Scientists shed new light on 'King in the Car Park's' life


In a world exclusive in February last year, Channel 4 broadcast a film that followed the extraordinary hunt for Richard III – the king discovered, against all the odds, under a car park. But identifying the bones was only the start of the story. In the months since, scientists at the University of Leicester and beyond have subjected Richard’s skeleton to intense scrutiny and – through another incredible stroke of luck – the team have found a living body double to help them test their theories. Their findings have reassembled the lost king’s life in fascinating detail and in this film they will be revealed for the first time.

The discovery that Richard suffered from a potentially debilitating spinal condition known as scoliosis may have answered one 500-year-old question: there was an element of truth to Shakespeare’s play when he portrayed the king with a twisted spine. However, that answer threw up another mystery: if Richard had such an extreme spinal deformity, how could he have been the prodigious warrior that the histories claimed? Could he have really donned 30 kilos of armour, mounted a medieval warhorse, led a heavy cavalry charge over open ground and killed several of his enemies, before dying at the hands of Henry Tudor’s army?

To answer this and other questions about Richard’s life, a year-long research project, led by the University of Leicester, has performed further detailed scientific analysis of Richard’s bones and anatomy and enlarged the excavation site around his grave to look for further clues.

The work at the site reveals just how extraordinarily lucky the archaeologists were to find Richard’s body at all, with building work from the years after the burial crisscrossing the site, chopping off his feet and coming within inches of destroying the skull. The new scientific analysis of Richard’s skeleton has strengthened the conclusions of the original research, while also revealing extraordinary new details about the nature of Richard’s lifestyle and physical condition.

For the final strand of the experimental work, however, the team has relied on the help of one remarkable young man. They have tracked down a twenty-six year-old British man who suffers from the exact same form of scoliosis as Richard III and who has agreed to collaborate with the scientists on a series of unique tests. Working together, our body double and the team have discovered how Richard could have walked and fought and how he could have met his death. Putting theories into practice, our volunteer has undergone an intensive physical programme to see how Richard’s scoliosis would have affected his ability to wield a sword, wear armour, ride a horse and use a lance. As he replicates Richard’s charge at Bosworth in a bespoke 30 kilo suit of armour, Richard’s body double sheds new light on the king’s death – and answers questions that have lain buried for centuries.

This film, directed by Gary Johnstone, is the next instalment in modern science’s rewrite of one of history’s most infamous stories. And it’s a chance to see the past through the experience of a modern British man who knows all too well how a spinal deformity can define your life.

Channel 4 Commissioning Editor John Hay has ordered this 1 x 60 documentary from DSP, the makers of Richard III: The King in the Car Park, The Mill and How to Build a Bionic Man. He says: “I thought Part 1 of this story was pretty jaw-dropping, but Part 2 is just as fascinating. The combination of Leicester’s world-class academic work and one young volunteer’s willingness to put his body on the line has opened up the history of Richard’s reign in a way I’d never have thought possible, and we’re hugely grateful to them both.”

Executive Producer Simon Young says: “From the moment Philippa Langley set foot in the car park, and at every stage of the subsequent archaeological research, this project has thrown up new surprises. The latest chapter in Richard’s story is no different, representing the most complete forensic study of a medieval monarch ever conducted.”

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