Find out what the bones of King Richard III reveal about his fitness for battle. When a group of amateur historians set out to find the bones of Richard III under a parking lot in England, everyone thought they were mad. Until, a skeleton — hunchbacked and with an arrow in its spine — emerged. University of Leichester scientists ultimately confirmed the identity of the reviled king through DNA. A series of fascinating, new experiments are now underway, including startling new DNA matches, revelations about his fitness going into battle…and a lucky accident when scientists discover a War of the Roses re-enactor—with matching scoliosis — answering the question, could a king with such a deformed body fight ferociously in battle as the heroic accounts suggest?
Production Credits Print
Jay O. Sanders
arms and armor consultant
Dr. Tobias Capwell
head of archive
director of legal and business affairs
British Geological Survey © NERC
British Library Board
Richard III Society
University of Leicester
Dr. Jo Appleby
Glenn Foard / University of Huddersfield
series open and additional graphics
Felicia Van Os
series open and additional graphics
executive producer, Darlow Smithson
executive in charge
© 2014 Darlow Smithson Productions Limited
All rights reserved
this program was produced by Darlow Smithson Productions for Channel Four Television Corporation in association with THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET which are solely responsible for its content.
It was an incredible archaeological discovery…
In 2013, scientists announced the bones found in an English parking lot were those of the infamous King Richard the Third, buried in more than 500 years ago.
“As a result of a DNA comparison ... I did a little dance … King Richard the Third was found buried under a parking lot … the earthly remains of the last Plantagenet King. No! No!”
RICHARD BUCKLEY: The chances of finding Richard was, I don’t know, was a million to one.
But that was just the start of an extraordinary journey.
The discovery included Richard’s twisted spine which raised new questions.
With such an extreme medical condition, could Richard still be the fearsome warrior history books proclaim him to be?
PHILLIPA: ‘But that curvature is major curvature. I mean that, that’s seriously something going on, so how do you get armor on that?
Over the last 12 months, scientists have been trying to answer that very question. Now, a look at their amazing investigation.
It reveals what Richard’s backbone actually looked like…
BRUNO: It’s virtually identical …
… the ailments that plagued him …
TOBY: The vast majority of people have surgery to correct it.
…even his extraordinary, and perhaps unhealthy, diet.
RICHARD BUCKLEY: We’ve built up a very detailed picture of a person from the late medieval period.
And with the help of a unique body double, scientists will demonstrate how Richard fought… and died.
Meet the Real Richard the Third!
In 1483, this man seized the English Throne. To some, he was an evil monster, to others a hero. His name was Richard the Third.
In August 1485, he was brutally slain at Bosworth Field… the last English King to die in battle.
BOB: The histories are very interesting because even those written by his enemies very soon after make great play of the fact that he died manfully, he fought well, he died in the thickest press of his enemies.
But then, more than 500 years later, University of Leicester archaeologists unearthed Richard’s body … diagnosed the scoliosis that bent his spine … and raised a question:
Could a man with such a twisted back really wear armor, lead a heavy cavalry charge and kill several men before dying at the hands of Henry Tudor’s army?
PIERS: Some people who have written books about Richard have anticipated that he may have suffered significant back pain, or he might have had a limp … or not functioned so well on the battlefield, for example.
For the first time ever, scientists can study the bones of an English king and solve the mysteries of his reign.
The team undertakes two different investigations to determine Richard’s true physical condition and fighting ability.
First, they will unlock the clues hidden in Richard’s bones… using atomic and microscopic analysis to reveal new details about his health, diet and lifestyle.
RICHARD BUCKLEY: It’s extremely unusual to be able to apply this level of analysis to human remains in archaeology.
The team also wants to test Richard’s physical limitations…with a living subject.
They search for someone who shares Richard’s extreme spinal condition.
PIERS: So perhaps putting someone through their paces wearing armor, on horseback would give us a much better idea of whether a scoliosis impeded your ability to do that.
Before they can identify a suitable subject, Dr. Jo Appleby, Professor Piers Mitchell and their colleagues must first create a precise reconstruction of Richard’s backbone… a critical task.
Laying the bones out on a table only provides a best guess…
…so radiologist Bruno Morgan must rebuild the entire spinal column in 3 dimensions.
Experts at Loughborough University replicate each of Richard’s vertebra in detail.
Then Bruno pieces the puzzle together.
The exercise reveals something new: chronic arthritis.
BRUNO: these joints look completely normal all flat and smooth, facet joints. But as we move up to his thoracic spine we can see that the anatomy has been disordered, and this is the degenerative arthritis that Richard would have had from his scoliosis, and because of this there can only be one way these facet joints fit together. They fit together a bit like a jigsaw.
The reconstruction shows Richard’s spine was twisted at an angle of up to 80 degrees.
Finding someone with a similarly curved spine today will be difficult.
But the Richard project has long had spooky good luck.
PHILIPPA: I got the strangest sensation when I was in that area in that place. Absolutely knew that I was standing on Richard’s grave.
And she was uncannily right.
JO: So what we are seeing is that this skeleton had a hunchback.
26-year-old Dominic Smee watched the announcement of the discovery of Richard’s bones on TV with his family.
DOMINIC: I was kind of thinking okay this is quite weird because there are a lot of similarities between me and him and I thought I wonder if something’s going on here. This is a bit strange.
A few weeks later, Dominic came across an online lecture exploring how Richard might have fought in armor.
TOBY: What did it really look like? What did he actually wear?
Dominic was shocked. He thought he was looking at his own back.
What made the similarity even more bizarre was that Dominic spends most weekends as a re-enactor at the battlefield site where Richard was killed.
CHRISTINA: The actual point where it was revealed on the television that Richard had scoliosis. It was quite a mind-blowing thing really I remember just thinking wow that’s almost exactly the same as Dominic. And it was quite eerie really to see that.
Dominic emailed the lecturer and offered to help.
For Dominic, talking about himself and his back has not been easy.
DOMINIC: And I was kinda thinking maybe other people can notice and see through my clothes, and see how I was feeling when I looked through the mirror. Which is proably why I think I can kinda empathize with how Richard may have felt
But Dom has put his own feelings aside for the sake of science.
DOM: Well, he was kind of saying, this is what we think Richard’s scoliosis would have looked like, this is what we think he would have suffered with, I thought well maybe I would be able to help get rid of some of those questions for him.
The team studying Richard the Third now has someone who can serve as his body double.
Toby: Hello, welcome to the Wallace collection. You haven’t been here before have you?
Toby: Good, excellent, well lets go see some armor
Dr. Toby Capwell is a world renowned expert on armor.
TOBY: I didn’t know what to expect of Dominic. He’d seen the lecture I’d given … I was immediately struck by how sort of thoughtful and interested he is.
TOBY: The one thing that we haven’t really been able to explore so far is just how much Richard’s scoliosis would have affected him and affected his knightly training and his ability to fight.
But does Dominic’s backbone really match the extreme curve of Richard’s spine?
TOBY: It’s extraordinarily rare to find anyone who has the exact kind of scoliosis to the same degree as Richard the Third because the vast majority of people who have it in that way have surgery to correct it.
PIERS: It’s quite common now for people with a curve of over 50 degrees to undergo surgery to try and straighten the spine if possible.
For complex medical reasons, Dominic had avoided surgery.
The only way to establish a match is to conduct a detailed medical examination.
PIERS: You can see that the curve is to the right. Over here, in the thoracic area. We can also see how the shoulders are at slightly different heights, so the right-hand shoulder is a little bit higher than the left-hand one. You can see how we’ve got an asymmetry here of where the waist kind of sits.
PIERS: So, Dominic, these are the X-Rays of your back.
PIERS: I can see that a lot of elements of your spine are very similar to Richard’s. Firstly you’ve got a right-sided curve, just like Richard has. And the angle of the curve, which we call the cob angle, yours is about 70, 75 degrees and that’s very similar to Richard’s, which we’ve measured to be in between about 60 and 80 degrees.
Dominic’s body resembles Richard’s in other ways.
PIERS: And what we noticed when looking at Richard’s skeleton is that he has fairly gracile, fairly, fairly slim bones. And so in that regard, I think what we can tell from the skeleton would be compatible with what we see with Dominic, who, clearly, isn’t a very, um, over muscular guy.
Piers performs one more task: comparing Richard and Dominic’s spines side by side.
PIERS: You can see on Dominic how this part of the chest is more prominent then this part, and this seems to dip in, and that’s because of the position of the ribs, and the reason that happens is that the spine twists in a scoliosis, it’s not just a sideways bending. And that’s shown really nicely here on Richard’s scoliosis because you can see instead of the spines processes being in the midline, they point right inwards like this, and it shows that there’s this twist, so the ribs would have come out this way and the ribs would have gone inwards just in the same way that we see on Dominic.
BRUNO: We should print the ribs out. And if we had the ribs. I think it would show. He’s virtually identical.
For five hundred years, people have speculated wildly about Richard’s appearance.
Dominic is a unique test subject scientists can use to re-examine history’s interpretation of Richard. The team can now provide a realistic picture of the king.
They will train and test Dominic to find out exactly what Richard was capable of.
It will all culminate in a battle test where he’ll have to fight in full armor…
… Lead a heavy cavalry charge and take on some of the best medieval fighters in Europe.
BOB: We should be able to see what somebody like that could actually do. And I think that’s really exciting.
PIERS: If Dominic can to do this then I am sure Richard would have been able to do it because they have very similar scoliosis.
Meanwhile, analysis of his bones is about to yield more fascinating facts about Richard.
This will be the most detailed portrait of a medieval monarch ever assembled…
…and reveal his true physical condition on the eve of his last battle: what he was eating, drinking, and his state of health.
Richard the Third was a key participant in one of British history’s most important conflicts: the Wars of the Roses.
TOBY: The Wars of the Roses continues to captivate the public imagination. Because it has so many small human adventure stories. There’s so many small intricate elements to this period in history the sort of very brutal and uncompromising nature of this internal dynastic conflict.
After King Edward the Third died in 1377, there was a deadly feud between the families of two of his sons - the Duke of York and the Duke of Lancaster. They fought over the English crown for a hundred years.
Richard was born at the height of the conflict in 1452.
Some of the scientists have traveled to Richard’s birthplace in Northhamptonshire to find out if he was a fit and capable warrior at the Battle of Bosworth.
They want to know whether Richard maintained a healthy diet over the course of his life.
His bones should contain telltale chemicals that he absorbed from the food and water he consumed while living here.
ANGELA: The very earliest samples that we have from Richard III are from the dentine within his teeth and those formed when he was about 3 or 4 years old, that’s the earliest picture we have of him.
By analyzing the chemical isotopes in Richard’s teeth, legs and ribs, Angela Lamb and her colleagues can create a complete profile of Richard’s diet from birth to death.
First, she prepares tiny tooth samples for atomic analysis.
DIR: So what kind of condition were Richard’s teeth in?
ANGELA: there was some slight decay as you would expect from a person of that age but on the whole they were in pretty good condition.
Angela measures the chemical signature using a mass spectrometer.
ANGELA: The nitrogen isotopes show an increase in the amount of meat and protein they were eating, and also an increase in the amount of fish they were eating. And Richard’s values here, you can see, are at the top end of comparable medieval high status individuals. So he did have a very high status diet.
The data in the teeth suggests Richard ate a diet full of protein and essential minerals. He was a fit young boy.
But was he still fit at age 33 in his last battle? Angela is hunting for the answer in his bones.
Meanwhile, the team’s body-double is opening another unique window into Richard’s physiology.
Dominic Smee is being analyzed by physiotherapist Claire Small.
CLAIRE: Good. Okay, same again, you’re gonna stand on one leg, your going to take the arm out, you’re going to take it back as far as you can…
She is an expert on spinal pathologies and has worked with para-Olympians.
This physical test shows how a curved spine might limit a person.
CLAIRE: I’m really impressed by his range of motion, in fact he’s got a better range of motion than a lot of other guys his age.
Dominic—and Richard—may be nimble and flexible, but the treadmill test reveals the first indication of a physical problem.
And jump off.
Dom: Im starting to feel… breathing is getting a bit tight.
DOM: It’s, uh, my chest tightens up, so it’s more difficult to breathe out quickly to compensate for the amount of oxygen I need to keep running faster.
CLAIRE: His ribs won’t expand and contract because of the rotation of his ribs associated with the scoliosis. So that means he’s not going to have the lung capacity that would allow him to take in maximum doses of oxygen.
CLAIRE: The thing that is going to defeat him is fatigue and obviously if you’re thinking about someone in battle that’s the sort of thing that you can’t afford is to get tired because that then makes you vulnerable to attack by your enemy.
If Richard’s lung capacity was also limited, he might have struggled when fighting for long periods, especially on foot.
It’s an important consideration as Dominic moves on to the next stage of his training.
To determine whether Richard really could have excelled on the battlefield, Toby Capwell is introducing Dominic to the brutal art of medieval combat.
Toby is part of an academic group that has scoured rare medieval combat manuals and recreated this lost skill.
DOMINIC: It’s very short sharp bursts, but a high amount of energy that’s expended in that short amount of time, so it makes you wonder what it would have been like to have to keep going for the full time of a battle.
ARNE: This has no safety precautions. It’s a real fight, life and death; I mean these things are vicious. So you reckon you could face one of these?
DOMINIC: Not quite at the moment.
TOBY: The thing that Arne and Jorem have immediately shown is the systematic complexity of medieval fighting art. There’s nothing brutish or untutored about what they’re doing.
TOBY: It’s very technical, and a small more lightly built person just has to be faster and they’ve got to be better at those techniques. They train to take on bigger people.
Dominic’s instructor is medieval combat expert Dave Rawlings.
DAVE: So from here, like so, is exactly the same things so you see we’re training a very similar group of muscle.
Toby’s brought along real weapons from a rare collection for Dominic to get a feel of.
TOBY: Have a feel of that. Not especially heavy. Even a larger sword like this isn’t especially heavy. It’s one of the great myths and misconceptions about Medieval fighting that the swords are these big heavy clunky things, they aren’t. It’s counterproductive for them to be so.
Dom: Quite sharp as well
Toby: And that sharpness and that scary aspect of the sword is very important to be aware of as you’re starting to train because you’ll always have to be aware of the possibility that your opponent could make your arm fall off. It sort of focuses the mind somewhat.
As a member of the nobility, Richard would have been unable to avoid his duty as a soldier.
TOBY: They had a lot of responsibility as politicians and as MPs, and just as public figures, but the fighting is always still there. They always need to find some time in their day to train. And to work with their horses as well.
BOB: And that was important for the King as well, the monarch at that time, this is still a time when monarchs were on the battlefield. Richard dies leading his army on the battlefield.
BOB: So far there doesn’t seem to be anything that he can’t do, there might be some things he can’t reach as far on a certain side, but generally speaking he seems to be quite capable of doing everything that’s thrown at him, which I find really exciting.
DAVE: Now continue that circle, and cut up from underneath
BOB: It will be interesting to see how the difference of having the weight of the armor on and using a weapon, seeing what happens then.
But outfitting Dominic in armor raises new challenges.
TOBY: There’s no English armor surviving from the 15th century. All of the thousands of armors that were produced and worn during the Wars of the Roses, nothing that can be said to be the work of an English craftsmen survives.
So Dominic and the team travel to Sweden to work with world-renowned armorer Per Lillelund.
He’s going to make Dominic a fully-functional suit of medieval armor.
It must fit and flex like a glove.
But achieving this with a twisted torso is a journey into the unknown.
TOBY: we are now wrestling with the same issues that Richard’s armorer would have had to deal with in the 15 century.
PER: I’ll show you this one. That’s a depiction of Richard as well.
TOBY: Dominic had an interest in Richard III a long time before the bones were found. And you know, there’s the Shakespearean image of the hunchback and all of that. But for years there’s been lots of lots of argument that Richard didn’t have anything wrong with him physically.
PER: So what do you think of this evidence, that’s he’s got the same scoliosis?
DOMINIC: It was just amazing that it was so close to, I mean I remember when I saw it and I thought, I’m sure that’s like what mine looked like.
PER: Take your shirt off, yeh.
TOBY: A good armor is an extension of your body. A good armor is a human exo-skeleton.
PER: It’s going to be quite a long process before we finish. To get it all to work.
PER: You still have to shape the plate out like that.
TOBY: Yeah totally.
PER: You curve more here and you curve more her.
While Per tries to figure out how to build armor for a long dead king with a twisted spine, Dominic continues his combat training.
DAVE: I’m going to hit you in the head, Make sure you’re going to block it… good… Block it, go forwards, that’s it, good.
It’s clear that both Dominic and Richard would have to be in excellent physical shape to cope with the rigours of medieval warfare.
But back in the laboratory, the scientists are finding evidence that Richard’s fitness might have been compromised.
RICHARD BUCKLEY: The work that we’ve been doing on the analysis of the soil samples from Richard’s grave have produced a few surprises in terms of locating evidence of intestinal parasites.
The decomposed remains of Richard’s gut contain evidence that he contracted an unpleasant ailment from the food he ate.
PIERS: Some parasites humans have had right throughout our human evolution, and roundworm is one of those so it’s spread by the contamination of your hands with human faeces.
Richard… had worms.
PIERS: So you can see on the screen this is one of the parasite eggs from Richard III sacral soil, it’s a roundworm egg, oval in shape.
PIERS: And from point of view of health, if you had a good balanced diet, and I’m sure Richard would have had plenty of food. These parasitic worms probably wouldn’t have done him much harm. Unless he had a lot of them.
The parasitic worms could also have made breathing difficult.
But new data is raising more questions about Richard’s health.
The isotope analysis has moved from Richard’s teeth to his bones.
ANGELA: We do see a large difference in nitrogen isotopes and oxygen isotopes between those two bones. Which suggests that there may be some large and significant dietary change from the time he was actually King and the period before.
The evidence suggests Richard’s diet changed drastically in the last years of his life.
Angela and her colleagues are searching for the cause.
The solution points to a man laboring under the heavy burden of kingship.
So far, the team studying Richard the Third has reconstructed his spine, diagnosed a case of roundworms and noticed a strange shift in his diet just before his death.
Working with body-double Dominic Smee, they have also established that Richard’s breathing may have been restricted.
And now, Dominic worries his scoliosis also affects the strength of his blows.
DOM: When I’m doing the attacks, I’m feeling a lot of the weight in my arm there and in my shoulder because what I tend to do is stop here and not carry on all the way through, with my torso with my hips, because I haven’t got the kind of push pull muscles.
Will adding 70 pounds of armor make this problem even worse?
PER: This line here, over this one, so this one would be more or less the same.
And there is another concern: The majority of the armor’s weight should rest on the waist, but neither Dominic nor Richard have one.
PER: Dominic doesn’t have any space between his lower rib and his hip bone is like less than an inch. We cannot have any waist line of the armor going in here. It would be extremely painful for him in a very short time. So he actually have to carry most of the weight of the armor on his shoulders.
This would have further stressed Richard’s already weakened back.
ROMAN: This one almost perfect.
PER: But the right one is…
ROMAN: Because the shape is quite different.
To solve the problem, Per braces Dominic’s back against the armor.
The result is a chest and back plate that is as figure-hugging and flexible as possible, but clearly looks asymmetrical.
Could the rest of the armor mask this? No king would have wanted to look anything other than perfect on the battle field.
DOMINIC: I’m kinda imagining what Richard would have looked like in his armor. Cos his armor would have had to be very similar to this to accommodate that body shape.
The hope is that the armor will support his back in combat. It’s now time for the next phase of the experiment.
The scientists think Richard might have struggled fighting on foot, but, as history suggests, perhaps he made up for it by being an expert horseman.
Henry Tudor’s own official historian recorded a vivid description of Richard’s prowess: “He spurred his horse. In the first charge, Richard killed several men and made a path for himself through the press of steel.”
Controlling a medieval warhorse requires immense skill.
ARNE: It’s very hard actually trying to get the position right so many things going on, in your brain and the horse’s brain.
There’s only one way to find out how someone with a 75 degree spinal curve fares on horseback.
TOBY: So, welcome to our stables
TOBY: DOMINIC meet DOMINIC!
Dominic Sewell is one of the world’s top medieval riding instructors.
DOM SEWELL: Well I hope Toby has told you a little bit about what we do here and that um you’re going to have a very different experience of anyone who takes up riding as a sport or as a hobby.
Dominic has never ridden before so his first lessons are with a modern saddle.
TOBY: Just looking at Dominic now you can imagine Richard as a child receiving riding instruction in the Earl of Warwick’s household. He would have gone through a one to one training experience just like this.
But Dominic’s back is causing problems.
Dominic: Don’t over lean, stay in the middle of the saddle. That’s good.
DOMINIC: I’m slouching, rather than… I’ve got to focus on keeping my shoulders back I’ve got to concentrate to do it because I’m naturally want to do that so I’ve got to work on keep in the upright position.
Dominic: Sit up, sit up, good.
DOMINIC: … because my centre of gravity is on the side, because of the way the curve is, my weight is on that side, so the horse is going to naturally feel like I’m telling it to go to that side.
If Dominic struggles with a modern saddle, how will he cope with the hard wooden saddle that Richard used?
DOMINIC SEWELL: Now, this is the medieval saddle. This is what you are going to be riding in from now on. This is your arming platform, it’s your gun mount if you wish.
DOMINIC: It looks like it’s going to be interesting in between the legs because it’s like erm, it looks a bit like a log effectively I’m sitting on with a tiny bit of padding, I think I’ll notice the difference.
DOMINIC SEWELL: Okay, let’s walk into the arena,
DOMINIC: Come on Hawthorn.
DOMINIC SEWELL: Good man, remember to repeat the command,
DOMINIC: Walk on Hawthorn.
It’s a slow start, but then something happens that confounds all expectations.
DOMINIC SEWELL: Good stuff, keep going, keep going Dominic, this is good, this is really good. Okay and stop. Woah. I am flabbergasted by just how much that saddle helps you.
DOMINIC: I’m not bouncing.
DOMINIC SEWELL: You’re not bouncing, you have more control.
DOMINIC SEWELL: I’m very encouraged that the medieval saddle is actually helping you. Now whether it actually helped Knights in the past and whether it helped Richard but it may be a consideration that we haven’t thought about until now. Excellent Start!
GARY: Does your back feel more supported Dominic?
DOMINIC: Yes because it’s in one place.
Remarkably, the high rigid back of the wooden medieval saddle adds support to the part of the back where Dominic—and Richard—need it.
While Dominic tries to become a medieval knight in only three months, the team is busy designing his battle challenge. They work with Professor Glenn Foard who has strong evidence that relocates the site of the actual battle of Bosworth.
He and a team of metal detectors have found many objects in a field south of the previously accepted area.
GLENN: The group of objects that suggest the people are very high status have fought in hand to hand action, lies in the low ground, not in the corn field, not the light corn field but the green field, the bright green field beyond.
It’s an area bound on one side by a Roman road and segmented by a marsh. Richard’s cavalry charge would have been lengthy—more than a half mile around the marsh.
GLENN: at the moment that says to me the main clash between the two sets of nobility.
TOBY: I’ve always had a real problem with this idea that the cavalry charge was decided upon in an impulsive, sudden sort of way but if you look at the landscape here in the kind of space that you can see, it works very well,
GLENN: Now we’ve driven across the heath and we’re standing behind Henry’s position, when the attack comes in from Richard because we think where that small Spinney in the middle of this field, may be where these two forces clashed, where Richard almost got to the point of killing Henry. That is where the Battle of Bosworth was probably decided.
BOB: And the course of English and British history.
BOB: It is quite something thinking after all these years and with the finding of the skeleton of Richard III that we’re in the possible location of where he could’ve actually fallen.
Dominic is making excellent progress in becoming a medieval warrior especially when it comes to charging with a lance.
DOMINIC SEWELL: First thing, let’s get that horse moving. So focus his power. Support, leg on, and off we go.
This is only Dominic’s fifth riding lesson.
DOMINIC SEWELL: Well done Dom! It’s a good job you hit it, because if you hadn’t, you’d have hit it with your face and that would have been bad.
The experiment shows that rather than being a hindrance, medieval warfare equipment could actually help a person with scoliosis.
Now it’s time to see if Dominic’s custom-built armor might also help him.
TOBIAS: Okay guys, here’s your acolite ready for war, just about. I think he looks pretty darn good actually.
TOBIAS: We thought that Richard should have an armor that we know was really hi-tech for the time. This is a very new innovation for 1480-85. Do you feel any aches in your shoulders?
TOBY: Do you feel any ache in your lower back or your mid-back.
TOBIAS: Really? That’s good.
TOBIAS: Do you feel that the back plate is there and you could actually rest yourself against it if you wanted to?
DOM: Yeah it keeps me in a kind of a position, not while I’m rested but before I’m rested so it’s just the natural position and stops me slumping so that’s why I’m really interested to see what happens when I’m riding so see whether I can still do that.
DOMINIC SEWELL: How secure are you feeling at the moment?
DOM: Actually a lot more secure.
DOMINIC SEWELL: You feeling more secure than you were without the armor?
DOM: Yeah because you’re kind of kept more stationary.
DOMINIC SEWELL: Okay.
Dominic is nearly ready for his final challenge: a test to prove whether Richard really could have led a heavily-armored cavalry charge at the Battle of Bosworth.
DOMINIC SEWELL: It’s a big pressure, it is a big pressure and no-one is more aware than that than myself, yes I’m concerned. Desperately concerned if I’m quite honest.
While Dominic prepares for his big day, elsewhere the investigation is starting to reveal that Richard may not have been in the best shape of his life when he was killed.
The first clue lies in the historical record.
The menu from Richard’s Coronation Banquet has survived more than 500 years. And it hints at Richard’s opulent diet, as Leicester archaeologist Richard Thomas explains.
RICHARD: We’ve got a huge diversity of meats especially and it’s meat that marked out high status diet. More than anything else, more than cereals, more than vegetables. More than fruit. So just an example of the things he was eating. Sturgeon, quails, rabbits, egrets, venison, carp and bream, partridge, roe deer, peacock in his hakell and trappers. ///
Now it’s nothing to do with taste. By all accounts, peacock was hard to digest, it was chewy, it wasn’t good to eat at all. But these were a delicacy. They weren’t a delicacy because of their taste necessarily. But they were a delicacy just because they were so difficult to obtain.
Richard’s coronation banquet was the ultimate in medieval gastronomic excess.
But as king, did he eat this way every day?
The chemical isotopes in his bones provide the answer.
RICHARD: analysis of a rib bone for example can tell you about the last three years of a life of somebody because there is this constant regeneration of bone matter, whereas other limbs like a femur can tell you about the last fifteen years of a person’s life because the regeneration is much slower.
The isotopes in Richard’s femur bone show that for most of his adult life, he had an average diet for a high status individual in medieval society.
But the chemicals in his ribs indicate that during the last years of life, there was a dramatic change.
ANGELA: His diet when he was King was sort of way beyond that of an even equivalent high status individual in the late medieval period.
Richard was eating meals more than fit for a king.
ANGELA: The nitrogen and the oxygen isotopes both shift quite considerably
So from that we can decipher it had to be something that has a high in nitrogen isotope value but was more terrestrial in nature. So we’re talking about animals such as pigs possibly, wild fowl fresh water fish, and most of those were real delicacies in the late medieval period.
The isotope analysis shows Richard was eating an extremely lavish diet in the 3 years leading up to the Battle of Bosworth.
This over-indulgence might well have reduced his fitness and agility.
And Richard’s bones have one more secret to reveal.
Here is where Richard the Third stayed the night before he marched onto Bosworth Field.
The Blue Boar Inn has gone. In its place a new lodging house.
What he drank that night is not recorded. But Richard’s bones provide a clue to the scientists.
The oxygen isotopes in his ribs suggest a big change in the geographical origin of water that Richard consumed at the end of his life.
ANGELA: it suggests that he moved to Western France, Western Spain which we know from documentary evidence that that wasn’t the case, he was predominantly in the UK, he was based in London, when he was king.
Something else could explain this shift… and it’s not travel.
ANGELA: so an increase in wine consumption would explain why he may have had a higher oxygen isotope value at that time.
ANGELA: Our estimations are sort of 25% of his oxygen intake and the rest would be made up by water and beer … it was a considerable step up from what was his average drinking before.
ANGELA: At that period the wealthy were consuming a lot of wine, we know he was banqueting a lot more he was king, he was travelling to different locations, there was a lot of wine indicated at those banquets and tying all those together it looks like that had quite an impact on his diet in the last few years of his life.
Richard was consuming a bottle of wine per day … every day. On top of all the British ale he also drank.
RICHARD BUCKLEY: I doubt whether his fitness levels were perhaps quite as good as they were before he was crowned King.
This copious consumption might well have impaired Richard’s performance in battle.
While Richard may have been in poor health, the experiments with Dominic suggest that his curved spine would not have stopped him from being a capable fighter and a talented horseman.
And now, Dominic faces one final test.
He is heading to Bosworth, to reconstruct the events of August 22nd 1485.
The historical accounts suggest that Richard fought skillfully and killed a number of enemy soldiers that day.
And Dominic is keen to prove that Richard’s scoliosis was no impediment to his performance on the battlefield.
BOB: Do you think Richard would have been comfortable in his armor?
DOM: In a static position it does a really good job of supporting me. But my body moves an incredible amount depending on what I am doing with it more than a normal person.
DOM: When I do that movement with my arm, the shoulder blade is kinda going, into, into my ribs, whereas on the left hand side its performing in the normal way.
TOBY: It’s kind of an interesting thought though to think that the process of figuring out how to make armor to work for someone with this condition, these same questions and these same issues would have been present with Richard and his armorers.
So does Dominic’s spine significantly affect his ability to fight?
His first challenge is hand-to-hand combat wearing a full suit of armor.
BOB: since I first saw him, he’s much more nimble on his feet. Even though he’s actually wearing full plate armor,
TOBY: It shows that a little, a smaller person has to work very hard to stay on top of the fight.
This test proves definitively that Richard could have fought well on foot, despite his scoliosis.
But a stiff ribcage might have caused him to tire much more quickly than other soldiers.
Dominic’s second challenge is Richard’s famed cavalry charge.
The real battle site is now working farmland, but a nearby horse-training center provides a perfect model of Bosworth.
BOB: Ahead in a distance is where Richard’s enemy, Henry Tudor, is and that’s quite a distance to go in all this kit. But this is what they are all trained to do.
According to the historical sources, Richard and Henry faced each other across a marsh.
Richard had at least 200 fully armored knights with him when he spotted Henry Tudor and a small bodyguard moving away from the main force.
Richard decided to charge around the marsh. Henry was at least a half mile away--a huge distance to travel in full armor.
Dominic Smee must match this maneuver.
Will his back bear the strain?
DAVE: This is everything you want, you got your armor, you got your horse, and that’s your kingdom, so you’re gonna go and fight for your kingdom, you’re going to win it, you’re going to be the best you can.
BOB: How’s it feel in the armor, do you feel empowered wearing the armor or anything?
DOMINIC: You feel like a juggernaut.
History says Richard killed Henry’s standard bearer with his lance. Can Dominic hit his target?
BOB: Despite the horror of medieval warfare, there is still something quite magical about knights in full plate armor on horseback, the sheer sounds, the sheer power.
BOB: It’s almost the shock and awe of the middle ages.
Having crashed through Henry’s forces at high speed, Richard would have pulled out his war-hammer and turned back toward his enemy.
Henry’s historians credit Richard with unhorsing one of Henry’s bodyguards who was 6 foot 7.
After three months of training, Richard’s body-double Dominic has achieved his goal.
He’s shown conclusively that while their shared scoliosis may be a barrier in some people’s minds, it is in no way an impediment on the battlefield.
DOMINIC: It makes me feel a lot better about myself knowing that I can do something that ordinary healthy people struggle with and yet I’ve managed to do it despite having this condition
DAVE: When you actually see you coming over you cant tell your size, you cant tell how slender you are or how slight. You just look like this facade of a tank coming forwards
BOB: Does show that despite what history might have implied, Richard was there agile and fighting as well as anybody.
DOMINIC SEWELL: He struck that quintain really well. And I think for him to use that axe the way he did, the speed, its fantastic. Proud of the young man.
TOBY: I think we let him charge up the light, Yea his mojo went through the roof after that.
DOMINIC: Definitely, especially the bit at the end, hit it in the head, in the middle. That was really, I was desperate to do that because before I only just nicked it. Whereas I went straight for it and smashed it off the pole.
Richard the Third may have been a violent man, most medieval kings were. He seized the throne, rightly or wrongly.
At Bosworth, the arthritis in his back may have caused pain, his stomach may have been infested with worms, his fitness levels compromised by a tight chest and years of unhealthy living.
However, this experiment has shown that Richard could have led his cavalry at Bosworth Field.
After making this final heroic charge … he ultimately lost his crown and his life.
But, as Dominic Smee has proved … King Richard was certainly not disabled.