Richard III: 'The face that launched a thousand myths'

A facial reconstruction based on the recently discovered skull of Richard III shows "a warm face, young, earnest and rather serious" on England's long-lost and much-maligned king.

More than five centuries after his death, scientists have unveiled a reconstructed face that shows how Richard III, one of English history's most controversial and maligned kings, may have looked.

The reconstruction was based on the king's skull and bones, which were recently found under what is now a parking lot in Leicester in the English Midlands.

Some 528 years after his death, the reconstruction shows a face far removed from the image of the cold-blooded villain of Shakespeare's play, scientists and historians say.

VIDEO: A facial reconstruction of Richard III

"It's an interesting face, younger and fuller than we have been used to seeing, less careworn, and with the hint of a smile. When I first saw it, I thought there is enough of the portraits about it for it to be King Richard, but not enough to suggest they have been copied," Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, which commissioned the reconstruction, said in a statement Tuesday.

"I think people will like it. He's a man who lived. Indeed, when I looked him in the eye, 'Good King Richard' seemed alive and about to speak. At last, it seems we have the true image of Richard III — is this the face that launched a thousand myths?'"

The Richard III Society, a group dedicated to improving the villainous reputation of one of England's most-storied rulers, said the calm and apparently thoughtful look of the reconstructed face will shock people who have seen so many portrayals of the king with contorted body and facial features.

"After his death, many portraits deliberately added narrowed eyes and mean lines. We have already discovered he had no kyphosis or withered arm — now we know he had a warm face, young, earnest and rather serious. How many scales will drop from how many eyes!" the society said in a press release.

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The reconstruction project was led by Caroline Wilkinson, professor of craniofacial identification at the University of Dundee.

Wilkinson said the facial structure was produced based on anatomical assessment and interpretation, and a 3-D replication process known as stereolithography. The final head was painted and textured with glass eyes and a wig, using historical portraits as reference.

"It has been enormously exciting to rebuild and visualize the face that could be Richard III, and this depiction may allow us to see the king in a different light," she said.

The reconstructed face has a slightly arched nose and prominent chin, similar to features shown in portraits of Richard III painted after his death.

Historian and author John Ashdown-Hill told BBC News that seeing it was "almost like being face to face with a real person."

Richard III ruled England between 1483 and 1485, during the decades-long battle over the throne known as the Wars of the Roses.

The reconstructed face is one far removed from the image of the villain of Shakespeare's play, a hunchbacked, maniacal ruler who murdered his way to the throne before dying at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. It's said that his body was taken to nearby Leicester, about 100 miles north of London, after his death.

In September, archaeologists at the University of Leicester, acting on a hunch that Richard III may have been buried under a city council parking lot, started to dig. They soon unearthed a skeleton and a medieval friary.

On Monday, scientists announced that DNA tests confirmed the remains were of the English king. The DNA was matched against a sample taken from Michael Ibsen, a distant living relative of Richard's sister.

The tests also showed the king was likely to have been killed by one or two injuries to the skull, which conforms with the historical storyline that Richard was killed in battle by sword or ax, according to published reports.


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