I was inspired to write this blog by the recent discovery here in Britain of the remains of one of our mediaeval kings, Richard III. His skeleton has just been unearthed in a car park in Leicester, in the North of England, and they have been confirmed as being the real remains of the last king of the Plantagenet dynasty. He famously was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 by Henry Tudor, who then became Henry VII and started the Tudor dynasty. The experts say that it is "beyond all reasonable doubt" that this is Richard III. The skeleton is shown to be that of a man of about the right age and physical description, and with a wound to the skull and curvature of the spine. There have also been forensic tests showing DNA that has been linked to modern-day descendants of his family.
Richard has always been portrayed as having a severe deformity of the spine, especially by William Shakespeare in his famous play, who used and exaggerated this physical defect to deliberately make him as unsympathetic as possible. He was shown as an evil, scheming hunchback, "deform'd, unfinished." The exhumation of the skeleton shows that Richard did indeed have scoliosis, or a curvature of the spine, which would not have given him a hunchback as such, but would have made him look rather lop-sided. He still should have been completely able-bodied (clearly, since he rode into battle on horseback! ) Hundreds of years ago, it was believed that some kind of physical deformity or disability was a punishment of some kind from God for your sins, or your parents' sins, or a sign of being bewitched, hence how the hunchback was seen as an intrinsic part of Richard's "evil" persona.
Luckily we know differently these days. A hunched back can have different causes, most commonly it is congenital. The spine has a series of normal curves, but sometimes kyphosis, the hump, can occur when the upper part of the spine, the thoracic area, protrudes outwards at the top, owing to the spine being too weak to support the body properly. An abnormal curvature of the spine is called scoliosis, which can cause pain, stiffness and unnatural posture. A hunchback can also be caused by osteoporosis or arthritis, or damage to or compression of the vertebrae due to an accident, for example. Bad posture can also cause this condition, so it is very important for everyone to be aware of that. Sometimes a seemingly harmless activity such as sitting at a desk, especially if you do this several hours per day for work purposes, can cause this condition, so that is one reason why people need "Health and Safety At Work" training.
Fortunately this physical condition can usually be successfully treated these days, through surgery, exercises, etc., and the causes of it are better known. It is sad that it clearly used to be such a stigma and was one of the features that was used to discredit Richard III. It just shows how someone's disability or deformity can be used against them.
I hope you enjoyed this blog. Your votes and comments are always appreciated.
Photo courtesy of www.thecenternyc.com