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Richard's back: death, scoliosis and myth making
  1. Mary Ann Lund
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mary Ann Lund, School of English, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK; maejl1{at}le.ac.uk

Abstract

The body of a mediaeval monarch was always under scrutiny, and Richard III's was no exception. In death, however, his body became subject to new forms of examination and interpretation: stripped naked after the battle of Bosworth, his corpse was carried to Leicester and exhibited before being buried. In 2012, it was rediscovered. The revelation that Richard suffered from scoliosis prompts this article to re-evaluate the historical sources about Richard's physique and his posthumous reputation. This article argues that Richard's death and his myth as ‘crookback’ are inextricably linked and traces attitudes to spinal curvature in the early modern period. It also considers how Shakespeare represented Richard as deformed, and aspects of performance history which suggest physical vulnerability. It then considers Richard's scoliosis from the perspective of medical history, reviewing classical accounts of scoliosis and arguing that Richard was probably treated with a mixture of axial traction and pressure. It demonstrates from the evidence of Richard's medical household that he was well placed to receive hands-on therapies and considers in particular the role of his physician and surgeon, William Hobbes. Finally, it shows how the case of Richard III demonstrates the close relationship between politics and medicine in the period and the contorted process of historical myth making.

  • Politics
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