Did Edward III, Richard II and Henry VII look like this….?


My internet travels take me here, there and everywhere…and today I came upon another site about facial reconstructions of past figures of consequence. There have been quite a few of these in recent years, and this one is an interesting addition. Well, addition for me, it may have been around for quite some time.

Naturally, I went to the category of English Kings, and found three that were particularly compelling. In order of period, the first is Edward III. I think this one is probably spot on. To me he looks like Merlin pretending to be King Arthur, but then, Edward III did look like this (judging by his tomb effigy).

Edward III

The next is Edward’s grandson and successor, Richard II. Now, I have always thought that the contemporary portrait of Richard that is on display in Westminster Abbey is accurate, and while this reconstruction is sort-of like it, I can’t believe the facial structure is quite right. I look at this picture and am irresistibly reminded of a young John Travolta made up to look like Richard II. Plus, I just can’t see Richard II without at least a jewelled collar. He was immensely conscious of his appearance and his royalty.

Richard II

Finally (the bitter end, might one say?) we come to Henry VII. Oh, dear, that man really was a caricature of every miser that ever was, including Scrooge. No wonder he’s pictured in virtual darkness and murk! Where he went, the sun didn’t shine. A friend compared him to a prune, and yes, I have to agree. If he was ever a plum, someone sure dried him out! A dreadful man, but very, very clever.

Henry VII




  1. I find these facial reconstructions fascinating, but have always wondered how accurate they are. I’d like to see something more contemporary, so we could judge for ourselves. Maybe someone from the last 50 years, that we had proper photographs of, so as to compare.
    Now that would be interesting.
    I’ve never liked the reconstruction of Richard lll. By all accounts he was not a tall man, and quite slender, but the reconstructions don’t reflect that. Even the hair colouring sometimes seems to go awry. Maybe it’s me, trying to bring the image I have of Richard in my mind, with what I see, but unfortunately there’s no way we can ever know how accurate these are.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glenis,The pictures we have in our minds are permanent, I think. Richard lurks in our grey cells and that’s that. The thing about the reconstruction of his head, and which drives me mad, is (are?) his eyebrows. They are like huge hairy caterpillars. Awful. His portraits show him to have had well-behaved eyebrows.
      But sometimes fixing an image in our heads isn’t easy. For instance, the book I’m working on now. The main male character, an actual 14th-century person, refuses absolutely to let me “see” him properly. He keeps morphing, and try as I will, I don’t seem able to pin him in place. It’s infuriating. Now, if his remains were ever to be found, and a reconstruction made of his head, I’d love to see it. However, would he have blond, dark, chestnut hair? There are only those illustrations from Froissart, in which almost everyone seems to have red hair..
      If such a reconstruction were indeed to happen, I wonder if he’d turn out to have been anything like one of the images that go through my mind? I’m never going to know! πŸ˜’

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I wish Hans Holbein the Younger had been working in Richard III’s time—his portrait sketches and finished portraits always seemed almost photographic in their accuracy.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. could not agree more! but careful what we wish for! Holbein was northern renaissance, NOT Italian renaissance, Holbein belonged to the warts and all aesthetic! I was reading up on George Neville, 5th Baron Bergavenny (d c 1535) and his simple charcoal sketch/portrait by Holbein depicts a most unpleasant looking man! (Like many of the male portraits of older Englishmen of his day Neville exudes a sour, pudding like face, as if its congealing before your eyes – or Holbein captures those with hawk-like, suspicious faces of younger men; all in all I have wondered just what he made of his English sitters)
        Holbein did not flatter his sitters, obviously, as a Raphael or even Titian would have done (a man may appear of advanced years yes, but with great dignity and even compassion, as Raphael gave his friend, Baldassare Castiglione (no David Beckham he) – IF one looks at Raphael’s chilling (I think it’s chilly, almost bloodless) frontal portrait of the young Guidobaldo Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino at the Uffizi I see the closest thing to a Holbein-esque acceptance to ‘this is what he was and looked like’ admission from the incomparable suck-up, sorry, from the Divine Raphael (at the time that painters lived if they didn’t suck up they found themselves cleaning stables – or worse – instead). Montefeltro died of gout at 35, but not before his marriage, to a Gonzaga (oh my) was a complete failure, as he was impotent, and chased out of Urbino by Cesar Borgia to boot! Clearly, by 1506 when this was painted he had nothing to look charming about.
        Some cite Polydore Vergil as in Montefeltro’s service, at some point, (also in Castiglione’s) before he was brought into the orbit of Henry VII. THAT portrait, of Vergil, by Holbein, I would have loved to see. As for our Baron Bergavenny, ole oudding puss, his father was the 4th baron (c 1440-1492) and that 4th baron was the nephew of Cecily Neville, duchess of York (of course, when your family is as huge as hers was one could expect the Neville connection to be close to Richard. And it was, on many levels: Cecily’s brother, Edward, was the 7th son of her mother Joan Beaufort by Ralph Neville, and married lady Abergenney, his SECOND wife, with whom he had “illicit” relations before wife no.1 passed was none other than a sister of John Lord Howard.
        Our 4th baron married as his 2nd wife a most enterprising lady, Elizabeth (Brent???) who took him as her 4th husband, after being widowed in quick succession three citizen merchants in London). Not to be outdone by dad, the 5th baron, George Nevylle, or Nevill, was first married to the daughter of Margaret Woodville and Thomas Fitzalan (17th earl of Arundel) – and finally, his 3rd wife, when he was about 50, he chose the young daughter of Edward Stafford, one time 3rd duke of Buckingham, this was a success: 3 sons and 5 daughters arrived by the time he died when he was about 65 – which is – we think – how old he was when the portrait was done. Holbein was not going to erase or soften anything. Nor does he impose any ideas he might have had about the inner life of his sitter, if the man had noble and lofty sentiments they are not visible among the wrinkles and hanging jowls. If Neville was wracked with distaste for regime that had torn the country apart, to put Anne Boleyn on the throne (briefly) Holbein does not do more than represent an old, haggard, affluent, man of the court, jaw set, eyes betraying nothing.An Italian would never have drawn this!
        What would Holbein have made of Neville’s relatives, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Elizabeth of York, Cecily Neville, or Edward IV, or our Richard? The snapshot look would have been tempting to see I agree, but sketches were only meant to be prep for a painting, to give the painter some idea of proportion, some rough idea of the sitter’s disposition. The painting would – or should – add additional dimensions (aside from color and costume, jewelry and props), it should add the life of the sitter, their eyes alight, something in their flesh that says, I am alive now, you can hear me breathe! The linearity of Holbein (as with almost all Northern Painters until Rembrandt) made that difficult, to say the least, so give me a Holbein sketch AND a Raphael painting, it’s entirely possible that old sourpuss Neville MIGHT have been had a gentle aspect in the hands of say Correggio or del Sarto, and certainly with Raphael.

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    1. Not being that well versed in such matters, I had to do a Google search for him,Tanya. I’m an ELO fan and can honestly say Jeff Lynne looks nothing like Richard III. 😁


  2. I think R2 had blond hair. Clothing on this picture is OK, looks like it’s all gold. Richard was slightly above average height, taller than George. According to John Ashdown Hill. Poor Clarence, worst in everything.


  3. The reconstructions I am most familiar with used the actual skulls of the person being represented (as in Richard III) or models of the skull that were obtained in the past (such as Robert I of Scotland (The Bruce) and Darnley). While admitting they could not factually recreate everything (such as moles or warts) they used the impressions left on the skulls to recreate the muscles and structures to give a reasonable likeness. Modern DNA analysis allows determination of eye and hair color. What is the basis of these reconstructions? The Georgians and the Victorians were prolific tomb openers but I have never read that casts were made of the royals at that time. (Robert Bruce the exception). Enjoyed the images but without some indication of source they are as reputable as Madame Tussauds. As far as I know the present Queen has not allowed the opening of the royal tombs to allow casting of the skulls. If she did this we could finally examine the contents of the urn that contain (supposedly) the Princes in the Tower.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes indeed, Gary. I’m hoping there’s enough accurate detail for them to “do a Richard III” with him. I’d love to know if Richard II really was like his portrait in Westminster Abbey, which is supposed to have been painted from life. If so, it’s the first proper likeness of one of our monarchs. Well, portrait likeness, because I also think Edward III’s tomb effigy is accurate. Before then it all gets a bit sketchy, if you know what I mean. Richard II was supposed to have been handsome to the point of beauty. I don’t know that the Westminster portrait quite conveys him quite like that, but then the notion of masculine beauty in the 14th century wasnt the same as ours now. Same with women, come to that.

        You can see images and links about Richard II’s skull at https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2019/08/31/might-there-be-another-reconstruction-of-another-english-king-called-richard/

        As for That Urn…. If it contains the remains of the Boys in the Tower, I will eat my hat in public! (That’s a safe enough threat to the common weal because I haven’t got a hat!)


  4. The portraits of the earlier kings are not ‘reconstructions’ bur impressions, in oils or other medium, of tomb effigies – which were extremely styleized. That of Henry VII comes from – not a death mask – but his funeral effigy. Which was intended to be carried around in the funeral procession, and is probably fairly accurate.
    By the late 15th-early 16th, the wealthy, at least, were beginning to use portraiture in the same way we use photography – to record what individuals looked like at different stages of life. Thus there are several contemporary representations of Henry, from his 20s to his death at 52 Even photos, which supposedly cannot lie, can be either ‘flattering’ or the opposite.
    Did Edward 3, Richard 2 and Henry 7 actually look like this? The answeer is a resounding ‘Maybe.’

    Liked by 2 people

  5. ian mortimer (edward 3 – the perfect king) argues that by the reign of edward 3 funeral effigies were becomming accurate representations – edwards queen philippa of hainault seems to have commissioned her effigy during her lifetime. it certainly isnt a flattering depiction – so would seem to be an accurate representation. . edward’s is very simialr to his death mask – but i think they just omitted the facial ‘droop’ shown on the death mask that i think is often interpreted as a sign that he suffered a stroke.

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