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Confirmed and not unfinish’d: the skeleton of Shakespeare’s tyrant

London, Feb. 4: The skeleton of King Richard III, who was given the memorable line “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” by William Shakespeare, has been recovered 3.3 feet from under a council car park in Leicester 528 years after the English monarch was killed in the Battle of Bosworth, it was confirmed today.

Richard III, who is also credited with murdering two of his nephews in the Tower of London, has been portrayed as an evil character, “deformed” and “unfinish’d”, in body and mind, in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Richard The Third, written in the 1590s. Lines from the play include “Now is the winter of our discontent”, “Off with his head!” as well as “where eagles dare” which became a film title.

The remains are being seen as one of Britain’s most dramatic modern archaeological finds. The curvature of the spine, so ruthlessly mocked by Shakespeare and famously depicted by Laurence Olivier, was striking.

The results were announced by an archaeological team at the University of Leicester which has been conducting DNA, carbon dating and other tests ever since the skeleton of a man in his late twenties or early thirties, 5ft 8in tall but with a stoop because of a curved spine, was uncovered during a routine dig in September last year.

Speculation was mounting that the skeleton, found with a metal arrow in the back and severe trauma to the skull, was indeed that of King Richard III. Today, journalists cheered as the team from Leicester made the official announcement.

Team leader Richard Buckley sounded more like a Scotland Yard officer who has solved a long-standing murder mystery — which in a way he has.

“It is the academic conclusion that beyond reasonable doubt, the individual exhumed at Greyfriars (church) in September 2011 is King Richard III — the last Plantagenet King of England,” he said.

His colleague Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist based at the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, gave her conclusions: “Taken as a whole, the skeletal evidence provides a highly convincing case for identification as Richard III.”

“The analysis of the skeleton proved that it was an adult male but was an unusually slender, almost feminine, build for a man,” she said. “This is in keeping with historical sources which describe Richard as being of very slender build. There is, however, no indication that he had a withered arm — both arms were of a similar size and both were used normally during life.”

Richard III was sometimes depicted historically with a withered arm and hunched back.

The skeleton suggested a high-protein diet of meat and fish that would reflect life at court. It showed a number of non-fatal injuries to the head and rib and to the pelvis, believed to have been caused by a wound through the right buttock. Appleby said these may have been “humiliation injuries” inflicted after death.

The find will do wonders for the city of Leicester and the reputation of its university. Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, told The Telegraph: “I am delighted to hear that the skeletal remains are that of King Richard III. This discovery will put Leicester on the map and draw visitors.”

Peter Soulsby, mayor of Leicester, warned that the skeleton would be moved out of the city “over my dead body”. The remains will probably be interred in the city’s cathedral.

University of Leicester geneticist Turi King confirmed DNA from the skeleton matched that of two of Richard III’s family descendants —Canadian-born furniture maker Michael Ibsen and a second person who has asked to remain anonymous.

King said: “We were very excited to find that there is a DNA match between the maternal DNA from the family of Richard III and the skeletal remains we found at the Greyfriars dig.”

Richard III, born on October 2, 1452, at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, was the last Yorkist king of England. He was king for only two years until he was killed on August 22, 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field in the last decisive battle of the War of the Roses.

When his brother Edward IV died in April 1483, Richard was supposed to act as Lord Protector to Edward’s son and successor, 12-year-old King Edward V. But before his nephew’s coronation, Richard took over as king after Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, “disappeared”. It has long been alleged that the two princes were killed in the Tower.

Richard faced a rebellion led by Henry Tudor who became Henry VII after the death of his rival.

Philip Schwyzer, professor of Renaissance literature, said today’s confirmation solved only a small part of Shakespeare’s great enigma.

Admirers of Richard hope that the discovery will help to dispel the image of Shakespeare’s physically impaired protagonist who said: “And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover... I am determined to prove a villain.”

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