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Identifying the bones of Richard III was only the start of the story. Since then, for the very first time, scientists have been able to subject the skeleton of an English king to intense scrutiny and analysis - allowing them to reassemble his life in fascinating detail and provide the most complete portrait of a medieval monarch to date. Channel 4 has again had exclusive access to that new scientific work and in this film, reveals a series of brand new findings that help rewrite the story of Richard’s reign.
If the first phase of scientific work was about identifying the body, this second phase has been about working out what a man with that body would have been capable of. If Richard had such an extreme spinal deformity, how could he have been the prodigious combatant that the histories claimed – a man who led a heavy cavalry charge over open ground and killed several of his enemies, before dying at the hands of Henry Tudor’s army? Using the latest scientific techniques, experts at the University of Leicester and beyond have been able to work out whether he could have used a sword, worn 30 kilos of armour, ridden a medieval warhorse and survived the exertions of battle. They’ve also pieced together his diet and revealed his lifestyle in his final years, with surprising results.
In another incredible stroke of luck they’ve been helped in their investigations by a living body double, who has come forward to help them discover the answers to some of these questions through practical experiments and reconstructions. A twenty-seven year-old British man, Dominic Smee, who suffers from the exact same form of scoliosis as Richard III and whose spine, with its 75 degree spinal curve is deemed ‘virtually identical’ by the experts, agreed to collaborate with the scientists on a series of unique tests. The unusual similarity with Richard III is even more striking given that Dominic’s mother authored a book about Richard III and he helps re-enact battles at Bosworth – the battlefield site where the king met his death.
Working together, Dominic and the team who include physiotherapists, armour and medieval combat and riding experts to discover how Richard could have walked and fought and how he could have met his death. Putting theories into practice, Dominic undergoes 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, Dominic helps shed new light on the king’s death – and answers questions that have lain buried for centuries.