It is believed that that myth of Richard’s physical deformity originated from John Rous, a Warwickshire priest, who wrote in his History of England: “Richard of York ... was 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...“ One has to bear in mind, though, that it was written shortly after Richard’s death in 1485 so this description was most likely tainted by Tudor supporters. Thomas More wrote that Richard “… was little of stature, ill fetured of limmes, croke backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right, hard favoured of visage... he came into the worlde with the feete forwarde ... and also not untothed”. Vergil, Henry VII’s historian, wrote about Richard’s appearance: “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”. A different picture is painted by descriptions dating before Richard’s death. Archibald Whitelaw, archdeacon of Lothian and James’s III of Scotland ambassador to Richard’s court wrote in 1484: “Never has so much spirit or greater virtue reigned in such a small body”. A travelling knight from Silesia wrote in 1484: “King Richard is … a high-born prince, three fingers taller than I, but a bit slimmer and not as thickset as I am, and much more lightly built; he has quite slender arms and thighs, and also a great heart”. Shakespeare must have over-exaggerated king’s minor appearance faults in order to create an archetypical Machiavellian prince, and at the same time please those in power.
Interestingly, the way Richard III was portrayed in the paintings was also censored to fit the widely spread Tudor propaganda. His physical flaws were over-exaggerated; facial features were altered in the original paintings to make Richard look mean and devilish. “The king's right shoulder was made to look higher than his left by extending the gown and the jeweled collar on that side a little further upwards. An X-radiograph of the painting … also revealed that lower edge of Richard's eye has been slightly raised and straightened. Also, the outline of the nose have been enlarged a little and that the mouth has been tampered with in order to make the lips look thinner. Without doubt these alterations were made with the intention to bringing it [portrait] more into line with the early Tudor view of Richard as a deformed villain.” (Carolyn Hammond, “The Portraiture of Richard III by Frederick Hepburn”, Richard III)