"I looked on Richard's face" (IV.i)
Portraits of Richard III. with commentary by Pamela
Tudor-Craig, Ph.D., FSA.
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Portraits of Richard III
There are more versions -- the count is reaching twenty -- of the
panel portrait of Richard III than of other fifteenth century English
kings. The bulk of them derive from the portrait in the Royal Collection
based on a contemporary image, since the costume and jewellery are
convincing. The actual picture, however, was not painted until early
in the reign of Henry VIII. It was altered shortly thereafter to
suggest a hump back, tight lips and half-closed eyes. Later images,
all reflecting the 'doctored' portrait in the Royal Collection,
come from Long Gallery series, some of which have been broken up
One of the latest Long Gallery series is the best documented. Edward
Alleyn gave to Dulwich College, which he had founded in 1613-19,
a set of 26 Royal Portraits which had cost him £8.13s.4d.
They were painted by John Gypkin, artist of the diptych of 'Old
St Paul's' in the Society of Antiquaries, and of a Triumphal Arch
for James 1, recorded in Stow's Chronicle. Alleyn, as an
actor-manager, will have felt the value of portraits of kings whom
he might find himself recreating on stage. The late Lord Olivier
owned a good version of the portrait of Richard III. Shakespeare
was probably familiar with the received likeness, perhaps through
a version like the one now in the National Portrait Gallery.
There is, however, only one portrait of Richard III which represents
the twisted figure Shakespeare describes, and that is the picture
now in the Society of Antiquaries showing Richard bearing a broken
sword. It was probably painted about 1550, at the time of Thomas
More's description, which it closely follows. X-rays show that it
originally gave Richard a shortened left arm, as well as a monstrous
hump. The short arm was painted out before 1787.
Only one panel painting of Richard III could have been taken from
the life, perhaps in the last few months of his reign, and that
is the round-topped portrait in the Society of Antiquaries. With
its pair, of Edward IV, it can be traced back to the Paston/Knyvett
families of Norfolk, who were of consequence in Richard's reign,
but could have had no reason to acquire images of the Yorkist kings
in Tudor days. The delicary of the observation, the exact description
of appropriate jewellery and costume, the sensitive face and long
delicate fingers, speak of no trace of vilification. Propaganda
was to enter the topic of Richard III's physique as soon as his
body was dragged from Bosworth field.
Descriptions of Richard's appearance made during
his reign indicate a very lean man, perhaps small -- at least in
contrast to his 6'3" brother, Edward -- but rather naturally
they breathe nothing of deformity. Archibald Whitelaw, Archdeacon
of Lothian, made a speech praising Richard in 1484: "Never
had so much spirit or greater virtue reined in so small a body."
It is wiser not to talk about bodies at all if your hearer has
a distorted one. John Rous's Yorkist Roll had been oanamented with
pleasing images of Richard and his Queen during their lifetime,
but he turned his coat immediately after Richard's fall. Aspersions
on Richard's appearance as a baby he might have risked, hoping that
none who had seen would read his Historia Regum Angliae (but
what of Richard's mother, still living, learned and pious? Rous'
survival in a Tudor world, perhaps, made the risk worth taking.)
Otherwise the worst he could say, knowing that he would be read
by many who had seen Richard in life a year or two before, was that
'he was small of stature with a short face and unequal shoulders.'
Richard's face certainly looks shorter than that of the lantern-jawed
Edward IV in all portraits. For the unequal shoulders, we have a
confirmation in the York Civic Records for 1491, still within six
years of Bosworth. There, in the heart of Richard's centre of loyalty,
a citizen was hauled before the magistrate for saying that Richard
had been a 'crookback and buried in a ditch like a dog.' The citizen
would have been praised for such a remark in London; not so, said
the York judge -- Henry VII had arranged Richard's decent burial,
as indeed he had. Richard had a monument in the Greyfriars at Leicester,
with an inscription exhorting the observer to avoid the path he,
Richard, had taken to Hell. It was destroyed at the Reformation.
But the York judge let the remark about the crookback pass.
In view of its dissemination so soon after Richard's death, and
the principle that propaganda is better at exaggeration than invention,
the observation of uneven shoulders is probably based on fact. The
rest is Tudor legend.
In our present state of knowledge, therefore, the round-topped
portrait of Richard III in the Society of Antiquaries appears to
be the most authentic likeness of him, as it is, with the sketches
in the Rous Yorkist Roll and the Beauchamp Pageant, the only representation
made with no intention to slander the King.
Full captions follow.
1. Portrait, John Rous, College of Arms roll
2. Rous Roll, British Library
3. Rous Roll, College of Arms
4. Richard and Anne, Salisbury Roll
5. Edward IV, Society of Antiquaries
6. Richard III, Society of Antiquaries
7. Richard III, Windsor
8. Richard III, National Portrait Gallery
9. Richard III, 'Broken Sword Portait', Society of Antiquaries
10. Richard III 'Broken Sword Portrait, X-ray
11. Richard III 'Broken Sword Portrait,' version sold 1920s
12. Beauchamp Pageant family tree
13. Jean de Waurin, court of Edward IV, possibly includes Richard
14. 'Dictes des Philosophes,' Lambeth Palace, court of Edward IV,
possibly includes Richard
The Rous Roll [Portrait of John Rous from
the Latin copy. British Library (English) & College of Arms
John Rous was Chaplain to Guy's Cliff, historian and antiquary
to the House of Warwick. His 'magnum opus,' the Historia Regum
Angliae, was completed after Richard's death and he inserted
into it the earliest aspersions. Richard was 'retained within his
mother's womb for two years, emerging with teeth and hair to his
shoulders,' 'small of stature with a short face and unequal shoulders,
the right higher than the left,' to be retold by Sir Thomas More.
John Rous surely wrote the text for the Pageant of Richard Beauchamp
and was responsible for the extensive examples of the Warwick pedigree
taking them back to Aeneas, legendary Roman founder. The Yorkist
Roll is more finely executed, with delicate drawings by a professional
draughtsman. This roll had evidently left Rous' hand before the
Battle of Bosworth. Richard appears twice, first at the outset,
alone, surmounted by the Royal Arms and standing on the boar, bearing
an upright sword and Warwick Castle. The inscription is laudatory.
Then in the place which falls to him as husband of the Warwick heiress
and his Queen, he appears again, surmounted by a shield impaling
her arms and his. She faces him, also surmounted by the Royal Arms
impaling her own. Beyond the king is the little heir, Edward, shown
in full armour, wearing a coronet, and standing on the boar. The
child died in April 1484 at the age of 11. The Yorkist roll must
pre-date that event. The use of English and the brilliance of the
drawings strongly suggest that this roll had been made for the Royal
Couple, Anne having repaired to Warwick as soon as possible after
the Coronation, 6th July 1483, and Richard joined her in early August
-- a likely occasion for the commission. The praise offered to Richard
is apt and compatible with his first regal months. Richard set on
foot the 'Great Tower to withstand guns' at Warwick Castle, the
architectural commission John Rous would have known.
The Latin Roll bears all the marks of the author's rough draft
and remained in John Rous' possession. He was able therefore to
do a 'scissors and paste' job after August 1485, removing Richard
altogether, except as the 'unfortunate husband' of Anne. There is
nothing about the drawings of Richard and Anne in either roll to
distinguish them from the other handsome couples who float through
the text. However, with the 'Beauchamp Pageant' they provide the
only images of Anne and her son that could have been done by someone
who had seen them.
Salisbury Roll, Duke of Buccleuch Ms. portraits of Richard and
This inadequate image of Richard III and his queen was added to
the paper version of The Salisbury Roll, part of the heraldic collection
of John Wrythe, first Garter King-of-Arms. Richard gave the College
that charter. The original Roll has exquisite tinted drawings of
the Salisbury lineage. These Rolls represent an 'aide memoire' of
the proper heraldic achievements and appurtenances of the King and
Queen. The clothing is not that actually worn at Richard's coronation;
it conforms with that of earlier figures in the Salisbury Roll,
where the ladies tend to be walking achievements of arms. In the
faces, alas, we can have no confidence. This is the herald's approach.
People are to be recognized by their cognizances. Faces are too
far away or covered in helmets, or we might add, too well concealed
by the sands of time and propaganda.
Richard III [Society of Antiquaries Arch-topped type -- with Edward
The arch-top portraits of the brother kings resurfaced in the late
18th century at the same time and in a related context as the discovery
of the Paston Letters. They came from the descendants of the Norfolk
Paston and Knyvett families along with portraits of Henry VII, foreign
monarchs and dignitaries contemporary with the latter. Both families
collected pictures. The pair were painted on boards cut from the
same tree. A tree-ring dating of about 1516 is now in doubt, so
these may be contemporary likenesses painted in 1483-5? The details
convince. Richard's delicate hands are pulling a ring from the fourth
finger of the left hand. The fourth finger was associated from the
14th century with the emotions and so the gesture would carry the
usual significance -- Richard had become a widower in 16 March 1485
and negotiations for a diplomatic marriage would have afforded an
occasion for the king to sit for his portrait. The Pastons had sheltered
the royal brothers in their youth and may well have wanted their
likenesses while Richard was alive. After August 1485, such a commission
of two sympathetic portraits would have indicated a Yorkist stance,
which the Pastons avoided. They belonged to the winning side. These
are the best images we have of the Yorkist kings. That of Richard
corresponds well with the contemporary description left by Nicholas
von Poppelau, who visited England in 1484 and was entertained at
the king's court. He says Richard was 'three fingers taller than
himself, but a little thinner, and not so thick set. He had delicate
arms and legs and also a great heart.'
Richard III [Royal Collection, Windsor]:
The Richard III in the Royal Collection is part of the first coherent
group of portraits of the English monarchy. As such, it is the basis
of all standard portraits of Richard. The face is compatible with
Richard in the round-topped portrait. Along with the rest of this
retrospective series it was carefully copied from a contemporary
original. Very soon after completion, both the Henry VI in this
series and the Richard III were modified. Richard's shoulder was
heightened to suggest the hump-back and it seems the lips and eyes
have been compressed to hint at villainy. All versions of this portrait
post-date these propaganda alterations.
Richard III [National Portrait Gallery, after restoration and
A reproduction of this version of the Royal Collection portrait,
before it was cleaned, was the focus of the popular detective story,
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Her detective read
non-villainous qualities into this face. Inasmuch as it is founded
on a contemporary likeness, he could have been right. However, this
panel was copied from the Royal Collection model, after that had
been tampered with to introduce hints of deformity and villainy.
This haggard Richard III was only 33 at the Battle of Bosworth.
This image is contemporary with the play, and represents Richard
as Shakespeare would have visualized him.
Beauchamp Pagent Family Tree [British Library Ms. Cotton Julius
EIV f 284. Whole page & detail of Prince Edward, Anne Neville
& Richard III illustrated]:
Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, 1389-1439, took an heroic part
in the conquest of France under Henry V. In the 1450s, his magnificent
tomb and chantry chapel in St. Mary's, Warwick, was commissioned
by his heiress, Anne, and her husband, Richard Neville 'Warwick
the Kingmaker.' They may well have set on foot the "Pageant
of Richard Beauchamp," of which we have this illustrated copy.
The two genealogical folios at the end of the manuscript declare
that it was illustrated during the reign of Richard III. The first
folio sets out the great Richard Beauchamp and his immediate descendants;
the second gives his daughter and heiress, Anne, her husband the
Kingmaker, and their descendants. The heraldry has not been completed.
Clearly the project was abandoned after the untimely deaths of both
the Kingmaker's daughters and their husbands, and of Edward, heir
to Richard's throne. Like the Yorkist Roll, this manuscript contains
drawings of the Royal Family made in the sitters' lifetimes. Anne
is in the center of her group, flanked on her right by her first
husband, Edward of Lancaster, heir to Henry VI, and on her left
by a three-quarter view of Richard that is remarkably consistent
with the arch-topped portrait in the Society of Antiquaries.
Richard's interest in the reconquest of France is recorded. It
would have been in keeping with that intent that Richard should
have encouraged the history of his illustrious grandfather-in-law.
Jean de Waurin, Court of Edward IV [British Library Royal Ms.
15 EIV f 148]:
During the brief readeption of Henry VI, Edward IV with his immediate
entourage took refuge in Flanders. In January/February 1471 they
lodged with Louis de Gruuthuse, whose fine town house still stands
in Bruges. Whilst there Edward acquired a taste for Netherlandish
Chronicles and Histories, richly illuminated. A number are still
in the Royal Collection, in the British Library. The Anciennes
et Nouvelles Chroniques d'Angleterre is prefaced by a miniature
showing the author Jean de Waurin presenting the book to Edward.
The two pairs of courtiers converse. Edward's miniature court included
Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, Lord Rivers and Lord Hastings,
surely represented here, with their host. However, the illuminator
introduced similar groups in the coronation of William the Conqueror
'Dictes des Philosophes' [Lambeth Palace Ms. 263]:
The translation from the French into English of the Dictes des
Philosophes, a miscellany of the 'Aristotle he say' variety,
made by Lord Rivers, elder brother of Queen Elizabeth and tutor
to Edward, heir to the English throne. The printing was William
Caxton's first English commission. It was published on 18th November
1477 and the colophon of this Mss. version declares that the presentation
copy was given to Edward on 24th December. This illustration is
poignant because it alone shows the little Edward V, then seven
years and 52 days old. Amongst the courtiers stands Richard, Duke
of Gloucester, in ermine trim, and kneeling Antony, Lord Rivers,
with one scribe. Both King and Queen wear tall impressive crowns
and the prince an ermine-trimmed coronet. Edward, and Richard after
him, kept Christmas in some splendour at Westminster.
'Broken-Sword' Richard III [Society of Antiquaries]:
While the normal run of Long Gallery portraits tend to look to
the right, those of the Cast Shadow workshop are usually facing
left. Workshop practice would normally start with a drawing which
could easily be reversed and strengthened from the other side, in
order to give variety of the painted faces. On the other hand, the
face of the Broken Sword image is closer to the arch-topped portrait,
which faces the same way, than it is to the Royal Collection portrait.
This panel may have been worked up from the original of the arch-topped
royal portrait, but the intention to vilify is even stronger here
than in the alterations to the Royal Collection painting. The broken
sword itself declares defeat in battle. The left shoulder (in the
Royal portrait it is the right) is humped in keeping with John Rous'
description. An X-ray shows that originally the king's left arm
was painted greatly shortened and the 'werish withered arm' of Thomas
More's History of Richard III (printed in 1543 and more fully
in 1557) added. The badly shaped left hand may not have been intentional.
Portraits of the Cast Shadow workshop usually have inept hands.
The deformed left arm, however, was painted out before the picture
was bought 'in a lumber-shop' by Thomas Kerrich in 1787. Before
the modification a copy had been made, known from a photograph taken
when it was sold at St. Gudule, Brussels, in 1921 [illustrated].
Information about the present whereabouts of this copy would be
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