Comparison with historical sources
There are a several contemporary accounts which claim to tell us about Richard III’s appearance and character - but it can be difficult to know how much their representations were affected by contemporary or later events, including the Tudor ascent.
Fifteenth century scholar John Rous completed his History of England in 1486, which contained some unflattering but not entirely derogatory material about Richard III.
John Rous said:
• Richard was “slight in body and weak in strength” – which corresponds with Dr Jo Appleby’s description of the skeleton as “gracile”.
• He was buried among the Friars Minor (Franciscans) of Leicester in the choir of the church. This was the part of the church where the Search team discovered the remains.
Similarly, fifteenth-century Silesian nobleman Nicolas von Poppelau - who met and clearly liked Richard III – said Richard was taller and slimmer than himself, not so solid and far leaner with delicate arms and legs.
Professor Lin Foxhall, Head of the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, said: “Jo’s discoveries about the delicate, ‘gracile’ character of the skeleton and some of its gender-ambivalent characteristics might encourage us now to see these historical descriptions in a new light, and to read these descriptions rather differently than I suspect translators have done in the past.
“In Latin, ‘vis’, ‘strength, vigor’, is often a characteristically masculine quality. If we have identified this skeleton as the right individual, Rous’s and von Poppolau’s accounts could actually have been more acute and precise descriptions of the living person than anyone has realized.
“Our archaeological research does not tell us anything about the character of Richard III, and of course his physical condition and appearance were not a manifestation of his character. Texts also don’t always tell us ‘the facts’ in a straightforward way.
“But, now that we may be able to set these texts against the archaeological finds, we could end up re-writing a little bit of history in a big way.”