Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Richard III May Have Hid His Scoliosis Until Death

Rossella Lorenzi
Discovery News

Careful tailoring may have helped King Richard III keep his his severe scoliosis a secret right up until his death in 1485, says a new study into historical sources about Richard’s condition and posthumous reputation.
Richard III suffered from a spine curving condition known as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, which he most likely developed after the age of about 10. The 15h century king was reinterred last month with a solemn ceremony at Leicester Cathedral, 530 years after his death and more than two years after archaeologists discovered his twisted skeleton in a car park.
Photos: Bidding Farewell to Richard III
According to Mary Ann Lund, of the School of English at the University of Leicester, Richard III probably kept any signs of his scoliosis hidden outside of the royal household as part of his "propaganda of power."
"It is highly likely that Richard took care to control his public image," Lund wrote in the Medical Humanities journal.
"Tailoring probably kept the signs of his scoliosis hidden to spectators outside the royal household of attendants, servants and medical staff who dressed, bathed and tended to the monarch's body," she added.
Photos: King Richard III Buried (Again)
Lund noted that no mention of Richard's anatomical abnormality survives from during his lifetime, perhaps out of respect to a reigning monarch, or perhaps because he hid it so well.
Richard, who reigned from 1483 to 1485, was probably treated by his surgically trained physician with a mixture of painful axial traction and manual manipulation — a therapy which needed specially designed equipment, space and assistants.
Did Richard III Get Painful Scoliosis Treatment?
"Yet, it may have been only a relatively small group of people in Richard's trusted circle who knew of his condition. The absence of contemporary testimony does not prove this, however," Lund said.
What is certain is that hundreds of witnesses could see Richard’s severely bent spine after his death.
The last king of England to die on the battlefield, Richard was killed in 1485 at Bosworth. His defeat by Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII, marked the end of the decades-long fight over the throne known as War of the Roses and the end of the Plantagenet dynasty.
Historical sources report Richard was vilified, stripped naked, slung across a horse and paraded through Leicester to let people know he was truly dead.
Richard III Reburial: Is England Honoring a Murderer?
"That moment after Bosworth inaugurated a longer and more brutalizing process, in which an ever-more twisted physique was revealed to the public eye, his own body becoming deployed as a major tactic in the rhetorical strategy against him," Lund said.
Richard was depicted by Shakespeare as a bloodthirsty usurper, a hunchback, a "foul bunch-backed toad," during the Tudor period. He was also portrayed with a withered arm and unequal limbs — none of which were evident on the skeleton — to fit his blackened reputation.
"Stage history has reincarnated Richard as monster, villain and clown, but recent events have helped us to re-evaluate these physically defined depictions and strip back the cultural accretions that have surrounded his body," Lund concluded.
Image: Richard III's twisted skeleton; right: his severely bent spine. Credit: University of Leicester.

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