Posts Tagged ‘Leicester Greyfriars Dig’


It is King Richard III!

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Events in History

Press Conference at the University of Leicester

Facial Reconstruction of Richard III (used by permission of the Richard III Society)

An unforgettable event:

Press Conference at the University of Leicester – it is Richard III!

A press conference at the University of Leicester was specially convened on 4 February 2013.  At 10h40 (local time) it was announced that the human remains found during the archaeological dig in the area of Leicester’s Greyfriars were those of King Richard III.

The identification was based on a wealth of scientific evidence, including radiocarbon dating, radiological evidence, DNA and bone analysis and archaeological results.

In conclusion to a presentation of the various strains of evidence, Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist on the Search for Richard III, said: “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, the last Plantagenet King of England.” *

You can watch and listen to the whole press conference again at

* ‘University of Leicester announces discovery of King Richard III’, University of Leicester (4 Feb 2013).  URL: [last accessed 1 Feb. 2020]


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Thursday, 25 August 1485

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Events in History

ArchaeologyRichard III was buried in the choir of the church of the Grey Friars in Leicester. Polydore Vergil states that the burial was “without any pompe or solemn funeral”. This is often – mistakenly – seen to indicate that there were no religious rites. However, as John Ashdown-Hill explains, “solemnity” in the religious context refers to certain aspects of a service, which were not essential. It basically means that the service was a private ceremony by the friars, especially as a choir of their church would not have been open to the public.

To the day 527 years later, on 25 August 2012, on the first day of the archaeological dig in Leicester to find out where the church of the Grey Friars actually had been and hopefully to find Richard’s remains, parts of a human leg bone were unearthed. These were later identified as being part of the remains of Richard III.


John Ashdown Hill, The Last Days of Richard III. The History Press, 2010, pp.91-96

Mathew Morris & Richard Buckley, Richard III:  The King under the Car Park.  University of Leicester Archaeological Services, 2013, pp.22 + 36-45

Mike Pitts, Digging for Richard: How Archaeology Found the King. Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp.99-105

Dorothea Preis

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Digging for Richard III

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

Digging for Richard III

Book Review:  Digging for Richard III

Mike Pitts, Digging for Richard III: How Archaeology Found the King. Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2014

 Note (2 September 2015):

This review of the first edition of  Digging for Richard III was originally posted in August 2014.  I have reposted it now, as a new paperback edition of this excellent book has just been published.  For this new edition, the text has been revised and it has been extended, too.  More about the paperback edition on Mike Pitts’ blog.  Highly recommended!


Please note this book had come out before the results of further research were published, and therefore does not contain any information on these issues.

Unlike many other recent books about the Greyfriars Dig, which led to the discovery of Richard III’s remains, Digging for Richard III was written by someone who was not himself involved in the project, which gives it a certain amount of impartiality.

Like a play the book is organised in five acts, the narrative building up to the dramatic climax in Act V. The first act sets the scene for Richard’s death in battle and burial at the Grey Friars in Leicester with a short review of the Wars of the Roses. Act II ‘Looking for Richard III’ tells the story of what led to the archaeological dig and giving background information on the key players like Philippa Langley and the research staff from ULAS. While some details of Philippa Langley’s pre-dig life have been circulated widely, the information about the archaeologists was new to me. It confirmed them to be an experienced team, who knew what they were doing.

Act III looks at the actual excavation resulting in exhuming the skeleton, which was found on the first day and would be shown to be that of Richard. It ends with the van carrying the remains leaving the car park.

Up to that point this was a co-project of the Richard III Society/Looking for Richard Project and the University of Leicester. Act IV marks the beginning of a new research project, one that will be exclusively carried out by scientist. The results of this research are then represented in Act V.

Mike Pitts also includes an analysis of the costs and who paid what. Considering how much misinformation is circulating on this issue, this is highly welcome. The original budget had been £33,000, of which the Richard III Society and its members had contributed a little more than half. However, once remains had been found that warranted further examination –examination, which was necessary to prove that the remains were those of Richard III – the budget had risen (by 31 December 2012) to £142,000. The additional funding came from the University of Leicester, which means that they paid for about 80% of the entire project.

The book closes with an Epilogue, which covers the actual site of the Battle of Bosworth and some of the other battles, which have since been fought over Richard. He also differentiates between history and archaeology, with archaeology making “the concept of history tangible and present, part of our lives.” [p.189] To be honest, I don’t see how any serious history is possible without evidence, be it archaeological or from old records.

This brings me to the one criticism that I have with this book. The author seems to have a rather undifferentiated view of the membership of the Richard III Society. For him, they are bunch of sentimental loonies, who won’t let any facts stand in the way of their pre-conceived idea of perfect Richard. While I can’t deny that some members do think like that, and possibly they are even the most vocal, they do not represent the membership as a whole, which is – like any group of people – very varied.

However, apart from this little niggle, I found Digging for Richard III a highly enjoyable and an informative summary of the facts of the project, without the speculation and assumptions, which some of the other books on the topic cannot leave behind. It tells the whole incredible story in a lively manner, without sacrificing the facts in the quest for readability. Sir Tony Robinson’s quote on the cover sums it up nicely: “An entertaining, knowledgeable and forensic examination of one of the most extraordinary archaeological digs ever!”

Listen to an interview with Mike Pitts about Digging for Richard here.

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Richard III: The New Evidence

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News, Research, Richard III in the Media

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.

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Richard III’s DNA

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News, Research

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


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The latest research into Richard III’s death

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News, Research

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?‘.

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Richard III: The New Evidence – on Youtube

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News, Research

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?!

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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.

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Richard III: The New Evidence

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News, Research, Richard III in the Media

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.

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Finding Richard III

   Posted by: Barbara Gaskell Denvil    in Bookworm

Book Review:  Finding Richard III – The Official Account

We thank Barbara for making her review of this book available to us.

Finding Richard III : The Official Account
of Research by the Retrieval & Reburial Project

Finding Richard IIIThe Looking for Richard Project team, specifically Philippa Langley (the inaugurator) , John Ashdown-Hill BA, MA, PhD, FSA, FRHistS, Annette Carson, David Johnson BA Hons, MA, PhD, and Wendy Johnson, set out to discover the burial place and human remains of Richard III himself, although these were long considered lost forever. This, the official account, is a clear, precise and riveting summary of facts, not of opinions. However, step by inspired step, we are led past the opinions of many as we follow the unique development of one of the most impressive and amazing archaeological discoveries ever achieved in England.

In early 2009, Philippa Langley launched the search for Richard III’s resting place. She and the team then worked together to meticulously discredit the long held rumour of the desecration of his grave and the tossing of his remains into the River Soar, even though this unsubstantiated rumour was frequently upheld by others, even historians. There have also been years of mistaken belief as to the site of the Greyfriars Priory, considered the probable place of original burial in 1485. Many historical errors and later misjudgements were now researched and carefully corrected by the team, all briefly summarised here. With lucid and detailed explanation, this books covers every aspect, matching medieval probabilities to modern specifics until gradually we feel we have travelled the same journey, walked those 15th century streets, peered into those shadowed mysteries and so can share the team’s inspirational optimism.

With enormous expertise and determination, the team persisted until 2012 when at last, with council permission obtained, funds raised (principally from the Richard III Society) and legal agreements made with the relevant authorities, ULAS (University of Leicester Archaeological Services), were contracted and paid in advance accordingly as demanded, to undertake the digging in the area specified by the Project. Indeed, ULAS had so little belief in the probability of discovering Richard III’s actual remains, that they accepted the commission only when the wording of the contract was amended to specify and limit the dig to the excavation of the Franciscan Priory Church. Philippa Langley then insisted that contractual obligations include provision for the possible exhumation of human remains. The Looking For Richard team’s accuracy was so impressive to seem virtually unbelievable, so even after the leg bones of an adult male were discovered in the designated area on the very first day of the dig, ULAS could not believe they had begun to uncover Richard III himself.

Included in the narrative are the surprising disappointments and the failures of some, in particular the areas where original contractual agreements have not been met by other parties. For instance, the shocking failure of the university to invite John Ashdown-Hill to the official announcement of Richard III’s DNA match, which identified his remains beyond reasonable doubt, even though it was Mr. Ashdown-Hill alone who traced the living descendent used to conclude that DNA match, and Ms. Langley was only invited to speak after the TV coverage had ended. It is also evidently of some concern and against the wording of the original contract, for the remains of this anointed monarch and ancestor of the queen to still be retained by the university instead of having been laid to rest in some prayerful and respectful place until the re-interment process can be conducted. Difficulties with the Cathedral administration are also recorded.

But there is no winter of discontent here, no list of complaints or failures. Indeed, the book is a celebration of a rare and glorious success, leading to a greater knowledge and understanding of this long misunderstood and maligned king, and eventually to a fitting reburial.

Written with impressive clarity and extensive footnotes, without unacademic or emotional emphasis, this short book explains exactly what happened from initiation to conclusion. It is the summary of the search itself, and includes a full list of those who donated to the costs and copies of all the contracts involved. The considerable respect and care shown by Ms. Langley for the legal drafting of the original contractual agreements is precise and impressive. Whether her wishes have been fully complied with since, is another matter.

Although such facts can, as would be expected, seem dry at times, there is not one moment when this book becomes heavy, or can be even momentarily discarded. It is both a fascinating and rewarding read from beginning to end. And FINDING RICHARD III: THE OFFICIAL ACCOUNT covers one more necessary task, that of explaining exactly how the search not only originated with the Finding Richard Project, but was successful owing to their incredible expertise and persistence. In the face of repeated claims and assumptions that Leicester University or ULAS discovered Richard III’s burial place and his remains, it was instead the studious research and ultimate success of The Finding Richard Project, who have now produced this official account to set the record straight.

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