The Canadian connection to the hunt for King Richard III

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

It's often said that the victors get to write the history, which may explain why England's King Richard III has such a bad rep.

The best known account of his two-year reign was written by William Shakespeare, who worked during the reign of Elizabeth I, a member of the Tudor dynasty that overthrew Richard, last of the England's Plantagenet kings, less than a century earlier.

Richard has languished as a vilified usurper for more than 500 years but interest in him has revived after a team of British and Canadian archeologists unearthed what they think may be his remains under a parking lot in the city of Leicester.

And a Canadian family holds the key to confirming whether the bones discovered in the buried ruins of a medieval church belong to the infamous king.

Richard died on Aug. 22, 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the climax of the War of the Roses that put Henry VII, the first of the Tudors, on the English throne.

The exact location of the church was lost after it was destroyed a few years later in a wave of anti-clericalism, Postmedia News reports. But researchers recently zeroed in on what they've identified as the walls of the religious compound. Excavations turned up artifacts that have led them to believe this is where Richard was buried.

The team revealed Wednesday that remains excavated from there show telltale spinal abnormalities ascribed to Richard — Shakespeare portrayed him as hunchbacked — and a "cleaved-in skull," that suggests someone who died in battle, BBC News reports.

"Archaeology almost never finds named individuals — this is absolutely extraordinary," said Prof. Lin Foxhall, head of the University of Leicester's school of archeology."Although we are far from certain yet, it is already astonishing."

Some accounts of the battle say Richard was pulled from his horse and killed with a blow to the head.

The unearthed remains also reveal the individual suffered from scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, BBC said, though not as bad as that Tudor propagandist Shakespeare made it seem.

Researchers will try to extract DNA for the bones for testing. And that's where Jeff Ibsen's family comes in.

The Toronto resident's late mother was a direct descendent of Anne of York, Richard's eldest sister, making it possible to test for a connection with the newly discovered bones.

"Mitochondrial DNA is passed through the female line, and all the sons and daughters of the mother inherit her mitochondrial DNA," Ibsen said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"So that meant that if the remains of Richard were ever found, they could use our DNA to confirm that it really was him."

One of Ibsen's siblings provided a DNA sample after archeologists found the remains, he said, adding it could take at least 12 weeks to determine if there's a match.

A match would be good news for members of the Richard III Society, which has worked to rehabilitate his reputation as an illegitimate king who killed his young nephews in order to keep the throne.

"History is written by the victors, so when the Tudors defeated him in battle, I think they started spreading slanderous rumours about Richard III and how awful he was," Ibsen said.

If the identity of the remains is confirmed, Leicester Cathedral said it would work with the society and the Royal Household to ensure the bones are treated with dignity and respect and reburied with appropriate rights and ceremonies, BBC said.