A ‘car park king’ timeline: the discovery of Richard III
In 2012, researchers and archaeologists found a skeleton under a car park in the city of Leicester. The remains were believed to be Richard III, the Plantagenet king who was killed at the battle of Bosworth in 1485. Here's everything you need to know about the groundbreaking discovery, from the DNA analysis that confirmed Richard's identity to his reinterment at Leicester Cathedral...
A timeline charting the biggest Richard III developments, from the discovery of his remains beneath a Leicester carpark in 2012 to his televised reburial in 2015...
August/September 2012 | A team of researchers and archaeologists from the University of Leicester searching a grave underneath a Leicester car park – in the choir of the church of the Franciscan friary (Grey Friars) – discover a skeleton. The press is told "strong circumstantial evidence" points to the skeleton being that of Richard III. Researchers begin a range of tests.
4 February 2013 | The University of Leicester confirms that the skeleton is that of Richard III. The team tells a press conference that a wealth of evidence – including radiocarbon dating, radiological evidence, DNA and bone analysis, and archaeological results – confirm the identity of the last Plantagenet king. “It is the academic conclusion of the University of Leicester that the individual exhumed at Grey Friars in August 2012 is indeed King Richard III," lead archaeologist Richard Buckley says.
- Read more | Alternative history: What if Richard III had won at Bosworth?
5 February 2013 | An online campaign for Richard III's remains to be placed at York Minster begins to gather force. Within a couple of days, an e-petition to the government receives 8,000 signatures. The campaign is supported by York's Richard III museum, tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire, and the local council. Richard, the last monarch of the House of York, grew up at Middleham Castle in the Yorkshire Dales. Days later, Stephen Nicolay, the 16th great-grandson of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York (father of Richard III), tells BBC News: “York and the county of Yorkshire was, and remains, the physical and spiritual home of King Richard III. The burial of his exhumed remains should therefore be, without question, at York Minster which was, in life, his own wish.”
7 February 2013 | Scarborough Borough Council's Conservative leader, Tom Fox, claims that the city of Leicester cannot be trusted to look after the remains. “The people of Leicester misplaced him for more than 500 years. Would we really wish to entrust his remains to them again? I think not,” he says. Meanwhile, York Minster says it "commends Richard to Leicester's care".
8 February 2013 | Descendants of Richard III's family want his remains to be buried in York as “a matter of justice”, BBC News reports.
13 March 2013 | Leicester Cathedral reveals initial plans for Richard III’s tomb.
26 March 2013 | Some 15 of Richard III's relatives – the Plantagenet Alliance Limited – are to seek a judicial review into the decisions authorising his reburial in Leicester, it is announced. The alliance says relatives should have been consulted by the government over the reburial, and states it wants the licence that enables the University of Leicester to decide where the remains are reinterred to be overturned, and the king laid to rest in York Minster. The relevant papers are lodged in the High Court some weeks later.
16 August 2013 | The Plantagenet Alliance is granted permission for a judicial review. Mr Justice Haddon-Cave says he will grant the review "on all grounds", but warns the parties against beginning an "unseemly, undignified and unedifying" legal tussle.
19 September 2013 | Leicester Cathedral unveils a design for Richard III’s tomb. Under the £1.3m plans, due to be submitted to planning officials, the former king could be laid to rest in a raised tomb of fossil limestone with a deeply carved cross. Meanwhile, the justice secretary Chris Grayling says he will defend the decision to bury the remains of Richard III in Leicester.
23 September 2013 | Members of the Richard III Society request that their donations not be used to fund the king's tomb at Leicester Cathedral, because they disapprove of the design. The intended reburial is put on hold in November, when officials defer a decision over plans for his tomb.
24 September 2013 | A petition calling for a parliamentary debate on where to bury Richard III fails to reach its signature target. The online petition, which needed 100,000 names to request a debate on the decision to inter him in Leicester, reportedly has 31,260 names when the deadline passes.
18 October 2013 | The Plantagenet Alliance will have their costs protected even if they lose their legal battle over where the monarch's remains should be reburied, it is announced.
26 November 2013 | A judicial review due to take place in the High Court regarding the licence granted to the University of Leicester authorising Richard’s reburial in the city is adjourned. This is after the court agrees to allow Leicester City Council to make representations as a party. Matthew Howarth, the partner and judicial review expert at Yorkshire law firm Gordons, representing the Plantagenet Alliance, tells History Extra: “It is frustrating – it should not have happened.”
13 March 2014 | The judicial review gets under way. Leicester City Council is now a defendant in the case, alongside the Ministry of Justice and the University of Leicester. York Minster and Leicester Cathedral are interested parties. Ahead of proceedings, Howarth tells History Extra: “Richard III was a culturally significant person, and there should have been a broader consultation about the location of his reburial.”
26 March 2014 | Archaeologists “cannot say with any confidence” that bones found in Leicester are those of Richard III, leading experts claim. Speaking exclusively to BBC History Magazine, Michael Hicks, head of history at the University of Winchester, and Martin Biddle, archaeologist and director of the Winchester Research Unit, raise concerns about the DNA testing, radiocarbon dating and damage to the skeleton. The University of Leicester defends its conclusions: “The strength of the identification is that different kinds of evidence all point to the same result. Hicks is entitled to his views, but we would challenge and counter them.”
23 May 2014 | The Plantagenet Alliance loses its High Court battle. The court concludes: "There are no public law grounds for the Court interfering with the decisions in question. In the result, therefore, the Claimant’s application for Judicial Review is dismissed." Professor Lin Foxhall from the University of Leicester, who was head of department when Richard’s remains were discovered in 2012, tells HistoryExtra: “We are jubilant. This is a victory for common sense.”
17 August 2014 | Richard III began to drink more wine and enjoyed a diet filled with lavish foods such as swan, crane and heron after becoming king in 1483, new research published in the Journal of Archaeological Science shows. Through cutting-edge isotope analysis of his bone and tooth material, researchers discovered a change in the king’s diet in later years, and confirmed Richard had moved from Fotheringay Castle in eastern England by the time he was seven, before returning to eastern England as an adolescent.
17 September 2014 | Richard III was probably killed by two blows to the head during a “sustained attack”, new research shows. Using CT scans on his 500-year-old skeleton, forensic teams at the University of Leicester found the king suffered 11 injuries before his death at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, three of which may have been fatal. He had nine wounds to the skull and two to the postcranial skeleton. However, historian Chris Skidmore tells HistoryExtra that the findings fail to explain the final moments of the last Plantagenet king. “The scientific confirmation of the wounds and detailed research indicate that Richard was not wearing a helmet, but we need to explain why this was the case given that all sources point to Richard riding into his final charge with a helmet topped with a crown,” he says.
27 August 2014 | The discovery of Richard III has boosted Leicester's economy by about £45m, latest figures reveal. According to one of the trustees of a new Richard III visitor centre, local tourism has grown by three per cent more than comparable areas, and Richard is the likely cause.
2 December 2014 | New genealogical research proves “beyond reasonable doubt” that the remains discovered underneath a Leicester car park in 2012 are those of Richard III, it is announced. According to a team of researchers at the University of Leicester, the latest analysis of all available evidence “confirms identity of King Richard III to the point of 99.999 per cent at its most conservative”. The researchers collected DNA from living relatives of Richard III and analysed several genetic markers, and found the mitochondrial genome shows a genetic match between the skeleton and the maternal line relatives.
3 December 2014 | Professor Michael Hicks calls into question the validity of new data that is said to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that the remains discovered underneath a Leicester car park in 2012 are those of Richard III. In an interview with History Extra, the recently retired head of history at the University of Winchester says the new genealogical research “does not carry us any further forward. It tells us that the two modern relatives share the same mitochondrial DNA as the bones, not that the bones belong to Richard III.”
12 December 2014 | An online ballot opens for a seat at the reburial of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral in 2015. Some 5,000 people apply on the first day, and by the end of December more than 13,500 people have entered the ballot, BBC News reports.
5 January 2015 | Richard III is related to Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor set to play him on screen in 2015, new research shows. University of Leicester genealogist Professor Kevin Schurer says he has revealed a link between Cumberbatch and the king, which makes them third cousins 16 times removed. It is estimated that between one million and 17 million people in the UK are connected, in some way, to Richard, but "He (Cumberbatch) is more direct because he is a third cousin,” says Prof Schurer. “Most other relatives would be much lower order cousins.”
7 January 2015 | A rosary to be placed inside Richard III's coffin ahead of his reinterment is blessed at the Clare Priory in Suffolk. The beads and crucifix, donated by historian John Ashdown-Hill, reflect Richard's Catholic faith. The Clare Priory is connected to Richard's mother, Cecily Neville: several members of her family are buried there.
22 March 2015 | Richard III's remains arrive at Leicester Cathedral ahead of his reburial. His funeral cortege enters the city at the historic Bow Bridge after touring landmarks in the county, and cannons are fired in a salute to the king at Bosworth, where he died in 1485.
23 March 2015 | Richard III's coffin goes on public view at Leicester Cathedral. Thousands of people queue for hours to see it, BBC News reports.
Richard III: what does the find mean for history?
Writing for a BBC History Magazine special edition, historians responded to the discovery in 2013…
Professor Lin Foxhall: “This is just the start of the story”
This is only the beginning: there is more research to follow, before re-interment, on the genetics and the bones, including Richard’s health and diet. We will not be able to study them after reburial. And we need to learn more about the awesome Greyfriars precinct: the church, the other buildings and the role of the friars in the life of medieval Leicester. Finally, scholars will need time to consider the impact of this major new body of material evidence for interpreting the literary and historical sources of the period. We’ll need to reread the texts and rethink the history.
Professor Lin Foxhall is head of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester
Chris Skidmore MP: “A state funeral will allow people to pay their respects”
After scientific tests have been completed on Richard III’s body, there is the thorny issue of where and exactly how he should be buried. Leicester seems the logical place, especially since the location of the reburial was agreed before the archaeological investigations began, though I’m sure various cities such as York will continue to fight their corner.
I’ve been campaigning for a form of state funeral for Richard. This need not be an excuse for a public holiday or a Westminster Abbey service, but the opportunity for the body to lie in state for people to pay their respects. As for the funeral service, some form of joint ceremony reflecting his Catholic faith needs to be considered. Then the process of re-assessing Richard really begins.
Chris Skidmore MP is author of Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2013)
Nigel Jones: “Richard is fit only to be buried in the car park where he was found”
The discovery of Richard’s bones – ironically funded by the Richard III Society – has at least laid one Ricardian myth to rest: that his crooked spine was an invention of Tudor propaganda. I only wish that the strange cult of this murderous little tyrant would also lie down and die.
As for his burial place, as far as I’m concerned he should be returned to the Leicester car park. The idea of a state funeral in a church, abbey, minster or cathedral honouring a serial-killing child murderer is almost obscene. Murder is murder, however ancient.
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Nigel Jones is a historian, journalist and broadcaster
Tom Holland: “This find says as much about the British public as it does Richard III”
The discovery of Richard III’s remains is haunted by an obvious irony. A project inspired by the desire to redeem his memory from Tudor propaganda has served to confirm it in much of its details: Richard was indeed a ‘crookback’, and he appears, from the evidence of the stab-wound to his buttock [inflicted after his death], to have been widely hated. Beyond that, even though the discovery of his remains sheds little further light on his reign, it has served to illumine – and to glorious effect – something that many pessimists had doubted: the abiding attachment of the British to their history. Long live King Richard!
Tom Holland is the author of In the Shadow of the Sword (Little, Brown, 2012)
Nigel Saul: “Shakespeare the historian was right all along”
There’s no doubt that the unearthing of Richard III’s bones at Leicester is the most sensational archaeological discovery for many a year. And scientifi-cally it’s come at just the right time, because DNA testing allows us to establish the bones’ authenticity.
As for what we’ve learned, the most important thing is that Richard was deformed after all. Amazingly, Shakespeare was right, not [Scottish mystery novelist] Josephine Tey – which must annoy all the revisionists. Speaking as one who’s always admired Shakespeare the historian, I’m enjoying that. As for what next: why not DNA-test the reputed bones of the princes in the Tower?
Nigel Saul is the author of For Honour and Fame: Chivalry in England, 1066–1500 (Bodley Head, 2011)
Alison Weir: “Richard’s bad press was likely deserved”
The discovery of Richard III’s remains changes our perception of so-called propaganda against him. Confirmation that he was indeed the ‘crouchback’ of legend suggests we should re-evaluate other hostile sources. Might they reflect the truth? Maybe, once Richard was dead, people felt free to speak out against him.
His bad press was probably well deserved, but he died in the Christian faith and should be buried where he wished, in York Minster, without fanfare. What might settle the debate about him is a new examination of the bones, thought to be those of the princes in the Tower, in Westminster Abbey.
Alison Weir is the author of Richard III and The Princes in The Tower (Vintage, 2014)
Dr Phil Stone: “The discovery will hopefully reopen the debate”
Clearly, the finding of the remains of Richard III won’t alter anyone’s perception of his character but it may be that the publicity will open up the debate. This man instituted a system of bail, had the laws written in English and introduced the equivalent of a free press.
Perhaps people will start to read about this monarch who did much for this country, and discover that a lot of their prejudice against him just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when subjected to the true facts of his life and reign. We in the Richard III Society do hope so.
Dr Phil Stone is chairman of the Richard III Society
Julian Humphrys: “We can now put together the final days of the Yorkist dynasty”
This remarkable discovery, together with the identification of Bosworth battlefield by archaeologists from the Battlefields Trust and Leicester County Council in 2010, means that we can finally piece together the violent last moments of the Yorkist dynasty. I have no strong views on Richard’s reinterment but am mindful of the case of Edward the Martyr, the teenage king murdered at Corfe in AD 978. His remains were discovered at a dig at Shaftesbury in 1931 but arguments over how he should be reburied meant they spent more than 50 years in a Woking bank vault before eventually being reinterred at Brookwood cemetery by the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile.
Julian Humphrys is a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine
David Hipshon: “Leicester’s zeal is a cause for concern”
The history of Richard III will not have to be rewritten in the light of the Leicester findings. The wounds to the body confirm what we know about his death in battle, but the spinal curvature suggests that the Tudor hunchback propaganda probably began when his body was stripped on the battlefield and the deformity was seen for the first time.
The remains themselves should go to York Minster, of course. Leicester’s appropriation of Richard has all the hallmarks of the medieval relic industry touting for the pilgrim trade. Their motivation and zeal may, in due course, cast doubt on the objectivity of the research.
David Hipshon is the author of Richard III (Routledge, 2010)
Sarah Gristwood: “The discovery adds sympathy to Richard’s story”
Finding the king’s remains doesn’t answer the big questions, but it does – with the real scoliosis, to set against the reputed hunchback – suggest there may often be a grain of truth lurking inside the old stories. Also, the catalogue of wounds or posthumous ‘humiliation injuries’ Richard suffered gives what has often been missing: an element of human sympathy to his story. Now we need a bit more excavation, in a different sense – of the stories of the women around Richard, from whom derived this all-important DNA.
Sarah Gristwood is the author of Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses (HarperPress, 2013)
Suzannah Lipscomb: “We still know nothing of the king’s character”
The news that it was indeed Richard III’s body under the tarmac of a council car park caused the Ricardians – loyal members of the Richard III Society – to announce ‘a whole new era for Richard III’. What does that really mean? In practice, the find is something of an own goal for Richard’s supporters. The severely curved spine of the king actually confirms the pronouncements of Tudor writers such as Sir Thomas More, who noted that Richard was “little of stature, ill fetured of limmes, croke backed, his left shoulder much higher then his right”.
Crucially, it tells us nothing new about the character of this much-maligned monarch. Now, if we could compare his DNA to those of the bones found in the Tower, now in Westminster Abbey, and see if they are those of his nephews – the princes – then we might enter ‘a whole new era’.
Suzannah Lipscomb is the author of A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England (Ebury, 2012)
Dominic Sandbrook: “The discovery is only good for history”
It’s a shame that some academic historians have been so snobbish and mean-spirited about the discovery of Richard III’s body, though it isn’t very surprising. To most people, though, this is precisely the kind of thing – mysterious and melodramatic – that gets them interested in history in the first place. Richard’s rise and fall is one of the great dramas of our national past. And though the discovery of his remains may not radically alter our view of his reign, it does change our portrait of the man himself – not least because it turns out that the Tudors weren’t completely lying about his physique.
Above all, this is the kind of high-profile event that will have thousands of schoolchildren eagerly discussing the last Plantagenets and the Wars of the Roses. And that can only be a very good thing for history.
Dominic Sandbrook is a historian and author
These articles first appeared in BBC History Magazine's 2013 'Richard III' bookazine