Richard III’s ‘Broken Sword’ portrait….

Richard Broken Sword big.1 Broken Sword - A

There is one portrait of Richard that is not seen very often, perhaps because it is not straightforward…or well painted. For instance, why the broken sword? As a symbol of his defeat and broken monarchy? It is also rather dark and presumably in need of a good clean, presents him with a malformed left hand, the usual ridiculously unbalanced shoulders, andis  generally unsatisfactory. Especially to a Ricardian! But there is something about it that might well be the real Richard. So, needless to say, I have had to have a go at it.

I have tried my best, but the original paintwork is in terrible condition, making it very difficult for an amateur to rectify the cracks and crazing on his face without making him look as if he’s been Max-Factored. As well as that, I could only find one relatively large file of it on the internet. Almost all copies are smallish and therefore awkward to work with.

But here is what I’ve come up with. The broken sword and angled arm has gone, the slashing of his coat has been twiddled, his deformed hand has been tweaked, and his shoulders aren’t like a roller-coaster. In fact, the only way I was able to see anything clearly was by brightening the portrait to show up any light or dark silhouette. His head was particularly strange, being rather narrow at the top, with the hat accordingly narrow as well.

One again, I don’t pretend to have done a professional job, I have just tried to find Richard in there somewhere.

Note: I’m sorry that when my effort is first enlarged, the picture breaks up a little. I don’t know why. But if you enlarge again, it becomes clear again. Well, as clear as I could get it.


  1. It might be the Sword of Mercy…Curtana, or a variant of the same idea. With all respect but it is in much better condition than your revised version 🙂


  2. I like very much this portrait. It presents the young man blue-eyed and fair-haired as the study of his skeleton showed. It is dated about 1550 but if “broken sword” was really Sword of Mercy this portrait (or its original) had to be painted before Richard,s death. Is anybody who studied it?


    1. The DNA analysis does not show that he had fair hair. It shows that he had blond hair as a child. Which probably, or rather, rather certainly got darker when he grew up, since all the early portraits and all the contemporary miniatures from books representing Richard show him with brown hair.

      I don’t know why people keep insisting that he must have had blond hair because DNA supposedly showed it (which it actually did not), any more than I know why people used to insist he had dark, dark hair and was “the dark one in the fair family” supposedly contrary to the “blond blue eyed Edward” (who actually definitely had brown hair according to all his early portraits and the hair in his grave, and, going by his portraits, hazel/brown eyes). Many European people and people of European origin have blond hair as children and grow up to have brown hair. This was most probably the case with Richard, Edward, and probably their siblings as well. I had blond hair when I was 4 years old, and now I have very dark brown hair.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Richard has fair hair in Coventry Tapestry:)) I suspect that dark-haired people were “bad” and fair-haired ones – “good” in Middle Ages. So Edward was “fair” and Richard – “dark”. And my other question: why Richard,s skeleton was discovered without any hair. I thought that hair used to remain.


      2. I suspect too that the portrait in Coventry Tapestry and the portrait with broken sword are copies of unknown original painted before King,s death. In this case Richard with “broken sword” could be like real Richard:))


      3. @Kalina: I don’t think there was any such prejudice towards dark haired people; if there was, why did they portray so many of their kings with dark hair; specifically, why was Edward IV portrayed with dark hair, even during his own lifetime?

        The idea about Edward IV having fair hair is a later date invention – I’ve never seen it anywhere except in historical fiction. In all his portraits from the Tudor era, within 100 years after his death, he has brown hair, the same color as Richard. In the miniatures drawn during his lifetime, which would, if anything, have been meant to flatter, rather than present him in any bad light (for instance, in the Luton Guild Book where he, the queen and the royal family are all portrayed, in book by Jean De Wawrin where he is presented receiving the manuscript from the author, in the miniature where he shown with the queen and prince Edward, receiving the book from Anthony Rivers), Edward IV is drawn with dark hair, darker than anyone else in the picture (including the figures that speculated to represent Richard, who have a slightly lighter shade of brown hair).

        The idea of Richard having dark hair also is of later date and has nothing to do with Tudor propaganda – I don’t think that any of the Tudor historians ever mentioned his hair color. He’s portrayed with medium brown hair in most of the Tudor era portraits, and even with blond hair in the Coventry Tapestry and in the Broken Sword portrait, which are both trying to portray him in a negative light. I don’t know where the idea of Richard having very dark or even black hair comes from, but it also seems to be a later date one, and particularly popular in Ricardian fiction, which is sympathetic to him (e.g. Sharon Kay Penman’s “The Sunne in Splendour”, where he has black hair).

        So, no, it has nothing to do with medieval ideas, since the ideas of Edward as fair or Richard as particularly dark don’t seem to come from the medieval period, or eventhe Tudor period.

        Liked by 3 people

      4. Any of these portraits may be close to how Richard looked, or none of them. None of them were painted during his lifetime, and we can’t know how close they were to the original portrait – or even how accurate that original portrait was.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Philippa Gregory also described Richard as black-haired and curly boy. Rosemary Hawley Jarman – as the pale boy black-haired and black-eyed:)) However I consider we can imagine how Richard really was (except the colour of hair). All the oldest portraits show the same face – lean and beautifully built.


      6. Hair only remains in airtight condition like inside a locket or sealed lead coffin, or, alternatively, extremely hot dry conditions like desert sand or wet conditions like bogs where tannic acid comes into play.
        Dr King, who analysed the dna, does not think Richard was blond as an adult. She told me this herself. Fair hair that turns some shade of brown is very common in British isles people. I was blond till around 5 and then my hair turned dark brown but my dna still shows considerable blond markers. His hair could have been anywhere from light to dark brown but I’m imagining was somewhere in the middle, as two of Dr King’s sample swatches implied.
        Richard’s eyes however are pretty much certainly blue; it is much easier to predict blue eyes via dna than blond hair, which is probably the least realiable of the hair colours to accurately predict, due to hair darkening from melanin production at various stages in childhood and adolescence.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. I think that the “Broken Sword” portrait was done by copying Richard’s face and figure from the same lost original that the Coventry Tapestry, and possibly also the well-known Society of Antiquaries portrait were copied from; the Society of Antiquaries portrait being the most faithful one in terms of probably not changing anything else and simply reproducing a copy, while the Coventry Tapestry and the Broken Sword portrait used Richard’s figure and put it in a different context and background, symbolic elements (like the broken sword) and propaganda elements, like the emphasis on his “deformities”.

    Compare the Broken Sword portrait to the image of Richard from the Coventry Tapestry (cca 1500):

    I think the similarities are obvious in the posture, face, and even the unusually fair hair compared to other portraits of Richard.

    Now compare the Coventry Tapestry to the Society of Antiquaries portrait:
    The similarities are less obvious, but Richard from the tapestry has a very odd and unlikely posture that may have the result of copying the figure from a portrait where he is actually sitting turned to the left, taking off his ring, as he does in the Society of Antiquaries portrait; the way his head is turned to the left, the position of the left hand, are very similar, even though the Coventry Tapestry turns it into an image of a Richard who is standing in a crowd with his body turned to the front.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I unnecessarily wrote about Richard in Coventry Tapestry. You did it earlier and more exhaustively. I did not remark your post, sorry.:))


  5. OMG, he kinda does, buuuuut…where are the poufy lips??? 😂

    Actually, he really looks like here….his REAL LIFE COUSIN (## times removed of course) Benedict Cumberbatch! 😉


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