Secrets: Richard III

The Smithsonian’s documentary Richard III Revealed probes the excavation and identification of the bones of Richard III, king of England. Largely driven by Philippa Langley and the Richard III Society, the group hoped to prove historical descriptions of Richard Plantagenet as a ruthless “hunchback” were vicious slanders propagated by the Tudors in their own quest for power. Forensic analysis of the skeleton (confirmed by matrilineal DNA) revealed that he did indeed have scoliosis, causing one shoulder to be higher than the other and a reduction in height, though his orthopedic disability was not so severe as to preclude an active lifestyle. (No evidence of a withered arm was found.)

Philippa took the news hard, weeping at the shattered image of her hero and using the pejorative term “hunchback” freely. In her mind, the fact that Richard had scoliosis was enough to turn him into the Shakespearean villain of old. It may very well be that Richard had to be ruthless to seize power in a hostile political climate, but it is surprising that a supposedly modern and enlightened person like Philippa should fall prey to the stereotype that physical disfigurement indicates an evil nature.


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