Year in Review: Slain king’s bones dug up

Richard III’s skeleton reveals fatal wounds

BROKEN BONES  King Richard III’s bones show that severe scoliosis curved his spine. Of the 10 wounds found on his remains, either of two on his skull could have been fatal.

Univ. of Leicester


It was reported 528 years late, but the top news from 1485 seems to be that King Richard III may have been killed by a blade thrust upward into his skull or an axe-whack to the back of his head.

Researchers at the University of Leicester in England performed the autopsy on the slain king after an excavation in one of the city’s parking lots unearthed parts of Grey Friars Church, where he was buried. A genetic analysis confirmed the skeleton’s identity; a descendant on the king’s mother’s side possesses mitochondrial DNA matching the victim’s (SN: 3/9/13, p. 14).

Forensic details revealed by the skeleton generally conformed to the historical record. The well-preserved skeleton showed Richard to be a slight man with scoliosis — his spine curved like a question mark — though he wasn’t quite “the foul bunch-back’d toad” that Shakespeare described. Richard’s scoliosis would have reduced his height and caused one shoulder to stand higher than the other.

Richard’s violent death occurred at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485. A few days later he was dumped into a hastily dug grave at the church in Leicester. The position of the skeleton’s hands indicates they were tied at burial. The researchers discovered 10 wounds, several apparently inflicted after death.

Two of the wounds had the potential to be fatal. One gaping wound in the back of his head may have been from an axelike bladed pole known as a halberd. The other was caused by a blade that penetrated the skull at the base.

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