RICHARD III SOCIETY
The skeleton of Richard the III when it was first unearthed in the site of the Grey Friars.
The skeleton of Richard clearly showing what is known to be adult onset scoliosis.
On the 24th August, 2012, the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council, in association with the Richard III Society, announced that they had joined forces to begin a search for the remains of King Richard, an enterprise originally instigated by Philippa Langley of the Society’s Looking for Richard project. Led by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), a team of experts set out to locate the lost site of the former Greyfriars church, and to ascertain whether Richard’s remains were still interred there. Incredibly, the excavation uncovered not only the remains of the church itself, but also a battle-scarred skeleton with spinal curvature.
Thanks to the work of historian John Ashdown-Hill, who painstakingly traced the female line from Richard’s sister, Anne, down to two descendants still living, it was possible to carry out DNA testing. On the 4th February, 2013, after exhaustive tests, the University announced to the world’s press that these were in fact the remains of King Richard III. This conclusion was based on the results of examination, including mitrochondrial DNA evidence, soil analysis and dental tests, as well as physical characteristics of the skeleton, which were consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard’s appearance. The team announced that what had first been thought to be an arrowhead discovered with the body, was in fact a nail from the Roman era, possibly disturbed when the body was first interred. An osteological examination of the bones showed them to be in generally good condition, and largely complete, except for the missing feet, which may have been destroyed by Victorian building work.
It was immediately apparent that the body had suffered major injuries. The skull showed signs of two lethal wounds; the base of the skull had been completely cut away by a bladed weapon, which would have exposed the brain. A similar weapon had been thrust through the right side of the skull, striking the interior side opposite, transfixing the brain. Elsewhere on the skull a blow from a pointed weapon had penetrated the crown. Other damage to the head was consistent with dagger wounds to the chin and cheek. These multiple wounds to the king’s skull suggested that he was not wearing his helmet when he was on foot.
Sideways curvature of his spine was evident as the skeleton was gradually excavated. This has been attributed to adolescent-onset scoliosis. Although it was possibly visible in life, through making his right shoulder higher than the left, and reducing his height, it would not have precluded an active lifestyle, and would not have caused a hunchback.
Site of Greyfriars Church, Leicester, shown superimposed over a modern map of the area. The skeleton of Richard III was recovered in September 2012 from the centre of the choir, shown by a small dot.