Details from the Richard III press conference

Pardon my ongoing obsession, but yesterday’s press conference went by so quickly and the materials flashed on the screen for a second at most. I missed a lot of the details while typing furiously, and even if I hadn’t been multitasking it still would have been too fleeting to satisfy my craving for details on the archaeology, history, genealogy and science. Thankfully, the University of Leicester has put much of the materials and speakers’ notes from the press conference online.

They go through the presenters pretty much as they appeared, starting with lead archaeologist Richard Buckley’s evidence from dig site. The PowerPoint presentation that was on the screen behind him during the press conference is linked at the top of the page, but it was too big for Chrome to launch it online so I made a pdf version you can see here.

Next comes osteoarchaeologist Dr. Jo Appleby’s evidence on forensic analysis of the bones. Her supporting presentation can be downloaded here.

Then Professor Lin Foxhall discusses the historical sources for Richard III’s appearance and character. PowerPoint slides from her presentation are here, but they’re basically a title slide and a blurred pullquote from a medieval source. Not tremendously illuminating.

On to genealogist Professor Kevin Schürer and geneticist Dr. Turi King who explain the importance of locating modern descendants of Richard’s family in order to confirm the identity of the skeleton through DNA testing, the process of sample extraction and the results. Dr. King’s PowerPoint presentation can be viewed here, Professor Schürer’s here.

Those are the presentations I particularly wanted to see because even though they’re only a couple of slides each, they’re packed with information that I couldn’t even begin to read on the live video feed. The comparison of all three mtDNA samples and the list of female descendants from Richard’s sister Anne of York to Michael Ibsen are delicious. EDIT: Professor Schürer’s list of female descendants has a typo. The year of Anne of York’s death was 1476, not 1467. She died in childbirth.

The entire collection of PowerPoint presentations from intro to conclusion is available for download here. I’ve also made a pdf version you can use if your browser balks and you don’t have PowerPoint.

The Channel 4 documentary, The King in the Car Park, will be made available online soon. Keep your eye on this page to find out when. For irritating licensing reasons, the video will only play for viewers in the UK and Ireland. *cough*unlock*cough*

It’s not much to tide you over, but this article from the BBC at least provides a little glimpse at the plastic model of Richard’s face reconstructed from the 3D CT scans of his sculls that was revealed in the documentary. He looks pretty much like he looks in his portraits, perhaps a little younger, with a prominent chin and nose. The model has been unveiled this morning at London’s Society of Antiquaries where it will presumably go on public display.

Far more satisfying is the collection of videos on the University of Leicester’s brand new Richard III site. This is the money video, in which Dr. Jo Appleby walks us through the osteological evidence pointing to Richard and Dr. Turi King explains the process of extracting and comparing the mtDNA:


The science pages are also not to be missed. There are details about the CT scanning, which turns out to have been micro-CT, a far more high resolution technology than the standard CT scan, and about the radiocarbon dating process and results. The osteology pages take you through every part of the skeleton and what the forensics say about it. Be sure to click on all the blue buttons at the top of the page to suck all the marrow, if you’ll pardon the phrase, out of the science. The spine page is my favorite.

Lastly, there are many lovely photos to peruse in the University’s Dropbox account:

44 thoughts on “Details from the Richard III press conference

  1. The circumstantial evidence seemed so overwhelming that I figured if the DNA testing showed no connection, it would really prove that there had been some hankypanky somewhere in the last 15 generations.

  2. Silly me! They were testing the female side, not the male. And while it’s a wise child that knows its father, pretty much any child knows its mother.

  3. Kevin Schürer’s chart showing descent from Richard’s line has a typo. Anne of York died in 1476 giving birth to her daughter, Anne St. Leger, not in 1467. But Schürer gets a pass this time…this story is just way too fascinating!

    1. Another person emailed me noting the typo. I don’t want to correct it in the image itself since it’s a capture of the presentation, but I think I’ll add a note to the post. We’ll let Schürer off the hook just this once.

  4. Im in the UK. The C4 programme was good but a bit irritating as Phillipa Langley comes across as a bit Er…. How can I put this politely…. Odd. The “r” she saw on the carpark that turns out to be above his grave is though, genuinely creepy

  5. Thank you for all the links, livius! Have they offered us anything on the dental calculus yet? I’m curious what that might reveal about diet.

  6. The Channel 4 program was awful, centred too much on a nutty woman who kept crying and acting like she was upset that after 100s of years, Richard III is in fact dead.

    Was presented by one of the actors on CBBC’s horrible histories which was ok but shame it wasn’t the one who plays Richard!

    1. What a shame. I was hoping that the primary focus would be the science and the archaeology, not the emotional reactions of Ms. Langley. I read a quote from her in the BBC story about the facial reconstruction where she said something along the lines of “it doesn’t look like a tyrant’s face.” That’s just silly. Someone might sneak in in the middle of the night and add a Charlie Chaplin moustache to the piece, after all, and then what will she do?

  7. I wish they hadn’t made him cross-eyed with caveman eyebrows (even with portraits to use as reference), but then I have no idea what a tyrant usually looks like. And odd as she may be, Langley and the Richard III Society was instrumental in getting this project off the ground.

    1. Caveman eyebrows is right. Did they thread them individually or something? Weird. Yes, Langley and the Society worked hard to make this happen and deserve their moment in the sun. I’d just rather there be a second documentary about the struggle to get the project off the ground so this one could focus on the science.

  8. :yes: Thanks for this – very interesting.

    I wish history was more like this when I went to school, I might have taken more interest. Anyhow the Dick III dig is a fascinating bit of science and mystery and I think Uni Leic handled it well, taking it out of dusty academia and showcasing it as a media event.

    Now we wonder what really happened to the Princes in the Tower; did Dick the Turd take them out, or is it all a Tudor face paint, seeing as HenVII got to write that bit of history with Liz I’s spin doc, Bill “My kingdom for a horse” the Bard.

    I wonder what Queen Bet II of Australia and Phil the Greek will do now? Hope they go to the re-internment next year, or maybe they’ll send Chuck and Cam instead. Or the dreaarrry princes, with Kate the Too Slim One?

    Personally, I think a guy with such bad idiopathic scoliosis is a bit of a heads up for what a disabled bloke can do, ride a horse, wear armour, swing a sword, etc. Pity a bit of Welsh 2kg halbert (allegedly) did a clinical slice off the base of his skull but Wife the Dragon’s glad it was a Welsmun that did ‘im n.

    No comments now on Welsh folk or I die!

    1. I was fortunate to have excellent history teachers in school although my interest was piqued long before specific history classes, thanks to copious reading of Greek mythology. I might have to do a reader survey to see how many people came to heart history through non-institutional efforts because the version they were fed in school was a bore.

      You, sir, have a gift for nicknames. Any history book you write will most assuredly not be a bore.

      Between the longbow and the halberd, them Welsh sure knew how to wield some intimidating weaponry. And now Chuck is their prince. Weird.

  9. I don’t think the C4 documentary was “good” in any sense of the word because it was IMHO completly ruined by PL who (if this is anything to go by)showed the King Richard III Society as a Cult and not as a serious historical organisation. I think also it was very much played to the camera and I would point especially to the flag business in that regard. I was somewhat sickened by the presenter’s conversion to Richard III by the end of the programme and was just wondering how the discovery of the body has indeed bolstered the RIII Soc’s rather specious historical theories. RIII had a spinal deformity which may in mediaeval times been called a hunchback – OK – so he didn’t have a withered arm – so what? Doesn’t say a lot about him “as a man” does it. It does support some of the Tudor story if not all. He was butchered in a battle – it may surprise PL but I suspect an awful lot of people suffered what we could consider horrific deaths at Bosworth and just because they aren’t “royal” doesn’t make them less a man – also Richard himself meted out (possibly)horrific deaths and for example killed Henry VII’s standard – bearer. Of course we have PL’s comment that the reconstructed face of Richard III “did not look like a tyrant” – well I – and all of my colleagues are not sure what a tyrant looks like and even though I am glad that PL is ahead of us on that one – it isn’t historical evidence. Oh, and of course one of the RIII’s society members said that the murder of the princes in the tower on the orders of Richard III was speculation. I am truly sorry but this is not speculation – even though we cannnot definately say it was ordered Richard III ordered this, he had the motive – the opportunity and the means and on a very strong balance of probabilities did order it. I would even say that it is “beyond reasonable doubt” especially since it is highly likely that Richard III was involved in the death of Henry VI in the tower. What I would say to the Richard III society is this happened in medieval times – get over it. Richard III may well have done some good but a medieval king who could not keep his crown is by no stretch of the imagination “a good king” Or perhaps we shall be faced by new evidence – Richard III had a letter in his hand saying “Dear Uncle Richard – I’m sorry you were killed but we’d like to thank you for our two – year holiday in Spain – our new Uncle Henry seems a very nice man and says that when we get to London he’ll put us in the tower again for our safety until he finds us a nice palace. He says we are a chip off the old block or will be – The Princes in the Tower”

    1. Thank you for your kind words and congratulations on an excellent blog post of your own. You make a keen point that without the Tudor demonization of Richard and Shakespeare’s crafting him into one of the greatest villains of all time, his two year reign would have been a War of the Roses footnote rather than the subject of historical societies and swooning fangirls.

  10. Amazing story and spectacular coverage on this blog.

    It has been surprising to discover how passionate some people are about the Yorkist and Lancastrian causes even after 500 years. Kind of crazy, but also delightful.

    1. Agreed. No matter where you stand on the issues or even if you think the issues have been overstated, it’s a sheer joy for any history lover to see an archaeological discovery inspire so much interest.

  11. Watched the TV show. Not terrible, but annoying emphasis on drama/emotion vs evidence: particularly the treatment of Dr. Jo, but of all the scientists generally.

    Whether R. III was a “good” ruler or not has to be interpreted as to just what such a thing might be at the time. Certainly there have been worse. As to the Princes, lots of speculation with little if any hard evidence. Why was the guy who confessed to the actual killing pensioned off and sent to France instead of being executed? Why did Richard go from “Protector” to King so quickly? Was the purchase – after Bosworth – of purple velvet to make garments for Tower prisoners for the Princes or others? Reasons can be given either way for all this and more.

  12. On a more serious note, two things strike me on reflection. The first is the obvious haste and lack of care with which Richard’s body was dumped (no better word) in a hastily-dug and shallow (consider its closeness to present-day ground level) grave, too short to contain it with any dignity. Nothing to suggest that any attempt was made to rearrange it once it had been thrown into the hole – check the first of the scans above. Three days in Summer weather no doubt played a part in this, but nothing, beyond the place of interment, to indicate that any honour was done to the body.

    Secondly, is it not possible, given Richard’s noticeably slight build and spinal “deformity”, that these factors contributed to a lack of respect or support for him among the battle-hardened, surviving War of the Roses aristocracy? An “image thing”? In the past couple of days I have seen two or three comments to the effect that at the height of 5′ 8″ that Richard would have measured but for the scoliosis, he was one of the taller men of his age, but his brother Edward, at 6′ 4″ one of the tallest of English monarchs, topped him by eight inches or more. Richard must have seemed to his contemporaries, the “runt” of the Yorkist litter.

  13. Agree with the “best blog coverage”, and the link to the Spectator is useful since it’s nice to see somewhat extreme views; that way I know I am not so bananas.

    A more extreme view would be to not only re-intern deceased, expired, “has ceased to be”, “bereft of life”, dead King RIII, in the car park but symbolically draw (maybe using some porcine guts to ensure a medieval spectacle), quarter, and hang his mortal remains before casting them back into the ground with suitable curses.

    On the other hand a full monty Westminster jobbie is at the other end of nutty.

    You Poms should accept that – yes, he was King of England but for barbarity no where in the league of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini or even minor despots like Pol Pot or any number of the minor African wannabess.

    Give DickIII’s soul a bit of comfort with a nice send off (in Leicester Cathedral is fine imo), with a bit of pomp and ceremony, maybe a sprinkle of minor royals (spare us the princes please, everyone will think there is a link there) and let Leicester go on the A list tourist map.

    It deserves it and so be it if the fanatical Red Roses flock to the tomb to pay homage.

    1. Thank you and well put. The symbolic drawing and quartering idea would make an excellent troll, though. Have you considering donning a provocative guise and starting a blog of your own?

  14. I, too, am glad that you are obsessed and agree that this is the best blog, RIII or any other part of history, that I’ve come across. It’s become a nearly daily read. Thank you so much.

    Although many Richardians may seem a little looney to some, let me assure everyone that the RIII Society is a serious historical society. Their research covers all parts of 15th century life. We just take the rehabilitation of a maligned historical person seriously. I could only wish that now we could find more documentation of the period 1460-1483. We know about Richard’s legislation, but so much remains a mystery. He lived at a pivatol period of time. How would the world have been different if he had lived and continued to reign? I often ponder.

    1. I think everyone with a very narrow, specific field of interest can get a little nuts on the subject, whether it’s Richard III or if baseball player X is better than player Y. I also suspect the documentary makers also made a point of directing Philippa Langley to emote as much as possible. It’s a common ploy in TV documentaries these days, sad to say.

      That doesn’t make Richard III Society any less of a historical society, mind you. I was just reading about its work in publishing primary sources, hosting academic conferences and offering classes in paleography. Very impressive work, especially for a bunch of crazy people. 😉

  15. To be honest, Kristine, the adjective “barking” sprang to mind as I watched a couple of videos, earlier in the week, but I know that you’re right. Back whenever, I received the paperwork to join what was then called the “Fellowship of the White Boar”. Don’t remember whether I joined or not – probably not, since I don’t remember – but I do recall my parents’ concern on reading the Society’s spiel and their warning me to be very careful, since it seemed to them that these might be, as my parent put it, “very odd people”.

  16. I’ve just finished watching the follow-up C4 documentary “The Unseen Story”. A must-watch, so much better than the King in the Car Park. Much less emotion and focusing pretty much only on the specifics of the dig and key University team members (but still with all the excitement and incredulity).

  17. The nutty woman crying all the time was weird and pathetic. Then she wrapped the ‘possible’ corpse in a flag then chucked it in a grubby ol van, that was hilarious… :confused:

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