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Richard III Suffered an Ignominious Burial, Researchers Find

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May 25, 2013 12:25 PM EDT
Richard III
Richard III may have been a king when he died, but to the parasites known as roundworms, he was just another host.
(Photo : University of Leicester)

Richard III may have been the King of England and the subject of a Shakespearean play, but even that couldn’t keep him safe from ending up in a hastily-dug grave that ultimately became part of a parking lot, according to a new study published in the journal Antiquity.

And while a century of peace followed his death, the late king’s body was reportedly stripped naked, despoiled and publicly displayed for three days before it was buried in what was at the time the Greyfriars monastery in Leicester.

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The grave, described for the first time in an academic paper, highlights five specific points regarding the ill-fated king who died in 1485 in the Battle of Bosworth.

First of all, the grave Richard III was placed in was “badly prepared,” which, the researchers from the University of Leicester said, suggests gravediggers were in something of a rush to get the corpse underground.

Second, the king is placed in an “odd position,” with the skeleton’s torso crammed into the small space and its head propped up on one side of the grave, which (and this is the third point), is “too short at the bottom to receive the body conventionally.”

Fourth, someone apparently stood in the grave at the time the body was placed in it in order to receive it, suggested by the fact that the body is not placed centrally in the grave.

And finally, there is evidence that the man’s hands may have been tied at the time of burial.

All of this, the researchers write, is in stark contrast to the other medieval graves found in the same area, which were all standard, correct lengths and dug neatly with vertical sides.

In short, either the gravediggers were in a hurry or they had little respect for the deceased, according to the study’s authors.

Such a find is in keeping with accounts from the medieval historian Polydore Vergil, who recorded the king’s death as having been "without any pomp or solemn funeral.”

Moreover, the authors of the study argue, the skeleton itself points to the fact that the man buried in the ignominious grave discovered within the last year is in fact Richard III.

"The radiocarbon dates, evidence on the male skeleton of severe scoliosis, trauma consistent with injuries in battle and potential peri-mortem 'humiliation injuries', combined with the mtDNA match with two independent, well-verified matrilineal descendants all point clearly to the identification of this individual as King Richard III,” the researchers said in a statement. “Indeed, it is difficult to explain the combined evidence as anyone else.”

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