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The only surviving remains of a member of the Kentish Royal House, and of one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon saints….?

 

taken from the article indicated below

Well, I was watching TV news—the bit where they review the newspapers—and had to laugh (with the reviewers) when they came across the headline “Remains of the Deity”. Brilliant. I’ve since Googled the phrase and the newspaper wasn’t the first to use it, but it was certainly the first time I’d heard it.

Anyway, the story is about the remains of an early English saint being found in the wall of a church in Kent.

This article in the Daily Mail is filled with interesting photographs of the work that’s being done in the Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe in Folkestone, Kent, of which town she is the patron saint. She was also a Kentish Royal Saint and granddaughter of the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelbert.

“….The remarkable discovery was revealed at a special event at the church this evening to mark the start of British Science Week 2020. Dr Andrew Richardson, FSA, from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, said: ‘This locally-based community partnership has produced a stunning result of national importance.

“….’It now looks highly probable that we have the only surviving remains of a member of the Kentish royal house, and of one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon saints….”

If the remains are indeed those of the saint, it’s exciting to think what further research can be done. Are they too old to produce the sort of information we were able to learn about Richard III?

The mystery of the vanished manor of Ostenhanger….

 

Westenhanger Castle – showing part of Folkestone Racecourse in the foreground
https://images.historicenglandservices.org.uk/flight/england-air/westenhanger-castle-33328-002-14884418.html

There once was an Anglo-Saxon manor in the south of Kent called Berwic, which became known as Le Hangre, and was then split into two manors, Westenhanger and Ostenhanger. Westenhanger is still very much in evidence (see illustration above) but Ostenhanger as such has disappeared entirely. It’s still there really, of course, but was incorporated into Westenhanger in the 16th century and now no one seems to know where the now invisible dividing line was placed. It can’t be to the south, or surely we’d have Northanger and Southanger. So, if present-day Westenhanger is the west, then Ostenhanger has to be…well, east. Right?

Very early hand-drawn map showing Westenhanger, but no Ostenhanger

At the period of the novel I’m working on, the late 14th century, the medieval castle at Westenhanger was just emerging like a phoenix from the crumbling remains of an earlier incarnation.  The then occupant, the knight banneret Sir John Kyriel (numerous spellings)*, had in 1343 obtained a licence to crenellate, and set about the long, costly business of turning a fortified manor house into a proper castle. After all, it was the Hundred Years War and Kent was very definitely in the French firing line. Sir John was involved in decades of ongoing work.

Crioll/Kyriel

No one knows what the original manor house had been like, except that in Anglo-Saxon times it was on the large manor originally called Berwic. There’s a myth that a palace stood here, belonging to King Orric/Oeric, son of Hengist, although whether this is based in fact, I don’t know, but certainly the site itself, as a manor, was in existence in that period.

Apparently the word Hangre can stem from either hunger or a wooded slope. My money’s on the latter, because I wouldn’t have thought the rich well-watered meadows around the East Stour river would ever allow hunger. But that’s my guesswork. The now defunct Folkstone Racecourse, which closed in 2012, still stands among these meadows, most of which are well drained in this modern age.

Folkestone Racecourse – picture from shepwayvox.org
Showing Westenhanger mid-left. Was Ostenhanger the land at the top, beyond the racecourse? Stone Street is visible horizontally just the other side of the trees at the far edge of the racecourse.

In the twelfth century Le Hangre was held by another John Kyriel (the family was then known as de Crioll, various spellings), and it’s said that during the reign of Henry II one of the round towers housed Fair Rosamund Clifford, Henry’s beautiful mistress. From there he moved her to her bower at Woodstock where, as the legend goes, she was poisoned by his jealous queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Well, Rosamund may indeed have been at Westenhanger, but the round tower was built since then. As for Eleanor’s part in the lady’s demise…I have no idea.

Present-day Westenhanger, showing Rosamund’s (Round) Tower

But that’s beside the point for my purposes here, because this 12th-century John Kyriel’s grandsons inherited. Their names were Nicholas and another John, but the latter’s only surviving heir was a daughter, Joan.  This meant that when the time came, Nicholas and his niece Joan were joint heirs. Le Hangre had to be divided. Nicholas’s portion was named Westenhanger, and Joan’s became Ostenhanger. She then married Sir Richard Rokesley, a very important Kent man, who gained her portion. So, at this point it’s abundantly clear there were two separate manors.

Joan and Rokesley had one daughter, no sons, and this daughter (another Joan) married Michael de Poynings, 2nd Baron Poynings. Thus Ostenhanger (which I’ve seen written rather delightfully as Ostywhanger) came to the Poynings family, who remained in possession for a long time – well, more or less for the rest of its existence as a separate entity, becaus the Fogge family did intrude for a while.

Poynings

Sir Edward’s rather ancient mansion at Ostenhanger was abandoned, and both manors were united as Westenhanger, the castle of which Sir Edward rebuilt. But the present-day mansion, which nestles within the medieval castle ruins, is Georgian from the 18th century. And what remains now is but a shadow of the castle as it was rebuilt by Sir John Kyriel in the 14th century.

Original medieval stonework visible on right
from www.ecastles.co.uk

The last Kyriel of Westenhanger, Sir Thomas, was summarily executed after supporting the Yorkist cause at the second battle of St. Albans, which took place on 17th February 1461 and during which the great Earl of Warwick, known to posterity as the “Kingmaker” was slain. The Yorkists had earlier captured King Henry VI and during the battle they placed him in the care of Lord Bonville and Sir Thomas Kyriel. Once the battle was lost, Bonville and Kyriel escorted the king to the victorious queen, Margaret of Anjou, and the story goes that she asked her (apparently obnoxious) son—the boy Edward, Prince of Wales—how the two Yorkists should be treated and he replied that they should be executed. So they were beheaded, even though they’d behaved with honour throughout. And even though Henry VI himself wanted them spared. Kyriel left two daughters, the elder of whom married a Fogge, and thus the male line of the ancient de Crioll/Kyriel line of Westenhanger was no more.

The Fogge family became ensconced there (Westenhanger) until a Sir John Fogge apparently II don’t know the details) demised it to Sir Edward Poynings in the reign of Henry VIII. Oh, but whoa! One of the Fogges referred to Ostenhanger in his will as one of his manors…! Groan. So who held what, pray? Of course, I could take the easy way out and pretend that some scribe or other simply made an error….

What I can say for certain is that in the early 16th century Sir Edward Poynings held both Westenhanger and Ostenhanger, and that on his death the now-single manor went to the Crown, i.e. Henry VIII, who started doing it up to suit. I’m not sure of what happened next, because it’s too far “out of period” for my wip.

Sir Edward seems to have somehow made Ostenhanger disappear entirely. Well, clearly the land didn’t disappear, but which land it is remains unknown. There isn’t so much as an Ostenhanger Farm or Ostenhanger Brook lingering sneakily somewhere in the landscape. Zilch. There’s an engraving that’s said to show the remains of Ostenhanger (see below). However, this same print is also sometimes labelled Westenhanger, and occasionally the caption sits firmly on the fence and claims it’s either one or the other. I don’t know anything for certain, and the more I try to find out, the less I seem to know.

Ostenhanger – GROSE – 1776

The Westenhanger Charter of 1035 takes us right back to the beginnning, and is very interesting, explanatory and detailed.

The following map has been drawn from the known Anglo-Saxon boundaries of the original Berwic/Le Hangre, and Westenhanger manorhouse/castle is shown close to the eastern boundary. It wasn’t known by that name in 1035, of course, but has been shown as an indication to the modern reader. Something stood there in Anglo-Saxon times, maybe even Orric’s palace. So, if Ostenhanger was east of Westenhanger, it must have been somewhere in the direction of Saltwood and Hythe.

As you can see quite clearly on the right, the Roman road Stanstraete (Stone Street leading north-south on its way from Lympne on the coast to Canterbury) divides Westenhanger from whatever was to the east. Ostenhanger? But if Westenhanger and Ostenhanger are what used to be Berwic/Le Hangre, as shown on this map, these ancient boundaries don’t leave much room to the east for Ostenhanger to be situated. Surely there must have been more Berwic/Le Hangre land to the east of Stone Street? Otherwise, Ostenhanger must have been a very skinny strip! I can’t see a man of Sir Richard Rokesley’s standing putting up with his wife having been short-changed when Le Hangre was divided between her and her uncle Nicholas Kyriel, so something, somewhere, is wrong.

Below is another map of the area, this time an old OS map, showing Stone Street slicing vertically through the middle. There’s Westenhanger, top left, clearly drawn…so was Ostenhanger somewhere around where Hilhurst or Little Sandling are shown?

It’s all a huge puzzle. The fiction writer in me needs to know if Ostenhanger was visible from the towers of Westenhanger. Maybe even from the curtain walls of the outer bailey? Were the two residences separated by Roman Stone Street? Indeed, was Stone Street the actual boundary between the two? All I know is that, because I’m writing about the 14th century, when the Kyriels occupied Westenhanger, and the Barons Poynings were in Ostenhanger, I need to learn these infuriatingly elusive details.

So, if anyone reading this desperate crie de coeur knows anything more about the two manors or can correct me on what I’ve already included in this article, please, please let me know!

*Oh, dear. Here’s a major stumbling block for me. I’ve found the will https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/Research/Libr/Wills/Lbth/Bk24/page%20449.htm of the Sir John Kyriel (in which he spells his name Kiriel) who had the licence to crenellate Westenhanger in 1343. Except that throughout he refers only to “Ostringhanger”! Where’d Westenhanger go? Now what am I to think?

Richard and Greyfriars both lost in Leicester—and found again….!

Here are Historic England’s ten top archaeological discoveries of the decade.

Needless to say, the discovery of Richard III’s remains figures high on the list. He’d been thought to have been buried in Leicester Greyfriars…or maybe thrown into the River Soar! But no, Greyfriars was the place. However, what I didn’t know was that Greyfriars itself had also been lost for 400 years as well!

‘I saw something shining…’ Metal Detecting Finds..

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The Staffordshire Hoard.  One of the biggest hoard of Anglo Saxon artefacts every discovered.  See more of this hoard below..

A story has broken of four ‘metal detectorists’ who have been convicted of stealing a hoard of Anglo-Saxon coins and jewellery worth 3 million pounds, most of which is, tragically, still missing.  You can tell from the pictures of the stuff that has been recovered the quality of the still missing items, which now may never be recovered,  after probably being sold on the black market.

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A gold ring dating back to the reign of King Alfred the Great

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A crystal rock pendant chased in gold  dating back to the 5th century

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Gold arm bangle with a dragon or serpents head design dating from the 9th century..

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A gold coin from the reign of King Alfred the Great..

Just before this story broke I was intending to write a story about metal detectorists that have made some wonderful discoveries and have done the right thing handing them over,  also being paid quite handsome sums.  I list some of these discoveries below.    Although I have had to mention the fact that a small handful of people wielding metal detectors have behaved despicably, for which they will now being paying the price –  long prison sentences –  the majority of finds are declared most of which would have lain undiscovered if not for metal detectorists.  So I say as long as they behave honourable and do not disturb places of historical importance then long may they continue to find beautiful items of great historical interest.

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Medieval garnet and turquoise ring circa 1250-1450.  Found at Barnham Broom, Norfolk.

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The Escrick Ring.  900-1100 AD -Viking.  Only the second time a use of a sapphire has been recorded in England (1)  Found in 2009 and  now in the Yorkshire Museum.

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The famous Middleham Jewel.  Gold with a sapphire.  Dated between 1475 and 1499.  Discovered in 1985 near Middleham Castle.  Now at the York Museum.  

 

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A gold 15th century hat pin found inches below the surface of a newly ploughed Lincolnshire field.  

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Seventeen Medieval coins.  A Welsh find.

image.pngSword Pommel.  Bedale Hoard.  Late 9th to 10 Century.  One of 48 items.  Now in the Yorkshire Museum.

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Gold Brooch – two hands clasped together, note the decorative sleeves.  Only the size of a pound coin.  Found in a field in Cheshire.  Circa 1350.  Thought to be a betrothal gift.  

image.pngA fitting from hilt of a Seax (a large single bladed knife) – one of the items from the Staffordshire Hoard  discovered in 2009 in a field near Lichfield and the largest collection of Anglo Saxon Gold and silver to be ever discovered.image.png

A helmet from the Staffordshire Hoard and fit for a King..image.png

The helmet has been reconstructed as it was  badly damaged before it was buried.

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A mystery object from the Hoard that has left archaeologists  baffled.    Suggestions have been the lid of a container, an extension of a helmet, a saddle fitting?

And so its clear that metal detectorists are a valuable asset in recovering lost treasures frequently  alerting archaelogists to a site and further finds that would have remained undiscovered.  How many more finds are out there awaiting the intrepid metal detector to discover them?  Bring it on!

 

  1. Online article.  University of York.  The first earliest example of a sapphire being used in jewellery in England was 5th century Roman.

 

The remains of Emma of Normandy found, and a fascinating exhibition of Winchester Cathedral’s history has opened….

“….Seven years after the remains of Richard III were discovered under a Leicester carpark, another legendary but lost English monarch has turned up in Hampshire.

“….Emma of Normandy, twice crowned Queen of England and the mother of Edward the Confessor, was interred in Winchester’s Old Minster in 1052 and was later transferred to the newly built Winchester Cathedral.

“Queen Emma, a powerful figure in late Saxon England, lay peacefully in a mortuary chest high above the cathedral choir for 600 years until the English Civil War….”

The above paragraphs are taken from this article.

Now there is a fascinating exhibition at Winchester Cathedral  .

“…. The opening of Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation marks the culmination of an ambitious seven-year project to unlock the Cathedral’s stories and treasures by inspiring active engagement in the interpretation and exploration of our heritage….”

When it comes to Winchester, that heritage is vast!

THE MEDIEVAL CROWNS OF EDWARD THE CONFESSOR AND QUEEN EDITH

UPDATED POST AT sparkypus.com A Medieval Potpourri https://sparkypus.com/2020/05/14/the-medieval-crowns-of-edward-the-confessor-and-queen-edith/

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KING RICHARD III AND HIS CONSORT QUEEN ANNE NEVILLE WEARING  EDWARD THE CONFESSOR AND QUEEN EDITH’S CROWNS.  THE ROUS ROLL.

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THE SAME CROWNS WORN EARLIER BY EDWARD IV AND ELIZABETH WYDVILLE. Photograph by Geoffrey Wheeler.  

The first Coronation Crowns, known as the crowns of  Edward the Confessor  (also known as St Edward the Confessor)  and his wife  Queen Edith were probably made about the IIth century for the king’s coronation in his new completed rebuilt Church of St Peter, now known as Westminster Abbey on Thorney Island.   Edward was one of the last Anglo Saxon kings.  We know that Queen Edith’s crown was valued at £16 and was made of  ‘Siluer gilt Enriched with Garnetts foule pearle Saphires and some odd stones’.   Edward the Confessors crown was described as a ‘crowne of gould wyer worke sett with slight stones and two little bells’.   They were worn by every king and queen after that, excluding Edward V and Jane, who of course were never crowned,  until their destruction by the Parliamentarians.   Its hard to find an absolutely accurate depiction of them as various kings may have added bits and pieces over the centuries.   Having said that we have a  very good idea from the lovely drawings in  Rous roll,  the Beauchamp Pageant, and the Royal Window at Canterbury Cathedral.

 

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King Richard wearing the Crown of St Edward the Confessor, Rous Roll.

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Edward IV’S portrait in the Royal Window at Canterbury Cathedral wearing the Coronation Crown of St Edward.

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Elizabeth Wydeville in her coronation robes and Queen Edith’s crown. the Worshipful Company of Skinners

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Queen Anne from the Rous Roll wearing Queen Edith’s crown..

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Queen Anne Neville wearing Queen Edith’s crown from the Beauchamp Pageant..

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King Richard III wearing the crown of Edward the Confessor..The Beauchamp Pageant.

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King Edward the Confessor’s crown..drawn by Julian Rowe.  The Road to Bosworth Field.  P W Hammond and Anne E Sutton

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Queen Edith’s crown..artist Julian Rowe

These wonderful crowns survived until the end of the English Civil War when the victorious Parliamentarians ordered all sacred symbols and relics of monarchy, now rendered redundant,  to be ‘totallie Broken and defaced’ and the metal to be used to make coins.

New crowns were made for Charles II‘s  coronation in 1661 by Robert Vyner including a new Coronation Crown.  This crown sometimes gets confused with the Imperial State Crown.  It should be remembered that the Coronation Crown is only used for coronation and thus does not get many outings.   The State crown is the one our present queen wears for the State Opening of Parliament.  Having been made comparatively recently in 1937 it has a most exquisite survivor from the Middle Ages…the Black Prince’s Ruby! Its not actually a. ruby but a large irregular cabochon red spinel.  The stone has an astonishing history which is hard to verify  and  I will go into here only briefly but suffice to say it did indeed belong to  Edward the Black Prince.  It then passed to Henry V who was said to have worn it on his helmet at Agincourt.  It was later said that it was worn by King Richard III in the crown that was lost at Bosworth and legend says was found under a hawthorn bush by William Stanley.

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The red cabochon known as the Black Princes Ruby..a medieval survivor and now worn in the modern State Crown.

And so, besides the two royal crowns, much, much more was lost.  Described by Sir Roy Strong  as a ‘treasure trove of medieval goldsmith work’ there were  ‘Several ancient sceptres and staffs, two with doves on top and one with a fleur-de-lis of silver gilt and an ampulla which contained the holy oil for anointing listed as ‘A doue (actually an eagle) of gould set with stones and pearle’    There were ancient medieval royal robes worn by the king before the crowning….and an ‘old Combe of Horne’ probably of Anglo Saxon origin and used to comb the kings hair after the anointing listed as ‘worth nothing’ .  A total of nine items were sold to a Mr Humphrey for £5 in November 1649 (1).

I’ll leave the last word on this tragic part of  British history to Sir Edward Walker, Garter of Arms who wrote his report in 1660.

‘And because through the Rapine of the late vnhappy times, all the Royall Ornaments and Regalia heretofore preserved from age to age in the Treasury of the the Church of Westminster, were taken away, sold and destroyed the Committee mert divers times, not only to direct the remaking such Royal Ornaments and Regalia, but even to setle the form and fashion of each particular’ (2)

1) Lost Treasures of Britain Roy Strong p124

2) Ibid p125

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Upon the King: My Accidental Path Toward Becoming a Ricardian

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Late 16th century painting of Richard III

I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I was never really that interested in Richard Plantagenet, later Richard III. In school I had avoided the Anglo-Saxons like the plague, and Richard, well, perhaps like a round of the flu. He wasn’t quite as intimidating, despite the double-murder allegation lodged, and I got away with not having to write about him once my father, who was big on essays, unearthed a book about the famous American swamp fox. Not that it was easy to outsmart my dad; there was just so much history to know and he loved imparting it. In fact, he adored learning of most kinds, and almost every time I saw him he had a book in one hand, cup of tea in the other. Every weekday morning before work he would sit at the dining room table for about two hours, enjoying his study in the quiet atmosphere between night and day. He read almost anything he could get his hands on, with the notable exception of Shakespeare, of whom he was not a huge fan, though he never said why.

By the time I reached university I’d managed to evade Richard a few more times (and those fearsome Anglo-Saxons!), despite his seeming determination to capture my attention. I had to capitulate a bit when Shakespeare (him again) showed up in his own required course. I quite liked his poetry and how he played with language, but frankly didn’t care about star-crossed lovers (everyone read that in high school), a brooding Danish prince (that one too) or evil kings who seemed to be a dime a dozen. And the evil king who repeatedly crossed my path was none other than – you guessed it, Richard III.

I had to read Richard III three times because the professor, who in my opinion was quite brilliant but mystifyingly static in his forward movement, could present it in his sleep. So we read it in two regular lit classes and then in Shakepeare, in which our fearless leader liked to occasionally take on the parts of people he was teaching about. He had a larger audience here, and the more sizable lecture area gave him the space to move around as he caricatured his way through Richard’s role and the frequent trivia he was fond of. At the end of the semester I was appalled to discover that not only did 75% of our grade rest on a ten-question quiz, but also the questions had little to do with, say, history, critical theory or literary devices. A representative sample’s answer was, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” I wasn’t a snobbish student, but did possess the expectation I be delivered the education I was paying for, not a bunch of trivia and phrases repeated so often, here and elsewhere, that they became cliché.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was in equal parts driven away from all talk of Richard III and hauled back to him by the frustration of knowing that even I considered the standard presentation tiresome. Students way more brilliant than myself repeated the stock phrases, though, and I felt like shaking them as I cried out, “Wake up, man! I want to read King Lear and Huntingdon won’t teach it!” My actual response consisted of acquiring a fish (the only pet I could get away with) and calling it Richard, as if that somehow revenged a king, allowing him to be something besides the pitiful stock bad man. I was irked, perhaps even irritated, but not yet inspired.

At the time I knew nothing of the Richard III Society and wouldn’t for some years, for after I graduated, my poor fish had been given last rites and I was just so relieved to have passed statistics and survived senior year burnout. But, as the universe seemed to want to have it, Richard came up in casual conversation, at this point two years before the discovery of his remains in a parking lot. I admitted I really knew very little of the man I’d previously complained kept coming, uninvited, into my life, and determined I’d remedy that. The universe, being as accommodating as it so often is, arranged for a car crash that left me immobile for an extended period, which in turn provided for quite a lot of reading time to fill.

Sir John Everett Millais’ The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1473 (1878). Privileged placement of the work on the cover of Alison Weir’s 1992 edition of The Princes in the Tower is utilized toward this author’s assertion regarding Richard: the “two pale, innocent, bewildered boys” of her blurb paired with existing stereotypes of medieval society, seek to convince viewers of Richard’s culpability. 

I started with Alison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower. It had a fairly beckoning cover and I really had no idea of any given book on this topic to another. Mainly I was looking for details. My intention was, quite simply: read one and be done with it. And so it began. Here was an account that claimed to have studied the case of the missing princes, one heir to the throne, both rumored to have been murdered by their “usurper” uncle, King Richard III, the bodies of the two “pale, innocent, bewildered boys” never found.

It didn’t initially strike me as odd that Weir would contradict herself—on the same page of her preface, no  less—with two opposing statements of direction: “The historian’s job is to weigh the evidence available, however slender and circumstantial” and “We are dealing here with facts, not just speculation or theories.” In all honesty, I was unaccustomed to reading like an historian; instead I read for elements such as repetition, privileged position, arcs and development. Still, my literary training had served me well—even including the aforementioned professor, who really did have good reason to be on staff; the pince-nez and dressing gown during office hours was an added bonus—and I began to wonder that perhaps historical writing really does have much in common with literary.

For example, Weir’s placement of Image 15 of the insert photos: One of, if not the most biased image in the insert collection, is a picture of two child-sized skeletons, discovered nearly two centuries after the princes’ disappearance. It is cleverly shadowed with near-opposing black and white shading that easily grabs the eye. Set in the page’s upper left corner, its positioning exploits our societal left-to-right reading direction as well as the “above-the-fold” tendency book browsers often engage when skimming though potential purchases. Its caption reads: “The remains found in 1674: ‘They were small bones of lads in their teens, fully recognised to be the bones of those two Princes’ (Eye-witness report, 1674; Archaeologia).”

Should the casual observer take the time to scan the rest of the page, the two remaining images—one of the urn in which the skeletal bones now rest, another of the exhumed skull of the princes’ eight-year-old relative Anne Mowbray—each play their role in telling the story the author wants readers to believe. Anne’s stark and startling skull, shown in a fairly large photo at bottom, plays on reader emotion with the mouth in its characteristic gaping position, not unlike a scream. It is included, positioned and designed to evoke pity, for both the untimely death of this little girl as well as the boys she was once close to. Of this Weir writes: “The skull of Anne Mowbray: York’s [the younger prince, Richard, Duke of York] child-bride and the Princes’ cousin, exhumed in 1964. Dental evidence indicates a familial relationship between her bones and those in the urn.”

The urn image is somewhat sympathetic, but rather generic and positioned to the right, closer to the book’s binding. Still, it has its role in this page-long tale, with its insinuation of finality. These bones are those of the boys, Anne’s remains prove it, end of story. Three statements, three images, we’re done here. A would-be consumer who saw even only the most privileged photo (the skeletons) before placing the book back on the shelf stands a high chance of walking away believing these were indeed the missing princes—a question not even entertained on the page discussed—and with Weir’s use of the word “murder” and the accusation against Richard in the jacket blurb, we’re a handshake away. Actually reading the story within all three captions and the deal is sealed. I am inclined to believe that readers have been lazy in every age, but also know that Weir and her publishers are very aware of how the demand for instant gratification and disintegration of critical reading skills in our era has further influenced the formation of opinions.

A quick disclaimer here: I personally don’t begrudge Weir her manipulation of privileged position or other literary techniques; these are what make books appealing, literature fascinating and history come alive. Human forms in photos engage our minds in a way an inanimate object doesn’t. We don’t relate to an urn, especially if we don’t know this is what that image is, but we do relate to images of people who were once alive, especially if they are children. However, I do take issue with the dishonest verbiage she carefully chooses to create the impression discussed above. For instance, the caption below Image 15 doesn’t say what year the princes died, presumed to have died, or disappeared (c. 1483). Yet an “Eye-witness report” from 1674 “recognised” the bones to be those of the missing princes? Did this eyewitness dabble in alchemy in his 200 + year lifespan? And where did he obtain his forensic expertise, with which he surely would be able to differentiate this set of remains from the twelve-year-old sons of Henry VIII’s cousins, whose families ended up in the Tower of London, where the Plantagenet brothers were last seen? Are there any signs of cause of death? The name dropping of Archaeologia lends some needed credibility, as does the dental evidence that “indicates” a familial relationship amongst all three deceased. These are only some of the questions Weir understands all too many consumers won’t ask; they’ll just take her word for it because they are in a hurry, don’t care enough or it doesn’t occur to them. There probably are other reasons as well, but the end result is that many will accept the information at face value.

Still, this was an awareness I came to later in my reading of The Princes in the Tower, or actually, even after I had finished and contemplated what I’d read. I had a niggling feeling about the perceptions I’d experienced. As I moved deeper into the book, Weir seemed to become more aggressive in her voice, and in previous remembrances I thought I even recalled a bit of name calling, which might have been the initial turnoff. (I could be wrong; stay tuned for another entry addressing this.)

The White Tower, Tower of London. Romanticized with its modern artificial lighting, we must imagine it in the days when the complete darkness of night, the likes of which many of us have never experienced, shrouded much in and around it.

As I sat with my casted leg propped up one evening, I realized with a grunt of dissatisfaction that I could not let it go until I read some more. My back was healing, but at this point pained easily after short periods, and my best friend was dispatched to collect a book or two from the university library. She returned with about fifteen, one of which was, by chance, Josephine Wilkinson’s Richard: The Young King to Be. She ignored my pointed stare.

It wasn’t long before I recognized a quote in Wilkinson’s book that Weir had utilized—in part. I suppose it was my naiveté with regard to historical reading that surprised me a little as I realized Weir had cherry picked what supported her agenda and left the rest. (Here also, stay tuned for more specifics.) At this point it really began to annoy me, and I was flummoxed as to how so many people could have gushed about what a fabulous book this was when I so easily picked out inconsistencies. Actually, I’ll have to revise that a bit: I read several reviews in which the authors did criticize Weir, but dismissed her liberties because “there’s no real way to tell” or “he probably did it anyway.” I’m pretty sure none of these people or any of us would want that standard upheld at our own trials.

Unknown to me, at roughly this time, the now-late historian John Ashdown-Hill published Eleanor: The Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. An analysis of the life of Eleanor Talbot, the woman said to have been married to Edward IV, Richard’s elder brother, before making Elizabeth Wydville his queen, the work follows a number of pathways, including those secreted in forensic dentistry. Ashdown-Hill discusses Anne Mowbray’s line of descent, an important angle given Weir’s assertion regarding the similarities between the teeth of the young bride and those of the bodies discovered in 1674, and a condition of congenitally absent teeth. The author notes that Anne Mowbray was related to the princes via a number of lines of descent, some more distant than others.

If those who have claimed that Anne Mowbray’s congenitally missing teeth prove that she was related to TLand 2 (and that therefore these were Edward V and Richard, Duke of York [the princes]), are correct, Anne’s dental anomaly must almost certainly have descended to her via her Neville ancestry (184-5).

Ashdown-Hill goes on to relate information about the battlefield identification of Anne’s grandfather, John Talbot, in connection to an absent left molar. This provides some evidence of the congenital condition being a Talbot trait, further leading to the speculation that if Anne did indeed inherit her dentition from her grandfather, “then those same missing teeth cannot very well be cited as evidence that TLand TLare Edward V and his brother, since the relationship of these latter to [Anne’s grandfather] was extremely remote.” Of course, it is possible John Talbot lost the tooth in some other manner and Ashdown-Hill further advises that Talbot’s remains had been disturbed several times, thus making elucidation on this point difficult (184-5).

Weir, in contrast, utilizes very little more than coincidence and contradictory information when aiming to prove that the bodies discovered in 1674 are Richard’s nephews, including the discovery to begin with. This position continues with her insistence that, apparently, only Plantagenet royalty could possibly have worn velvet, a type of material present with the bones and, given its availability timeframe, unlikely to indicate the remains were Roman, as had been suggested. She even goes on quite at length about all the experts and authors who examined the 1933 reports of Wright and Tanner, who themselves examined only an urn full of bones picked apart from those of animals (!) centuries after their initial discovery and under questionable chain of custody. Nevertheless, on all of this Weir categorically pushes the conclusion that “the evidence that the bones in the urn are those of the Princes is as conclusive as could be desired” (by whom?)(255-6).

Historian John Ashdown-Hill’s analysis of Eleanor Talbot’s life includes a far deeper discussion of the dental angle as glossed over by Weir, despite the absolute nature of her accusation against the king. (Click image for more information.)

It is easy to deduce there is much more to what I have summarized here, let alone the captions under three pictures in the middle of a book on the Bestsellers! table. As mentioned earlier, this dental information I didn’t know about when I first read Weir’s book – and she counts on that as well as the likelihood that few readers will check up on her words. The truth is, she’s right: few do follow up. For how long had my professor posited the claim that Richard III died shouting the line about the horse? How many from my class still believe this today? And this is counting just the influence of one person. Multiplied by how many readers Weir (and others) has persuaded, most of whom have very little time and/or inclination to look into what she says—some of whom, frankly, are as willing to manipulate the truth—it’s no wonder there is such widespread belief that Richard did the deed.

Of course, many people simply don’t care. At one point I was one of them. I liked history but wanted it on my own lazy terms, not having to deal with dates or the same few recycled names. Others view eras such as the Middle Ages with an attitude of “life is cheap,” which perhaps explains their willingness to allow an anointed king to be so maligned, and when looking back I found it curious that it stirred something within my being. I am, after all, an American with not a single drop of royalist blood running through my veins.

This, however, may be the because rather than the despite, thanks to our Magna Carta-inspired Constitution, the law of the land guaranteeing our rights, including those of the accused, a topic on which Richard III also had something to say. The widespread reliance upon and acceptance of misinformation to convict someone from the past bothers me for the same reason similar attitudes light a fire in me today. It doesn’t matter if someone dislikes or even hates Richard or any other political figure: Anyone who claims to value justice should be alarmed when someone is prosecuted and convicted under such inconclusive evidence, especially for the sake of bragging rights to having solved a centuries-old puzzle. This king may have lived and died over 500 years ago, but thirst for power and willingness to tyrannize others to achieve it is alive and well. Why would any tyrant stop with politicians? As we have seen throughout history, they don’t.

I had the great benefit of a father who taught me how to look a bit deeper, and though I don’t have quite the historian’s mind he did, I believed fiercely in justice. I also loved a good yarn, so followed with rapture as my father related to me tales from a variety of eras.

I only vaguely recall him telling me of Richard’s ability to fight, even something favorable about Henry VII (I used to refer to him as “the Henry after Richard the last”). His narratives often changed direction and he occasionally refused to answer questions, and at some point I understood he was teaching me to think. This surely colored my perception of Weir’s ridiculous portrayal of modern writers of Richard III as those who (a) believe the monarch guilty but too timid to admit it or (b) believe he is basically a saint (1). I also question the word “revisionist” as applied to Ricardians. It seems to me the revisionism began full force August 22, 1485, with the backdating of Henry Tudor’s reign to the 21.

I also grew up with a Scottish mother who never let me forget the Stuarts; at some points my eyes simply glazed over, and it all probably contributed to my lazy childhood approach toward history, despite my love of its people. This laissez-faire attitude extended to Richard, and for most of my life I didn’t care enough about him to have an opinion on his culpability. Interestingly, it was his detractors who chipped away at this armor as they repeated ad nauseum their claims, much of which was rank hypocrisy or projection. This entry has focused on one who chose as her work’s epigraph a Shakespeare quote that illustrates both, which reads in part: “Insulting tyranny begins to jet” (Richard III, Act II, Scene IV). Here Elizabeth Wydville wigs out over fears for her family, Shakespeare conveniently ignoring her role in all of this, as does Weir. (Talk about revisionism!)

There have since been others, but Alison Weir ended up accomplishing, in my case, the opposite of her intention in that I found her scholarship to be suspect, so I looked into it; what I came to believe through further reading and discussion was that Richard III, while certainly no saint, cannot justly be convicted of a double murder on the evidence she presents. That she has to go into stealth mode and employ manipulation, insults and overreach says much more about her than it ever could about King Richard III.

Despite Weir’s preface statement that “it is unlikely the truth of the matter will ever be confirmed by better evidence than we already have,” since the 2012 discovery of the king’s remains in a parking lot, more of consequence has been learned. For example, the Shakespearean depiction of Richard as a hunchback is in fact the propaganda it has long been characterized as. Rather, the king suffered from scoliosis, resulting in a sideways, spiraling twist to his spine, as discussed in a 2014 press release from the University of Leicester, a deformity not immediately visible to those encountering him. The hunchback myth traces back to Thomas More, on information from John Morton, Bishop of Ely, instrumental in Henry Tudor’s seizure of the throne. (This alone makes their party line suspect.) Owing to this accomplishment, Tudor historians, and not Plantagenet, were the ones relating the history. As my father drilled into my mind many times, and we have all heard in history class, the winner writes the story.

Shakespeare strove to be part of that winning group, though doing it for Elizabeth I, Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, over one hundred years after the fact, illustrating the reality that low-information readers (playgoers) existed long before the rampant misinformation pushers of our own time. Granted, we are often over-saturated with details, but this also gives us advantage in having the ability to track down more than ever before, even from places far removed from a small corner of England, within which one king and his men fought within the loyalty to which they were bound, and so became we.

—Lisl P.

Sources

Ashdown-Hill, John. Eleanor, the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Stroud: History Press, 2010.

Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower. United States: Ballantine, 1992.

Images

All images courtesy Wikimedia unless otherwise noted. Click any image for more details and, if any, annotations.

Britain’s top burial sites?

This Sun article, which originally confused Richard’s Leicester with Henry I’s Reading, lists what they consider to be Britain’s top burial sites, although there is no detail on the supposed “Princes” in that urn, especially now that there is evidence to test the remains.

Are there any others you might have included?

Maldon

Following an unsuccesful Viking raid in 924, the battle of Maldon took place in August 991 and the result was a victory for the Norse invaders. Byrthnoth, the Essex earldorman who led the Saxons that day, was among those killed and Ethelred II instituted payment of the “Danegeld” to pacify the Vikings. This Byrthnoth statue (left), consequently, is displayed and a tapestry marking the millennium is part of the Maeldune Centre, to which we shall return.

Just over a mile from the town centre is Beeleigh Abbey, where Isabel Countess of Essex (Richard’s aunt) was buried, together with her Bourchier husband and son, before they were moved to Little Easton by her grandson, then Earl of Essex, at the time of the Dissolution, as were the Mowbrays and Howards in Thetford. The Abbey is closed nowadays, although it can be viewed from the gardens, which remain open.

This Essex town, by the Blackwater Estuary and the narrower River Chelmer, lies about six miles from Witham and was previously accessible from there by train. This plaque (left) by the Moot Hall details the more recent historic buildings, many of them on the High Street. The Rose and Crown (bottom) is one of these, down the hill and still in operation as an inn today.

The Maeldune Centre itself lies at the Market Hill junction, by Coes. Across the road is a long redundant church (St. Peter’s), which was adapted by the Maldon-born Thomas Plume (1630-1704), Vicar of Greenwich and Archdeacon of Rochester, to place Maldon Grammar School on the ground floor and his extraordinary private library (below left) on the first. The school has moved on but the Plume Library, funded by the income from nearby farmland, still stands.

Here, in a structure open only eight hours a week and accessible by a spiral staircase, the books are arranged by size and are not lent but have been stored since Plume’s time and a modern volume is very occasionally added. The collection relates to Plume’s interests in theology, history, science and philosophy, as well as the Civil War that plagued his youth. Some of the leather spines on the books are disintegrating although the pages themselves are in good condition.

Plume’s collection also includes a notable range of portraits, including all the monarchs of his lifetime and others from Edward IV, but excluding Edward V, the first two “Tudors” and Jane. The portraits include other clerics, including an “unknown divine”, whilst that of Charles I was made before his beard made an appearance. Groups can visit only by appointment and the total capacity is limited to twelve, including the staff.

So, to view a good portrait of Richard III and the former burial place of his Bourchier relatives, as well as some other history, Maldon is certainly worth a day out. All Saints, the contemporary civic church, houses the remains of George Washington‘s great-grandfather.

EADGYTH, A SAXON PRINCESS DISCOVERED

Shortly before Richard III’s remains were discovered, another ancient member of the English royalty was  found–the Saxon Princess Eadgyth who became Queen of Germany in 930 through her marriage to King Otto. Her father was Edward the Elder and so she was Alfred the Great’s granddaughter. She died at around 30 and was buried at the monastery of St Maurice, but in the 16th c her tomb was moved to Magdeburg Cathedral. Long thought to be empty, it turned out there was an ossuary chest within that had her name on it. The bones within the chest were removed for examination.

Carbon dates showed that the remains from Magdeburg were in the right era to be Eadgyth but more information was needed to confirm a probable identification as Eadgyth. So isotope analysis was done on the tooth enamel, confirming that the person in question had grown up on the chalklands of Wessex in their youth. This was enough to say in all probability, the fragmented skeleton was that of Eadgyth.

The Bones of Princes Eadgyth

Below: statue of Eadgyth, Queen of Germany, granddaughter of ALFRED THE GREAT.

eadgyth

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