Leeds History First

Making a monster: The relationship between the body and behaviour of King Richard III

Throughout the medieval and early-modern period, it was largely accepted that there existed a sense of continuity between one’s body and behaviour. The idea of the good as the aesthetically beautiful, and the bad as the physically abhorrent was a concept that manifested in all aspects of society. However, this connection between action and appearance became much more complicated when applied to physically impaired, non-conforming bodies. As a result, physical abnormalities and deformities came to be associated with understandings of monstrosity. Whilst the relationship between a monstrous body and monstrous behaviour has often been discussed by the likes of Cohen, Friedman, and Mittman, it appears these scholars rarely apply their findings to ‘real’ people. Instead, it seems that they largely focus their attention on art historical evidence for the more ambiguous monstrous races (such as werewolves, giants, and pygmies) who were believed to have existed at the edges at the world. Therefore, in an attempt to bridge the gap between the spheres of history and art history, this study will attempt to apply these theories of medieval and early-modern monstrosity to the high-profile case-study of the English King Richard III, asking questions such as what made a man a monster? Did a monster have any agency over its own actions? And was a monster physiologically predisposed to act in a monstrous manner? Through the use of contemporary literary sources, architecture, art, and archaeological evidence, it will explore the relationship between the monstrous body and the monstrous mind, and will ask how (if at all) this concept manifested within the figure of King Richard III.

Winner of the La Patourel Prize for best dissertation.

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