We have already shown how Shakespeare was inadvertently influenced by contemporary or earlier events in setting details – names, events, badges or physical resemblance – for his Hamlet, King Lear and Richard III. What of Romeo and Juliet, thought to have been written between 1591-5 and first published, in quarto form, in 1597?
The most notable point is that Romeo’s family name is Montague. The barony of Montagu was a courtesy title of the Earldoms of Salisbury and Warwick and Henry Pole, the last holder, was executed in 1538-9, as we have shown. His grandson, Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon and a prominent figure for two thirds of Elizabeth I’s reign, died in 1595. Is that why Shakespeare chose a particular surname for the male lead character that doesn’t sound very Italian?
We all know the amazing reconstruction of the head of Richard III, and the confirmation it gave of how he really had looked. Forget Shakespeare’s Richard III, the real man had been young, good-looking and altogether normal, except for scoliosis that affected his spine. But when he was dressed, it wouldn’t have shown, especially in the sumptuous clothes of the 15th century. So, no murderous, hump-backed monster he. Ricardians always knew it, but the reconstruction from his skull was final, undeniable proof.
I have always been fascinated by the actual appearance of great figures from the past, and want to know if my imagination is creating something even remotely close to the truth. Take Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. I can imagine so much about him, but all I really know of his physical appearance is from his stone likeness of the tomb of his Beauchamp father-in-law in Warwick. There he is, one of many hooded weepers around the tomb, but does that rather grim face really bear any resemblance? Frustratingly, we will probably never know.
Now, while Richard III was the first king I could ever have called my favourite, he now has a companion, his predecessor with the same name, Richard II. And for Richard II, we have what is reckoned to be the first true painted likeness of a King of England – the full-length portrait that now hangs in Westminster Abbey.
Richard II’s looks would seem to have been almost oriental, with heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes, but his complexion is pale and his curling hair a tumble of auburn curls that is decidedly not oriental. There is another likeness of him, as an older man, taken from his tomb, which bears a marked resemblance to the Westminster Abbey portrait.
Richard III’s portraits were eventually proved to be very like the real man. But would the same be said of Richard II’s portraits, if we were to be fortunate enough to see a reconstruction of his head?
To me, Richard II is visually unlike any other king, but then, we don’t actually know what his predecessors (and some of his successors) really looked like. I think we can be sure from Richard III, Henry VII and onward, but before then, the likenesses we have are rather standard, as if selected from a pattern book.
For instance, we have no true portrait of Richard’s father, the “Black Prince”, unless we count his tomb effigy in Canterbury Cathedral. But as this depicts him in full armour, with close-fitting headwear that rather confines and squashes his features, it’s hard to say what he was really like.
However, we surely have a credible image of Richard’s grandfather, the great Edward III, because his tomb effigy is based upon this death mask. And so we see a handsome old man with long hair and matching beard, and a slight droop of the mouth that is reckoned to be proof of a stroke. But we still do not have an actual portrait of him. His grandson’s likeness in Westminster Abbey holds the honour of being the first.
So, did Richard II look like his Westminster Abbey portrait and effigy?
In the case of Richard III, we had his skull and sufficient advance in scientific and artistic knowledge to recreate his head. We may not have the skull of Richard II, but we do have the next best thing, because his tomb was opened in 1871, and very detailed drawings were made of his skull, complete with measurements.
Thought to have been lost, those drawings have been rediscovered in the basement in the National Portrait Gallery, together with a cigarette box containing what are believed to be relics from Richard’s tomb—fragments of wood, probably from the coffin, and a piece of leather thought to have been part of the king’s glove.
The find was made by archivists who were cataloguing the papers of the Gallery’s first director, Sir George Scharf, who had been invited to witness the opening of royal tombs (Richard II, Edward VI, Henry VII, James I and Elizabeth of York) and the date on the cigarette box containing the relics matches that of Sir George’s visit—31st August 1871.
One thing the drawings prove is that Richard was not bludgeoned to death, for there is no sign of damage to the skull. So Shakespeare was wrong about that! He’s wrong about a lot of things when it comes to kings by the name of Richard.
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)!
I do not like including images of Richard’s remains, but the above double-image is from this article, in which Professor Sarah Hainsworth, who has given a talk to 10-11 year olds from Turves Green School.
I quote from the article:-
“….World renowned forensic scientist and engineer, Professor Hainsworth, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Aston University shared her expertise with 80 Yr10 and Yr11 students from Turves Green Girls’ School on 23rd October.
“….Professor Hainsworth led the research into the final death blows of King Richard III during her time at the University of Leicester. She spoke about her scientific analysis of the wounds found on the skeleton of King Richard III. This related the tool marks to possible weapons and identified through the study of forensics the exact nature of his death at the Battle of Bosworth, 1485. She also explained how scientists proved that his curvature of the spine, made famous by Shakespeare’s hunched backed king, was in fact the bone disease scoliosis….”
The students were apparently shocked by the bloody details of his terrible death, but let’s hope that the talk inspires them to not only want to know more about our history, but about Richard in particular.
Too little history is taught in our schools these days, and the next generation is in danger of losing touch with its roots. It’s a rot that should be stopped! NOW!
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 – Julia is in the front, first from R-L
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!
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).
Coke’s simplest royal descent is from 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.
This article is very interesting, because it re-examines Shakespeare’s perverted version of Richard III. Yes, it’s about the play, and a production of it, but toward the end it deals with the REAL Richard, and how he has been damned by the Tudors and their propaganda. Well worth a read.
In a previous post, we explored the theory that Shakespeare’s Richard III was actually based on the Elizabethan politician, Robert Cecil.
Here is another discussion of the subject, Richard III and Robert Cecil, with references to the hypothesis that Shakespeare was actually the 17th Earl of Oxford, a descendant of the previous Earls of Oxford who were such thorns in the side of the Yorkist kings and one of whom was a major factor in Richard’s defeat at Bosworth. If this is true, it is no wonder that ‘Shakespeare’ was happy to blacken Richard’s name.
There are a few misconceptions in the linked article, notably the assertion that Richard executed the 12th Earl and his oldest son; since Richard was only nine years of age on the date Oxford was executed (26th February 1462) this is obviously erroneous and it was, in fact, John Tiptoft who would have presided over Oxford’s execution, being Constable of England at that time (a position he occupied until 1469).
Such distortions of age and timing also occur in Shakespeare, of course, placing Richard at the first battle of St Alban’s, when he would only have been two and a half years old! In fact, he took part in neither of the St Alban’ s battles.
Edward II (left), traditionally dated a year before his own 1593 death. In it, he fuels the myth of Edward meeting his end by a red-hot poker. This is cited by Starkey in his (Channel Four series) Monarchy, who called Edward’s rear his “fundament”, showing again why he should not roam from his “Tudor” area of expertise.
Marlowe’s legacy of influence in this is obviously less than Shakespeare’s with regard to Richard III, but the parallels are
obvious. In quoting earlier “historians”, Shakespeare transferred the kyphosis of another contemporary figure to Richard, which some naive people still believe, whilst Richard’s disinterment demonstrated him to suffer from scoliosis instead. Indeed, the Starkey acolyte Dan Jones seems untroubled by the facts in either case.