How Twisted Was King Richard III's Spine? New Models Reveal
Sept. 16, 2012 --
The remains of Richard III, the monarch immortalized as a villainous hunchback by William Shakespeare and the last English king to die in battle, might have been discovered in a parking lot in Leicester. DNA analysis is still needed to confirm the findings, and that could take up to 12 weeks, according to researchers at the University of Leicester. While we wait, let's look at other royals known to have vanished from history.
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Edward V and Richard, Duke of York Before Richard III assumed the throne, there was only one person standing in his way: his nephew, Edward V. Only a boy at 12 years old, Edward V was unprepared for the responsibilities of the crown left to him by his father, Edward IV, who entrusted Richard as Protector until the boy came of age. The future king Richard III in short order imprisoned Edward V in the Tower of London, along with his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York. The uncle then declared Edward IV's marriage invalid, and therefore his heirs were illegitimate. Richard III assumed the throne and the two boys disappeared from history shortly thereafter. Although remains belonging to two children were discovered in the 17th century by workers renovating a section of the Tower, the bones were never conclusively identified as belonging to the two boys.
Harold II Even though Harold II might have had one of the most famous deaths of any monarch in English history, his final resting place is unknown. Harold II assumed the throne in 1066. That same year, William the Conqueror led an army of Norman invaders into England. The armies of William and Harold met at the Battle of Hastings in October. After hours of fighting, with victory within his grasp, Harold was, according to legend, either shot in the eye or stabbed with a sword. His body was then mutilated and dismembered. Although the site of Harold's death is known, what followed after is a matter of some speculation. According to popular accounts, William had Harold's body buried in secret, even though Harold's mother offered a sum to claim the body.
Henry I When Henry VIII was engaged in his campaign against Catholicism, he seized church lands and raided monasteries. In the process, his men disturbed and even destroyed the final resting places of the monarchs who came before him. In fact, Henry VIII even likely caused the destruction of the tomb of his namesake: Henry I. Henry I was the son of William the Conqueror, and reigned for nearly 30 years from 1106 to 1135. Although he crowned himself king in 1100, his reign was disputed by his older brother, Robert, who had been away fighting in the Crusades. Henry initially was able to buy Robert off, but the two later came into conflict again, which was only resolved in 1106 with Henry's army capturing Robert in battle and imprisoning him for life. Henry spent much of his time away from England, often frequenting Normandy. In order to rule in his absence, he created a bureaucracy that would efficiently govern and run the affairs of state, the most important duty of which was to collect taxes. Following the death of his son, Henry was left with only one legitimate heir, his daughter. When Henry died in 1135, his daughter's rule was rejected by the English nobility and civil war ensued.
Pharaoh Userkare If famous kings who died within the last 1,000 years are difficult to find, then an obscure pharaoh that lived some 4,300 years ago must be close to impossible. The reign of Userkare, the second pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty, has been shrouded in mystery, partly due to the fact that his tomb had not been discovered. In 2010, Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan's Polytechnic University, suggested a possible final resting place for the pharaoh. as reported by Discovery News' Rossella Lorenzi. The search, however, is still ongoing.
WATCH VIDEO: Find out what it's like hunting down ancient Egyptian treasures.
Queen Nefertiti Obscure royals are bound to escape history's notice. But when the ones who really left their mark manage to elude discovery, that's another story entirely. Ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti might be the most sought-after royal yet undiscovered. She died over 3,300 years ago, but was made famous in the modern era following the discovery of the 19-inch limestone, painted bust of her, seen here. Nefertiti was, in the words of Discovery News' Rossella Lorenzi, "the royal wife of the 'heretic' pharaoh Akhenaton, who initiated a new monotheistic religion that involved the worship the sun god Aton." Despite pursuits to find her tomb, including one such expedition funded by the Discovery Channel, no archaeologist has yet found where Nefertiti is buried.
READ MORE: Tracking Nefertiti: Egypt Guide
Emperor Jianwen When you're emperor of a nation as large as China, you'd think someone would notice your disappearance. Emperor Jianwen (1377-1402) was the second emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and nearly led it to ruin. Failed efforts to gain greater control over territory within his empire, which was governed by his uncles, led to the outbreak of civil war. When troops belonging to one of Jianwen's uncles attacked Nanjing, then the capital under the Ming Dynasty, the imperial palace caught fire, supposedly killing Jianwen and his concubines. However, an alternate version of events suggests Jianwen secretly escaped in the midst of the battle and took refuge in a monastery, where he lived out the rest of his days.
Anastasia Nikolaevna Although no longer missing, the final resting place of Anastasia Nikolaevna, daughter of tsar Nicholas II, the last monarch of Russia, was a nearly century-long mystery that ended in 2009. Along the way, false reports, witnesses and impostors claiming to be the deceased grand duchess turned up. The idea that somehow Nikolaevna had escaped execution gripped popular imagination, including an animated film in 1997. In 1991, speculation that Nikolaevna survived the massacre that claimed her family was bolstered by the discovery of a mass grave. Buried there were the remains of the tsar, his wife and three of their daughters. Traces of the two remaining children, a son and another daughter, were not at the site. In 2007, a grave in Yekaterinburg, Russia, proved to be the final resting place of the two remaining children. Two years later, researchers announced that DNA analysis confirmed that the remains were of the two young royals.
Shakespeare called him a hunchback, but a new three-dimensional model of King Richard III's spiraling spine shows his true disability: adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.
Richard III, who ruled England from 1483 to 1485, died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. His body was buried in a hastily dug grave in Leicester, where it was then lost to time. In 2012, archaeologists rediscovered the bones under a city council parking lot, and exhumed them for study.
The curve in Richard's spine was immediately obvious, confirming an anatomical anomaly that had long been controversial. No paintings made during the king's lifetime survive, according to the Richard III Society (though some exist from soon after his death that were likely copied from originals, and modern researchers have reconstructed the king's face).
The popular image of Richard III came from Shakespeare, who describe the king as a "poisonous bunch-backed toad" in his 1593 play. Shakespeare's Richard III had a hunchback and a withered arm, and modern historians were uncertain whether the depiction held any truth or was simply designed to please the political enemies of the king's Plantagenet family line. [Gallery: The Spine of Richard III]
In 1490, just five years after Richard's death in battle, however, medieval historian John Rous described the king as a small man with "unequal shoulders, the right higher and the left lower." This description is consistent with scoliosis, a condition in which the spine curves sideways.
Richard III's rediscovered skeleton revealed that the king did, in fact, have scoliosis. Now, researchers led by University of Leicester bioarchaeologist Jo Appleby reveals the details of his condition.
Appleby and her colleagues conducted computed tomography scans of the king's individual vertebrae. These CT scans use X-rays to image the inside of the bone, creating virtual slices that can be explored digitally. Using the scans, the researchers then created polymer copies of each vertebra, piecing them together into a 3D model of Richard III's spine.
The skeleton of Richard III, showing the curve in his spine.University of Leicester
The scans and model showed that Richard III had a right-sided, spiral-shaped curve that peaked at thoracic vertebrae 8 and 9, approximately at his mid-back. The curve was well-balanced, meaning that Richard III's spine got back in line by the time it hit his pelvis. As a result, his hips were even, the researchers report today (May 29) in the journal The Lancet. Richard III would not have limped or had trouble breathing due to his condition, which are common side effects of severe scoliosis. [Images: New Dig at Richard III's Rediscovered Grave]
"Obviously, the skeleton was flattened out when it was in the ground," Appleby said in a statement. "We had a good idea of the sideways aspect of the curve, but we didn't know the precise nature of the spiral aspect of the condition."
Scoliosis can be caused by muscular imbalances that pull the spine out of alignment, but the rest of Richard III's skeleton showed no evidence of such problems, Appleby and her colleagues found. Nor were there any malformed hemivertebrae, which are wedge-shaped vertebrae that can cause the spine to twist and turn.
Instead, the researchers concluded, Richard III likely had adolescent-onset idiopathic scoliosis. Idiopathic means the cause is unknown, which is the case in the majority of people with scoliosis. The abnormal curve probably appeared in Richard after age 10.
The curve itself had a spiral appearance, and an angle that would be considered large today. Doctors use a measurement called the Cobb angle to gauge spine deformity. On an X-ray, they draw a line outward from the top of the highest vertebra on the curve and then do the same for the bottom of the lowest vertebra. They then measure the angle where the two lines meet. Richard III's Cobb angle was between 70 degrees and 90 degrees in life, the researchers determined.
Without scoliosis, Richard III would have stood about 5 feet, 8 inches (1.7 meters), average for a medieval European man. The curvature would have taken a few inches off his height, and it would have caused the shoulder imbalance that Rous described. Nevertheless, it would not have kept Richard III from being an active individual, Appleby said.
"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," she said, "but this could have been disguised by custom-made armor and by having a good tailor."
Though scientists can't be sure whether or not Richard III underwent any treatment for his scoliosis, Mary Ann Lund of the University of Leicester said painful traction was widely available at the time. Not only would Richard have been able to afford traction, but also, Lund found, his doctors would have been well aware of the method, as the 11th-century polymath Avicenna described such traction in treatises on medicine and philosophy.
Original article on Live Science.
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