A COLCHESTER historian has been a key player in what could turn out to be one of Britain’s most important archaeological discoveries in decades.

Dr John Ashdown-Hill is an expert on King Richard III and it was his book which sparked the search for the body of the infamous hunchback monarch.

Last week archaeologists in Leicester announced they had unearthed a skeleton which could be that of Richard.

Dr Ashdown-Hill, who lives in Manningtree, has res-earched Richard III over more than 20 years.

His book, the Last Days of Richard III, saw him suggest Richard had been buried in the choir of the lost Church of the Grey Friars, in Leicester.

Philippa Langley, of the Richard III Society, lobbied for the excavation of the site, now used for car parking, to be excavated and this led to the discovery of skeletons, including one which could belong to Richard III.

Dr Ashdown-Hill, 63, who studied for his PhD at Essex University , said: “There was a story Henry VIII dug him up when the monasteries were dissolved and threw him in the river.

“In my book, I produced evidence against that theory and said I believed he was still on the Grey Friars site.”

Dr Ashdown-Hill, a medieval monastic expert, travelled to Leicester for the dig and personally removed the excavated bones from the site.

He said: “There was a whole block known as Grey Friars in Leicester and it was obvious to me where the church would have been.

“That area is now covered by three car parks. When they dug the first trench, they found leg bones.

“The bones were found on the first day – on the anniversary of the day Richard III died.”

Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. The skeleton found by the dig had suffered a major trauma to its skull, an injury consistent with a battle wound. A metal cone was found lodged between vertebrae which Dr Ashdown-Hill believes may have been the head of a pike.

The skeleton also has spinal abnormalities consistent with accounts of Richard being a hunchback.

Experts are now trying to confirm the identity of the body, using radio carbon dating and DNA analysis.

Dr Ashdown-Hill spent three years establishing the female bloodline of Richard’s aunt and sister and traced one to the present day, which could be used to confirm identity.

He added: “When I looked into the grave, I felt moved.

“I’m pleased with what has happened – whatever the outcome.”