Richard III gets historical face-lift

Feb 5, 2013 | News

Bill Sibley [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Bill Sibley, via Wikimedia Commons

Lime Blake
With files by Mamta Lulla

A facial reconstruction of the remains of King Richard III was revealed on Tuesday, presented at the Society of Antiquaries in London by the Richard III Society.

“It doesn’t look like the face of a tyrant,” said Philippa Langley, a member of the Richard III Society and originator of the search for the lost king’s remains, in a documentary on BBC Channel 4.

The bust shows the face of a handsome and almost sad-looking Richard III – one of history’s most infamous European rulers.

Listen to the full Michael Ibsen interview with Humber News

After his death by the hand of Welsh soldiers during the Battle of Bosworth against Henry Tudor in 1485, the history of Richard III has been marred by many stories of a sinister king who murdered his nephews.

However, Monday’s confirmation of the monarch’s identity — because of bones discovered in Leicester, England, last September — could unearth new revelations for experts and historians.

“The real significance will be in bringing us face to face with history,” author Tracy Borman told BBC History Magazine in a report on Monday.

For Phil Stone, a chairman of the Richard III Society in England, the discovery will offer an opportunity to dispel many of the myths that surround the 15th-century ruler, many of which instilled during both the reign of Henry VII and the famous Shakespearian retelling of Richard’s tenure.

“The people of England at the time of Bosworth wouldn’t have recognized the picture painted by Shakespeare,” Stone told BBC History Magazine.

“To them, Richard III was a good king who had the welfare of his people at heart, seeking fair dealing for all, not just the powerful.”

However, according to an opinion piece written by Paul Lay for the Guardian newspaper, “skepticism remains the mark of the historian and so the claim that the discovery will ‘rewrite the history books’ is unconvincing.”

Ann Swerdfager, publicity director for the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ont., told Humber News that a person’s appearance has no bearing on their personality.

“Without the personality acting behind it, you can’t really tell anything just by facial features. And from a theatrical point of view it doesn’t make any difference to us what [Richard] looked like or is thought to look like, because he will always be portrayed by an individual actor,” Swerdfager said.

Michael Ibsen came to his own conclusions about Richard III during personal research, long before it had even been revealed in 2004 that his family shared direct DNA ties with Richard’s elder sister, Anne of York.

“At the time it seemed to me there was not a lot written about Richard’s life before he became king, when he seemed to me to be regarded as quite a good administrator of the north of England on behalf of his brother Edward IV,” he said.

“I think I had already some sympathy with a more benign view of Richard than what was usual,” Ibsen told @humbernews reporter Mamta Lulla.

Swerdfager told Humber News that in performances of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Richard the Third the lead character is always portrayed as close to the text as possible – hunchback, withered arm, and all. “We present the plays of Shakespeare as oppose to a historically accurate version of the story.”

“So, even though we know he doesn’t have the withered arm now, that’s what’s going to be interesting,” Swerdfager said. “Will people maintain their fidelity to the Shakespearean text and portray him that way, or will they – as they say in wardrobe – stop having to cut one sleeve longer?”