The Swift and Brutal End of Richard III

The Swift And Brutal End Of Richard III

The 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field was the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses.

The Swift and Brutal End of Richard III

The old story went that after Richard III, the last English king to die in battle, was killed, his remains were thrown into the River Soar at the nearby Bow Bridge.

But in August 2012 a search began which hoped to debunk that myth. 

The archaeological excavation that followed, led by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services and Leicester City Council, not only disproved that notion but also gave us a vivid idea of how the king most likely died.

Richard III facial reconstruction
A facial reconstruction of Richard III from Liverpool John Moores University

The 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field was the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses, resulting in the death of Richard III, the last king of the Plantaganet dynasty, and the establishment of Henry VII as England's new Tudor monarch.

On the first day of excavation, archaeologists found the skeleton of a man in his thirties who had suffered severe injuries.

The age of the bones at death matched the known age Richard would have been when killed at Bosworth field, and were highly consistent with contemporary accounts of the king.

Injury 1 - Large hole underneath back of skull


Take a look below at Leicester University's initial examination of the damage to Richard III's skeleton:


Scientific analysis of the skeleton showed that Richard was probably killled either by a blow from the top spike of a large bladed medieval weapon such as a bill or halberd (see below), which cut off the back of his skull and exposed his brain, or by a thrust from a sword that drove all the way through into his brain. 

Halberds & halberd-like weapons
Weapons similar to the one that most likely killed Richard III

There were also signs that "humiliation injuries", such as a substantial stab wound on the right buttock, had been inflicted after death as a form of revenge. It's generally accepted that this would have been after Richard's naked body was tied to the back of a horse, providing a target for those nearby. 

More: Robert The Bruce's Decisive Victory At Bannockburn

Professor Sarah Hainsworth, Professor of Material Engineering at Leicester University, said: 

“Using modern forensic examination, we have discovered that Richard’s skeleton sustained 11 wounds at or near the time of his death – nine of them to the skull, which were clearly inflicted in battle. The injuries to the head suggest he had either removed or lost his helmet.

"It would have probably been quite quick," she continued. "But, I would imagine, nonetheless quite frightening.

"He was surrounded, probably by a number of people with medieval arms. He was a warrior, he was a knight, he was a trained fighter, but he would have seen other people die on the battlefield, so he would be very aware of, if you like, what was in store for him."

His body was then taken to Greyfriars Friary Church in Leicester and buried in a simple grave, before being lost after the friary's dissolution in 1538 and subsequent demolition. 

Contemporary accounts, meanwhile, bear up these findings.  

Richard III & Queen Anne stained glass
A stained glass portrayal of Richard III and Queen Anne in Cardiff Castle

Richard is said to have fought bravely and well, prior to his death - unhorsing a well-known jousting champion, killing the future king Henry VII's standard bearer and coming within a sword's length of him before being surrounded.

A Welshman is said to have delivered the killer blow with a halberd whilst Richard's white courser was stuck in marshy ground, with the blows said to be so violent that the king's helmet was driven into his skull.

Richard III in the grave


But it's not just the injuries Richard suffered in battle that tell us more about the King.

One unusual physical feature of the skeleton was a severe curvature of its spine, attributed to adolescent-onset scoliosis, which would have probably made Richard's right shoulder visibly higher than his left and also would have made him appear shorter. It would not, however, have prevented him from having an active lifestyle, or caused a hunchback.

The spine and ribs


He was also found to have been infested with (Ascaris lumbricoides) roundworm parasites at the time of his death, which can grow up to 35cm (see below). 

Roundworm can either be spread by the contamination of food during preparation by a person with dirty hands, or the use of human faeces as a crop fertiliser.

Interestingly, there was no evidence that he had tapeworm, possibly because servants ensured his food was thoroughly cooked, preventing the transmission of these parasites.

But What About The Missing Feet?


One aspect of the discovery of the king's body that stirred up controversy was the fact his feet were missing.

The Richard III Coalition has called for an investigation, claiming they could have been hacked off after the battle of Bosworth or lost or destroyed when the remains were removed.

Leicester University say, however, examination of the bones and the grave site show that his feet were not chopped off near the time of his death and that they vanished long after he had been buried.

They suspect since there was considerable later disturbance in the vicinity of the site of the grave, it is most likely that later gardening or building activities were responsible for the disappearance of his feet.


Ultimately, Richard III was reburied on March 26 two years ago, at a service attended by the Bishop of Leicester, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and Countess of Wessex.

Well-known actor Benedict Cumberbatch, a distant relation who portrayed the king in 'The Hollow Crown' TV series, was also present and read a poem.

Find out below, meanwhile, how military personnel were involved in the old king's reburial...

Military Personnel Play Key Role In Reburial of Richard III

With thanks to Leicester University - click here for a look at some of the photos from their excavation of Richard III's remains.