Richard III, the English monarch memorably depicted by Shakespeare as a “poisonous bunch-back’d toad” who murdered children to clear his way to the throne, has a new attribute to add to his reputation: a heavy-drinking glutton.
He consumed the equivalent of a bottle of wine a day, plus enough beer to total about three liters of alcohol, according to analysis of his remains published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. And his diet wasn’t just heavy in the normal variety of meat, fish and fowl typical of the nobility in 15th-century England: He feasted on a rich array of “luxury foods” including swan, egret and heron.
Researchers from the British Geological Survey and the University of Leicester have been studying Richard’s skeleton since 2012, when his remains were identified beneath a parking lot in Leicester, a city in England’s Midlands. Early studies focused on the spine, curved by scoliosis in a profound S-shape that seemed to confirm Shakespeare’s physical description. The new study, “Multi-isotope analysis demonstrates significant lifestyle changes in King Richard III,” looks at a femur, a rib and a tooth — bones that develop and renew themselves at different times of life — to evaluate how his diet changed once he became king.
“We know he was banqueting a lot more, there was a lot of wine indicated at those banquets and tying all that together with the bone chemistry, it looks like this feasting had quite an impact on his body in the last few years of his life,” geochemist Angela Lamb, lead author of the study, said. “Richard’s diet when he was king was far richer than that of other equivalent high-status individuals in the late medieval period.”
Unsurprisingly, the boisterous British press has enjoyed the revelation. “Richard III drank 3 litres of booze a day,” Metro said. “No wonder he was found dead in a car park.” Richard became king in 1483 and was killed in battle two years later. His body will be reburied at Leicester Cathedral on March 26.