William Shakespeare’s gravestone states, in part: “Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.” Now the historical figure behind one of Shakespeare’s most famous literary creations — Richard III — might well share that sentiment.
Scientists in Great Britain launched a careful search for the remains of Richard III, and they are convinced they found them — buried beneath an ordinary parking lot. King Richard III reined for only two years and was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field, where Shakespeare’s Richard III famously cried: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” The dead king’s body was taken to Leicester, England, where it was buried in a church called Greyfriars. But the church was demolished during the Reformation in the 16th century, and its exact location was lost in the mists of time. Historians later determined the location of the church, which is now occupied by a parking lot. They unearthed remains that had been buried in a hurriedly prepared, too small grave, compared the DNA of the remains to the DNA of a seventeenth-generation descendant of Richard III’s sister, and confirmed from the DNA match that the remains were indeed those of the former king.
The remains show that Richard III was not hunchbacked — as he is often depicted — but rather was the victim of scoliosis, a condition that causes a marked curvature of the spine. The remains also show that Richard III was treated very rudely at the Battle of Bosworth Field. His skull was pierced by a sharp blade, another part of it was cut away, and it bore the evidence of six other injuries to the face and head. The rest of his skeleton revealed two injuries, including marks on the pelvis that suggests that the king may have taken a spear up the keister from one of the victors on the battlefield. No wonder he wanted a horse!
I’ve always thought that Richard III was one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, and that the Richard III he created was one of his most memorable characters. (If you’re interested in the play but far away from Stratford-upon-Avon, the 1995 film of Richard III, starring Ian McKellen as a Richard transplanted into a modern fascist world, is excellent.) The identification of the remains of the king — which now will be more appropriately interred — just add another interesting chapter to the tale of a fascinating historical figure.