It’s amazing to think that this time 10 years ago the remains of King Richard III had just been uncovered by archaeologists from the University of Leicester. Today the monarch and his story is at the heart of Leicester’s history, but it wasn’t always the case. Let’s have a look at how the King was discovered and identified.

The beginnings

The start of the search was actually more than a year before the uncovering, Phillipa Langley, who now heads up the Scottish branch of the King Richard III Society, came to the University of Leicester Archaeological Services in January 2011 with a proposal to dig in the old Greyfriars site.

Leicester City Council had long recognised the historical significance of the site, having purchased it in 2008. Then began a long period of analysis, comparison of historical maps and general research including ground penetrating radar before the start of excavation on 25 August 2012.

The chances of finding the church were rated at 50:50, with a nine to one against finding Richard’s actual grave. But as the football team’s 2016 Premier League win reminded us, we like long odds here in Leicester. On the first day of the dig, a pair of legs were discovered. Little did the team know that these were those of King Richard himself. But that’s only the start of the story!

Uncovering the King

On 4 September, the team began to uncover the skeleton of a man who had a curved spine, something which fitted the historical representations of the Lost King. A press conference was then held at Leicester’s historic Guildhall on 12 September 2012, with key representatives of the University, City Council and Richard III Society. They announced to a stunned world that after 527 years, they may just have discovered the mortal remains of England’s lost king.

Digging through history

But this is where the real work began, as it wasn’t enough to think this was King Richard, the team had to know it was. So a range of experts from both within and outside Leicester were brought in to work on various parts of the identification process, from looking at the wounds on the skeleton to exploring the family tree in order to find descendants and testing the DNA of the remains.

Unlocking the DNA puzzle

The team behind the dig had already done lots of research to discover modern day descendants of the King, and this analysis was carried out by historians from our universities, including Genealogist Professor Kevin Schurer, who traced Richard III's family tree through 144 male relations.

The DNA analysis was carried out by the University of Leicester’s Professor Turi King, one of the leading experts in that field. The analysis proved with 99.999% to 99.99999% accuracy that the DNA was related to Richard III’s mother Cecily Neville, the Duchess of York, and could be matched with her descendants living today - one male and one female.

Final confirmation

Once the team were certain that the remains they had uncovered were those of the last Plantagenet King they prepared to tell the world. Gathering again in Leicester’s Guildhall on the 4 February 2013 the team announced that they had indeed discovered the remains of King Richard III on the first day of the excavation.

Uncover the full story

Following the discovery and reinternment of his remains at Leicester Cathedral, it was vital that this historic story and set of events were commemorated and the full story of Richard’s life, death and rediscovery.

The King Richard III Visitor Centre stands on the site of the medieval Grey Friars, where the king’s remains were buried over 500 years ago. It charts the king’s life and death – and explains the events that led to his hasty burial and eventual rediscovery. It reveals one of the greatest archaeological detective stories ever told and features the first-ever genome sequencing of ancient DNA. And in tribute to this anniversary, yearly passes are now just £10 for adults! 

There's no better time to book your visit!

The Lost King

As would be expected for such a momentous anniversary, there are a number of events and anniversaries coming soon, but most excitingly, a brand new film based upon the search for the king and starring Steve Coogan and Sally Hawkins is being released. The Lost King was released in cinemass on the 9th October and charts Phillipa Langley’s mission to search for King Richard. You can find it on DVD and Blu Ray now or at Leicester's Phoenix cinema in the new year.




  1. YCymro
    AS a true man of Wales, I first became associated with the City of Leicester in the mid 1960's and found so much that is special to me.
    Well now the discovery of the last of the Plantagenet Kings really brought it home to me of how important it turned out to be. The dedication and belief of the archaelogical team was amazing and coupled with modern science brought about this World breaking conclusion. For me the man was always real within my history studies and now here he is resting in Leicester Cathedral for all to share. I feel very humbled and gratified by the work and positive identification of King Richard's remains

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