Richard III had severe scoliosis but was not a hunchback, researchers find

Scientists and researchers have completed their study on the spinal column of Richard III, revealing that his scoliosis caused these bones to curve to the right, a well as a degree of twisting, resulting in a “spiral” shape. However, he would not have been hunchbacked as he was depicted by later writers.

Richard III spine - Spinal Curvature - Credit- University of Leicester

This research has been published this week in the journal The Lancet. It was carried out by experts from the University of Leicester, University of Cambridge, Loughborough University and University Hospitals of Leicester


The kind of scoliosis Richard suffered from a form of adolescent onset idiopathic scoliosis, which would have not started until he had almost finished growing. By the time he was an adult, Richard’s right shoulder would have been higher than his left, and his torso would have been relatively short compared to his arms and legs. The scoliosis also caused him to be several inches shorter than his normal height, which would have been about 5 feet 8 inches tall otherwise. This matches a contemporary description of Richard, by the chronicler John Rous who described the king as “small of stature, with a short face and unequal shoulders, the right higher and the left lower.”

University of Leicester osteoarchaelogist Dr Jo Appleby commented, “Although the scoliosis looks dramatic, it probably did not cause a major physical deformity. This is because he had a well-balanced curve. The condition would have meant that his trunk was short in comparison to the length of his limbs, and his right shoulder would have been slightly higher than the left, but this could have been disguised by custom-made armour and by having a good tailor.”


“A curve of 65-85 would not have prevented Richard from being an active individual, and there is no evidence that Richard had a limp as his curve was well balanced and his leg bones were normal and symmetric.”

In this audio file, Professor Bruno Morgan of the University of Leicester and Dr Piers Mitchell of the University of Cambridge offer further remarks about their findings.

The research team has also released a 3-D model of Richard III’s spine. Users can use their mouse to rotate 360 degrees around the representation of the king’s spine:

Dr Phil Stone, Chairman, Richard III Society, adds, “Examination of Richard III’s remains shows that he had a scoliosis, thus confirming that the Shakespearean description of a ‘hunch-backed toad’ is a complete fabrication – yet more proof that, while the plays are splendid dramas, they are also most certainly fiction not fact.


“History tells us that Richard III was a great warrior. Clearly, he was little inconvenienced by his spinal problem and accounts of his appearance, written when he was alive, tell that he was “of person and bodily shape comely enough” and that he “was the most handsome man in the room after his brother, Edward IV”.

Click here to read the article The scoliosis of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England: diagnosis and clinical significance

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