeological Services, produced a 31-page report detailing a plan to locate the remains of the disgraced king. Hunt’s work led to an investigation that incorporated archeology, bone analysis, genealogy, and DNA sampling to find and identify the remains of Richard III.
Hunt first obtained maps detailing the area. Maps dating from 1741 to today were layered and he determined where the Church of the Gray Friars once stood and further where on that property once could locate the choir (where Richard most likely would have been buried). Through the history of maps he determined that choir would now be on property that is currently shared between two parking lots.
Philippa Langley, a member of the Richard III Society, helped to coordinate the project. She, along with the Leicester City Council, helped the research team get permission to dig three trenches in late summer 2012. The dig began on August 24. On that very day a skeleton was removed from a shallow grave only two feet below the surface of the earth. It sat for a week while the other trenches were explored. In early September, the skeleton was taken to a university laboratory. There testing began.
The bones were tested to determine the life and death of the person. Study showed the person had scoliosis starting around age 10 which led to back pain. The person experienced deformity and stood with one shoulder markedly higher than the other. This particular person also had scrawny arms and legs. Both of these situations match physical descriptions of Richard III. Also noted was the trauma endured by the individual. A part of the back of the skull was missing, there was an arrowhead in the spine, and the pelvis was wounded from the back. These are consistent with the historical telling of how the king died and how his body was humiliated after death. There is evidence he was buried with his hands bound.
This circumstantial evidence needed facts to back it up. Carbon dating places burial in the late 15th to early 16th centuries. It also indicates a diet rich in seafood, indicating that it was probably the body of an aristocrat. DNA testing was also conducted comparing two known descendants of Anne of York, the sister of Richard III. They match samples taken from the skeleton.
The remains found under the parking lot over 525 years after they were buried were positively identified as Richard III.
Responding to the results of the genetic testing, Langley said, “This has been an extraordinary journey of discovery. We came with a dream and today that dream has been realized. This is an historic moment that will rewrite the history books.”