Steven Weingartner as Richard III in the play by Shakespeare

Richard III – short but not visibly disabled

The Scoliosis of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England: diagnosis and clinical significance

According to a research paper published in The Lancet, Richard III’s severe scoliosis would not have been obvious during his lifetime, and ‘a good tailor and custom-made armour could have minimised the visual impact of his condition’. The verdict on Richard III’s appearance is that he was a short man, but not visibly disabled

This conclusion follows an analysis of the remains of Richard’s spine by a research team made up of osteologists from Leicester, Cambridge and Loughborough universities and the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. Using CT scans to make 3D polymer replicas of each vertebra, they re-created the shape of Richard’s spine during his life, leading to the conclusion that the king’s disfigurement was probably slight because a ‘well-balanced’ sideways curvature in the spine would have meant his head and neck were straight, not tilted to one side.

The researchers established that Richard would have been about 5ft 8in (1.7m) tall without his scoliosis; the condition meant he appeared several inches shorter. His torso was short relative to the length of his arms and legs, and his right shoulder was a little higher than his left, but there was no evidence that Richard walked with an obvious limp — his leg bones were symmetrical and well formed — and the condition would not have reduced his ability to exercise or to fight on the battlefield.

The researchers were also able to establish that the condition developed after his 10th birthday.

Phil Stone, Chairman of the Richard III Society, which helped fund the Leicester excavation, said that: ‘the Shakespearean description of a “bunch-backed toad” is a complete fabrication. History tells us Richard III was a great warrior. Clearly, he was little inconvenienced by his spinal problem and accounts of his appearance, written when he was alive, tell that he was “of person and bodily shape comely enough” and “the most handsome man in the room after his brother, Edward IV”.’

The Scoliosis of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England: diagnosis and clinical significance
By Jo Appleby, Piers d. Mitchell, Calire Robinson, Alison Brough, Guy Rutty, Russell A. Harris, Davis Thompson, Bruno Morgan.
In: The Lancet 2014, Vol 383: p1944

Richard Crookback
Sarah Knight and Mary Ann Lund
TLS: 6 February 2013

Read more about the studies of the mortal remains of Richard III

Richard III – Meet the Man


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