LIC Blog

A Lack of Back-bone

At the start of Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones has surmounted spiders, poisoned darts, murder and treachery. Having finally reached the safety of his friend's sea-plane the audience is allowed a welcome slice of comedy, as our hero, freaks out, when he discovers the pilot's pet snake coiled next to him. His friend acidly remarks, "Come on, show a little back-bone, Indy!"

Back-bone is the attribute noteable by its absence from those Ricardians, who have swallowed - hook, line and sinker - the infallible decrees of Leicester University, as to the identity of the remains discovered in the car park. For years those well disposed to Richard have rejected his physical descriptions given by Tudor lackeys. In this they have had support from portraits, showing evidence of tampering to give the appearance of a man with shoulders of uneven height.

Suddenly those voices have clammed up. Why? Because the body in the car park seems to suffer from scoliosis and that means so did Richard.

Nice and simple solution.

For 300 years those who denied his physical deformity have believed a lie.

Or is it that simple?

Hamilton Baley's Demonstrations of Physical signs in Clinical Surgery states that idiopathic scoliosis

affects adolescents with a female to male ratio of 4:1

(15th edition, page 208)

i.e. the individual was four times as likely to be a female sufferer than a male. This does not prove the remains were female, but it does show that it is more likely to be so.

The reports on skeletal gender showed that the person might have been female, in spite of Jo Appleby's special pleading based on 19th century evidence.

If the human remains are female, then this is not Richard.

Look again at the body. The published photographs of the skeleton show the front aspect. The left leg is missing the fibula; the vertebrae are arranged suggestively, resultnig in the right shoulder being higher than the left.

This photograph of an adolescent girl shows the same torsian and relative elevation.

Now Thomas More wrote in his History of King Richard III that:

Richard ... was ... little of stature, ill-featured of limbs, crook-backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right.

(Folio Society Edition, 1965, page 35)

"His left" i.e. Richard's left, not as More looked at him, "HIS left much higher than his right."

The skeleton excavated had the reverse elevation to that of More. If More is accurate, the skeleton is not Richard.

If the skeleton is Richard, then why should we believe anything that a man says who cannot tell left from right.

My wife posed these points in an email to Dr. Jo Appleby who was kind enough to respond:

Dear Dr. Appleby,

Having examined the photographs of the complete skeleton found in Leicester and viewed the Channel 4 documentary, I have a question. Both photographs and presentation showed a skeleton whose scoliosis, curved to the patient's right side, would result in the right shoulder being higher than the left. This was reinforced by the photograph of a patient with similar scoliosis shown from behind as part of the programme.

Thomas More's History of Richard III states categorically that the "left shoulder was much higher than the right".

So who is wrong? Since the myth that Richard was a hunchback originates with More, how do you reconcile these contradictory facts?

Francesca J. Fox MB ChB


Dear Francesca,

The contemporary descriptons describe the right shoulder as being higher. More was writing some time later and wouldn't have seen Richard himslef [sic]. As to why there is a discrepancy, I'm not sure, but maybe More struggled with his left and right as many of us do today!

All the best,


Her answer begs the question where are the contemporary descriptions of Richard to be found which assert exactly what the archaeologists needed to help authenticate the identity.

Once again she was kind enough to reply:

Dear Francesca,

The contemporary source that gives the most detail is John Rous. There is a detailed account of the historical sources on Richard’s appearance in last week’s Times Literary Supplement

As for muddling of left and right, I know many highly intelligent senior academics who muddle left and right and we cannot be sure of the accuracy of More's sources. We'll never know why the side changed between those writing in the 1480s and 1490s and those writing later, but clearly the view changed at some point.

All the best,


Let us set aside the rather pathetic image of the "academic" who cannot tell left from right and concentrate on what matters: 

Who was John Rous?