Scientists Say King Richard III Was Infected With Roundworms

Posted on September 4, 2013

Richard III University of Leicester image


Scientists from the University of Cambridge and the University of Leicester say Richard III suffered from roundworm, which was a very common ailment during the period of the King's rule over England from 1483 to 1485. It is still common today, particularly in countries with tropical climates. The findings were reported in The Lancet in a report called, The Intestinal Parasites of King Richard III.

The King's body was discovered in 2012. The researchers say in a release that they used a powerful microscope to examine soil samples taken from the skeleton's pelvis and skull, as well as from the soil surrounding the grave. Multiple roundworm eggs were found in the soil samples taken from the pelvis area soil sample, which is where the Richard III's intestines would have been. There were no eggs in the skull soil samples and very few eggs in the soil surrounding the grave, which the researchers say suggests the King had a geniune roundworm infection.

Dr. Piers Mitchell, of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, UK and lead researchers of the study, says, "Our results show that Richard was infected with roundworms in his intestines, although no other species of intestinal parasite were present in the samples we studied. We would expect nobles of this period to have eaten meats such as beef, pork and fish regularly, but there was no evidence for the eggs of the beef, pork or fish tapeworm. This may suggest that his food was cooked thoroughly, which would have prevented the transmission of these parasites."

Roundworms infect humans when contaminated food or water is consumed. The eggs hatch into larvae after eaten. The larvae then make their way to the lungs where they mature. After the larvae mature they crawl up the airways to the throat where they are swallowed and delivered to the intestines where they can grow to up to a foot long.

Simon Brooker, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told BBC News that the roundworm infection "would have been somewhat of a nuisance rather than having had any severe consequences."

The roundworms did not factor in Richard III's death. He was killed by a halberd in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field.