Essex/Suffolk: Ex-high school teacher finds Richard III
08:00 06 February 2013
A FORMER Suffolk teacher has helped rewrite history by playing a key role in one of the most important archeological discoveries of our time.
Dr John Ashdown-Hill, from Lawford, Essex, taught languages at Farlingaye High School, in Woodbridge, before embarking on a journey that would lead to the remains of King Richard III.
After losing the hearing in one ear, the 63-year-old left a career in teaching to advance his knowledge and enthusiasm for history, gaining a PhD in the subject at the University of Essex.
In 2004, Dr Ashdown-Hill’s interest in Richard III, and his reputation as a usurper, led to him to a skeleton found in Belgium, thought to belong to the king’s sister, Margaret of York.
A DNA sample turned up a direct descendent in Canada who would eventually help identify bones found in a council car park in Leicester as those of the notorious king.
Dr Ashdown-Hill said: “The discovery in Belgium gradually provided more and more evidence which opened a lot of new doors.
“An all-female line was traced from the sister to a lady in Canada who very sadly died in 2008. We had become friendly and I wish she had been around to see the discovery but her son, Michael Ibsen, gave us the most recent sample.
“There was a well-established story that Richard’s bones had been tipped into the local river - but that story seemed to have come from a 17th Century map-maker who had been looking in the wrong place.”
Dr Ashdown-Hill then found the financial accounts of Henry VII detailing money set aside for Richard’s tomb at Leicester’s Choir of Greyfriars church.
Working with the Richard III Society and archaeologists at the University of Leicester, he located the site of Greyfriars - now a car park belonging to the city council - where an unearthed skeleton’s DNA matched that of Mr Ibsen.
Dr Ashdown-Hill, author of The Last Days of Richard III, hopes the discovery might help change public perception of a much-maligned king, accused of locking his nephews in the Tower of London and stealing the throne. He said: “There is a lot more work to do on Richard III. I think history needs to be rewritten in this case.
“Shakespere plays a big role in it, but he wasn’t trying to write history - he just wanted a good story. He had to use the material available at the end of a Tudor dynasty that ousted Richard.”
Dr Ashdown-Hill, who has written extensively on Richard III and also published a book on mediaeval Colchester, will not stop researching as a result of the discovery.
In fact, he plans to investigate a set of bones in the West Country, thought to be those of Richard’s brother the Duke of Clarence, who was supposedly drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.
Dr Ashdown-Hill even hopes to uncover the truth about allegations of murder against Richard III by tracing the DNA sequences of Richard’s nephews from a strand of Henry VIII’s sister’s hair.