Richard III may have kept his bent spine a secret right up until his death in 1485, researchers have claimed.
University of Leicester academics said it was likely only a few servants and medical staff within the royal household were aware of his scoliosis.
Dr Mary Ann Lund said it was only after his death he earned his reputation as "Crookback Richard" and was portrayed with a withered arm.
The research has been published in the Medical Humanities journal.
Shakespeare depicted Richard as physically and mentally grotesque, an image of the king which has stuck.
His name was blackened by the new Tudor dynasty, Dr Lund said.
However, she said it was "highly likely Richard took care to control his public image" during his reign.
"Tailoring probably kept the signs of his scoliosis hidden to spectators outside the royal household of attendants, servants and medical staff who dressed, bathed and tended to the monarch's body.
"The body of a mediaeval monarch was always under scrutiny, and Richard III's was no exception," she said.
Dr Lund said it was the stripping of Richard's corpse at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 that first made his physical shape noticeable to many hundreds of witnesses.
She added there was "no mention" of Richard's scoliosis from during his lifetime, "perhaps out of respect to a reigning monarch", and that one account described him as "slim and lean, with fine boned limbs".
Who was Richard III?
• Richard III was the last Yorkist King of England, this means he was the last member of the House of York family to be made king
• Richard had one of the shortest reigns in British history - just over 2 years, and he was the last English king to die in battle
• He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, which led to the end of the War of the Roses. This was fighting between the houses of Lancaster and York that lasted 30 years
• Richard III has been painted as a villain. It is said he killed his two nephews so he could take the throne and William Shakespeare wrote a play about him but some historians say this was propaganda and might have been unfair