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Canadian's DNA helps to identify king's remains

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TORONTO -- The privilege of helping to unravel a historical mystery is surpassed only by the prospect of rehabilitating the image of one of Britain's most maligned monarchs, a Canadian-born descendant of King Richard III said Monday.

Michael Ibsen said he's still trying to process the emotions that surfaced after researchers at the University of Leicester confirmed his DNA had been used to help identify the 15th-century ruler's remains.

Researchers believed they had stumbled on the king's remains last September when an archaeological dig unearthed a skeleton that bore evidence of battle wounds and signs of Richard's famed spinal curvature, but they said genetic tests would be necessary to confirm their theory.

That test was completed with help from Ibsen, who is a direct descendant of the king's older sister, Anne of York, and is therefore a 17th-generation nephew of the late ruler.

Geneticists said Ibsen shares a rare strain of mitochondrial DNA with the historic skeleton, proving "beyond reasonable doubt" the king's body had been found after centuries of speculation.

Ibsen, 55, said playing even a small role in British history left him feeling overwhelmed.

"The geneticists and I, we'd been in the room with the remains of Richard III, which would be extraordinary under any circumstances, but to stand there and realize you have a tangible connection with this king of England, it does play with your mind a bit," Ibsen said in a telephone interview.

The man who William Shakespeare described as a "deformed monster" was not treated any more kindly by historians, who frequently depicted him as a devious schemer who would resort to murder to retain the throne.

He ruled England between 1483 and 1485 during the decades-long battle over the throne known as the Wars of the Roses, which pitted two wings of the ruling Plantagenet dynasty -- York and Lancaster -- against one another.

After his death, historians writing under the victorious Tudors comprehensively trashed Richard's reputation, accusing him of myriad crimes -- most famously, the murder of his two young nephews.

Ibsen said his own research suggests a whole other side to Richard -- that of a thoughtful and just administrator -- has gone overlooked.

-- The Canadian Press, with files from AP

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2013 A8

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