The recent unearthing of the skeletal remains of England’s Richard III reminds us again that there was a time when leaders who ordered up a battle actually got into the bloody slaughter themselves. Richard, with his crooked back, one shoulder forever higher than the other, was in there hacking his way toward Henry Tudor when he was himself cut down.
The skeletal evidence dug up at Leicester fits with historical accounts and vividly suggests King Richard’s final moments. The Royal Armouries’ Bob Woosnam-Savage has provided a possible scenario based on that evidence. Richard either dismounted or his horse had been cut from under him—all we know for certain is that on horseback he had driven toward Henry in an attempt to kill him and was now on foot, covered in armor and fighting it out because there was nothing else to do. He was surrounded. At some point his armor was pierced, his helmet was torn away and he began to receive blows to his head. If you’ve seen videos of Muammar Gaddafi’s last minute, you have a good picture of what was going on. Richard was cut and battered by pikes, swords and knives. Finally, according to Woosnam-Savage, he was stripped of his armor and repeatedly bashed, including a stab to the buttocks of his now lifeless body. “This last, insulting blow could easily have been delivered to king’s body by an infantryman with a bladed weapon after it had been slung over the back of a horse, ‘with the armes and legges hanging down on both sides’, as he was borne to Leicester.”
Our leaders don’t join their soldiers in battle any more. And it probably wouldn’t reduce the number of wars if they did. But there would be a certain satisfaction in knowing that the person who had ordered the bloody carnage was down there, risking his life, just like the rest.