Weird History
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The Archaeological Discovery That Led Historians To Richard III's Long Lost Body

Updated September 23, 2021 91k views11 items

In 2012, researchers in Leicester, England, made one of the 21st century's most important archaeological discoveries: the body of Richard III. One of history's most controversial monarchs, King Richard III of England was slain in 1485. Yet for centuries, no one knew what happened to his remains.

Born in 1452, Richard was a leading figure in the War of the Roses, a conflict between two noble houses. The Lancasters adopted a red rose as their emblem; the Yorks - Richard's house - adopted a white rose. In 1455, Richard's father, the Duke of York, attempted to take control of the kingdom from King Henry VI and his Lancastrian forces. After the duke perished, Richard's older brother took up the Yorkist cause and became King Edward IV in 1461. But the Lancastrians never really gave up.

Following Edward's demise in 1483, the throne briefly passed to his 12-year-old son Edward V, with Richard serving as his protector. But Richard took his nephew's place as king of England that same year - and some believe he was responsible for the boy's eventual demise. During his reign, Richard introduced legal reforms and made it clear that he took governance seriously.

But his time on the throne was cut short. Henry Tudor - an Anglo-Welsh nobleman - now took up the Lancastrian claim to the throne. Richard's troops met Henry's at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Richard was slain, thus ending the War of the Roses once and for all. Henry Tudor became King Henry VII, launching the Tudor dynasty.

What happened to Richard's body after the fight? Nobody knew for sure until 2012. The discovery of Richard's skeleton enabled researchers to conduct a post-mortem that shed light on the king's gruesome demise, as well as his controversial life.

  • Photo: Thomas Pennant / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Perished Quickly, But His Body Suffered Humiliating Wounds After The Fact

    Considering the blows Richard's body received, he probably had a relatively quick demise. Two of his head injuries likely pierced his brain.

    Although Richard's demise was relatively quick, victorious soldiers mutilated his remains. For example, his body shows evidence of "humiliation injuries" meant to mock and denigrate the king. Specifically, Henry Tudor's soldiers stuck a blade up his rear.

  • Photo: Andreas Praefcke / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Wasn't A Hunchback - He Just Had Scoliosis

    William Shakespeare, perhaps more than any other single person, has shaped how the world imagines Richard. In his play Richard III - written at a time when Henry VII's granddaughter was on the throne - Shakespeare depicts the titular king as a hunchbacked villain.

    The discovery of Richard's bones challenges the image that Shakespeare popularized. Richard had scoliosis, which he probably developed as a teen. Though his case was severe and would have made his shoulders uneven, scholars believe that Richard's contemporaries didn't comment on it because he was able to hide the curvature through tailored clothes.

    His condition likely caused Richard a great deal of pain.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Contrary To His Common Depiction, Richard Was Fair-Haired With Blue Eyes

    The discovery of Richard's bones enabled scientists to get a sense of his appearance. Combining scientific and artistic approaches, researchers constructed a profile of what he may have looked like. 

    Genetic analyses also revealed that he was blue-eyed and probably blond-haired - at least as a child. Many representations depict Richard with dark hair, however. It's possible that his hair color got increasingly darker as he grew up.

  • Photo: Loyset Liédet / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    A Soil Analysis Revealed He Suffered From Parasitic Worms

    Researchers also tested the soil immediately surrounding Richard's bones and made an interesting discovery. They found roundworm eggs where his gut was, suggesting that the King of England suffered from the intestinal parasite. His symptoms probably were mild. 

    Though Richard had roundworms, he didn't have other common parasites like tapeworms. This indicates a food-handling issue. The cooks, servers, or Richard himself were likely touching cooked food with unclean hands.