Britain's lost King Richard III, lost no more

Updated at 9:38 a.m. Eastern

LONDON Britain's lost king has been found.

DNA tests have proved "beyond a reasonable doubt" that a battle-scarred skeleton found under a municipal parking lot in central England belongs to 15th-century King Richard III, the last English monarch to die in combat, scientists said Monday.

The University of Leicester, which led the search, refused to speculate on what the announcement would be prior to the much-anticipated news conference, but archaeologists, historians and local tourism officials had all hoped for confirmation that the monarch's long-lost remains had been located.

So too were the king's fans in the Richard III Society, set up to re-evaluate the reputation of a reviled monarch. Richard was immortalized in a play by William Shakespeare as a hunchbacked usurper who left a trail of bodies — including those of his two young nephews, murdered in the Tower of London — on his way to the throne.

"It will be a whole new era for Richard III," the society's Lynda Pidgeon said. "It's certainly going to spark a lot more interest. Hopefully people will have a more open mind toward Richard."

King Richard III
King Richard III
public domain

Richard III remains an enigma — villain to many, hero to some. He ruled England between 1483 and 1485, during the decades-long tussle over the throne known as the Wars of the Roses. His brief reign saw liberal reforms, including introduction of the right to bail and the lifting of restrictions on books and printing presses.

His rule was challenged, and he was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field by the army of Henry Tudor, who took the throne as King Henry VII.

For centuries, the location of Richard's body was unknown. Records say he was buried by the Franciscan monks of Grey Friars at their church in Leicester, 100 miles north of London. The church was closed and dismantled after King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538, and its location eventually was forgotten.

Then, last September, archaeologists searching for Richard dug up the skeleton of an adult male who appeared to have died in battle. There were signs of trauma to the skull, perhaps from a bladed instrument, and a barbed metal arrowhead was found between vertebrae of the upper back.

Skeletal remains of King Richard III
The skeletal remains of King Richard III, which were found buried under a parking lot in Leicester, England.
University of Leicester

The remains also displayed signs of scoliosis, which is a form of spinal curvature, consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard's appearance, though not with Shakespeare's description of him as a "deform'd, unfinished," hunchback.

Ahead of Monday's revelation of the results, the University of Leicester released an image of the body's skull. Archaeologist Jo Appleby said it was found "in good condition, although fragile," and had yielded detailed information about the individual.

As CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports, the circumstantial evidence was pretty convincing. But to prove it was him, researches had to track down descendants of Richard's family, like Michael Ibsen; his nephew, sixteen generations later, and compare DNA.

Researchers began conducting scientific tests as soon as the bones were discovered, including radiocarbon dating to determine the skeleton's age.

Pidgeon said she hopes a new flurry of interest will help redress the "Tudor propaganda" that has stained Richard's reputation for centuries. The best-known accounts of his reign were written long after his death, during the rule of his archenemies, the Tudors.

To this day, the Tudors remain more famous and more glamorous — especially Henry VII's son, the much-married Henry VIII.

"With Henry VIII you've got six wives, sex and things going on," Pidgeon acknowledged. "It's a bit hard to compete with that when you are a bit more straight-laced, as Richard was."

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