Weird History

Firsthand Descriptions Of What 15 Historical Royals Really Looked Like

Images of contemporary royals are everywhere - Prince Harry's red hair and Queen Elizabeth II's height can be seen on everything from tea towels to tabloids. But what about royals in the past? What did they actually look like?

Though it's hard to get an accurate picture - there are no photographs from the 15th century, of course, and portrait artists may have often bent the truth to flatter their patrons - firsthand written descriptions still exist.

But just because these are eyewitness accounts doesn't mean they are objective. Biases inform how people saw royals throughout history. Written descriptions weren't just straightforward lists of physical features; writers sometimes inserted politics into their accounts and characterized royal rule through descriptions of their looks: virtuous rulers, for instance, were often presented as good-looking ones. (Conversely, rulers who fell out of favor with history - such as Richard III - could become inextricably linked with physical abnormalities.)

Accurate or not, these physical descriptions provide a window into what historical royals may have looked like - and how conceptions of beauty have changed over time.