Richard III’s 3D Spine

Because nothing is really real until it’s modeled in 3D, a team at the University of Leicester created a 3-D model of King Richard III’s spine. Here it is (hold down the left mouse button and move the cursor left or right to rotate):


The bones have been subjected to more detailed analysis since their discovery, providing the following new insights:

  • Richard III had a severe scoliosis, with a particularly pronounced right-sided curve
  • Richard’s scoliosis had a “spiral” nature
  • His right shoulder would have been higher than his left, and his torso would have been relatively short compared to his arms and legs
  • But he had a “well-balanced curve” – meaning that his head and neck were straight and not tilted to one side. In consequence the condition would not have been immediately visible to those he met, particularly if he wore well-designed clothes or armour
  • The Cobb angle – a measurement used to assess the level of spinal deformity in scoliosis patients – was 65-85 degrees. This would be considered a large curvature these days, though many with the condition today undergo surgery to stabilise it
  • His scoliosis would have started to develop during the last few years of growth
  • The researchers have already established that Richard would have been about 5ft 8 inches tall without his scoliosis – about average for a man during medieval times. However, his condition meant he would have appeared several inches shorter than this

Using the new data, the 3D modelers were able to recreate the spine as it would have been during Richard’s life, rather than flat, the way it was discovered. The analysis proves that he was not a hunchback, but that one shoulder was higher than the other. The 65-85-degree curve is pretty serious (one of my children is in a brace to correct a 25-degree curve), but it would not have prevented him from engaging in battle.

In other news, Richard III will be reburied in the protestant Leicester Cathedral, seized from the Catholic Church during the Reformation, in a burial service this Catholic king would not have recognized, for a religion (Anglicanism) that didn’t exist when he died.

A group of his descendants had protested, saying he should be buried in York, but a judge ruled against their case.

Richard III had already been buried with full Catholic rites, but the Leicester site was chosen for proximity to his ignominious death, not because he had any connection to the city. Richard was a Yorkist through and through.

The re-interment is already shaping up to be more spectacle than rite: According to the University of Leicester, “it will be a Christian service celebrating his life with partners from other faiths, including Roman Catholic. It will include the multi-faith and multi-cultural communities of Leicester and modern-day England.”

RelatedSome Thoughts on Richard III, History, and Catholicism