Skeleton found under parking lot is that of King Richard III

LEICESTER, ENGLAND He was king of England, but for centuries he lay without shroud or coffin in an unknown grave, and his name became a byword for villainy.

On Monday, scientists announced they had rescued the remains of Richard III from anonymity — and the monarch’s fans hope a revival of his reputation will soon follow.

In a dramatically orchestrated news conference, a team of archaeologists, geneticists, genealogists and other scientists from the University of Leicester announced that tests had proven what they scarcely dared to hope — a scarred and broken skeleton unearthed from under a drab municipal parking lot was that of the 15th-century king, the last English monarch to die in battle.

Lead archeologist Richard Butler said that a battery of tests proved “beyond reasonable doubt” that the remains were the king’s.

DNA from the skeleton matched a sample taken from Michael Ibsen of Toronto, a distant living relative of Richard’s sister. The project’s lead geneticist, Turi King, said Ibsen, a carpenter living in London, shares with the skeleton a rare strain of mitochondrial DNA. The same DNA group also matches a second living descendant, who wants to remain anonymous.

King said that between 1 and 2 per cent of the population belongs to this genetic subgroup, so the DNA evidence is not definitive proof in itself of the skeleton’s identity. But combined with the archeological evidence, it left little doubt the skeleton belonged to Richard.

Ibsen, a 17th great-grand-nephew of Richard’s older sister, said he was “stunned” by the discovery.

“It’s difficult to digest,” he said.

Lin Foxhall, head of the university’s school of archeology, said the discovery “could end up rewriting a little bit of history in a big way.”

Few monarchs have seen their reputations decline as much after death as Richard III. He ruled England between 1483 and 1485, during the decades-long battle over the throne known as the Wars of the Roses, which pitted two wings of the ruling Plantagenet dynasty — York and Lancaster — against one another.

His brief reign saw liberal reforms, including the introduction of the right to bail and the lifting of restrictions on books and printing presses.

But his rule was challenged, and he was defeated and killed by the army of Henry Tudor, who took the throne as King Henry VII and ended the Plantagenet line. Britain’s current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is distantly related to Richard, but is not a descendant.

After his death, historians writing under the victorious Tudors comprehensively trashed Richard’s reputation, accusing him of myriad crimes — most famously, the murder of his two nephews, the “Princes in the Tower.”

William Shakespeare indelibly depicted Richard as a hunchbacked usurper who left a trail of bodies on his way to the throne before dying in battle, shouting “My kingdom for a horse.”

That view was repeated by many historians, and Richard remains a villain in the popular imagination. But others say Richard’s reputation was unjustly smeared by his Tudor successors.

Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society — which seeks to restore the late king’s reputation and backed the search for his grave — said that for centuries Richard’s story has been told by others, many of them hostile.

She hopes a new surge of interest, along with evidence from the skeleton about how the king lived and died — and how he was mistreated after death — will help restore his reputation.

The location of Richard’s body was unknown for centuries. He died in August 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field in the English Midlands, and records say he was buried by the Franciscan monks of Grey Friars at their church in Leicester, 100 miles (160 kilometres) north of London.

The church was closed and dismantled after King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538, and its location eventually was forgotten by most local residents.

On Monday, the king’s skeleton lay in a glass box in a meeting room within the university library. It was a browned, fragile-looking thing, its skull pocked with injuries, missing its feet — which scientists say were disturbed sometime after burial — and with a pronounced S-shape to the spine.

Soon the remains will be moved to an undisclosed secure location, and next year Richard will, at last, get a king’s burial, interred with pomp and ceremony in Leicester Cathedral.

It is a day Langley, of the Richard III Society, has dreamed of seeing.

“We have searched for him, we have found him — it is now time to honour him,” she said.

The Associated Press