Richard III killed by skull and pelvis injuries – but mysteries remain about his death

The circumstances of Richard III’s death remain unexplained, according to an expert historian, despite new research that suggests the former king was killed by two blows to the head and one to his pelvis

Battle of Bosworth (Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

Forensic teams at the University of Leicester today announced that Richard suffered 11 injuries before his death at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, three of which may have been fatal.

The researchers, who used techniques including CT scanning, concluded that the king was not wearing a helmet when he died. However, the absence of defensive wounds on Richard’s arms and hands suggests he was still otherwise armoured, the team believe, meaning the potentially fatal pelvis injury was probably inflicted post mortem.

But historian and politician Chris Skidmore told History Extra that the findings fail to explain the final moments of the last Plantagenet king.

Skidmore, the author of The Lives of Richard III, due to be published next year, said: “The findings do not present any new information. We have known that Richard suffered from two significant wounds to his head since he was unearthed in 2012, including having the back of his skull sheared off and a sword struck through his brain which reached the inside of his skull – the specifics I detailed in my book Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors.

“The scientific confirmation of the wounds and detailed research indicate that Richard was not wearing a helmet, but we need to explain why this was the case given that all sources point to Richard riding into his final charge with a helmet topped with a crown.

“The wounds to Richard’s jaw demonstrate that he had his helmet forcibly removed, so what we are in fact looking at is not a death as a result of battle injuries, but an execution of a king – a highly unusual feature of medieval battle.

“The final moments of Richard III, and the consequences of those moments, still need to be explained.”

Richard III was killed at the battle of Bosworth, the last significant clash of the Wars of the Roses, on 22 August 1485. His remains were discovered underneath a Leicester car park in 2012.

The University of Leicester’s forensic report, published in The Lancet, says Richard III’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”.

It continues: “Although we cannot establish the order in which the injuries were received from the skeleton, we can make some interpretation on the basis of what is known of medieval armour.

“The injuries represent either a sustained attack or an attack by several assailants. None of the wounds to the skull is consistent with an individual wearing a helmet of the type worn in the late 15th century, suggesting that Richard had either lost his helmet or it had been removed, forcibly or otherwise, before the injuries to the skull were sustained….

“… The fact that the face is not more completely destroyed might relate to the need to display Richard’s corpse after the battle, which was done to reduce the chances of future pretenders claiming the throne in Richard’s name.”

To read the report, click here.

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