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Just what or who is in that urn in Westminster Abbey….?

This may be something everyone else knows but I didn’t. So I’ll post it, in case others might wonder as I do. Who or what is in the urn in Westminster Abbey, which supposedly contains the bones of the two boys known as the ‘Princes in the Tower’?

I have acquired a book called The Archaeology of the Medieval English Monarchy, by John Steane, in which there is a fairly detailed passage about the urn and the ‘princes’, etc. This is only a small extract:-

“There is no proof that the bones placed in the marble urn in 1678 were identical with those dug out in 1674. Some of the bones, in any case, were given away. There is no mention at the time of any bones of animals or birds and yet when the urn was opened in 1933, a large variety, including fish, duck, chicken, rabbit, sheep, pig and ox were found. Wright (of Tanner & Wright, 1935, 1-26) came to the conclusion that a number of the original bones, including those appropriated by Ashmole, were given away or sold as relics. When these bones were called for to be interred in the Abbey, the persons in whose charge they were, hurriedly collected any bones they could lay their hands on.”

So who is to say any of the remaining human bones are the original ones? Are there even any human bones? To my mind, this makes it even less likely that anything can be proved or concluded if the urn is opened and the bones get the ‘Richard III’ treatment in some university lab. And as an afterthought . . . were all the animal bones returned to the urn . . . .? What, exactly, is inside it now?

To be honest, the chances of it being the remains of the illegitimate sons of Edward IV are pretty slender. The bones were discovered ten feet under a stone staircase in 1674, which makes it far more likely they predated the Tower itself. More likely they are Roman remains, with 17th century animal bones chucked in for ballast when the Wren urn was ‘filled’ in 1678. Or, of course, it has been suggested the animal bones are evidence of Roman ritual practices. Could be. Who knows? Without getting inside that pesky urn, we will never find out.

Princes-Westminster-Urn

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5 thoughts on “Just what or who is in that urn in Westminster Abbey….?

  1. kbinldo on said:

    I’ll just leave this here. 🙂 Let’s keep dogpiling on this myth. Maybe we’ll finally hit critical mass & turn the tide on it. http://sunnesandroses.blogspot.com/2014/05/busting-up-myth.html

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  2. Totally pointless discussion. Examining the bones will prove nothing. If they are from the princes then it’ll be impossible to prove that Richard killed them or did not kill them. If they turn out not to be the princes then Westminster Abbey have a big problem about what to do with them. Therefore they should be left where they are and those crying out for their examination should be told where to go.

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  3. On the contrary, if the remains aren’t the ex-Princes then we can look for them elsewhere – Gipping, the Low Countries, near Tyburn or Eastwell. These locations would tally with them having died after Richard did, fifty years later in one case, so that those who claimed to have been one or other ex-Prince could well have been truthful. The whole More legend can then be laid to rest, even though he contradicted anyway.
    If they are then proper, unprejudicial, modern scientists could determine their most probable year of death. After all, Tanner and Wright’s conclusion is opposed by so many scientists who would like to access the bones.

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  4. If proved not to be the princes, surely a decent quiet burial in a nearby churchyard could be arranged, and the urn itself popped into the British Museum as a curiosity. But I would sooner wait until forensic science has been further developed – until we can determine if these bones are female, for instance, and the date of their deaths be more exactly discovered. After all, it is highly unlikely – given their history on their original discovery – that any DNA can be found there.

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  5. Janey Mack on said:

    If there are teeth (and I don’t remember for sure, but seem to recall mention of some), then there is a possibility of getting DNA from them. A lot of DNA degrades over time, but apparently sometimes in teeth it is pretty well protected. So it’s possible. And even without DNA, at least carbon dating could be done. Getting to an exact time of death is really not currently feasible, as I recall, but it would certainly be possible to determine if they are, say, Roman, as opposed to 15th century. Every little bit of evidence that can be found is a piece of the puzzle, and never pointless.

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