Researchers at the University of Leicester have found a wound in the interior surface of the cranium belonging to King Richard III. Analysis suggests this was likely the fatal blow that killed the monarch, one delivered by a sword or the top spike of a bill or halberd.

Last year, Leicester scientists confirmed that the remains found under a parking lot in 2012 were truly those of Richard III, the last king of England to die in battle. A forensic analysis showed that Richard died a gruesome death, receiving no less than 11 distinct wounds, nine of them to the skull. The Leicester archaeologists suspect that Richard either lost or removed his helmet during battle, and that he was attacked by several assailants. It's not known which of these injuries was the fatal one, or which were inflicted after his death.

Now, after examining the skull and lined marks on the vertebra (the smaller of the two wounds to the base of the skull), Professor Guy Rutty has concluded that a weapon had been thrust up from the base of Richard's neck and into his head.

"I approached this examination as that of any patient — just because he was a King did not make a difference," said Rutty in a statement. "Everyone is treated the same with the same doctor/patient relationship, the same respect in death and the same level of professional investigation."

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Alongside his role at the University of Leicester, Rutty is a Home office forensic pathologist. He was able to look at the large injury in the base of the skull and, through his 19 years of experience, was able to identify the key injury.

The small traumatic lesion on the interior surface of the cranium was directly opposite the sharp force trauma. The two wounds lined up perfectly with one another, and also with an injury to Richard's first cervical vertebra. Taken together, they indicate the direction of the entry wound and the depth to which the weapon — either a sword or the top spike of a bill or halberd — penetrated the skull.

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"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 realized I had identified the potential lethal injury to King Richard III," said Rutty. "It was one of those eureka moments which Carl Vivian happened to capture on film which we will all remember."

King Richard died at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22nd, 1485. It's possible that a second blow to the head, or an injury to the pelvis, may have also contributed to his death. Indeed, it's difficult to know which wounds were inflicted before and after Richard died.

[Via University of Leicester]

Images: University of Leicester.