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Research suggests Richard III didn't have the hunchback people think of

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In what appears to be a debunking of a big historical myth, scientists at the University of Leicester have concluded that notorious monarch Richard III didn’t quite have the deformity history (and Shakespeare) has alleged over the years.

The bones of the last Plantagenet king of England were found buried underneath a Leicester parking lot in August 2012 and showed signs of a spinal curvature. Though the spine did not suggest Richard III had a hunch, the position of the vertebrae instead suggests he had scoliosis.

Scientists conducted the test by reconstructing the spine through CT scans and then producing a polymer model with the help of a 3D printer. Bloomberg notes on Thursday that the model suggests the scoliosis wouldn’t have had a dramatic impact on Richard’s outward appearance and would have been concealed by customized armor fairly easily.

“If you took Richard’s clothes off, you could see that his spine had a big curve in it, but if he was clothed, scoliosis is much less obvious,” Cambridge paleopathologist Piers Mitchell said.

Additionally, the tests reportedly did not find evidence of a withered arm, which Richard was also rumored to have, nor uneven feet that would have caused a limp. All of those qualities have translated to stage adaptations over the years, including a recent version starring Kevin Spacey in which he sported a hunchback and walked with leg braces.

William Shakespeare’s play Richard III, believed to have been written in about 1592, played a role in the perception of the king as a "rudely stamp'd", "deformed, unfinish'd" hunchback. Mitchell pointed out that the play was written over a century after Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

“Clearly, he was writing the play based on what he had heard, without seeing the evidence himself,” he said.

The Richard III Society also says Tudor propaganda was a factor in perpetuating the hunchback perception. Henry Tudor’s forces met with Richard’s at his final battle and ascended the throne upon his death as Henry VII and the first Tudor king.

News of the tests comes almost a week after Britain’s High Court of Justice ruled that Richard III’s bones be re-interred in a “dignified reburial” at Leicester Cathedral. The Plantagenet Alliance, which is comprised of Richard’s modern descendants, had previously filed an appeal to have the remains taken back to York, as he was the last king of the House of York and is said to have been particularly fond of the town. However, since Leicester had already been granted a burial license, judges said there were no grounds to overturn the decision.

A paper about the university’s recent findings will appear in the May 31 edition of The Lancet.

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