Richard III, also known as England’s ‘Hunchback’ King, was infected with parasitic roundworms, according to researchers who’d exhumed his remains last summer.
The famously unpopular king’s skeleton was dug up in a parking lot in Leicester, in a joint effort by the University of Leicester, the Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society, which unearthed a multitude of roundworm eggs in the dirt around Richard’s pelvis. Upon further analysis, it was deemed that there were no worm eggs anywhere near the King’s skull, and were concentrated only where his intestines would’ve been.
Though these roundworms, which can grow to be a foot long, can cause mental deficiencies and stunted growth in children, the parasites likely had little ill-effect on the well-nourished king. “Richard probably had more than enough food that he could share with his worms,” said Piers Mitchell, professor of biological anthropology at Cambridge University.
Roundworms, the filthy little nematodes which inhabit up to 1.2 billion people worldwide, make their way from host to host via fecal matter. Mitchell goes on to explain, “they may have been spread to Richard by cooks who did not wash their hands after using the toilet, or by the use of human feces from towns to fertilize fields nearby,” adding that “perhaps salad vegetables became contaminated with eggs and were then eaten.”
Ascaris lumbricoides, also called the giant roundworm of humans, hatch from the kind of eggs found on Richard III’s corpse. A modern infection is treated quite easily, with single-dose anthelmintic drugs. Still, a roundworm infestation that gets out of hand might need to be corrected with surgery, as they may block the intestine, or the bile and pancreatic ducts. During the time of Richard III, common treatments included “bloodletting, modification of the diet, and medicines to get rid of the excess phlegm and so return humoral balance to normal,” according to Mitchell.
Interestingly, Richard III was the last English king to be killed on a battlefield. On August 22, 1485, Richard fell to the army of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field, to where he is said to have taken multiple blows to the head. Incidentally, roundworms sometimes jump out of the noses and ears of their hosts when they are ‘startled.’ Surprise, surprise!