Can you imagine swarms of investigators milling around unmarked graves (and known graves) across the UK, taking samples of DNA in the hope of locating someone of historic interest? After all, it’s how Michael Ibsen’s descent from Richard’s sister was discovered.
Well, the nature of events in Quebec, Canada, described in this article, raise some interesting points.
Such searches aren’t likely to happen en masse, of course, but if they did, I wonder just whose last resting place might be unearthed? And just who might be proved to NOT be the son/daughter of the parents to whom they’re credited? Some new historical mysteries might be solved…and some very intriguing possibilities created where they weren’t before!
We Ricardians know all about the problems, if not to say mysteries, that can arise from the final resting places of famous figures from the past. It doesn’t help that in the medieval period especially a person’s remains could be moved from place to place. Edward IV had his father and brother moved from Pontefract south to Fotheringhay, and Richard III had Henry VI moved from Chertsey Abbey to St George’s Chapel, Windsor. And, of course, for centuries there was the puzzle as to whether the remains of Richard III himself were thrown contemptuously into Leicester’s River Soar, or actually buried at Greyfriars. The latter eventually and very famously proved to be the case.
Now I have happened on another “where was he buried?” mystery, this time from the end of the reign of Edward II. While researching a few details about the later-in-the-14th-century marital goings-on of the 10th/3rd Earl of Arundel, Richard Fitzalan, known as “Copped Hat”, I found myself reading about his first wife, Isabel le Despenser, whom he married on this day, 9 February, in 1321. She was the daughter of Hugh Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser, known to history as Despenser the Younger, to distinguish him from his father, who was, yes, Despenser the Elder. Both were favourites of Edward II, and came to the fore after the abduction, trial and execution of another of the king’s favourites, Piers Gaveston. All three came to nasty ends, as (probably) did Edward II himself, and there is there is a famous illustration of the hanging, drawing and quartering of the younger Despenser in Hereford, see above.
Because of her father’s attainder and shameful execution, Isabel became an inconvenience to Copped Hat. Besides which his lustful and ambitious eye had fallen upon Eleanor of Lancaster, who’d be a much more advantageous Countess of Arundel. As Copped Hat was one of the richest and most influential magnates in the England of Edward II’s son, Edward III, he didn’t have any trouble at all in gaining the Pope’s permission to annul his first marriage, thus clearing the way for Eleanor to slip into the earl’s marital bed.
Where is all this leading? Well, to the fact that the younger Despenser’s widow was apparently granted her husband’s remains (well some of them – ‘the head, a thigh bone and a few vertebrae’) and she had them buried in a lavish tomb at Tewkesbury Abbey.
But in 2004 there were reports that Despenser’s remains had been found during archaeological excavations at Hulton Abbey in Staffordshire. These “new” remains lacked the very bones that had been returned to the younger Despenser’s widow and buried at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.
So, if the Hulton Abbey remains are indeed those of the younger Despenser, why wasn’t all of him returned to his widow? Why send her some of him, and then bury the rest at Hulton Abbey? He died in Hereford, and was then buried in Staffordshire and Gloucestershire?
Edward of York, better known as Edward of Middleham, was the only legitimate son of King Richard III and his Queen, Anne Neville.
Edward was thought to have been born in Middleham Castle in December 1473, but this date is not certain. The historian Charles Ross wrote that this date “lacks authority” and was of the opinion that Edward was probably born in 1476. A document in which the Duke of Clarence thought that the marriage between his brother and Anne was invalid confirms that the child was not born at least until 1474. The Tewkesbury Chronicle estimates that he was born in 1476 so when he died he was probably 7 and not 10, as many think. No doubt he was already born on 10th April 1477 as priests of York Minster were asked to pray for King Edward’s family including his brother Richard and his family (wife and son).
For almost everyone he is Edward of Middleham, as he was probably born in the Nursery Tower of Middleham, today known as the Prince’s Tower in the west wing of the castle and it is thought he died there too. He grew up in Middleham with a wet nurse called Isabel Burgh and a governess, Anne Idley, married to one of Richard’s favourite courtiers.
During his short life, Edward was given several titles. On 15th February 1478 Earl of Salisbury, on 26th June 1483 Duke of Cornwall, on 19th July Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and above all on 24th August 1483 he was named Earl of Chester and Prince of Wales. He received this last title in York with his father himself performing the ritual. The solemn ceremony was held in the Archbishop’s Palace and was followed by four hours of banqueting. Edward walked along the streets of York to the delight of people.
It has always been said that Edward was not a healthy child. It seems that he was so sick that he went to York in a litter and not riding a horse as he was meant to do and he couldn’t even be present at his parents’ Coronation. Because of this, probably Richard decided to organise this solemn ceremony in York where the child was named Prince of Wales.
Edward was the only legitimate child of Richard but he had at least one half-brother and a half-sister. As it is likely that these two children grew up in Yorkshire, it is possible that Edward didn’t feel lonely as a child.
Unfortunately, we have no official portrait of Edward apart from a few drawings and stained glasses. The most famous is in St Mary and St Alkelda Church in Middleham, where he appears dressed as the Prince of Wales along with his father and mother. His physical appearance is not clear as he is different in the images we have of him. It is likely he was a fair haired child with blue eyes and a lean body shape.
As Prince of Wales, Edward was expected to be king after the death of his father but fate had decided otherwise for both of them. In April 1484, Richard and Anne were at the castle of Nottingham to enjoy a respite from their royal progress, when the news of Edward’s death arrived. The reactions of the poor parents is described in the Croyland Chronicles as they were almost bordering upon madness. This means that the death was sudden and unexpected and this explains the fact that they had left him in Middleham, as they didn’t suspect an imminent death.
The cause of death is not sure, it seems he suffered with tuberculosis but a sudden death is not typical of this illness. So possibly the cause was something completely different and it is very unlikely we will ever know.
A mystery surrounds the burial of Edward. Many think he was buried in Sheriff Hutton in a tomb of alabaster representing a child. Some investigations have proved the tomb is empty so there is a theory that the child was possibly buried somewhere in the church, along with the mortal remains of the Neville family’s members. Due to its age, it is not possible to see any inscriptions and it is very likely the tomb dates from much earlier than 1484. The theories around the actual location of Edward’s tomb are many and varied. Some people think it could be in Coverham, others in Jervaulx Abbey where, as a child, Edward rode horses with his father, others even it is in York. Some are of the opinion that any place he might be was a provisional resting place. At that time re-burials were very common so it was not impossible that Richard had in mind a different location but, as protecting his son’s body from being desecrated or displayed was apparently Richard’s desire, we can just hope nobody will ever disturb Edward’s eternal peace.
Where lies Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham?
No one can say for sure, his final resting place is as elusive and entwined with myth and legend as Richard III’s once was.
Stafford, leader of the October 1483 rebellion against Richard, was turned in by one of his own men while hiding in a cottage, apparently in peasant dress, after heavy rain and the flooding of the Severn caused his uprising to fail. He was taken to Salisbury, where on November 2, he was beheaded in the Market Square.
He supposedly begged to speak with Richard, who was staying either at the King’s House in the cathedral close or at the priory at nearby Wilton. Buckingham insisted he had important information for the King. Richard refused to see him, this man he had called ‘the most untrue creature living’ and the execution took place as planned. It was unusual, as it took place on a Sunday, and on All Souls…and it was also the birthday of Edward V (which just may be significant considering Buckingham was named in regards to the Princes’ murders, if murdered they were, in documents both in England and on the Continent.
But what happened to the remains of this great traitor, himself of royal descent, who had perhaps even dreamed of wearing the crown of England himself?
A near contemporary report says he was buried in the church of the Greyfriars in Salisbury. This Franciscan Friary has now completely vanished and stood near to St Anne’s street and Brown street; a commemorative plaque has been set into a building near the presumed spot. This is the only document that mentions his resting place, and there is always the vague possibility they are confusing him with his grandfather, who was buried in Greyfriars in Northampton.
However, a mile outside of the city centre, in the sleepy village of Britford, another tomb claims to be Buckingham’s. A Victorian plaque above it declares that it is his grave. It is the only large memorial in the church—comprising the top of a large canopied tomb, which stands above a smaller tomb-chest capped by Purbeck marble. The chest does in fact bear a shield bearing one of the devices of the Staffords.
But the top of the tomb is probably a hundred years too early, and the chest may be too early as well…although the lid has some features that suggest it was 15th century. Perhaps the tomb was reused for Buckingham’s burial?
Certainly both the canopy and chest came from elsewhere, probably from one of the ruined friaries after the Dissolution. They were not always situated in tiny Britford church. So it could have been taken from Greyfriars.
A good case for the chest actually being Buckingham’s last resting place can be made by one fact—his daughter Anne’s husband, George Earl of Huntingdon, actually owned the manor at Britford. It may well have been Anne who had the tomb removed from the friary at the Dissolution and transported for safety to the village church.
However, it appears to be empty…
So where are Buckingham’s bones?
If you go to Debenham’s, the site of the Blue Boar Inn where Buckingham spent his last night alive, you can have a nice cream tea whilst looked at Buckingham’s not-very-flattering portrait and read a little information the tea room has written on him. They claim that a skeleton was found many years ago under the kitchen flagstones, missing a head and a hand, and that these bones were thought to be the remains of Henry Stafford. They also claimed that the decapitated Duke’s head was sent to London to be placed on ‘Traitor’s Gate’ hence the skeleton found had no skull.
These two stories are problematic. It is highly unlikely even a traitor of the calibre of the Duke would be given a lowly burial in an inn’s kitchen…and goodness knows what the innkeeper would have said! Richard tended to give his slain enemies proper burials, and no doubt he did likewise with Buckingham. There is also no evidence that Buckingham’s head went anywhere other than into the grave with its owner, albeit separated from his shoulders. I believe Traitor’s Gate did not even have this name in Richard’s era. This skeleton, if it existed at all, was probably an Anglo-Saxon or even prehistoric resident of Salisbury.
Another distant possibility is that Stafford was buried in a chapel out at Old Sarum castle, a mile or so beyond Salisbury. This once mighty castle was already ruinous at the time of the execution, but there was one chapel still in use in the 15th century, mainly for wayfarers. In Victorian times the chapel was excavated and a skeleton found either near the high altar or in the ambulatory–of a man who had been beheaded, but who was also wearing a prisoner’s manacles. His head lay between his knees. This unusual burial was never mentioned as a candidate for Buckingham but was rather mysteriously thought to be William of Eu, who lost a duel at Sarum in the reign of William Rufus. However, it is is unlikely to be William, for it would be very hard to fight a duel wearing irons…and, besides that, William of Eu did NOT die at Sarum, but although hideously mutilated after losing the fight, retired somewhere near Hastings and lived on for some years….
So there was a mysterious medieval burial at Sarum, high status by its position in the church but decapitated and wearing criminals’ irons …which, sadly, has now gone missing (the bones, that is; the irons are still owned by Salisbury Museum.)
Maybe in a lab somewhere there is a battered box marked ‘Sarum’ that could contain the elusive Duke. Or maybe he is still under the floor of the destroyed Salisbury Greyfriars like Richard was in Leicester Greyfriars, with roads and buildings above him. Perhaps one day someone will open that dusty box or discover a likely burial, decide to take a closer look and do some tests.
Any Staffords out there who can donate some dna?