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An unexpected conclusion

Who do you think you are? is always an interesting programme and is disappointing to see only eight episodes in the series. In the past, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Frank Gardner, Danny Dyer and Clare Balding have all been revealed as proven descendants of Edward I. That has not happened in 2019 and few lines have gone back as far as the eighteenth century, so I hoped that the concluding episode’s research could beat that.

Wrong

Wright

As it turned out, it did go back a long way. The subject was Mark Wright – not the red-haired central defender (left) who scored against Egypt in 1990, heading home a Gascoigne free kick, but a “reality show” star and former semi-professional full-back who was born only three years before that, who had a feeling that his complexion pointed to some Italian ancestry. This Mark Wright (right) was accompanied in the earliest scenes by Eddie, his paternal grandfather, who had collated his knowledge in advance, particularly about his own grandfather and namesake.

Edward Wright senior was a builder whose materials occasionally fell off the back of carts and was imprisoned for this on one occasion. On another, he was said to have left for America after another conviction and passenger lists proved that this really happened as opposed to being a cover for another “stretch”. With the help of Mark Smith (left), the arms and militaria expert from Antiques Roadshow, he proved that Edward Wright sourced horses for the British Army before signing up after reducing his age to serve in the First World War.

Next, Mark discovered that his grandfather’s  mother came from a Jewish line named Simons/ Simmons, through which he was able to visit the 1701 Bevis Marks synagogue (right), built for the Sephardi (Iberian and North African) Jewish community whom Oliver Cromwell had allowed back into the British Isles.

Further research took him to Spain, in particular Jaen in Andalucia, where his ultimate known ancestor Antonio de Castro/ David de Mendoza, a fencing master, was born in 1661 and then brought up there. This was a family of “conversos”, but frequently came under suspicion from the Inquisition. Antonio, as he was known, was arrested and tortured, tried, convicted and imprisoned before escaping to Amsterdam with his wife and children, where they resumed an overt Jewish life. His nephew Miguel was then arrested and, possibly because of Antonio’s activities, burned, a fate he shares with an ancestor of Simon Sebag Montefiore, her brother and sister. On a brighter note, Mark was able to meet a distant cousin who is also a Mendoza descendant.

“Mordecai Mendoza”(Bernard Cribbins)

Wright actually showed a real flair for genealogy, enthusiastically drawing up tables on paper and spotting the religious significance of the name Mendoza. Might we hear more about his family some time?

Has mtDNA identified Jack the Ripper?

“Ripperology” is quite a confused subject and at least a dozen suspects have been conclusively “identified as the Whitechapel fiend. Nevertheless, this article and the book detailed within, if taken at face value, uses the scientific techniques that identified Richard III, Jesse James, Nicholas II and others to claim to solve the East London riddle once and for all.

The critical case is that of the fourth definite, or “canonical”, victim: Catherine Eddowes, who was slain in the early hours of Sunday 30 September 1988 and found in Mitre Square, about an hour after the discovery of Elizabeth Stride. Eddowes’ apron, found nearby, is the first exhibit here and the second is a silk shawl (below left), apparently found by her body and heavily bloodstained. Russell Edwards, who wrote the article in question, located the shawl at an auction in Bury St. Edmunds in 2001 and contacted Jari Louhelainen, a senior biology lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University and crime buff.

Jack the Ripper suspect Aaron Kosminski

First, they traced Eddowes’ great-great-great granddaughter and the multiple-great-niece of leading suspect Aaron Kosminsky (right), who was, in September 1888, a 23 year-old Polish Jewish hairdresser in East London that month, later to die in a lunatic asylum in Colney Hatch, where he was admitted in 1891. Importantly, both of these living relatives were related strictly through the female line and the mtDNA of both matched the blood on the apron and semen on parts of the shawl, thus seemingly demonstrating beyond peradventure that their respective Victorian relatives had both left bodily fluids on them.

Sadly, Edwards and Louhelainen’s research is yet, five years after publication, to be peer reviewed. If it were, we would need look no further for “Jack” as Kosminski briefly entered a workhouse in 1890 and was committed to Colney Hatch (left) the following February.

Here, however, is the counter-argument, quoting Paul Begg and Dr. Turi King, disputing the connection between Eddowes and the shawl, the genealogy and the significance of the DNA match. In summary, Kosminski cannot be eliminated by Edwards and Louhelainen’s research, nor can he yet be identified as “Jack” with forensic certainty. This BBC documentary points towards him in other ways.

Dyer or Dire?

Many of you will remember the episode of “Who do you think you are” in which Danny Dyer was revealed as a descendant of Edward III. In this new two part series, he “meets” a few prominent ancestors, some even more distant.

The first episode began with Rollo, ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy, which saw Dyer visit Sweden, although Danes and Norwegians also claim that Viking dynast, to learn sparring with a sword and shield. Then he went to the Tower to talk about William I and Dover Castle for Henry II, discussing his rebellious sons and his mixed relationship with Becket. At every stage, riding a horse, jousting or dyeing (Dyeing?), he was accompanied by a professional genealogist (Anthony Adolph, in a cafe opposite Buckingham Palace) or a historian, if not one of television’s “usual suspects”. At the end, Dyer visited France to learn of a slightly different ancestor – St. Louis IX, although Margaret of Wessex is another canonised forebear.

The second episode did feature some real historians: Elizabeth Norton, Chris Given-Wilson, Tobias Capwell and Tracy Borman. The opening scene had Isabella on the Leeds Castle drawbridge shouting at Edward II (Dyer): “Git aht ov moi carsel” (you may need Google Translate, but not from French). We were shown an image of Hugh le Despencer’s grisly execution, without pointing out that there were two of that name, followed by Edward’s confinement in Berkeley Castle, forced abdication and the legend of his even grislier end. Henry “Hotspur” Percy, who died in battle at Shrewsbury, followed as Dyer tried on late mediaeval armour. The next scenes concerned Sir John Seymour at Wolf Hall, inveigling his daughter into Henry VIII’s world, as Dyer dressed up and tried “Tudor” dancing. We then moved on to Helmingham Hall as Catherine Cromwell married Lord Tollemache, whose successor met Dyer, his cousin, again. The series concluded with a “sugar banquet” as the star’s family joined in, dressed as Elizabeth I’s contemporaries.

Both programmes were informative about mediaeval life, such as the “silver pennies” bearing Dyer’s image and the West Ham badge, although his stereotypical East London patois grates a little. It brought to mind Ray Winstone as Henry VIII (“I have been betrayed!”) or Nick Knowles‘ egregious Historyonics.

The Prince and the Neutron Blaster

Michael K. Jones‘ latest investigation, into Edward the Black Prince, was featured on BBC1’s “Inside Out” South-East, a half-hour regional magazine programme consisting of three reports of which this was the last one.

As Jones explained, the neutron blaster is not a weapon used at the 1356 battle of  Poitiers but for present day scientific tests that Oxford’s Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory is conducting on the helm that formed part of his “achievements” at his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral, to discover whether this whether it was an ornament or actually associated with the Prince in his lifetime. Apart from Jones and some scientists, Tobias Capwell was also featured in the ten-minute segment. It also quoted Froissart to explain how the teenaged Prince had fought at Crecy ten years earlier, where King John of Bohemia was among the casualties.

 

The Antiques Roadshow goes to Floors

There are few television programmes so long-running that participation in an early show is of interest in itself but the Antiques Roadshow is one of them. On April 29, the experts came to the majestic Georgian structure of Floors Castle, home of the Duke of Roxburghe and from which the ruins of Roxburgh Castle are visible towards the Tweed, including the holly bush (ilex aquifolium) marking the spot at which James II fell during the 1460 siege, his leg blown off by his own cannon.

Sadly, the programme didn’t highlight Roxburgh or the Holly but viewers were shown the stunning backdrop of the Cheviot Hills, as well as some interesting “finds”.

Brat Farrar

Josephine Tey’s novel Brat Farrar is widely perceived as having been based on the Victorian Tichborne case where a well-upholstered Australia-based butcher’s son posed as the missing claimant to a baronetcy. Arthur Orton/ Castro persuaded Roger Tichborne’s mother that he was the heir to the title, but very few others and lost his court casesbratfarrar.

In a book serialised by BBC1 in 1986, in their classic “Sunday teatime literature slot”, Tey makes some of the Ashby family circumstances different and introduces an interesting psychological feature: Simon knows that Farrar cannot be his elder twin, Patrick, because … but we won’t spoil the ending for those who have not yet read it. This frequently occurs in great literature and Rattigan, for example, plays with the facts of George Archer-Shee’s postal order problems at Dartmouth Naval College in The Winslow Boy.

Is Tey implying something more? We all know that she also wrote The Daughter of Time, in which she employs the device of a fictional mid-C20 policeman to explore the facts about the “Princes”. Is Brat Farrar, written two years earlier, a previous attempt at this objective. Is Patrick actually the younger “Prince” (or a combination of both) and is Simon his, or their, brother-in-law? It is more than sixty years too late to ask Tey but perhaps she wrote about it somewhere, privately.

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