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Contemporary Portrait of Richard III

February 27, 2015

york-portraitsThis entry may not seem to fit the blog as it isn’t specifically about one of my books. However, as I have written about the coins of Richard III (Irish Hammered Pennies of Edward IV and Richard III), I ask for your indulgence.

There has been much about this English king (lived 1452-1485) in the news since the discovery of his skeleton in Leicester in September 2012 and subsequent positive identification . Scientists are currently working to decipher his complete genome as part of an effort to discover what he looked like and more about his health.

Several articles that I have read make the flat statement that there are no contemporary portraits of Richard. This, of course, is not true – there are numerous contemporary coin portraits. The experts are referring to known painted portraits, the first of which was created at least 30 years after his death. The oversight is understandable as most coin portraits of the period are fairly simple and generic, especially on higher denominations such as silver groats and gold coins. Different kings from this period look pretty much the same on these coins.

However, some of the silver pennies and half groats minted by Edward IV and pennies of his brother and successor Richard III bear portraits with recognizable features that are surprisingly consistent with the surviving painted portraits. For example, the coin portraits above (left to right: penny of Edward IV from York; penny of Richard III from Durham) share several characteristics with the painted portraits shown. Among these features, I note the following:

Edward IV – features on both portraits: narrow nose; deep chin; small mouth; long face; protruding eyes

Richard III – features on both portraits (relative to Edward IV portraits): wider nose with bulbous end; shorter chin; wider mouth; shorter face; larger, deeper-set eyes; stronger brow

Though the coin portraits are small, they seem to have been created with care and considerable realism.



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