King Richard III: A control freak, but not a psychopath?

A plastic model of King Richard III was displayed recently after scientists identified his remains. Now two researchers have taken a shot at psychoanalyzing him, though they acknowledge the historical record is limited.
(Justin Tallis / Getty Images)

It was hard to find the physical remains of King Richard III. Imagine how hard, then, to psychoanalyze the man.

That, nonetheless, is what Mark Landsdale, head of the University of Leicester School of Psychology, has attempted to do, with help from colleague Julian Boon, a forensic psychologist. They presented their findings over the weekend at the university.

Last month, scientists from the same university announced they had found and identified the remains of the last of England’s Plantagenet monarchs, depicted by Shakespeare as a murderous, hunchbacked psychopath who assassinated two young princes.


The news revived interest in the 15th century king, whose reputation has been defended for decades by a society named for him. Members claim that much of the historical record on Richard III, who ruled for just two years before falling in battle, is influenced by fiction and by accounts written under the reign and influence of the Tudor kings that followed him.

Lansdale and Boon say the historical record showed few signs of the traits by which psychologists identify psychopathy: narcissism, deviousness, callousness, recklessness and lack of empathy.

Or as Shakespeare would have had Richard say: “Why, I can smile and murder whiles I smile,
And cry ‘content’ to that which grieves my heart, And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face for all occasions.”

Richard did, however, show “intolerance to uncertainty syndrome,” according to the researchers.

“This syndrome is associated with a need to seek security following an insecure childhood, as Richard had,” Lansdale said in a statement. “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.”

Richard’s severely curved spine likely marked his interactions with others at a time when medieval beliefs held that the deformity mirrored a twisted soul, the two speculated.

The pair acknowledge their assessment is based on limited information. “Overall, we recognize the difficulty of 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,” Lansdale said in his statement.