Leicester, UK - Richard III and Scoliosis



Leicester, UK - Richard III and Scoliosis

Catalog Entry

Richard III was the King of England from 1483 until he passed away in 1485. Despite his short reign, he still made a name for himself. After the death of his brother, King Edward IV, Richard III is rumored to have killed his nephews, Edward and Richard, in order to become the new king.

During his reign, Richard participated in a battle against the Lancastrians for control over the country. in the “War of the Roses.” During this bloody battle, Richard lost his father, his uncle, and one of his brothers. Shortly after the war, Richard’s brother, Edward IV, took over as king. Edward IV died, and the title of king was passed onto his son, Edward V. At the time, Edward was only 12, and Richard possibly took advantage of his innocence. Richard adopted his nephews and took the title of the king’s lord protector.  Richard eventually locked his nephews in the Tower of London, where they passed away.  This resulted in Richard becoming the new king.

In August 2012, archaeologists began looking for the body of King Richard III. The project was led by the University of Leicester archaeological services. In September 2012, a body was discovered where Grey Friars church once stood in Leicester. After uncovering the body, researchers compared the DNA to the DNA of Richard's sister, Anne of York.  In February of 2013, the DNA proved to be Richard’s. After coming to the conclusion that the skeleton was in fact Richard III, a proper burial was given out of respect.

When Richard’s skeletal remains were discovered, we were able to learn more about his scoliosis.  Due to disinformation spread by his enemies (namely the Tudors), Richard was called a "hunch-back" after his death. While he did in fact have scoliosis, he was only portrayed as a hunch-back because the Tudor family that defeated him did not want him to be seen as a strong ruler. Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine, somewhat like an “S” or “C,” which affects two to three percent of people in the world. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons concluded that “eighty percent of scoliosis cases have no identifiable cause." Although there is no specific cause, a few possibilities include birth defects, neurological abnormalities, and genetic conditions. Spinal injuries that occur later in life may also lead to scoliosis.

Many doctors suggest that yoga can help with scoliosis, as it helps to stretch out the spine. Scoliosis is also often treated with physical therapy or a chiropractor. Special braces are often used to help correct the curvature of the spine.  In some cases, surgery is necessary to completely adjust the angle of the spine. Many people who are affected by scoliosis develop other back issues, so it is rare that a simple treatment will completely fix their backs. 

Scoliosis can cause back pain and eventually lead to worse problems, such as bulging and/or herniated discs. A bulging disc is a common spine injury where the soft center of the spinal disc tends to slip or leak through a crack in the bone of the spine. Depending on where this is happening in the back it can affect other limbs of the body. If it is in the lower back, your hips or legs are more bound to be affected. But if the discs are shifted up higher than a possibly or shoulder, neck or arm pains are very common.

If the scoliosis is bad it will force the rib cage to rest on the person's lungs, or even their heart. This can lead to breathing difficulties, as well as problems with the heart pumping blood. These are serious issues that could play an important role in someone's health.

Scoliosis itself is not a life-threatening situation, but if it goes untreated it may cause unnecessary stress for the individual. In the case of King Richard III, his scoliosis did not affect much of his life. It was only after his death that people shamed him for his disability. The curvature of his spine did not stop him from becoming a king, and there were even treatments for scoliosis during his lifetime.  It is unknown if he used “traction,” but as king he would likely have been able to do so. While scoliosis has the capability of hurting someone’s quality of life, it is not debilitating, and it certainly did not make King Richard III any less of a king.


Pappas, Stephanie. “How Twisted Was King Richard III's Spine? New Models Reveal His Condition.” Live Science, www.livescience.com/45974-model-twisted-richard-iii-spine.html.

“Richard III.” ​Biography, 15 May 2019, ​www.biography.com/royalty/richard-iii​.

“Scoliosis.” ​Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 June 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/scoliosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350716​.

Artifact Owner

King Richard III Visitor Centre

Catalog Entry Author(s)

Nystasia Rowe, Student, Fitchburg State University


Reggie Warren, Student, Fitchburg State University


Kisha G. Tracy



“Leicester, UK - Richard III and Scoliosis,” Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed October 22, 2020, https://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/items/show/128.

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