Canadian DNA key to solving the mystery of King Richard III
Published Monday, February 4, 2013 6:10AM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 4, 2013 2:03PM EST
A Canadian man whose DNA was the key to solving the 500-year-old mystery of King Richard III says he hopes the discovery will help reveal a kinder side to the English monarch.
Archeologists confirmed Monday that the remains that were unearthed in Leicester, England about a year ago did in fact belong to King Richard III, who’s been portrayed as a usurper who left a trail of bodies on his way to the throne.
“It will increase the interest in Richard’s reign and the history to such a degree that people will look at his entire life rather than just his short reign as king,” said Michael Ibsen, a Canadian carpenter living in London who’s a distant, but direct descendant of Richard’s sister, Anne of York.
Ibsen told CTV’s Canada AM on Monday: “I hope, fingers crossed, that it might mean we find out some good things about him as well as the negative things that we already know.”
Ibsen, the 17th great-grandnephew to King Richard III, said he learned in 2004 that his mother was a descendant of the king’s sister. Biological testing proved that the skeleton and Ibsen share a rare strain of mitochondrial DNA.
Speaking from Leicester, Ibsen said the announcement was an “extraordinary moment.”
“First of all to stand in the presence of a king, albeit his skeletal remains, is one thing. Then to realize that you are part of the remains which you are observing, it’s extraordinary,” he said. “It does funny things with your mind.”
Ibsen was one of several people who gathered in Leicester for the highly-anticipated announcement.
University of Leicester researchers said tests on a battle-scarred skeleton unearthed last year prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that it is the king who died at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, and whose remains have been missing for centuries.
Richard ruled England between 1483 and 1485, during the decades-long struggle over the throne known as the Wars of the Roses that pitted two wings of the ruling Plantagenet dynasty -- York and Lancaster -- against one another.
His brief reign saw some liberal reforms, including the introduction of the right to bail and lifting restrictions on books and printing presses.
Richard’s rule was eventually 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.
He died in August 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field and records say he was buried by the Franciscan monks, though the location of Richard's body was unknown for centuries.
Last year a team led by an archaeologist from the University of Leicester identified a possible location of the grave.
The team began excavating in a parking lot last August and quickly located human remains.
Researchers said a study of the bones provided a convincing case they belonged to the English monarch.
Bone specialists said the 10 injuries discovered on the body, eight in the skull and two in the torso, were inflicted by weapons like swords and daggers, which were consist with the historical account of the 15th-century king being struck down in battle.
The remains also displayed signs of scoliosis, which is a form of spinal curvature, consistent with modern-day accounts of Richard's appearance.
Researchers conducted a battery of scientific tests, including radiocarbon dating to determine the skeleton's age. They found the skeleton belonged to a man aged between his late 20s and late 30s who died between 1455 and 1540. Richard was 32 when he died in 1485.
The discovery could provide a much-needed tourism boost to the city of Leicester, located about 160 kilometres north of London.
“The city that has fallen on hard times, unemployment here is 15 per cent,” said CTV’s Ben O’Hara-Byrne.
He said keeping with archeological precedence, the body will be re-buried at a nearby cathedral.
The city has also purchased a building next to the parking lot to serve as a visitor centre and museum.
The discovery may also help in re-branding the historical figure’s image.
“If you remember back to Shakespeare, Richard III is one of these most maligned monarchs, so to speak,” said O’Hara-Byrne. “So there’s also the idea that along with finding him physically, it’s also time to re-examine his historical significance as well.”
With files from The Associated Press