Last year, we brought you the news that the developers of the Stanley knife were descended from Thomas, Baron Stanley, subsequently Earl of Derby. Now we can announce that a great scientist and inventor was a Talbot, authentically descended from John “Old Talbot”, Earl of Shrewsbury and posthumous father-in-law to Edward IV.
William Henry Fox Talbot was already a mathematician and member, from 1831, of the Royal Society for his work on integral calculus when he began to work on the introduction of photography, finally demonstrating a practical system to the Royal Institution in January 1839. Through his use of “salted paper”, images could be developed and this enabled Fox Talbot to be granted the patent for his “calotype” ahead of Louis Daguerre, whose system was very different. Fox Talbot eventually discovered other, better, photographic methods and worked on subjects as diverse as spectral analysis and Assyriology.
As this genealogy shows, his Talbot genealogy is simple although not through a direct paternal line as that surname was reassumed at least once through an heiress. In fact, the younger Sherrington Talbot, who died in 1677, was Fox Talbot’s ancestor three times through cousin marriages but would not share his Y-chromosome. His mother was the daughter of the 2nd Earl of Ilchester, a descendant of Anne, Duchess of Exeter.
Sir Alec Jeffreys, the scientist who revealed the secrets of genetic fingerprinting, remembers the exact moment of his discovery. “It was 9.05 on the morning of Monday, September 10, 1984 – it’s seared into my memory,” he said.
It may not be seared into ours in the same way, but we still marvel at the importance of his work. Just think of all the advances and mystery-solving that has resulted. He deserves our gratitude.
We all know the amazing reconstruction of the head of Richard III, and the confirmation it gave of how he really had looked. Forget Shakespeare’s Richard III, the real man had been young, good-looking and altogether normal, except for scoliosis that affected his spine. But when he was dressed, it wouldn’t have shown, especially in the sumptuous clothes of the 15th century. So, no murderous, hump-backed monster he. Ricardians always knew it, but the reconstruction from his skull was final, undeniable proof.
I have always been fascinated by the actual appearance of great figures from the past, and want to know if my imagination is creating something even remotely close to the truth. Take Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. I can imagine so much about him, but all I really know of his physical appearance is from his stone likeness of the tomb of his Beauchamp father-in-law in Warwick. There he is, one of many hooded weepers around the tomb, but does that rather grim face really bear any resemblance? Frustratingly, we will probably never know.
Now, while Richard III was the first king I could ever have called my favourite, he now has a companion, his predecessor with the same name, Richard II. And for Richard II, we have what is reckoned to be the first true painted likeness of a King of England – the full-length portrait that now hangs in Westminster Abbey.
Richard II’s looks would seem to have been almost oriental, with heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes, but his complexion is pale and his curling hair a tumble of auburn curls that is decidedly not oriental. There is another likeness of him, as an older man, taken from his tomb, which bears a marked resemblance to the Westminster Abbey portrait.
Richard III’s portraits were eventually proved to be very like the real man. But would the same be said of Richard II’s portraits, if we were to be fortunate enough to see a reconstruction of his head?
To me, Richard II is visually unlike any other king, but then, we don’t actually know what his predecessors (and some of his successors) really looked like. I think we can be sure from Richard III, Henry VII and onward, but before then, the likenesses we have are rather standard, as if selected from a pattern book.
For instance, we have no true portrait of Richard’s father, the “Black Prince”, unless we count his tomb effigy in Canterbury Cathedral. But as this depicts him in full armour, with close-fitting headwear that rather confines and squashes his features, it’s hard to say what he was really like.
However, we surely have a credible image of Richard’s grandfather, the great Edward III, because his tomb effigy is based upon this death mask. And so we see a handsome old man with long hair and matching beard, and a slight droop of the mouth that is reckoned to be proof of a stroke. But we still do not have an actual portrait of him. His grandson’s likeness in Westminster Abbey holds the honour of being the first.
So, did Richard II look like his Westminster Abbey portrait and effigy?
In the case of Richard III, we had his skull and sufficient advance in scientific and artistic knowledge to recreate his head. We may not have the skull of Richard II, but we do have the next best thing, because his tomb was opened in 1871, and very detailed drawings were made of his skull, complete with measurements.
Thought to have been lost, those drawings have been rediscovered in the basement in the National Portrait Gallery, together with a cigarette box containing what are believed to be relics from Richard’s tomb—fragments of wood, probably from the coffin, and a piece of leather thought to have been part of the king’s glove.
The find was made by archivists who were cataloguing the papers of the Gallery’s first director, Sir George Scharf, who had been invited to witness the opening of royal tombs (Richard II, Edward VI, Henry VII, James I and Elizabeth of York) and the date on the cigarette box containing the relics matches that of Sir George’s visit—31st August 1871.
One thing the drawings prove is that Richard was not bludgeoned to death, for there is no sign of damage to the skull. So Shakespeare was wrong about that! He’s wrong about a lot of things when it comes to kings by the name of Richard.
Ancient human remains can sometimes ‘speak’ to us through time and inform us not only of their own life stories, but how modern medical complaints came to be. Here is a case of a Franciscan friar’s mummified remains found in an old church in Ecuador that collapsed during an earthquake in 1949. The man, who died sometime in the mid-late 1500’s, appears to be over 80 years of age and to have possibly died of a chin fistula. What is the most interesting aspect of his burial is that he was found to have suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disease. This disease appears to have originated in the Americas, although it is now spread worldwide. Scientists hope to be able to perhaps pinpoint the way in which the disease first took hold, mutated and was spread.
Here is an extract that I found interesting. It’s from a 1968 booklet titled Discovering London 3: Medieval London, by Kenneth Derwent, published by Macdonald, and while it doesn’t condemn Richard, a previous paragraph states that the disappearance of Edward V and his brother “were disposed of” and that “the circumstantial evidence points most strongly to the Duke of Gloucester”. Well, I have a huge quibble about that!
Anyway, to the extract:-
“RICHARD III. Brother of Edward IV and uncle of Edward V. Ruled from 1483 to 1485.
“After his brother’s death, the Duke of Gloucester stated that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had not been legal, since the king had been previously betrothed to a Lady Eleanor Talbot. In those days betrothal was as binding as marriage, and if this were so Edward’s subsequent marriage would be invalid and the children of it illegitimate. On these grounds Parliament offered the crown to Richard of Gloucester who, after modestly declining for a while, accepted it.
“In 1485 Richard III, as he was known, was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth, near Leicester, by Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who claimed the crown by reason of a distant descent from John of Gaunt.
“Richard was buried at Greyfriars, near Leicester, but no trace of his grave remains.”
Well, I have some more quibbles, of course. The word “modestly” implies falsity, when I think Richard really did hesitate about accepting the crown. Or am I being unduly picky? And, of course, Henry Tudor was NOT the Earl of Richmond.
But my main reason for posting this extract is that in 1968 Kenneth Derwent was right about where Richard had been laid to rest!
After centuries of slanders about Richard III, always named as “the hunchbacked king”, it was finally proved that he just suffered from scoliosis.
He was not born with this condition but he probably started to suffer with it in his adolescence between 10 and 15. This is the so-called idiopathic scoliosis that can be, in some cases, very painful and in very rare cases can even be fatal.
This kind of scoliosis can’t be prevented, as the cause is unknown but the culprit could be the growth hormone or a genetic predisposition. This condition can be mild or severe. In the latter, it can affect the appearance of the person and obviously can create embarrassment, low self-esteem and sometimes depression in addition to physical distress, headache, a very thin shape, stomach problems and lung dysfunction.
Severe scoliosis is visible if the person wears tight clothes and, if it doesn’t stop developing, it can cause excruciating pain due to nerve pressure. However, people affected by scoliosis have a normal life and can practice sports, do exercise and every normal, daily activity.
Richard III is probably the most famous person affected by idiopathic scoliosis, along with Princess Eugenie of York, the runner Usain Bolt, the actress Liz Taylor, the singers Kurt Cobain and Liza Minnelli, the tennis star, James Blake, among others.
Today, it is easy to treat this condition thanks to braces and, in the worst cases, with surgery but, unfortunately, these treatments were not available at the time of Richard III and medieval remedies were almost useless, very painful and often they even worsened the situation.
For people affected by mild scoliosis, there were some massage techniques used in Turkish baths along with the application of ointments made with herbs and plants. In other cases, these massages were made in preparation for another treatment. One of the most common ‘remedies’ was traction. The equipment for this treatment was very expensive, so only rich people and the nobility could afford it. As Richard was a member of one of the wealthiest families in England and a noble as well, it is highly probable that he would have gone through traction. The instrument used for this purpose was similar to the ‘rack’ used to torture people. The patient was lying on his back and tied by armpits and calves by a rope to a wooden roller and literally pulled to stretch the spine. The treatment could last for hours and it is not difficult to imagine how horribly painful it was and, unfortunately, it was of no benefit.
Richard’s family would have had the best physicians of the time and these should have been aware of this treatment so it is likely that, unfortunately, he had to undergo traction. It is difficult to imagine that Richard’s family wouldn’t have tried to cure his spine, being such highly-ranked people.
However, scoliosis was not just a physical issue. A person affected by scoliosis was seen as the incarnation of evil and a sinner, while a straight spine represented morality, goodness and beauty. The Shakespearean character of Richard III was associated with wickedness and immorality because of his physical deformity, sharpened to the maximum to create an unscrupulous monster capable of any crime.
Richard managed to hide his condition for his whole life because he very well knew this could have been a reason for being painted as a bad person, twisted in his body and, therefore, also in his mind.
After his death at Bosworth, he was stripped naked and his secret revealed. Shakespeare exaggerated his condition in order to misrepresent Richard and to blame him for every possible crime. His scoliosis became a hunchback with the addition of a withered arm and a limp.
With the discovery of his skeleton under the car park in Leicester, it appeared very clear that Richard had just a scoliosis and the evil hunchbacked king created by Shakespeare was just Tudor propaganda, that made Richard the most maligned king in English history. This discovery helped to reveal Richard in a new light and called into question all the atrocities he has been accused of. There are many reasons to believe that the truth will eventually come to light.
Do you want to know a very strange coincidence? In Ipswich, where the sales office of the Richard III Society is located, there is a surgeon, expert in spinal surgery: his name is Robert Lovell (top)!
… on two of the major rebellions – Simnel and “Perkin” – against Henry VII. This article is from Voyager of History and we may soon be in a better position to know whether Richard of Shrewsbury could have been at Tyburn in 1499.
“….What will happen to your bones after you die? Will they be venerated as relics? Buried with care by your loved ones? Preserved as part of a museum’s collection? Each of these treatments says something different about the value – religious, cultural, or scientific – that we place on the human skeleton. From Neanderthals burying their dead in prehistoric times, to the University of Tennessee’s ‘Body Farm’, where forensic anthropologists study the processes of decomposition, the skeleton has been deeply significant to different groups of people for millennia, and every skeleton has stories to tell about who a person was and how they lived….”
And there’s Richard of course, and how much more we now know about him because his remains were discovered in 2012. But I do object to Ricardians being lumped together as his ‘fan club’. That is to sneer at sincere endeavours by a lot of worthy folk to clear his name. Yes, there are some who make the rest of us squirm, but we’re certainly not all like that. So in this respect, Darcy Shapiro, the writer of the article (link above), is something of a nitwit.
Last night I watched (on PBS America) a BBC2 Timewatch episode entitled The Mysteries of the Medieval Ship. It concerned the discovery, in June 2002, of a foundered/scuttled medieval vessel of some size, buried in the oozing mud of the Severn Sea – well, the oozing mud of the River Usk, at Newport, to be precise. But Severn Sea mud is the same, whichever estuary, and it takes prisoners, with the result that this particular ship has survived almost intact, and is that only such large 15th-century vessel to have done so in the United Kingdom.
Dendrochronology dates the timbers to around late 40s of the 15th century, and the oak identified as from northern Spain or Gascony, the latter possibility being just within English tenure, before France took it back.
It is believed that the ship had been berthed for repairs, but sank when supports gave way. And the fact of these repairs leads to a strong link to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who turned upon King Edward IV at the Battle of Edgecote Moor on 26th July, 1469. Warwick won the battle, and among those he executed afterward was his predecessor as Lord of Newport, William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke.
There is a letter, signed by Warwick, concerning the repairs to just such a vessel as has now been discovered, at the time berthed in Newport. Here is the modernised text, taken from here :-
Richard Earl of Warwick and Salisbury great chamberlain of England and captain of Calais to Thomas Throckmorton our receiver of our lordship of Glamorgan and Morgannwg greeting.
We will and charge you that of the revenues of your office to your hands coming you content and pay …… Trahagren ap Merick £10 the which he paid unto John Colt for the making of the ship at Newport to Richard Port purser of the same 53s 4d, to William Toker mariner for carriage of iron from Cardiff unto Newport for the said ship 6s 8d to Matthew Jubber in money, iron, salt and other stuff belonging to the said ship £15 2s 6d. ……
Given under our signet at our castle of Warwick the 22 day of November the ninth year of the reign of our sovereign lord king Edward the fourth. (1469)
It may not be the same ship, of course, but the retrieved vessel had been armed (stone cannon balls found among the timbers) and there seems a strong possibility that far from being a peaceful merchantman, she may have been one of his pirate vessels. Warwick was known to dabble in piracy.
This mysterious ship is something to be cared for and treasured. She may not be the Mary Rose, but she is of more interest to those of us who prefer the 15th century. Especially when a figure like Warwick seems to be part of her history.
There is much to be found online about this extraordinary medieval discovery, and the following links are but a few:-