Scoliosis of Richard III

Richard III – Meet the Man

In a grave at the entrance to the choir in the floor of the former Greyfriars in Leicester, exactly where it was expected, archaeologist exhumed a body of a slender man of normal height with an articulated scoliosis.

During the autumn 2012 archaeologists, anthropologists and other bio-archaeologists carefully examined the skeleton. Later DNA analysis confirmed without doubt that the skeleton found at Greyfriars in August 2012 was indeed that of Richard III. Here follows a short overview of the scientific studies, which were undertaken and have so far been reported.

The skeleton carried ten wounds, some perimortem and some probably postmortem wounds. Although it is not possible to decide without doubt which of these wounds were the fatal ones, at least two, which had been inflicted to the skull must have been deadly. One was a heavy blow probably inflicted by a halberd or the like at the back of his neck and cutting off a significant slice, while another was from a blade stuck into the brain. Researchers have speculated that the trauma to the head must have been the result of the loss at some point of the helmet of the king. Several wounds were of a slighter character and done by daggers. The researchers have compared these to those found on individuals who were buried in a mass-grave at Towton in 1461. These individuals were found with skulls and skeletal remains, some of which were manhandled and injured post-mortem. It is generally believed this was done as part of a wilful defamation of the vanquished foe.

Man-handled Corpse

At the news conference in February 2013 the view was voiced that Richard III might have suffered the same treatment, since some of the wounds must have been inflicted after the body had been stripped of its armour. This corresponds very well with a contemporary text, which says that after King Richards body had been discovered among the dead “many other insults wereRichard III still lying in his first grave inflicted, the body was carried to Leicester in an inhuman way, a rope being placed around the neck” (Crowland Cronicle). Probably the head was tied to the rope, which was strung between the feet and the hands of his body. Maybe a remnant of this fact may be discerned from the grave itself. Apparently the body of Richard III was interred with his hands still tied in front of him as opposed to the usual position of the arms and hands at that time, being laid parallel to the dead body. On the other hand, although it is known that the body was slung naked over the back of a horse, one source tells us that it was ridden by his pursevant of arms, one Blanch Senglier or White-Boar. Thus there is no doubt that he was stripped at the battlefield; something, which was done routinely by the victors and their accompanying throng of looters. Such stripping may very well have been done with the help of daggers, explaining the some of the smaller knife wounds inflicted on the body. The wounds, however, may not have been part of a willful defamation. Further, the fact that he was not wrapped in a cloth or blanket while being carried from the battlefield may reflect nothing more than the need for the new king, Henry VII to exhibit his trophy thus avoiding any rumours that king Richard had succeeded in fleeing from the battle. This also accounts for the fact that his dead body apparently was paraded for several days at Newark, the city hall, before being interred at Grayfriars. The body was presumably laid to rest unshrouded as it had not been pressed together as would have been the case had it been wrapped in a piece of textile. No personal objects of any kind were found in the grave.

DNA analysis

DNA analysis conducted by the geneticist Dr. Turi King at Leicester University has without doubt confirmed that the skeleton found at Greyfriars in August 2012 is indeed that of Richard III. This identification has been based on the identical mitochondrial DNA of two independent descendants of Anne of York, the sister of Richard III and the DNA extracted from the skeletal remains from Greyfriars.

Reconstruction of Richard IIIFace of a King

After the Greyfriars bones had been scanned, a 3D scan of the skull was sent to the University of Dundee where the muscles and skin were modelled by Caroline Wilkinson, Professor of Craniofacial Identification at the University of Dundee, using a computer process known as stereolithography. This facial reconstruction was produced by University of Dundee and funded by the Richard III Society.

Voice of a king

Research at the University of Leicester can even give us a clue as to what Richard sounded like. Dr. Philip Shaw, Lecturer in English Language and Old English in our School of English, has studied two letters written by Richard when he was Duke of Gloucester. In this podcast, you can hear Dr. Shaw read these letters using the approximate pronunciation and accent Letter from Richard IIIthat we believe Richard would have used. Interestingly, the language and spelling betrays no sign of a northern dialect, being closer to what we now consider a West Midlands accent.

Psychology of a sovereign

After his death, the victorious new king, Henry VII and his entourage undoubtedly vilified Richard III. Later Shakespeare, who described him as a murderous villain, carried this defamation to its apogee. But what was his personality really like? As of now, we only have the tentative reflections of a couple of psychologists, from the In the University of Leicester’s School of Psychology, Professor Mark Lansdale and Dr Julian Boon. According to them he might have suffered from “intolerance to uncertainty”: a recognised condition occurring to varying degrees in many people. Richard IIIRichard was born into a world of conflict, a world where decisions were made and orders given, a world where execution, exile or imprisonment – or death in battle – could change the political landscape at a stroke. IU is often characterised by rigid moral values, a strong belief in justice and the law, and a general view of the world as ‘black and white’. This is reflected in the changes Richard made to the legal system in his twenty-six months on the throne and is consistent with his actions as Lord Protector and King right up to his final ill-fated charge on Bosworth Field. As the total DNA of Richard III is currently being cloned, it might in ten of twenty years time be possible to say more of his psychological profile. It is believed that genetics account much more than has previously believed. Perhaps the murderous gene might still be identified? Or perhaps we all carry it… Read about the scientific findings concerning the skeleton of Richard III at the dedicated website at Leicester University


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