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.