Archive for the ‘Research’ Category


Visit from Richard III member from Somerset branch

   Posted by: Rhonda Bentley

Louisa and her husband Alan, visiting from the UK, had lunch with a few members of the society in November. Louisa joined the society a few years ago and regularly attends their meetings and outings. Their meetings are held in Wells Town Hall – we would know it as the exterior of the Warleggan Bank from the current series of Poldark.

Wells Town Hall in Christmas spirit (Photo courtesy of Louisa Purcell)

Louisa is also part of the Richard III Society’s Somerset Branch research team working with Philippa Langley and the Missing Princes Project. This involves sourcing original documents from the period at Wells City archives, Wells Cathedral archives, the Somerset archives in Taunton as well as at Glastonbury Abbey, Longleat House and at The National Archives at Kew. The team is trying to find any information about the sons of Edward IV, particularly during the reign of Richard III. They are hoping to find new information in local records that have not been accessed before.

Philippa Langley highlighted a few lines of enquiry to be followed up, including researching Dr John Clement who married Sir Thomas More’s adopted daughter Margaret Giggs. This line of research relates to a theory that messages may have been hidden in a portrait of Sir Thomas More’s family by Hans Holbein, linking John Clement to Richard of Shrewsbury, the younger son of Edward IV. Two men called John Clement were located in the city of Bath (Somerset) in the first half of the sixteenth century, and the research group was tasked to see if there was a link to John Clement in London.

The team is also researching John Gunthorpe (d. 1498), who was the Dean of Wells, Keeper of the Privy Seal, and Dean of the Chapel Royal during Richard’s reign, and may have been in London during the suspected time of the princes’ disappearance. He certainly seemed to spend more time in London than in Wells.

Louisa is also involved in the Milles Register of PCC Wills (Prerogative Court of Canterbury) project, where researchers work in pairs to decipher, transcribe and where applicable translate wills from the period 1487 – 1491. Some wills are in English, some in Latin and some in both. The society had previously looked at York Wills and the Logge Register of PCC wills.

She mentioned a palaeography web tutorial as useful to learn how to read the old handwriting found in documents written in English between 1500 and 1800.

Louisa was so interesting to talk to and it was great to catch up with a fellow Ricardian. We are lucky that volunteers like Louisa are able to be involved in so many research projects.

Media NewsSanta comes a few days late to Ricardians in Australia, but next Sunday, 28 December 2015, SBS 1 will broadcast the program Richard III:  The New Evidence, first broadcast in the UK on 17 August 2014, at the end of the Bosworth weekend.  The program features Dominic Smee, who has the same degree of scoliosis as Richard did and can be regarded as his body double. Definitely a program not to be missed, even if you have already watched it on YouTube.


Richard III’s DNA

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis Tags: ,

The results of the DNA analysis of the remains found in Leicester in 2012 has been published, amid some quite sensationalist headlines. So what does the research actually show?

The remains were with 99.999% certainty those of Richard III. This was shown by a match of the mitochondrial DNA between Richard III and modern female-line relatives, Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig. This is a confirmation of what was already stated at the unforgettable press conference on 3 February 2013. The only addition is the name of the second female-line descendent, who had wished to remain anonymous.

The second finding was more of a surprise. Based on the (posthumous) portraits of Richard III extant, we had the pre-conceived idea that he was dark haired and had dark eyes, the dark one among the here brothers. However, his DNA showed that with a probability of 96% he had blue eyes and with 77% probability blond hair, although this might have darkened during adolescence. The researchers suggest that the Society of Antiquaries portrait probably best reflects Richard’s adult colouring.

The third finding, which caused all the media interest, is that the male line of descent is broken at one or more points in the line between Richard III and living male-line relatives descended from Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort (1744-1803). These modern day descendants of Henry Somerset and Richard III share a common ancestry in Edward III, Richard’s great-great-grandfather (1312-1377). The Beaufort line is assumed to be descended from Edward III’s son John of Gaunt, while Richard is descended from Edmund, duke of York. This ‘false-paternity event’, i.e. where the father is not in fact the assumed father, could have happened in any of the 19 generations, which separate Richard III from Henry Beaufort, though it is not known when in all the time since Edward III.

A lot has been made by the media of this last finding, however, as there are so many possibilities where someone was unfaithful, most of these are completely over the top. My thoughtful daughter brought me yesterday an article from MX News, a free daily paper available to commuters with the headline: “Doubtful Heritage: Richard III a bastard if a king”. The present evidence does not suggest any evidence that Richard himself was a bastard, at least where his paternity is concerned (though I also doubt he was a bastard in a figurative sense). Fortunately the article itself keeps to the actual facts.

However, apart from the headline grabbing news about the false-paternity event, the analysis allows us insight into the prehistoric origins of Richard’s family. The male line of the Planatagenets are recorded back to Hugues, Count of Perche (documented in 1028) in northern France. Richard’s genes show that his male ancestor migrated with the first farmers from the Near East and Anatolia (modern Turkey) to Europe about 8000 years ago. They quickly spread along the Mediterranean and into Central Europe and France by 5500BC

(This post has been updated on 5 December 2014 as further information became public.)


King, T.E. et al. 2014 ‘Identification of the remains of King Richard III’, Natural Communications 5, Article number: 5631 (2 December 2014). URL: Date accessed: 3 December 2014

‘King Richard III: DNA and genealogical study confirms identity of remains found in Leicester and uncovers new truths about his appearance and Plantagenet lineage’, University of Leicester – Press Office (2 December 2014). URL: Date accessed: 3 December 2014

‘King Richard III Identity: Case closed after 529 years!’, ULAS News (3 December 2014). URL: Date accessed: 4 December 2014

‘Richard III – case closed after 529 years’, University of Cambridge (2 December 2014).  URL:  Date accessed:  5 December 2014)

‘Doubtful Heritage: Richard III a bastard if a king’, MX News (3 December 2014), p.9

You might also be interested in Matt Lewis’ analysis of the findings: ‘Richard III’s Remains Rumble On’, Matt’s History Blog (3 December 2014). URL: Date accessed: 4 December 2014


books-2A new research paper has been published in The Lancet on ‘“Perimortem trauma in King Richard III: a skeletal analysis’ by Jo Appleby and others, describing the wounds Richard received which led to his death.

You can find the original paper here, but Mike Pitts has helped us with a “handy summary”. The links to the article in The Lancet in his blog unfortunately did not work for me that’s why a different link is included here.  Mike Pitts’ summary is highly recommended.

A short visual summary has also been posted by The Lancet on YouTube:  ‘Richard III: how was the king killed?‘.

film_reel smWe reported earlier that Channel 4 would be screening a third documentary on Richard III. It was broadcast in the UK in the evening of 17 August 2014, at the end of the Bosworth Anniversary weekend, leaving us, who do not live in the UK, impatient to get a chance to watch the programme, too. A friend of mine discovered that it has been uploaded to Youtube, where it is available to all of us.

The programme is based on the new scientific research into Richard’s diet, but the main attraction is a young man, Dominic Smee. He is a perfect body double of Richard, slightly built and having the same curvature of the spine. He was taught to fight, on foot and on horseback, like a medieval warrior and had a full set of armour made especially for him. Not only did Dominic show that someone suffering from scoliosis can be an accomplished fighter, but he could also tell us about his own experience. It was interesting to hear that he found riding on a medieval saddle easier than on a modern one and that the armour gave his body support.

By bringing us these facts, it is easier to visualise a long dead king as the real living breathing person he once was. A fascinating programme. What better way to spend a rainy day?!

On 16 August 2014,  a new peer-reviewed article was published by the Journal of Archaeological Science detailing the information gathered by multi-isotope analysis of the remains of Richard III. This type of research reveals the diet and geographical movements of the analysed person. The results were also part of the new documentary, which was screened in the UK on 17 August, but as I have not been able to watch the programme, and all I have is hearsay, I won’t comment on it. Fortunately the research article is available without geographically restrictions.

The research shows that he was born and spent his early childhood in Northamptonshire. We know that he was born in Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire. He then moved to a more westerly area and we know that he spent time in Ludlow in the Welsh Marches. Later he returned to eastern England, where he spent the majority of his later life. In short, the scientific evidence supports and confirms what had been pieced together from historical records about Richard’s geographical movements.

Much more interesting was what the analysis revealed about Richard’s diet. It confirmed an aristocratic lifestyle with a diet high in meat and fish (some of which were from the sea). However, at the age of approx. five it shows that for a while his diet concentrated more on grains, which as the dates show coincides with the time he spent at Ludlow.

During the last years of his life, ie. when he was king, his diet became even more privileged with a higher proportion of terrestrial foods (freshwater fish and wild fowl). These, like game, were very expensive and only available to the very rich.

The analysis also shows that the composition what he drank changed during his later years, more wine than beer. We have to remember that wine and beer were much more commonly drunk during that period than today. Obviously coffee and the commercially manufactured cool drinks of today were not yet available to people living then and the state of their drinking water made other alternatives a healthier option.

The scientists conclude that it is likely that these changes reflect the records we have of Richard’s lavish coronation feast (but they tell us for the first time what Richard actually ate) and that it is likely that he was wined and dined during his royal progress.

It seems that Richard would have enjoyed the wines and beers which have been named after him, and presumably would not have said No to a slice of “his” cheese either.

More on the research can be found in the article from the Journal of Archaeological Science and on Mike Pitts’ blog, which concentrates on the evidence, unlike some more sensationalist interpretations in the media.


Richard III: The New Evidence

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis Tags: ,

film_reel smThe discovery of the remains found in the Grey Friars precinct in Leicester and the process of identifying them as those of Richard III were the topic of  two documentaries, Richard III: The King in the Car Park and then The Unseen Story, both shown in the UK by Channel 4 in February 2013 and on SBS in late October of the same year.

Channel 4 has now announced that it has produced another programme on the scientific research which has subsequently been carried out by the University of Leicester. Special emphasis is on the question how a man with such an extreme spinal deformity could have been the prodigious combatant described in historical sources. Their theories could be put to the test as they succeeded in finding a re-enactor who suffers from the same form and severity of scoliosis as Richard III.

I heard that the broadcast of this programme is planned in the UK for Sunday, 17 August, at the end of the Bosworth Anniversary Event. We can only hope that it will make its way to Australia a bit sooner than the first two documentaries did.

You can find more on the programme here and on the Bosworth Anniversary Event here.



   Posted by: Dorothea Preis Tags: ,

ArchaeologyMost of you probably heard that the archaeologists of the University of Leicester have after a very eventful winter started digging again.  They want to discover more of the Greyfriars church, where the remains of Richard III were found last year.

The dig started with removing part of a Victorian wall separating the former Alderman Newton School and 6-8 St Martins.  The wall should be rebuilt once the dig is complete.

The plan behind the second dig is to establish the exact layout of the church to establish where Richard’s grave was in relation to the rest of the church.  The archaeologists also hope to find out other details like the size of the church and whether it had a tower or whether it had undergone alterations during its 300 year existence.  During the previous dig, archaeologists had found evidence that the floor had been changed three times.  Three coffins had also been found and it is hoped to find out more about the other people who were buried here.

However, the researchers also hope to go further back into Leicester’s past and hope to find traces what was on the site before the friary was built.  After all, Leicester was an important Roman centre, so they might even find Roman artifacts.

The machines moved in on Monday and have now finished their part.  Now the areas and trenches which had been dug last year will be uncovered.  A viewing platform for the public will also be erected.

To find out more about the second dig follow the blog on the website of the University of Leicester.  A good selection of photos can be viewed on Flickr.



   Posted by: Dorothea Preis Tags: , , ,

Some of you may have seen a – rather disappointing – article in The (British) Telegraph recently about research into Richard’s teeth.

The author, Richard Gray, starts with the fanciful description that Richard was killed by blows which were so heavy that they  “drove the king’s crown into his head”.  However, Bob Woosnam-Savage explained at the conference in Leicester that Richard could only have suffered the injuries that killed him after his helmet had been removed and also explained by what kind of weapon.

Mr Gray then states that Richard suffered from bruxism or teeth grinding.  For him, this confirms Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard as “anxious and fearful” and that the reason might be that “he was wracked with guilt over the fate of the Princes in the Tower, who he is accused of murdering to assume the throne”.

Richard Gray based his article on research by Dr Amit Rai, a London dentist, which was published in the British Dental Journal.  It is hardly surprising that Shakespearean flights of fancy are lacking in the original article.

Dr Rai starts with some general information on dentistry in the middle ages.  Dental treatment would have been carried out by skilled barbers or surgeons, though monks were the dentists of the time, but they were not allowed to shed blood.

A professor of medicine and surgery at Bologna earlier in the 15th century, Giovanni de Arcoli, published guidelines of how to look after your teeth, some of which are still familiar to us, for instance that you should clean your teeth after eating, should avoid sweets or not break hard things with your teeth.  To clean your teeth you should use a thin piece of wood “somewhat broad at the ends, but not sharp-pointed or edged”.  Brushes with bristles were only introduced to Europe from China after Richard’s lifetime.

Then Dr Rai looks in more details at Richard’s teeth.  He does find indeed tooth surface loss, which might be the result of stress related bruxism, but thinks it is more likely that it was caused by dietary abrasions and erosion.  He explains that this erosion is not severe, which indicates a more affluent member of medieval society, who would have eaten food made from more finely milled flour.  This is also confirmed by the findings that the individual had eaten a diet rich in seafood – again something that would be expected of someone of a higher social status.

Three teeth were missing, which Dr Rai attributes to caries.  There are signs that the gaps where these teeth would have been have closed, indicating that they had been removed by a barber or surgeon earlier in Richard’s life.  For Mr Gray this was the result of a diet “rich in carbohydrates and sugar”.  Dr Rai, who had just explained that the teeth indicate a protein-rich diet, only mentions that caries would have been more likely in more affluent persons.

Some teeth show mineralised deposits, which probably are a build up of tartar.  As there is less of this on certain teeth than on others, it might indicate that Richard followed Giovanni de Arcoli’s guidelines on cleaning teeth, with a piece of wood, not a brush.

The left central incisor was also missing, which Dr Rai thinks could have been knocked out when Richard was killed “by some of the most advanced military weapons of the time” – not his own crown.

On the whole, Richard’s teeth give us a good idea of the dental hygiene people in those time would have used.

The difference between the information published in a daily paper, with its sensationalist interpretations, and that in a peer reviewed scientific journal is striking.  There is little doubt, which article is more reliable.


Rai, A., ‘Richard III – the final act’, British Dental Journal, Vol.214, No.8 (27 April 2013), pp.415-417

Gray, Richard, ‘King Richard III’s teeth and jaw reveal monarch’s anxious life and violent death’, The Telegraph (1 May 2013).  Date accessed:  2 May 2013