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Richard III Suffered Severe Head Wounds in Battle

Analysis of the skeleton revels that he was likely not wearing a helmet when he died

The skeleton of Richard III (University of Leicester/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Since his skeleton was discovered underneath a parking lot two years ago, we’ve learned a lot about the life of Richard III, including that he liked eating (and drinking) well and had a nasty roundworm infestation. But we haven't yet learned much about one of the most obvious questions a skeleton might reveal information about—his death.

Richard III was the last British monarch to die in battle, at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Now, a new study published in the Lancet shows that Richard III suffered some pretty horrendous head injuries in his final moments. 

“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," Guy Rutty, a co-author of the study, said in a statement

The researchers only had the skeleton to work with, so Richard may have suffered other injuries that were not recorded in the bones. The injuries that have been preserved were brutal, though. The scientists noted eleven injuries total, including nine to the skull. A few of these, including the one to his pelvis, are at strange angles, and researchers think that these in particular may have occurred after his death, as his body was being removed from the field of battle. In addition, the skeleton shows no defensive wounds, suggesting that, unlike his royal head, the rest of the king was well-armored. 

The skeleton will be re-buried in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, 2015. 

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