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...

The tomb of King Richard III, who was reinterred at Leicester cathedral of Saint Martin following the discovery of his body in 2012. (Photo by Getty Images)

A timeline charting the biggest Richard III developments, from the discovery of his remains beneath a Leicester carpark in 2012 to his televised reburial…


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.

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.”

Portrait of Richard III of England (1452–1485) king of England until his death in the Battle of Bosworth Field. Dated 15th Century (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

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.

Three of the children of Henry VII: Prince Henry; Arthur Prince of Wales and Princess Margaret

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.

Richard III's skull. (Image by Catriona Gray)

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.”

The ‘Princes in the Tower’: Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, disappeared in mysterious circumstances following the death of their father, King Edward IV. (The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

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 History Extra: “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 History Extra 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.

(Credit: The University of Leicester)

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.


This article was first published in BBC History Magazine’s ‘Richard III’ Bookazine.