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How did Richard III sound?

05 February 2013 Leicester, University of

You can listen to an exclusive podcast interview with Dr Philip Shaw here:

In a University of Leicester exclusive podcast interview, Dr Philip Shaw from the School of English discusses how Richard III may have sounded in his own lifetime.

With the use of two letters with notes from Richard III himself, Dr Shaw delves deeper into what the man was really like.  Both letters provide a sneak peek into the world of Richard III’s language, spelling and grammar.

As both letters begin with formulaic and neat words from a secretary, Dr Shaw has used this as a point of comparison with Richards’ less polished notes.

The first of the two letters was written before Richard was king and is his earliest surviving letter, dating back to 1469. The letter itself was written when Richard was travelling with Edward IV to put down a disturbance in Yorkshire. Writing from Castle Rising, Norfolk, he urgently requests a loan of £100 from Sir John Say, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Richard appends a two-line note in his own hand to the letter, emphasising the urgency of his requirement.

The second letter was written in 1483, on learning of the Duke of Buckingham's rebellion against him. King Richard dictated a letter asking his Chancellor to send the Great Seal to him. Richard also attaches a personal note at the bottom of the letter, expressing his desire that the Chancellor come in person, if possible, and expressing his expectation that he will soon suppress Buckingham.

Dr Shaw said: “I found that Richard III’s spellings are relatively consistent, and in many ways reflect the same educated spelling practices employed by his secretaries.  However, he also differs from the practice of his secretaries occasionally, and such quirks may provide clues to how he spoke.

“Like today, there were various dialects (with different features of accent and grammar) around the country. 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.

“The language used within the two postscripts shows no evidence of northern English dialect features, largely reflecting the relatively standard, London-derived spelling system also used by Richard’s secretaries. However, there is also at least one spelling he employs that may suggest a West Midlands accent.”

To find out more and listen to Dr Philip Shaw read out Richard III’s letters go to:

Attached files

  • Dr Philip Shaw of the University of Leicester school of English. Credit - University of Leicester

  • Dr Philip Shaw of the University of Leicester school of English. Credit - University of Leicester

  • Richard III's request for the Great Seal with postscript on treachery of Duke of Buckingham 12 Oct 1483, from The National Archives. Do not add to websites at full size.

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