King Richard III Was Not A Psychopath, As Portrayed By Shakespeare
March 4, 2013

King Richard III Was Not A Psychopath, As Portrayed By Shakespeare

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Richard III, who ruled England from 1483 until his death in 1485, when he died in the Battle of Bosworth Field, has been featured in popular culture for centuries. He was first and foremost portrayed in Shakespeare´s 1592 play Richard III as a villainous psychopath who would stop at nothing to claw his way to power.

But according to new research from the University of Leicester, psychologists are painting an entirely different picture of the once King of England, downplaying his nature as a psychopath, to a more subtle diagnosis: ℠intolerance to uncertainty syndrome´ — which may have given him the tendency to be a control freak.

Professor Mark Lansdale, Head of the School of Psychology, and forensic psychologist Dr. Julian Boon have worked up a psychological analysis of Richard III based on information gathered from historians relating to Richard´s experiences and actions.

Lansdale and Boon said they took on the study to humanize Richard and “to flesh out the bones and get to the character of the man who became one of the most controversial kings in English history.”

The researchers presented their findings on March 2 at the University of Leicester.

First on tap, the duo examined one of the most persistent claims of the King´s personality — that he was a murdering psychopath. However, this description doesn´t seem to hold any weight, as it poorly coincides with what is really known about his life. The academics found no signs of traits that are commonly used to identify psychopaths — traits such as narcissism, deviousness, callousness, recklessness and lack of empathy.

However, they did speculate that he may have exhibited signs of intolerance to uncertainty syndrome, which is a fairly common psychological disorder.

“This syndrome is associated with a need to seek security following an insecure childhood, as Richard had. In varying degrees, it is associated with a number of positive aspects of personality including a strong sense of right and wrong, piety, loyalty to trusted colleagues, and a belief in legal processes - all exhibited by Richard,” said Lansdale in a statement.

“On the negative side it is also associated with fatalism, a tendency to disproportionate responses when loyalty is betrayed and a general sense of 'control freakery' that can, in extreme cases, emerge as very authoritarian or possibly priggish. We believe this is an interesting perspective on Richard's character,” he added.

The researchers also studied how his disability may have affected his personality. The remains show evidence that the once-King had curvature of the spine, a condition that could have been very unpleasant and may have impacted how he interacted with people who he did not know well. It is common knowledge that in medieval times, people with deformities were often seen as having a twisted and dark soul — one possibility that may have led him to interact less with strangers.

There is great difficulty in “drawing conclusions about people who lived 500 years ago and about whom relatively little is reliably recorded; especially when psychology is a science that is so reliant upon observation,” said Lansdale.

“However, noting that this is the problem historians work with as a matter of routine, we argue that a psychological approach provides a distinct and novel perspective: one which offers a different way of thinking about the human being behind the bones,” Lansdale concluded.


Lansdale and Boon may not have had this opportunity if it weren´t for headline-making news last fall that the possible remains of Richard III had been found under a car park in Leicester. After months of analysis and examinations, DNA testing last month confirmed that the bones were in fact the remains of Richard III.

But aside from that, one historian, Philippa Langley, who is also a Scottish screenwriter, was instrumental and seeing to it that Richard III´s remains were found, exhumed and got the attention they deserved.

Langley said she felt a chill on the hot summer´s day in 2009 as she walked across the area where the body was later found. She had been in the area doing research for a play she had been writing about the King when she felt the chill come over her.

“It was a hot summer and I had goosebumps so badly and I was freezing cold. I walked past a particular spot and absolutely knew I was walking on his grave,” she said, according to the Mail Online. “I am a rational human being but the feeling I got was the same feeling I have had before when a truth is given to me.”

After experiencing the feelings that hot summer day, she went on to fund an excavation of the site, which had become a car park for the city of Leicester. She said she was nearly 100 percent positive that the remains would be there and would belong to Richard III. And what they found was later confirmed to be exactly that.

Langley, who is a member of the Richard III Society, also worked on a documentary charting the excavation titled Richard III: The King in the Car Park. That documentary was aired on February 4, 2013 in England.

And now her play, which she had been writing for some time, is being turned into a screenplay for television and film, and is getting major interest from both Los Angeles and the UK. For the film, Langley hopes to cast Richard Armitage as the lead role for Richard III. Armitage himself was named after that King.

But the story doesn´t end here.

One archeological expert said the remains may have been lost forever when a 19th century toilet was built on the very same location above the burial site.

Richard Buckley, who led the project to exhume the remains, said the final resting place came excruciatingly close to being “completely destroyed” when the outhouse went up on top of the site. Luckily, the grave was only slightly disturbed by the primitive foundation, missing the bulk of the body by mere inches.

When the excavators found the remains, they found them with arms crossed and feet missing. The grave was shallow, less than 30 inches deep, and had the potential for being disturbed several times over the last 500+ years. They believe the feet were lost when the outhouse went up.

“The remains were very vulnerable because they were only under relatively modern debris,” said Buckley. “A less experienced team could easily have damaged the skeleton whilst using a mechanical digger to open the trench.”