Richard III at Bosworth (1): Dressed for Battle
Amid the wide-ranging (and often wildly raging) debates that have taken place since the unearthing of his remains in Leicester in September 2012, I have seen it suggested that Richard III may have been unable to wear armour on account of his severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine).
I find this unlikely for several reasons. Firstly, to draw a comparison with a modern Wars of the Roses re-enactor: a member of our group also has scoliosis, (albeit a much milder form than Richard’s) – yet far from finding the wearing of armour a problem, he says that it helps by acting like a rigid corset to support his torso. So, bearing in mind that medieval armour would have been made from thinner, higher-quality steel plate than the average modern replica suit (and therefore considerably lighter), it’s possible that Richard III found his armour perfectly comfortable – something that helped rather than hindered his condition.
Secondly, we have the historical record. There are several illustrations of Richard III in full armour: on the Rous Roll; in the Writhes Garter Book, (an image of the King with Queen Anne at their coronation); and on the royal seal. Mere artistic convention? I doubt it – because thirdly and most compellingly, we have the evidence of his skeleton.
Had Richard III ridden into battle at Bosworth only partially armoured, the areas of his body with the least protection would have been obvious targets for his enemies in the final melee. In such a case, it is highly probable that, like the skeletons recovered from Towton battlefield, his trunk and limbs would show clear signs of sharp-edge or blunt-force trauma. But no such wounds have been found (apart from cuts to the pelvis inflicted post-mortem when his stripped body was slung over the back of a horse). On the contrary, all the major wounds, including the death blows, were inflicted on his head – consistent with his body being fully armoured, although he clearly lost his helmet in the final stages of the battle.
I’ll discuss this more fully in Richard III at Bosworth (2): The Final Moments, which will be posted in August to commemorate the battle. In the meantime, if your thoughts are turning to the young Duke of Gloucester riding out to help Edward IV recover his crown at Barnet and Tewkesbury in 1471, or to defend his own crown in 1485, it’s safe to say that you can imagine him as the proverbial knight in shining armour!