Richard III: Two years after his body was found scientists discover how he died

Bludgeoned to death in a fight, it looks like

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For more than 400 years he has been portrayed on stage as a hunchbacked monarch who commanded his court with a withered arm and limp.

However, since that popular image of Richard III was recently debunked, scientists have had another bone to pick with the last Plantagenet king – this time over how exactly he died.

A team at the University of Leicester used forensic techniques to identify the most likely cause of Richard’s death and has now provided a blow-by-blow account of the fatal injuries he sustained during the Battle of Bosworth field on 22 August 1485, which made him the last monarch to die in battle.

Three of the king’s injuries - two to the skull and one to the pelvis - had the potential to cause death quickly, according to the university’s forensic imaging team. They 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 today in The Lancet, 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 said: “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.”

Professor Guy Rutty, study co-author, said: “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.”

The remains of Richard III were found under a car park in Leicester two years ago by archaeologists from the University of Leicester and subsequently identified. Judges at the High Court ruled earlier this year that he should be reinterred in Leicester after a legal wrangling between Leicester Cathedral and University and the Plantagenet Alliance, who wanted the king reinterred at York Minster.

It was revealed earlier this month that the Archbishop of Canterbury is likely to lead mourners at the televised funeral of Richard III, the only English monarch without a marked grave, at Leicester Cathedral next March. The Most Reverend Justin Welby will be joined by the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols and representatives of other faiths to bury the Last Plantagenet King with “dignity and honour”.