What Actually Happened to Richard III?

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Sep 23, 2014 by British Blog

In September 2012, archaeologists were digging in a car park in Leicester in search of the remains of a medieval friary. They found their friary, but to their surprise they also found the skeleton of Richard III, the last English king to die in battle. At last, the many myths and tales that had been told about this legendary monarch could be properly investigated.

Richard was born in 1452 in Northamptonshire, and ruled for just 26 months. However, until his remains were discovered, much of this monarch's life was shrouded in mystery. Shakespeare's portrait of him, which has proven hugely enduring, shows a traitor with a withered arm and hunched back, bent physically and mentally in pursuit of power and domination.

 

Curved spine

In fact, Richard did suffer from curvature of the spine, or scoliosis, but he did not have a hunched back in the way that Shakespeare described. Soon after his skeleton was exhumed, scientists set about scanning his skeleton and used the result to create a 3D replica of Richard's spine. As it turned out, his scoliosis did leave him with a slightly spiral curvature of the back and degeneration in his spinal joints, but this was not enough to stop him from fighting in battle, hunting, riding horses or doing anything else that was expected of a medieval royal.

 

Wounds

Other studies of Richard's remains have revealed other, fascinating details. A report, published in The Lancet online in September 2014, gives details of a study led by academics from the University of Leicester. This study used CT scanning and other forensic methods to study the wounds that killed Richard, who lost his life at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, a mere two years after he was crowned king at Westminster Abbey.

The study placed Richard's age at 34, and found that he suffered eleven wounds just before he died, nine of which were to his skull. These wounds suggest that he had lost his helmet in battle: there were no wounds to his arms or hands, which suggests that the rest of his armour was intact.

 

Bones and teeth

Another paper, again with contributions from the University of Leicester, described the analysis of Richard's bones and teeth. This showed that he had relocated from the eastern to the western side of Britain as a child, and that he showed signs of having developed a taste for luxurious foods, such as game birds and fish, towards the end of his life. He seems, for example, to have enjoyed eating heron, crane, swan and egret. Interestingly, Richard seems also to have increased his intake of wine as he got older and in particular from the point at which he became king.

Thus it seems that, although the archaeologists were looking simply for an old building underneath a car park on that fateful day in 2012, they actually ended up helping to solve some of the most enduring mysteries of medieval British history - and add a much needed dose of truth to the history of King Richard III.