2012 – Mortal remains of Richard III located

Portrait of Richard the 3rdThe University of Leicester’s discovery of the mortal remains of King Richard III in September 2012 generated so much publicity, excitement and discussion that it is often forgotten how the project started. In August that year, University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) – in partnership with Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society – began an excavation in a Council car park.

Their goal was a lost medieval friary, reputed to be the final resting place of the last Plantagenet king. Although the media interest focussed on the ‘quest for a king’ angle, for ULAS this was just the latest in a series of projects to learn more about the history of Leicester and Leicestershire. Over the years, the hard work and expertise of ULAS has greatly increased our knowledge of how Leicester has developed since Roman times. The church of the Grey Friars would be just one more piece in that puzzle.

All of that changed when a skeleton under the choir of the church was found to have battle wounds and a bent spine...

The plan had been that a number of skeletons would be exhumed and DNA tests conducted to investigate whether any were King Richard. A whole new plan had to be created, with experts in Departments across the University – from Genetics to History to English – working together to establish whether this amazing discovery was indeed the King.

Skeleton of Richard the 3rd in its graveThe results of this unique interdisciplinary project, examining this unprecedented archaeological find, were announced to the world in February 2013, generating a global fire-storm of laudatory media and press coverage. Of all our discoveries, Richard III has been the most high-profile, establishing the University of Leicester on the global stage as a research university par excellence. However, rather than eclipse the legacy of Leicester – the legacy of WG Hoskins, Norbert Elias, Ken Pounds, Alec Jeffreys and many, many other great innovators – the discovery of Richard III actually built on their work to cement the University of Leicester’s international reputation.

This discovery of a key figure from Leicester’s past pointed the way towards the University’s future, towards a new era under a new Vice-Chancellor, towards our centenary in 2021 and towards generations of future students who will make their own discoveries here at the University of Leicester.