Why is Henry V's portrait in profile?
Was it a custom of the time for royals to have their likeness painted in profile, or is there a more grisly secret behind Henry V's portrait?
Long before his victory at Agincourt, Henry V learned to fight on British soil by putting down rebellions against his father, Henry IV. On 21 July 1403, the then 16-year-old Prince of Wales commanded men at Shrewsbury, where the longbow he would later use to such deadly effect was on full display. In the thick of the fighting, he was hit by an arrow below the eye.
The shaft could beremoved, but the arrowhead had lodged in the bone – at the back of Henry’s skull. Removing it required the best of 15th-century surgery, so royal physician John Bradmore was sent for. Also a keen metalworker, Bradmore designed a corkscrew-like device to open the wound further, so the arrow could be extracted without its barbs catching.
Without anaesthesia, the procedure must have been excruciating, but it was a success. To prevent infection, Bradmore washed the wound daily for three weeks with white wine – Henry must have needed a regular swig too – and cleaned it with honey. The future king was left with a grisly scar on his cheek – which may explain why, when it came to have his royal portrait done, he turned to the side.