Kings in a Carpark

Music

Sarah Fourcheaud (producer)

Welcome to Decoding Nature’s Alphabet

Prof. Turi King

It was when she was trying to follow from the pelvis up to the skull and follow the spinal column. She could follow the first ones up from the pelvis, and then she was trying to find the next one. She couldn’t find it. So, she starts going sideways and she realises that the spine is going…it’s got a curve to it.

Spokesperson from the University of Leicester

Ladies and gentlemen, it is the academic conclusion of the University of Leicester that beyond reasonable doubt, the individual exhumed at Greyfriars in September 2012, is indeed, Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England.

Ron McCullagh (presenter)

Our guest is Professor Turi King, Professor of Public Engagement and Genetics at the University of Leicester. Turi, you are very welcome!

Prof. Turi King

Hello

Ron McCullagh

So Turi, how did the body of King Richard the third end up buried in a carpark in Leicester?

Prof. Turi King

Ah, okay. So, we know that, Henry Tudor has landed in, in Wales. He’s come from France, he’s landed in Wales and he is making his way to London. Richard is actually kind of nicely, centrally placed up in Nottingham, hears that Henry has landed in Wales. He is making his way down to try and stop Henry from getting to London. So, he actually comes to Leicester and he assembles his troops, in Leicester. And then he leaves Leicester and goes out trying to stop Henry. And he meets him at Bosworth battlefield. Now Henry’s quite young, actually hasn’t fought in battle terribly much. Richard III is battle hardened and he’s actually the last King of England to actually die in battle. And we know that apparently Richard sees Henry Tudor slightly away from the rest of his troops and assembles a group of his men to go and kind of get Henry himself. So, it was a bit of a sort of a death or glory charge type thing. So, he’s on a little bit of a ridge and he goes down this ridge with his men around him and his horse gets stuck in the marsh and he comes off of his horse and we know that he gets close enough to Henry Tudor to kill Henry’s standard bearer who would have been standing right next to him. So that’s how close he kind of comes to nearly finishing this. But then he is killed by Henry Tudor’s men. And there are chronicles, which talk about how he is killed in the thickest press of his enemies. And we know that after the battle, Richard is strip naked, flung over the back of a horse, brought back into Leicester and he’s laid out so people can see that he’s actually dead. Uh, and then he’s taken and he’s buried in the choir of the Church of the Greyfriars and we know about this, because there’s actually a lot of historical documentation, which tells us this.

Ron McCullagh

We come to the end then of the Plantagenets and into a new era of royalty in Britain.

Prof. Turi King

Absolutely. I mean, it’s actually a huge turning point in British history. This is the end of the Plantagenet dynasty. He is the last of the Plantagenet kings and the start of the Tudor period in British history, which is the one that most people hear about with our most famous kings and queens like Henry VIII and Elizabeth I…they’re all from that Tudor period. So, it is a huge change over in fact, the Bosworth battle, one of its taglines is “two kings one day”. It is this huge transition that happens in the space of a day between one dynasty and another.

Ron McCullagh

So how did you get involved in this search for the body of Richard III?

Prof. Turi King

So that actually started way back in 2011, a woman called Philippa Langley, who was the secretary of the Scottish branch of the Richard III society rang up Richard Buckley, who was the co-director of the University of Leicester archeological services and spoke to him apparently for about an hour and a half on the phone, saying that she would like to look for the remains of King Richard III, which are thought to have been buried in downtown Leicester. And actually that’s been known for a really long time. So, we’ve known for a long time that Richard was thought to have been buried in the choir of the Church of the Greyfriars. Now 1538, you get the dissolution of the monasteries and the friary is torn down. Um, but the kind of precinct of where the friars were, has never been lost. I mean, there’s little bits of wall left, there’s things like Friar Lane and Greyfriars Road. And in terms of this kind of thing the precise location of where the friary itself was, has been actually lost. So what happened was Richard Buckley apparently got off the phone thinking, well, this would be a really interesting excavation to be involved in. Um, we’re not likely to find Richard III because what are the chances? Uh, but he needed a geneticist obviously to come on board. And so I was the first person who came onto the team. I got an email way back in June 2011, saying we’re going to be doing this excavation and it’s in downtown Leicester. Um, the idea is to look for the remains of somebody who’s quite famous. Um, I but I can’t tell you who it is. And I wrote back saying, is this Richard III? Because one of the first things that I did when I first got to this country, because I’m actually from Canada, uh, my aunt who has always been really interested in Richard III, she took me to the Bosworth battlefield, where they thought it was at the time, because this is, you know, 30 years ago. And she lent me a couple of books on Richard III.  So, I wrote back saying “is this Richard”? And he wrote back saying “yes, but don’t tell anybody!” “Anyway, we won’t find him. It’ll, be half a day of your time, maximum.” So, I quite happily came onto this project thinking, well, this will be really interesting. I’ve been interested in Richard III for, you know, 20 odd years, um, through my aunt. Um, but thinking that it was an extremely long shot that we would actually ever find him. So that’s how I came to be involved in it.

Ron McCullagh

So here you were at Leicester doing fascinating work already, I’m sure, but this must have been quite extraordinary.

Prof. Turi King

Well, yes, it certainly was. I mean, that’s the one thing that archeologists will always tell you is you don’t normally go looking for a named individual and here we were going to be potentially looking for one of the most famous, English kings in history. And it was, it was a really nice project because it brought together people who had particular expertise. They weren’t academics necessarily, but they had particular expertise and knew an awful lot about Richard. And, basically it was Philippa, Philippa, Langley, and her team. They brought it to this certain point and then we were able to add expertise in other areas. So, it was this really nice multidisciplinary team of people, but also people from different backgrounds, so people that you wouldn’t necessarily normally get to work with. So I thought it was a really wonderful project that way

Ron McCullagh

You’re digging these trenches in a car park in Leicester. Presumably it was covered in buildings as well. So, it would be fortuitus, would it not, to find him in part of the grounds available to be dug?

Prof. Turi King

Well, this was the big thing. So, we know that Richard is buried in the Greyfriars’s friary. Now 1538, you get the dissolution of the monasteries and the friary is torn down. The land is eventually bought by a chap called Robert Herrick who’s the mayor of Leicester three times. And he builds on it his manor house and he has a garden, um, which actually in some ways, went to protect, Richard’s grave. And in fact, Robert Herrick erects a little pillar where he thinks Richard III’s grave was. And the reason why that is actually interesting is because there was a chap called John Speed who’s a well-known cartographer. John speed is writing about how Richard was dug up during the dissolution of the monasteries and thrown into the local river and we actually have no idea quite where he got this idea from, but it was this rumor which arose. And it actually really stuck to the point that, you know, we had people whilst we were doing the excavation kind of shouting over the fence saying “you’re digging in the wrong places, he’s in the river”. We knew from historical scholarship that actually this was unlikely to be true. So there’s a chap called Bilson who’s writing in 1920. He looks back at Speeds stuff and he says, Richard is likely to be in whatever’s left of the Greyfriars in downtown Leicester, which is now an area which is covered by buildings. And there’s this open space, which is now covered by car parks. That’s then picked up by Audrey Strange in 1975, who writes a similar thing.

And then there was a chap called David Baldwin, a lecturer here at the University of Leicester, who sadly died a few years ago, but it was really lovely that he was able to see something that he wrote come true. So, he’s writing an article in the 1980s and in one of the last paragraphs, it talks about how maybe sometime in the future, archeologists will be digging in whatever’s left of the friary in downtown Leicester and find the remains of Richard III. And it’s an area which is now covered by a car park and buildings, that is then picked up by the press in the 1990s. And there’s an article in the newspaper about it. And then a chap called John Ashdown-Hill, who was part of the Richard III society also wrote about it later on. And apparently it was this that Philippa read that kind of got her going on this. So, we kind of knew where the priory precinct was, but we didn’t quite know where the friary was but we know that he was supposed to be in the choir of the Church of the Greyfriars. We know that churches were always close to a thoroughfare. So, it’s going to be either sort of North or to the South next to one of the roads, probably close to one of the roads. So, we’ve got Richard Buckley who has been excavating, you know, he’s got over 30 years of experience and he really knows what he’s doing. All we’re trying to do at this point is put some trenches in and see if we can find any of the remains of the friary? There’s an element of kind of wiggle room in terms of where trenches go, the digger has to come in to the car park and the chap comes in and he’s like, “right, I need to have a spoil heap”. And there’s a wall that runs along one side of the car park. So, he shifts the machine over a little bit to be able to put the soil up against the wall. So he’s got room for a spoil heap, and it actually turned out to be incredibly fortuitous because if he had been 50 centimeters towards the wall, we never would have found Richard. And there’s all this stuff about how we were excavating where there was an R on the car park. There was an R on the car park, and we were joking, it was the very first day we thought “oh, he’s bound to be right underneath there”!

Ron McCullagh

Wouldn’t that have been a very happy coincidence?

Prof. Turi King

He was about a bay and a half up from there, but it’s a lovely story. The trench did happen to go through the R, but he wasn’t under the R. And it was a big thing in the press. But we, basically, we start excavating and six hours and 34 minutes in, we hit a little bit of leg bone. Now this is a little bit of lower leg. And Matthew Morris, who was our fieldwork director, hops into the trench and has a little feel, because he doesn’t know whether or not, this is just a random bit of bone. Is it just on its own? And he has a quick kind of feel of it and he goes, “yep, there’s an articulated skeleton under there”. Now at this point, because the trenches are literally just going in, we don’t know if we are inside the church or outside the church. We know from excavating and other sites in downtown Lester, that you can have huge graveyards with…it’s almost like a skeleton soup with graves. Intercutting with one another. And you’re trying to work out which skeleton bit goes with which skeleton and so on and so forth. So we have got to get a license to excavate remains. You cannot just lift sets of remains – you have to get a license from the ministry of justice. When we’ve applied to the ministry of justice, we have said, we will lift up to six sets of remains, which we would consider doing testing on.

Now, obviously we’re not going to go for the first six that we find, because we want to make educated decisions about which ones we’re going to go for. We’re first of all… we’re looking for somebody who’s supposed to be in the choir of the Church of the Greyfriars, male, he’s died in battle, he might have scoliosis or some sort of spinal abnormality, because we know about that from Shakespeare’s Richard III, etc. and in a contemporary account. So, we’re going to be looking for six skeletons that fit the bill in terms of which ones we’re going to lift. So, we don’t uncover this, we leave it covered because we want to protect it. And we figured that as we keep doing the excavation and we start to work out whether or not we’ve even found the friary, then if we have bits of the fryer that we’re actually in, we would then come back to the skeleton at a later date if it looked like it was in an area that we thought might be in the choir. So we leave this skeleton completely covered. And it’s not until about two weeks later that we have started finding walls. We find what looks like it could be the chapter house. We found bits that look like they could be choir stall footing in the Presbytery, and they extend back into that parking lot. And so, we start to go, okay, we know we’ve got a person who’s an expert on medieval friaries comes and has a look and kind of confirms what we’re already thinking – that skeleton that we found on the very first day looks like it’s down at one end of the choir so we should probably go and excavate this.

And this is where Jo Appleby comes in. She’s our osteologist on the project so she’s the person who will be examining the bones. And so, Jo and I are actually excavating on the 4th of September 2012, and Philippa has brought in a film crew. And, and you know what film crews are like, they’re lovely but what they would like to do is you know, “can you cover that up?”, “can you, do that again?” Cause they want to get different angles and so on and so forth. And, we realize that we are not going to get this skeleton lifted today and we cannot leave a skeleton uncovered in this site. Um, you just don’t do that.

So Jo and I actually stopped excavating the skeleton, just the legs and a bit of the pelvis are exposed at this point, so we cover it up and the next day, I have to go to a forensics conference in Innsbruck and Jo was finishing the excavation. And I, I texted her when I land in Innsbruck and I go, “how’s our 90-year-old friar”. Cause I’m joking. I won’t miss a thing. This is going to be a 90 year old friar who lived a nice long life and he died in his bed and I won’t miss anything exciting. So, I text her and I go, “how’s our ninty-year-old friar”? And she goes, “ah, youngish, male, severe head injuries, uh, hunchback.” And because at the moment, the skeleton is in the ground and she can’t tell whether there’s a curved spine. Now. I thought she must be joking. So, then I actually rang Matthew and he’s like, “it really does look like it”. And, and then I actually rang Philippa and I said, “are you okay?” Because I was aware just how much this would mean to her. And you could tell she was really, really stunned. And Jo will tell you, so what’s happening is with, with a skeleton, what you do is you kind of dig from the outside in, so we’ve done the legs on the pelvis and she’s done the arms and she’s done the skull. Now the skull is in a really unusual position.

It’s almost sort of chin to chest. Um, and it’s propped up a little bit and that’s because the grave is really, really unusually shaped, it is like a bath. So normally what you find with graves is if they’ve got nice 90 degree sides, that’s not what you’re finding with this one. It’s like, they’ve done it in a bit of a hurry. They put them in a high status part of the church, but they’ve not finished off the grave. So the head was in this really, really unusual position. And as Jo had been coming down trying to actually find, uh, the skull, it had been raised up quite high. So at one point we even thought that possibly this wasn’t part of the skeleton that we’d originally found the legs for. But she’ll tell you that she’d found the skull and there were injuries on it that seemed to look like they have occurred at or around the time of death, but she’s trying to remain calm and okay, so maybe this is a friar or somebody who’s been buried here, who’s just met a nasty end. But then it was when she was trying to follow from the pelvis up to the skull and following the spinal column, she could follow the first ones up from the pelvis and then she was trying to find the next one. She couldn’t find it. So, she starts going sideways and she realizes that the spine is going…it’s got a curve to it.

Ron McCullagh

That must have been a moment for her.

Prof. Turi King

And she said, she said the hair went up on the back of her neck because she realized what she was probably looking at. And so she actually called Matthew over and said, I think, I think you better go and get everybody. And so it was at that point that I told Philippa, look, you know, battle injuries, severe scoliosis of the spine we’re in the right place. And I think for Philippa, that was quite a big moment. Cause my understanding is that there are, there are sections of the Richard III society who believed that the idea that Richard was a hunchback as so famously kind of portrayed in Shakespeare’s Richard III, and there is actually a contemporary account. I mean, there’s two contemporary accounts of Richard III and one doesn’t mention anything. And then the other one mentions that he’s got one shoulder higher than the other.

So, we’re looking for a skeleton possibly with spinal abnormality, but there’s been a lot of thought that, well, maybe this is just propaganda, you know, Shakespeare writing over a hundred years after Richard died, he’s writing in the Tudor period. He’s not going to say that he was lovely and he was great with kids and we killed him. They’re going to paint him as this horrible character. And this is at a time when, when people’s outward appearance was thought to be a reflection of what they were like, that it was almost sort of, God’s kind of, you know, vengeance on them type thing for, for bad behavior sort of thing.  So, there was this, this view that possibly all of this was propaganda. And yet here in the grave, just looking at it, you could see that he had quite severe scoliosis of the spine. I mean, at this point of it being in the ground, Jo couldn’t tell whether or not it was scoliosis, which is a sideways curve of the spine or a kyphosis, which is sort of typical hunchback that you think of. Um, but certainly a spinal abnormality. And I think, again, that was probably another moment for Philip, because it was, it was something that they hadn’t known was true or not. And here, we didn’t know for certain at this point that it was Richard, but everything was kind of already pointing to these possibly being the remains of Richard III in the right place, youngish male battle injuries. But then this is obviously where we now have to start the scientific analysis and, and the really rigorous examination of the remains to be able to identify these as being the remains of Richard III. And that was everything from, you know, looking at the skeleton, doing the osteological analysis, um, doing a forensic analysis of all of the wounds and doing sort of micro CT scans. Um, then having a look, obviously stable isotope analysis, then obviously radiocarbon dating and the, and the DNA analysis. So it’s bringing all of the strands of evidence together to, to show that these are the remains of Richard there’s, there’s no one piece of evidence on its own. And I think this is where people kind of don’t necessarily grasp how, how it’s done, because people will concentrate on a particular piece of evidence, for example, the DNA. And I’m actually the first person to say, actually, the DNA is just, uh, a single strand of the evidence that you bring together.

Ron McCullagh

Well, let’s talk about the role DNA played in this investigation because that’s one of your specialist areas. How did it work?

Prof. Turi King

It’s like a puzzle of two halves. I’ve got the skeleton and I’m not sure who it is, but I think it might be Richard. So, in order to confirm that I need to compare it to a known relative of Richard III. Now Richard, had no known living descendants, but his family members did. Now Richard will have inherited his mitochondrial DNA from his mother Cecily who also would have passed it down to all of his siblings. Now he had a sister called Anne of York who had a daughter who had a daughter who had two sisters who had daughters down through the generations until you get down to the modern day. So we have somebody known as Michael Ibsen and he’s Canadian like me. Um, and I met him on the very first day of the excavation in the car park where I kind of sidled up to him and asked him for a DNA sample. He actually knew that he was related to Richard III, he’s a 17th generation great nephew of Richard III through this female line. Now sadly there wasn’t detailed documentary evidence to show that this tree was correct.

And that was actually really, really important because if there wasn’t a DNA match between Michael and the skeleton, how do I know it’s not just because the tree is wrong. So, this is where Kevin and his team tracked down every single piece of documentary evidence. So we are talking wills and, you know, birth certificates, travel records, you know, all kinds of stuff to, to show that this tree was right. And while doing this research, uh, Kevin and his team also came across this woman called Wendy Duldig… and I love her surname because it was anything but a dull dig that we were on. And I get this lovely lady on the end of the phone and I have to kind of go, “hello, my name is Turi King, and you might’ve heard that we’ve been doing this excavation in downtown Leicester”. “We might’ve found the remains of Richard III and obviously we need to do genetic testing, I need to have somebody who we know to be related to him… we think that that might be you”. Um, and she, her first response was “am I on the radio?”,”Is this a crank call?”

So she thought it was a hoax. And I, I had to talk to her for quite a long time and I, I explained about everything. And no, it wasn’t a hoax and this was for real. So she, again, very, very kindly agreed to take part. The other side that I could look at was obviously the Y chromosome. So that’s the bit of DNA, which just travels down through the male line and actually finding male line relatives of Richard III is really, really straightforward. You just go to Burke’s Peerage I mean, he’s from a noble family, so finding male line relatives is actually really quite straight forward. So these were identified again by, uh, Kevin. And, um, we made sure that they weren’t, you know, closely related to one another. And these individuals, these five men all could trace their ancestry to Henry Somerset. He was the fifth Duke of Beaufort, who is 19 generations away from Richard again. So Richard has no known living descendants. So, what you have to do is you have to go up the tree to Richard’s great grandfather Edward III who obviously we chatted about earlier down, ironically, uh, through John of Gaunt, so the house of Lancaster, um, down until you get to Henry Somerset, and then these are his descendants. Now what I’m expecting with these five men, when I look at their Y chromosomes, because they all share the same common ancestor, Henry Somerset, and that’s where they’ve got their Y chromosome from I’m expecting them to have identical or near identical Y chromosomes. And that, that should then match the skeleton if it’s Richard III, except for one tiny potential problem. And I knew about this when I actually started this, this side of the research, I was very interested in doing, I’ve been working on the, on the Y chromosome for 20 odd years. Um, had done a huge amount of work on, on sort of genetic genealogy. And so I was interested in looking at, at the male line relatives and see if they would match Richard III because one of the things that you can get is, is obviously what’s known as a false paternity

Ron McCullagh

False paternity could take some explaining?

Prof. Turi King

This is where the Y chromosome, the biological Y chromosome is not that of the recorded father, because there’s been an illegitimacy in the family tree. I joke, you know, if, uh, if a medieval milkman had come on the scene or something, then the, the Y chromosome from these men might not match the skeleton, because if there’s been a false paternity in the family tree.

Ron McCullagh

So here you are trying to identify a 500-year-old skeleton. And in your investigations, you’re about to reveal another skeleton in a modern family’s cupboard.

Prof. Turi King

Yeah. What Kevin and I did was we decided let’s, let’s go and talk to the family, because at this moment we’ve, we’ve been in contact with them. We’ve said why we would like them to take part and they’ve, you know, given consent, etc. but let’s go and talk to this individual. So we go in and see him. Um, and at the time he’s actually at his mom’s house. So a little bit worried though, hopefully we’re not going to let the cat out of the bag, because if this is, if the sample is correct, he’s not matching the other five, the other four rather. So go and speak to him. And when we spoke to him, it actually transpired that they, they had known that there might be a break in the Y chromosome line that the biological father was not the recorded father. And it was a few generations back. And they actually did know about this. They hadn’t mentioned it though, just out of, you know, me being belt and braces took another DNA sample and it came back exactly the same as what I’d got the previous time, but it did take about 10 years off my life because I was so worried that, Oh my goodness, what if I’ve done something wrong? But I hadn’t. Um, now the other four, they match each other. They’re, they’re not identical, but you don’t necessarily expect it to be. And that’s telling me what Henry Somerset’s Y chromosome type is, but that doesn’t match Richard. Now, I’m not remotely surprised because we know that these false paternities happen in one to two per cent historically.

So, there’s plenty of time in those 19 generations for one, if not more false paternity events to take place, but in those 19 generations are some pretty key father son relationships in terms of the historical monarchy. So, for example, if it’s happened somewhere between Edward III and Richard III that could affect the Yorkist, uh, Plantagenet kings. If you go down between Edward III and John of Gaunt and John of Gaunt’s son, if it’s anywhere in there, you start to affect the Lancastrian Plantagenet kings. So, Henry fourth, fifth, and sixth, and again, anywhere in those two generations and you start to affect the Tudors. So, here’s me, you know, we published the paper and I’m like, oh my goodness, I’ve worked on this for two years solid and it’s been a huge, huge amounts of work and, and taken up so much of my time and the science is great because we’d had to, I’d had to design things that hadn’t been tested before and so on and so forth. So, we published the paper and I’m like, yay science! and the biggest thing that the press were interested in was “should The Queen be on the throne?”

The throne doesn’t pass down in a straight line from Henry Tudor down to Queen Elizabeth anyways, and Henry Tudor himself you know, he takes it through conquest, he had a very, very tenuous claim to the throne himself, the throne’s taken by conquest, it goes to cousins, it goes up the family tree and down and sideways again. So, it doesn’t affect the modern monarchy whatsoever, but it was a very big thing of the press at the time. I had to keep saying, back up, back up, back up,

Ron McCullagh

How do you wrap all this up and come up with a robust scientific conclusion?

Prof. Turi King

So, it’s, it’s like a historic missing person’s case. Richard III last scene in the choir of the Church of the      Greyfriars.  And we find a set of remains. Is it him? Or is it somebody who purely by chance matches everything we know about Richard III? So, we’re looking for someone who’s… so, he’s age 32 when he dies, we’re looking for somebody with battle injuries, we’re looking for somebody possibly with a spinal abnormality. Um, it’s bringing all of the strands of evidence together. So, we want to know how often is it, how likely are you going to find someone who fits all of those strands of evidence? And it’s not Richard, it’s just somebody purely by chance who fits everything. So actually, when we brought all of the strands of evidence, including the DNA analysis together, you get, what’s known as a likelihood ratio. So, this is what they use in forensic cases of how likely is this versus something else. So how likely is it Richard versus somebody purely by chance and it’s 6.7 million to one. So that, that translates to 99.999 to 9.99999%. That these are the remains of Richard III. And I have to say the entire time we are doing this analysis, the statistical analysis, we are always trying to err on the side of no, it’s not Richard. No, it’s not Richard. I mean, it, we were really, really conservative, uh, when we did the analysis because we had to be absolutely certain that these were the remains of Richard. I was able to work with numerous experts from around the world, uh, to bring them with them onto this paper so that we could all kind of bring our expertise to it, to be really certain about what we were looking at.

Ron McCullagh

Turi, thank you on behalf of myself, Sarah, our wonderful producer through the series.

Prof. Turi King

Yes, Sarah

Ron McCullagh

Uh, it’s been, uh, we’ve tussled with DNA along with your, you know, as you, as you tell us more and more about this extraordinary subject and, uh, we’ve tussled with the morality, the ethics of it, the science of it, it’s been amazing. So, um, yeah. Great. Thank you so much for your, for your time. And, uh, I hope everybody who’s been listening has enjoyed it as much as we have.

Prof. Turi King

It’s been an absolute pleasure, such amazing discussions.

Sarah Fourcheaud

You’ve been listening to Decoding Nature’s Alphabet presented by Ron McCullagh and produced by me, Sarah Fourcheraud. This last episode is dedicated to Turi’s aunt, Lynne Kasprzak who first introduced Turi to the story of Richard III and sadly died during the making of this series. We hope you have enjoyed listening to Professor Turi King, so much that you’ll share these podcasts to help us produce more. To get transcripts, or contact us and say anything, please visit our website www.expressivemindsmedia.com. All our episodes are on Apple Podcasts or your favourite podcast platform.