Richard III: Voice of the king - audio reveals king would have West Midlands accent
A medieval language expert has concluded that Richard III would have spoken with a West Midlands accent. Dr Philip Shaw, a lecturer in English language and old English at the University of Leicester, has looked at the way Richard III wrote and concluded that he may have been a Brummie.
But the dialect of the West Midlands in the 1400s would have been a lot different to how it is now and may have resembled the accent used by those living in London at the time.
But Dr Shaw is certain that the Plantagenet monarch would not have had a Yorkshire accent – despite his gallant participation in the War of the Roses fighting for the House of York.
Dr Shaw said: "It looks to me as if he would have had an accent which was associated with the West Midlands, but that's also an accent that would have been found in London – that wouldn't have been unusual.
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"There are no northern symptoms in his writing to suggest he had a Yorkshire accent – sorry to those who associate him with that part of the country."
Dr Shaw based his assumption on letters written by Richard – one while he was still the Duke of Gloucester and a second, much later, when he was king.
"The vast majority of his written correspondence was done by secretaries – he was far too big and posh to do his own writing," said Dr Shaw.
"But there are two letters surviving which seem to be originals."
One was a letter asking to borrow £100.
The other was an urgent call for his royal seal to be sent to him while trying to suppress a rebellion.
Dr Shaw also took into account Richard's education and the people who taught him to read and write.
He said one distinctive aspect of Richard's speech patterns was the use of elongated vowels.
"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," said Dr Shaw.
"Richard may well have used a pure vowel in his speech, so something like 'saa' or praa' which Richard used, later became words like 'say' and 'pray'."
Richard III, like most normal people, would also have had a "posh voice", according to Dr Shaw.
"He would have different registers of English, different styles.
"Some would have been more formal – some more informal," he said.
"That seems likely because everyone today has different registers and styles of language they use in different contexts.
"I might well talk differently in a lecture to how I would talk to my mother, for example."
LISTEN TO THE KING
You can listen to Dr Shaw’s interpretation of how Richard III may have here:
Here are the transcripts of two letters
i) Richard writes to Sir John Say from Castle Rising, Norfolk, June 24, 1469.
This is a postscript that Richard added in his own hand:
Sir i say i pray yow that ye fayle me not at þis tyme in my grete nede
as ye wule þat i schewe yow my goode lordscype in þat mater þat ye labure to me for.
ii) Richard writes to John Russell, his Chancellor, from Lincoln, on October 12, 1483. The following is a postscript Richard added in his own hand:
we wolde most Gladly ye came yorselff yf þat
ye may & yf ye may not we pray you not to fayle but
to Acomplyshe in Alle dyllygence my sayde Comawndement to
sende my seale Incontenent upon the syght heroff as we trust
you with suche a[s] ye trust & the offycers pertenyng to attend with hyt
preyng you to Assertayne ws of yor Newes / Here loved be god
ys Alle well & trewly determyned & for to Resyste the malysse of
hym that hadde best Cawse to be trewe th duc of Bokyng
ham the most vntrewe Creature lyvyng whom with gods grace
we shall not be long tyll þat we wyll be in that partyes &
subdewe hys malys / we assure you þat was neuer falsse trayto[r]
better purvayde for as þis berrerre Gloucestre shall shewe you
i) Transcribed from Anthony Cheetham, The Life and Times of Richard III (London, 1972), photograph at p 108-9.
ii) Transcribed from Richard III: Crown and People, ed. J Petre (London, 1985), plate 15.
Abbreviations are expanded in italics.
Square brackets enclose letters that are illegible in the images. In both cases it seems clear what the reading must have been.