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LEICESTER, England — In one of Britain’s most dramatic modern archaeological finds, researchers here announced on Monday that skeletal remains found under a parking lot in this English Midlands city were those of King Richard III, for centuries the most widely reviled of English monarchs, paving the way for a possible reassessment of his brief but violent reign. Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist on a project to identify the bones, told reporters that tests and research since the remains were discovered last September proved “beyond reasonable doubt” that the “individual exhumed” from a makeshift grave under the parking lot was “indeed Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England.”
At that point, he said, members of the team knew that they had achieved something historic. “We knew then, beyond reasonable doubt, that this was Richard III,” he said. “We’re certain now, as certain as you can be of anything in life.”
The geneticist Turi King told a news conference held by the University of Leicester research team that DNA samples taken from two modern-day descendants of Richard III’s family matched those from the bones. found at the site. One of the descendants, Michael Ibsen, is the son of a 16th-generation niece of King Richard’s. The second wished to remain anonymous, the researchers said.
The skeleton, moreover, had a gaping hole in the skull consistent with contemporary accounts of the battlefield blow that killed the monarch more than 500 years ago.
Still more indicative, they said radiocarbon dating of two rib bones had indicated that they were those of somebody who died between the years 1455 and 1540. Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth Field, 20 miles from Leicester, in August 1485.
In addition, team members said, the remains showed an array of injuries consistent with historical accounts of the fatal blows Richard III suffered on the battlefield, and other blows he was likely to have sustained from vengeful soldiers of the army of Henry Tudor, the Bosworth victor who succeeded Richard on the throne as King Henry VII, as the slain king’s body was carried on horseback into Leicester, including dagger thrusts to the cheek, jawbone and lower back. The skeleton displayed evidence of 10 wounds, 8 of them in the skull and some likely to have caused death, possibly by a blow from a halberd, a kind of medieval weapon with an axlike head on a long pole.
Since at least the late 18th century, scholars have debated whether Richard was the victim of a campaign of denigration by the Tudor monarchs who succeeded him. His supporters argue that he was a decent king, harsh in the ways of his time, but a proponent of groundbreaking measures to help the poor, extend protections to suspected criminals and ease bans on the printing and selling of books.
But his detractors cast Richard’s 26 months on the throne as one of England’s grimmest periods, its excesses captured in his alleged role in the murder in the Tower of London of two young princes — his own nephews — to rid himself of potential rivals.
Shakespeare told the king’s story in “Richard III,” depicting him as an evil, scheming hunchback whose death at 32 ended the Wars of the Roses and more than three centuries of Plantagenet rule, book ended England’s Middle Ages, and proved a prelude to the triumphs of the Tudors and Elizabethans.
In Shakespeare’s account, Richard was killed after being unhorsed on the battlefield, crying: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.”