History, they say, is written by the winners and if you want proof positive of this truism you need look no further than the treatment meted out to poor old Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings who met his untimely end on the battle field of Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485. The Tudors, who established their dynasty following the battle, had no less a propagandist than William Shakespeare who put it about that Dicky was a deformed hunchback and that is our image of the unfortunate monarch.
Until a couple of years ago the whereabouts of Richard’s body was unknown. However, excavations at a municipal car park in Leicester led to the discovery of a pile of bones. Using state of the art technology scientists have established beyond reasonable doubt that the holder of a long-term municipal parking season ticket was none other than the last of the Plantagenets. There has, subsequently, been a battle royal fought out in the courts – grim-visaged war, you might say – as to where the bones should be reinterred but that sorry saga should not detain us.
What is more interesting is that the identification of the bones has enabled scientists to run tests to establish the precise extent, if any, of the king’s deformities. The results have just been published in the medical journal, the Lancet, and fascinating reading they make too.
The conclusion is that the monarch’s disfigurement was minimal to the observer. The presence of a sideways curvature of the spine which is described by the medicos as well-balanced meant that his head and neck would have been straight, not tilted to one side. His torso was unquestionably short and out of proportion to the length of his arms and legs and his right shoulder would have appeared higher than his left. The researchers opine that a good tailor or armourer – and we must assume that as the monarch of the realm Dicky had access to these – would have made light work of these physical imperfections such that they would appear non-existent to most onlookers. His leg bones were symmetric and well-formed suggesting that there would have been no trace of a limp and the effect of scoliosis which Richard contracted as an adolescent would not have impaired his ability to exercise. Without the scoliosis the researchers calculate that Richard would have been of average height for a man at the time – about 5 foot 8 inches – but the consequences of his affliction would have made him seem shorter.
So the image of Crookback Dick seems to have been a work of fiction put about by his enemies to traduce his reputation and to enhance the wholesome image of the Tudors. Glad we have straightened that one out!