An Armitage Dream: RICHARD III---Question:......................Was He Really Deformed?
From the UK Richard III Society website
Richard III’s Appearance.....by Carolyn Hammond
Many people’s image of Richard III is influenced by Shakespeare’s portrait of the ‘poisonous bunch-backed toad’, a limping hunch-back with a withered arm. Shakespeare’s sources were the Tudor chroniclers, hostile to Richard. Perhaps Shakespeare also wanted to reflect the medieval idea that an evil mind must dwell in a twisted body. But if we examine what the people who actually saw Richard said, or look at his portraits, then a rather different picture emerges. The earlier portraits, such as that belonging to the Society of Antiquaries, which although not painted in his lifetime are based on originals that could have been done from life, show no sign of deformity. Later portraits, further from the lost originals, and painted to fit in with the established myth, show uneven shoulders and a villainous countenance. The raised shoulder of the Windsor portrait can be shown under X-ray to be a later addition to a painting with a normal shoulder line. The only totally unbiased commentator is von Popplau, who mentions no deformity; the Crowland Chronicler, Mancini and de Commynes, none of them particularly pro-Richard witnesses, also make no mention of any deformity, although they must all have either met Richard themselves, or, in the case of Mancini, spoken to those who had. Those writing under the early Tudors mention the unevenness of Richard's shoulders, but since they cannot agree on which was higher, this may not have been very pronounced - perhaps just the result of more development of the muscles of the right arm and shoulder as the result of weapon training in his youth. Even the hostile witnesses agree on Richard’s bravery and prowess in battle, so any disablement must have been slight enough not to affect his use of weapons or control of his horse. As Sir Winston Churchill said in his History of the English Speaking Peoples: ‘No-one in his (Richard’s) life time seems to have remarked these deformities, but they are now very familiar to us through Shakespeare’s play’.