Richard III’s Deformities in Tudor Literature

John Rous, Historia Regum Angliae (1486), ed. T. Hearne (Oxford: Sheldonian Theatre, 1716), trans. Alison Hanham, in Richard III and his Early Historians, 1483-1535 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975):

Richard of York, the protector, was born on 21 October at Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire; retained within his mother's womb for two years, emerging with teeth and hair to his shoulders….  Like a scorpion he combined a smooth front with a stinging tail. He was small of stature, with a short face and unequal shoulders, the right higher and the left lower. (120-21)

Polydore Vergil, English History (1512-13), anonymous trans., ed. Henry Ellis (London: For the Camden Society by J. B. Nichols and Son, 1844):

He was lyttle of stature, deformyd of body, thone showlder being higher than thother, a short and sowre cowntenance, which semyd to savor of mischief, and utter evydently craft and deceyt. The whyle he was thinking of any matter, he dyd contynually byte his nether lyppe, as thowgh that crewell nature of his did so rage agaynst yt self in that lyttle carkase. Also he was woont to be ever with his right hand pulling out of the sheath to the myddest, and putting in agane, the dagger which he did alway were. (226-27)

Thomas More, The History of King Richard the Thirde (1513), in Workes, ed. William Rastall (London: Iohn Cawod, Iohn Waly, and Richarde Tottell, 1557):

Richarde the third sonne, of whom we now entreat, was in witte and courage egall with either of [his brothers], in bodye and prowesse farre vnder them bothe, little of stature, ill fetured of limes, croke backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right, hard fauoured of visage, and suche as in states called warlye, in other menne other wise. He was malicious, wrathful, enuious, and from afor his birth, euer frowarde. It is for trouth reported, that the Duches his mother had so muche a doe in her trauaile, that shee could not bee deliuered of hym vncutte: and that hee came into the worlde with the feete forwarde, as menne bee borne outwarde, and (as fame runneth) also not vntothed, whither men of hatred reporte aboue the trouthe, or elles that nature changed her course in hys beginninge, whiche in the course of his lyfe many thinges vnnaturallye committed. (37)

Then said the protectour: ye shal al se in what wise that sorceres and that other witch of her counsel shoris wife with their affynite, haue by their sorcery & witchcraft wasted my body. And therwith he plucked vp hys doublet sleue to his elbow vpon hist left arme, where he shewed a werish withered arme and small, as it was neuer other….  And also no man was ther present, but wel knew that his harme was euer such since his birth (54).

Richard Grafton, A Continuacion of the Chronicle of England, in The Chronicle of Ihon Hardyng (London: Richard Grafton, 1543):

[Quotes Vergil] (cvi)

Edward Hall, The Vnion of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre Yorke (London: Richard Grafton, 1548):

[Quotes More] (Edward V, i)

Richard Rainolde, The Foundacion of Rhetorike (London: Ihon Kingston, 1563):

This kyng Richard was small of stature, deformed, and ill shaped, his shoulders beared not equalitie, a pulyng face, yet of countenaunce and looke cruell, malicious, deceiptfull, bityng and chawing his nether lippe: of minde vnquiet, pregnaunt of witte, quicke and liuely, a worde and a blowe, wilie, deceiptfull, proude, arrogant in life and cogitacion bloodie. (“A narracion historicall”)

“How George Plantagenet, third sonne of the Duke of Yorke, was by his brother King Edward wrongfully imprisoned, and by his brother Richard miserably murdered the 11 of Jan. An. 1478,” in A Myrroure for Magistrates, ed. William Baldwin (London: Thomas Marshe, 1559):

                                    My brother was the Bore,
Whose tuskes should teare my brothers boyes & me,
And gave me warning therof long before.
But wit nor warning can in no degree
Let things to hap, which are ordained to bee. (lxxx)

“Howe the Lord Hastynges was Betrayed by Trustyng to Much to his Evyl Consayler Catesby, and Vilanously Murdered in the Tower of London by Richarde Duke of Glocestre,” in A Myrroure for Magistrates, ed. William Baldwin (London: Thomas Marshe, 1563):

And lowryng on me with the google eye,
The whetted tuske, and furrowed forehead hye,
His Crooked shoulder bristellyke set vp,
With frothy Iawes, whose foame he chawed and suppd. (cxi)

Raphael Holinshed, The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande (London: Henry Bynneman and Henry Denham, 1577):

When this monster of nature & cruell tyrant Richard the third had killed his two yoong nephues, and taken vpon him the crowne & gouernement of England, he preferred his owne sonne Edward to the dignitie of lord lieutenant of Ireland, whose deputie was Girald earle of Kildare that bare that office all the reigue of king Richard, and a while in Henrie the seuenth his daies. (2.79)

[Quotes More] The full confluence of these qualities, with the defects of fauour and amiable proportion, gaue proofe to this rule of physiognomie: Distor tum vultum sequitur distorsio morum [‘A deformity in appearance follows a deformity in character’]. (3.712)

Thomas Legge, Richardus Tertius (ca. 1580), trans. Dana F. Sutton (New York, NY: Peter Lang, 1993):

[Daught.] Why does the earth not yawn, immediately swallowing this great monster [immane portentum] of a savage prince, surpassing the race of Gorgons in his horror? (4.4)

[Hen.] You have been gored by the impious tusk [dente lacerata impio] of the gnashing boar (5.2)

[North.] I condemn the King’s monstrous evil [immane … scelus]. (5.5)

George Whetstone, The English Mirror (London: I. Windet, 1586):

The monstrous murders of king Richard the third a tyrant of our nation is worthy note, in whose wretched end, yet worthy his wickednes, the happines of Englande began againe to flo|rish, and enioyed her auncient renowne. (9)

Lodowick Lloyd, The First Part of the Diall of Daies (London: Roger Ward, 1590):

Edward the 5. with his brother Richard sonnes to Edward the fourth king of England were slaine, some say smothered, some say drowned in the tower at London by that cruel monster Richard the third their owne vncle Edward the 4. his brother, 1483. (161)

The True Tragedie of Richard the Third (London: Thomas Creede, 1594):

  Poe.  What maner of man was this Richard Duke of Gloster?
  Tru.  A man ill shaped, crooked backed, lame armed, withal,
Valiantly minded, but tyrannous in authoritie. (A4)

[King.]  I hope with this lame hand of mine, to rake out that hateful heart of Richmond, and when I have it, to eate it panting hote with salt. (H2)

William Shakespeare, 2 Henry VI (1590-91), in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997):

Enter the Duke of Yorkes sonnes, Edward the Earle of March, and crook-backe Richard. (5.1.122sd in quarto)
  Clif.  Hence, heap of wrath, foul indigested lump,
As crooked in thy manners as thy shape! (5.1.157-58)

  Y. Clif.  Foul stigmatic. (5.1.215)

William Shakespeare, 3 Henry VI (1590-91), in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997):

[Glou.]  Why, love forswore me in my mother’s womb;
And for I should not deal in her soft laws,
She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe,
To shrink mine arm up like a wither’d shrub,
To make an envious mountain on my back,
Where sits deformity to mock my body;
To shape my legs of an unequal size,
To disproportion me in every part,
Like to a chaos, or an unlick’d bear-whelp
That carries no impression like the dam.
And am I then a man to be belov’d?
O monstrous fault, to harbor such a thought!

Then since this earth affords no joy to me
But to command, to check, to o’erbear such
As are of better person than myself,
I’ll make my heaven to dream upon the crown,
And whiles I live, t’ account this world but hell,
Until my misshap’d trunk that bears this head
Be round impaled with a glorious crown. (3.2.153-71)

[K. Hen.]  The owl shriek’d at thy birth, an evil sign;
The night-crow cried, aboding luckless time;
Dogs howl’d, and hideous tempest shook down trees;
The raven rook’d her on the chimney’s top,
And chattering magpies in dismal discord sung;
Thy mother left more than a mother’s pain,
And yet brought forth less than a mother’s hope,
To wit, an indigested and deformed lump,
Not like the fruit of such a goodly tree
Teeth hadst thou in thy head when thou wast born,
To signify thou cams’t to bite the world.
And, if the rest be true which I have heard,
Thou camest – 
  Glou.  Die, prophet, in thy speech:  Stabs him.
For this, amongst the rest, was I ordain’d….
Indeed, 'tis true that Henry told me of;
For I have often heard my mother say
I came into the world with my legs forward:
Had I not reason, think ye, to make haste,
And seek their ruin that usurp'd our right?
The midwife wonder'd and the women cried
'O, Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!'
And so I was; which plainly signified
That I should snarl and bite and play the dog.
Then, since the heavens have shaped my body so,
Let hell make crook'd my mind to answer it. (5.6.44-79)

William Shakespeare, Richard III (1592-93), in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997):

  Glou.  Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums chang’d to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visag’d war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days. (1.1.12-31) 

Anthony Chute, Beawtie Dishonoured Written vnder the Title of Shores Wife (London: John Wolfe, 1593):

For now rain'd tyrannie in ambitious throane,
A true-borne-infant-bloud-spilling murtherer:
Vsurping monster, yet contrould of none,
Fowle guilts Appeale, and mischiefs furtherer,
Prowd Richard Gloster in his pride I saw
Acte all thinges at his will: for will was law. (46)

Michael Drayton, “Queene Margarit to William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolke,” in Englands Heroicall Epistles (London: Iames Roberts for N. Ling, 1597):

Hee that's so like his Dam, her youngest Dick,
That foule, ilfauored, crookback'd stigmatick,
That like a carkase stolne out of a Tombe,
Came the wrong way out of his mothers wombe;
vvith teeth i'ns head, his passage to haue torne,
As though begot an age ere he was borne. (50)

William Warner, Albions England (London: The widow Orwin for Ioan Broome, 1597):

But he that was Protector of his murthered Nephewes than
Vsurped England, and became a Monsture not a man:
Richard the third. (165)

Thomas Heywood, The First and Second Partes of King Edward the Fourth (London: F. K. for Humfrey Lownes and Iohn Oxenbridge, 1600):

[Glo.]  I am a true stampt villaine as euer liude.

[Sho.]  The crooke bakt Boare the way hath found,
To roote our Roses from our ground,
Both flower and bud will he confound,
Till King of beasts the swine be crownde:
And then the Dog, the Cat, and Rat,
Shall in his trough feed and be fat.

  Buc.  I Richard, is it come to this?
In my first suite of all, dost thou dense mee?
Breake thine own word, & turne me off so slieghtly,
Richard thoud hadst as good haue damnde thy soule,
As basely thus to beale with Buckingham:
Richard ile sit vpon thy crumped shoulder:
I faith I will, if heauen will giue me leaue,
And Harrie Richmond, this hand alone,
Shall fetch thée home, and seat thee in his throne. 

Ben Jonson, Richard Crookback (1602) [lost play]

John Davies of Hereford, Microcosmos (London: Joseph Barnes, 1603):

Now vp is Richard, (Monster, not a Man)
Vpon the Royal Throne that reeling stood;
Now Rule doth end, when he to rule began,
Who being perfect ill, destroi'd the Good,
And like an Horseleech liv'd by sucking blood.
Now as desire of Rule more bloody was
In Yorke then Lancaster, so did the flud
Of Divine Vengeance more in Yorke surpasse:
For to maine Seas of blood, Blood-Brookes repasse. (141)

William Camden, Remaines of a Greater Worke, concerning Britaine (London: George Eld, 1605):

King Richard the third, whose monstrous birth foreshewed his monstrous proceedings, for he was born with all his teeth, and haire to his shoulders. (216)