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Scoliosis treatments at the time of Richard III

After centuries of slanders about Richard III, always named as “the hunchbacked king”, it was finally proved that he just suffered from scoliosis.

He was not born with this condition but he probably started to suffer with it in his adolescence between 10 and 15. This is the so-called idiopathic scoliosis that can be, in some cases, very painful and in very rare cases can even be fatal.

This kind of scoliosis can’t be prevented, as the cause is unknown but the culprit could be the growth hormone or a genetic predisposition. This condition can be mild or severe. In the latter, it can affect the appearance of the person and obviously can create embarrassment, low self-esteem and sometimes depression in addition to physical distress, headache, a very thin shape, stomach problems and lung dysfunction.

Severe scoliosis is visible if the person wears tight clothes and, if it doesn’t stop developing, it can cause excruciating pain due to nerve pressure. However, people affected by scoliosis have a normal life and can practice sports, do exercise and every normal, daily activity.

Richard III is probably the most famous person affected by idiopathic scoliosis, along with Princess Eugenie of York, the runner Usain Bolt, the actress Liz Taylor, the singers Kurt Cobain and Liza Minnelli, the tennis star, James Blake, among others.

Today, it is easy to treat this condition thanks to braces and, in the worst cases, with surgery but, unfortunately, these treatments were not available at the time of Richard III and medieval remedies were almost useless, very painful and often they even worsened the situation.

For people affected by mild scoliosis, there were some massage techniques used in Turkish baths along with the application of ointments made with herbs and plants. In other cases, these massages were made in preparation for another treatment. One of the most common ‘remedies’ was traction. The equipment for this treatment was very expensive, so only rich people and the nobility could afford it. As Richard was a member of one of the wealthiest families in England and a noble as well, it is highly probable that he would have gone through traction. The instrument used for this purpose was similar to the ‘rack’ used to torture people. The patient was lying on his back and tied by armpits and calves by a rope to a wooden roller and literally pulled to stretch the spine. The treatment could last for hours and it is not difficult to imagine how horribly painful it was and, unfortunately, it was of no benefit.

Richard’s family would have had the best physicians of the time and these should have been aware of this treatment so it is likely that, unfortunately, he had to undergo traction. It is difficult to imagine that Richard’s family wouldn’t have tried to cure his spine, being such highly-ranked people.

However, scoliosis was not just a physical issue. A person affected by scoliosis was seen as the incarnation of evil and a sinner, while a straight spine represented morality, goodness and beauty. The Shakespearean character of Richard III was associated with wickedness and immorality because of his physical deformity, sharpened to the maximum to create an unscrupulous monster capable of any crime.

Richard managed to hide his condition for his whole life because he very well knew this could have been a reason for being painted as a bad person, twisted in his body and, therefore, also in his mind.

After his death at Bosworth, he was stripped naked and his secret revealed. Shakespeare exaggerated his condition in order to misrepresent Richard and to blame him for every possible crime. His scoliosis became a hunchback with the addition of a withered arm and a limp.

With the discovery of his skeleton under the car park in Leicester, it appeared very clear that Richard had just a scoliosis and the evil hunchbacked king created by Shakespeare was just Tudor propaganda, that made Richard the most maligned king in English history. This discovery helped to reveal Richard in a new light and called into question all the atrocities he has been accused of. There are many reasons to believe that the truth will eventually come to light.

Do you want to know a very strange coincidence? In Ipswich, where the sales office of the Richard III Society is located, there is a surgeon, expert in spinal surgery: his name is Robert Lovell (top)!

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How Richard’s scoliosis might be treated today

As an osteopath, Richard’s scoliosis is another aspect of his life that fascinates me. It came to my attention that a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent, Julia Carlile, aged 16, had a scoliosis treated privately in the USA, which was paid for by Simon Cowell ($175,000)

The Mersey Girls on Britain's Got Talent

The Mersey Girls on Britain’s Got Talent – Julia is in the front, first from R-L

Click here to read more: Here.

This was interesting, but even more intriguing was the way it was treated. Scoliosis is usually treated by inserting metal rods each side of the spine. The operation is very invasive, involves large scars and leaves the patient with a spine which is very stiff, although straighter than it was. The old way would have meant Julia would never dance again, which is why Simon Cowell stepped in when he heard that the new technique would allow the spine to still be flexible enough to dance.

The operation is called vertebral body tethering, although the place in the USA that formulated the technique prefer to call it ‘Anterior Scoliosis Correction’. It involves screws being fixed along a cord inside the back. The recovery time is just six weeks and the operation is reversible if it doesn’t work. Here is a link to the place that pioneered the technique if you want to find out more: Here

Just imagine if Richard had had access to this kind of treatment!

Royal genealogy before it happens (3)

(as published in the Setember 2018 Bulletin)eugenieandjack

Seven years ago, before this blog officially began, a letter was published in the Ricardian Bulletin about the common Edward III descent of the Duke and Duchess, as she soon became, of Cambridge through the Gascoigne-Fairfax line. This, about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s mutual ancestry, followed this March.

Now it is clear that Princess Eugenie, the former scoliosis sufferer and daughter of the Duke of York, and her partner Jack Brooksbank are closely related through Edward III and James II (the Scottish one). They will marry at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor on 12 October.

Having examined the evidence, this document and shows that they have a most recent common ancestor: Thomas Coke, 2nd Earl of Leicester (1822-1909).

thomas-coke-2nd-earl-of-leicester

Coke’s simplest royal descent is from Charles II.

charles-ii

Brooksbank is descended from Edward III via Robert Devereux (2nd Earl of Essex, through four of Edward III’s sons, although I have chosen the senior Mortimer line) to Coke’s second wife, Lady Georgiana Cavendish, although there is probably other Edward III ancestry. Lady Georgiana’s grandmother was Lady Catherine Gordon, daughter of the Marquess of Huntly and this line descends from James IV, who is obviously more recent than his grandfather, but through his mistress not his “Tudor” wife. He, of course, was James II’s grandson.

This document shows that Lady Georgiana was descended from the first Earl of Harewood, Edward Lascelles, whose wife was descended through the Bowes and Lumley lines from Edward IV.

Furthermore, as this picture shows, Princess Eugenie wore a backless dress to show her scoliosis scar.

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).

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