Before He Died, Richard III Lived Large

Bone chemistry sheds light on the monarch’s shifting diet throughout his brief life

A typical 15th century banquet. Photo: Heritage Images/Corbis

Richard III was only 32 years old when he was struck down at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. But according to new research, the King of England at least enjoyed some good eating throughout his life—especially in the few years leading up to his death. 

Scientists from the British Geological Survey and the University of Leicester analyzed Richard III's teeth, his femur and his ribs to see what they could reveal about the monarch's diet, reports. They used isotope analysis to identify chemical signatures that correspond with certain foods and geographic locations. 

His rib—which has the fastest renewal rate and therefore the most recent isotopic signature—showed that he led a pretty fancy lifestyle in the two to five years preceding his death. First of all, he drank. Since historical records showed that Richard had stayed in one place at the end of his life, the researchers attributed a change in the oxygen isotypes in his bones—usually a sign of geographical relocation—to drinking. They concluded, LiveScience writes, "that about a quarter of the oxygen deposited in Richard's bones came from wine."

And he ate well. After he became king, the scientists found, his diet changed significantly. Now he was eating freshwater fish and wild birds. If Richard III's banquets were anything like other medieval feasts researchers know about, adds, then those festivities most likely included wild birds such as swans, cranes, herons and egrets. 

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