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NEW BONES FROM THE TOWER–HOW LONG BEFORE THEY BLAME RICHARD FOR THESE TOO?

Recently, archaeologists working at the Tower of London discovered the remains of two people, an adult woman age 35-45 and a child of about seven. Proper modern carbon dating has taken place and it is determined that the pair are from between 1450-1550. Osteological examination shows no signs of trauma on the bones, although the woman had spinal arthritis. Neither of them were particularly well-nourished and showed signs of having suffered illness during their lives.

I was most pleased to find out about this discovery, as it is another bit of proof that the Tower, a site occupied since before the Roman era, is full of human remains from a multitude of periods, and therefore identification of the ‘Bones in the Urn’ at Westminster as the ‘Princes in the Tower’ is extremely unsafe-in fact, highly unlikely. I have had circular arguments recently with certain hard-headed folk who  still cannot believe that it is, in fact, VERY common to find pre-modern human skeletons anywhere in the U.K. (As example, the housing estate next to me is on a Roman cemetery which in turn overlies a Bronze Age one with burials stretching back over a period of 1000 years. There is a dead Beaker Era man still lying under the local tennis court!))

The new finds at the Tower not only are welcome because they show that burials within the bailey were common but because they also show that there was a substantial number of ordinary people who lived, worked and died (of natural causes) within the castle precinct.

Another frequent argument Denialists seems to occasionally put forth is that  there were hardly any people living there in 1483, other than Richard and the Princes! Yes, folks, some people seriously believe no one lived in the Tower at all at that time,  save wicked Uncle  Richard, waving a set of jangling keys  (the only set of course), as he slips past zombified guards to guide such improbable characters as ‘Black Will Slaughter’ to smother the Princes….

In fact, there was a household of some 150 people at the Tower in Richard’s day and a number of people with access to the various important areas,  which makes the story of the Princes’ supposed burial even more silly–as there is no way a few men could dig a ten foot hole UNDER a staircase, deposit two bodies, block the shaft with stones and not have someone out of 150 people notice a thing!

Of course, no doubt there are some out there this very minute trying to work this new archaeological discovery into Richard’s story, doing mental gymnastics as to how they can find him responsible for these two new sets of remains! I can just imagine how it might go–Hmmm, let me see–do we really know what happened to “Jane Shore“? Could it be a cast-off mistress and child (one of the improbable seven proposed by Alison Weir)? Or is the child really one of the “Princes” (one of, oh, at least five so far.) Maybe Richard really killed Edward of Warwick too, making that nice Henry Tudor completely blameless in his murder! Maybe the woman is Queen Anne who he poisoned (hence the ill health) and he really dumped her here and never buried her in Westminster at all! Or,  maybe the female is just another of Richard’s ‘many victims’ since he got the taste for blood at St Alban’s (aged 3) but one who had a sex change! 

(OK, the last is completely and deliberately preposterous, even for a Denialist, but you get my drift.)

Heh, if I was of the same bent, maybe I would start putting it about that the child was poor Henry Pole the Younger, who was locked away in the Tower in 1538 and never seen again. He was of royal descent, being the grandson of Margaret Pole, daughter  of George of Clarence, but for some reason he never gets as much, or rather, any sympathy, unlike the Princes with their maudlin Millais painting (one figure of which was modelled on a young girl–an interesting coincidence, as there is, in fact, some fairly compelling evidence that one of the sets of  the Bones in the Urn DOES have  female characteristics. But only DNA testing can tell the sex of juveniles for certain, and it is unlikely we’ll ever get to test those bones; a great pity as the MTDNA line from Elizabeth Woodville was finally traced by the late John Ashdown-Hill.) 

Of course, Henry Pole the Younger was not seven when he vanished, he was a teenager, so the newly-discovered child is not him (and one article says the new juvenile may be female too), but believing these bones to be Henry’s would only  be slightly more ludicrous than wholeheartedly believing that undated, unsexed remains from under a stone stair, ten feet down into the Roman layer, near several graveyards, mixed with animal bones, with no verification as to exactly where/how they were found since they were discovered in the reign of Charles II, are Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury.

Two articles on the latest finds are below:

New Bones Found at The Tower

Live Science article Bones in the Tower

Another piece …

… on two of the major rebellions – Simnel and “Perkin” – against Henry VII. This article is from Voyager of History and we may soon be in a better position to know whether Richard of Shrewsbury could have been at Tyburn in 1499.

During the same reign, there was also the Stafford-Lovell rebellion starting at Colchester, the Brecon rebellion and the Cornish rebellion that ended at Deptford Bridge.

The Mythology of the “Princes in the Tower”

This is less a book and more of an outdoor swimming pool, becoming deeper as the chapters progress. In the shallow end, the subjects go from the definition of a “prince” and the circumstances under which Edward IV’s elder sons came to live there, centuries before Buckingham Palace was built to the origin of the term “Princes in the Tower” (p.17). Before progressing further, the reader should be aware exactly which sibling definitely died at the Tower, during a “confinement”. For those still unaware why the whole Wydeville brood were illegitimate and how the “constitutional election” (Gairdner) resulted in Richard III’s succession, the whole point is painstakingly explained again.

The dramatic conclusions begin at about halfway, in chapter 17, before the process of the rumour mill and the many finds of the Stuart era are described. In the deep end, we are reminded how science has moved on during the 85 years since Tanner and Wright investigated the remains, including Ashdown-Hill’s own investigations into “CF2″‘s remains on the Norwich Whitefriars site, together with a repeat of the DNA process that gave us Joy Ibsen and thus Richard III in Leicester. This time, he and Glen Moran have found a professional singer originally from Bethnal Green, a short distance from the Tower itself.

What has always stood out about Ashdown-Hill’s work is his superior use of logic when primary sources are of limited availability and it is applied here to several aspects of the subject.

In many ways, this book is itself a tower, built on the foundations of his previous eleven, but also his research into things such as numismatics, yet there is a prospect of more construction work …

“Open the Box” (or urn)?

 

Now that John Ashdown-Hill’s new book (bottom left) on the Tower of London and the “Princes” has been published, we are in a position to know Edward V’s mtDNA, which he would share with his brothers and maternal cousins such as Jane or Henry Pole the Younger. Progress has been made since Moran’s appendix to The Private Life of Edward IV, which detailed potential maternal line relatives who were alive as late as 2016.

Westminster Abbey is, of course, a royal peculiar and it has hitherto proven impossible to obtain permission to access those remains – of whatever number, gender, age, era or species – that purport to be those of Edward IV’s remaining sons in the modern scientific era. They were, however, last asked in 1980 (p.185) and Richard III himself has turned up by this method.

These findings ought to be a game changer and there are more good reasons to be proceed. In 1933, the work of Jeffreys, as of Crick, Watson et al, was wholly unforeseen. Radio carbon dating was also invented after the Second World War.

 

So, with apologies to Michael Miles and Take Your Pick (below right), is it time to “open the box”?

 

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