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Highgate cabinet maker’s DNA identifies car park skeleton of King Richard III

Cabinet maker Michael Ibsen's DNA was used to prove that a skeleton found under Greyfriars car park in Leicester was that of King Richard III. Picture: PA/Gareth Fuller Cabinet maker Michael Ibsen's DNA was used to prove that a skeleton found under Greyfriars car park in Leicester was that of King Richard III. Picture: PA/Gareth Fuller

Thursday, February 7, 2013
5:55 AM

A softly-spoken Highgate cabinet maker has become the vital missing link that finally proved a skeleton exhumed from under a car park in Leicester was the remains of medieval monarch Richard III.

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Dr Turi King from Leicester University gives Michael Ibsen a DNA swab during an archaeological search for the lost grave of Richard III. Picture: PA/Rui VieiraDr Turi King from Leicester University gives Michael Ibsen a DNA swab during an archaeological search for the lost grave of Richard III. Picture: PA/Rui Vieira

Michael Ibsen provided researchers with a swab of DNA from his mouth. This week it conclusively proved the bones buried in a hastily-dug grave in the remains of a Leicester church belonged to the missing monarch.

The 55-year-old, who lives in Highgate West Hill, is a distant royal relative of the king, who was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Mr Ibsen told the Ham&High it was still “difficult to articulate” how he feels about the discovery that he has blue blood as a direct descendent of Richard III’s elder sister, Anne of York.

“I haven’t started strolling around wearing a crown and ordering people around,” he said.

“It will be interesting to talk to my siblings about it as well because I don’t think any of us thought there would be a DNA match. It’s difficult to articulate.”

The monarch’s violent death marked the end of both the War of the Roses and the 331-year rule of the Plantagenet dynasty.

It was long rumoured that his remains had been removed from Leicester’s Greyfriars Church after the dissolution of the monasteries and thrown into the River Soar.

On Monday the identity of the badly-wounded skeleton, found with eight injuries to the skull, was declared to be Richard III “beyond reasonable doubt” by a team at the University of Leicester.

Mr Ibsen was invited to the dig in August and has kept in touch with researchers ever since.

“It was a huge shock,” he said of their discovery. “In the nicest possible way, it was startling and shocking in equal measure.”

In a bizarre coincidence, Mr Ibsen had developed a fascination with the king long before he was discovered in the car park.

“I knew the usual stuff you learn in school,” he said.

“But rather bizarrely I had read a novel about a detective trying to solve the mystery of the Princes in the Tower (the king’s young nephews who were reputedly murdered by him) and I was so fascinated I went to look at the portrait of Richard III that’s hanging in the National Portrait Gallery.”

Mr Ibsen, the king’s 17th generation nephew, was in the habit of visiting the gallery every few months to view the portraits.

He said it will take a while to digest the family connection. Mr Ibsen was a classical musician playing the French horn when he arrived in London in 1986, but decided to re-train as a cabinet maker and has a workshop in Hornsey Road, Islington.

Reflecting on how his profession links him directly to Richard III’s time, when the same skills would have been highly prized, he said: “To me, the archaeology is the most interesting thing. But people were saying to me ‘No, it’s you. You are flesh and blood’. I think they imagined me with wood shavings in my hair.

“But it’s a profound thought. There are some tools that we use today that would be almost exactly the same as those they would have used then, such as the chisel.”

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