Resurrecting King Richard III–Truths stranger than fiction

Smee as Richard III

Three huzzahs for historical re-enactor Domenic Smee, a 26-year old from England who has become part of the coolest event in non-fiction television in years, revealing that a skeletal deformity may not necessarily result in a disability, and a king may have been equal to the legend that he left behind.

You may recall the September 2012 archaeological dig in a parking lot that resulted in the confirmed find of the bones of King Richard III, who was said to have died bravely during the Wars of the Roses at the Battle of Bosworth Field against Henry Tudor and the Lancasters.  The discovery pulled together nearly every branch of science, and scientists even were able to create a 3D image of the famous king from Shakespeare’s play (“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York”).  We at listed the discovery as the Best Science News of 2013.

King Richard III printed bust

Now scientists have gone even further to get us to the truth behind the legend of this great king of 1485, revealed on Public Television’s Secrets of the Dead series episode “Resurrecting King Richard III.”  We thought the initial story from February 2013 that used DNA from a known distant descendant of the King’s royal line to prove the bones were indeed Richard III’s was incredible enough–the odds of locating a discarded or misplaced body and finding it 500 years later and not only identifying it, but identifying it as a famous king… it’s astronomical.

The bones of Richard III included a very disfigured spine–scoliosis.  Was the legendary story and contemporary accounts accurate?  Could he really have led the battle and fought so well in armor with such a condition?  When a researcher was airing a show in England on the king’s scoliosis, Domenic Smee was watching.  Turns out he has the rare scoliosis the king had, and he volunteered to be tested to see what physical limits the king may have experienced.

Smee as Richard III b

The results are this great documentary appearing on Public Television now at this link.  How could someone with such a severely deformed spine perform on the battlefield?  Ride a warhorse wearing 70 pounds of armor?  Wield sword, lance, and axe?  Watch Richard’s “body double” Smee and the scientific team find out.  The results are thrilling.

Cumberbatch as King Richard III

This week filming began on the second set of the Hollow Crown series: Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses, will air in 2015 on BBC2 and on PBS as part of the Great Performances series.  Genre favorite Benedict Cumberbatch will play King Richard III, with Dame Judi Dench (Duchess of York), Sophie Okonedo (Queen Margaret), Tom Strurridge (Henry VI), Keeley Hawes (Elizabeth Woodville), Hugh Bonneville (Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester), and Sally Hawkins (Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester).

C.J. Bunce

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