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S13 Ep6

Resurrecting Richard III

Premiere: 9/24/2014 | 00:00:43 | NR

In 2011, a group of amateur historians made an incredible archaeological find: the bones of King Richard III, hunchbacked, with an arrow through the spine. Richard is thought of as the most evil king to have ruled England and also as a fearsome warrior, despite the extreme curvature of his spine. Now, scientists are testing the bones to find out more about the king.



About the Episode

In 2011, a group of amateur historians made an incredible archaeological find: the bones of King Richard III, hunchbacked, with an arrow through the spine. Richard is thought of as the most evil king to have ruled England and also as a fearsome warrior, despite the extreme curvature of his spine. Now, scientists are testing the bones to find out more about the king and also conducting fascinating experiments to determine whether Richard could have fought so ferociously in battle with such a severe deformity.

Resurrecting Richard III premieres on Wednesday, September 24th at 10 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings)


NARRATOR: In 1485, the infamous King Richard III died in a bloody battle.

Remarkably, his remains were discovered under a parking lot in 2013, but his skeleton, with its severely curved spine, has baffled experts.

How could a man with such a severe deformity have waged war so fiercely?

MAN: Now we've got somebody who has scoliosis, we should be able to see what somebody like that could actually do.

NARRATOR: 'Resurrecting Richard III.'

NARRATOR: It was an incredible archeological discovery.

In 2013, scientists announced, the bones found in an English parking lot were those of the infamous King Richard III buried more than 500 years ago.

WOMAN: It was the result of a DNA comparison.

I did a little dance around the lab.

King Richard III was found buried under a parking lot.

The earthly remains of the last of the Plantagenets.

WOMAN: Richard III, one of the most reviled kings in British history... No. No.

MAN: Chances of finding Richard was--I don't know-- a million to one.

NARRATOR: 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 say he was?

WOMAN: But that curvature is major curvature.

I mean, that's seriously something going on.

So how do you get armor on that?

NARRATOR: 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... MAN: He's virtually identical.

NARRATOR: the ailments that plagued him... MAN: The vast majority of people have surgery to correct it.

NARRATOR: even his extraordinary and perhaps unhealthy diet... MAN: We've built a very detailed picture of an individual from the late medieval period.

NARRATOR: and with the help of a unique body double, scientists will demonstrate how Richard fought and died.

[Men shouting] Meet the real Richard III.

In 1483, this man seized the English throne.

To some, he was an evil monster, to others, a hero.

His name was Richard III.

In August 1485, he was brutally slain at Bosworth Field... the last English king to die in battle.

MAN: 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, died 'in the thickest press of his enemies.'

NARRATOR: More that 500 years later, University of Leicester archeologists unearthed Richard's body, diagnoses 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?

MAN: Some people who have written books about Richard... have anticipated that he might have sustained significant back pain or he might have had a limp or not functioned so well on the battlefield, for example.

NARRATOR: 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.

MAN: It's extremely unusual for us to be able to apply this level of analysis to human remains in archeology.

NARRATOR: The team also wants to test Richard's physical limitations with a living subject.

[Men shouting] They search for someone who shares Richard's extreme spinal condition.

MITCHELL: 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.

NARRATOR: Before they can identify a suitable subject, Dr. Jo Appleby and Professor Piers Mitchell, along with 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.

MORGAN: These joints look completely normal-- nice, flat, 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 osteoarthritis that Richard'd have had from his scoliosis, and because of this, there can be only one way these facet joints fit together.

They fit together a bit like a jigsaw.

NARRATOR: 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 uncanny good luck.

WOMAN: I got the strangest sensation when I was in that area in that place, absolutely knew that I was standing on Richard's grave.

NARRATOR: And she was uncannily right.

MAN: Well... No.

APPLEBY, ON TV: So what we're actually seeing here is that this skeleton, in fact, has a hunchback, Completely normal for a normal body, but I've just been excavating... NARRATOR: 26-year-old Dominic Smee watched the announcement of the discovery of Richard's bones on TV with his family.

APPLEBY, ON TV: So what we're actually seeing here is that this skeleton, in fact... SMEE: I was kind of thinking, 'OK. This is quite weird,' because there are a lot of similarities between me and him, and I thought, 'I wonder if something is going on there.

This is a bit strange.'

NARRATOR: A few weeks later, Dominic came across an online lecture exploring how Richard might have fought in armor.

What did it really look like? What did he actually wear?

NARRATOR: 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.

WOMAN: The actual point where it was revealed on the television that Richard had scoliosis, it was quite a mind-blowing thing, really.

I remember thinking, 'Wow.

That's almost exactly the same as Dominic.'

It is quite eerie, really, to see that.

NARRATOR: Dominic e-mailed the lecturer and offered to help.

For Dominic, talking about himself and his back has not been easy.

SMEE: I was kind of thinking maybe other people can notice or see through my clothes and see how I was feeling when I looked in a mirror, which is probably why I kind of can empathize, really, with how Richard may have felt.

NARRATOR: But Dom has put his own feelings aside for the sake of science.

SMEE: 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,' and I thought, well, maybe I'd be able to help get rid of some of those questions for him.

NARRATOR: The team studying Richard III now has someone who can serve as his body double.

Hello. Hi.

Welcome to the Wallace Collection.


You've not been here before, have you?

No. Good. Excellent.

Well, let's go see some armor.


NARRATOR: Dr. Toby Capwell is a world-renowned expert on armor.

CAPWELL: I didn't know what to expect of Dominic.

I mean, he'd seen the lecture that I had given.

I mean, I was immediately struck by how sort of thoughful and interested he is.

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.

That's an armor that appears in just about every... NARRATOR: But does Dominic's backbone really match the extreme curve of Richard's spine?

CAPWELL: And it gives a great impression of the knight... CAPWELL, VOICE-OVER: It's extraordinarily rare to find anyone who has the exact kind of scoliosis to the same degree as Richard III because the vast majority of people who have it in that way have surgery to correct it.

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.

So, Dominic, first thing we need to do is to have a good look at your back.

NARRATOR: For complex medical reasons, Dominic has avoided surgery.

Then I can see that.

NARRATOR: The only way to establish a match is to conduct a detailed medical examination.

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 where the waist kind of sits.

So, Dominic, these are the x-rays of your back.

I can see that a lot of elements of your spine are very similar to Richard's.

First, you got a right-sided curve just like Richard has, and the angle of the curve, which we call the Cobb angle, yours is about 70, 75 degrees, and that's very similar to Richard's, which we've measured to be between about 60 and 80 degrees.

NARRATOR: Dominic's body resembles Richard's in other ways.

MITCHELL: What we notice when looking at Richard's skeleton is, he has fairly gracile, very 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 overmuscular guy.

NARRATOR: Piers performs one more task-- comparing Richard and Dominic's spines side by side.

We can see on Dominic how this part of the chest is much more prominent than this part, and this seems to dip in, and that's because of the position of the ribs, and the reason that happens is, 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 spinous 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 on this side would have gone inwards just in the same way that we see on Dominic.

MORGAN: We should pull the ribs out, and if we had the ribs, I think it would show he's virtually identical.

NARRATOR: Virtually identical.

For 500 years, people have speculated wildly about Richard's appearance.

Dominic is a unique test subject.

Scientists can now re-examine history's interpretation of Richard and 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.

WOOSNAM-SAVAGE: We should be able to see what somebody like that could actually do.

I think that's really exciting.

And then rotate.

MITCHELL: If Dominic can do this, then I'm sure Richard would have managed to do it because they have very similar scolioses.

NARRATOR: 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... [Men shouting] And reveal his true physical condition on the eve of his last battle-- what he was eating, drinking, and his state of health.

Richard III was a key participant in one of British history's most important conflicts-- the Wars of the Roses.

The War of the Roses continues to captivate the public imagination because it has so many small human adventure stories.

There are so many small, intricate elements to this period in history, the sort of very brutal and uncompromising nature of this internal dynastic conflict.

NARRATOR: After King Edward III 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 100 years.

Richard was born at the height of the conflict in 1452.

[Bell tolls] Some of the scientists have traveled to Richard's birthplace in Northamptonshire to find out if he was a fit and capable warrior at the Battle of Bosworth.

WOMAN: But it's good, isn't it?

MAN: It's gonna be great. Yeah.

The castle, that will be fantastic.

NARRATOR: They want to know whether Richard maintained a healthy diet over the course of his life.

Yeah, sort of just down there.

NARRATOR: His bones should contain telltale chemicals that he absorbed from the food and water he consumed while living here.

WOMAN: The very earliest samples that we have from Richard III are from the dentin within his teeth, and those formed when he was about 3 or 4 years old.

So that's the earliest picture we have of him.

NARRATOR: 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.

MAN: What kind of condition were Richard's teeth in?

There was some slight decay, as you can expect from a person of that age, but on the whole, they were in pretty good condition.

NARRATOR: Angela measures the chemical signature using a mass spectrometer.

Look. That one looks more limestoney.

LAMB: The nitrogen isotopes show an increase in the amount of meats and protein they were eating and also increase in the amount of fish they were eating.

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.

NARRATOR: The data in his teeth suggest 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.

Good. OK. Same again.

You're gonna stand on one leg.

You're gonna take the arm out.

You're gonna take it back as far as you can.

NARRATOR: She is an expert on spinal pathologies and has worked with paralympians.

Right. OK. Now come and stand.

Come back to the middle. Come and stand up.

NARRATOR: This physical test shows how a curved spine might limit a person.

And on the other side.

SMALL: I'm really impressed with his range of motion.

In fact, he's got better range of motion than a lot of other guys his age.

Try a little run, breathing. Good.

NARRATOR: Dominic and Richard may be nimble and flexible, but the treadmill test reveals the first indication of a physical problem.

And jump off. [Beep] Oh, enough.

I'll leave it. OK.

I'm starting to feel breathing... Yeah.

It's getting a bit tight.


It's, 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.

SMALL: His ribs won't expand and contract because of the rotation of his ribs associated with the scoliosis.

So that means his lungs aren't going to-- He's not going to have the lung capacity that would allow him to take in maximum doses of oxygen.

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.

NARRATOR: 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.

There's a good bind.

You see that really nice, little bind?

NARRATOR: 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.

SMEE: 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.

This has no safety precautions, a real fight, life and death.

I mean, these things are vicious.

KOETS: So you reckon you could face one of these?

Not quite at the moment.

The thing that Arne and Jorem have immediately shown us is the systematic complexity of medieval fighting art.

There's nothing brutish or untutored about what they're doing.

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.

There's a lot of binding.

Here... NARRATOR: Dominic's instructor is medieval combat expert Dave Rawlings.

So from here like so is actually exactly the same thing.

So, you see, we're training a very small group of muscles.

NARRATOR: Toby has brought along weapons from a rare collection for Dominic to get a feel for.

Have a feel of that, not especially heavy.

Even a larger sword like this is not especially heavy.

It's one of the great myths and misconceptions about medieval fighting that the swords are these big, clunky, heavy things.

They aren't.

It's counterproductive for them to be so.

It's quite sharp, as well.

And that sharpness and the scary aspect of the sword is very important to be aware of as you're starting to train because you always have to be aware of the possibility that your opponent could make your arm fall off.

It sort of focuses the mind somewhat.

NARRATOR: As a member of the nobility, Richard would have been unable to avoid his duty as a soldier.

They had a lot of responsibility as politicians and 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.

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.

WOOSNAM-SAVAGE: So far, there does not appear to be anything that he cannot actually do.

There might be some things he cannot 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.

Now continue that circle and cut up from underneath.

Good. Hands up. Good.

How's that motion for you? Is that all right?

Yeah. It's interesting.

WOOSNAM-SAVAGE: 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.

NARRATOR: But outfitting Dominic in armor raises new challenges.

CAPWELL: There's no English armor surviving from the 15th century.

All of the thousands of armors that were produced and worn during the War of the Roses, nothing that can be said to be the work of an English craftsman survives.

NARRATOR: So Dominic and the team travel to Sweden to work with world-renowned armorer Per Lillelund.

Good to see you, man. It's been a while.

Dominic, Per.

Hey, nice to meet you.

Very pleased to meet you.

NARRATOR: He's going to make Dominic a fully functional suit of medieval armor.

It must fit and flex like a glove... It looks really good.

NARRATOR: but achieving this with a twisted torso is a journey into the unknown.

And this one here is... CAPWELL: We're now wrestling with the same issues that Richard's armorer would have had to deal with in the 15th century.

LILLELUND: I was gonna show you this one here.

That's a depiction of Richard, as well.

Dominic had in interest in Richard III a long time before the bones were found, and, of course, there's the Shakespearean image of, you know, the hunchback and all of that, but there's been plenty-- For years, there's been lots and lots of argument that Richard didn't have anything wrong with him physically.

LILLELUND: So what do you think about all this now with the evidence showing that he actually had this scoliosis?

SMEE: It was just amazing that is 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.'

CAPWELL: Take the shirt off. Yeah.

A good armor is an extension of your body.

A good armor is a human exoskeleton.

I'm not gonna scrape it.

LILLELUND: It's gonna be quite a long process before we've finished to get it all to work.

You still have to shape the plane out like that.

Oh, yeah, yeah, totally.

You curve more here, and you curve more here.

NARRATOR: While Per tries to figure out how to build armor for a long-dead king with a twisted spine, Dominic continues his combat training.

Plus, we've got like this--slap.

RAWLINGS: I'm gonna hit you in the head.

Make sure you can block it.

Good. Block it.

Go forwards. That's it.

Good, good, good. Once more.

NARRATOR: It's clear that both Dominic and Richard would have to be in excellent physical shape to cope with the rigors of medieval warfare... It's parallel to your foot.

NARRATOR: but back in the laboratory, the scientists are finding evidence that Richard's fitness might have been compromised.

BUCKLEY: What we've been doing on the analysis of soil samples from Richard's grave have produced a few surprises in terms of locating evidence of intestinal parasites.

NARRATOR: The decomposed remains of Richard's gut contain evidence that he contracted an unpleasant ailment from the food he ate.

MITCHELL: Some parasites humans have had right throughout our human evolution, and roundworm is one of those.

It's spread by the contamination of your hands with human feces.

NARRATOR: Richard had worms.

MITCHELL: So you can see on the screen, this is one of the parasite eggs from Richard III sacred soil.

It's a roundworm egg.

It's oval in shape, and from the point of view of health if you had a good, balanced diet-- and I'm sure Richard would have had plenty of food-- then these parasitic worms probably wouldn't have done him much harm unless he had lots of them.

NARRATOR: The parasitic worms could have made breathing difficult... and new data is raising more questions about Richard's health.

The isotope analysis has moved from Richard's teeth to his bones.

LAMB: 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.

NARRATOR: 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 has reconstructed Richard's spine, diagnosed a case of roundworms, and noticed a strange shift in his diet just before 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 affects the strength of his blows.

When I'm doing the attacks, I'm feeling a lot of the weight in my arm there and 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 and with my hips because I haven't got the kind of push-pull muscles.

NARRATOR: Will adding 70 pounds of armor make this problem even worse?

LILLELUND: Establish this line here over this one here so this one will be more or less the same.

NARRATOR: And there is another concern.

The majority of the armor's weight should rest on the waist, but neither Dominic nor Richard have one.

LILLELUND: Dominic doesn't have any space between his lower rib and his hip bone.

There's less than an inch.

That's perfect.

LILLELUND: We cannot have any waistline of the armor going in here.

It would be extremely painful for him in a very short time.

So we actually have to carry most of the weight of the armor on his shoulders.

NARRATOR: This would have stressed Richard's already weakened back.

This one, almost perfect, you see?

It's seated perfect.

But the right one-- The shape is quite different.

NARRATOR: To solve the problem, Per braces Dominic's back against the armor.

Turn towards you.

NARRATOR: 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 battlefield.

[Hammering] SMEE: Kind of imagining what Richard would have looked like in his armor because, I mean, his armor would have acted very similar to this on the day and that body shape.

NARRATOR: 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 on foot... [Neighs] NARRATOR: but perhaps he made up for it, as history suggests, 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 war horse required immense skill.

It's very hard, actually.

I'm trying to get the position right, so many things going on in your brain and the horse's brain.

NARRATOR: There's only one way to find out how someone with a 75-degree spinal curve fairs on horseback.

So welcome to our stables.

Dominic, meet Dominic.

Morning, Dominic. How are you?

NARRATOR: Dominic Sewell is one of the world's top medieval riding instructors.

Well, Toby has told you a little about what we do here, and you're gonna have a very different experience from anybody that takes up riding as a sport or as a hobby.

NARRATOR: Dominic has never ridden before.

So his first lessons are with a modern saddle.

SEWELL: 1, 2, 3, go. Nicely done. Well done.

CAPWELL: 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.

And try and push him out a little bit.

NARRATOR: But Dominic's back is causing problems.

That's it. Good. Now, don't overlean.

Stay in the middle of the saddle.

That's good.

DOMINIC, VOICE-OVER: I'm slouching rather than-- I've got to focus on keeping my shoulders back.

That's it-- shoulders back, weight down.

Feel the body... DOMINIC, VOICE-OVER: I've got to concentrate to do it because I naturally want to do that.

So I've got to work on keeping upright position.

Now sit up. Sit up. Look ahead.

Good, good... and 3, 2, 1... Whoa.

DOMINIC, VOICE-OVER: Because my center of gravity is on the side because the way the curve is, most of my weight is on that side.

So I think that the horse is probably gonna naturally feel like I'm telling it to go to that side.

NARRATOR: If Dominic struggles with a modern saddle, how will he cope with the hard, wooden saddle that Richard used?

Now, this is the medieval saddle.

This is what you're gonna be riding in from now on.

This is your arming platform, yeah?

It's your gun mount, if you wish.

It looks like it's gonna be interesting in between the legs because it looks a bit like a log that you're effectively sitting on with a tiny bit of padding, but I think I'll notice the difference.

Good mount. Well done.

OK. Let's walk into the arena.

Walk on, Hawthorne.

[Clicks tongue] SEWELL: Good man.

Remember to repeat the command.

Walk on, Hawthorne.

With the legs. Adjust his... Walk on, Hawthorne.

NARRATOR: It's a slow start... SEWELL: There you go.

NARRATOR: but then something happens that confounds all expectations.

SEWELL: Good still. Keep going. Keep going, Dominic.

This is good. This is really good.

SEWELL: OK, and relax.

Whoa. Right.

I am flabbergasted by just how much that saddle helps you.

I'm not bouncing all over.

You're not bouncing. You have more control.

I'm very encouraged that the medieval saddle is actually helping you, and whether that helped knights of the past, perhaps whether it helped Richard or not, I don't know, but it may be a consideration that we haven't thought about until now, but, no, well done, excellent, excellent start.

WOOSNAM-SAVAGE: Does your back feel more supported, Dominic?

Yes, because it's in one place.

NARRATOR: Remarkably, the high, rigid back of the wooden medieval saddle adds support to the part of the back where Dominic and Richard need it.

SEWELL: Now remember to turn and halt.

Good in the shoulder. Now halt.

MAN: The important thing is, the way the medieval landscape works... NARRATOR: While Dominic tries to become a medieval knight in only 3 months, the team plans his battle challenge.

Professor Glenn Foard offers strong evidence that relocates the site of the Battle of Bosworth.

He and a team of metal detectors have found many objects in a field south of the previously accepted area.

The group of objects that suggests people of very high status have fought in hand-to-hand action lies in the low ground not in the cornfield, the light-colored cornfield, but in the green field, the bright green field beyond.

NARRATOR: 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.

[Horse neighs] FOARD: At the moment, that says to me the main clash between the two sets of nobility.

But 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 and the kind of space that you can see, then it works very well.

And 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 is in the middle of this field may be the location where those two forces clashed, where Richard almost got to the point of killing Henry.

That was where the Battle of Bosworth was probably decided.

And the course of English and British history.


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 have actually fallen.

NARRATOR: Dominic is making excellent progress in becoming a medieval warrior, especially when it comes to charging with a lance.

SEWELL: Well, first thing, let's get that horse moving.

Right. So focus his power.

Here we go. Support. Leg on, and off we go.

NARRATOR: This is only Dominic's fifth riding lesson.

Whoo hoo.

SEWELL: Ha ha ha! Well done, Dom.

It's a good job you hit it because if you hadn't, you'd have hit him with your face.

It would have been bad.

Here we go.

NARRATOR: The experiment shows that, rather than being a hindrance, medieval warfare equipment could actually help a person with scoliosis.

SEWELL: Couch. Drive!

NARRATOR: Now it's time to see if Dominic's custom-built armor might also help him.

CAPWELL: OK, guys.

Here's your acolyte ready for war, just about.

I think he looks pretty darn good, actually.

We thought that Richard should have an armor that we know was really high-tech for the time.

This is a very new innovation for 1480, '85.

Do you feel any aches in your shoulders?

No. No.

Do you feel any ache in your lower back or your mid back?

No. Really? That's good.

Do you feel that the back plate is there and you could actually rest yourself against it a bit if you wanted to?

Yeah. It keeps me in kind of a position not while I'm rested, but before I'm rested.

So when it's just the natural positions, it stops me slumping.

So that's why I'm really interested to see what happens when I'm riding to see whether I can still do that.

SEWELL: How is that doing?

OK. Walk.

How secure are you feeling at the moment?

Whoa. Actually, a lot more secure.

You're feeling more secure than you were without the armor.

Yeah, because you're kind of kept more stationary.

OK. And break.

NARRATOR: Dominic is nearly ready for his final challenge, a test to prove whether Richard could have led a heavily armored cavalry charge at the Battle of Bosworth.

SEWELL: It's a big pressure.

It is a big pressure, and no one is more aware of that than myself, and, yes, I'm concerned, desperately concerned, if I'm quite honest with you.

NARRATOR: 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, and Leicester archeologist Richard Thomas explains.

We've got a huge diversity of meat, especially, and it's meat that marked out high-status diet, in particularly, more than anything else-- more than cereals, more than vegetables, more than fruit.

So just an example of some of the things he was eating-- sturgeon, quails, rabbits, egrets, venison, carp and bream, partridge, roe deer, peacocks in his hackle and trapper.

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 delicacy just because they were so difficult to obtain.

NARRATOR: 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.

BUCKLEY: Analysis of the rib bone, for example, can tell you about the last 3 years of the life of somebody because there's this constant regeneration of bone matter, whereas other limbs, like a femur, analysis of that can only really tell you about the last 15 years of a person's life because regeneration is much slower.

NARRATOR: 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 his life, there was a dramatic change.

LAMB: His diet when he was king was sort of way beyond that of even an equivalent high-status individual in the late medieval period.

NARRATOR: Richard was eating meals more than fit for a king.

LAMB: The nitrogen and the oxygen isotopes both shift quite considerably.

So from that, we can decipher that it had to be something that has a high nitrogen isotope value that was more terrestrial in nature.

So we're talking about animals such as pigs possibly, wild fowl, freshwater fish, and most of those were real delicacies in the late medieval period.

NARRATOR: The isotope analysis shows Richard was eating an extremely lavish diet in the 3 years leading up to the Battle of Bosworth.

This overindulgence might well have reduced his fitness and agility, and Richard's bones have one more secret to reveal.

Here is where Richard III 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 the water that Richard consumed at the end of his life.

LAMB, VOICE-OVER: It suggests he'd 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 and traveled around England in those few years when he was king.

This is a nitrogen... NARRATOR: Something else could explain this shift, and it's not travel.

LAMB: An increase in wine consumption would explain why he might have had a higher oxygen isotope value at that time.

Our estimation is that it's about sort of 25% of his oxygen intake.

The rest would be made up by water and beer.

It was a considerable step up from the stuff he was drinking before.

At that period, the wealthy were consuming a lot of wine.

We know he was banqueting a lot more.

He was king. He was traveling to different locations.

There was a lot of wine indicated at those banquets, and tying all this together, it looks like that that had quite an impact on his diet in the last few years of his life.

NARRATOR: Richard was consuming a bottle of wine per day every day on top of all the British ale he also drank.

BUCKLEY: Well, I doubt whether his fitness levels were, perhaps, quite as good as they were before he was crowned king.

NARRATOR: 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 22, 1485.

The historical account suggests 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.

WOOSNAM-SAVAGE: Do you think Richard would have felt comfortable in his armor?

SMEE: Yeah. In a static position, it does a really good job of supporting me, but my body moves an incredible amount depending on what I'm doing with it more than a normal person's, but when I do that movement with my arm, the shoulder blade is kind of going into my ribs, whereas on the left-hand side, it's performing in the normal way.

CAPWELL: It's kind of an interesting thought, though, to think that the process of figuring out how to make armor work for someone with this condition, these same questions and these same issues would have been present with Richard and his armorers.

NARRATOR: So does Dominic's spine significantly affect his ability to fight?

His fist challenge is hand-to-hand combat wearing a full suit of armor.

Come on! That's nice.

Every single time, Richard. Good.

Since I first saw him, he's much more nimbler on his feet, even though he's wearing full plate armor.

CAPWELL: It shows that a smaller person has got to work very, very hard to stay on top of a fight.

RAWLINGS: Don't let yourself get turned.

NARRATOR: This test definitively proves that Richard could have fought well on foot, despite his scoliosis... RAWLINGS: Still keep your hands up.

NARRATOR: but a stiff ribcage might have caused him to tire much more quickly than other soldiers.

RAWLINGS: And hold. Nice finishing shot. Well done.

NARRATOR: Dominic's second challenge is Richard's famed cavalry charge.

The real battle site is now working farm land, but a nearby horse training center provides the perfect model of Bosworth.

[Nickers] WOOSNAM-SAVAGE: Ahead in the 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're all trained to do.

NARRATOR: 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.

Richard decided to charge around the marsh.

Henry was at least a half-mile away, a huge distance in full armor.

Dominic Smee must match this maneuver Will his back bear the strain?

RAWLINGS: 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 gonna win it.

You're gonna be the best you can, yeah?

WOOSNAM-SAVAGE: How does it feel in the armor?

Do you feel empowered wearing the armor or anything?

Well, I feel like a juggernaut.

NARRATOR: History says Richard killed Henry's standard bearer with his lance.

Can Dominic hit his target?

Charge! Go on!

WOOSNAM-SAVAGE: Despite the horror of medieval warfare, there is still something quite magical about knights in full plate armor on horseback, the sheer sounds, sheer power.

It's almost the shock and awe of the Middle Ages.

SMEE: Hah! Come on!

CAPWELL: Hit the pick ax.

Good boy.

NARRATOR: 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 6'7'. After 3 months of training, Richard's body double Dominic has achieved his goal.

He's shown conclusively that, while the shared scoliosis may be a barrier in some people's minds, it is in no way an impediment on the battlefield.

SMEE: 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.

RAWLINGS: When you actually see you coming over, you can't tell your size.

You can't tell how slender you are, how slight.

You just look like this facade of a tank coming forwards.

WOOSNAM-SAVAGE: It does show that, despite what history might have implied, that Richard was there, agile, and fighting as well as anybody.

Yeah. He took that quick turn really well, and I think for him to use that ax the way he did at speed is fantastic.

We're proud of you, man.

I think that we let him yell, 'Charge,' helped a lot.

Yeah. Yeah.

His mojo went through the roof after that.


SMEE: Definitely, especially the bit at the end hitting the head in the middle.

That was really-- I was desperate to do that because before, I've only just nicked it, whereas I went straight for it and smashed it off the pole.

NARRATOR: Richard III 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.

The 'Secrets of the Dead' investigation continues online.

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