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“Bone Detectives” come to Ipswich …

and other venues, with Tori Herridge and Raksha Dave.

This Channel Four series, which consists of five episodes, begins at Stoke Quay on the town’s Waterfront where a long-forgotten (St. Augustine’s) burial ground was fully explored before some new buildings were constructed. Three bodies in particular were examined:
1) A wealthy man buried in the nave between about 1250 and 1400. Provisionally identified as John de Holtby, he evidently suffered from the painful, but not deadly, Paget’s disease and suffered some spinal cuts. These could not have resulted from surgery or torture because of their post-mortem nature so he must have suffered dissection, in an era that the Church forbade such a practice.
2) A boy or youth, born abroad, who died between 880 and 1040, in the late Anglo-Saxon era.
3) A young African-born woman, who travelled via Denmark or Germany. She is likely to have suffered from tuberculosis and kyphosis, as the late Mark Ormrod revealed.

The other episodes revealed “Ava”, a mysterious young woman who was buried in Caithness, now adjacent to the A9, and Norton Priory, a monastery near an industrial estate in Runcorn. The museum on this site holds hundreds of skeletons, including:
1) A well-preserved male, who died aged 50-60 in 1150-1250. He died by a vertical sword wound whilst not wearing armour, which was evidently not an execution, to be buried near the nave. He, another Paget’s disease sufferer with thicker bones and some hearing loss, is likely to be a knight and a member of the Dutton family, who were in the Earl of Chester’s retinue and were major benefactors to Norton. Sir Geoffrey Dutton, with John de Lacy and Ranulph Earl of Chester, went on the Fifth Crusade, principally to Egypt, in 1220. Documents from seven years later show that he returned, donating land from great Budworth to the Priory, as well as a fragment of the “True Cross”.
2) Yet another wealthy Paget’s sufferer from that era, buried in the east part, who is possibly Canon William Dutton.
3) Another layman who died in the following century, in his forties. He had a fractured clavicle and a rotator cuff injury that may have resulted from jousting. This took place at nearby sites such as Beeston Castle.

The fourth episode moved on to Amesbury Down, where a housing estate was built in 2013. As a result, some 250 graves were examined, finding 291 bodies, including:
1) A socially prominent man, found with coins from c.375 AD as the Roman era ended. He had been decapitated and stabbed after his death, but why? This was not a “Valley of the Kings” style grave burial as his grave goods were still present. A Bronze Age ditch divided the settlement from the cemetery. A visit to the Temple of Minerva explained that the raid was possibly carried out to prevent the deceased from causing harm to living people.
2) A woman and child in a stone sarcophagus. Their shoes and some fabric remained but the style of burial caused their bones to decay more than others. The remains do show her to have been gracile and to have died at  a similar time to the man.
Unlike Ipswich and Runcorn, there are no suggestions of their identities.

The series concluded in Bristol, in the grounds of St. George’s Concert Hall, formerly a church, where 300 bodies were buried, mostly between 1820 and 1870. These included:
1) A boy of about nine months, from an era of high infant mortality. Identified as Edmund Chambers Moutrie (1833), the youngest of eight siblings from an affluent family, was found in a family vault and dissected, as were about a dozen other of the cases.
2) A man of at least fifty who had a hard physical life as shown by his broken bones and joint disease. His autopsy was carried out crudely, probably at the teaching hospital Bristol Royal Infirmary, visible from the churchyard.
3) A man of about forty, who was a pipe-smoker and had a leg amputated but replaced in his coffin.
BRI’s lead surgeon was one Richard Smith, who was involved in the body-snatching craze of the early nineteenth century, until executed criminals were made available for the purpose.

Richard’s silver boar only makes it to Number Two ðŸ¤¨….!


Richard’s silver boar badge makes it to number two on this list, second only to a golden aestel of a horse’s head, which is believed to be part of a pointer for reading books.

The boar should be first, of course. No question. But I don’t think we need to be told it’s a male. That fact is rather obvious. 🙂

To see all five on the list, go to the Leicester Mercury

Traces of the Romans found during extensive work under York’s Guildhall….


A £15.5 million construction project is in progress, to restore York’s Guildhall, which has stood on the banks of the River Ouse for centuries. Certainly it was known by Richard III, who visited the building during his reign. And who lived in Yorkshire for many years as the Duke of Gloucester, of course.

Archaeologists have discovered ancient remains that go back to the Roman period. To read more, go to their article, where you will also find an informative video.

Richard III and Harold II

We all know that Richard is directly descended from William the Conqueror, who is his eleven times great grandfather. Here is Richard’s pedigree to William in three parts – follow the yellow dots left to right. (N.B. the first few generations have the yellow combined with red and blue which lead to other ancestors).

But did you know that he is also directly descended from William’s enemy, Harold Godwinson, also Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England and Richard’s twelve times great grandfather? This time follow the blue dots.

So, who did he have more in common with?  Looking into this, I found that there are many similarities between Richard and Harold.

Battles and Death

Obviously, both died in battle, valiantly defending their country. In fact, Richard was the last English king to die in battle and the first (and only other) was Harold himself. Richard was the last Plantagenet king and Harold the last Anglo Saxon one.

Both could be impatient and impetuous. Richard charged Henry Tudor to try to end the battle and refused to take a horse and leave the battle. Harold joined battle with William quite hastily. He might have succeeded if he had waited a little while. Also, both men did not attempt to wait for contingents of their armies who were late arriving; Richard’s York men did not reach the battlefield until the battle was over and Harold’s brothers-in-law, the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria had not yet arrived when the battle of Hastings began.

Battle of Bosworth, 1485

Both were hacked to death fighting their enemies, Henry “Tudor” and William of Normandy respectively. Both of these enemies were of bastard stock and both invaded from France. Neither of them had any legal right to the throne of England. And both Henry Tudor and William of Normandy had attempted a previous invasion, only to have been thwarted at that time. The battles of 1066 and 1485 were both pivotal in English history and, arguably, in both cases, England would have been much better off had the defending king prevailed.

Battle of Hastings, 1066


Richard was the youngest son of the Duke of York, with no expectation of becoming king. Many of us believe he took the throne out of duty, not ambition. One of the reasons may have been the fact that Edward V was just a boy of thirteen and no-one wanted a king who was a minor.

Harold, too, was a younger, if not the youngest, son of his family. He never expected to be king either – when he was young, Edward (the Confessor) was on the throne and was expected to have heirs.

Edward the Confessor

As it happens he did not, but there was another claimant, Edgar Ætheling (sometimes known as Edward Ætheling), Edward’s nephew, who was, at the time of the Confessor’s death, aged about thirteen. Sound familiar? The Witenagemot (English assembly of nobleman and clergy, etc) decided that Harold was the better prospect as king to defend the country, since it was known that William of Normandy was also planning to claim the crown. So, both Richard and Harold were elected king, after an Edward had died and by putting aside thirteen-year-old claimants, possibly both also called Edward.


Both Richard and Harold had troublesome brothers. Richard had his older brother, George, with whom he had to debate to claim a share of the Neville sisters’ inheritance and whom Edward IV ended up executing for treason.

Harold had Tostig, a younger brother, who rebelled against both Edward the Confessor and Harold himself and ended up siding with Harald Hardråda, a Norwegian claimant to the throne, thus also committing treason. Harold had to take his army up to York to oppose them and won, taking the Norwegians and Tostig by surprise. Tostig was killed in the battle of Stamford Bridge, but this battle was probably one reason for Harold losing at Hastings a few day later. It seems both George and Tostig were ‘problem’ middle children.


Richard had to twice go into exile with members of his family; with George when he was eight and with Edward when he was eighteen.

Harold accompanied his father, Earl Godwin, into exile in 1051, and helped him to regain his position a year later.


In 1483, Richard, as Duke of Gloucester, was the most powerful noble in the country and the senior adult male heir. He also held many titles such as Constable of England, Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine, Chief Justice of North Wales, Great Chamberlain of England, Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster and Lord Protector.

Richard III

Likewise Harold was, by 1066, the most powerful man in the country after the king. As well as being Earl of East Anglia from a young age, he became Earl of Wessex after the death of his father in 1053 and later Earl of Hereford. In addition, his sister (another Edith!) was Edward the Confessor’s queen.

Harold Godwinson


Richard is known to have suffered with scoliosis, which would have been the source of great challenges for him. Perhaps partly because of this, he was very pious and is known to have founded and built many religious houses and chapels.

Harold was also known to have had an illness of some kind which must have been quite serious, resulting in a form of paralysis. He was apparently cured and founded an Abbey at Waltham, in thanks for his life.


Richard married Anne Neville and thus helped to secure the North for his brother, Edward IV, since the Nevilles were well-respected there.

Harold had been married more Danico ‘in the Danish fashion’ (i.e. not in a way recognised by Christianity) to Edith Swannesha for many years and had at least six children by her. This may have partly been to gain influence in his new Earldom, when he became Earl of East Anglia, as she had land in the area. He later married another Edith, sister of Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, probably in order to ensure their loyalty to him and secure the North, so all these marriages were probably at least partly politically motivated.

In addition, when Richard married Anne she was the widow of Edward of Lancaster, who opposed Richard and the Yorkists at Tewkesbury.

Edith, Harold’s second wife had also been previously married to his opponent, the Welsh king, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.


Both Richard and Harold had previous good reputations. Harold was described by chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, as being:

‘distinguished by his great size and strength of body, his polished manners, his firmness of mind and command of words, by a ready wit and a variety of excellent qualities’.

Richard was of course of no great size but Archibald Whitelaw described him thus:

‘Never has so much spirit or greater virtue reigned in such a small body.’


They were also both proven warriors. Richard had been involved in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury with his brother, Edward, and had also been successful in repelling the Scots and retaking Berwick.

Harold had quelled the Welsh in a series of effective campaigns against Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, and was later victorious at Stamford Bridge.

Battle of Stamford Bridge


Richard was crowned on 6th July 1483. Harold was also crowned on 6th, but of January, in 1066, both in Westminster Abbey. It is thought that Harold was the first to be crowned there. Both of them were criticised for being crowned with unseemly haste, although both had good reason, since in both cases the nobles, clerics and others who needed to be present were already there. In Richard’s case, they had assembled for the coronation of Edward V and in, Harold’s, for the funeral of Edward the Confessor.

Harold’s Coronation


Both men had mysteries surrounding their burials. Richard’s we know about – it had been thought by some that his bones had been dug up and thrown into the River Soar, but they were located successfully in 2012.

After the Battle of Hastings, Harold’s mutilated body was identified by his first wife, Edith Swannesha, through marks known only to her, but his final resting place is unknown.

Edith Swannesha identifies Harold’s body

The traditionally accepted location is Waltham Abbey, but this is disputed. Another candidate is Bosham, because of Harold’s strong association with it as his birthplace, and the discovery in 1954 of an Anglo-Saxon coffin in the church there. Also, it is near the sea and William was said to have wanted him buried near the Channel for his impudence in opposing him.

Left: Harold’s supposed burial at Waltham and right: Church at Bosham

A third, more recent, suggestion is St Michael’s Church, in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. This theory stems from the fact that the ‘remains’ believed to be Harold’s that were found at Waltham Abbey could not have been human bones as they had turned into dust. It is possible that he could have had a ‘heart burial’ there – common for high status individuals – where their heart was buried at a separate location to the rest of their body.

Harold’s first wife is known to have lived in Bishop’s Stortford and the team behind this theory found four surviving, intact Norman stone coffins in a vault under the church, which have not been examined in modern times. The coffins seem too unusual to be for commoners.


After their deaths, both kings had family members who tried to wrest the crown back from the two usurpers, Henry and William. In Richard’s case, these were ‘Lambert Simnel’ and Perkin Warbeck’, probably actually his nephews, Edward and Richard.

Two of Harold’s sons, Godwine and Edmund, invaded England in 1068 and 1069 with the aid of Diarmait mac Máel na mBó (High King of Ireland). We know that Ireland also supported the Lambert Simnel attempt. However, all of these bids for power sadly failed.


I recently read the following as a description of a Facebook page in support of king Harold:

Redressing the balance of Norman propaganda against King Harold Godwinson and the Anglo-Saxons, and the blinkered hagiographies for Duke William…

You could substitute Tudor for Norman, Richard III for Harold Godwinson, Yorkists for Anglo-Saxons and The Tudors for Duke William and there we have our own aims. It’s so true that history is written by the victors.

A King under a Post Office?

Edward Balliol was crowned King of Scotland at Scone Palace, today in 1332. He, alongside Edward III, had won the Battle of Dupplin Moor and was able to supplant the eight year-old David II, although he was removed shortly later. He was also at the Battles of Halidon Hill and Neville’s Cross – the first saw him briefly restored and the second saw David II imprisoned but there was no second restoration and Balliol retired to Yorkshire, where he died twenty-one years later.

This article, dating from just nine days after Richard III’s remains were officially identified, speculates on where Balliol, son of a Scots king like his rival, is likely to be buried in or around Doncaster. Just as first a school, then a car park, was built over Richard’s tomb and a car park over that of John Knox, does a post office at Priory Park lay over Balliol? If so, he is barely a mile from Lister Avenue, Balby, made famous by someone else (right).

The alternative venues include Conisbrough Castle, the birthplace of Richard’s paternal grandfather, Doncaster Minster and yet another car park that was once … a Greyfriars!


The jeweller who made Richard’s funeral crown….

This article is about George Easton, the jeweller who created Richard III’s crown (see above) for the funeral and reinterment at Leicester. And he did so with the assistance of John Ashdown-Hill, although John’s name isn’t mentioned.

George’s business is called Danegeld: “….A land tax in Anglo-Saxon England might not sound the most glamorous starting point for a brand, but it’s where George Easton found the name for his intriguing label Danegeld….”

From a studio in the summerhouse in his garden, he has produced (among many other things) Viking armbands, Art Deco brooches and jewels for films such as The Hobbit, Beowulf and The Crown. His work is brilliant and much sought after.

One of his particularly important and famous projects was Richard III’s gold-plated funeral crown which was “….enamelled with white roses, and had rubies and sapphires to represent the livery colours of the House of York…”

What a pity John Ashdown-Hill doesn’t get the mention he so fully deserves.

Barley Hall, the Alderman’s House

There is a Building in York where you can go back in time to 1483. It is situated in the City centre, no 2, Coffee Yard. You may access it from there, or from a small alley in Stonegate.  This Building is now known as Barley Hall.
The story of this mansion is fascinating, and it dates back to 1360, when it was built as the hospice, of Priory Nostell House. This Priory had seen better times, as in the second half of the 15th century, it suffered some financial difficulties, so it was decided to rent it.
The price was quite high, 53 shillings and four pence, the equivalent of £2000 today. (that is, three months wages of a skilled tradesman)  At that time only very wealthy people could afford rent such as this.
In 1464, the house was rented to one William Snawsell, an Alderman of York, who was a goldsmith, master of the Mint, also a sheriff and even the Mayor in 1468. He became the most famous tenant of Barley Hall, henceforth, the building was known as the Alderman’s House.
The property had been refurbished around 1430 when it is thought, that the Great Hall was enlarged, as, there is evidence that builders cut through into the adjacent range of the building, to create the arched canopy above the high table. In this hall all the occupants had their meals with the family sitting at the high table, slightly above the rest of the people in there, as an indication of their higher status.
It seems that in 1480 the house consisted of eleven rooms, with eighteen members of the household including servants. There is no evidence that the house was refurbished during the time that Snawsell rented it. He left the house in 1492, due to poor health and retired to Bilton.
Since then the Alderman’s House was altered greatly. After his departure, the house was leased out again, this time, to a William Carter, a York wine merchant. It was split into separate smaller dwellings, and the biggest surviving part is the great hall, and the 14th century wing.
As the centuries passed, the building changed shape, colour and also materials, so that at some point its medieval features were difficult to be seen. During the Dissolution of the monasteries it was confiscated by the crown, and in the following centuries, it was subdivided into many smaller properties, and also extended.
The darkest period for Barley Hall was in the Victorian Age, when the building was used as a plumber’s workshop. But the house still had to wait for another century, behind a wall, before being rediscovered and refurbished.
In 1984, the building was under threat of demolition and also that year it was nearly turned into flats. Luckily, at the last minute, its fate changed. The Trust acquired it in 1987, when it was realised that it had Medieval origins. The refurbishment lasted 6 years before Barley Hall became what it is today.
All the timbers were dismantled, examined and reconstructed close to its original status, using the same tools and materials  from the Medieval period. It was even possible to date the construction from the age of the trees used for the timber frame. Upon analysing the trees’ rings it was asserted, that they were felled in May of 1360, and in 1361 it was discovered that another house was built close to Barley Hall, so it was definitely built around then.
In early Nineties, the York Archelogical Trust excavated the site, trying to understand how the house would have looked in 1483. The structure was meticulously rebuilt, and the interior furnished with objects based on actual fourteenth century designs. Barley Hall is today a pristine L-shaped half-timbered house with a cobbled yard and it is organised in three wings, one of which contain the Great Hall, a masterpiece with an exposed section of the original medieval floor, with brick tiles arranged to form a geometric pattern.
In the Hall, you can admire a massive tapestry, that covers the wall or most of it. It consists of red and green vertical stripes with the white rose of York intersected within the green stripes. This is the result of  long and patient work by people who painstakingly weaved the tapestry, using the original medieval method.
Other chambers, include a Pantry where a pantler worked, having responsibility for food, and a Buttery occupied by a butler responsible for beverages. The Parlour was used by Snawsell for his business meetings. In this room you can admire a chest that is a replica of one left to Snawsell by his aunt.
It was possible to access the kitchen, from the Great Hall, and some smaller rooms could have been used by servants as their bedrooms.
People who contributed to the rebirth of Barley Hall did an incredible job. This is a unique Building, and it is not exaggerating to say that nothing else like this exists in York, and very few in the whole country. Barley Hall was named after the Trust’s founding chairman the late, Professor Maurice Barley, and opened to the public for the first time in 1993. In 2010, it celebrated its 650th anniversary, with a number of workshops and events, with people wearing medieval clothing.

An Irishman abroad but not for much longer?

Modern sculpture of Red Hugh overlooking Curlew Pass

“Red” Hugh O’Donnell (1572-1602) was an Irish chieftain who fought a series of battles against English armies between 1595 and the beginning of 1602 (during the Nine Years’ War which actually ran from 1593 to 1603), one of his less successful opponents being the Earl of Essex. O’Donnell ruled Tir Chonaill in the extreme north-west of Ireland – the modern County Donegal (and, intermittently, also County Sligo). He and Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, were victorious at the 1598 battle of the Yellow Ford, and Red Hugh afterwards won a great victory of his own at Curlew Pass (1599).

Soon after this, however, the tide turned against the Irish confederates, and when reinforcements finally arrived from Spain, they landed at the wrong end of the country. After a decisive defeat at Kinsale on the south coast, Red Hugh sailed to Spain to make a personal plea to the young Philip III for a full Spanish fleet and army to take back with him to turn the tide of their fortunes. King Philip, initially enthusiastic, remained undecided about exactly what help to provide, so in August Red Hugh left the port of La Coruña for another audience with him at the castle of Simancas, twelve miles from Valladolid. However, he arrived gravely ill (possibly poisoned by a Tudor agent), and died at Simancas, having asked in his will to be buried ‘in the church of the monastery of the lord Saint Francis in Valladolid’ (the monastery where Christopher Columbus was also originally buried). He was laid to rest by King Philip with great pomp. Hugh O’Neill and O’Donnell’s brother Rory also sailed to Spain in 1607, bringing an end to Gaelic resistance in Ireland.

Human remains have now been discovered at the site of the monastery and comparisons with Richard III are already being made. The promising-looking large skeleton unfortunately still has the two toes that Red Hugh lost to frostbite, but fourteen other skeletons have also been unearthed in the Chapel of Marvels, any of which might be Red Hugh’s as they are all missing their feet.

It will be interesting to observe whether Red Hugh can be identified and returned to Donegal.



Whoops! Wrong O’Donnell red-head (my grandmother, Maeve)

In case anyone is wondering, the ‘Red’ part of Red Hugh’s name refers to his hair colour.

Being half Donegal and part O’Donnell myself, I find the story of the search for Red Hugh every bit as exciting as the dig for Richard III, and there are certain parallels between their two stories. Those who find such parallels interesting can read on; others may wish to stop here.

Both men had October birthdays and died at roughly similar ages leaving no legitimate offspring. Both acquired skeletal idiosyncrasies in their teens. Both participated in two major battle victories. Both might accurately be described as lords of the North. They both came to power through the declared illegitimacy of senior family members (in Red Hugh’s case, his elder half-brothers). They both fought the Tudors and lost (btw, Hugh’s adversary at Curlew Pass was a Clifford, and his centre wing at Kinsale was commanded by a Tyrell).

I’ll leave you with an air supposed to have originated as the younger Red Hugh’s love song to his O’Neill bride: . (I also used to play it on the tin whistle, but not nearly so well.)

P.P.S. Any readers interested in Red Hugh’s 15th century ancestors, with special emphasis on the Wars of the Roses, should click here.


Darren McGettigan, Red Hugh O’Donnell and the Nine Years’ War, Dublin, 2005

‘The Last Will of Red Hugh O’Donnell’, Ó Domhnaill Abú (O’Donnell Clan Newsletter), No. 16, Summer 1991

London’s first playhouse rediscovered….?

Picture from the link below

Well, it just goes to show that although the past may now be buried far underground, now and then it still comes to light to thrill us all. Now it seems they’ve discovered the site of the Red Lion, “the earliest known attempt to build a playhouse in the Tudor era, a precursor to the famed Globe Theatre”.

“….Around 1567, a man named John Brayne built an Elizabethan playhouse called the Red Lion just outside the city of London to accommodate the growing number of traveling theatrical troupes. Its exact location has proven elusive to archaeologists—there were many streets and pubs named the Red Lion (or Lyon) over the ensuing centuries—but a team from University College London (UCL) believes it has found the original site at an excavation in Whitechapel….”

Now read on …

Richard III owned religious books, but slept around….?

Richard III – Saint and Wicked by Cecilia Latella

Yes, we’ve all seen the above illustration before, but for my purposes today it’s ideal. Was Richard a saint? Or a sinner?

I’ve happened upon a very interesting paper about Richard, by Carole Cusack, in which she discusses his reputation and why he still has the power to influence us today. Just what is it about this particular man that stirs so many of us to clamour in his support? I don’t know, but if they could bottle it, etc. etc…..

The 2010 paper, presented to the Society in Australia shortly before Richard was found, is generally worth reading, although at least one of the subheadings is worthy of a challenge: “….Dominic Mancini’s De Occupatione Regni Anglie per Riccardum Tertium (The Usurpation of the Realm of England by Richard III).….” Does occupatione really mean usurpation, when “usurpatione” could have been used? It seems to be that it’s more subtle than that. 

Toward the end, in generally summing up Richard, the author states:

“….Even if one believes him innocent of the deaths of the princes, he was capable of great ruthlessness and was an effective military commander. He owned religious books and endowed church institutions, but fathered illegitimate children….”

I’m sorry, but just how many medieval princes/magnates were not ruthless? Well, there was Henry VI, of course, but the least said about him the better. And being an effective military leader was a desirable, much admired attribute. Who wants a leader who squeaks and runs at the first brandished fist? But come on, clumping religion together with sleeping around (the implication) is just not on. Even today, how many young, unmarried men haven’t had sex? At least Richard acknowledged his illegitimate children and did all he could for them. There’s no evidence that he “put it about”, as the saying goes.

As to the religion bit, well there were some Popes who fathered baseborn children. Indeed, the Church said one thing, but many of its representatives went their own sweet way. If the expectation of celibacy can’t hold back even the Holy Father, then why should we expect it of Richard of Gloucester? At least he wasn’t in holy orders!

As far as I’m concerned, Richard’s morals were to be admired, and until someone proves to me that he was a vile murdering monster, I won’t change my mind.

But the paper is definitely worth a read.


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