Dean Walter Rankin and Dr. Turi King  

Richard III Uncovered

Event Report by Simone Maini (St. John's)

On Friday May 2nd, more than 80 individuals –among them medievalists, scientists, anthropologists, theologians, teachers, as well as alumni from the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, UCL, Georgetown, Lancaster, Catholic University and Johns Hopkins - gathered at the campus of the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies in Washington, D.C. Not many subjects can bring together such a diverse crowd, but a British monarch whose remains have recently been uncovered in a car park is sure to do it. 

Following a wine reception, lecture-goers took their seats in the auditorium to hear Cambridge alumnus and current member of the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester, Dr. Turi King, deliver her re-telling of the search for the lost remains of King Richard III. The Dean of the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies, Walter Rankin, introduced Dr. King as the resident Genetics Expert on the Grey Friars Project, where her role was to advise on the excavation of any remains deemed suitable for ancient DNA analysis and then to conduct such analysis as it arose. The audience was treated to a lively presentation by Dr.King, including a potted history of the Wars of the Roses, the initial efforts by the Richard III Society to generate interest in a search for his remains, and ultimately the successful (albeit limited) funding of the Grey Friars Project to enable an excavation. Dr. King’s fascinating account revealed a number of against-the-odds breakthroughs, including the remarkably fortuitous discovery on the first day of the dig of a bone that would eventually be proven to be part of the body they sought. 

Dr. King concluded the talk by focusing on her role as the Chief Geneticist on the Grey Friars team, during which she emphasized that “the DNA alone is meaningless… on its own, it cannot tell us who the individual is”. Consequently, she worked closely with the Project’s Genealogical Expert to identify descendants of Richard who could provide DNA samples for her to compare against, and ultimately use to confirm that the identity of the skeletal remains that were uncovered on the very first day of the Grey Friars endeavor were indeed those of King Richard III. 

The Society is immensely grateful to Dean Walter Rankin and the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies for generously hosting the lecture at their campus. Moreover, the Society is thrilled to have been able to host Dr. King, and we extremely grateful to her for kindly agreeing to travel to Washington and giving up her time to share this remarkable tale with us.

Pictures of the evening can be viewed online. Images courtesy of Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.