WHEN the skeletal remains of King Richard III were unearthed beneath a Leicester car park last year they became an overnight sensation with journalists flocking from all corners of the globe.
The former monarch was killed during battle in 1485 and archaeologists who confirmed his identity believe he suffered 10 injuries – including eight to the skull – at around the time of death.
Twenty-two years before becoming king in 1483, Richard was granted the dukedom of Gloucester and now more than five centuries later, with the recent discovery of his remains, people can find out more about the controversial monarch.
The 13th century medieval Blackfriars Priory in Gloucester is among a host of venues in the city to take part in a Richard III Festival from Wednesday until March 30.
Among the speakers during the festival will be historian and author Dr John Ashdown-Hill whose work helped lead to the initial findings.
He was responsible for the discovery of the mitochondrial DNA sequence of Richard III and all his brothers and sisters which took place long before his bones were found in the car park.
“The discovery of the DNA was one of the essential elements which led to the excavation of the car park in August 2012,” John says.
“The DNA discovery took place in 2004 and was inspired by bones found in Belgium which were thought possibly to be the remains of Richard III’s sister, Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy.”
While the bones did not match the DNA sequence published by John – her bones are still to be found – his publication of the DNA sequence sparked interest from Tewkesbury Abbey.
As a result, he was asked whether his findings could be used to try to establish whether or not the bones in Tewkesbury Abbey’s Clarence Vault are those of Richard III’s brother, the Duke of Clarence.
“Since the DNA sequence had not produced a match with any of the bones found in Belgium, I advised the abbey to wait a while.
“But last year, when it was announced that the DNA sequence did match the bones found in the Leicester car park – identifying those remains as the body of King Richard III – Tewkesbury Abbey contacted me again.”
In April last year he spent a week in Tewkesbury, re-examining the Clarence vault, while a colleague – a bone expert – re-examined the remains from the vault.
“The problem we had was that the Tewkesbury Abbey vault has had a chequered history.
“An examination of the Tewkesbury bones carried out in the 1980s had concluded that they were probably not young enough to be the remains of the Duke and Duchess of Clarence – both of whom died in their twenties.
“But the re-examination last year suggested that the bones in the vault comprised fragments of more than two bodies – and that there was a possibility that some of the bones might indeed belong to the Duke and Duchess of Clarence.”
The finer details of the investigation of the Tewkesbury bones are recounted in John’s latest book, The Third Plantagenet and also form part of his talk in Gloucester next Saturday.
“It’s an account of the life of the brother of Richard III but it also deals with many other things including stories of why the Duke of Clarence did not get on with his older brother, Edward IV and how the Duke was eventually executed.
“Is it true for example, that he was drowned in a barrel of wine?”
In many ways, John’s interest was also sparked by family ties – incredibly, some of his 15th century forbears seem to have been in the service of the Duke.
John will give a talk about his work at Gloucester City Museum from 1.30pm to 2.30pm next Saturday. Tickets cost £7.50. Call 01452 503050.
His book, The Third Plantagenet, published by Stroud-based The History Press, is available to buy priced £16.99 with a book signing after his talk.