Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 4 February - DNA testing proves skeleton discovered by archaeologists is Richard III

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 4 February

DNA testing proves skeleton discovered by archaeologists is Richard III

It’s official. The skeleton under a car park in Leicester, England, is indeed that of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England.

Researchers revealed their findings today in front of the world’s press, to cries of joy from the audience.

They claimed they had proved “beyond reasonable doubt” that the body was that of the king, who died at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. His death marked the end of the bloody Wars of the Roses and the beginning of Tudor rule, the dynasty that brought England Henry VIII – and his six wives – and Elizabeth I.

Archaeologists first started digging up the Leicester car park because it was on the site of a former friary where the king was said to be buried.

The archaeologists explained how they used radio carbon dating, medical scanners and compared DNA samples with one of Richard III’s living descendants – Michael Ibsen, a carpenter from London.

They also looked at injuries the skeleton had sustained: an arrowhead was found in the skeleton’s spine and the skull had suffered a severe blow, in keeping with Richard III’s violent death. The man was around 32 when he died and stood at average height for the time, 5ft 8in.

Until now, experts were divided on whether Richard III had curvature of the spine – which featured heavily in Shakespeare’s depiction of his life – but the skeleton clearly shows that this was the case.

The astonishing find, close to Leicester Cathedral, has reignited interest in the king, who only reigned for two years, from 1483 to 1485.

His reputation as a bloody-thirsty villain was sealed by the Shakespeare play that bears his name.

But experts say this was exaggerated by the Tudors and that Shakespeare was writing to please his royal masters.

In fact, say his supporters, Richard III was a moderniser, with many positive reforms to his name. He is, for example, credited with introducing the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” and with improving the jury system.

The bones will be buried at Leicester Cathedral and there are plans to open a visitors’ centre telling the story of the king’s life.

For more videos from the search for Richard III, visit the University of Leicester’s profile on TES.

Richard III factfile

Born: 2 October 1452
Died: 22 August 1485
Reign: 26 June 1483 – 22 August 1485
Coronation: 6 July 1483
Consort: Anne Neville
Royal dynasty: Plantagenet

Did you know?

  • Richard III was the last English king to die in battle. Before Richard, the last monarch to die in battle on British soil was King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
  • His death at the Battle of Bosworth Field effectively ended the War of the Roses, a 30-year civil war between the House of York and the House of Lancaster.
  • Richard was a member of the House of York. His rival from the House of Lancaster was Henry Tudor, who went on to be crowned Henry VII upon Richard’s death.
  • Much of what people assume about Richard III’s appearance and reign stems from Tudor propaganda – including the William Shakespeare play Richard III.
  • Among the untrue, or unproven, claims that have been made about the Plantagenet king are:
    1. The assertion that he murdered his two young nephews, known as “The Princes in the Tower” – both of whom had a stronger claim to the throne. Their bodies have never been found.
    2. That he was responsible for the murder of his wife, Anne Neville. She died around five months before the Battle of Bosworth, and one persistent rumour was that Richard had poisoned her in order to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. Historians think it more likely that Anne died of tuberculosis.
    3. That he was grotesque in appearance. Shakespeare described Richard as having a hunch, a limp and a withered arm. The historian John Rous claimed that Richard had remained in his mother’s womb for a full two years and had been born with teeth and shoulder-length hair. The team at the University of Leicester has revealed that Richard suffered from scoliosis – or a curvature of the spine – but there is no evidence to support the other physical deformities mentioned by Tudor historians.
  • The portrayal of Richard III was considered so unfair by a group of enthusiastic amateur historians that they set up a society in 1924 dedicated to enhancing his reputation, the Fellowship of the White Boar. It was renamed The Richard III Society in 1959.


  • Shakespeare's play about Richard III changed the way that he was remembered. How do you hope people will remember you?
  • How could you find out more about who you might be descended from?
  • Why do we still have a monarchy today? How do you feel about this?
  • This discovery could not have been made without the help of DNA analysis. What else can this knowledge help us to achieve?

Related resources

RSC Richard III Activities Pack

  • An education pack from TES partner the Royal Shakespeare Company exploring the fact, fiction and historical characters surrounding Richard III.

Carbon dating activity

  • Help pupils to understand carbon dating. Get them to calculate the approximate age of each item on the slideshow based on the amount of carbon found in them.

Think like an archaeologist

  • Use questions of historical inquiry to find out about the culture and people who lived in the area of an historical artefact with this resource from Denver Art Museum.

TES English: Richard III

  • Take a look at TES’ own resources on Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard III.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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