Richard III: Monster or great man: who was the real king?
William Shakespeare portrayed Richard III as an evil, deformed bully who killed his brother, wife and nephews.
The Bard also described the infamous monarch as a "foul bunch-back'd toad'' – and gave him a large hump and withered arm.
Other historical accounts of the king describe him as murderous and tyrannical, but a number of academics have now said history may have to be rewritten.
"History is written by the winners," said Leicester historian and Ricardian chronicler David Baldwin.
Cheap Van Insurance For 17,18 & 19 Year Old Drivers - Call Insure365 01782 898188, Free Legal Protection Cover Included valued at £25.00!
Terms: 1 Voucher Per Customer
Contact: 01782 898188
Valid until: Monday, June 24 2013
"A lot of what we know about Richard was written after his death and by his rival and successor, Henry VII, who defeated him at Bosworth."
Henry VII commissioned Polydore Vergil to write an official history of England in 1505, which included the first description of Richard's "withered arm''.
Almost 100 years later, Shakespeare indirectly used Vergil's ideas about Richard to create his stage character and included many of the chronicled deformities and his tyrannical disposition.
Dr Sarah Knight, senior lecturer in Shakespeare and Renaissance literature at the University of Leicester, said: "Shakespeare used a 16th century author, the Elizabethan historian Rafael Holinshed, for his historical plays and, in turn, Holinshed used accounts from Polydore Vergil – so they would have included the negative portrayal of Richard."
Holinshed also used works written by Sir Thomas More which were just as scathing.
"Thomas More exaggerated Richard's scoliosis and refer to him as 'croke backed'," said Dr Knight.
"More also mentions that Richard was born with a full set of teeth – he said that he was 'born not untoothed'."
Shakespeare used these sources to turn Richard into a monster.
Dr Jo Appleby, who excavated the remains of Richard III at the Greyfriars site last August, said: "The curvature of the spine is huge – and it would have certainly affected his posture and possibly made him twist to one side and taken a few inches off his height.
"The right collarbone was also larger than the left, but everybody naturally has a slightly more pronounced right side.
"His shoulder may have been hunched up. What we're seeing is consistent with that, but it's hard to tell to what degree it would have been raised."
Dr Mary Ann Lund, lecturer in Renaissance literature, said: "There's this sense that Richard is larger than life and he's portrayed as villainous but fascinating. He's a tyrant, but Shakespeare also gives him very positive, magnetic qualities.
"There would have been politics involved in Shakespeare's writing but he was writing to entertain.
"People would have realised these were plays, and that although they had a political bias, they were principally for entertainment."
Dr Knight said: "Richard famously had his critics, but he had his supporters, too. Sir George Buck, who claimed his family had served the Yorkist kings, was actually very pro-Richard and wrote a book called the History of Richard the Third, in 1619 – although it wasn't published until 1646. "He specifically refers to Richard the not-deformed king."
Philippa Langley, of the Richard III Society, said: "This is the king who gave us the system of bail, opened up the printing industry giving us books and freedom of information and applied the legal principle of innocent until proven guilty and blind justice.
"And yet he is still presumed guilty for the death of the princes in the tower, even though there's no evidence pointing towards him killing them.
"When investigating someone, your primary sources are those people who knew that person, and those who knew Richard said he was a great man.''