Newly released film footage shows "eureka moment" when killer blow to King Richard III was found

By Culture24 Reporter | 13 February 2015

The latest findings from the examination of the Richard III skeleton are revealed in a new film

a photo of two hands examining a skull
Richard III Potential Killer Blow © University of Leicester
He is the most forensically investigated monarch in British history, and now the "eureka moment" when scientists discovered evidence of the fatal blow that dispatched Richard III has been released on film.

The new film footage, released by the University of Leicester, shows the dramatic injury to the base of the skull as well as the inside of the top of the skull. It is part of a package of films charting the scientific and archaeological investigations led by the project team from the University of Leicester.

Among the 26 sequences released in the series is a film showing the moment when Professor Guy Rutty, of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit based at the University of Leicester, found the potential killer blow.

Drawing on 19 years of experience as a Home Office Forensic Pathologist, Professor Rutty examined the skull and linked marks on the vertebra, the smaller of the two wounds to the base of the skull and a mark on the inside of the skull, suggesting that the weapon had been thrust up from the base of Richard’s neck and into his head.

Professor Rutty, who said he approached the examination of the Plantagenet king “as that of any patient”, said: “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.

“It was one of those eureka moments which we will all remember.”

King Richard III died in 1485 in the Battle of Bosworth Field – the last decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses. His remains were found in 2012 following an an archaeological excavation on a Leicester City Council car park using ground-penetrating radar.

Since the confirmation of his identity, in February 2013, a series of findings have been released covering everything from his diet to the manner of his death.

In the forensic examination, marks on the bone were analysed to identify the medieval weapons potentially responsible for the injuries.

Osteologist Dr Jo Appleby, who led the exhumation of the skeleton from the Greyfriars car park in 2012 and was present at the examination, said the major sharp force trauma to the base of the skull “was probably inflicted by a sword or the top spike of a bill or halberd”.

The examination also determined 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,” she explained. “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.”

Modern forensic analysis of the King’s skeletal remains also revealed that three of his injuries had the potential to cause death quickly- two to the skull  and one to the pelvis.

In all, the skeleton revealed 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. The other two injuries that found were to a rib and his pelvis.

Working with the Forensic Pathology Unit and our Department of Engineering, the forensic imaging team used whole body CT scans and micro-CT imaging of injured bones to analyse trauma to the 500-year-old skeleton carefully and determine which of the King’s wounds might have proved fatal.

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More from Culture24's coverage of Richard III:

Gray Friars skeleton is last Plantagenet king, say Leicester team on trail of Richard III

Richard III body infected with roundworms, say University of Leicester archaeologists

Richard III DNA tests to reveal hair, eyes and diseases of the King

Bread Angel creates Richard III food range to celebrate Leicester archaeological triumph

Richard III: Archaeologist Claire Calver on the search for the King's body in Leicester

The DNA of a King: Dr Turi King on the genome sequencing of Richard III

Richard III to be buried in Leicester, High Court rules

Experts see Richard III's battle injuries as infirmary remains help create new skeleton

Richard III skeleton reveals his prodigious alcohol consumption and rich diet

"Compelling" new forensic evidence shows grisly sustained attack on Richard III at Battle of Bosworth

Richard III cortege journey route revealed as Leicester Cathedral prepares to bury body

In Pictures: The archaeology and science which identified King Richard III in Leicester

Leicester Cathedral reveals "distinctive" Richard III tomb "imbued with spirituality"
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