Rediscovering Richard III: Greyfriars Skeleton Revealed as the Last Plantagenet


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The Death of Richard III

The body had 10 wounds: 8 on the skull and 2 elsewhere. Leicester University’s Department of Engineering obtained micro computed X-rays of the skull in order to work with high-resolution images of the head injuries. A wound found on the top of the head has now been confirmed as a non-fatal direct blow from a weapon, rather than from the impact of the helmet. Two of the other head wounds were potentially fatal.

A large wound at the base of the skull at the back represents a ‘slice’ cut off by a bladed weapon,” said Dr. Appleby. “We cannot say for certain exactly what weapon caused this injury, but it is consistent with something similar to a halberd. A smaller injury also on the base of the skull was caused by a bladed weapon which penetrated through the inner surface of the skull opposite the entry point, a distance of 10.5 cm. Both these injuries would have caused almost instant loss of consciousness and death would have followed quickly afterwards.”

Several other wounds on the body seem to have been made by a dagger rather than a sword or halberd. They include marks on the cheekbone, consistent with the cheek being pierced, a cut along the lower jaw, a cut along the ribs and an injury to the right hip bone consistent with a stab wound in the buttocks.

In Dr. Appleby’s opinion, these are “humiliation wounds“- deliberate injuries inflicted on the dead body of a defeated enemy. “These two wounds [on the body] are also likely to have been inflicted after the armor had been removed from the body,” said Dr. Appleby. “Examples of such ‘humiliation injuries’ are well known from the historical and forensic literature and historical sources have suggested Richard’s body was mistreated.”

King Richard’s Ignoble Burial

From the evidence of his grave, it appears that Richard III was buried unclothed, without a shroud or coffin. He was lowered into a hurriedly dug pit feet first. The grave was not long enough to contain him so his upper body had to be bent to fit and his head was slightly elevated. The King’s hands were not placed on either side of his body as is usual in medieval burials, but with the right crossed over the left. Despite no evidence of rope, this suggests that his hands were tied at the time of burial.

Putting Richard III to Rest

In early 2014, the body of Richard III will, in the words of Philipa Langley of the Richard III Society, lie at last in a “lasting and dignified sanctuary” in Leicester cathedral. But the Greyfriar’s skeleton, a mystery for so long, calls much of what has been written about the king into question. Far from being a small hunchback, he was tall and graceful. Could it be that his character has been similarly misrepresented?

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