Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A DNA Test! A DNA Test! My Kingdom For A DNA Test!

Before getting into the mischief at hand, some business to see to first. Over at Sacred Ground, I wrote a guest blog about the Frank Slide disaster in Alberta. Head on over and take a look, and let me know what you think!

"Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York."

"No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity."

"And thus I clothe my naked villainy with old odd ends stolen out of holy writ, and seem a saint when most I play the devil."

"Conscience is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe."

"A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" ~ from Richard III, by William Shakespeare

News has come this week of the confirmation of an astonishing find in Great Britain. An archaeological dig beneath a former church yard turned parking lot last fall in Leicester has been verified to be the final grave of King Richard the Third. Long villified by the Bard and by history, Richard is a king who still had his defenders. It's a story that particularly appeals to me; archaeology has always been a personal interest.

Richard was the last of the Plantagenet line, meeting his end at the climax of the War of the Roses, succeeded by his rival Henry Tudor, soon to become Henry VII. He ruled England for two chaotic years.  He has long been held to be a hunchbacked ruthless dictator, murderer of his young nephews so that he could take the throne. Shakespeare wrote him as the title villain in one of his historical plays, written at a time when Henry Tudor's granddaughter was on the throne of England. His defenders counter that Richard was the subject of propaganda painting him as a monster or as the devil incarnate, and point out some of the reforms he made in his short reign- legal representation for the poor, the concept of bail, laws written into English.

Archaeologists at the University of Leicester have been at work carefully excavating the site in the heart of Leicester, and last fall found the remains they believed might be the long lost king. DNA tests were conducted, in collaboration with geneticists, and enough of a genetic sample could be retrieved from the bones for testing. Mitochondrial DNA, passed down by women, could be matched up against descendants of Richard's sisters to look for a match. Genealogists had tracked potential family lines to two sources. One chose to remain anonymous, and the other was a Canadian man, Michael Ibsen, whose family history could be traced back to Richard's sister Anne. The tests proved a genetic link, down across the centuries, to that skeleton in a paved-over grave.

Much information has already been circulating about the remains. An examination of the skeleton suggested it belonged to a man of Richard's age, bearing serious wounds, including head trauma, just as Richard himself was cut down at Bosworth Field. There were indeed deformities in the spinal column, fitting the hunchback aspect of the King's history.

Now there's just the question of where to bury his remains. Leicester Cathedral has offered to open up space, and the Cathedral is indeed very close to the site of the grave, so in keeping with general funeral tradition, it makes sense for the remains to be buried there. Though it seems the city of York may be expecting the King to be handed over so that he can be buried in a place he identified closely with, so we shall have to see what happens.

In the end, this was a King of England. Where the truth about him lies- either as a ruthless man or a misunderstood monarch- Richard now deserves a proper resting place befitting that royal legacy. The team of archaeologists, geneaologists, geneticists, and various scholars involved can feel pride in an exceptional find. And a family on this side of the Atlantic can feel a connection to a distant ancestor across the centuries.
Leicester Cathedral

And since editorial cartoonists can rarely pass up such an opportunity to make use of such a story, I close with these...


  1. I knew you wouldn't be able to resist including the toons, even in s serious blog!

    Intriguing story, William!

  2. At one time I wanted to go into archaeology and this so interesting to me.
    I love reading English history.
    I always believed the Tutor did a smear campaign. What better way to help secure the throne after such a long and brutal war.

    cheers, parsnip

  3. Is this the same as Richard the Lionhearted? I posed next to the statue in London and am very glad he has 'local' descendants.

  4. I have been fascinated with Richard III ever since I read Josephine Tey's DAUGHTER OF TIME. Have you seen the forensic reconstruction of his head that shows what he looked like?

    Ain't science great!

  5. I had no idea he was hunch backed! Interesting read.

  6. I saw this story on the news--fascinating! I planned to blog about it too, but my post won't be nearly as amusing as yours;).

  7. Isn't it such a fascinating story! A real intersection of history, modern science, royalty, murder, war, literature, PR...and, of course, cartoon commentary here - love it!

  8. @Norma: they were perfect for it!

    @Parsnip: history is written by the victors, after all...

    @Eve: no, Richard the Lionheart was the first Richard, back during the Crusades.

    @Cheryl: well, the one above is based on the skull they unearthed...

    @Diane: thanks!

    @Maria: I look forward to what you have in mind!

    @LondonLulu: It's a good story. I wonder what the man himself would have made of it...

  9. I guess the Jimmy Hoffa comment was to be expected. ;)

  10. I've been following this in the news and online. It's a fascinating story. The first cartoon caused out loud laughter.

  11. OMG The Jimmy Hoffa got me chuckling out loud.

    No stone left unturned, dearl William! Wonderful. Tweeted and stuff!

  12. York isn't getting him, he's ours! Glad to see Dick 3 getting international press, he really could have done with a good spin doctor to get back at those nasty Tudors. Great article William. There's an exhibition opening today at the Guildhall in Leics that I must try and get to. I live only a few miles from Bosworth Battlefield and the burial site so things are buzzing here at the moment, everyone is fascinated by the discovery.

  13. Interesting. I love history.

    Hugs and chocolate,

    Tweeted and Shared.

  14. Buy soma. Buy Viagra. Buy soma. Whatever soma is.

    I know all about Richard III from reading Daughter of Time. If it is in a book, it must be true.

  15. @Kelly: of course it was expected.

    @Mari: same with me!

    @Lorelei: thank you!

    @Barbara: I'll have to see the area some day!

    @Shelly: thanks!

    @Jack: Unless the book is titled, 1001 Lies Of A Lying Liar.


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