02/20/2013 12:30 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2013

Did a Poet Accurately Record Richard III's Death?

If you know any literary account of Richard III's death in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, you almost certainly know Shakespeare's. The Bard imagined the desperate final moments of the bloody king in a passage that concludes with one of his most famous lines:

Slave, I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die:
I think there be six Richmonds in the field;
Five have I slain to-day instead of him.
A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

But the examination of Richard III's recently discovered body is lending credence to another poet's account. Guto'r Glyn, a Welsh poet of Richard III's era, describes the king's death in his celebration of the exploits of a Welsh warlord named Rhys ap Thomas, an ally of the future King Henry VII. In this excerpt from Glyn's poem, translated in a scholarly article by Emyr Wyn Jones, the "heraldic ravens" signify Rhys and the "boar" signifies Richard:

the heraldic ravens, prepared the victory
King Henry conquered the field,
through the strength of our master
Killed the boar, he shaved his head.

Experts previously took this mention of the king's head being "shaved" as a figurative description, but we now know that it may, in fact, be quite literal: forensic evidence indicates that the king was, in fact, scalped. Professor Dafydd Johnston of the University of Wales sees this as an indication that Glyn knew the real story. He gave details to the BBC:

"It looks like Guto'r Glyn had the story from a Welsh soldier who witnessed it or may have even done the deed himself. We tend to think poets were exaggerating, but they were very often giving eyewitness accounts."

And there is more evidence for Rhys' involvement. Most notably, we know that he was ceremoniously knighted on the battlefield for his actions. An excerpt from 'The Life of Sir Rhys ap Thomas," written by one of the knight's descendents, details another piece of evidence:

Our Welch tradition says that Rice ap Thomas slew Richard manfullie fighting with him hand to hand; and we have one strong argument in defence of our tradition, to prove that he was the man who, in all likelihood, had don the deede, for from that time forward, the Earle of Richmond as long as he lived did ever honour him with the title of Father Rice and therefore, we may, probably, conjecture that eyther Rice ap Thomas (as the speech goes) slew Richard, or else, without doubt, he performed some meritoriouse peece of service in that place, which made the Earle give soe honourable an addition to his name.

We know for certain that there was just one King Richard on the field that day, and he did not survive "the hazard of the die." But it looks possible that in Glyn's poetry some detail of the king's gruesome death, at least, might just have made it.