Thursday, 14 March 2013

Final Moments of Richard the Third

            I finally got around to watching a program on the discovery and identification of Richard the Third’s body.

            One part that sticks in my mind was one of the wounds that his skeleton displayed. The front of the pelvis showed evidence of a stabbing wound coming from behind. One scientist voiced the idea that this was a post-mortem humiliation inflicted on the body.

            There is another possible explanation for this wound, however. “Wounds to the fundament” were by no means unknown in medieval warfare. If a mounted knight is struck with a powerful blow from behind he may be sprawled forward, exposing his unarmoured seat. The practicalities of riding a horse mean that the buttocks were seldom defended by anything more substantial than a short skirt of mail. Swiss halberdiers apparently dispatched quite a few knights this way.

            The Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet says that a Welshman struck the death-blow to Richard with a halberd while Richard's horse was stuck in the marshy ground. Richard’s skeleton shows two wounds at the base of the skull, each of which removed a sizable disc of bone. A powerful cleaving weapon such as a halberd would be needed to make these wounds.

            If we put these bits of knowledge together we get a vivid picture of what may have been the King’s last moments alive. Surrounded by Sir William Stanley's men a halberd blow hits the back of his helmet, cutting through to remove a slice of skull. As he is knocked forward perhaps a second blow descends on the back of his head. As his unarmoured backside is revealed another attacker seizes the opportunity and thrusts in with a sword or halberd point.
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