I looked on Richard’s face

“I looked on Richard’s face” (IV.i)

Portraits of Richard III. with commentary by Pamela Tudor-Craig, Ph.D., FSA.


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 and dispersed.

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 (Latin)]:

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 Anne:

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 IV]

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 cleaning 1973]:

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 in 1066.

‘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 gratefully received.