A long winter of discontent
The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III, whose remains were found under a UK car park.
AS IN 1485, once the death of the king was confirmed, the arguments started. Was the search for the man in the car park a stunt and a media circus, or a classic piece of research archaeology based on sound science, which opens a window on a period of history fogged by Tudor propaganda?
The debate will certainly last longer than Richard's two-year reign. Before the identification had even been formally confirmed, the redoubtable historian Mary Beard had waded in on Twitter: ''Gt fun & a mystery solved that we've found Richard 3. But does it have any HISTORICAL significance? (Uni of Leics overpromoting itself?)''
Meanwhile, the bones that have just been confirmed as those of Richard III - the last Plantagenet king, the last monarch to die on a battlefield, and the man whose death ushered in the upstart Tudors - lay quietly in a calm room on the second floor of the Leicester University library, unknown to many of the students bustling in and out of the building.
The skeleton of Richard III as it was found at the Grey Friars Church excavation site. Photo: AFP
Inevitably, the press conference in another building - with 140 registered journalists and camera crews from seven countries - was controlled mayhem, but the university had gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the actual remains were treated with respect.
The conference had revealed the appalling nature of the injuries inflicted in the last moments of Richard's life and, perhaps even more gruesomely, in the hours afterwards.
But in the quiet room with the blinds drawn there were no banners, no university logos - just the bones, stained a reddish brown by their centuries in the clay, laid out on a black velvet cloth on four library tables pushed together and protected by a glass case. Journalists were invited to ''bear witness''.
The remains of Richard III show a marked curvature of the spine.
The feet were missing, probably chopped off when a Victorian outhouse was built on the site of the long-lost Greyfriars church, missing the main skeleton by inches. The hands lay by his side, but as found suggested that he was buried with arms still bound, just as he was lugged from the battlefield.
The skull lay with the largely undamaged face up - itself a significant and sinister point, according to the experts, hiding the savage blow to the base from a halberd, a fearsome mediaeval pike-like weapon, which sliced through bone and into the brain.
The shock was the spine, bent like an aerial view of the river Thames - it was not, after all, simply Tudor propaganda, which had portrayed the king as a twisted psychopath.
Dr Jo Appleby, the bones expert from Leicester University who excavated the skeleton and has worked on it for months, said the skeleton had suffered 10 injuries, including eight to the skull, around the time of death. Two of the skull wounds were potentially fatal.
One was a ''slice'' removing a flap of bone, the other was caused by a bladed weapon that went through and hit the opposite side of the skull - a depth of more than 10 centimetres .
''Both of these injuries would have caused an almost instant loss of consciousness and death would have followed quickly afterwards,'' Appleby said.
The other wounds came after death, and were described - in an image still resonant from many battlegrounds today - as ''humiliation injuries'', including a pelvic wound likely to have been caused by an upward thrust of a weapon through the buttock.
They could not have happened to a man protected by armour, and are consistent with the accounts of his body being stripped on the battlefield, and brought back to Leicester naked, slung over the pommel of a horse. That, almost certainly, was when the thrusting injury through the right buttock and into the pelvis occurred.
The skeleton was also contorted by scoliosis, which set in some time after Richard was 10, from an unknown cause. Appleby said it would have made Richard's breathing increasingly more difficult, and taken inches off what would have been his full height of 5' 8'' (172 centimetres), a reasonably tall man for mediaeval times.
But the condition meant Richard would have stood significantly shorter and his right shoulder may have been higher than the left.
Professor Lin Foxhall, head of the university's archaeology department, and Bob Savage, an expert on mediaeval weapons from the Royal Armouries, pointed out that Richard's face was relatively undamaged. ''They'd killed the king and they needed to keep him recognisable,'' Savage said.
''To me, the injuries are fully consistent with the accounts of his dying in a melee, and [being] unhorsed - I believe he was dead within minutes of coming off his horse. But they took care not to bash the face about too much.
''It's the Gaddafi effect. We saw just this in the horrible mobile-phone footage of Gaddafi being found, and you can hear the voices shouting, 'Not the face, don't touch the face'. It's one of those dreadful lessons from history which we never learn.''
While the grumbles that this was all show business, not history, went on throughout the day, Neville Morley, professor of ancient history at the University of Bristol, whose own field is the more ancient battlefields of Greece and Rome, said that to identify any named individual from such a remote period was ''fantastically rare - and valuable. It's the fact that he was a king that lets us get to the identification.''
Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist on the project, pointed out that - apart from disentangling Richard's last day on earth from the fog of Tudor propaganda, led by its most brilliant exponent, William Shakespeare - the story of the king from the car park is also another lost strand in the history of Leicester, wreathed in rumour, until now very short on fact.
Indeed, the city is wasting no time profiting from its day in the international media spotlight. A temporary exhibition opens this week in the Guildhall, near the site, and next year a permanent new visitor centre will open, possibly on the same day that the russet bones are reinterred in a newly designed tomb in the cathedral.
Meanwhile, Michael Ibsen, the man whose spit proved the vital link across almost six centuries, grew more quiet and subdued as the day wore on. ''My head is no clearer now than when I first heard the news,'' he said. Ibsen is a direct descendant of Richard III's sister, Anne of York, and provided the DNA sample that allowed scientists to establish the remains were those of the king.
''Many, many hundreds of people died on that field that day. He was a king, but just one of the dead. He lived in very violent times, and these deaths would not have been pretty - or quick.''
By ironic chance, the pit that may have held a man believed to have murdered his two young nephews - the princes in the Tower - is directly overlooked by the private offices of the Leicester child protection unit.
There was nothing more interesting to see than some broken bricks and clay tiles, and two yellow plastic pegs in a surprisingly short oval hollow marking the spot where the bones lay. For many locals this was sacred ground; a royal grave. They want to see the king nobly buried in the cathedral, 100 metres away.
In fact, since 1980 the cathedral has had what looks just like a grave: a large, handsomely inscribed slab in front of the high altar. Every August 22 it is wreathed in flowers, on the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth, when the last Plantagenet lost his horse in marshy ground, and then his life and his crown, which legend says rolled from his dying head under a furze bush.
Candles lit by a stream of visitors burn perpetually nearby, and many people have left white roses since news of the bones' discovery first went round the world.
Cathedral authorities say they will work with the royal household, and the Richard III Society, to ensure ''the remains are treated with dignity and respect and are reburied with the appropriate rites and ceremonies of the church''.
Professor Lin Foxhall, one of the archaeologists from Leicester University who led the team, said she was surprised by the discovery.
''I didn't expect us to find anything. It is incredibly rare in archaeology to go looking for a named individual. Even the fact that the trenches were sunk in exactly the right place, so that we immediately located a church which has been buried for 500 years - if we'd found nothing else - was extraordinary.
''Then to find bones, exactly where the records say Richard was buried - well, I am still completely astonished by the whole thing."
Richard III is not the only English monarch to have ended up in an unlikely spot. The closest parallel to the hunt for Richard were efforts by archaeologists in Winchester in 1999 to find Alfred the Great, who died in 899 and whose bones were moved at least twice, finally to Winchester's Hyde Abbey in 1110.
That abbey was also destroyed in the dissolution of the monasteries, although bones were found when a prison was built on the site in the 18th century. The dig uncovered carved stone, and part of a pelvis determined to be from a woman who suffered from bad arthritis.
Alfred, the archaeologists concluded sadly, was probably ground up for bonemeal fertiliser for the prison governor's garden.