A dramatic news story always makes headlines. Therefore, I was not entirely surprised when, several years ago, I saw a newpaper headline reading, ‘Richard III was a Blue-Eyed Blond.‘ Sadly, many people do not read beyond headlines, and completely missed the part that said ‘the blonde hair was probably only in childhood.’ (I never knew there was anyone out there who did not already think his eyes were blue or grey! Apparently I was wrong!)
A picture of Richard’s facial reconstruction with a limp blond wig still does the internet rounds on occasion (although in the Leicester Visitors’ Centre the wig’s colour has in fact been changed to a non-descript brown shade), and I still see people quoting the original newspaper article on various forums.
I have written on this subject before, but as they say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.
Below is the colour chart of Dr Turi King’s DNA findings. You’ll note 2 out of the four examples show brown hair, not extremely dark but not all that light either. As Dr King herself said, the Society of Antiquaries portrait is probably the closest to his actual hair/eye colouring as an adult.
There are some interesting reconstructions here..apart from the blond Richard, which (try as I will) I just cannot accept. If he’d been blond (especially THAT blond!) it would surely have shown on his portraits. Or comment would have been made. His hair was medium-brown to dark, maybe a shade of chestnut…just NOT blond!
It seems the genetic results show that he was probably blond as a child, but darkened as he grew older. Well, I can go along with that because the same applied to me. My hair was like a cornfield when I was small, then went a darkish nondescript shade of mouse. Now, in my dotage, it’s gone almost white again! In fact, I’m the natural colour now that I once paid hairdressers fortunes to achieve. No justice!
With advanced computer technology, more artists and other interested people are doing their own ‘facial reconstructions’ of famous historical figures, often giving them modern hair styles and clothes to let people see how they might have looked if they lived in the present day.
The following article has 30 such images, and is interesting because not only does it have the usual ‘Henry VIII and his wives’, but also Henry VII, who normally gets rather forgotten about as far as the Tudors go, being generally deemed the ‘boring one.’ (Penny-pinching is not nearly so exciting as enmasse head-chopping, after all.)
If you read the article, don’t forget to scroll down to the comments under Henry’s pic–some are hilarious!
We all know the amazing reconstruction of the head of Richard III, and the confirmation it gave of how he really had looked. Forget Shakespeare’s Richard III, the real man had been young, good-looking and altogether normal, except for scoliosis that affected his spine. But when he was dressed, it wouldn’t have shown, especially in the sumptuous clothes of the 15th century. So, no murderous, hump-backed monster he. Ricardians always knew it, but the reconstruction from his skull was final, undeniable proof.
I have always been fascinated by the actual appearance of great figures from the past, and want to know if my imagination is creating something even remotely close to the truth. Take Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. I can imagine so much about him, but all I really know of his physical appearance is from his stone likeness of the tomb of his Beauchamp father-in-law in Warwick. There he is, one of many hooded weepers around the tomb, but does that rather grim face really bear any resemblance? Frustratingly, we will probably never know.
Now, while Richard III was the first king I could ever have called my favourite, he now has a companion, his predecessor with the same name, Richard II. And for Richard II, we have what is reckoned to be the first true painted likeness of a King of England – the full-length portrait that now hangs in Westminster Abbey.
Richard II’s looks would seem to have been almost oriental, with heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes, but his complexion is pale and his curling hair a tumble of auburn curls that is decidedly not oriental. There is another likeness of him, as an older man, taken from his tomb, which bears a marked resemblance to the Westminster Abbey portrait.
Richard III’s portraits were eventually proved to be very like the real man. But would the same be said of Richard II’s portraits, if we were to be fortunate enough to see a reconstruction of his head?
To me, Richard II is visually unlike any other king, but then, we don’t actually know what his predecessors (and some of his successors) really looked like. I think we can be sure from Richard III, Henry VII and onward, but before then, the likenesses we have are rather standard, as if selected from a pattern book.
For instance, we have no true portrait of Richard’s father, the “Black Prince”, unless we count his tomb effigy in Canterbury Cathedral. But as this depicts him in full armour, with close-fitting headwear that rather confines and squashes his features, it’s hard to say what he was really like.
However, we surely have a credible image of Richard’s grandfather, the great Edward III, because his tomb effigy is based upon this death mask. And so we see a handsome old man with long hair and matching beard, and a slight droop of the mouth that is reckoned to be proof of a stroke. But we still do not have an actual portrait of him. His grandson’s likeness in Westminster Abbey holds the honour of being the first.
So, did Richard II look like his Westminster Abbey portrait and effigy?
In the case of Richard III, we had his skull and sufficient advance in scientific and artistic knowledge to recreate his head. We may not have the skull of Richard II, but we do have the next best thing, because his tomb was opened in 1871, and very detailed drawings were made of his skull, complete with measurements.
Thought to have been lost, those drawings have been rediscovered in the basement in the National Portrait Gallery, together with a cigarette box containing what are believed to be relics from Richard’s tomb—fragments of wood, probably from the coffin, and a piece of leather thought to have been part of the king’s glove.
The find was made by archivists who were cataloguing the papers of the Gallery’s first director, Sir George Scharf, who had been invited to witness the opening of royal tombs (Richard II, Edward VI, Henry VII, James I and Elizabeth of York) and the date on the cigarette box containing the relics matches that of Sir George’s visit—31st August 1871.
One thing the drawings prove is that Richard was not bludgeoned to death, for there is no sign of damage to the skull. So Shakespeare was wrong about that! He’s wrong about a lot of things when it comes to kings by the name of Richard.
Richard Duke of Gloucester being offered the crown by the Three Estates at Baynards Castle, June 1483. Painting by Sigismund Goetze at the Royal Exchange…(or according to some.. Richard in the actual act of ‘usurping’ the throne)…
I came across this article on a forum devoted to late medieval Britain.
Unfortunately I read it..5 minutes from my life I will never get back again… but as I was laid up with a bad head cold I had nothing much better to do. I should have been warned by the photo of a little girl in what looked like an attempt at Tudor costume and the words ‘I have no idea who this little girl is but she is adorable. Little kids in this era were adorable and vulnerable too ..just like modern children..lets keep that in mind’. This should have alerted me to the fact the writer was a writer of rubbish. Nevertheless I cracked on. As it transpired the article has more holes in it than a hairnet…and worse was to come.
John Howard, having been cheated out of his inheritance, which ‘seems to have stuck in his craw’ then went on to become ‘one of the first men to help the new king’s uncle usurp his throne and become King Richard III’. When I challenged the word ‘usurp’ I received the reply of a emoji rolling on the floor laughing. It then became clear to me the quality of the author’s debating powers were going to be found somewhat lacking. But casting that aside for the moment lets look at the word ‘usurp‘ as used by the author to describe the actions of Richard. The late historian John Ashdown-Hill addressed this point very well. “Definitions of the verb ‘usurp’ include include terms as to seize power by force and without legal authority…Richard III did not gain the throne by fighting a battle nor did he seize the crown. He was offered the crown by the Three Estates of the Realm. Later the decision of the Three Estates of the Realm was formally enacted by the Parliament of 1484′ (1) . Thus to describe Richard as a usurper is incorrect and a nonsense.”
Not content with calling Richard a usurper, John Howard, later Duke of Norfolk is next in line to be maligned by the statement regarding Anne Mowbray, (the 4 year old heiress of John Mowbray who died just before her ninth birthday) ‘All that John Howard could do was wait and hope something happened to Anne…’! This is quite an offensive thing to say as well as ludicrous as no source has come down to us informing us of Howard’s personal thoughts on this matter and which I very much doubt would have been ‘hoping’ for the death of a small child. Incidentally, he was raised to the Duchy of Norfolk whilst the “Princes”, including the previous in suo jure Duke, were known to be alive – see p.78 and pp.117-124 of The Mythology of the “Princes in the Tower”, also by Ashdown-Hill.
Howard later went on to fight and lay down his life for his king aged 60 years old. This colossus of a man could easily have wormed his way out of fighting, as others did, with his age as an excuse. He did no such thing and its a great pity that we have modern day pip-squeaks having the brass neck to disparage such a man. The author needs to hang their head with shame but I doubt if that will happen any time soon.
As we go on we see Lady Eleanor Butler nee Talbot – a lady of the nobility and daughter to the great John Talbot lst Earl of Shrewsbury a, sister to the Duchess of Norfolk and a lady known for her piety – described as one of King Edward’s ‘side pieces’…(I know, I know..my guess is this is a stab at ‘bit on the side’ but your guess is as good as mine). She was in actual fact no such thing, being the legal wife of Edward who married her in order to get her into bed. Surely Eleanor deserves more respect than this….as I said pip-squeaks and all.
The writer then follows up with a message touching on the execution of Lord Hastings to prove her point that Richard was a Bad Man. I say ‘touching’ in a very loose way as she makes no attempt to explore, let alone mention, what reasons were behind the execution only pointing out, unnecessarily, that Hastings was executed ‘even though he was one of the most richest and powerful men in the country’..what has this got to do with it? Furthermore…’Richard had him dragged out and beheaded on a log’. Presumably Dickens, who was unborn, or More, aged five at the time, cannot be taken seriously as eye-witnesses? Is it not about time this myth was debunked? Three accounts survive of the dramatic events at the meeting at the Tower that day – those from Historical Notes of a London Citizen 1483/84, Mancini and Croyland (2) – none of which mention the infamous log.
A log, something that Lord Hastings was NOT beheaded on…
Hastings was probably, as Carson points out, executed under the Law of Arms (3), having tried to eliminate the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham and been judged by the Constable’s Court, Gloucester being Lord High Constable at the time. In much the same way, Rivers, Vaughan and Grey were judged by the Earl of Northumberland, the designated Vice-Constable.
The Mythology of Richard III chapter 6 p74 John Ashdown-Hill.
Historical Notes of a London Citizen 1483/8, English Historical Review, Vol. 96. p588 Richard Firth Green, Mancini p.89, Croyland p.479-80. I am indebted to Peter Hammond and Anne Sutton for their very useful book, Richard III The Road toBosworth Field, a complete and handy reference to all the primary sources covering Richard’s reign.
The Maligned King p.98, but Carson’s other book illustrates the powers of the Constable and Protector and the documents assigning the role to Gloucester.
This time it is Robert I, who claimed the Scottish throne in 1306 and whose descendants have reigned there ever since, except for the Commonwealth years. The legendary warrior and probable leprosy sufferer was buried in Dunfermline Abbey and disinterred nearly two centuries ago.
Note that the reconstruction work from his skull was done by Dundee alumna Professor Caroline Wilkinson, now at Liverpool John Moores University. Sadly, no mtDNA line is available.
Late last year, we showed how James VI/I’s grandfathers, James V and Matthew Earl of Lennox, shared the same Y-chromosome. Now there is some facial reconstruction news about his father, Henry Lord Darnley:
A student at the University of Dundee, which reconstructed Richard’s face after his identification, has provided the same service for Darnley (above). In this case, however, Emma Price had to judge between two potential skulls for the short-serving Scottish consort, one of which no longer exists although a written description of it does. It is the latter, judging by known portraits, that correctly pertains to the husband and cousin of Queen Mary.