University of Leicester
The skull of the skeleton found at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester, potentially that of King Richard III.
Sept. 16, 2012 --
The remains of Richard III, the monarch immortalized as a villainous hunchback by William Shakespeare and the last English king to die in battle, might have been discovered in a parking lot in Leicester. DNA analysis is still needed to confirm the findings, and that could take up to 12 weeks, according to researchers at the University of Leicester. While we wait, let's look at other royals known to have vanished from history.
NEWS: Medieval Church Discovered Beneath Parking Lot
Edward V and Richard, Duke of York Before Richard III assumed the throne, there was only one person standing in his way: his nephew, Edward V. Only a boy at 12 years old, Edward V was unprepared for the responsibilities of the crown left to him by his father, Edward IV, who entrusted Richard as Protector until the boy came of age. The future king Richard III in short order imprisoned Edward V in the Tower of London, along with his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York. The uncle then declared Edward IV's marriage invalid, and therefore his heirs were illegitimate. Richard III assumed the throne and the two boys disappeared from history shortly thereafter. Although remains belonging to two children were discovered in the 17th century by workers renovating a section of the Tower, the bones were never conclusively identified as belonging to the two boys.
Harold II Even though Harold II might have had one of the most famous deaths of any monarch in English history, his final resting place is unknown. Harold II assumed the throne in 1066. That same year, William the Conqueror led an army of Norman invaders into England. The armies of William and Harold met at the Battle of Hastings in October. After hours of fighting, with victory within his grasp, Harold was, according to legend, either shot in the eye or stabbed with a sword. His body was then mutilated and dismembered. Although the site of Harold's death is known, what followed after is a matter of some speculation. According to popular accounts, William had Harold's body buried in secret, even though Harold's mother offered a sum to claim the body.
Henry I When Henry VIII was engaged in his campaign against Catholicism, he seized church lands and raided monasteries. In the process, his men disturbed and even destroyed the final resting places of the monarchs who came before him. In fact, Henry VIII even likely caused the destruction of the tomb of his namesake: Henry I. Henry I was the son of William the Conqueror, and reigned for nearly 30 years from 1106 to 1135. Although he crowned himself king in 1100, his reign was disputed by his older brother, Robert, who had been away fighting in the Crusades. Henry initially was able to buy Robert off, but the two later came into conflict again, which was only resolved in 1106 with Henry's army capturing Robert in battle and imprisoning him for life. Henry spent much of his time away from England, often frequenting Normandy. In order to rule in his absence, he created a bureaucracy that would efficiently govern and run the affairs of state, the most important duty of which was to collect taxes. Following the death of his son, Henry was left with only one legitimate heir, his daughter. When Henry died in 1135, his daughter's rule was rejected by the English nobility and civil war ensued.
Pharaoh Userkare If famous kings who died within the last 1,000 years are difficult to find, then an obscure pharaoh that lived some 4,300 years ago must be close to impossible. The reign of Userkare, the second pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty, has been shrouded in mystery, partly due to the fact that his tomb had not been discovered. In 2010, Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan's Polytechnic University, suggested a possible final resting place for the pharaoh. as reported by Discovery News' Rossella Lorenzi. The search, however, is still ongoing.
WATCH VIDEO: Find out what it's like hunting down ancient Egyptian treasures.
Queen Nefertiti Obscure royals are bound to escape history's notice. But when the ones who really left their mark manage to elude discovery, that's another story entirely. Ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti might be the most sought-after royal yet undiscovered. She died over 3,300 years ago, but was made famous in the modern era following the discovery of the 19-inch limestone, painted bust of her, seen here. Nefertiti was, in the words of Discovery News' Rossella Lorenzi, "the royal wife of the 'heretic' pharaoh Akhenaton, who initiated a new monotheistic religion that involved the worship the sun god Aton." Despite pursuits to find her tomb, including one such expedition funded by the Discovery Channel, no archaeologist has yet found where Nefertiti is buried.
READ MORE: Tracking Nefertiti: Egypt Guide
Emperor Jianwen When you're emperor of a nation as large as China, you'd think someone would notice your disappearance. Emperor Jianwen (1377-1402) was the second emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and nearly led it to ruin. Failed efforts to gain greater control over territory within his empire, which was governed by his uncles, led to the outbreak of civil war. When troops belonging to one of Jianwen's uncles attacked Nanjing, then the capital under the Ming Dynasty, the imperial palace caught fire, supposedly killing Jianwen and his concubines. However, an alternate version of events suggests Jianwen secretly escaped in the midst of the battle and took refuge in a monastery, where he lived out the rest of his days.
Anastasia Nikolaevna Although no longer missing, the final resting place of Anastasia Nikolaevna, daughter of tsar Nicholas II, the last monarch of Russia, was a nearly century-long mystery that ended in 2009. Along the way, false reports, witnesses and impostors claiming to be the deceased grand duchess turned up. The idea that somehow Nikolaevna had escaped execution gripped popular imagination, including an animated film in 1997. In 1991, speculation that Nikolaevna survived the massacre that claimed her family was bolstered by the discovery of a mass grave. Buried there were the remains of the tsar, his wife and three of their daughters. Traces of the two remaining children, a son and another daughter, were not at the site. In 2007, a grave in Yekaterinburg, Russia, proved to be the final resting place of the two remaining children. Two years later, researchers announced that DNA analysis confirmed that the remains were of the two young royals.
The body of King Richard III was buried in great haste, a new study finds — perhaps because the medieval monarch's corpse had been out for three days in the summer sun.
The new research is the first academic paper published on the discovery of Richard III, which was publically announced in February 2013. A team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester found the body beneath a parking lot in Leicester that was once the site of a medieval church. The full study will be available online on Friday evening (May 24).
The archaeological analysis contains details only alluded to in the initial announcement of the findings. In particular, the archaeologists found that Richard III's grave was dug poorly and probably hastily, a sharp contrast to the neat rectangular graves otherwise found in the church where the king was laid to rest. [Gallery: The Discovery of Richard III]
Richard III's journey to Leicester
Richard III ruled England from 1483 to 1485, when he was killed during the Battle of Bosworth Field, the definitive fight in the War of the Roses.
Historical records reveal that after the battle, Richard's body was stripped and brought to Leicester, where it remained on public display for three days until burial on August 25, 1485. The church where the body was interred, a Franciscan friary called Grey Friars, was eventually demolished around 1538. A former mayor of Leicester built a mansion on the site, but by the 1700s, the land had been subdivided and sold off, the location of the church lost.
With it went all memory of where one of England's most famous kings was buried. Richard III was immortalized by a Shakespeare play of the same name and made out to be a villain by the Tudor dynasty that followed his rule. Today, however, there are societies of Richard III enthusiasts called Richardians who defend the dead king's honor. One of these Richardians, a screenwriter named Philippa Langley, spearheaded the excavation that discovered Richard III's body.
Digging for Richard
The new paper, published in the journal Antiquity, outlines how archaeologists dug three trenches in a city government parking lot, hoping to hit church buildings they knew had once stood in the area. They soon found evidence of the friary they were looking for: first, a chapter house with stone benches and diamond-pattern floor tiles. This chapter house would have been used for daily monastery meetings.
The skull of the skeleton found at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester, potentially that of King Richard III.University of Leicester
South of the chapter houses, the excavation revealed a well-worn cloister walk, or covered walkway. Finally, the researchers found the church building itself. The church was about 34 feet (10.4 meters) wide. It had been demolished, but the floors (and the graves in the floor) were left intact. Among the rubble were decorated tiles and copper alloy letters that likely once marked the graves.
Brick dust suggested the outer church walls may have been covered with a brick façade, which would have created a striking red-and-white look with the church's limestone-framed windows, the researchers wrote.
A hasty grave
Most of the graves in the Grey Friars church floor are neat and orderly, with squared-off rectangle sides. Richard III's is an exception. The grave is irregularly shaped, with sloping sides. It was also too small for the 5-foot-8-inch (1.7 m) skeleton interred within: Richard's torso is twisted and his head propped up rather than laid flat. The body was also crammed against the north wall of the grave, perhaps because someone stood against the south wall to guide the body into its resting place. Whoever it was did not spend time afterward rearranging the body into a more symmetrical position.
"The haste may partially be explained by the fact that Richard’s damaged body had already been on public display for several days in the height of summer, and was thus in poor condition," the researchers wrote.
There was no coffin in the grave, and likely no shroud, judging by the loose position of the skeleton's limbs. However, the corpse's hands were crossed and perhaps tied in front of him.
The study also delineates the 10 injuries on the corpse's skeleton. Most are likely battle wounds, including two fatal blows to the back of the head. Two wounds on the face, one to the ribs and one to the buttock were likely delivered post-mortem, after Richard III was stripped of his armor, the researchers wrote. These "humiliation wounds" may have been designed to disrespect the king in death.
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