Old Graves and Parking Lots

Or as they call them across the pond, “Car Parks.”

Archeologists were digging up just such a car park in Leicester, long believed to be site of the long lost Grey Friars church, when their excavations uncovered a human skeleton with curiously twisted spine.

The bones of Richard III (the last Plantagenet king of England) which were unearthed in that excavation a few months ago have been verified by DNA testing. Believe it or not, over 500 years later, a distant descendent was found in Canada and appropriately swabbed. Imagine HIS surprise at having English royalty in his family tree!

The king died a gruesome death. They didn’t have forensics back in 1485:

Richard died at Bosworth on 22 August 1485, the last English king to fall in battle, and the researchers revealed how for the first time. There was an audible intake of breath as a slide came up showing the base of his skull sliced off by one terrible blow, believed to be from a halberd, a fearsome medieval battle weapon with a razor-sharp iron axe blade weighing about two kilos, mounted on a wooden pole, which was swung at Richard at very close range. The blade probably penetrated several centimetres into his brain and, said the human bones expert Jo Appleby, he would have been unconscious at once and dead almost as soon.

The injury appears to confirm contemporary accounts that he died in close combat in the thick of the battle and unhorsed – as in the great despairing cry Shakespeare gives him: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Another sword slash, which also went through the bone and into the brain, would also have proved fatal. But many of the other injuries were after death, suggesting a gruesome ritual on the battlefield and as the king’s body was brought back to Leicester, as he was stripped, mocked and mutilated – which would have revealed for the first time to any but his closest intimates the twisted back, a condition from an unknown cause, which began to contort his body from the age of about 10. By the time he died he would have stood inches shorter than his true height of 5′ 8″, tall for a medieval man. The bones were those of an unusually slight, delicately built man – Appleby described him as having an “almost feminine” build – which also matches contemporary descriptions.

One terrible injury, a stab through the right buttock and into his pelvis, was certainly after death, and could not have happened when his lower body was protected by armour. It suggests the story that his naked corpse was brought back slung over the pommel of a horse, mocked and abused all the way, was true. Bob Savage, a medieval arms expert from the Royal Armouries who helped identify the wounds, said it was probably not a war weapon, but the sort of sharp knife or dagger any workman might have carried.

Ouch.

Plans are to rebury his remains at in a new tomb nearby Leicester Cathedral.

Now if they could only find the bones of those two little princes…

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