Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Psychology of Richard III | What Was Tricky Dicky Really Like?

Does this look like the face of a homicidal maniac to you?
Professor Mark Lansdale and Dr Julian Boon from the University of Leicester have been trying to get into Richard III's head. What have they discovered? 

The real Richard may not have been the psychopath from Shakespeare's play.

Ever since the facial reconstruction of Richard was unveiled, he's seemed that little bit more human, hasn't he?

Well, now Professor Lansdale, the head of Leicester university's School of Psychology, and Dr Boon, a forensic psychologist, have been poring over contemporary and historical documents in an attempt to find evidence that Richard III had any of the common characteristics of the psychopathic mindset, which include:

  • Unreliability
  • Untruthfulness
  • Superficial charm
  • No capacity for remorse
  • Inability to learn from experience
  • Lack of insight
  • Incapable of 'normal' emotions - such as love
  • Sense that 'right' and 'wrong' does not apply to them
  • Cunning and manipulative

What Lansdale and Boon have discovered is...none of the above. In their opinion, there is a complete lack of evidence that Richard had any of the usual traits associated with a psychopathic mentality. And, quite rightly, they point out that if he had been any of the above, the Tudors would have jumped on it, just as they did his slight deformity, in order to paint him blacker than he actually was.

Naturally though, it's difficult to be sure about these things. Dr Boon cannot interview Richard, and none of us can really know what the man was like. Not for sure.

For example, it seems that Richard III was loyal to his brother, Edward IV - and, as no evidence seems to suggest otherwise, we assume that's true. And, of course, it's thought that Richard was deeply distressed by the deaths of his wife and son, indicating that he was indeed capable of love and other 'normal' emotions.

But can we ever know whether these were just outward shows of devotion and love? Could they simply have been part of his cunning plan? Like Blackadder, perhaps he had a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel.

Or maybe I just want Richard III to have been like Shakespeare's version of him.

What about killing his nephews? Well, seeing as murder (even of family members) was not altogether unusual in the era, it's thought that even if he did 'do them in', that alone is not evidence enough to call him a psychopath.

What has emerged is that Richard may have had an 'Intolerance of Uncertainty', which is typically known as IU. This is similar to an obsessive personality, and people with IU often place strong emphasis on justice, as well as having rigid morals. If it's true that Richard had this personality type, it's unlikely that he resembled Shakespeare's character in many (if any) ways.

This is all good news for members of The Richard III Society, who have been working tirelessly to clear the last Plantagenet king's name.

As for Shakespeare's version of the king, well, let's be honest, that character is far too irresistible to ever be completely wiped out - no matter how good the real Richard turns out to have been.

For more information, visit the source - University of Leicester's site.


  1. Thought you might be interested in this - my rap version of Richard's story told through his tirades to his therapist!

    I'm also raising money for a rap music vid based on Othello. This is my kickstarter pitch if you're interested :)

    1. Hello Charlie,

      Thanks for sharing that. Love it!

  2. Hi, S.A. Markham - Truth Detective here! Quite enjoyed reading your additional blog re. King Richardiii, though much of it I have read somewhere before. I have been seeking the truth about Henry vii and his mother Margaret Beaufort, and quite honestly, after long and deep searching I find, after studying THEIR characters I find the issues plastered on Richardiii are more fitting upon themselves! Psychopaths or Sociopaths? - what do you think? Henry VIII didn't escape my scrutiny either. Thank you for your blog. God bless, Truth Detective

    1. Hi there, thanks for swinging by again. I'm sure none of the above is news to you, as it was quite widely reported at the time. The post was just offering my two-pence worth on the subject.

      To be honest, I don't know a great deal about Henry VII and Margaret - certainly not enough to give an insight into their psyche. But what I will say is this, I honestly don't see how anyone could seize (and keep), power without being at least somewhat Machiavellian. My hunch is that there can have been no such thing as a truly 'good' monarch in the 15th and surrounding centuries.

      Thanks again!