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Was Richard IIIs scoliosis kept a secret until his death

Last month saw the mortal remains of King Richard III reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, more than two years after University archaeologists discovered his skeleton in a car park in August 2012.

The discovery of his skeleton, which had severe scoliosis, and the physical truth it reveals about the historical Richard, has prompted further questions about the role the condition played during his lifetime. No mention of Richard's distinctive physique survives from during his lifetime, perhaps out of respect to a reigning monarch, or perhaps because he hid it so well. 

In a new study entitled 'Richard's back: death, scoliosis and myth making’, published in Medical Humanities, Dr Mary Ann Lund from the School of English argues that as with all monarchs Richard’s body image in life was carefully controlled and he probably kept any signs of his scoliosis hidden outside of the royal household – up until his death.

In the paper Dr Lund considers how the treatment of Richard’s dead body after the Battle of Bosworth is related to his later historical and literary reputation as ‘Crookback Richard’, where his body became notorious for its misshapen appearance during the Tudor period.  

Dr Lund said: “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. 

“What is certain is that, after his death, the exposure of Richard's body went beyond the two days of its exhibition in Leicester. That moment after Bosworth inaugurated a longer and more brutalising 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. When Shakespeare's Richard boasts of his shape-changing potential, he registers too the bending course of history and myth making.”

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