Richard III’s death blow revealed?

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002 Richard III Potential Killer Blow - University of Leicester
Examining the large injury to the base of Richard III’s skull. Image: University of Leicester.

Richard III’s life was ended by a brutal thrust into the back of his neck, which penetrated so far into his head that it left a dent on the inside of his skull, University of Leicester experts  suggest.

The sequence of wounds  was identified by  Professor Guy Rutty of East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, during osteological analysis of the 15th century king’s remains, which were rediscovered beneath a Leicester car park in 2012.

Now new film footage revealing the moment of this discovery has been released for the first time, captured  by University video producer Carl Vivian who is chronicling the key events in the Discovery, Science and Reburial of the last Plantagenet king.


The video shows Professor Rutty carrying out an initial examination of trauma to the skeleton, working with osteologist Dr Jo Appleby, who led the exhumation of Richard III’s remains.

She said: ‘Following the identification of a major sharp force trauma to the base of the skull, which was probably inflicted by a sword or the top spike of a bill or halberd, we were interested to determine the angle of the blow. During filming, Professor Rutty noted a small traumatic lesion on the interior surface of the cranium, directly opposite the sharp force trauma.

‘Careful examination showed that the two injuries lined up with one another, and also with an injury to Richard’s first cervical vertebra. The combination of all three injuries provided evidence for the direction of the injury and also the depth to which the weapon had penetrated the skull.’

A small wound on the inside of Richard III's skull, caused when a blade was thrust into the back of his neck, up into his head. Image: University of Leicester.
A small wound on the inside of Richard III’s skull, caused when a blade was thrust into the back of his neck, up into his head. Image: University of Leicester.

Professor Rutty added: ‘The key to this sequence is that alongside my role at the University of Leicester, I am a Home office forensic pathologist. Thus I was able to look at the large injury in the base of the skull and, through experience, I was able to identify the key injury.

‘Using the specialist lighting equipment we have in the forensic mortuary at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, which was key to the examination, I then was able to put the three injuries together on pathological grounds and we all realised I had identified the potential lethal injury to King Richard III.’

For more information on the discovery of the king’s remains, see CA 272.

Information on how DNA analysis confirmed his identity, and  details of the insights into his life and death gained through examination of his bones, were published in CA 277.

You can read our online coverage of the search for Richard III, and the subsequent scientific research, here.



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