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The Mysterious Saga of Sir James Tyrell

Sir James Tyrell was a trusted supporter of the House of York, and Richard III in particular. More’s account of his introduction to Richard by a unnamed page is too risible to mention, except that it exhibits yet another flaw in More’s account, that fine work of literature, roughly equivalent to – well, name the modern novel of your choice, although some have been written with greater accuracy – which is still inexplicably regarded as a source by many of Richard’s critics, including some who do not merely claim to be historians, but possess serious academic qualifications in the field.
Tyrell’s father was one of those executed in 1462 with John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, on the basis of a supposed plot against King Edward. The evidence for the plot was rather thin and the trials rather brisk and summary, but as this was during the reign of Edward IV, no great fuss is made by those who spend so much time bewailing the plight of such innocents as William Hastings and Anthony Woodville.
James Tyrell was allowed to have his father’s lands, once he came of age, and perhaps sensibly decided to side with King Edward at the Battle of Tewkesbury, where he was knighted. According to Rosemary Horrox he soon after joined the affinity of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was, of course, in the process of securing Anne Neville’s hand and setting himself up as Lord of the North. At some point, presumably after he was granted Glamorgan in the aftermath of Clarence’s fall, Richard appointed Tyrell Sheriff of Glamorgan and Constable of Cardiff. The importance of Glamorgan is little understood or recognised in Ricardian studies, but this was certainly a key job, and one of the most important at Richard’s disposal. The practical effect – given that Richard was mainly occupied either in the North or at King Edward’s court – was that Tyrell was his deputy in one of the greatest – if not the greatest – of the Marcher Lordships. It was a position of considerable power, and almost certainly considerable income.
Later Tyrell fought with Richard in Scotland and was one of those whom Richard saw fit to advance to the rank of Knight Banneret in July 1482. This was as far as Richard could advance him – only the King could give him the Garter or elevate him to the peerage. So it seems certain that Richard saw Tyrell as a valuable ‘member of staff’ who was useful in a number of roles and well worth keeping on board.
Once Richard became king, he granted Tyrell a number of additional offices including Knight of the Body, Master of the Horse and Chamberlain of the Exchequer. Taken together with his existing appointments this made him a man of considerable importance, both at Richard’s court and in the country. Unlike many of Richard’s followers, Tyrell was not a northerner, but hailed from Gipping in Suffolk. This may actually have been an asset to his career, given that so much emphasis is put on the unpopularity of Richard’s Yorkshire supporters in the southern shires.
If Richard had wanted to dispose of the Princes – a very big if in my opinion – then Tyrell would indeed have been a plausible candidate to arrange it; a loyal supporter, who was both trusted and competent. However, we can safely say it would not have required some random page to call him to Richard’s mind. Nor, as we have seen, could Richard have knighted him for performing the deed as Tyrell had been knighted long before. Of course, what Richard could have done was raise him to the peerage, a modest reward for so foul a deed. But he did not. Tyrell remained plain Sir James.
In 1484, Sir James was chosen as High Sheriff of Cornwall. This may be seen as another case of ‘transplantation’ of Richard’s followers into areas of dubious loyalty, although in this instance of course the incomer was not a northerner.
According to Annette Carson (Richard III the Maligned King pp. 162-63) Tyrell was sent to Flanders on a covert mission, for which payment was issued in January 1485. Whatever this mission was, it must certainly have been of importance for such an influential agent to be employed. Also in January 1485, Tyrell was appointed to command the important castle of Guisnes in the marches of Calais. Here he received a very large and unexplained payment of £3000. (Carson, op.cit, plus Harleian MS 433, vol 2, p191.)
Tyrell’s appointment to Guisnes served him well, as his duty there meant that he was not present at Bosworth, and could not be attainted for following his lawful king into battle. At first Henry VII deprived him of certain offices, but on 16 June 1486, and again on 16 July of the same year, Tyrell received a royal pardon for all offences he might have committed. (Bertram Fields, Royal Blood, pp.197-198.) The reason for his receiving two pardons so close together is unknown, although the possibility of an administrative error should perhaps be considered.
Be that as it may, Tyrell was now apparently in Henry’s favour and was allowed to continue in charge at Guisnes. Given Henry’s deeply suspicious nature and the key importance of Guisnes in securing Calais, this is rather hard to understand. Henry would have been well aware of Sir James’ high standing under King Richard. It seems almost incredible that such a man should have been left in so important a role unless Henry had good reason to believe in his loyalty. The new King surely cannot have had the least suspicion of Tyrell as a possible murderer of the Princes; and yet, this is the very time when one might have expected Henry to make a thorough investigation of the whole issue, in his own interests. You might think that at a minimum he would have had the Tower staff questioned, and that if Tyrell’s name had been mentioned Henry would have wanted to ask awkward questions of him as well. Instead he left him in charge of a very important garrison.
Tyrell attended the Coronation of Elizabeth of York, and fought for Henry at the Battle of Dixmunde in 1489. Given his apparent closeness to Richard, he had made the transition better than most, and looked as if he was accepted as a loyal supporter of the new regime. But in 1502, Sir James made the mistake of giving the fugitive Edmund, Earl of Suffolk, temporary refuge at Guisnes. By this time, Suffolk was the most promising of the available Yorkist heirs, and Henry ordered Tyrell’s arrest. This, as far as it goes, is quite understandable. Tyrell, who was in a position to hold Guisnes for a long time, was tricked into surrendering by a false promise of safe conduct. Once taken prisoner he was removed back to England and in May 1502 was privately executed on a charge of assisting Suffolk. Subsequently, in 1504, he was attainted, although his son, who was arrested with him, was subsequently pardoned and his attainder was later reversed.
According to Thomas More’s account, Tyrell confessed to murdering the Princes, as did a man called Dighton. But the strange thing is that Tyrell’s attainder makes absolutely no mention of the crime. You might think that a little matter of regicide, or murder of the present King’s brother-in-law (depending on whether you believed Edward V to be a lawful king or not) might just receive a line or two in Tyrell’s attainder. Moreover, conveniently, Tyrell’s actual confession is not extant. And even More admits that the man Dighton was still alive at the time when he wrote his account. Really? A common fellow, who committed regicide, or at least murder, one who had actually confessed to it at that, allowed to walk free by that lover of justice Henry VII? It beggars belief.
Thomas More was of course writing some years after these events. It is just possible he was privy to written records that no longer exist, or that he was relying on the word of some informant. (In this case it cannot have been Morton, who died in 1500.) It may even have been decided, at some point after Tyrell’s death, to pin the deed upon him. But the gap in the attainder on this matter, and Dighton’s alleged survival are very hard to explain.
Sir Francis Bacon, writing many years later, claims that this was the account the King ‘gave out’. But if Henry did tell such a story, he must have done so only to a select few, as even Bacon states that Henry did not mention the matter in any of his formal announcements. It seems a very odd way for a king to behave, when in possession of information that could only damage his enemies, and prevent the possibility of any more ‘Perkin Warbecks’ popping up in Flanders.
In addition neither Bernard André, Henry’s personal biographer, or Polydore Vergil, mentioned Tyrell’s confession. Indeed Vergil states that the exact means of the Princes’ death was not known.
While we must make allowances for the fact that Henry VII was a very strange and secretive man, who did not always act logically, the most likely explanation seems to be that Tyrell’s alleged confession simply did not exist. And if it did not, More’s account of the murder must be regarded as pure fiction.

Richard III’s ‘Armour’ at the New Leicester Visitor Centre

I haven’t seen this for myself yet – but I’ve seen plenty of photographs and a good deal of huffing and puffing over the replica of Richard III’s suit of armour at the recently-opened Visitor Centre in Leicester.

The bone of contention, (apart from the replica’s authenticity, on which I don’t feel qualified to comment), is that it’s painted white, looks more like a Star Wars storm-trooper than the last Plantagenet king, and is therefore somehow insulting to his memory.

The critics do have a point, up to a point – it’s not particularly attractive. However, as a former museum conservator, I do feel qualified to comment on the likely rationale behind this choice of display technique, because it’s not an uncommon one. From the images I’ve seen, the ‘armour’ looks like a teaching resource: there are numbered labels stuck to it at various points, which I assume tie into a key naming the various pieces and possibly giving information about them. It is painted white to show up well in the dimly-lit display case, to allow the labels to be seen and read easily, and most importantly, to make quite clear that this is a REPLICA – that the Visitor Centre designers have not defaced a real suit of historical armour by sticking adhesive labels all over it. A comparable technique is frequently deployed when original artefacts – ceramic vessels, wall-paintings or whatever – are reassembled by conservators and gap-filled with modern materials painted in a different colour; the intention is not to con the viewer into thinking the item was found complete and in perfect condition, but to differentiate between the historic fabric and the modern reconstruction.

I further assume that the designers chose a white colour-scheme for the replica in an attempt to avoid complaints by visitors who might otherwise believe that it is Richard III’s real armour, and that it has been treated inappropriately; so I bet the poor souls are gobsmacked by the flood of ferocious complaint it has nonetheless provoked.

“Tudor” parliamentary procedure

Apologies to anyone who expects this to be a five thousand word essay with at least a hundred cases but I was wondering about one thing in particular: when “Tudor” monarchs repealed legislation, how did they usually go about it?
The usual procedure was – and still is – to have a new Act passed, explicitly reversing the implications of the first one. In that era, it was usual to read out the first Act during the repeal process. Henry VIII’s “Act of Supremacy” is not a good example because the status quo ante had surely never been specified, however the religious changes of the same era give us a few significant examples.
One such is the “de heretico comburendo” law, which originally dated from 1401. Neither Henry VIII nor Edward VI seem to have had it repealed fully so its revival was simple. It was finally repealed by Elizabeth I’s first Parliament, by section 6 of her 1558-9 Act of Supremacy. Some of the text is here:
So we can observe that this repeal was carried out correctly. Nowhere is there a suggestion that “de heretico comburendo” was unread on this occasion, destroyed, hidden or that it was forbidded to retain a copy – which draws even more attention to the treatment of Richard III’s “Titulus Regius”. This well-drafted piece of legislation, following the “almost a constitutional election” (Gairdner) of 1483, was intended by his successor to be completely forgotten but it is remembered, among other things, because it was swept under the carpet.
The contrast is clear.

The book Kendall could write today (2) – The “Princes”

The reaction to the first part of “Kendall 2014” has been interesting. “According to Williams, Brampton was sent to Portugal as early as 22 March 1485, only six days after Anne’s death. ‘Brampton brought a double proposal to Portugal – for Richard to marry Joanna and for Elizabeth of York to marry…John, Duke of Beja…In return Richard offered, if necessary, to send an English army to help the King against dissident members of the aristocracy…'” – ie Brompton was despatched eight days EARLIER than we had previously known him to have been in Portugal, although the sea journey would surely be shorter. Apparently, some people think that the Portuguese archives mean something other than they actually say.

Now on to an even more important issue – that of her brothers, the “Princes”. Writing towards a 1955 publication, Tanner and Wright’s report from 1934 would still be fresh in the reader’s mind and Kendall’s first appendix assumed the full accuracy of their conclusions, including their approximate ages at death – “the Princes were murdered at the instigation of one of three men” (p.466), an assumption also followed by Tey in her remarkable amalgam of C15 history and C20 fiction.

In the nearly sixty years since his publication, science in particular has marched on and the Tanner-Wright conclusions, having been reviewed by later practitioners, can no longer be said to follow their basic report. Hanham, Williamson and Fields, in the seventies and eighties, were the first to dispute the assumption that the boys had necessarily been killed by anyone at all, a disputation that necessitated a challenge to the scientific conclusions. Leslau’s theory that both lived on in close proximity to (of all people) More dates from this period. It was followed by Wroe’s 2003 “Perkin” and Baldwin’s 2007 “The Lost Prince”, both being full-length expositions of hypotheses that one “Prince” or other may have lived until executed in 1499 (Wroe) or did live peacefully into the 1530s (Baldwin). Ashdown-Hill has referred to the subject obliquely in the excellent “Eleanor” and traced a lock of hair from Mary “Tudor” (Brandon), their niece, although it was of no avail in mtDNA terms. He has also written about Richard’s brief Low Countries exile, which should serve as a significant clue.

It is the recent arrival of Carson’s “The Maligned King” that has moved the situation on further. Chapter 9 (pp. 167-199) reviews the various survival options, the Gipping possibility and “Perkin”‘s “chain of custody” until he reappears with the Brampton household, the sheer improbability of: the killings and single-handed burial ten feet deep with nobody else on a busy site noticing, the removal and reburial by the same priest before the bones mysteriously returned to the first site, the unmolested life of the “culprits” (Tyrrell and Dighton) until 1502 and the latter’s “confession” eight or more years after his execution. Chapter 10 (pp. 200-233) deals with the science, in the era of DNA analysis, which identified Richard himself. The more recent experts are referred to from page 215. They disagree with each other a little but it is noticeable that they contradict Tanner and Wright. We cannot be certain of the remains’ gender or congenitality, whilst the elder corpse suffered from a jaw disease of terminal effect that witnesses must have noticed, except that nobody did. Furthermore, evidence is adduced (p.214) that the depth of the burial suggests the eleventh century. It is now apparent that we cannot assume either of Edward IV’s remaining sons to have been killed during 1483-7 by anyone.
Of course, it is a trait of the Cairo-dwellers to adhere firmly to any convenient statement, even when they know that it has been comprehensively disproven. This may be the issue where cognitive dissonance gives way to a degree of dishonesty on their part. It is important to note that, by 1478, Richard of Gloucester had only three (legitimate or then thought so) fraternal nephews. Of two, subsequently proved illegitimate, the fate is unknown. Of the third, excluded by attainder, we know that Richard treated him well, only for Edward of Warwick to be imprisoned almost immediately after Bosworth and eventually executed on a pretext. Richard’s conduct in this case should attest to his character and likely treatment of the first two.

The Prioress’s Bread

She had small hounds that she fed

roasted flesh, milk and small bread

— The Canterbury Tales

If one follows the life and times of Richard the Third, it also follows that one becomes immersed in the culture of medieval England.  Whether it’s the choral music, the fashions of the royal court, the cutting wit displayed by the nobility, the duty-bound liturgical calendar or the unceasing legal and real estate battles that ran riot over the landscape, one cannot help but be transported back to a time that seems distinctly fantastic to modern sensibilities.

The culture of cookery is a case in point.  Medieval English food was awash in exotic spices and an endless variety of herbs:  galingale, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cubebs, cloves, gromic, liquorice, garlic, lavender, aniseed and pepper were used for taste and saffron, alkenade, cornflower, beetroot, sandalwood, mulberry and verjuice were used for colour.  Sugary subtleties made from marzipan (anglicised as marchpane) could be shaped to represent everything from a tiny pink piglet to a fully-rigged sailing ship presented to the young Duke of Gloucester in recognition of his role as Lord High Admiral.  Exotic mammals such as whales (which apparently were dished up with peas the way today’s fish and chips  are chucked on a plate with mushy peas) and porpoises were presented at banquets, along with swans, egrets, seals, peacocks, hedgehogs and other less exotic fair such as beef, poultry and venison.

We know that King Richard’s remains displayed aspects of a high-status diet of fish and meat.  The King also had two dental extractions performed by a barber/surgeon which could suggest he had a sweet tooth.  And since we now know that carbohydrates turn quickly to sugar, it may be that he also enjoyed the vast amounts of bread produced in England in the Middle Ages.

Given the sophisticated nature of this society, it was unlikely that this product would not come under the scrutiny of the government.  And in 1266, it did.  The Assize of Bread and Ale was formed to assure fair trade and a consistent output.  Prices were regulated and a bureaucratic eye was kept on the sale and quality of bread and beer sold.  Eventually, the bakers formed guilds and regulations in the making of both beer and bread were codified into law. (1)

The bread favoured by the nobility of England had many names.  Chaucer called it payndemayne and it may be the bread that the nun in “The Prioress’s Tale” daintily fed to her dogs in “The Canterbury Tales.”  Other variations include manged bred, paynmane and desmesne.  The one variation that seems to have been a constant and is still made today is manchet, which in French is called michette (meaning “crumb”).  It is a very pure white bread made from wheat flour that’s been finely bolted (sifted through a thin linen cloth) and is formed into a small, round loaf.  It has been posited that this was the bread used in the making of the Eucharistic Host.  Later on eggs were added to it which turns it into a kind of brioche – perfect for “payn purdeuz.”  These precious loaves were served at royal banquets, a king always being served first.

The peasant class ate a different type of bread called “maslin” – a combination of rye and wheat and sometimes barley.  Its name is derived from the French word “miscelin” meaning mixture.  Maslin, or other types of coarse bread called cocket, cheat, treet or troute, may be the basis for the trencher which was used as plates before the introduction of wooden plates.  These humble loaves could contain anything from poppy seed, millet, spelt to sorghum.  In some ways, these breads would be more recognizable at today’s local gourmet markets than the white loaves that adorned King Richard’s table.  Of course, it’s pleasant to think that once Richard was on the field of battle, among his beloved fellow soldiers, he may very well have tried and enjoyed the more humble bread of the peasantry.

The word trencher also comes from the French.  “Trenchier” means “to slice” or “to cut” and special servants sliced the bread and placed it at table where, once again, the King received the best portion.  Made from unbolted flour that contained all the parts of the grain kernel, it was dark and tough and served stale – perfect for holding stews and meat and sometimes even lit candles!  It was considered déclassé to chow down on the deliciously saturated (if stone hard) bread and was, therefore, given away to dogs or, if all else failed, the poor.

Interestingly, it comes down to us today in the culinary fixture known as the bread bowl – that sturdy, hollowed out loaf into which is poured stews and hearty soups, salsas, dips or in Nigella Lawson’s case, sticky cocktail holiday sausages in mustard and maple syrup.

Here is a recipe for manchet written by Lady Arundel in 1654.  If you have two dozen eggs to spare, it would make a swell treat!

“Take a bushel of fine Wheat flower, twenty Eggs, three pound of Butter, then take as much salt and barm (yeast) after the ordinary Manchet, temper it with new Milk pretty hot, then let it lie in a space a half an hour to rise, so you may work it up into bread and bake it, let not your Oven be too hot.”

Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to find early descriptions of the making of bread.  The Form of Cury (Forms of Cookery) is a 14th Century book that is somewhat vague on bread making although it uses bread consistently in its recipes.  This is possibly because it was considered so ordinary and well-known, that it wasn’t deemed important enough to be written down.  Here’s an easy version from Maxime McKendry’s fine book “Seven Hundred Years of English Cooking.”  This version has more in common with 14-15 Century manchet than Lady Arundel’s.

1/2 ounce (1 package) Yeast

1/2 pint (1 cup) warm water

10 ounces (2-2 1/2 cups) White Whole Wheat flour

5 ounces (1 cup) All-Purpose (Plain) flour

1 Teaspoon Salt

2 ounces (4 tbs) softened butter

Dissolve yeast in half the warm water.  Let it proof.  Put all the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well.  Add the butter and all the water to the well and mix.  Add more flour if needed.  Knead until dough is smooth and elastic and then place in an oiled bowl.  Cover and put in a warm area and let rise for one to two and a half hours.  Punch it down and shape it into one or two loaves.  Place on a greased baking sheet, cover, and let rise again.  The loaves can then be brushed with egg wash and slashed.  Bake at 375F or 190C or Mark 5 for 35-40 minutes.

It makes a nice bread for sandwiches to put before a king.

(1)  The Encyclopaedia of Kitchen History, pages 68-69


The Encyclopaedia of Kitchen History, Mary Ellen Snodgrass

English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Elizabeth David

The Great Household in Late Medieval England, C.M. Woolgar

Seven Hundred Years of English Cooking, Maxime McKendry

Nigella Kitchen, Nigella Lawson

 The Prioress, her dog and her manchet

The book Kendall could write today (1) – Elizabeth of York

Paul Murray Kendall (1911-73) was a Professor of English, famous for writing three landmark historical biographies. Apart from “Warwick the Kingmaker” and “Louis XI”, his “Richard III” was published in 1955. Scientific and historical records are always developing and thus Kendall had the advantage of knowing things that Markham could not, just as Markham knew more than Halstead, Halstead more than Walpole, Walpole more than Buck and Buck more than Stow.
In nearly sixty years since Kendall’s first great tome arrived, things are even more clear. Were he writing towards a 2015 deadline instead, there are things he would know now.

Thanks to Barrie Williams in two issues of the 1983 Ricardian (, the Portuguese records have proven Richard’s plans,  being negotiated by proxy just two weeks after his Queen’s death, to marry Juana of Portugal, whilst her cousin Manuel of Beja was to become the husband of Elizabeth of York – a plan only scotched by the French invasion. Kendall (pp.393-5), faced with the ridiculous myth that Richard wished to marry his own niece, had no evidence save his own logic – that the case he was combating, written by “Tudor”‘s paid liars, had no evidence shows the degree to which the Cairo dwellers themselves to have inverted the burden of proof. We can be quite sure that copies of these documents were available in Richard’s own records during spring and summer 1485, before the Human Shredder could lay his hands on them.

Not least among the Cairo dwellers on this point is Hicks, whose biographies of, inter alia, Richard (2000) and Anne (2006) repeat the discredited myth despite post-dating Williams by two decades, freely using terms like “incest” and “paedophilia” although contrary evidence is once again available.

The publication years of Hicks’ opi – almost all after 1983:


Much angst and verbiage has been vented and spilt lately on the subject of exhumation of bodies, particularly those of royal lineage. I don’t claim to be an archeologist, or an expert in the ethics of exhumation, but I stand in puzzled wonderment at the continued resistance to any proposed opening of the infamous urns at Westminster Abbey. Those urns purport to hold the skeletons of the “Princes in the Tower” – Edward V and his brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. Well, they do more than just purport – they are actually designated as such in the Minster. I wonder how many tourists actually believe they are laying eyes on those tender golden-haired boys they had seen smothered with a pillow in Laurence Olivier’s movie masterpiece “Richard III”.

By odd coincidence, as I was making my Internet meanderings lately, I came across a blog that brought light to an earlier exhumation of a Yorkist prince: Edmund of Langley, first Duke of York. It turns out that he was exhumed not once, but twice! First, in 1574 and then again, in 1877, at Kings Langley in Hertfordshire.

Kings Langley, of course, was the original resting place of Richard II following his (ahem) “premature death by nutritional deficits” at Pontefract Castle in 1400. Perhaps in a fit of remorse or true piety, Henry V had the remains exhumed and translated to Westminster Abbey. Henry V did not think to accord the same honor to his great-uncle, Edmund of Langley, whose body was laid to rest at Kings Langley in 1402, next to that of his first wife. Of course, one would not expect the scion of the House of Lancaster to elevate the remains of a prince of a rival house, notwithstanding that Edmund was of the blood royal and his ancestor. Westminster Abbey was for anointed kings and queens, and Edmund didn’t make the cut.

What happened next is, however, of some interest. Originally interred in the Church of the Dominican Friary at Kings Langley, the remains of the Duke and his wife were moved around the year 1574. It appears that Elizabeth I had revoked several financial grants that had been given to the friary by Queen Mary I and King Edward VI, and it fell on hard times and ruin as a result; perhaps it was dissolved. So, the Duke’s tomb was opened up and its contents re-interred at All Saint’s.

Langley’s remains, however, were destined for a second exhumation necessitated by some building improvements being done to All Saint’s in the 1870s. Victorian scientists of the day found this to be an opportune time to bring modern medical science to bear. On November 22, 1877, Professor George Rolleston, M.D., opened up the tomb and made the following observations, including the discovery of a third skeleton:

“I examined three skeletons at King’s Langley. Of these one was the skeleton of a powerful man, considerably past the middle period of life; a second was the skeleton of a woman, as far as I could judge, between thirty-five and forty years of age; the third had belonged to a younger woman, whose age, however, could not have been very far from thirty. The bones of the first two had got somewhat intermingled; those of the third had been kept safely apart from intermixture in a leaden coffin.

“The skull belonging to the male skeleton had a sloping forehead. The chin and lower jaw were powerfully developed. The front teeth were small in size and crammed together, and many of the back teeth lost. Still the retention of the front teeth and the good development of the lower jaw and chin, coupled with the length and breadth of the facial region, must have given a commanding expression to the old man who owned this skull.

“The age was somewhere between fifty-eight and sixty-five. The crippled condition of his later years must have formed a touching contrast to the strength and vigor which he certainly possessed. In the lower jaw, three molars had been lost during life, two on one side and one on the other, and one pre-molar was carious. In the upper jaw the molars had been lost during life, and two pre-molars were carious. A piece of coarse textile fabric, with some hair of a greyish-red color adhering to it, was found with the skull. He was from 5′ 5″ to 5′ 7” in height.

“The second skeleton, which was more or less mixed up with the first, belonged to a woman from 4 feet 6 inches to 4 feet 8 inches in stature, and between thirty-five and forty-five years of age. The wisdom teeth were all present; of those in the upper jaw, the one on the right side was apparently only just through the socket; whilst that on the other (left) side had a large cavity. The two lower jaw wisdom teeth were little worn. The right lower jaw canine presented the rare anomaly of a bifid root.

“In a leaden coffin was the skeleton of a woman about thirty years of age, a little over, probably, rather than under that age, with some auburn hair still remaining, though detached from the skull. The wisdom tooth was absent in the lower jaw on the left, and one pre-molar was absent on the right side. She was between 5 foot 3 and 5 foot 5 in height.”

Concerning the identity of these bones, archeologist Sir John Evans said that the powerful male is most certainly the Duke Edmund; the female intermixed with his bones is probably that of his first wife, Isabel of Castile-Leon. And who is the young woman who was buried in the Duke and Duchess’ tomb, alone in the leaden coffin? “In the tomb at Langley it is still uncertain who was the lady whose body was thus protected.”

“It has struck me as possible that these remains may be those of Anne Mortimer, daughter of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, first wife of Richard of Coningsburgh. This is, however, mere conjecture.” — John Evans (1881). XIV, Edmund of Langley and his Tomb, Archaeologia, 46, pp. 297-328. Contemporary historians and genealogists agree with Evans’ view that the skeleton in the leaden coffin is Anne Mortimer’s. She was the heir general in her issue of the Crown of England, and transmitted the right to the Crown to her grandson, Edward IV.

I keep thinking: what if Dr. Rolleston had not been given permission to examine the bodies in Edmund’s tomb in 1877? Would the body of Anne Mortimer have been found? Indeed, would the third skeleton have ever been noted? How do we resolve the conflicting search for historical truth versus the need to accord respect to human remains? I do not have the answers, but somewhere in my gut, I feel the search for truth must win out.


Doubts about Edward IV’s marriage – in the age of Henry VIII!

While browsing Royal Blood by Bertram Fields I noticed the following remarkable passage, (pages 116-117):

“…during the reign of Henry VIII, Charles V’s ambassador to England reported that people ‘say’ that Charles had a better claim to the English throne than did Henry VIII, since Henry could only claim through his mother and she ‘was declared by sentence of the Bishop of Bath [Stillington] a bastard, because Edward had espoused another wife before he married the mother of Elizabeth of York.”

This demonstrates that despite the suppression of Titulus Regius at least some people of England were still aware of the true basis of Richard III’s claim. Moreover, far from thinking it spurious, they were sufficiently impressed by its truth to pass the story to the Spanish Ambassador, despite the obvious risks associated with doing so. I think we can also assume that the informants were persons of some weight – not mere gossips in the London street – or the ambassador would scarcely have wasted his master’s time with such a report.

Royal Blood is an interesting and useful book, although not without its occasional faults of misunderstanding. I recently read a criticism of it that stated that the author spent too much time ‘attacking’ Alison Weir. In a sense, this is actually praise of Weir, as it demonstrates how influential her book has been in forming opinion, in that points made in it need to be addressed by those who take a contrary view. However, it is scarcely an ‘attack’ to rebut errors, as Royal Blood does on several occasions. It is indeed the very nature of historical debate.

“Perkin” again ….

In writing this, I have to own up that my copy of the book is signed by Ann Wroe in person. Our discussion confirmed that she retains an open mind on the youth’s identity, uncommon as that may be in writers on the period, but there are three possibilities:

1) He was the middle son of Edward IV, formerly the Duke of York in suo jure and Norfolk in jure uxoris.
2) He was a conscious impostor.
3) He was a fantasist – a random youth who believed himself to be the ex-Prince.

Now we all have to be careful about jumping to conclusions here. All suggestions of a “confession” or letters to “relatives” that can surely only be viewed through the prism of “Tudor” propaganda, especially as such could be composed without contradiction after his execution. Look at Tyrrell’s “confession”, which post-dates not merely his own death but that of Henry VII – thanks to Susan Leas (“As the King gave out”).

So what of the youth’s legal status in each case?
1) Henry’s repeal of Richard’s Titulus Regius would have made the ex-Prince legitimate, notwithstanding his father’s bigamy. His long campaign was surely to be King in his own right, implying that the former Edward V was either dead or uninterested and Richard of Shrewsbury would be the rightful King, to whom Henry should surrender.
2) The youth, whether literally a boatman’s son from Tournai, was almost certainly a foreign citizen and therefore owed Henry no fealty. There was some debate about this at William Joyce’s trial in that he claimed to be a British subject, so it mattered not that he wasn’t. However, the personage that the youth impersonated was not a subject.
3) The youth was a commoner who thought himself to be Richard of Shrewsbury and may well have been insane. “Tudor” “justice” had little interest in this – we see Edward of Warwick executed in the same week, Elizabeth Barton (1534) and Viscountess Rochford (1542), all of whom were deluded to some degree – and insanity was evidently not viewed as a defence.

Richard III at Bosworth (1): Dressed for Battle

Amid the wide-ranging (and often wildly raging) debates that have taken place since the unearthing of his remains in Leicester in September 2012, I have seen it suggested that Richard III may have been unable to wear armour on account of his severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine).

I find this unlikely for several reasons. Firstly, to draw a comparison with a modern Wars of the Roses re-enactor: a member of our group also has scoliosis, (albeit a much milder form than Richard’s) – yet far from finding the wearing of armour a problem, he says that it helps by acting like a rigid corset to support his torso. So, bearing in mind that medieval armour would have been made from thinner, higher-quality steel plate than the average modern replica suit (and therefore considerably lighter), it’s possible that Richard III found his armour perfectly comfortable – something that helped rather than hindered his condition.

Secondly, we have the historical record. There are several illustrations of Richard III in full armour: on the Rous Roll; in the Writhes Garter Book, (an image of the King with Queen Anne at their coronation); and on the royal seal. Mere artistic convention? I doubt it – because thirdly and most compellingly, we have the evidence of his skeleton.

Had Richard III ridden into battle at Bosworth only partially armoured, the areas of his body with the least protection would have been obvious targets for his enemies in the final melee. In such a case, it is highly probable that, like the skeletons recovered from Towton battlefield, his trunk and limbs would show clear signs of sharp-edge or blunt-force trauma. But no such wounds have been found (apart from cuts to the pelvis inflicted post-mortem when his stripped body was slung over the back of a horse). On the contrary, all the major wounds, including the death blows, were inflicted on his head – consistent with his body being fully armoured, although he clearly lost his helmet in the final stages of the battle.

I’ll discuss this more fully in Richard III at Bosworth (2): The Final Moments, which will be posted in August to commemorate the battle. In the meantime, if your thoughts are turning to the young Duke of Gloucester riding out to help Edward IV recover his crown at Barnet and Tewkesbury in 1471, or to defend his own crown in 1485, it’s safe to say that you can imagine him as the proverbial knight in shining armour!

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