Found History is Disability History Meredith Ritchie

Found History is Disability History

Meredith Ritchie

As you may have heard in the past couple of months archeologist in England have unearthed the skeleton of King Richard III.  King Richard III was the last king of the House of York, ruling in the mid 1400s.   The skeleton was found under a parking lot in Leicester, England, which was the former site of Greyfriars Franciscan church.

Why do we in disability care?

King Richard III had a disability.   In his early and mid-teens he developed idiopathic scoliosis.  Now days a person who has scoliosis is treated with physical therapy, orthopedic braces or surgery.  However in the fifteenth century there was no treatment.  Thus Richard III had a severe S-curve in his spine, that gave him a shorten stature and raised the right shoulder higher than the left.  This would have been what gave him the “hunchbacked” appearance, which is often mentioned in documents about him.  I feel a special connection to him in this way, as I developed the same condition in my early teens.  I know how the spinal curve would have impacted his everyday life, and I can understand what sort of appearance it would have caused.  The difference was simply 500 years difference in time. 


Disability and History

King Richard III’s later demonization came, primarily, from the Tudors who ruled after him.  The play Richard III by Shakespeare did a lot to help this bad reputation.  Yet most of the contemporaneous works speak more fondly of King Richard III and while they mention his disability they are more realistic.

Here was a man who was very active, hunting, horseback riding and leading in battle.  He was also described as a cunning and shrewd ruler.  This was not a man whose disability was seen as a hindrance.   The more people with disabilities whose contributions can be studied in history the more positive image we can have of ourselves.  A young person with a disability may be discouraged from participating in sports because “people with disabilities are incapable” Yet if Richard III could lead battles in the days of knights and swords why can’t this kid play sports.

History is full of role models for people; it is time that the disability community starts claiming ours.  And with this amazing discovery of Richard III’s grave there is no better time.



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