Discovered under a parking lot: The body of King Richard III

DNA testing confirms the skeleton belongs to "the most widely reviled of English monarchs"

These are the remains of King Richard III.
(Image credit: AP Photo/ University of Leicester)

History buffs, rejoice! Archaeologists say a skeleton found beneath a parking lot in 2012 belongs to England's King Richard III. "Beyond reasonable doubt it's Richard," lead archaeologist Richard Buckley announced on Monday. Richard reigned for two years, from 1483 until he was killed in battle in 1485 at the age of 32. He was buried unceremoniously in the town of Leicester, beneath a church that was demolished in the 16th century, its exact location forgotten over the many years since.

In late 2012, researchers began their search for the medieval king by using radar to scan for buried remains of the original church. They found it beneath a city council parking lot in Leicester. When they excavated, it didn't take long for them to find the skeleton of a young person, buried without a coffin, and showing a curved spine matching the descriptions of Richard as deformed. A comparison of the skeleton's DNA to that of a known distant relative of the king confirmed it was indeed Richard.

The skeleton showed 10 wounds, many of them potentially fatal head wounds. (See more images of the skeleton here.) Other injuries appear to have been inflicted after death, when the king was stripped naked and paraded around on a horse to humiliate the corpse. His body was also incredibly slender, "almost feminine," says Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist from the University of Leicester.

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History paints a dark picture of Richard, the story being that he murdered his two nephews to secure a long reign for himself. His tale was immortalized by Shakespeare in Richard III, which depicted the king as an evil, conniving hunchback. But his supporters say he was a good king, only "harsh in the ways of his time." And the discovery of his body could shed new light on the details of the short, violent reign of "the most widely reviled of English monarchs."

Richard's bones will be buried in Leicester's Anglican cathedral, close to where they were discovered.

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Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a writer and former deputy editor of The Week Digital. Originally from the American Midwest, she completed a degree in journalism at Indiana University Bloomington before relocating to New York City, where she pursued a career in media. After joining The Week as an intern in 2010, she served as the title’s audience development manager, senior editor and deputy editor, as well as a regular guest on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. Her writing has featured in other publications including Popular Science, Fast Company, Fortune, and Self magazine, and she loves covering science and climate-related issues.