LIC Blog

A Shadow of a Doubt

The history of mathematics is riddled with good practitioners, who were convinced that they had proved a theorem, only to find a fatal error buried in their algebra.

So, when the University of Leicester announces that the skeleton on display is "beyond reasonable doubt" that of King Richard III, this mathematician reaches for a bottle of caution.

Proof is a tricky business.

Poor Timothy Evans was hung by the neck for murdering his wife and child, because a jury were convinced of his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. What must they have felt, when it transpired that they had executed the wrong man?

There is some evidence that the skeleton might be that of the King and great store is placed on it being "scientific". But what is the quantified probability of error? At what level of significance does their hypothesis operate?

Dead silence.

Perhaps they needed a statistician on board? Either that or an accountant, seeing the way that they "cooked the books" in the programme, to move the carbon age of the skeleton forward to achieve the result that they wanted, on the ludicrous assumption that he had a diet high in marine food!

The skeleton apparently shows a person, who has grown up from age 10 or 12 with a progressive deformity of the spine. From the age of 17 Richard Duke of Gloucester spent his life on the move, mainly on horseback. He was trained as a warrior, and we know he single handedly killed Tudor's bodyguard, Sir John Cheney, at Bosworth. He wore tailor-made plate armour and fought two of the bloodiest battles (Barnet and Tewkesbury) of the century for his brother King Edward IV. In each case he was given the most hazardous and arduous task.

Are we to suppose that the man whose skeleton was discovered could physically do this?

Year after year.

This is as much evidence as the "scientific" posturing coming from Leicester. It does not add up.

There are no contemporary drawings of the King giving even a hint of deformity, which would be evident, as Crawford Adams' "Outline of Orthopaedics" shows.

So who might the skeleton be?

A man who had lost his feet? (A fact which was studiously ignored by the programme.)

Do we have a man who died with Richard, whose body fell close to him and had lost his feet?

How about his standard-bearer Sir Percival Thirlwall (or Thriball)? According to the Ballad of Bosworth, he had his legs hewn from under him as the battle reached its bloody climax.

It would be fitting to place such a brave man in a tomb built for a king.