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Nine blows to the head killed Richard III, study finds

Richard III’s final fight at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 left him with 11 wounds, three of which would have been fatal, a new study published the Lancet has found.

Richard III wound - Image credit: The  Lancet

Researchers from the University of Leicester have been analyzing the remains of the English monarch, which were discovered under a car park in Leicester two years ago. The 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 injured bones to analyse trauma to the 500-year-old skeleton carefully, and to determine which of the King’s wounds might have proved fatal. They also analysed tool marks on bone to identify the medieval weapons potentially responsible for his injuries.

The results, published in the article ‘Perimortem trauma in King Richard III: a skeletal analysis’, show that Richard’s skeleton sustained 11 wounds at or near the time of his death—nine of them to the skull, clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting he had removed or lost his helmet, and two to the postcranial skeleton.

Sarah Hainsworth, study author and Professor of Materials Engineering at the University of Leicester explains, “Richard’s injuries represent a sustained attack or an attack by several assailants with weapons from the later medieval period. 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.”

The investigators, led by Dr Jo Appleby of the University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History, surmise that the postcranial injuries, including the potentially fatal one to the pelvis, might have been inflicted after Richard’s death, on the basis that had he been alive he would have been wearing a specific type of armour worn in the late 15th century that would have prevented such wounds.

According to Professor Guy Rutty, study co-author, from the East Midlands Pathology Unit at the University of Leicester, “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. Richard’s head injuries are consistent with some near-contemporary accounts of the battle, which suggest that Richard abandoned his horse after it became stuck in a mire and was killed while fighting his enemies.”

Commenting on the research, Dr Heather Bonney from the Natural History Museum in London, UK, says, “Appleby and colleagues provide a compelling account, giving tantalising glimpses into the validity of the historic accounts of his death, which were heavily edited by the Tudors in the following 200 years. Wherever his remains are again laid to rest, I am sure that Richard III will continue to divide opinion fiercely for centuries to come.”

Richard III skull - Image credit: The  Lancet



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