Shakespeare may have a lot to answer for in his characterisation of Richard III, the last English King to die on the battlefield.
It turns out that the King wasn’t a hunchback, according to scientists investigating Richard’s skeleton which was found in 2012 under a car park.
A 3-D model of Richard III’s spine gives the complete picture of the king’s scoliosis, a sideways curvature, for the first time.
You can see it for yourself here.
The visualisation reveals how the king’s spine had a curve to the right but also a degree of twisting, resulting in a spiral shape.
Richard III ruled England from 1483-1485 and there are various historical and literary references to him as “crook-backed” or “hunch-back’d”.
Shakespeare’s play, which portrayed the King as a villain, was written about 100 years after Richard was killed in battle with the rebel claimant Henry Tudor at Bosworth.
The latest analysis, published in the medical journal The Lancet, reveals that the king’s condition would have had a noticeable but small effect on his appearance.
Richard’s scoliosis was unlikely to have been inherited and it probably appeared sometime after he was 10 years old.
According to study author Dr Piers Mitchell of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge:
“The physical deformity produced by Richard’s scoliosis was probably slight as he had a well-balanced curve of the spine. His trunk would have been short relative to the length of his limbs, and his right shoulder a little higher than the left. However, a good tailor to adjust his clothing and custom-made armour could have minimised the visual impact of this.”
The moderate extent of Richard’s scoliosis is unlikely to have resulted in any impaired tolerance to exercise from reduced lung capacity.
Study co-author Jo Appleby, Lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology at the University of Leicester, said: “There is no evidence to suggest Richard would have walked with an overt limp, as his curve was well balanced and the bones of the lower limbs symmetric and well formed.”
History is often unkind to the losers of battles. Richard’s place in history would have been influenced by the victors, the Tudor Kings of England.
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