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Archive for the category “Science”

Channel 5’s “Inside the Tower of London”

This four-part series is narrated by Jason Watkins and heavily features Tracy Borman, Joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces.

The first part dealt with the Peasants’ Revolt, which resulted in Simon of Sudbury‘s beheading and Borman travelled to St. Gregory’s in his home town to view the preserved head. She spoke about the animals kept in the various mini-towers and the Royal Mint that coined “Long Cross Pennies”, introduced by Henry III. We saw the Beefeaters, including a retirement party for one, before scholars at Eton and King’s College commemorated their founder, Henry VI, at the “Ceremony of the Lilies and Roses”. Then came the mystery of the “Princes”, as Borman used Domenico Mancini’s correct forename whilst taking him at face value a little too much, although she did note that More was five in 1483 and wrote three decades later to please Henry VIII. The seventeenth century discovery of remains of some sort was mentioned and a new exhibition on the “Princes” was launched, even as counter-evidence has emerged and been clarified.

Part two focussed on Henry VIII’s first and second “marriages”, together with the dramatic end of the second. Part three moved on to the twentieth century with the shooting of Josef Jakobs and other German spies, together with the 1913 visit of the suffragette Leonora Cohen. Rudolf Hess was also held there, as were the Kray twins later. The concluding part dealt with the role of the Constable, the ravens and the interrogation of Guy Fawkes and other prisoners, together with the tale of the more privileged, such as Raleigh, and the audacity of Colonel Blood’s attempt to steal the Crown Jewels, so soon after many of them had been recreated.

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da Vinci and the RAF centenary

Leonardo di ser Piero “da Vinci” (below left) was nearly six months older than Richard III, having been born in the Republic of Florence on 15 April 1452. Over his lifetime, which ended in 1519, he is best known for his paintings, such as The Last Supper or la Gioconda. However, he also left us a number of remarkable engineering and other sketches, depicting human and animal biology, geology and devices, including flying machines. The anatomical diagrams would have contributed towards the quality of his portraits in the same way that Stubbs studied the physiology of horses.

On the right is his 1488 design for a flying machine. In this, the centenary of the Armistice and of the RAF, it is interesting to compare it with aircraft from the First World War and to note that Leonardo also theoretically described a parachute, a concept with which later pilots would be very familiar.

An example (left) is the (French) Nieuport Fighter. 

A new tool uses DNA to predict eye, hair, skin colour…

New DNA tool

A new tool uses DNA to predict eye, hair, skin colour …

Quote from the above article: “The tool has been used by law enforcement in the Netherlands, Poland, and Australia, but it has not yet been adopted in the United States, Walsh said. It has also been used on ancient DNA, and it was used to determine that King Richard III had blue eyes and blond hair.”

Ah, but was he blond as a child? Or throughout into manhood? And just how accurate is all this anyway?

Sun-Pebbles, Stakes and Skulls: Woodbridge’s Super-Henge

In the world of British archaeology, there has been a major find near Woodbridge in Suffolk of a large Neolithic henge/ritual complex. Now where I live, henges and causewayed camps  are a dime a dozen; you can hardly stick a spade in the ground without hitting prehistoric finds…however, this latest one in Suffolk is a little different to any discovered thus far and may be regarded of international importance. Due to the preservative nature of the local soil, organics have survived (extremely rare for this period), including a trackway into the monument and a series of wooden stakes that are so complete and undamaged, you can still see the cutmarks of the axes that hewed them.

Another amazing find has been the skull of an aurochs, a huge prehistoric cow the size of a bison. Very surly and mean-tempered, these beasts were particularly hunted in the preceding Mesolithic period; one of them could feed an entire tribe. The skull at Woodbridge henge is unique in that it has been modified,  with a hole bored into the base; it may have been either carried in procession on a pole or worn as some kind of a headdress (although such a headdress would have been immensely heavy.) Even more fascinating is that the radio carbon dates place its age at 2000 years before the Neolithic monument was built–therefore, the aurochs had indeed lived and died in the earlier Mesolithic period. Was this an ancient trophy, an ancestral, tribal totem borne in procession time out of mind? It is  interesting to compare  this deposit to the cremated human remains at Stonehenge, many of which were  people who had died several hundred years prior to their actual interment, perhaps being ‘founder’ burials of revered ancestors.

A scattering of white pebbles was also found around the monument; this tallies with MANY other Neolithic  and Bronze Age monuments in Britain and Ireland where white pebbles (sometimes quartz) are found deliberately placed around the monuments or even used in revetments and facades (as at Newgrange.) It is surmised they may have been meant to catch the light of the sun or moon, both of which were  highly important to the ancient people of the Isles.

The old idea that these monuments were in isolation to each other and prehistoric folk did not know what was going on over the next hill is a rapidly dying one–another fallacy cast out by science and open-minded study.

 

Suffolk neolithic site

Barbed and tanged arrowhead found on site. Aurochs skull with bored hole.

The Mythology of the “Princes in the Tower”

This is less a book and more of an outdoor swimming pool, becoming deeper as the chapters progress. In the shallow end, the subjects go from the definition of a “prince” and the circumstances under which Edward IV’s elder sons came to live there, centuries before Buckingham Palace was built to the origin of the term “Princes in the Tower” (p.17). Before progressing further, the reader should be aware exactly which sibling definitely died at the Tower, during a “confinement”. For those still unaware why the whole Wydeville brood were illegitimate and how the “constitutional election” (Gairdner) resulted in Richard III’s succession, the whole point is painstakingly explained again.

The dramatic conclusions begin at about halfway, in chapter 17, before the process of the rumour mill and the many finds of the Stuart era are described. In the deep end, we are reminded how science has moved on during the 85 years since Tanner and Wright investigated the remains, including Ashdown-Hill’s own investigations into “CF2″‘s remains on the Norwich Whitefriars site, together with a repeat of the DNA process that gave us Joy Ibsen and thus Richard III in Leicester. This time, he and Glen Moran have found a professional singer originally from Bethnal Green, a short distance from the Tower itself.

What has always stood out about Ashdown-Hill’s work is his superior use of logic when primary sources are of limited availability and it is applied here to several aspects of the subject.

In many ways, this book is itself a tower, built on the foundations of his previous eleven, but also his research into things such as numismatics, yet there is a prospect of more construction work …

A very busy presenter

Rob Bell seems to be on television a lot at the moment. Although he is an engineer and not quite a historian, many of his programmes go back in time as structures were built. Walking Britain’s Lost Railways, for instance, goes back under two centuries because of the subject matter, but Great British Ships (both Channel Five) has already covered HMS Victory and the Mary Rose, which was built in 1510 and sank in 1545. At the same time, possibly literally, Bell is appearing on BBC1 and BBC4’s (repeated) Engineering Giants, projects which he narrates actively with enthusiasm and technical knowledge, together with an interest in the local culture. For example, he tells viewers of Brunel’s great feats, tries to explain why the Mary Rose sank and walks most of the Dartmoor route from Plymouth to Exeter, although a small stage of this track has re-opened in recent years.

The last episode featured Ruabon to Barmouth via Llangollen, where the Irish Ladies lived.

Royal genealogy before it happens (3)

(as published in the Setember 2018 Bulletin)eugenieandjack

Seven years ago, before this blog officially began, a letter was published in the Ricardian Bulletin about the common Edward III descent of the Duke and Duchess, as she soon became, of Cambridge through the Gascoigne-Fairfax line. This, about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s mutual ancestry, followed this March.

Now it is clear that Princess Eugenie, the former scoliosis sufferer and daughter of the Duke of York, and her partner Jack Brooksbank are closely related through Edward III and James II (the Scottish one). They will marry at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor on 12 October.

Having examined the evidence, this document and shows that they have a most recent common ancestor: Thomas Coke, 2nd Earl of Leicester (1822-1909).

thomas-coke-2nd-earl-of-leicester

Coke’s simplest royal descent is from Charles II.

charles-ii

Brooksbank is descended from Edward III via Robert Devereux (2nd Earl of Essex, through four of Edward III’s sons, although I have chosen the senior Mortimer line) to Coke’s second wife, Lady Georgiana Cavendish, although there is probably other Edward III ancestry. Lady Georgiana’s grandmother was Lady Catherine Gordon, daughter of the Marquess of Huntly and this line descends from James IV, who is obviously more recent than his grandfather, but through his mistress not his “Tudor” wife. He, of course, was James II’s grandson.

This document shows that Lady Georgiana was descended from the first Earl of Harewood, Edward Lascelles, whose wife was descended through the Bowes and Lumley lines from Edward IV.

Furthermore, as this picture shows, Princess Eugenie wore a backless dress to show her scoliosis scar.

Anne of Brittany’s heart has been stolen; literally….

Anne of Brittany

At least the word “presumed” has been allowed in! It introduces an element of doubt about Richard III. Which is better than nothing.

I hope this relic is returned to where it belongs. This sort of thievery is despicable.

Footnote: I am delighted to be able to report that since I wrote this article, the stolen treasure has now been found. See here.

Richard’s hair was NOT mousy…..!

richard3newsbanner

Well, the trail to this 2015 item about the reconstruction of Richard’s head was somewhat tortuous. It started at the New York Times  which then led me to Liverpool John Moores University, and I finally fetched up at this facial reconstruction.

My quibble is: “Originally the king was thought to have dark hair and black eyes, but the new tests reveal he most likely had mousey-brown hair and blue eyes.” Black eyes? The result of a punch in the face is not what’s meant here – but who has black eyes? Unless they’re high as kites, of course. As for the “mousy-brown”. The colour shown in this illustration is a sort of dark-blond. Yes? Poor old Richard, they might have spared him the rodent label…

 

Dig the “Tudors” at Sudeley Castle

Oh, for an opportunity to do this literally and test the theory that Harriss, Fields, Ashdown-Hill and even Dan Jones have expounded, with varying probabilities. I would quite literally dig up a “Tudor” somewhere – from quite a selection – and then Owain Tudor in Hereford for comparison, if possible. You don’t meed to ask “Y-“?

Here is the event at Sudeley Castle

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