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Tributes paid to leading historian instrumental in finding Richard III’s remains

PUBLISHED: 07:21 24 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:07 24 May 2018

Tributes have been paid to Dr John Ashdown-Hill, who died on May 18 Picture: DAVID HIGGLETON/UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX

Tributes have been paid to Dr John Ashdown-Hill, who died on May 18 Picture: DAVID HIGGLETON/UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX

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Tributes have been paid to a leading Essex historian who was instrumental in the discovery of Richard III’s remains.

Memorial stone for Richard III. Dr Ashdown-Hill was instrumental in finding the king's remains Picture: www.johnashdownhill.comMemorial stone for Richard III. Dr Ashdown-Hill was instrumental in finding the king's remains Picture: www.johnashdownhill.com

Dr John Ashdown-Hill, who lived in Lawford, died on May 18 following a battle with motor neurone disease.

Dr Ashdown-Hill, who was a former Stowmarket, Ipswich and Colchester resident, was awarded an MBE in 2015 after helping to spearhead the campaign which eventually found the former monarch’s remains under a Leicester car park in 2012.

He was also made an honorary graduate of the University of Essex in 2014 for his role in the Looking for Richard project, a story which attracted media attention around the world.

The prolific historian completed his MA in linguistics and PhD in medieval history at the University of Essex, and was a popular mentor for many.

Left to right: David Johnson, Wendy Johnson, Philippa Langley and John Ashdown-Hill Picture: www.johnashdownhill.comLeft to right: David Johnson, Wendy Johnson, Philippa Langley and John Ashdown-Hill Picture: www.johnashdownhill.com

He was the author of many books on late medieval English history with a focus on the House of York and Richard III.

Professor Alison Rowlands, from the history department at the University of Essex, said Dr Ashdown-Hill had a great passion for solving historical mysteries.

“I was extremely sad to hear the news of John Ashdown-Hill’s death,” she said.

“John was a prolific author, a leading historian of the Yorkist dynasty, and a real gentleman, who combined a genuine gentleness of manner with an immense enthusiasm for the solving of historical mysteries.

“This enthusiasm was best exemplified in the absolutely pivotal role that John played in finding – and confirming the identity – of the remains of King Richard III in 2012.

“Without John’s research into the fate of the King’s body after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and into the mitochondrial DNA of Richard’s descendants, it is unlikely that this major discovery could have been made.

“John was also a great supporter of our local history activities and twice gave our annual Dudley White Local History Lecture – his 2013 lecture was so popular that the lengthy queue for admission looked more like that for a pop concert than a history talk.

“With his death we have lost not only a leading scholar of the House of York but also a longstanding friend of our history department. He will be greatly missed.”

Dr Ashdown-Hill was determined to keep working on his final book – the mystery surrounding the Princes in the Tower – which will be published later this year.

He also published a collection of poems ‘The Poetry of John Ashdown-Hill’ just days before his death.

Philippa Langley, who worked closely alongside Dr Ashdown-Hill in the Looking for Richard project, said: “It’s quite devastating to lose John.

“He was one of the most exciting historians we had, particularly in the Wars of the Roses period.

“He was a truth seeker who used forensic material to expose mythology whenever he could. The thing about history is that people tell the same thing over and over again and it becomes the story. John challenged the story.

“John’s discovery of Richard III’s mtDNA sequence was so important in the search for the king. His work on Eleanor Talbot – the secret queen – has also changed everything we know about how Richard III came to the throne.

“It gives me comfort to know that he finished the final three books he wanted to write.

“I hope our young historians can learn from his forensic analysis legacy.”

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