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Archive for the month “Dec, 2014”

A very interesting site for many things medieval….

Professor Sarah Peverley Well, I may be late on the scene again with this one, and everyone out there already knows all about it, but I’ve only just stumbled over the site. I have to say it’s well worth following for all things medieval. The article about Elizabeth Woodville I found particularly informative, describing her clothes, her signature, the image created of her and her situation in general. Well, everything was informative and well illustrated. Thoroughly recommended for everyone interested in ‘our’ period.

A grain of truth….?

Reading the previous excellent post, titled “Richard III’s back!” by jrlarner, must have made more of an impression on me than I realized, because I awakened this morning with Richard’s back on my mind. There I lay, too comfortable to get up, and my brain did its usual wandering. That’s why I keep a notebook by the bed, because ideas occur to me then, and the equivalent happens when relaxing to go to sleep at night. All writers will probably recognize the scenario.

I didn’t need the notebook this morning, however, because I dwelt on the matter long after I was fully awake. Like jrlarner, my grey cells were exercised by the old, old myth of Richard III being a “hunchback”. Yes, I know, groans all around that yet someone else is posting about it. He didn’t have a hunchback (kyphosis) you all say, he had a scoliosis that distorted his back in a sideways curve that would not have been apparent when he was clothed, except perhaps as a slightly raised shoulder on one side. We now know this for fact, because his remains had been discovered.

However, starting with the Tudors, and promoted with a vengeance by Shakespeare, the myth has always been that Richard III was a “hunchback”. Henry VII, the first Tudor, was nothing if not crafty. A chancer par excellence, one might say. If he saw an opportunity to denigrate his hated predecessor, he would use it. But why light upon this particular story? Anyone who had seen Richard would have known he did not suffer from a kyphosis. Yet the rumour began to circulate, and Shakespeare, living in a frighteningly Tudor England, made it fact. His Richard was grotesque, mentally and physically, and through the centuries there were far too many people who believed it all. There still are! It’s incredible that even when presented with irrefutable facts, there are folk who choose to prefer the Tudor version.

Richard’s physical difficulty would not have been apparent to many during his lifetime, and only those very close to him would have ever seen him undressed, which is when his back’s curve would have been evident, as would his raised shoulder. Clever tailoring would have taken care of that then, as it would today. A king would only have the best tailors in the realm.

All this is old news, but something that passed me by until jclarner’s post was that Richard’s scoliosis would not only have curved his back and raised his shoulder, but made one of his scapulae (shoulder blades) protrude. Again, his tailors would have disguised it. Perhaps, even though he was a slight man, when dressed he might have appeared a little “chunky”? Just hazarding a guess, not stating it as fact.

Right, the vast majority of people, certainly the general populace, knew nothing about Richard’s back. But one thing that we know is fact, is that after his cruel death at Bosworth, he was stripped naked and slung over a horse to be hauled from the battlefield as insultingly as possible. To be thrown over the horse, he would surely be face down, legs falling on one side of the horse, arms and head on the other. The result of this would certainly show the distortion of his back, no doubt of that. Everyone would have seen that tell-tale sideways curve. But hunchback?

Well, this is where I wonder about that protruding shoulder blade. Would the fact that he was thrown over the horse, his weight pressing down, mean that the shoulder blade would protrude much more noticeably? That, and his arms being ‘raised over’ his head by the position he’d been hauled over the horse. Was this the origin of the hunchback myth? Would the crowds, looking on as he was taken past, think they saw what we today call a kyphosis?

No doubt someone will shoot me down in flames for this suggestion, and I will bow to superior knowledge, but it certainly did occur to me in those drowsy post-sleep moments, when my brain was active, even if the rest of me wasn’t.

So, all thanks to jrlarner for making me think.

Richard III’s back!

Despite clear explanations by a spinal expert, the exact nature of Richard III’s spinal curvature is still being misconstrued and misunderstood. As an osteopath, I feel I am in a position to shed some definitive light on it.

Richard was portrayed by Shakespeare as a hunchback (“Bunch-backed toad”), with a withered arm and a limp.

The detailed examination of his spine by the experts has proved that he did not have a withered arm, and there was no evidence of a limp, either. If you think the bones are unlikely to show whether or not he had a withered arm you would be wrong, because the pull of muscles on the skeleton actually causes changes in the bone. That is why new born babies have no mastoid process (the bony part of the skull behind the ear) – it only develops after the baby is able to hold up its own head, as the force of the muscles causes the mastoid to form. Muscles are stronger than bone. Therefore, if Richard had had a withered arm (i.e. one that was paralysed or weakened in some way) it would have shown in his bones.

Finally, Richard’s spinal curvature is clearly seen to be a sideways S-shaped curve, known as a scoliosis. A so-called ‘hunchbacked’ appearance is caused by a forward bending of the spine, as often occurs in the elderly who have osteoporosis, and is known as a kyphosis. You can see the difference in the picture below.


But what would that mean as regards his appearance and gait? A scoliosis is quite a common spinal deformity, although the severity varies considerably. In fact, I myself have a mild scoliosis, caused by the spine’s natural compensation for a leg length discrepancy. It is so mild that it is barely noticeable, even without clothes (unless you’re an osteopath!)

Scoliosis can also be present at birth (congenital). Many people who have this degree of scoliosis are probably oblivious to it and it wouldn’t affect their gait or appearance much at all.

However, some types of scoliosis can be much more severe, impinging on the symmetry of the ribcage and even interfering with breathing. This type occurs more commonly in females and often begins in puberty when the body is going through a rapid growth spurt, but the complete cause is unknown. Richard appears to have had this type of scoliosis.

What would he have looked like? Because the curve in the spine was quite severe, it is likely that Richard would have held one shoulder higher than the other and one shoulder blade would be more prominent. One hip may also have been slightly higher than the other. His ribcage would also have been more prominent on one side than the other, but when clothed this would not have been obvious. This would show more on forward bending, when the more prominent side would be exaggerated.

Contemporary or near-contemporary accounts of his appearance do not mention a spinal deformity, although some say he held one shoulder higher than the other. So, if his condition was scarcely noticeable whilst wearing clothes, how did it become known to the ‘Tudors’, who exaggerated and added to it for their own ends? I am of the opinion that it was one of two events which revealed his condition. The most obvious would be the circumstances after his death at the Battle of Bosworth when it is reported that his naked body was taken from the field, slung over a horse, in other words bent forwards which, as mentioned above, exaggerates the deformity. The other event which could have revealed his scoliosis was his coronation. In mediaeval times, the king was anointed on his back, chest and head for which his body had to be bared to a certain extent. Although not visible to public gaze because a canopy was used to shield this part of the coronation from view, he would have been seen by the important participants in the ceremony, who might possibly have passed the information on to others.

So, no, Richard was most definitely NOT a ‘hunchback’!

NB:Drawing of spine with scoliosis and kyphosis
Image credit:   hfsimaging / 123RF Stock Photo

Richard suddenly realised he wasn’t cut out to be a superstar….!

King Richard took one look around the stage curtain and decided there and then that this would be his first and last public appearance before his adoring fans. He’d rather face Bosworth again!

Richard's First and Last Public Appearance

If Anne Neville had been pictured at York…

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationMiniature

Here (with the prospect of York Minister through the window) is a composite picture of Richard III’s queen, Anne Neville, who died in 1485, not long after their son died too. Richard was left alone, facing the gathering storm of invasion by Henry Tudor. The original illustration (also above), much tweaked, is of Mary of Burgundy (whose very un-English steeple headdress has been felled with an e-axe!) and the view of York Minster is by Turner.

As you can see, the scene through Mary’s window was of a great church, with the Virgin and Child, but I simply wanted a picture of Anne at York. There were two red carnations on the sill, which looked a little too like red roses for a picture of Anne Neville. Also three actual red roses at the bottom right, which I changed to white. I also placed a white rose on Anne’s bodice.

I love doing these pictures, for which I make no claim at all of creating the original great artwork. I merely tweak, and apologise to the artists for my presumptuousness. But I hope others will enjoy looking at them.

Brevity is not just the Soul of Lingerie

lingerieI’ve recently been walking along de Nile and happened into a hot, sandy tent full of Cairo Dwellers who, at least, initially, have given me a polite “hi!” sign.  And for that I thank them.  I felt comfortable enough to scroll down their papyrus scrolls to see what gives and discovered they are importing satirical essays that sometimes reached one thousand words!  Take that you miserable slackers:  Dorothy Parker, Woody Allen and P.G. Wodehouse.

The satires follow along lines such as these:  Did Elizabeth Woodville have Richard’s love child, was Richard a Siamese Twin and could Edward the Fifth have been a transgender?  There was a little debate about that Siamese Twin thing but one of the Dwellers pointed out that that was…satire.

Now, I, like the fine American playwright George S. Kaufman, believe that “satire is what closes on Saturday night” but I stayed with several of the essays hopefully digging for a nugget of funning.

I’m still digging but that’s for another thousand-word essay.

Wishful thinking for a Christmas ghost or two….

John Holland's Ghost

A ghost story for Christmas may seem a little ill-placed, but nevertheless it has become something of a tradition. There was a time when BBC TV would not have been the same without something ghostly on Christmas Eve. Now we may or may not see anything like that. Dickens was greatly to blame, with Scrooge and his ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.

I do not claim to be in Dickens’ class (hardly!) but I too have written such a seasonal ghost tale, part of which is true. Unfortunately, it is the ghosts themselves who are fictional. At least, I think they are. It came about because, as a writer of historical fiction, I long ago decided that I would attend to the story of John Holland, the 1st Earl of Huntingdon and 1st Duke of Exeter. I have said before in another post that he was the younger of Richard II’s two half-brothers. Passionate, handsome, fiery, brave and well skilled in the lists of love, as well as the lists themselves, he was one of the most colourful figures at Richard’s court. He came to a very sticky end, beheaded after Christmas, in January 1400, at Pleshey Castle, after becoming involved in the Epiphany Rising. It was a plot to overthrew Richard II’s usurper, Henry IV, and went pear-shaped, as the modern saying goes, and John paid the price. It was a brutal execution, a true hacking, but he died proudly and bravely. Quite a fellow. (As a side note that may intrigue Ricardians of the Richard III persuasion, Richard’s supporters were betrayed by a traitor to their cause, who informed on them to Henry. The similarities to what happened at Bosworth are quite startling. Another Richard betrayed by a so-called ‘friend’, who turned coat to support another Henry.)

Well, my interest in John Holland began way back in the 1970s, and I assembled an entire book of research, detailed chapters, the lot, only to be diverted into a another genre, that of 19th-century Regency England. Then, recently, Richard III was rediscovered. He was the inspiring figure who first got me writing, and I was delighted to think he had actually been found after all those centuries.. He fired me all over again, and my fingers fair smoked at the keyboard. But John Holland remained at the back of my mind.

I discovered that his favourite home, Dartington Hall in Devon, which he built, was now a hotel. Nothing could keep me away, so I hauled my husband along and we stayed there for a few days in autumn. It is the most beautiful house, set in rolling Devonshire countryside, on a hillside above the River Dart. I can well understand why John Holland loved it there so much.

Nothing even remotely supernatural happened, much as I wished it. Just a glimpse of the hall as it had been in Holland’s time? Please? But no, no such luck.

A year later we went again, not long before Christmas, and this time I was determined not to wish for anything at all. But being determined and actually succeeding were two different things. Deep down, I did wish. For something, anything. I stood in the breathtaking  courtyard, gazing at the house and the great hall, imagining all sorts of things. I sat in the porch, looking up at a famous ceiling boss of Richard II’s White Hart badge nestling on a red-rose cushion, surrounded by protective gold wheatears – the wheatear was John Holland’s badge. I went into the screens passage, imagining all the time, and then into the great hall, with the huge fireplace before which John and his royal wife, Elizabeth of Lancaster, would once have been seated on the dais, presiding over feasts and banquets.

My grey cells worked overtime, and a ghost story began to form. In it, I met the ghost of John Holland himself. You will find the story at Yes, wishful thinking indeed. Although I am sure that on Christmas Eve, when it’s dark outside and I have had a glass or two of Christmas cheer, I could convince myself it wasn’t imagination at all, but really happened…

I hope you read and enjoy it, and I wish you all a Merry Yuletide and a Prosperous and Fulfilling New Year.

Hard of understanding?

Just in case anyone is still misled by Hicks, here is the reply from today’s Times, written by the experts where DNA analysis was devised:

Richard’s skeleton

Sir, Professor Hicks, in his letter [Dec 5] commenting on our research findings, suggests that the skeleton found in Leicester is not that of Richard III. He states that “there are lots of candidates” yet seems unable to specify one who ticks all the boxes [buried in the choir of Greyfriars, battle injuries, aged mid-30s, same mitochondrial DNA {mtDNA}, scoliosis, etc.] He overlooks the fact that the publication represents a detailed analysis of Richard’s maternal-line relatives across seven generations in order to account for others sharing the same mtDNA type through known relation – and that this mtDNA type is exceedingly rare and therefore highly unlikely to have shown a match by chance.

Hicks also claims that we “presumed the bones to be those of Richard and sought only supporting evidence”. A cursory reading of the paper and an examination of our statistical analyses makes it abundantly clear that the opposite is true. We considered all relevant lines of evidence and made every effort to weight the analysis against the remains being those of Richard III, yet still produce a highly conservative probability of 99.9994 per cent in favour. Lastly, Hicks refers to “wild accusations of bastardy”. Nowhewere do we make any such accusations.

T.King, University of Leicester

MG Thomas, UCL

K Schürer, University of Leicester

Not only are there no “wild accusations of bastardy” by those who understand science but at least one of the nineteen links (from John of Gaunt to John of Dorset) is traditionally thought of as an illegitimacy but may reveal Dorset to be a legitimate Swinford. Our advice to Hicks might well centre upon aiming his fire away from his own lower limbs. He must know what happened at Roxburgh in 1460.

History and cultural history (I)

As we have observed before, Shakespeare’s plays tend to be historically inaccurate but they make good cultural history for his own lifetime. As an example, we took King Lear (probably written 1605-6), in which Cordelia was executed for political reasons, something that almost never happened to women before 1536, in England or Scotland.

Similarly, the parts of Henry VI were (according to Malone) written in 1591-2. A famous scene, set in the early 1450s, shows the Dukes of York and Somerset selecting white and red roses from a garden as their badges. Most people doubt that this scene ever actually occurred but now one has spoken.

Dr. David Starkey has now confidently predicted that the red rose made no appearance before 1460 or possibly even 1485, promising to contribute substantially to the Fotheringhay Church appeal if his statement could be disproven. So who has evidence?

Now what would YOU expect…?

This morning I received a Google Alert. I receive them every day for anything that mentions Richard III. That’s the king, by the way. So if you received this, what might you expect? Or hope?

12 hours ago. Facebook. RICHARD III BY PHILIPPE STARCK. Art & Design’s photo. Like · Comment. Farshad Jabbari, Tutin Halder, Maja Jelovac and 27 others like this.

Well, I thought it would be a new likeness of our king, a Christmas treat, no less, but nope, it was nothing about him at all. That’ll teach me to think in one dimension!

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