King RichardOn 4 February it was finally confirmed that the skeleton found under a Leicester car park belonged to Richard Plantagenet, Richard III, the monster and child slayer of popular mythology and Shakespearian lore. What fascinated me in all the reports was the way the scientists had been able to reconstruct Richard III’s death (the last English king to die in battle and the only one since Harold at Hastings in 1066). The accounts echo what was already known about the 22 August 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field, for whatever else he might have been, Richard III was a brave and audacious fighter. Though his troops ostensibly outnumbered those of Henry Tudor, he was the victim of several strategic betrayals and the death of his good friend John Howard had demoralised him and, more importantly, his troops. Sensing impending disaster, Richard decided on a brave initiative which almost succeeded. He rode straight at the heart of the enemy’s troops. His reasoning was almost certainly that they would not be expecting such a rapier lightning attack and that if he could get to Henry and kill him there would no longer be any point to the battle. He very nearly made it, unhorsing a well-known jousting champion, killing Henry’s standard bearer and getting to within a sword’s length of Henry himself before he was surrounded and massacred by his own treacherous troops. He had been riding a white courser but was unhorsed by a stretch of marshy land. Had this not occurred, he might just have succeeded. As The Economist put it: ‘Unhorsed in the mêlée, fighting like fury with his helmet off, he was killed either by a sword-thrust right through his brain, or by a halberd-blow that sliced off the back of his skull. More dagger blows to his head were inflicted once he was dead, and as a parting shot a knife was plunged in his buttocks as his naked body, slung over a saddle, was carried from the field.’