Richard III's skeleton

Richard III's suspected skeleton © University of Leicester

Blow-by-blow account of Richard III’s final moments

The details of Richard III’s bloody battlefield death have been revealed for the first time.

Broken bones and weapon marks consistent with historical accounts of Richard III’s death have been identified on the skeleton suspected to be the remains of the medieval monarch.

Researchers from the University of Leicester used CT scanning to piece together the king’s final moments at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

Among his injuries were several blows to the head, which suggest that Richard lost his helmet near the end of the battle. The blows were inflicted from above, indicating that he was kneeling with his neck bent forward before he died. 

Adding insult to injury

The injuries were compared to those on skeletons of similar age from other medieval battles and were found to be consistent with weapons used at the time.

There were also several injuries to the body, including a long stab wound through the right buttock. Scientists believe that they were probably inflicted after his death as the armour he wore during battle would have defended against such injuries.

This is in line with historical accounts that describe how Richard III’s naked body was slung over a horse after his death and subjected to further injuries.

Missing pieces of the puzzle

The findings are published today in the journal The Lancet. Museum forensic anthropologist Dr Heather Bonney said that the authors provide a 'compelling account' of the king’s fatal injuries.

'[The authors give] tantalising glimpses into the validity of the historic accounts of his death, which were heavily edited by the Tudors in the following 200 years,' she wrote in The Lancet.

However, she says that drawing definitive conclusions from the analysis of trauma and its effects on the body can be difficult, even in the recently deceased, and especially on skeletons lacking soft tissue.

'The interpretation of traumatic injuries in archaeological remains is particularly challenging, and should always be approached with a degree of caution, particularly when the remains are those of a prominent historical figure,' said Dr Bonney.

Controversial figure

The skeleton now referred to as Richard III’s was excavated from beneath a car park in Leicester on the former site of the Church of the Greyfriars in 2012.

Many experts believe that the remains are those of the monarch, based on evidence such as the skeleton’s physical deformity, which matches accounts of Richard III’s twisted spine, and the nature of the grave and burial site, which fit with historical details of his final resting place.

Researchers at the University of Leicester have indicated that they have DNA evidence proving that the remains are Richard III's - they have matched the skeleton's DNA with the DNA of a living relative in the king's maternal family line - but have yet to officially publish their results.

'It appears somewhat unorthodox to publish the analysis of the remains before unequivocally identifying them,' Dr Bonney said of the researchers’ study of the king’s battle wounds.

'Nevertheless, if and when the DNA results are confirmed, Richard III will remain a controversial figure for centuries to come.'