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Richard III

3 October 2012

In the latest issue of Current Archaeology 272 (Oct/Nov 2012) there is an article that gathers the story together of the discovery of a body that may well be that of Richard III. Several more pieces need to be fitted to the jigsaw, such as a DNA comparison with a modern person descended from the sister of Richard III, which is currently underway, and various other factors that will lend greater certainty. Richard III was the last in the Plantaganet line and his reputation has been sullied by his successors, the Tudors. He reigned just two years, 1483-85, after being appointed Lord Protector of the two princes, the sons of Edward IV, and their mysterious death (the princes in the Tower). He was defeated on the battlefield by Henry Tudor, at Bosworth Field, to the west of Leicester. Dogged by controversy he was accused of being malformed, a hunchback, and various other less than affable attributes. After the battle his body was brought into Leicester to be publicly displayed and according to tradition he was buried in Greyfriars. This was demolished in the monastic dissolutions of Henry VIII, and its stone reused to repair the local church and various other buildings, most of which have disappeared over the years. The actual site of Greyfriars was estimated to be mostly under modern buildings, apart from one small patch of land that is now a car park for the local authority. This is where the archaeologists began to dig and it seems they hit the jackpot. A body was exhumed and is currently under detailed analysis. There is evidence of spinal curvature, not remotely anything like a hunchback, but a deformity never the less. The body also displays distinct evidence of battlefield injuries either of which could have killed him. A corroded piece of iron was found lodged in his back and X-rays revealed the silhouette of a barbed arrowhead. Two wounds on the skull include one attributed to a poleaxe and another to a bladed weapon such as a sword, are also suggestive of the manner he met his end – poleaxed by a mercenary in the army of Henry Tudor.

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