Richard III’s appearance

Richard III’s Appearance
Much ink has been spilt and many efforts have been made to describe the appearance of Richard of Gloucester. Very little is really known about this aspect of his personality and what there is tends to be contradictory, as usual. Following the article ‘”Richard Liveth Yet”: An Old Myth’ (The Ricardian, vol. 9, 1992, pp. 266-269) by Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs we do not need to spend any time on wondering if Richard was a sickly child and thus perhaps not a strong man but this certainly does not help a great deal.

What can be said first is that he was certainly not a limping hunchback with a withered arm. The portraits we have of him are not contemporary but the earliest of them, that owned by the Society of Antiquaries, and dating from about 1513 shows no sign of any deformity, it depicts a perfectly normal looking man. Later copies sometimes show a deformed shoulder but this tells us more about Tudor propaganda than about Richard’s appearance. Most contemporaries who mention his appearance (the Crowland Chronicler, Mancini and Commines for example) agree that he was not deformed. Rous, who must have seen him, says that the right shoulder was higher than the other, More, who must have spoken to people who had seen Richard (Cardinal Morton for example) says that the left shoulder was higher than the other. Polydore Vergil agrees that one shoulder was higher than the other but does not say which. From this we may assume that any deformity was not very noticeable.

Several of the descriptions state that Richard was a short man. The only source contradicting this is the remark by Nicolas von Poppelau that Richard was ‘three fingers taller’ than himself. Von Poppelau was apparently a man of great strength and has thus been assumed to be tall, from which Richard must have been very tall, but strength is not necessarily allied to height. The references and sources for the appearance of Richard of Gloucester are all collected together in the Richard III Society Speaker’s Notes which may be borrowed from the Society Library or bought from the Sales Officer. PWH