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The Windsor centenary

Today in 1917, the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was renamed the House of Windsor, at the behest georgevof George V and his advisors. There has been a series on Channel Five about it, focussed on the Castle and Great Park, whilst rather too gossiply and less historical than it could have been, was highly informative, with some facts about Windsor in past centuries. A series on Channel Four has been somewhat more impressive.

Interestingly, both programmes were launched in February and not July, which would have been more logical.

A year of anniversaries

shakespeare

2016 has been the 1000th anniversary of Edund Ironside’s accession and death, also of the death of his father Ethelred Unraed and the double accession of Cnut of Denmark. It has also been the 950th anniverary of the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings, being the end of the House of Wessex after its interruption.
Four centuries ago, St. George’s Day to be exact, marks the death of Shakespeare and possibly his 1564 birth. Opinion is still divided as to whether, in Richard III’s case among others, he merely embroidered what passed for history during his lifetime or invented many of the significant events he wrote about. At least we can precisely date his death better than we can his birth and we can, ironically, rely on the flow of his plays relating accurately to the culture of his own time, such as Cordelia’s execution, which could not have happened in Richard’s own century.

In March, Helen Castor marked the anniversary on Channel Four by investigating the fate of the Bard’s own remains in this documentary. It transpires that, having been buried in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church with his family and a forbidding epitaph(1), GPR investigations show that his skull is probably missing, just like Morton’s at Canterbury Cathedral. Richard, of course, was intact except for his feet. It seems that not everyone over the years heeded the curse:

(1) Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be Middle English the.svg man Middle English that.svg spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he Middle English that.svg moves my bones

“Henry VIII and his six wives” – Channel Five

Henry VIII and His Six Wives

This has been presented by two of Five’s favourite history presenters: Dan Jones and Suzannah Lipscomb. Perhaps the title isn’t the best of starts, as Ashdown-Hill (Royal Marriage Secrets, ch.10, pp.95-113) has shown that Henry may have contracted as few as two valid marriages, the third and sixth ceremonies.

Jones begins every episode by reciting the familiar mnemonic, although the fact that four of the marriages were annulled and none really ended in “divorce” is not mentioned. It is clear, from Jones’ description of Henry as “England’s most notorious King”, a “monster” and a “tyrant”, that he likes the “Tudors” no more than he does their Plantagenet predecessors.

The series starts well with a detailed discussion of Catherine of Aragon’s relationships with Arthur and Henry, including her years as a virtual prisoner from 1502-9 and her subsequent fertility, although Arthur’s boasts are not mentioned. Then the annulment campaign begins and Anne Boleyn is introduced. Here, the pace of the series moves on a little to her end and Wolsey is scarcely mentioned. Torture is shown being applied to one of her lovers but they are executed off camera. Jane Seymour’s time is used to illustrate Henry’s positive emotions although Anne of Cleves is portrayed like a badly-designed doll as Henry once again strives for a legal loophole and Cromwell is despatched for not finding one. As late as 1541, Henry is shown doing the sign of the cross.

Catherine Howard then flits across the screen, raising Henry’s blood pressure further, writing silly letters and having a block delivered to her Tower cell for “practice”, although her relationship with Dereham is not fully explored. Catherine Parr, Catherine of Aragon’s goddaughter, is then shown as restoring Henry’s equilibrium and giving the Reformation a further boost, as Bishop Gardiner tries to persuade him to complete a hat-trick of executed “wives”. Henry resists and dies peacefully.

This subject was covered in 2001 on Channel Four by Jones’ mentor David Starkey who, despite his misconceptions of the previous years , knows the reign of Henry VIII inside out.

The King In The Lab – Richard III’s Dissolute Diet

RICARDIAN LOONS

I recently had the opportunity to attend a talk by Professor Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey, co-author of the multi-isotope analysis which explored what the last Plantagenet king of England ate and drank. As I mentioned in a previous science post, this study formed the basis for the widely reported claim that, although he was a capable soldier, he overindulged on food and drink and that this “dissolute” diet was the reason for his unexpected defeat at the battle of Bosworth. As this seemed to be at odds with both historical sources and also the study itself, I was hoping to finally get to the bottom of the facts. I wasn’t disappointed.

What Isotopes Can Tell Us

Professor Evans began her talk by explaining that isotopes are particles which transmit information from geology to us via our food chain. Basically:

Rock > soil > plants > herbivores…

View original post 1,819 more words

An Unbiased Review

I only recently found the attached review of the Channel 4 documantary ‘The Princes in the Tower’, which we all thought was awful! It seems this journalist agreed with us!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/tv-and-radio-reviews/11486107/Richard-III-the-Princes-in-the-Tower-Channel-4-review.htmlking-richard

Body of Evidence

“Body of Evidence” was the title of a talk given by Dominic Smee, Richard’s “body double”, at Leicester University earlier this year. Until recently, one of the great mysteries surrounding the last Plantagenet king was the contradiction between the severity of his supposed deformities and his reputation as a soldier, praised amongst others by his brother Edward IV, who was himself considered a paragon of military prowess. Some historians suspected that his deformities were exaggerated or even completely invented by his political enemies, pointing to the fact that reports about them only began to surface after his death, while others argued that it was his military reputation which was exaggerated and that his contemporaries were simply too scared to mention his deformities during his lifetime.

The finding of Richard’s skeleton with its severe scoliosis has reignited the debate. As Philippa Langley succinctly put it when first setting eyes on the royal remains: “How do you fit armour on that?” This was the question scientists and historians tried to answer by dressing scoliosis sufferer Dominic in medieval armour and putting him through his paces. The results were presented in the TV documentary “Richard III – The New Evidence” (published in the US as “Secrets of the Dead – Resurrecting Richard III”) – at least, some of them. The purpose of Dominic’s talk at Leicester University was to reveal, based on photos, videos and personal anecdotes, what the producers had chosen to exclude.

The scoliosis and its effects (or not)

He began by showing an x-ray of his scoliosis, which is identical to Richard’s in terms of angle and rib rotation, except that Richard’s scoliosis starts from the 4th vertebra whereas Dominic’s starts from the 3rd vertebra. This means that he has slightly less mobility in his hips than Richard while Richard would instead have had slightly less mobility in his right shoulder. Given how dramatic the curvature looked on the x-ray, it was startling how little it seemed to affect Dominic as he moved around the auditorium and under a t-shirt and light jacket it was all but invisible.

He explained that due to the sideways curvature of his spine the lung capacity on his left side is reduced, but the right side is normal and while he tires more easily than a person without scoliosis, it is not a big issue. The documentary shows him struggling for breath on a treadmill, but at that point he had already been running for 20 minutes. According to his orthopaedic surgeon his other internal organs, such as his heart, are not affected by the scoliosis, which was a key reason why Dominic decided not to have corrective surgery.

There has been much speculation about Richard being in pain and the impact this may have had on him physically and psychologically, but Dominic didn’t experience any pain during his teens and now, in his late twenties, only gets muscle cramps in cold weather conditions or when lifting something heavy, though not enough to need pain killers. He described the pain from a trapped nerve as 10-20 times worse. Unlike Richard he doesn’t have arthritis in his spine, so he was unable to comment on its effect, but this may have been a relatively recent development for the king, who was 32 years old at the time of his death. He would have also been training for armed combat since childhood, which would have strengthened his muscles and helped to support his back.

By contrast, aside from a spell of karate in his teens Dominic led a sedentary lifestyle, so he had to start his knightly training from scratch at age 26. He estimated that he received 40 hours of horse training and 32 hours of weapons training over three months, at an average of two lessons per week, to prepare him for the challenges that were thrown at him in the documentary. The producers actually had a stand-in on hand, but Dominic did so well that they decided to use him all the way.

Customising the armour and unseen research

Because of the sideways curvature of his spine Dominic’s rib cage rests on his hip, so regular armour causes his ribs to rub against the plate, restricting his breathing. The custom-made asymmetrical cuirass, created by Swedish armourer Per Lillelund Jensen from CK45 spring steel, the closest modern equivalent to medieval armour steel, accommodates the curvature and rests on his shoulders instead of his waist. At 62 pounds total weight his armour is also lighter than average to allow for greater agility and to minimise the impact of the asymmetrical weight distribution on his horse. Dominic had brought the cuirass along to the talk and despite the slightly uneven shoulders, which would normally be concealed by the shoulder pauldrons, it looked remarkably “normal”.

1) and 2) Dominic in full armour, and 3) the custom-made cuirass

Dominic gave due credit to his teachers, Dave Rawlings of the London Longsword Academy and Dominic Sewell of Historic Equitation, as he described how he started out learning sword moves from Hans Talhoffer’s medieval fencing manual, but then moved on to other weapons as Richard would have also learned to fight with battle axe and lance, how he and his horse learnt to deal with the asymmetrical weight distribution and how they discovered that the medieval saddle supported his back.

He also revealed that they choreographed a number of scenarios to explore how Richard may have died, both on foot and sitting on a vaulting horse, to see how long he could have defended himself against a group of halberdeers. Another experiment involved a reenactor hitting the top of a sallet with a pole axe, which created a similar imprint in the polystyrene head underneath as the wound on top of Richard’s skull because, due to the gap between sallet and skull, the weapon couldn’t penetrate fully, possibly confirming that “the stroke his Basnett to his head vntill his braines came out with blood”[1]. Most intriguingly Toby Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection and the man who got Dominic involved in the documentary, reenacted Richard’s last cavalry charge to see if he could have covered the 800 or so yards distance in time to kill Henry Tudor before he was attacked by Stanley’s men. Dominic didn’t specify how they worked out the available timespan, but in an interview with Jon Snow of Channel 4 Dr Capwell stated that, if Richard hadn’t killed the standard bearer but gone straight for Tudor, the charge may well have succeeded. Sadly none of this made it into the documentary, except for a snippet that shows Dominic playing dead on the floor. As he pointed out, this too was part of the choreography – he hadn’t collapsed from exhaustion.

Unseen challenges

What also wasn’t shown in the documentary was that, due to time and financial constraints, only the cuirass and leg armour, which were so comfortable that Dominic was able to ride a bicylce in them, were custom made. The sallet, shoulder pauldrons, gauntlets and arming doublet were borrowed from fellow re-enactors and the Royal Armoury, which led to unforeseen complications.

Dominic described wearing a sallet as similar to looking through a letterbox: he could only see his horse’s ears and the tip of his lance, all sounds were muffled except the wind whistling around his head and to take his battle axe out of his belt with gauntlet-clad hands, use it and put it back he had to rely on muscle memory. However, the sallet he wore in the programme was too big and the first time he galloped towards the quintain it slid down until it covered his eyes, so he had to pad out his coif to hold it in place. Similarly, the arming doublet didn’t take account of his scoliosis, so it too had to be padded to keep the armour from sliding or rubbing. The symmetrical shoulder pauldrons kept catching on his asymmetrical cuirass, reflecting his shoulder blades catching on his rib cage underneath, so every time he lifted the lance he had to deliberately push up the pauldrons, which should have risen automatically as he lifted his arms had they fit correctly. He had to try and hold reins and weapons without being able to close his hands because the gauntlets didn’t fit. And while the high-backed medieval saddle helped his posture, it wasn’t designed to interact with his custom-made armour so the culet, a piece of armour that’s meant to protect the rider’s bum from weapons while on horseback, was instead driven into Dominic’s bum. Imagine galloping through a field wearing ill fitting plate armour and trying to hit a target with a weapon you’re unable to grip properly – after only 40 hours of training!

The real Richard

Although Dominic didn’t say it, it seems clear that the documentary was edited to emphasise his physical limitations, for example filming him when he was out of breath or playing dead, while glossing over the shortcomings he overcame, such as ill fitting armour and lack of experience (not to mention interpreting the isotope analysis as evidence of a “dissolute” lifestyle). Of course, if Dominic’s achievements were even more impressive than they appear in the programme – he spent up to 11 hours a day on horseback – then it should be even less surprising that Richard, with his greater experience and custom-made armour, was able to earn a reputation as a competent warrior.

To explore how and to what extent these “limitations” can be further compensated Dominic has set up the Dominic Smee Armour Fund to raise money for a fully customised suit of armour. He has already added a new piece to his collection: an asymmetrical arming doublet curtesy of Ninya Mikhaila of The Tudor Tailor, which fits under his asymmetrical cuirass without the need for padding. He is also writing a book about his scoliosis and how his attitude has changed from previously ignoring it to now accepting it. As he commented at the end of the talk, the biggest surprise for him was finding out how much he is actually able to do.

I would recommend Dominic’s talks to anyone who is interested in Richard III. He’s an engaging speaker who, despite his different background, is in the unique position of being able to offer insights based on first hand experience. “Body of Evidence” added many new details to my understanding of the historical Richard and I look forward to any new information Dominic’s research may reveal.

[1] The Song of Ladye Bessiye

Sources:

Dominic Smee: “Body of Evidence”, Leicester University, 21 March 2015

The Dominic Smee Armour Fund

Apart from a few minor details …

… David Starkey thinks that he has solved the mystery of the “Princes”.

The minor details are:
1) Tyrrell’s trial was for helping the de la Pole brothers, not to do with any “murder” of anyone at all.
2) The (fully documented by Thomas Penn) trial took place at the Guildhall, not the Tower. Henry VII “Tudor” and his wife effectively lived at the Tower, as they were waiting another 200 years fror Buckingham Palace to be built.
3) There was no confession by Tyrrell and no suggestion of one until after Henry VII’s death (see “As the King gave out” by Susan E. Leas).

Thanks to Annette Carson (http://www.annettecarson.co.uk/357052362).
Our original review of the programme: https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/review-of-the-princes-in-the-tower-channel-4/
Leas’ article was in the March 1977 Ricardian :http://www.richardiii.net/6_3_2_ricardian_index.php

We can exclusively reveal …

HelicopterStarkeyspitfire

… that David Starkey has solved the mystery of Stony Stratford. As we know, three to five hundred of the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham’s men managed to persuade Edward V to accompany them to London and not Earl Rivers’ two thousand retainers who had taken him so far. Most of Gloucester’s adherents were in Yorkshire which is not, despite what a certain novelist may think, an inner suburb of east London.

In a Channel Four documentary to be broadcast next month, Dr. Starkey will reveal that Gloucester’s men were successful because they had the use of a squadron of Spitfires and the SAS (Special Archery Service). This was, as he points out, the era in which da Vinci designed a helicopter.

Guilty!…until proven innocent, which ain’t gonna happen….

Coat_of_Arms_of_Richard_III,_King_of_England

What a very strange state of affairs it is, when the king who made certain that people were innocent until proven guilty, is himself always presumed guilty with scant chance of ever being proved innocent.

But this is the case with Richard III, whose one and only Parliament advanced and improved the lot of the ordinary man to a degree that many of his statutes are still adhered to now. These statutes were even published in English, allowing the ordinary public to read or have it read to them, and understand. Richard was determined to help and protect his subjects.

Yet he is guilty until proven innocent. Who says? Well, rather blinkered historians with an axe to grind, that’s who. Close your eyes and picture them. Spot on. They are the sort of people who will say black is white, no matter what. If someone is admirable, they’ll make damned sure he isn’t for long. The sort of people who will cast endless doubt upon the truth, simply to further their own careers. To these people, More and Shakespeare are absolutely reliable for FACTS. Hmm. So, Richard had a withered arm, even though his skeleton proves he didn’t. Richard had kyphosis, they say, even though he had scoliosis. We’re right, they squeal! Especially when they’re on TV promoting their latest load of preposterousness.

Incredible as it seems to us now, back in the 15th century people could buy land, only to find it had already been sold elsewhere, or that it didn’t belong to the seller in the first place. Caveat emptor was the order of the day, and the guilty could get away with it. Richard stopped that little scam. He insisted on fairness, because that was his nature. Why else was he loved so much in the north, where he ruled for many years at the order of his brother the king? If he was a toad, they’d have been glad to see the back of him. They weren’t any such thing, instead they grieved when he was killed.

As attested to by the barrister Juliet Donovan during Channel Four’s “procession highlights” show (about 2:10:30 in), he introduced bail, saw that juries were more wisely selected, prevented the system of ‘benevolences’, and many other things. All in one Parliament. Just how far might he have gone if he had reigned for longer? He could well have transformed England, and died in his bed, a venerated king.

Instead, courtesy of these particular historians, we are still presented with Richard the Monstrous Uncle, who pinched his nephew’s throne, forced Anne Neville into marriage, bullied old women and murdered his enemies, all starting at the age of 2, or thereabouts, according to the Bard. Who is always right. Believe it. What a precocious little lad Richard was, and all while being so physically deformed and hideous that he was clearly the Devil’s spawn. The lawmaker was the twisted Law-mauler Supreme.

Well, that is if you read these Mouth Almighties, who clearly do not pay any attention to facts. Why? Because it doesn’t suit them. They don’t want to know that the real Richard was a good, brave man, who had kingship forced upon him by his elder brother’s bigamy. They want to believe More and Shakespeare. Or pretend they do, at least. And so now, even when it’s becoming clearer by the day that they are wrong, they deny it. The earth is flat where they live! The rest of us have long since known it is round.

The morphing of Richard III….

from tigerlight430 - portrait  tigerlight430 - Channel 4 reconstruction tighterlight430 - morphRichard smiling - my work

I first came upon this morphed picture of Richard way back in May 2013, or perhaps a few months earlier, and having recently seen it again, I decided to post about where I found it. While searching for as many likenesses of Richard as I could, the morph suddenly popped up on screen. It was astonishingly lifelike, and totally different from the National Portrait Gallery portrait. And yet the same, if you know what I mean. The NPG portrait had become flesh and blood.

My find was at http://www.tigerlight430.co.uk/, a site belonging to Paul Ferguson. I was eager to use the picture, but my enquiry received no reply. As it was published publicly and I couldn’t see any mention of copyright, I went ahead and used it. Eventually I twiddled it so that Richard was looking at the viewer and smiled just a little. Not everyone will like it, of course.

Since then I have learned that someone else had the same idea as Paul. Olivia Nagioff at the Society published a morph in August 2013, and compiled a brief video to show how she did it. (see http://www.richardiii.net/8_9_gallery.php and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vr3j5mZT9wk.) The sequence is almost eerily alive. And yet reassuring. Only Richard’s enemies would find him dark or frightening! To everyone else he was and is someone we can only admire.

Anyway, the pictures above are: The NPG portrait, the reconstruction as shown on Channel Four, then Paul’s morph. The final one, looking at you and smiling, is my twiddle.

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