A study of the chemistry of King Richard III’s remains has revealed that he enjoyed fine wine and food, including swan, egret, crane and heron, in his brief reign as England’s last Plantagenet king.
Following the discovery of the King’s skeleton under a Leicester car park in 2012, scientists from the British Geological Survey and the University of Leicester have now conducted the most detailed forensic examination ever undertaken on the medieval monarch – and isotope analysis on his teeth, femur and rib bones (which develop and rebuild at different stages of life) reveal fascinating details about his life.
Richard’s teeth showed that he had moved from his place of birth, Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, by the age of 7. His new location, a place of higher rainfall and older rocks, could possibly be the Welsh Marches.
His femur, which represents an average of 15 years before death, showed that he moved back to eastern England as an adolescent. He was known to have spent several years at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, under the tutelage of his cousin Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick.
His rib, which renews itself more quickly and represents between 2 and 5 years before death (Richard became king 2 years before he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field), revealed a significant change in his diet through increased consumption of the freshwater fish and birds popular at medieval royal banquets. He was also drinking more wine and alcohol, up to 3 litres a day in total.
Dr Angela Lamb, geochemist at the British Geological Survey, and lead author of the study said:
“The chemistry of Richard III’s teeth and bones reveal changes in his geographical movements, diet and social status throughout his life. Your body processes the food you eat and the water you drink and they have chemical signatures in terms of their isotope composition which gets preserved in your teeth and bone.
“The nitrogen isotopes show an increase in the amount of meat and protein they were eating, and also an increase in the amount of fish they were eating. And Richard’s are at the top end of comparable medieval high-status individuals. An increase in wine consumption would explain why he may have had a higher oxygen isotope value at that time. It was a considerable step up from what was his average drinking before.”
The research findings, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, will also be aired on TV in the UK tonight in the documentary ,’Richard III: The New Evidence’.