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A Richard III concert in Denver Colorado – at the GM meeting of the American Branch – the evening of the 24th of Sep. 2016

By Elke Paxson

With Ian Churchward (photo)

Having been interested in Richard III for a number of years it took me a long time to decide to become a member of the R III Society and it was my very first attendance of a “General Membership Meeting”. Living in the States is wonderful and exciting, but it also means everything is a bit farther away and there is nothing historically connected to Richard the 3rd, the Wars of the Roses or places with a medieval feel. However, if you put together an enthusiastic group of true Ricardians you will end up learning and experiencing about a long ago time that can be as fascinating and different from ours as you can imagine. There were talks about armour as demonstrated and explained by Dominic Smee, who is affected by scoliosis as Richard was, but proved through his training that it doesn’t diminish much what could be accomplished on the battlefield of medieval England. He brought along some of his armour pieces and padded garment. We were also treated to an interesting account of what a re-enactment group like the “Les Routier De Rouen” is all about and how much interest, pride and fun they have during those re-enactment weekends. The insight was given by Christina Smee – Dominic’s mother, who has been a member for many years.

Photo of Ian Churchward

We were also treated to a copy of the “Jewel of Middleham” by its owner Susan Troxell – a most beautiful and artful piece of jewellery.  Sally Keil gave an interesting look into “Heraldry, Blazonry and (not Coat of) Arms”. It is a pretty complex, yet intriguing subject.

 Photo of Ian and Robert

Saturday evening was very special all around as many of the attending members dressed up for Cocktail hour in a variety of beautiful medieval garb some of which were pretty elaborate. After dinner we were treated to the evening’s highlight – the performance of the Legendary Ten Seconds. The group is headed by Ian Churchward who also composed most of the songs. He was accompanied by his lovely wife Elaine who sang harmony and some solos. His excellent lead guitar player Robert Bright supported Ian’s rhythm guitar with a flawless performance and a special “sound effect”. Jackie Hudson also sang harmony and accompanied some songs with a harp.

The Legendary Ten Seconds

When they took the stage they started off with a short intro and then a song called “Written at Rising”, a song based on an actual letter written by Richard III. This song was followed by a most beautiful and melodious “Ambion Hill” – about an unexpected appearance of a knight. One of the intriguing things about the music of “The Legendary Ten Seconds” is that it is so diverse – in speed, rhythm, in what the songs portray and reflect as well as the sound and instrumentation. Not having the full back up and support available so far from their home base it was truly excellent what they were able to convey. The next songs were “Fellowship of the White Boar” – a song about the R III Society’s history and goals, “The King In The Car Park” –  I always thought the title a bit strange, but it’s a fantastic song that moves rapidly and tells the story put into excellent lyrics by Elaine Churchward: King Richard of England, he of the White Boar.  This one was followed by “How Do you Rebury A King” – not only a good question, but an outstanding song that talks about the thousands attending and watching and it also highlights the significance of the soil from 3 places connected to Richard that was put into his tomb. Ian filled the time between songs with introducing his fellow performers as well as telling us a bit about the songs he has created. The tale of a “Yorkist Archer” was followed by an instrumental about the “Ragged Staff” of Lord Warwick. Then we were treated to a song about Edward’s French campaign in 1475 and the disappointment Richard must have gone through. After that came the lively “The Year Of Three Kings” – a perfect song to sway to and sing along – something we all seemed to enjoy doing.  The next song was about the beauty of King Richard’s court and it’s indeed a beautiful song. Sooner or later one is confronted with Shakespeare’s treatment of Richard III. Ian does so in 2 songs – one about the way he turns Tudor’s rewritten history into a play that so many people over the centuries unfortunately have taken as history and not as entertainment. ”Act III, Scene IV” is actually a song straight from the bard’s mouth put into a very smart song of that play. The harmonies are really beautiful and so is the instrumentation. There was a rather sad song about Richard’s role as Lord Protector and all the intrigues that arose. The evening ended with one of Ian’s best songs called “White Surrey”. While he acknowledges that this is legend and we really have no way of knowing what kind of horse took him into his last battle, it is a fabulous song about Richard’s last charge. It is exciting as the listener is taken along the unfolding courageous charge.

It was a wonderful and enjoyable evening. The audience showed their appreciation for a great performance with a well-deserved standing ovation. Personally, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this evening, it was such a treat to hear them. Thank you to all who made this possible and Thank you for coming to Denver, Colorado.

Myths Being Revived

I have been watching the BBC’s ‘The Hollow Crown’ with interest, as I have never actually seen the whole of Shakespeare’s Richard III and none of Henry VI (Parts I and II). At first I was appalled at Benedict Cumberbatch’s grotesquely exaggerated portrayal of Richard, but consoled myself by thinking that at least, because people will see that it bears no factual resemblance to his actual spinal condition, it might serve to distance the Bard’s Richard from the real man.

I was to be sadly disillusioned, however, on reading an article published by The Mail On Sunday. It basically states that the production team researched people with “curvature of the spine” and how they would have looked if unable to have it corrected “In order to make the depiction of Richard more accurate.” They also state that:

“Until recently it was assumed Shakespeare had exaggerated Richard’s disability to make him appear more monstrous. That theory was undermined by the discovery of the King’s body in Leicester in 2012”

Read the whole article and  see the depiction for yourself here.
And here is the man with the same curvature showing how Richard would have actually looked. Spot the difference!
Dominic in body armour
I have already complained in the following terms:

“I have seen a report in the Mail on Sunday concerning Benedict Cumberbatch and his portrayal of Richard III in The Hollow Crown. (‘Benedict’s really got the hump’). Towards  the end it states: ‘In order to make the depiction of Richard more accurate, Mallett and Cumberbatch studied the medical histories of those who had curvature of the spine and had not been able to have the condition corrected. Until recently, it was assumed that Shakespeare had exaggerated Richard’s disability to make him appear more monstrous. That theory was undermined by the discovery of the King’s body in Leicester in 2012, and tests showed that he suffered from scoliosis’.

While you may be reporting what the BBC have told you, and while it is correct that Richard suffered from scoliosis, this categorically does not equate to him having a hunchback. If your reporter had done any independent research at all into the condition, they would see that a scoliosis is a sideways curvature, which would not have manifested as a hump in a normal standing position. The only outward sign of the condition would have been one shoulder appearing higher than the other (which is how he was indeed described by contemporaries). As a Registered Osteopath, I am in a position to give an expert opinion on such matters. As a Ricardian, I am appalled that all the hard work we are doing to try to rehabilitate Richard’s reputation can be undermined in this way. Shakespeare’s Richard did have a hunchback, true, but to say that this is an accurate physical depiction of Richard is false and misleading. The public will think that if Richard’s spine was as Shakespeare described (which it isn’t), his character must be too. This prosthetic was obviously used for shock value. Fair enough, but it should be distanced from the real Richard III. There was a ‘body double’ found who had an almost identical curvature of the spine to Richard’s and a documentary made on Channel 4 showed how he could fight, ride and move perfectly normally and, clothed, you wouldn’t know he had the condition. (I have personally met the young man in question and can vouch for that being true). Incidentally, Shakespeare’s (and Cumberbatch’s) depiction of Richard having a withered arm and a limp is also false: Richard had neither. Please publish a correction as soon as possible; it might seem a trivial thing to you but many people really care that Richard was unjustly maligned and it means a lot to us. I would be happy to comment further if you would like to contact me and get an expert opinion instead of sensationalist nonsense.”

Talk by Dominic Smee

Dominic Smee, the ‘body double’ of Richard III, will be giving a talk on his experience during the making of the Channel Four documentary Richard III: The New Evidence on Friday evening June 3rd 2016 at Wilnecote Parish Hall, 40 Watling St, Tamworth B77 5AD, Staffs. It’s called ‘Being Richard III’ and starts at 8.00 pm,doors open at 7.30 pm

Tickets are £5 each to include refreshments. Parking and disabled facilities available.

Demonstration of Richard III double being armed

I was privileged to attend another of his talks, Arming Richard, during the re-interment week. It was held at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre, Sutton Cheney and was extremely interesting and enjoyable. He explained how it felt to wear the armour and the training he had had to do, as well as showing us how a noble knight such as Richard would be armed.

He is a natural and fluent speaker and a very friendly guy as well, so I would thoroughly recommend any talk by him.

 

 

 

The King In The Lab – Richard III’s Dissolute Diet

RICARDIAN LOONS

I recently had the opportunity to attend a talk by Professor Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey, co-author of the multi-isotope analysis which explored what the last Plantagenet king of England ate and drank. As I mentioned in a previous science post, this study formed the basis for the widely reported claim that, although he was a capable soldier, he overindulged on food and drink and that this “dissolute” diet was the reason for his unexpected defeat at the battle of Bosworth. As this seemed to be at odds with both historical sources and also the study itself, I was hoping to finally get to the bottom of the facts. I wasn’t disappointed.

What Isotopes Can Tell Us

Professor Evans began her talk by explaining that isotopes are particles which transmit information from geology to us via our food chain. Basically:

Rock > soil > plants > herbivores…

View original post 1,819 more words

Richard’s Back Now!

As an osteopath, Richard’s spinal condition is of considerable interest to me. I have several patients who have different types and degrees of scolioses, but none who has one anything quite like Richard’s! His scoliosis was severe enough that, had he been alive today, he would probably have had an operation to correct it. Dominic Smee, who is Richard’s ‘body double’, is unusual in that he hasn’t had this operation, which is why it was so interesting to see the documentary he starred in where he trained to perform the feats of battle and fighting that Richard would have done.

But you might be wondering what an operation to correct such a scoliosis would involve. So here are some photos showing (1) a spine where I have attempted to recreate Richard’s condition (not very well, but you get the idea!), (2) another spine showing the metal work involved in the correction of a spinal scoliosis and (3) a close up of said metal work.

1.Spinal scoliosis

2.Corrected Scoliosis3. Close up of metalwork

As you can see, it is quite an invasive and extensive operation. It leaves extensive scarring and can fail or break inside the body, and nothing can be done if this happens. I wonder whether Richard would have opted to have it had he been born in modern times. There is one Royal example of a scoliosis sufferer who DID have the operation , very successfully, Princess Eugenie, daughter of the current Duke of York.  Here is a link where she describes her experience of spinal surgery: Princess Eugenie’s Story

Other alternatives include a brace which must be worn almost constantly, and this doesn’t correct the scoliosis, it just tries to prevent it worsening.

There are non-invasive treatments which can help to control the progression of scoliosis and which are most effective if started before the condition worsens. These include exercises and manual therapy (e.g. osteopathy, physio).

Body of Evidence

“Body of Evidence” was the title of a talk given by Dominic Smee, Richard’s “body double”, at Leicester University earlier this year. Until recently, one of the great mysteries surrounding the last Plantagenet king was the contradiction between the severity of his supposed deformities and his reputation as a soldier, praised amongst others by his brother Edward IV, who was himself considered a paragon of military prowess. Some historians suspected that his deformities were exaggerated or even completely invented by his political enemies, pointing to the fact that reports about them only began to surface after his death, while others argued that it was his military reputation which was exaggerated and that his contemporaries were simply too scared to mention his deformities during his lifetime.

The finding of Richard’s skeleton with its severe scoliosis has reignited the debate. As Philippa Langley succinctly put it when first setting eyes on the royal remains: “How do you fit armour on that?” This was the question scientists and historians tried to answer by dressing scoliosis sufferer Dominic in medieval armour and putting him through his paces. The results were presented in the TV documentary “Richard III – The New Evidence” (published in the US as “Secrets of the Dead – Resurrecting Richard III”) – at least, some of them. The purpose of Dominic’s talk at Leicester University was to reveal, based on photos, videos and personal anecdotes, what the producers had chosen to exclude.

The scoliosis and its effects (or not)

He began by showing an x-ray of his scoliosis, which is identical to Richard’s in terms of angle and rib rotation, except that Richard’s scoliosis starts from the 4th vertebra whereas Dominic’s starts from the 3rd vertebra. This means that he has slightly less mobility in his hips than Richard while Richard would instead have had slightly less mobility in his right shoulder. Given how dramatic the curvature looked on the x-ray, it was startling how little it seemed to affect Dominic as he moved around the auditorium and under a t-shirt and light jacket it was all but invisible.

He explained that due to the sideways curvature of his spine the lung capacity on his left side is reduced, but the right side is normal and while he tires more easily than a person without scoliosis, it is not a big issue. The documentary shows him struggling for breath on a treadmill, but at that point he had already been running for 20 minutes. According to his orthopaedic surgeon his other internal organs, such as his heart, are not affected by the scoliosis, which was a key reason why Dominic decided not to have corrective surgery.

There has been much speculation about Richard being in pain and the impact this may have had on him physically and psychologically, but Dominic didn’t experience any pain during his teens and now, in his late twenties, only gets muscle cramps in cold weather conditions or when lifting something heavy, though not enough to need pain killers. He described the pain from a trapped nerve as 10-20 times worse. Unlike Richard he doesn’t have arthritis in his spine, so he was unable to comment on its effect, but this may have been a relatively recent development for the king, who was 32 years old at the time of his death. He would have also been training for armed combat since childhood, which would have strengthened his muscles and helped to support his back.

By contrast, aside from a spell of karate in his teens Dominic led a sedentary lifestyle, so he had to start his knightly training from scratch at age 26. He estimated that he received 40 hours of horse training and 32 hours of weapons training over three months, at an average of two lessons per week, to prepare him for the challenges that were thrown at him in the documentary. The producers actually had a stand-in on hand, but Dominic did so well that they decided to use him all the way.

Customising the armour and unseen research

Because of the sideways curvature of his spine Dominic’s rib cage rests on his hip, so regular armour causes his ribs to rub against the plate, restricting his breathing. The custom-made asymmetrical cuirass, created by Swedish armourer Per Lillelund Jensen from CK45 spring steel, the closest modern equivalent to medieval armour steel, accommodates the curvature and rests on his shoulders instead of his waist. At 62 pounds total weight his armour is also lighter than average to allow for greater agility and to minimise the impact of the asymmetrical weight distribution on his horse. Dominic had brought the cuirass along to the talk and despite the slightly uneven shoulders, which would normally be concealed by the shoulder pauldrons, it looked remarkably “normal”.

1) and 2) Dominic in full armour, and 3) the custom-made cuirass

Dominic gave due credit to his teachers, Dave Rawlings of the London Longsword Academy and Dominic Sewell of Historic Equitation, as he described how he started out learning sword moves from Hans Talhoffer’s medieval fencing manual, but then moved on to other weapons as Richard would have also learned to fight with battle axe and lance, how he and his horse learnt to deal with the asymmetrical weight distribution and how they discovered that the medieval saddle supported his back.

He also revealed that they choreographed a number of scenarios to explore how Richard may have died, both on foot and sitting on a vaulting horse, to see how long he could have defended himself against a group of halberdeers. Another experiment involved a reenactor hitting the top of a sallet with a pole axe, which created a similar imprint in the polystyrene head underneath as the wound on top of Richard’s skull because, due to the gap between sallet and skull, the weapon couldn’t penetrate fully, possibly confirming that “the stroke his Basnett to his head vntill his braines came out with blood”[1]. Most intriguingly Toby Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection and the man who got Dominic involved in the documentary, reenacted Richard’s last cavalry charge to see if he could have covered the 800 or so yards distance in time to kill Henry Tudor before he was attacked by Stanley’s men. Dominic didn’t specify how they worked out the available timespan, but in an interview with Jon Snow of Channel 4 Dr Capwell stated that, if Richard hadn’t killed the standard bearer but gone straight for Tudor, the charge may well have succeeded. Sadly none of this made it into the documentary, except for a snippet that shows Dominic playing dead on the floor. As he pointed out, this too was part of the choreography – he hadn’t collapsed from exhaustion.

Unseen challenges

What also wasn’t shown in the documentary was that, due to time and financial constraints, only the cuirass and leg armour, which were so comfortable that Dominic was able to ride a bicylce in them, were custom made. The sallet, shoulder pauldrons, gauntlets and arming doublet were borrowed from fellow re-enactors and the Royal Armoury, which led to unforeseen complications.

Dominic described wearing a sallet as similar to looking through a letterbox: he could only see his horse’s ears and the tip of his lance, all sounds were muffled except the wind whistling around his head and to take his battle axe out of his belt with gauntlet-clad hands, use it and put it back he had to rely on muscle memory. However, the sallet he wore in the programme was too big and the first time he galloped towards the quintain it slid down until it covered his eyes, so he had to pad out his coif to hold it in place. Similarly, the arming doublet didn’t take account of his scoliosis, so it too had to be padded to keep the armour from sliding or rubbing. The symmetrical shoulder pauldrons kept catching on his asymmetrical cuirass, reflecting his shoulder blades catching on his rib cage underneath, so every time he lifted the lance he had to deliberately push up the pauldrons, which should have risen automatically as he lifted his arms had they fit correctly. He had to try and hold reins and weapons without being able to close his hands because the gauntlets didn’t fit. And while the high-backed medieval saddle helped his posture, it wasn’t designed to interact with his custom-made armour so the culet, a piece of armour that’s meant to protect the rider’s bum from weapons while on horseback, was instead driven into Dominic’s bum. Imagine galloping through a field wearing ill fitting plate armour and trying to hit a target with a weapon you’re unable to grip properly – after only 40 hours of training!

The real Richard

Although Dominic didn’t say it, it seems clear that the documentary was edited to emphasise his physical limitations, for example filming him when he was out of breath or playing dead, while glossing over the shortcomings he overcame, such as ill fitting armour and lack of experience (not to mention interpreting the isotope analysis as evidence of a “dissolute” lifestyle). Of course, if Dominic’s achievements were even more impressive than they appear in the programme – he spent up to 11 hours a day on horseback – then it should be even less surprising that Richard, with his greater experience and custom-made armour, was able to earn a reputation as a competent warrior.

To explore how and to what extent these “limitations” can be further compensated Dominic has set up the Dominic Smee Armour Fund to raise money for a fully customised suit of armour. He has already added a new piece to his collection: an asymmetrical arming doublet curtesy of Ninya Mikhaila of The Tudor Tailor, which fits under his asymmetrical cuirass without the need for padding. He is also writing a book about his scoliosis and how his attitude has changed from previously ignoring it to now accepting it. As he commented at the end of the talk, the biggest surprise for him was finding out how much he is actually able to do.

I would recommend Dominic’s talks to anyone who is interested in Richard III. He’s an engaging speaker who, despite his different background, is in the unique position of being able to offer insights based on first hand experience. “Body of Evidence” added many new details to my understanding of the historical Richard and I look forward to any new information Dominic’s research may reveal.

[1] The Song of Ladye Bessiye

Sources:

Dominic Smee: “Body of Evidence”, Leicester University, 21 March 2015

The Dominic Smee Armour Fund

Arming Richard

When I was in Leicester for the re-interment I was lucky enough to be able to attend a lecture by the armour expert, Richard Knox, and Dominic Smee, Richard’s body double.

Demonstration of Richard III double being armed

Richard Knox arming Dominic

As an osteopath I was interested in some of the information Dominic gave about that and this included the height of Richard and how much he would have lost because of the scoliosis. Dominic said that his orthopaedic consultant told him that he had lost three inches because of the scoliosis. As we know, Richard would have been 5 feet 8 inches without taking it into account, so that means his actual height would have been 5 feet 5 inches (not 4 feet 8 inches which I saw reported in a local Leicester paper!) Additionally, Dominic told us that his scoliosis began one vertebra lower than Richard’s and that this would mean that Richard would have been a little more flexible in the hips than him but a little less flexible in the shoulders. (As an aside, Dominic also told us his brother’s name was Richard!)

Dominic in body armour

Dominic shows that his scoliosis is not apparent in armour (nor, indeed, when in normal clothes)

As far as the actual arming went, they showed us the kind of armour Richard would have worn and then how it would have been fitted. Dominic wore his leg armour from the start of the talk as he said that was quite tricky to put on and fairly easy and light to wear, so perhaps Richard would have worn his leg armour in advance of the battle as well. Nor would the leg armour prevent them answering the call of nature! The rest of the harness took about twenty minutes to put on and, to demonstrate, Dominic was armed by Richard Knox while they commented on what they were doing and what it was called, etc. One fascinating photo-slide that they showed was of the view Dominic had while wearing the armour during his charge on horseback. All he could see was his horse’s ears! It must have been terrifying! And he didn’t have enemy soldiers trying to kill him. I later tried on one of the helmets and it was terribly claustrophobic. Not only could you see very little, nor could you hear clearly – everything was muffled. And Dominic confirmed it would get very hot after wearing it for a while, especially in the summer. So now I can understand why some knights in armour would have removed their helmets, despite the danger. I could almost feel the panic if one was claustrophobic.

Dominic armed - note the helmet's narrow eye slit

Dominic armed – note the helmet’s narrow eye slit

In conclusion, I now appreciate even more how courageous Richard and the other knights must have been to charge into battle against the enemy, whilst being half deafened, half blinded and suffocatingly hot!

The latest Channel Four documentary on Richard III….

I have now seen the excellent Channel Four documentary on whether or not Richard III could have led the cavalry charge at Bosworth. Well, of course, it was already known that he did, so the question was, how efficiently could he do it? The …answer was “Bl–dy well!” The young man, Dominic Smee, whose scoliosis is a virtual match for Richard’s, was an inspiration, not only to others, but to himself as well, which was so very warming to learn.

However, Dominic aside, for he was perfect throughout, I have a quibble or two about the programme itself, excellent as it was, because the verdict at the end was that once Richard became king, he also became a glutton and drunkard. Excuse me? Let me think about this.

On ascending the throne (rightfully, lawfully and without question as the true wearer of the crown) he took on the banquet circus. It was unavoidable. You couldn’t have important ambassadors dining on bread and cheese. Not good for England’s street cred in Europe. Imagine the post-prandial giggles at the French court. Richard is bankrupt and can’t afford hospitality. Hey, maybe we should plan an invasion while he can’t afford to arm his forces… Oh, oui, quelle bonne idée! Pass the napkin and quill, let’s start planning…

But for Channel Four, the implication of these banquets was that Richard ate his way through everything on the immense menu. Historically, he was actually recorded as eating ‘sparingly’. I’d like to see our present queen sitting at a banquet and proceeding to chomp the lot! Richard, apparently also drank far too much. Surely, if he was half-cut all the time, when everyone else wasn’t, someone, somewhere might have made a teensy note? I’m certain our ‘Enery Tudor (for one) wouldn’t have missed such a handy stick with which to beat his predecessor.

The programme kept insisting that Richard’s diet was far, far richer than those of his peers and contemporaries. How do they know? How many other kings’ bones have they ground up to find out? I’m prepared to believe that Richard’s food was much richer once he became king, but the drinking bit is iffy to say the least. They all drank then – the water was as iffy as the conjecture about his booze-addled existence. And he didn’t sit at those banquets alone, so presumably everyone around him was chomping and slurping as well?

So, no, I think Channel Four are hoping for a little controversy. After all, the programme shows that Richard could certainly do everything he is recorded as having done. That might equal ‘boring’ in TV-speak, so let’s home in on something else to crank up the hype. Ah yes – he was a lush! And he had worms. Mustn’t forget the worms. Always good for the shudder factor. Oh, PS, he had more worms than anyone else as well. Yes, neat suggestion. He was excessive in everything!

Otherwise, I enjoyed it all. And nothing has shaken my loyalty or admiration for King Richard III. Adversity struck him on all sides in his health and private life, and in the public form of treachery by those who wanted his power for themselves, but still he was a remarkable king, whose Parliament did so very much for his people. Slightly built, drunk, suffering from indigestion due to gorging on over-rich food at breakfast in his tent, he still came within a few feet of giving Henry the Jelly a fatal dent to the helm. Bonk! One huge Ricardian clout would have been all that was needed, and bingo – no Tudor dynasty! No wonder Henry made sure to never again be on a battlefield. He must have bricked it big time when he watched the demon Richard hacking his way toward him.

So well done, Dominic. I think we now have a much more accurate idea of what Richard actually looked like, gracile arms and all. And Dominic now feels much more confident in himself, so while he did a favour for Richard, Richard has returned that favour. Good luck, Dominic, may your fortunes improve now on. We all wish you well.

And yes, thank you Channel Four, for a very informative programme. Shame about some over-emphases, but on the whole you have done Richard a service. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/11030692/Recreating-Richard-III-Channel-4s-New-Evidence.html

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