Richard III was the last king of England to die in battle. But as a new forensic analysis of his remains shows, he didn't just die in battle — he had the living tar beat out of him. Here's how this king met his maker on that fateful day in 1485.
According to historical accounts, Richard abandoned his horse during the battle after it became stuck in a mire. He was then brutally attacked and killed while fighting his enemies. But the exact details of his death are largely unknown, at least until now.
A forensic imaging team, working with the Forensic Pathology Unit and the Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester, used whole body CT scans and micro-CT imaging of Richard's preserved bones to analyse trauma to the skeleton, and to figure out which of his wounds were fatal. In addition, the team analysed tool marks on bone to identify the types of medieval weapons used during the attack.
It appears that the King sustained no less than 11 distinct wounds at or near the time of his death. Nine of them were to the skull, likely inflicted during the battle. This suggests he had either removed or lost his helmet. The other two wounds were to the postcranial skeleton (i.e., anything below the cranium).
"Richard's injuries represent a sustained attack or an attack by several assailants with weapons from the later medieval period," noted study author Sarah Hainsworth in a press release. "The wounds to the skull suggest that he was not wearing a helmet, and the absence of defensive wounds on his arms and hands indicate that he was otherwise still armoured at the time of his death."
Three of his injuries had the potential to cause death quicky — two to the skull and one to the pelvis.
Reconstructed right hemi-pelvis and sacrum Post-mortem CT with Osirix. Red line shows estimated direction of sharp-force trauma.
Facial skeleton digital photograph; note the penetrating injury to the maxilla (the bones forming the upper jaw and palate of the mouth).
Inferior aspect with a micro-CT inset of the penetrating injury, with associated inner table injury.
Interestingly, the archaeologists speculate that the postcranial injuries may have been inflicted after Richard's death. They suspect this because had he been alive he would have been wearing a specific type of armour worn in the late 15th century that would've prevented such wounds.
"The most likely injuries to have caused the King's death are the two to the inferior aspect of the skull — a large sharp force trauma possibly from a sword or staff weapon, such as a halberd or bill, and a penetrating injury from the tip of an edged weapon," noted study co-author Guy Rutty. "Richard's head injuries are consistent with some near-contemporary accounts of the battle."
A nice video summary put together by The Lancet:
Read the entire study at The Lancet: "Perimortem trauma in King Richard III: a skeletal analysis." Supplementary information via University of Leicester (1) (2).