By Bryony Jones
(CNN) — His story is already the stuff of legend: the “evil” king who ordered the killing of his own nephews in order to steal the throne of England, before dying bravely in battle in 1485. Now the tale of Richard III has a footnote.
British scientists announced Monday that the remains of a man matching the monarch’s description, found buried beneath a parking lot in the central English city of Leicester last August, are almost certainly those of the long-lost king.
They revealed the long-awaited results of mitochondrial DNA tests that — “beyond reasonable doubt” — link Richard III with a distant but direct relative, Canadian-born cabinetmaker Michael Ibsen.
But those close to the project say that even without the DNA proof, the circumstantial evidence alone was striking.
Shakespeare and others have characterized Richard III as a hunchback, and the body found among the remains of what was once a monastery shows signs of scoliosis, or curvature of the spine.
Archaeologists say the man they found appears to have met a violent death: There is evidence of a severe blow to the skull, and an arrowhead was found among the skeleton’s vertebrae.
Added to this is the fact that the body was found in what was once the choir area of the church — an area reserved for high-status burials — exactly where Richard III was recorded to have been laid to rest.
Investigators from the University of Leicester had been examining the remains for months. Others got their first glimpse of the battle-scarred skull that may have once worn the English crown early Monday when the university released a photograph ahead of its announcement.
“The skull was in good condition, although fragile, and was able to give us detailed information,” said Jo Appleby, a lecturer in human bioarchaeology at the university who led the exhumation of the remains last year.
Supporters of the infamous king, including members of the Richard III Society, hoped the discovery would force academics to rewrite history, which they say has been tainted by exaggerations and false claims.
Screenwriter Philippa Langley, who championed the search for several years, told CNN she wanted “the establishment to look again at his story,” saying she wanted to uncover the truth about “the real Richard, before the Tudor writers got to him.”
“The trouble is we judge Richard by a pseudo-Victorian values system, but we judge others in the context of their time,” she said. “He was a medieval man. If you put him back into the 15th century, he’s exactly as the others are — princes, dukes, nobles, they’re all doing exactly the same things, and he’s better than some.”
Following news that the remains belonged to Richard III, a satirical Twitter account in his name was launched: @HMRichardIII.
What will happen to the remains is as yet unclear, though they are expected to be reburied nearby at some point.
They are likely to be laid to rest in the city’s cathedral — already home to a memorial to Richard III — and may even be given a state funeral.
But those behind the project are eager to point out that they may never have conclusive proof of the body’s identity.
“All archaeology is about probability, about the balance of probabilities,” said Lin Foxhall, professor of archaeology at the University of Leicester.
“We have to stack up the evidence, the archaeological context, the injuries and so on, and the more evidence you have, the stronger the probability becomes.”