King Richard III Discovered in England: DNA Testing Confirms

First Posted: Feb 04, 2013 09:19 AM EST

It turns out that the remains found in a parking lot in Leicester, England belong to none other than King Richard III, one of the most reviled monarchs of English history. Scientists announced on Monday that they were able to confirm the identity of the skeleton through DNA testing.

Richard was a royal prince until the death of his brother, Edward IV, in 1483. While he was meant to act as a protector for his nephew, Edward V, Richard instead wrested power from the young king and assumed the throne. After being confined to the Tower of London, Edward V and his brother soon disappeared. Historians have theorized that Richard murdered his nephews in order to rid himself of potential rivals.

Yet despite this bloody past, some historians have argued that Richard wasn't all bad. They point out that he was a proponent of groundbreaking measures to help the poor, extending protections to suspected felons and easing bans on the printing and selling of books.

For all that, though, Richard didn't stay on the throne all that long. Challenged by Henry Tudor, his reign lasted just 26 months and ended with his death on the battlefield at Bosworth in 1485. He was given a low-key burial in the church of Greyfriars in the center of Leicester, but the location of his grave was lost when the building was demolished in the 16th century.

A team of historians, though, were determined to find the body. Archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar on the site of the former priory, and were able to locate the skeleton beneath a parking lot after only a few days of digging.

The remains themselves reveal a violent death. The skeleton shows at least 10 injuries, including an arrowhead to the back and two potentially fatal skull wounds. The spine itself is badly curved and shows a condition known and scoliosis, which past historical records mentioned Richard as having.

While many of these findings might have pointed to the skeleton as being Richard's, it wasn't until DNA evidence was brought in that scientists' suspicions were confirmed. A team of enthusiasts and historians tracked down a 17th-generation descendent of Richard's sister--a Canadian woman named Joy Ibsen. Although she died several years ago, her son was able to provide researchers with a sample. Since the DNA they were looking for is only handed down the female line, the team was extremely fortunate--Isben's only daughter has no children which meant that the line was about to end.

With the new evidence, though, researchers were able to find a DNA match between the maternal DNA of the descendants and the remains. It turned out that the skeleton had indeed once been Richard III.

Currently, plans are underway for a reburial ceremony for the remains.

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