Richard III: With Reconstruction, a Tyrant Gets a Friendlier Face

He was cast by William Shakespeare as a murderous deformed monster, and in portraits he looks every inch the cold-hearted ruler.

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Andrew Winning / REUTERS

A facial reconstruction of King Richard III is displayed at a news conference in central London

He was cast by William Shakespeare as a murderous deformed monster, and in portraits he looks every inch the cold-hearted ruler.

But a new reconstruction of King Richard III’s face, based on the skull found buried underneath a central England parking lot and confirmed this week to belong to him, has given him a much more affable appearance.

“It doesn’t look like the face of a tyrant. I’m sorry but it doesn’t,” said Phillippa Langley, a member of the Richard III Society and the person who first started the search for the monarch’s remains. “He’s very handsome. It’s like you could just talk to him, have a conversation with him right now,” reports the BBC.

(PHOTOS: Unearthing Richard III)

Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, which commissioned the reconstruction and is trying to repair the much maligned king’s reputation, described it as “an interesting face, younger and fuller than we have been used to seeing, less careworn, and with the hint of a smile,” reports the Independent.

The reconstruction is especially important because there are no surviving portraits of Richard III painted while he was alive, notes the BBC. And portraits painted after Richard’s death, as the Times of London points out, may have deliberately made Richard look bad, giving him narrow eyes and a thin, mean mouth. (These portraits were made during the reign of Henry VII, his conqueror at the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field.)

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“The later portraits were painted to order by the Tudor sympathisers,” Carolyn Hammond, from the Richard III Society, told the Times of London. “They were told to make him look villainous. We can now see he is just a normal man.”

Bones can give no clue about hair and eye color, so the portraits were used for those details, but the reconstruction’s stubbled ruddy cheeks were based on observations of 21st century men who spend a lot of time outdoors, reports the Guardian.

Michael Ibsen, a carpenter from Canada who is a direct descendant of Richard III, told the Times of London that seeing the reconstruction for the first time was an odd experience.

“He looks strangely familiar, like someone I know,” he said. But after having a close look, he decided that little family resemblance had spanned the seventeen generations between himself and Richard, he told the daily.

Meanwhile, a medieval language expert has been studying letters written by Richard to try to figure out how he may have spoken, reports the Mirror.

MORE: Richard III’s Bones: Should One of History’s Losers Be Redeemed?