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A History of Royal Photoshop

A History of Royal Photoshop

Soon after Kate Middleton admitted to editing a family photo, news outlets like CNN announced they would be reviewing all past images released by Kensington Palace for manipulation.

But Kate's photoshopping is nowhere near the only example of the royals editing their pictures. In fact, royal photoshop dates all the way back to the time of King Henry VIII.

As historian Dr. Francis Young tweeted earlier this week, "BREAKING: Galleries are refusing to display this image of Henry VIII with Jane Seymour and Edward VI over fears it may have been manipulated," with an image of the King of England, his third wife, and their son:

As Dr. Young jokes, the portrait is "manipulated": Jane Seymour, famously, died two weeks after giving birth to Edward VI, and would not have been alive to sit for this painting. It's part of a larger image, "The Family of Henry VIII," painted around 1545. Per the Royal Collection Trust (RCT), though the artist is unknown, "this painting of Henry VIII’s family celebrates the Tudor succession," and the artist copied the faces of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour from Holbein's "Whitehall Mural." Copying and pasting faces onto royal family portraits: It's happened since the 16th century!

As Artnet News notes, the portrait that the anonymous painter pulled from was also edited. Richard Whiddington writes, "Holbein elongated Henry’s legs (testified by armor the king was wore at the time) and painted the king as considerably younger than his age. What’s more, a serious jousting accident in 1536 had greatly diminished his hardy physic, though not his waistline."

victoria and albert
Queen Victoria, pictured with Prince Albert, was an early adopter to editing photographs.Keystone - Getty Images

Centuries later, Queen Victoria, who had a passion for the nascent field of photography, would "edit" her photos after they were printed. As the RCT wrote in 2019, "Have you ever deleted an unflattering image of yourself? Back in 1852 Queen Victoria didn’t have that option since this daguerreotype (a type of photograph) was created on a silver copper plate. Instead she scratched herself out of the photo! The Queen perceived it to be an unflattering image of herself because her eyes were closed, but she spared the images of her children." (You can see the photograph here.)

The Queen wrote in her journal, "Went back to the Gardens, where a daguerreotype by Mr. Kilburn was taken of me & 5 of the children. The day was splendid for it. Mine was unfortunately horrid, but the children’s were pretty."

a group of people posing for the camera
The photo that started it all.Prince William / Kensington Palace

In the modern era, the internet has long guessed that royals have edited their photos—though the recent Mother's Day photo is the only one the Palace has outright admitted to. There was some discussion online surrounding the Wales family's 2023 Christmas card, in which it appeared Prince Louis was missing a finger, and there have been allegations that a photo of the late Queen Elizabeth with many of her great-grandchildren and grandchildren, taken by Kate at Balmoral, was a composite of many images. Long story short: Kate's mother day edits have been a complete PR disaster for the Palace, but her photoshop is not the first time the British royals have shared an edited image.


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