The Rous Roll is an illustrated armorial roll-chronicle by John Rous (d. 1492), a historian and chantry priest of Guy’s Cliffe in Warwickshire. The roll – made for the powerful Beauchamp family and possibly commissioned by Anne Neville, wife of Richard III – commemorates the deeds of the Earls of Warwick and benefactors of the town, including members of the Beauchamp family as well as Edward IV and Richard III. The roll contains 65 unframed pen drawings: above them are the coats of arms of the individuals depicted, and below are brief biographies in English. The drawings are interspersed in several places by genealogical diagrams, written by a different hand to the biographical text.
The English roll is one of two versions made by Rous; the other, in Latin, has been held at the College of Arms since 1786.
Portrayal of Richard III
The English roll, made while Richard III was still on the throne and possibly presented to the royal couple, gives a very positive depiction of the King. He is included twice and shown in armour, described as a ‘mighty prince’, an upholder of the law and beloved of his subjects. From the Latin roll, however, Richard has been removed, literally cut from the roll, other than as the husband of Anne. It is speculated that this revision was made by Rous after Richard was deposed in 1485. Rous made a similar about-face in his Historia Regum Angliae, written under the monarchy of Henry VII, which paints Richard in a highly negative light.
Richard III in the Rous Roll
The first illustration of Richard III (f. 2br) depicts him in armour, holding a sword in his right hand and Warwick Castle in his left hand, with a charter looped over his wrist and a boar at his feet. The text reads:
Rex Richardus tercius – born in the Castel of Foderiyngay a myghti prince in his dayes special gode lord to the town & lordship of Warrewyk wher yn the castel he did gret cost off byldyng In the which his most noble lady & wyf was born and at gret instance of her he of his bounteous grace with owt fee or fyn graunt to the seyd borowh frely by charter as kyng William Conquerour his noble progenitor a fore tym gret previlagis.
The second illustration of Richard III (f. 7cr) depicts him in armour, holding a sword in his right hand and an orb in his left hand, a boar at his feet, and six helms and crests alongside. The text reads:
The moost mighty prynce Rychard by the grace of god kynge of ynglond and of fraunce and lord of Irelond by verrey matrimony with owt dyscontynewans or any defylynge yn the lawe by eyre male lineally dyscendyng from kynge harre the second all avarice set a syde Rewled hys subjettys In hys Realme ful commendabylly poneschynge offenders of hys laws specyally Extorcioners and oppressors of hys comyns and chereschynge tho that were vertues by the whyche dyscrete guydynfe he gat gret thank of god and love of all hys subjettys Ryche and pore and gret lavd of the people of all othyr landys a bowt hym.
Digitised extracts showing characters from Shakespeare’s first tetralogy
- f. 2br: Edward IV, Richard III
- f. 6br: Richard Beauchamp (Earl of Warwick in Henry VI, Part 1) holding a young Henry VI
- f. 7br: Richard Neville (Earl of Warwick in Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3); Isabel (doesn’t appear in Shakespeare but is daughter of Richard Neville and wife of George, Duke of Clarence); George, Duke of Clarence
- f. 7cr: Edward, Earl of Warwick (son of George, Duke of Clarence); Margaret (daughter of George, Duke of Clarence); Anne Neville (daughter of Richard Neville and wife of Richard III); Richard III
View a full digitisation of this manuscript.
- Full title:
- The Rous Roll
- c. 1483–84, Warwickshire
- Manuscript / Illustration / Image
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- Add MS 48976
- Article by:
- Katherine Schaap Williams
- Power, politics and religion, Histories
In the Elizabethan period, disability was often viewed as a sign of moral impairment. Katherine Schaap Williams considers how Shakespeare's portrayal of Richard III relates to both modern and medieval ideas of disability, as well as how the play's performance history complicates our understanding of Richard's body. She thereby reveals a richer and more complex reading of Richard as more than just a monstrous or moral example.
- Article by:
- Malcolm Hebron
- Language, word play and text, Power, politics and religion, Histories
Malcolm Hebron explains how Shakespeare drew on earlier depictions of Richard III and other ruthless rulers in order to create his own power-hungry king, and how Richard III has influenced later depictions of megalomania.