Richard III’s long-lost bones reveal king’s luxury tastes

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

royal bones
The University of Leicester led the original search for Richard III’s bones.

Legendary playwright William Shakespeare’s Richard III is a historical play about England’s 15th century king, depicting him as a wicked schemer who mercilessly destroyed his enemies during his reign. While historians aren’t entirely sure that Richard III’s heart was filled with pure evil, archaeological scientists do know that his stomach was filled with luxurious food items! Chemical analysis of the medieval monarch’s long-lost skeleton show that he loved fancy fowl like peacocks and swan.

In 2012, the bones were unearthed from beneath a parking lot in the city of Leicester. Recently, scientists from the British Geological Survey discovered clues about the king’s nutritional habits by measuring the levels of elements like oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and strontium in the royal skeleton. The king’s backbone shows that he suffered from scoliosis, an abnormal curving of the spine, but the study focused on two teeth (a molar and a premolar) and two bones (a rib and a femur).

“The teeth develop in childhood and don’t change, so from them we can get information about a person’s early years,” explained lead researcher, geochemist Angela Lamb. “Bones are different; they remodel and repair themselves through life — if you break a bone, for example, it can heal. The femur is dense and slow-growing, so it can tell us about the last 10 to 15 years of a person’s life, whereas the rib bone is much more spongy and regenerates much more quickly, so it can reveal information about the last two to three years.”

The tests confirm historical accounts of what the rich and powerful people in Richard III’s days were fond of eating, with high-protein diets that included freshwater fish and wild birds. The chemicals also show that Richard III’s habits became even fancier after he was crowned. Lamb said, “Obviously, Richard was a nobleman beforehand, and so his diet would be reasonably rich already. But once he became king we would expect him to be wining and dining more, banqueting more. Food was a real mark of status in the medieval period.”

Just how specific did the scientists get in nailing down the king’s scrumptious diet? “We have the menu from his coronation banquet and it was very elaborate – lots of wildfowl, including real ‘delicacies’ such as peacock and swan, and fish – carp, pike and so on, which were cultivated in special fishponds,” stated Lamb. Whoa! Who knew our bones contained so much information on what we ate…

Images courtesy of University of Leicester.