King Richard III died painfully on battlefield

LONDON — England’s King Richard III might well have lost his kingdom for a horse.

The reviled king suffered nearly a dozen injuries on the battlefield, but the fatal blows were probably only sustained after he had to abandon his horse, according to a new paper.

Since the skeleton of the 15th-century king was discovered under a parking lot in central England in 2012, scientists have done numerous studies, including an examination of his twisted spine that led Shakespeare to label him a hunchback. In the latest research, published Wednesday in the journal Lancet, scientists used computer scans and other methods to analyze the king’s skeletal wounds.

“Richard was probably in quite a lot of pain at the end,” said Sarah Hainsworth, a professor of materials engineering at the University of Leicester and one of the study authors. She said the king was most likely attacked by numerous assailants after dismounting from his horse, which got stuck in a marsh.

Richard’s skeleton showed evidence of 11 injuries from weapons including daggers, swords and a long metal pole with an axe and hook that was used to pull knights off their horses. “Medieval battle was bloody and brutal,” she said, noting one of the skull injuries showed a sword had pierced his head.

The nine injuries Richard suffered to his head prove the king somehow lost or took off his helmet during the battle at Bosworth Field, against Henry Tudor, on Aug. 22, 1485. He was the last English monarch to die in battle.

Even if Richard’s injuries had been treatable, it was highly unlikely his rivals would have shown him mercy, said Steven Gunn, an associate professor of history at Oxford University, who was not part of the research.

“A live ex-king is just an embarrassment,” he said.

Gunn also said it was significant there were no attempts to disfigure Richard. “Having evidence that the real Richard III is dead is very useful,” he said. “You don’t want somebody popping up somewhere later claiming to be the real king.”

Hainsworth said the wounds in Richard’s skeleton match historical accounts that he fought until the very end.

“This doesn’t tell us anything about what kind of king he was or the controversy surrounding his nephews,” she said, referring to rumors that Richard murdered his two nephews to protect his throne. “Whatever else people think about him, he fought bravely until he died.”

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