While reading Terry Jones‘s Who Killed Chaucer? I came upon a truly astonishing sentence. So astonishing that I have to share it with you. “…Henry VII, mysteriously, paid half a mark to a friend for eating coal…”
Well, I find that hard to believe. No, no, not the bit about the coal – the fact that Old Miseryguts had a friend !!! 😂
The illustration above has been tweaked a little by me – to make him look less grim, of course. But apologies to the artist. (The original is below.)
Recently I came across a Victorian piece of art by Ford Madox Brown which is supposed to depict Elizabeth Woodville first appearing before Edward IV with her two small children. It’s rather odd piece and not particularly flattering–I am guessing that the artist was not a Woodville fan? Here, a rather plain-looking Liz W. has a simpering, slightly smug expression and is rolling her eyes upwards (perhaps batting her eyelashes at Edward.)
It is, shall we say, not a good look.
Even more perplexing is the fact, she seems to have THREE children rather than two–and the one crammed in the middle is a rather sinister, saturnine boy with a widow’s peak, who resembles a young Dracula, or Eddie Munster from the Munsters TV series!
I am not surprised that this painting is not more well-known!
Here is an interesting link about the death of Henry VII. It includes an illustration from the TV series The Spanish Princess, in which Henry seems to have sprouted a beard. Really? I don’t think so, somehow. All his portraits show him clean-shaven, including one painted when he was getting on in years.
But the article about his death is interesting and worth a read.
A ‘new’ late 16th century portrait of Richard III has recently emerged and gone on display at Hever Castle, home of the Boleyn family–and with it appeared the not-so-cuddly figure of the perennially grumpy and bombastic Tudor historian, David Starkey. Since he is not an art expert, the reason why he was commenting is slightly mysterious; one gets the feeling he was just desperately wanting to get in yet another cutting (and now boring) remark about Richard III (never having, it seems, got over his embarrassing televised defeat in the ‘Trial of Richard III’ way back in 1984.)
This time, he says the painting depicts Richard as a ‘murderous thug.’ Hmmm, am I the only one thinking this is a rather rich comment coming from someone who idolises the blood-soaked tyrant Henry VIII? ( Starkey once wrote words to the effect, I’m paraphrasing here but not far off, that ‘Henry just needed to be loved’. Pass the sick bucket.)
What the painting really shows is an unskilled artist who lived close to 100 years after Richard’s death who couldn’t paint hands and who made a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy and added in a few embellishments, like flecks of grey hair, as he went along. Having Kings’ portraits in a great house was common in this era and a little later, and there are many rather odd portraits, not just of Richard but other monarchs, from this era, as workshops went into production-mode and churned out ‘cheap knock offs’ for wealthy patrons.
In the article, much seems to be made of the extremely long fingers mysteriously indicating a ‘cruel nature’ (rather than the ineptness of the artists) but, if certain historians are going to look at non-contemporary portraits for indications of a person’s personality…what would one say about this one of Henry VII? Henry is ALSO depicted with long, strange fingers, a tight mouth, peaked features…and weak sloping shoulders!
And then there are these…two more of Henry VII, both extremely unflattering, and one of his son, Henry VIII, showing EXTREMELY weird-looking hands–and THAT one was actually painted in Henry’s own lifetime!
For those interested in such things, Macy’s online is offering a portrait of a ‘man in a decorative hat.’ Ideal for any room…especially your bathroom/washroom/toilet! (Just not the bedroom, please; those little mean eyes would doubtless follow you.)
The picture in question happens to be by Holbein…and wait, the ‘man’ depicted, hat or no hat, is none other than Henry VIII!
Clearly someone at Macy’s is not a history buff, or perhaps they just wanted to ignore the roly-poly tyrant and concentrate on his much more appealing titfer.
Whatever the case, if Henry were alive, I am sure he would see to it that this omission of his royal name would end with a great removal of hats…and heads with them.
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.
Here is a portrait of Anne Neville that isn’t seen very often. It’s not contemporary, of course, but shows her looking fresh and healthy, with no sign at all of the wilting Anne who is so often referred to. It also shows her with a fringe, which I’m certain she would not have. She lived in an age when women shaved their foreheads high, so a little fringe would be an abomination to her!
I found the illustration at this website which is an excellent place for endless information. I certainly recommend you to visit it.
Occasionally, an image glimpsed quickly on TV appears to be something it is not. This happened to me when I first saw the TV trailer for the series Catching History’s Criminals: the Forensics Story on the Yesterday channel.
Being inured to the old, old propaganda that Richard III was the first criminal in all Creation, predating Satan himself, the black-and-white image I glimpsed—very briefly, and then only in close-up—appeared to be the one that went the rounds when Richard’s skull was used to re-create his true appearance. The one where the skull had his NPG portrait superimposed. So, I watched the programme, fully expecting another biased item that condemned him for the boys in the Tower, etc. etc.
Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be nothing of the sort. It wasn’t even about Richard! It was about a woman, Isabella Ruxton, who was murdered in the 1930s. The picture shown was, like the one of Richard, her skull superimposed on her photograph. The pose was the same as Richard’s, but the thing that spooked me initially, was the left eye. It seemed so like Richard’s left eye in the NPG portrait that I really was convinced Isabella was Richard.
Maybe it does not seem so evident to you but, to me, that fleeting out-of-the-blue glimpse on a TV screen was very convincing.
Drifting in and out of various history groups on the net, a very strange thing has become apparent. There are some out there who truly believe Richard III’s death was ‘the end of the Middle Ages’ and that he stood in the way of the wonderful, burgeoning Renaissance like some great big dinosaur with both feet firmly planted in the past.
Of course, by pretty much anyone’s standard, Henry Tudor was a ‘medieval king’ as much as Richard, and the Renaissance wasn’t halting for anyone–it was firmly on its way to England and had been for some years prior to Bosworth. Richard certainly was not stopping it.
But putting that aside, there has also been on occasion rather extraordinary comments to the effect of ‘Francis Lovell was a remainder of the ‘old guard’ too set in his ways to embark on the bright new course laid out by Henry Tudor’. This gives a wrong impression that somehow Henry Tudor was a uniquely inspired youth, while Lovell and Richard were a pair of ancient stick-in-the-muds, both figuratively and literally! I even read one blog where Henry at Bosworth is described as the ‘young Henry Tudor’, implying that Richard was much older than him, not a mere four years.
Hello, people! These guys were all young men, Tudor, Francis Lovell and Richard, with only a few years between them. No one was stuck in a rut, none of them were old enough to be. I am pretty darn sure Lovell wasn’t, to paraphrase the familiar saying, an ‘old dog who can’t learn new tricks.’
I blame Shakespeare whose messing with dates ended up giving us a much older Richard than reality–and hence a bevy of middle-aged and sometimes older actors to play him, with the other figures in his life also being portrayed as much older than their true ages. (Edward and Buckingham are frequently portrayed as rather ancient.)
Added to this, The White Queen and The White Princess gave us, pretty much for the first time, a hunky young Henry with designer stubble (although, in fairness, The White Queen did, for once, also give us a hunky Richard who was around the correct age.)
As far as age confusion, it happens a lot with Richard, but there was a bit of a turnaround at the Bosworth re-enactment this year, and I don’t mean the alternative battle where Richard won the day. The commentator slipped up, and told the crowd that Henry was ‘an older man’ at the time of Bosworth. Oops!
‘Hunky’ young Henry VII ala the White Queen
Richard, played by old dude, with all the Shakespearean trimmings
I have never been to Waterford in Ireland, but having just browsed at leisure through their museum’s wonderful website, I feel as if I know the city intimately. There are virtual tours that really do make the viewer feel present. Thoroughly recommended!
This figure is from one of the virtual tours, and depicts an incredibly lifelike, believable Edward III, copied from the medieval illustration to (our) right.