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The latest on the hunt for Richard’s Y-chromosome

Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, was born today in 1338, although he died just before his thirtieth birthday. He is, of course, a mixed-line direct ancestor of Richard III but he is the brother of Edmund of Langley, Richard’s male-line great grandfather.

Here, John Ashdown-Hill spoke to Nerdalicious about his attempts to locate Lionel and secure a little DNA. You may compare it with our earlier piece about a similar search.


Hey diddle diddle, it’s Richard III….!

hey diddle diddle

Sometime ago I read that the words of the old Hey Diddle Diddle nursery rhyme were in fact a reference to the story of Richard III. There are other theories, of course, including this of Elizabeth I:

“The story goes that Elizabeth, was often called a cat for the treatment of her court, the mice. When Elizabeth’s cousin Lady Catherine Grey eloped with Edward Seymour represented by the dish running away with the spoon, Elizabeth was not particularly impressed. The ‘dish’ and ‘spoon’ of the rhyme are sometimes said to be the Queen’s private server and food taster, but this theory too lacks evidence.” (This extract is from

The suggestion that the rhyme might be to do with Richard’s so-called usurpation of the throne connects Sir William Catesby with the cat (the fiddle being to kill the boys in the Tower), the Kingmaker with the cow (no idea about the moon!) Francis Lovell with the dog, and Richard himself as the dish running away with the spoon (anointing spoon at his coronation). Why the Kingmaker is in there, I can’t imagine, for he was dead and gone by 1383, which is when the presumed events of the nursery rhyme took place.

Mind you, if you go here, you’ll find Richard’s name cropping up in all sorts of places, including Humpty Dumpty! See also here.

A Google search for Hey Diddle Diddle or Humpty Dumpty with Richard III will bring up numerous sites that repeat/debate/pooh-pooh the likelihood of the rhymes’ origins in Richard’s story.

Humpty Dumpty - RIII

The king in the above illustration is presumably Henry VII?

Anyway, it’s all an interesting theory, but I do not know how much faith to place in it. Take a look, and see what you think.









The Pedants’ Revolt (again)

Where better to start this time than Colchester, with its John Ball connections, of course? Here, in a beer advert, a centurion has edited some graffiti to remind the natives of the Roman Empire’s authority. Perhaps he will enter a pub with four colleagues and order some, raising two fingers when asked how many? He might prefer a martinus – “You mean martini?” – “No, just the one, thankyou”.



This Latin graffiti habit seems to be catching, as shown by this recent protest in Cambridge. However, the artist’s, or artists’, grammar seems to be wanting, according to authorities such as Mary Beard. Perhaps they need help from someone like this?

Yes, that Thomas of Lancaster

He lost his head at Pontefract so what was he doing on sale in Colchester?

thomasoflancasterThis Kathryn Warner post gives a lot of detail about Thomas Earl of Lancaster’s life, rebellion and execution six days after the Battle of Boroughbridge. Here we explained the circumstances in which John Ashdown-Hill is seeking his remains, to solve the York/ Beaufort Y-chromosome mystery.

Incidentally, the other Thomas of Lancaster you may encounter in a search engine was Henry V’s brother and Duke of Clarence but died at the siege of Bauge, a few months before his King and exactly 99 years after his namesake.

Was Edward IV gay and/or bisexual? Dr John Ashdown-Hill thinks maybe so….


What follows was written entirely by Caroline Tilley, Senior Reporter of the Daily Gazette/Essex County Standard

Secret marriages, scandalous affairs and one of the best-kept secrets in English history….

WHEN you have helped to unearth arguably the greatest historical find of the 21st century, some people might decide to put their feet up.

Not Dr John Ashdown-Hill.

Not satisfied with finding the bones of Richard III, arguably England’s most notorious king underneath a Leicester car park, Dr Ashdown-Hill has now been riffling through the secrets of his elder brother Edward IV.

King of England for two periods in the 15th century, Edward Plantagenet’s life seems about as far removed from his brother, Richard’s, as conceivably possible.

A notorious womaniser with illegitimate children scattered across the country, scandal plagued his reign with secret marriages.

Yet all is not as it seems, as Dr Ashdown-Hill has explored in his new book.

The historian, who studied at the University of Essex and now lives in Manningtree, has unearthed evidence which appears to show Edward IV had a relationship with one of his military rivals.

He said: “In the summer of 1462 he met Henry, Duke of Somerset. Contemporary accounts tell us Edward loved him.”

If true, the claim would be one of the most explosive facts to come to light about a king renowned for his womanising.

There is certainly evidence, with a chronicle written at the time reporting how the two shared a bed.

Dr Ashdown-Hill said: “I don’t know why it’s been ignored.

“No-one has really picked it up. I think history is very surprising.”

Dr Ashdown-Hill made the headlines when, thanks partly to his painstaking work, the lost bones of Richard III were uncovered under a Leicester car park.

The notorious king has intrigued historians for centuries after allegedly killing off his nephews, the so-called princes in the tower and Edward IV’s sons, to take the throne.

His death at the hands of Henry VII, father to Henry VIII, marked the end of the famous Wars of the Roses.

It had been believed Richard’s bones had been thrown in a river by an angry mob a myth perpetuated by local legend, 50 years after his death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The lesson not to take evidence at face value is something Dr Ashdown-Hill is now applying to his work on Edward IV.

He said: “I had always been interested in Edward IV because of what he had to show about Richard III and his claim to the throne.

“A woman called Jane Shore was said to be his mistress for a long time. In fact, I have shown there is no evidence of this.

“It’s extraordinary. Even historian Rosemary Horrox said there was no contemporary evidence of it, yet she didn’t come to the obvious conclusion.”

Dr Ashdown-Hill added: “It was said Edward IV was a great womaniser and he had numerous bastards.

“In fact, Edward IV only recognised one illegitimate child, which he called the Lord Bastard.

“Henry VII then recognises another of his so-called children called Arthur Plantagenet. So it seems he might have had two or three illegitimate children.

“But so did Richard III and yet no one calls what he did outrageous. So why did they say this of his brother?”

Dr Ashdown-Hill believes the secret is tied up in an Act of Parliament which made Richard III king in 1483, after the death of his brother.

While the throne was meant to pass to the eldest prince in the tower, Richard claimed they were illegitimate and instead took the throne for himself.

But the two princes weren’t the only of Edward IV’s so-called legitimate children to be cut off. In fact, there were seven altogether.

Dr Ashdown-Hill believes it was this which has caused the confusion and led to historians believing Edward IV had so many illegitimate offspring.

Edward IV is not the only project Dr Ashdown-Hill is working on.

His work on Richard III led to the discovery of today’s Plantagenet female line through DNA.

He also uncovered somewhere along the line adultery had appeared, with at least one so-called father being displaced.

Dr Ashdown-Hill does not know whether this adultery happened in more modern or medieval times.

He is now trying to get his hands on the bones of Thomas of Lancaster, a relative of Richard III, whose bones were sold at auction in Colchester 1942.

It is not known where the bones are now but if he uncovers them, Dr Ashdown-Hill hopes to be able to pinpoint more accurately if the adultery happened before or after the birth of Richard III.

So after recovering the bones of Richard III and untangling the web of Edward IV, what’s next for Dr Ashdown-Hill?

As well as chasing possible living descendants who could give him DNA to pinpoint the elusive princes in the tower, he is next turning his attention to Richard III and Edward IV’s mother.

He said: “Cecily Neville seems to have spent a lot of her time being pregnant.

“I’m hoping a book might come from looking at her.”

See the article at

A Colchester mystery

Have you ever visited Colchester Castle? The guide book is very informative about three thousand years of the town’s history, particularly the 1989 revision, which I have. Page twenty names some 23 people who were imprisoned there and burned during 1555-8, together with two more who died there before they could be executed. Some of their cells, in the south-east corner, can be visited today.

This amounts to eight per cent of the usual estimate (about 280) of those put to death under Mary I through the revival of “de heretico comburendo”. Some suggest that 280 is an exaggeration of the real national total, perhaps inspired by writers such as Foxe, but that would make 23 in Colchester even more significant. Many of them came from neighbouring villages, of course, but the general impression is that the authorities in North Essex, as they were in Suffolk, were particularly tough on cases of suspected heresy.

Support for this conclusion can be found from Paul Johnson’s Elizabeth I: A study in power and intellect. Pages 53 to 54 emphasise that “they (the victims) were concentrated very largely in the south-east of the country”, including 67 in London, 11 in Middlesex, 39 in Essex and 59 in Kent, compared to 1 in the north and almost none in Wales and the West except 10 in Gloucestershire. Johnson also emphasises that they were “of the younger generation” and ” from the economically advanced areas of the country”.


The Shakespearean editor who was descended from Richard III’s sister …

… was Sir Edward Capell, son of the vicar of Stanton in Suffolk. He was, as you can see , a cousin of the Earls of Essex through Arthur Capell Baron Hadham, a descendant of Anne Duchess of Exeter.

More on “The Accidental Traitor”

EHFA Arthur_Capel,_1st_Baron_Capel_by_Henry_Paert_the_ElderCapells

Last year, we posted an essay about the life and death of Arthur Capell, Baron Hadham. Now, thanks to Anna Belfrage of EHA  we can add two portraits (above); one of Hadham alone, and one with his family.


Arthur Capell, Baron Hadham – the accidental traitor

The middle of the seventeenth century was a turbulent time and it would be very surprising were not some remnants of the House of York involved. Indeed, Ashby de la Zouch Castle, property of Ferdinando, Earl of Huntingdon, was slighted during this time as a result of his participation. Another Royalist partisan was Arthur Capell, an MP and warrior with a strong East Anglian connection, Plantagenet blood and a sense of honour that was to lead to his downfall.

The Capells had originally been wealthy merchants from Stoke-by-Nayland in Suffolk – a connection with the eponymous village is highly probable – and also owners of Rayne Hall, near Braintree. Sir William (c.1428-1515) was an MP and Lord Mayor of London, buying Hadham Hall in Hertfordshire in 1504. It had a large garden and a deer park, being visited by Elizabeth I in 1578.
His son, Gyles, was knighted following the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 and died in 1556. His younger son, Sir Edward moved the family’s main residence to Hadham. His son was Sir Henry (c.1514-88), Sheriff of Essex, who married Catherine Manners (1537-72), great-granddaughter of Anne, Duchess of Exeter, and thus sister of the 2nd Earl of Rutland.
Their son, Sir Arthur (1544-1632) was Sheriff of Hertfordshire. He married Lady Jane Grey’s cousin Margaret and they had twenty children. The first of these was Sir Henry.

Arthur was born at Hadham Hall on 20 February 1603/4. His father, Sir Henry, died in 1622 and his mother, Theodosia Montague, in 1615. He was educated at Queen’s College Cambridge although he probably did not graduate. Unable to travel abroad as the chief heir of an aged grandfather, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Charles Morrison of Cassiobury in Hertfordshire, in 1626 and they had six children. By 1641 his income was estimated at £4,400. He was, like his grandfather, a Protestant of the continental kind. Furthermore, his wife had important connections with subsequent Parliamentarians that ensured her safety and that of their children in the conflict to come.

Arthur was first elected as an MP for Hertfordshire in 1639, in the Short Parliament and re-elected to the Long Parliament. In late 1640, he was an Anglican and supporter of Laud, mildly criticising the excesses of Royal officers but, fearing for the consequences of Parliamentary extremism, became loyal to the Crown by the end of the following year.
In August 1641, he was created Baron Hadham (for £350) and, in 1642, joined the King and his supporters in York. He wrote to the Bishop of Exeter, complaining of the Parliamentary revolution. The new peer was already renowned for his loyalty and integrity, however fatal this would prove later.

The War is declared
During June 1642, he and eight other peers, of the nineteen created with him, were impeached to prevent them from sitting. Hadham moved to Nottingham where the Royal standard was first raised in August, continuing to raise money for the Royalist cause and going considerably into debt in the process.
Hertfordshire rapidly became a Parliamentarian county and men under the Earl of Essex raided Hadham Hall, removing horses, weapons and valuables. Capell joined Lord Bernard Stuart’s company of the King’s Lifeguard, ultimately commanded by Prince Rupert. He served at Edgehill in October before heading for winter quarters near Oxford. Hadham was over six feet tall, a great contrast with the four and a half foot King who was a distant cousin.

The Welsh border command
At the beginning of 1643, Hadham tried to raise money and troops in Cambridge, to no avail. He then devised a strategy to capture Manchester by first taking Cheshire to connect with northern and Scottish Royalists. In the spring, he was promoted to Lieutenant General to command, under Prince Rupert, the Marches and north Wales from Shrewsbury. In the interim, Parliament had granted his rents to the Earl of Essex.
Hadham arrived to find that Lichfield and Nantwich had fallen in March and wrote to Prince Rupert about the situation. His troops soon won a battle at Ranmore Heath near Whitchurch and marched on Warrington to reinforce Chester only to find that Warrington had also fallen and he wrote to “Colonel Henry Hastings”, another cousin later to become Lord Loughborough.
There were heavy Royalist casualties at Whitchurch but they were soon to take Oswestry. After this, Hadham was called away to escort the Queen. On his return, he considered his troops to be short on numbers and provisions. Eccleshall fell and counter-attacks upon Drayton and Wem failed with many of his officers among the casualties. By November, Wrexham had fallen and Rupert was given the operational command as Capell moved on to Bristol.

Lifeguard to the Prince
1644 began with the Hadham estates under sequestration and they were to run at a loss for several years. Capell rejoined the King at his makeshift capital of Oxford. The Scots and Parliamentarians were joined together and the northern Royalists under Rupert and the Duke of Newcastle at Marston Moor, which eventually decided the conflict. The young Prince of Wales, other Royalist peers and gentry sent a Peace Petition but this failed and Capell saw no action in this year.
There were more unsuccessful negotiations in 1645, partly on the religious differences between the Kingdoms, and both armies were reformed. The Earl of Manchester, a cousin of Lady Capell and a moderate Parliamentary commander, was accused of sloth and retired – leaving us this famous quote “If we fight (the King) a hundred times and beat him ninety-nine, we shall be hanged.” – later supporting the new King.
That March, Capell was raised to the Privy Council and appointed to the Royalist Western Association, where he was to serve the fifteen year-old Prince of Wales, along with Rupert, Sir Edward Hyde and the Marquis of Hertford, and to command three regiments. The troops in this area had been badly organised and Capell had to pay many of them himself. Taunton and Bristol fell to the New Model Army and Prince Rupert was dismissed, the cause having been lost far away at Naseby. Their wives visited Capell and his fellows near Bristol. The Prince of Wales was advised to leave the country but refused lest morale in the area collapse completely.
In February 1646, a great battle took place at Torrington. The Royalists seemed to be winning until enemy reinforcements arrived. Capell was wounded and Fairfax barely survived but the Royalist army in the west simply dissolved. Capell and the other officers moved on to Bodmin, Truro and the Scillies, where his aunt Lady Hopton died, as many of their troops deserted and the Lifeguard was disbanded. They then sailed for Jersey.
The Queen (Henrietta Maria, whose husband was now a prisoner) then ordered Prince Charles and his Council to leave the country for their own safety and the Prince reluctantly moved on but the others remained. Capell and his colleagues eventually moved to Middleburgh in Holland where he stayed until the following February.

The story of this siege is well known but Lord Hadham’s part is not. As 1647 began, the King was returned to the English Parliament and Hadham returned home under house arrest but was bailed in July and returned to Hadham Hall where he resumed serving as a JP. Charles was released under escort and they met several times, the King escaping in November to the Isle of Wight. There was mutiny and disaffection even in the New Model Army.
Once again, the King began to plot the return of his authority and put Capell in charge of the eastern counties as the Civil War resumed. Sir Charles Lucas, a member of the Colchester gentry, raised a force and was joined by the Earl of Norwich, the senior member of the Howards. Although they lost a battle at Maidstone, they took Bow and Stratford. On June 10th, they marched north from Chelmsford and, two days later, the gates of Colchester were opened to them.
During the ensuing battle, Capell opened the gates to the Parliamentarians and besieged some them in turn, using his own cane to seal Headgate. There were heavy casualties on both sides.
On the 17th, Lucas managed to introduce emergency provisions. Attempts were made to mediate but Lucas’ previous promise not to bear arms against Parliament gave grounds for its rejection. The House of Commons ordered that Capell’s eldest son be taken to Colchester as a hostage, an echo of Lord Strange at Bosworth. This happened just as Lady Hadham was giving birth to another son. At the behest of the Lords, whose speaker was the Earl of Manchester, young Arthur was released.

There was much fighting in July and Lucas’ house was razed, the family vault being despoiled. Also at this time Thompson, the legendary gunner (“One-eyed Jack”) was killed. On the 16th, Fairfax demanded the town’s surrender, excluding the Royalist officers – Norwich, Capell, Lucas and others – from their terms. It did not come at first but he tightened the siege and it succeeded on August 28th.
Capell, Norwich, Loughborough, Lucas, Sir George Lisle and Sir Bernard Gascoigne were all captured, the three knights sentenced to death although Gascoigne was reprieved as an Italian national. Lucas and Lisle were shot that evening beneath the Castle walls on a site than can be seen today.
Norwich, Capell and Loughborough were sent to Windsor Castle to await trial but Capell retained friends in high places. On October 24th, he was transferred to the Tower, where Norwich joined him three weeks later. The Lords voted to banish them but had no authority in the matter.
Matters came to a head, as it were, in January 1649 when the King was tried and beheaded, contesting the court’s authority throughout. Capell wrote to Cromwell, warning him of the possible consequences but respecting the difference of view between two highly religious men. However, a second court was convened. It’s defendants were to be the Duke of Hamilton, the Earls of Holland and Norwich, Capell and Sir John Owen, a Royalist rebel from Wales.
At the very beginning of February, Capell escaped and the mud of the Tower moat proved very deep. Saved only by his unusual height and a servant, he made his way to Lambeth but was recaptured.

The end
The trial began on the tenth, Lord Bradshawe once again presiding. Capell followed the King’s precedent by refusing to recognise its authority. Unlike Lucas and Lisle, he had not been paroled against opposing the Parliamentary forces but this and all other defences failed, sentence being pronounced on March 6th. Norwich and Owen, though convicted, were reprieved.
Three days later, the remaining prisoners were transferred to Westminster Palace Yard where the scaffold had been built. Hamilton and Holland had some wine and Capell smoked his pipe. They were beheaded in this order, at hourly intervals, each addressing the crowd. Capell prayed for the new de jure King who was little older than his own heir. His head and body were sewn back together, as was customary, and buried at Hadham, except for his heart. His grandson replaced it in 1683.
In his Daily Observations of Meditations Divine and Morall, Capell had written: “My Saviour the cross sanctified/ My King the block hath dignified/ Crosses nor blocks I do not fear/ Sanctified, dignified they are.” He had followed his King’s fate thirty-eight days later. Whether Capell had failed as a military commander is a moot point because he was fighting a lost cause.

The moral victor?
In November, the Council of State protected the old family home at Rayne. Money, however, was still short. The executed peers had all been attainted, as was still the practice at the time of Viscount Stafford’s execution in 1680, so young Arthur was initially a commoner.
In April 1661, Hadham was posthumously rewarded when young Arthur, was raised to the Earldom of Essex, vacated in 1646 by the death of the 3rd Devereux Earl, the Parliamentary commander, and the Viscountcy of Maldon. Although he was, in turn, a casualty of the Rye House Plot in 1683, his descendants have held these titles ever since. Sadly, his mother had died that February.

Fidelity and fortune: Lord Capell, his regiments and the Civil War (Martin Hazell, Partizan Press, 1987).


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