- BBC World, @bbc_ciencia
This is the scene: King Richard III dismounts from his horse, trapped in a bog, and for some reason is not wearing his warrior’s helmet. There, in the mud, several people attack him with swords, daggers and the sharp points of other medieval weapons, causing at least 11 wounds that are marked in his bones.
More than 500 years later, the scientific analysis of his skeletal remains has shown to reconstruct the violent death of the last English king who lost his life on a battlefield, on August 22, 1485.
On that fateful day, say forensic researchers at the University of Leicester in the UK, he was even stabbed after death.
To determine what Ricardo’s brutal end was like, investigators used CT scans to analyze his 500-year-old skeleton, which was found in 2012 under a parking lot in the city of Leicester, after having been missing for five centuries.
The results of this exam, published in the specialized magazine the lancetthey reveal the traces of nine wounds on the skull and two more on the torso of the defeated king.
According to experts, three of these injuries «could cause death quickly.»
«Richard III’s wounds represent an attack sustained or perpetrated by multiple attackers with weapons from the late medieval period,» said Sarah Hainsworth, author of the paper.
«The skull wounds suggest that he was missing his helmet, and the absence of defensive injuries to his arms indicate that he was still wearing armor at the time of his death.»
Down on my knees
Two of the fatal injuries, says Guy Rutty, the team’s pathologist, were struck by a sword, halberd or polearm, or the point of a sharp weapon on the base of the skull.
«Richard III’s head injuries are consistent with some reports from the time of the battle, which suggest that Richard abandoned his horse after it became trapped in a bog and died while engaging his enemies.»
This is consistent with the idea that the victim was «in a prone ulna position (lying face down) or kneeling with head down,» coroners wrote.
Non-fatal injuries include three cuts to the crown of his head that must have torn off much of his scalp.
Also, a dagger or knife went through his face, cutting him from the right cheek to the left.
On the other hand, the investigators saw an injury in the pelvis that appears to have been caused by a sword stuck in the behind. This wound could theoretically have caused lethal bleeding, but it is unlikely to have been the cause of death as the armor protected this part of the body.
Instead, scientists think that this injury and another to a rib – made with a fine dagger – were the product of blows inflicted when the king was already dead, possibly when the body hung limp on top of a horse.
According to investigators, there may have been more soft tissue lacerations that left no imprint on the bones.
Richard III was 32 years old when he died in that fatal quagmire, after a reign of just over two years.
Some chronicles of his time describe him as a good and generous king, but his fame was darkened by the victors, from the Tudor dynasty.
In Shakespeare’s play that bears his name, the king is a hunchbacked, conniving, murderous, power-hungry character.
In reality, and after describing the brutal scene of his death in detail, the remains of the English king will receive a second burial in Leicester Cathedral in March 2015.
Who was Richard III?
- He was born in 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire.
- He was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1483.
- He had one of the shortest reigns in British history: apparently 26 months.
- He was the last English king to be killed in battle, at Bosworth, in 1485.
- The king’s death was the culmination of a long war for the throne that spanned three decades.
- That was the end of the Plantagenet clan dynasty, after three centuries of rule, and the beginning of the Tudors.