Not only have British experts reconstructed the face of king Richard III — they have recreated what he may have sounded like.
Despite being the patriarch of the House of York, Richard likely spoke with an accent associated with West Midlands rather than northern England, according to language expert Philip Shaw, from the University of Leicester’s School of English.
“That’s an accent you might well see in London,” Shaw said.
The researcher used two letters penned by England’s last medieval king more than 500 years ago to investigate Richard III’s language, spelling and grammar.
While secretaries would have written most of the king’s letters, two missives seem to be original.
One letter was written in 1469, when Richard was still the Duke of Gloucester, the other dates to 1483, when he was king.
In the first letter Richard, who was traveling with Edward IV to quell a disturbance in Yorkshire, urgently asks for a loan of £100 from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. To emphasize the urgency of his request, the king added a two-line note in his own hand.
A personal note also appears in the second letter, revealing Richard’s urgent call for the Great Seal to be sent to him as he was trying to suppress Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion.
“Unlike today, individuals were more likely to spell words in ways that reflected their local dialect. Therefore, by looking at Richard’s writing, I was able to pinpoint spellings that may provide some clues to his accent,” Shaw said in a statement.
For example, elongated vowels are a distinctive aspect of Richard’s speech patterns.
“There are interesting differences with words like ‘say’ and ‘pray’ and ‘fail’ where we have this ‘a’ sound which is what we call a diphthong — a glide from one sound to another,” Shaw said.
He noted that Richard may well have used a pure vowel in his speech — something like ‘saa’ or ‘praa’ rather than “say” and “pray.”
According to Shaw, the two postscripts show at least one spelling that may suggest a West Midlands accent.
“There’s nothing to suggest a Yorkshire accent in the way that he writes, I’m sorry to say for anyone who associates him with Yorkshire,” Shaw said.
Click here to listen to Dr Shaw mimicking King Richard’s likely accent.
Image: A scan of Richard III’s request for the Great Seal with postscript on treachery of Duke of Buckingham, 12 Oct 1483 from the National Archives. Credit: University of Leicester.