Crookback Dick

Shakespeare was lying about Richard III’s arm, but not about his back.

Update See comment for the distinction between scoliosis and kyphosis. Maybe the written record had it right in the first place.

So the body of Richard III has been found, buried under a parking lot. (Jimmy Hoffa is still missing.) There’s no evidence of the withered arm portrayed by Shakespeare.

Oddly, though, there is evidence of severe scoliosis. Tudor literature portrayed him as hunchbacked, but contemporary documents make no mention of it, and the portraits show him as entirely upright. Score one for oral tradition over the written record.

Footnote Josephine Tey wrote wonderful mystery novels, and The Daughter of Time is a marvelously convincing presentation of the case for Richard’s innocence, but his nephews disappeared from public sight under his control and never reappeared. Guilty, on mine honor.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

20 thoughts on “Crookback Dick”

  1. I don’t think Crouchback Richard got his scoliosis working over a low stove. That could be Lambert Simnel, who was put forward by ingenious Yorkists a little later as the younger of the Tower princes, pardoned as an innocent stooge by Henry VII, and put to work in the palace kitchen.

  2. Scoliosis is a lateral curve; a hunchback has kyphosis, a forward curve. The skeleton shows a lateral curve in the thoracic-lumbar area — scoliosis — and no sign of kyphosis in the cervical-thoracic area. Ergo, Richard III was not a hunchback. Score one for the written tradition and having a family where several members had scoliosis.

    Richard III may have had more back pain than the average person, and he may have had a slight build, but while he was no jock, he wasn’t crippled, either. He could ride a horse and swing a sword.

  3. Mark, you’re still a little off the mark on how the degree of scoliosis shown by the skeleton would have affected the man when he was alive. Note that his skeleton seems to line up the hips and shoulders reasonably well, because his spine curves out and in again. He would not have walked or stood severely canted over to one side, although he may have listed to one side. The written record only mentions one shoulder than the other, which is also what was reported by the Leicester experts today.

    I was a skinny kid with a curve almost as pronounced as Mr. Plantagenet’s (before getting it corrected by surgery in my teens), and I stood fairly upright, too. I could show you school photos taken from the same three quarter position as him and you wouldn’t have considered me crooked, either. Put me in the ornate clothing he would have normally worn, and the curve of my back wouldn’t have been terribly apparent from many angles.

    Sorry, the oral tradition — and Shakespeare — transformed an admittedly serious but not crippling case of scoliosis to a hunchback, a withered arm, and difficulty walking. The oral tradition still loses.

  4. Tudor literature portrayed him as hunchbacked, but contemporary documents make no mention of it

    These seems likely a case where the deformity was discovered after RIII’s death and then perpetuated incorrectly as ‘hunchback’, given that the Tudors were pretty obviously engaged in anti-Richard propaganda.

    but his nephews disappeared from public sight under his control and never reappeared. Guilty, on mine honor.

    Not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Guilty of disappearing them initially, yes. (Poor nutrition, poor hygiene and disease, all due to being confined, have to be considered as suspects.)

    max
    [‘The case for Richard the III being a standard butcherous medieval king is pretty solid; the case for him being a Hitlerian villain is entirely undemonstrated.’]

    1. Yes, it’s possible that instead of having his nephews killed he merely locked them up in a place where they both died.

      I agree on “Hitlerian villain;” Richard’s fellow Northerners were on his side, and Richard was probably a better king (certainly a more legitimate one) than Henry Tudor.

      1. For British monarchs, “legitimacy” always entailed not pissing off too many of the kingdom’s leading nobles. This was true at least going back to the time of King John. Edward II and Richard II lost their thrones (and their lives) when they tried to rule as autocrats. Henry VII and VIII managed to break the nobility’s ancient power, but Henry VIII squandered his windfall of monastic loot so spectacularly that by the time of King Charles I, England’s new ascendant class – the gentry as represented by Parliament – was powerful enough to stand up once more to a King grown too big for his britches.

      2. For British monarchs, “legitimacy” always entailed not pissing off too many of the kingdom’s leading nobles. This was true at least going back to the time of King John. Edward II and Richard II lost their thrones (and their lives) when they tried to rule as autocrats. Henry VII and VIII managed to break the nobility’s ancient power, but Henry VIII squandered his windfall of monastic loot so spectacularly that by the time of King Charles I, England’s new ascendant class – the gentry as represented by Parliament – was powerful enough to stand up once more to a King grown too big for his britches.

        1. There’s no evidence that Richard III tried to rule as an autocrat. The parliament of 1484 was pretty active and most of his innovative legislation, such as extending the right to bail to people awaiting trial, would have benefited the elite more than the underclasses inasmuch as they would be more likely to be able to afford to make use of such provisions. Stuff like translating the law into English and establishing the Court of Requests (if he did) would have pissed off the lawyers, not the landowners. On the other hand, he had to deal with a significant residue of Lancastrian sentiment, in which he would reasonably have included the Wydevilles, plus as Duke of Gloucester he was involved in a number of land disputes in the north, most notably with the Stanleys. Henry VII eventually eliminated Yorkist recidivism by picking off all its important leaders and potential leaders one by one, but it took him twenty years; Richard III only had two.

          I expect he took out Edward V and his brother, or at least didn’t strive officiously to keep them alive; he certainly executed a bunch of Wydevilles without trial. I doubt if one would have wanted to have a drink with him; or with Edward IV or Henry VII.

          1. Any King or Prince of that era is unconvincing as a Nice Guy … Aftermath of the Battle of Tewksbury:

            Many of the other Lancastrian nobles and knights sought sanctuary in Tewkesbury Abbey. King Edward attended prayers in the Abbey shortly after the battle. He granted permission for Prince Edward and others slain in the battle to be buried within the Abbey or elsewhere in the town without being quartered as traitors as was customary.

            However, two days after the battle, Somerset and other leaders were dragged out of the Abbey, and were ordered by Gloucester [later Richard III] and the Duke of Norfolk to be put to death after perfunctory trials.[13] Among them were Hugh Courtenay, younger brother of the Earl of Devon, and Sir John Langstrother, the prior of the military order of St. John’s.[11] The Abbey was not officially a sanctuary,[18] though it is doubtful whether this would have deterred Edward even if it had been. It had to be re-consecrated a month after the battle, following the violence done within its precincts.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Tewkesbury

  5. There were no Harrington rods found at the site. This shows that they were not covered by his private health plan.

    1. Be that as it may one thing we can all agree on: If Richard had been allowed to carry an assault weapon and adequate clips he never would have ended up buried in a parking lot without his feet.

  6. It should be pointed out that, had the boys still been alive after Bosworth, it would have been very much in Henry’s interest that this regrettable state of affairs be remedied. They would have become the focus of legitimist, Yorkist, Plantagenetist opposition.

    That doesn’t mean that Richard didn’t have them killed, or that they didn’t die of mistreatment before his death. But their failure to reappear after his death doesn’t prove it.

    1. Not only this, but it has to be remembered that the status of the Princes In The Towers’ legitimacy (legally, as in ” legitimate” vs. ” bastards” ) had been made pretty much the whole foundation of Richard’s rule – bogus as the whole issue seems to be by modern standards – the problem foR the young Princes was that their presence has become inconvenient not only for their uncle Richard, but also for his main rival, Henry VII as well. Politics were tough in the 15th Century…..

  7. I’ve seen several productions of Richard III, and have sometimes thought it would be interesting to see him played as a strong, straight, virile king whose deformity is largely in his own mind. After all these years, it has probably been done.

  8. Check out the Richard III Society at http://www.r3.org for detailed defenses of Richard. Tey’s book makes some very convincing arguments about the boys’ fate that raise a reasonable doubt about Richard’s guilt and builds a very good case against Henry.

  9. We tend to forget how much of an outlier England was. Its politics were notoriously bloody (John and Arthur, Edward II, Richard II, Wars of the Roses…), but it was also, by pre-modern standards, very centralised and tightly governed. By contrast, France and Germany were less centralised, but their royal politics tended much less to assassination.

  10. “Crookback Dick” – I thought you were talking about Dick Cheney but then realized that would be “Crooked Dick.” Nevermind.

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