How Richard III Really Looked - And Sounded

Researchers reconstruct face and voice of villainous king for UK doc

02.05.13 4:07 PM ET

As well as unveiling a reconstruction of how King Richard III – the great villain of British history whose bones were confirmed yesterday to have been unearthed in a municipal carpark – might have looked, researchers have also attempted to reconstruct his voice.

And the news is – the King was a Brummie. The news is likely to come as a disappointment to Yorkshiremen who have always claimed him as one of their own.

Dr Philip Shaw, from the University of Leicester, studied the king's use of grammar and spelling in contemporary letters, and concluded that the king's accent "could probably associate more or less with the West Midlands."

The first letter was written in 1469 before Richard became king - and well before his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 - and is a request for a £100 loan (bloody royals, never carrying cash), while the second letter is from 1483.

Dr Shaw told a documentary broadcast on Channel 4 last night in the UK: “Like today, there were various dialects around the country. Unlike today, individuals were more likely to spell words in ways that reflected their local dialect.”

He imitated the last Plantagenet king  reading a section of one of the letters - mystifyingly passing up the opportunity to say, "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse."

Meanwhile, the waxwork impression of King Richard III created by the King Richard III Society (Mission statement: “We have been working since 1924 to secure a more balanced assessment of the king and to support research into his life and times”) has been garnering rave reviews after it was first seen on the Channel 4 show last night and formally unveiled today.

The Daily Mail says, "It reveals the controversial king had amore pleasant, younger and fuller appearance than period portraits reveal - a face far removed from the image of the cold-blooded villain of Shakespeare's play," while the Republican Guardian argues it is "the face of a thin-lipped, bright-eyed man, with a truculent jaw ready to confront whatever bad news comes next."

The show said that the face was reconstructed with the use of scans of the skull by Caroline Wilkinson, a professor of craniofacial identification, who has worked on many modern forensic cases. She did the initial work ‘blind’, without consulting contemporary descriptions or images. The skin colour and texture, eyes and hair were then added by Janice Aitken, of the university's art college.

The head was commissioned by the Richard III Society, and was formally unveiled today at the Society of Antiquaries of London, which owns one of the oldest portraits of Richard.

Aitken used  portraits for the final details, but based the stubbled ruddy cheeks on observation of 21st century men who spend a lot of time outdoors.

The head was unveiled by Phil Stone, chair of the society, as "His Grace Richard Plantagenet, king of England, France and lord of Ireland".

Philippa Langley, a member of the Richard III Society said: “It doesn't look like the face of a tyrant. I'm sorry but it doesn't.  He's very handsome. It's like you could just talk to him, have a conversation with him right now.”

Historian and author John Ashdown-Hill, an expert on Richard III's reign, told the BBC that the reconstruction largely matched the prominent features in posthumous representations of the king.

"All the surviving portraits of him - even the very later ones with humped backs and things which were obviously later additions - facially are quite similar [to each other] so it has always been assumed that they were based on a contemporary portrait painted in his lifetime or possibly several portraits painted in his lifetime," he said.