In a UKTV History (now Yesterday) programme My Famous Family, presented by Bill Oddie, the nurse Rachael Corfield was revealed to be of Plantagenet descent, via Margaret Countess of Salisbury, whose great-granddaughter Catherine Hastings married Henry Clinton, the second Earl of Lincoln. She was, therefore, shown to be a cousin of Queen Victoria.
Today, 10th August, is my birthday, and on this date in 1485, the last Yorkist king, Richard III, was in Nottingham preparing for the imminent invasion of his realm by his Lancastrian foe, Henry Tudor, who didn’t have much of a blood claim to the throne but touted himself as the last remaining heir of the House of Lancaster.
Richard hadn’t had an easy time since coming to the throne, in fact he’d been through some harrowing experiences. His only legitimate son, 10-year-old Prince of Wales, had died on 9th April 1484, closely followed in March 1485 by Richard’s much-loved queen, Anne Neville. He’d had to repel an earlier invasion by Tudor, which had been aborted at the last minute, and put down the Buckingham rebellion. He’d endured many unpleasant rumours about murdering his nephews, aged twelve and nine, and also of having incestuous/marital intentions toward his own niece.
All this on top of his eldest brother Edward IV’s sudden death in April 1483, the revelation that his, Edward’s, marriage had been bigamous and that consequently Richard himself was the rightful king. He and Anne were crowned on 6th July that same year. Now he was alone, a grieving widower and father, with another invasion imminent. Small wonder he took some time out at Nottingham to go hunting with friends at Bestwood (Beskwood, as it was called then) just north of the city.
It was while there that he heard of Tudor’s landing in Wales, and therefore the battle was fast approaching. On 22nd August 1485 the two armies met at Bosworth, where treachery brought about Richard’s violent death. He was only thirty-two, and was killed while fighting mightily to get at Tudor himself. Perhaps Richard was glad to go, to be with his wife and son again in a better place.
My purpose today is to discuss something that happened over a year earlier a month before his son’s sudden death….the March 1484 appearance at his court of the illegitimate daughters (and possibly their mother) of his late brother, Edward IV. The 19-year-old eldest girl, Elizabeth of York, was the one Richard was soon to be accused of wanting in a way no uncle should.
When Richard died he left behind some mysteries that consume us to this day. First and foremost, of course, is what happened to Edward IV’s two sons, Edward V, aged twelve, and Richard of York, aged nine. On their father’s death, Richard became Lord Protector and took Edward V into his custody. The younger boy had always been with his sisters and mother, Elizabeth Woodville, in sanctuary at Westminster, where they’d fled when the Woodville plot against Richard failed—she had a large family in high places thanks to Edward IV’s indulgence—and the new boy king fell into the Lord Protector’s hands while en route to London. The Woodvilles had intended to seize Edward V, rush his coronation and keep him under their control. Richard would have been assassinated, so Elizabeth Woodville had good reason to fear him. Fleeing into sanctuary probably seemed her only option. As did taking a lot of crown treasure with her! It’s understood she had a hole broken in the sanctuary wall in order to haul all the loot through.
The boy Richard of York was eventually given into Richard’s keeping, to join his lonely brother in the apartments of state in the Tower in May 1483 (it was a palace as well as a fortress). They both seemed to disappear from history after late summer that same year, but had been seen practicing archery and playing in the Tower grounds. And Richard was still issuing writs in Prince Edward’s name as late as 16th September. Richard has always been blamed for their deaths (the usual accusation is that he had them smothered) even though no bodies/remains have ever been found. No, they are not in that urn in Westminster Abbey! Many of those bones are from animals.
At the time it suited the Tudors, Lancastrians and Woodvilles—and still suits Tudorite historians to this day—to trumpet that Richard was the original murderous Wicked Uncle. If he was, why on earth didn’t he dispose of other awkwardly legitimate nephews and nieces too? The two boys weren’t the only Yorkists with claims to the throne. His other brother, George of Clarence, had a son and daughter too, but they were barred from the throne by their father’s treason and attainder. Attainders could be reversed, so these children were dangerous to Richard, if he wanted to view them that way. He could have binned the whole lot, his sisters’ offspring too, had he wanted, but he didn’t. It was left to the blood-drenched Tudors to rid the world of just about every Yorkist they could think of, women and all. Yet Richard is always accused as if he was a mass killer on a jaw-dropping scale.
Every single Tudor is much more deserving of being called a mass murderer. They even executed George of Clarence’s children, who had survived safe and well under Richard. The hero of Bosworth trumped up a charge against the by then 24-year-old Edward, Earl of Warwick, and chopped his head off. He beheaded Richard’s illegitimate son, John of Gloucester, as well. Among others. Henry VIII condemned to the block George of Clarence’s daughter, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who was sixty-eight. But then, the delightful ‘Bluff King Hal’ liked to chop off his wives’ heads for good measure. Including the one for whom he’d caused such upheavals in the Church, leading to the religious bloodbaths of the following reigns.
Tudor propaganda also spouted that, to secure his nephew’s throne for himself, Richard falsely declared Edward IV’s children illegitimate (this was thanks to evidence provided by Bishop Stillington in 1483 that Edward IV had been married to someone else before his bigamous union with Elizabeth Woodville). Well, the children of bigamy couldn’t inherit the throne. Period. Then it was said that once Richard became a widower (having poisoned his now-infertile wife, Anne, of course) he intended to marry his eldest niece, Elizabeth of York.
It would seem that her illegitimacy didn’t bother Uncle Richard as much as it was to bother Henry Tudor, who turned legal cartwheels in order to make her trueborn again. Henry even tried to suppress/expunge all legal evidence of her illegitimacy by destroying royal and parliamentary documents. Indeed, if a copy of Richard’s right to the throne, known as the Titulus Regius, hadn’t survived, we might never have known what really happened. The Tudors were nothing if not thorough when it came to hiding their bloody tracks. See http://www.richardiii.net/2_7_0_riii_documents.php.
The warning signs were there from the moment Richard breathed his last at Bosworth, because Henry promptly declared his own reign to have commenced the previous day. Thus he branded traitor every man who had supported their anointed king, Richard III. It was a dangerous precedent to set, and ever afterward Henry remained jittery about suffering the same fate. Serves him right. But he’d set the guidelines for the Tudor prospectus and it should have alerted everyone who’d supported him that they’d made a monumental mistake! But England was to suffer over a century of the gruesome House of Tudor.
Richard III had every true claim to the crown of England. He was Edward IV’s only surviving brother and had a son and heir of his own whose destiny was to follow his father on the throne. The latter wasn’t to happen, of course, but at the time Titulus Regius was drawn up, Richard’s queen and son were still very much alive.
Contrary to an intention to marry Elizabeth, on being widowed Richard embarked on arranging royal Portuguese matches for himself and his niece. He had no option but to marry again because kings needed heirs to secure their thrones. So these Portuguese matches were purely practical matters. He was still a young man and had no reason not to hope for more children through a much more acceptable and conventional marriage, so why risk a dangerously incestuous match, the very idea of which was anyway bound to be abhorrent to him? He was conventionally pious. Conventional in every way. Marrying his niece would be a line across which he would never tread.
There was, of course, a now-lost letter supposedly written by Elizabeth to Richard’s friend, cousin and ally, John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, begging him to intercede with Richard on her behalf. When referring to Richard, this letter was couched in what appeared to be rather inappropriately affectionate terms. Whether the letter ever existed, I don’t know, but it’s certainly lost now. Maybe Elizabeth did have improper feelings for her uncle (Richard was a handsome young man and had been kind to her), but I doubt very much if he returned those sentiments. When he at last felt compelled to deny publicly that he had intentions toward his niece, he was definitely telling the truth. We’ll never know what Elizabeth thought of Richard, except that she didn’t once speak out against him. Nor for him either, of course. She stayed silent. I’m sure Henry Tudor would have loved her to accuse Richard of all sorts crimes, but she held her tongue. In public, at least.
I know you’ve read all the preceding before and have concluded that if anyone really needed to marry Elizabeth of York, it was Henry Tudor, whose success at Bosworth was solely due to the two-timing Stanley brothers, one of whom pulled a sickie to avoid the battle . The other turned Judas and set his men on Richard at a pivotal moment. With allies like them, who needed enemies? But mere conquest wasn’t enough to make Henry safe. You’ll probably be relieved to learn that I don’t intend to drone on about his Beaufort antecedents. The heir of the House of Lancaster? Give me a break. Richard’s supporters weren’t about to take Bosworth lying down, and Henry’s blood-claim to the throne was gossamer thin.
It was this very tenuousness that meant he had to do something to secure for good the support of the countless disaffected Yorkists swarming around his stolen realm. They’d given him their aid at Bosworth solely because they wanted Edward IV’s blood on the throne again, and he had vowed to marry Elizabeth. Should she have died, then he’d marry the most senior surviving daughter instead. If he didn’t keep his word, his reign was going to be as brief as Richard’s, if not briefer. And the good old unreliable Stanleys were just as likely to switch sides again. They were great at watching their own backs and stabbing everyone else’s.
The younger of the brothers, Sir William Stanley, who’d struck the decisive blow against Richard, was said to be the man who found Richard’s crown in a bush and placed it on Henry’s head. I don’t think he stayed happy with the consequences, because he eventually turned coat again to join a Yorkist plot against Henry. Sir William believed the claimant Perkin Warbeck really was the younger son of Edward IV, Richard, Duke of York, and wanted Edward IV’s proper line back on the throne. Henry’s exertions with Elizabeth of York in the marriage bed weren’t enough for Sir William. Their offspring weren’t proper Yorkists, whereas Perkin was the Real McCoy! Hey-ho, what goes around comes around.
To return to the main narrative. Henry had realized before leaving exile in Brittany and France to invade England (France was financing him) on this, his second bid for the crown, that marrying Elizabeth of York was a necessary evil. Without her the clarion calls to the banners of the White Rose would soon echo across the countryside, and the lord regarded as Richard’s chosen heir, his sister’s eldest son, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, had rather selfishly survived Bosworth.
Henry was to dither about Lincoln, at first trying to win him over (what a trophy he’d have been for Richard’s killer!) But Lincoln couldn’t stand Henry or what he embodied, and so the dithering eventually led to the last true battle between the warring houses of York and Lancaster. The Battle of Stoke in 1487 saw the end of Lincoln, and Henry dared to give a small sigh of relief. But the battle only went Henry’s way because Lincoln’s men believed (rightly or wrongly at that precise moment) that Lincoln had been killed. They fled the battlefield, and at some point Lincoln was indeed mown down, which didn’t please Henry, who wanted him alive to be “worked upon” for information..
Henry’s respite wouldn’t last, of course, the shadows and ghosts would always follow him. Lincoln (who had a number of brothers) was probably the reason why Henry began to systematically eliminate the remnants of the House of York, and why the succeeding Tudors continued the bloodfest.
Anyway, to return to 1485. As Henry prepared to sail with his army of English traitors, Frenchmen and other foreign mercenaries, he took a solemn vow in Rennes Cathedral that he would marry Elizabeth and through their children bring the warring factions in England together at last. Noble sentiments, but he just wanted the crown, make no mistake of that.
First, however, Elizabeth had to be legitimized again. Henry was in a delicate enough position already, without adding to it by marrying a baseborn queen, even if she was Edward IV’s eldest daughter. He had to be a legitimate king with a legitimate queen. But he made sure to have himself crowned first on 30th October 1485. He wasn’t about to be dubbed Elizabeth’s consort, so he didn’t marry her until 18th January 1486.
Elizabeth’s own coronation didn’t come until 25th November 1487, after she’d done the right thing and presented him with a son in the September. Hm, yes, the maths are a little iffy. The baby was a bouncing eight-monther. It was said to be a happy marriage, and that he didn’t stray from the marriage bed even once. I’d like to know how they can be sure of that! Was he followed 24/7?
What Henry didn’t need was his wife’s tiresome brothers, whose claim to the throne had become legal and vastly superior to his own from the moment he legitimized her. The boys’ whereabouts were unknown, of course. They certainly weren’t in the Tower, because one of the first things Henry did on reaching London after Bosworth was instigate exhaustive searches. No one knew anything at this point…and so Henry crossed his fingers, but if he had found the boys in the Tower you can bet your bottom dollar he’d have them disposed of. Hellfire, their claim to the throne was going to be infinitely better than his own because he was going to legitimize their big sister in order to marry her and produce the vital half-York, half-Tudor offspring!
So, if any such murdering of boys did go on in the Tower, my money would have been on Henry in the very early days of his reign. But there was no proof they died at all, let alone were murdered. It was all smoke and mirrors. Henry ordered the further spreading of rumours that Richard had done away with his nephews, but the Tudor fingers remained very tightly crossed. Richard murdered them! Richard murdered them! The mantra worked, in a great part because Richard had failed to produce the boys to refute the charges. Down through the centuries the same chant can still be heard by rote. And we all know Shakespeare’s part in the lies. But then, he did want to please a Tudor!
If Elizabeth knew that her brothers were still alive, she couldn’t have told Henry before she travelled south from Sheriff Hutton after Bosworth. They’d never met before then. Perhaps she did tell him—he was going to make her Queen of England, so it was in her interest to hitch her waggon to his. But by then he’d already set the ‘Richard was Evil’ ball rolling. And as he hadn’t found any bodies or any sign of where the boys were, he would ever afterward be angst-ridden that they were going to come after him for their throne. If Richard had set out to torment Henry from beyond the grave, he succeeded brilliantly!
Now, to my main point. (At last, did I hear you cry?) For me, Edward IV’s daughters appearing at Richard’s court presents an important and intriguing indication about their brothers. Two of the three youngest girls were children under Richard but made good marriages as Henry’s sisters-in-law. The youngest girl, Bridget, was little more than a baby in 1483, and became a nun. As for the two eldest girls, Richard not only welcomed them to his court, but treated them well—and he probably welcomed their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, who’d schemed against him and whose family had almost certainly intended to assassinate him before he even reached London immediately after Edward IV’s sudden demise. Whether she returned to court or not isn’t quite certain, but she certainly accepted Richard, gave her younger son into his care in 1483 and permitted her two eldest girls to go to his court.
Would a woman like Elizabeth Woodville have all done that if she really believed Richard murdered her sons? I think not. She had reason to fear Richard, having worked against him, but she apparently came to trust him. It was to be her sour Tudor son-in-law who’d steal her property and kick her off to the wilds of Bermondsey Abbey for the rest of her days. Under Richard she—or at least her daughters—enjoyed the luxury, privileges and entertainments of court life.
Nevertheless, her two senior daughters, Elizabeth and Cicely had presented Richard with a problem. Or so it seems to me. Even though they were illegitimate, they were still a magnet to ambitious enemies (Henry, for one—and if Elizabeth had died, he had his eye on Cicely instead), and what’s more, they were not only marriageable, but of beddable age too. In less than a year they could produce annoyingly legitimate sons whose calculating eyes would soon slide pensively toward the throne. Henry should know, for hadn’t his eyes turned to someone else’s throne?
It seems that Richard solved the Cicely problem first, by marrying her to Ralph Scrope, younger brother of one of his northern supporters, Thomas, 6th Baron Scrope. It wasn’t a particularly grand union for a king’s daughter, even though she was baseborn, nor was it particularly lowly, but it still surprises me. To begin with it was low-key…its very existence was only discovered recently. Perhaps it was a lovematch? Perhaps they married behind Richard’s back? We’ll never know, and anyway, as soon as Henry stepped up to the throne, with Elizabeth of York safely tucked up as his wife, he had the Scrope marriage annulled. Cicely was the second surviving daughter of Edward IV, and had to be plucked from a dangerously Yorkist marriage and placed in the custody of a safe Lancastrian relative. Take one pace forward his dependable half-uncle, Sir John Welles (Henry’s mother’s half-brother), who was rewarded by elevation to the rank of Viscount Welles. And so Cicely became the first viscountessw! ☺
Thus, if we discount Cicely as being married to Ralph Scrope during Richard’s reign, and the three youngest girls as being too young, there remained the most important one of all, Elizabeth of York. There she was, beautiful, charming and desirable, welcomed by Richard and Anne, and wandering freely around court. Her importance would have been enhanced still more if Richard really had done away with her brothers. So, I have to ask, would he really have permitted her such freedom and access to court if her brothers were indeed dead?
Not everyone believed Edward IV’s children were illegitimate, nor did everyone want Richard on the throne. Yet Richard and Anne treated her and her sisters with overt generosity and kindness. Why? Simply because he was a benign uncle? Well, maybe—even probably —but I think he had an ulterior motive as well.
One of the first questions always asked is, if the boys were still alive why on earth didn’t Richard simply produce them and put a stop to the rumours? Why indeed. My feeling is that he couldn’t show them because they were no longer in the Tower or indeed in his personal care. No, they weren’t dead, rather do I think he’d sent them somewhere to safety very early on in his reign, well away from Lancastrians to whom they were a grave impediment to Henry’s ambitions…and from Yorkists who wanted Edward IV’s line back on the throne, illegitimate or not. But something eventually happened to the boys, I don’t know what, but believe it was after Richard’s death. Were they hidden with Richard’s sister, their aunt Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy? Did they die of some pestilence? Accidents? It could have been anything. Margaret—Yorkist to her elegant fingertips—loathed Henry, and certainly wouldn’t announce their deaths. She’d want him to stew in his own juice. Which he did.
Without her brothers, Elizabeth would be the Number One of Edward IV’s children, in the eyes of many the true Queen of England, and Richard would have had to keep a very tight grip on her. But what does he do instead? He promises publicly to do all he can for them and provide for their future, and to always treat them well. Thus he entices them from sanctuary into his care. But he wasn’t saying and doing this under false pretenses. No, he meant every word. He would take good care of them. And they were delighted to go to him. They trusted him, and so enjoyed the complete liberty of court, new clothes, fine company, dancing, music…Oh, how they must have been missing all that when they were banged up in sanctuary.
It’s my contention that after his treacherous cousin Buckingham’s unsuccessful rebellion in October 1483, Henry’s aborted invasion of the south coast at the same time (it seems a two-pronged attack was intended, Buckingham from Wales and the west, Henry from the south, Devon and Dorset) as well as the ever-louder whispers about the murders of the boys in the Tower, Richard felt he had to do something to deal with the rumours and let Henry know that even if a second attempt at invasion were successful, the path to the throne wasn’t quite as pretty and primrose as he hoped. The boys stood in his way.
Richard knew his ploy had to be subtle—guileful even—to persuade at least some Lancastrians, Woodvilles and Edwardian Yorkists not to be too hasty about throwing in their lot with the Lancastrian upstart. Bringing the girls out of sanctuary would certainly give pause for thought in the relevant circles. Surely Richard wouldn’t let Edward IV’s daughters wander freely at court if they were their father’s principal heirs. Therefore their brothers had to be alive and well, and still in Richard’s care.
Henry wasn’t deterred from invading again—I think he’d gone too far to back out—but he was convinced the boys still lived and so scoured the Tower for them after Bosworth. He had to get rid of them, and maybe he managed to do just that. But his subsequent behaviour suggests he hadn’t a clue where they were. They’d vanished. Impasse. Where were they? Safe in some Yorkist haven, soon to grow to manhood and return to claim their rights?
If Richard really had been a murdering monster, he’d have killed and buried the boys and then imprisoned the girls before burying them as well. But he wouldn’t be able to stop there. He had other nieces and nephews, and they were legitimate. They were to die once Henry got hold of them, but they all lived happily while Richard was king, including John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who subsequently became useful as a temporary heir when Richard’s son and then his queen died. Richard obviously expected to have new heirs of his own when he remarried and didn’t for a moment think Lincoln would really become King John II, but if the worst happened, Lincoln was a man grown, experienced and a truly loyal Yorkist. He’d make a fine king.
There was no dark side to Richard III. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty monster or child-killer, but an honest man who in 1483 found himself in an impossible position. He would have become a great monarch if he’d lived long enough to prove it, but Henry got his way, stole the throne and married Elizabeth of York…having first made sure his coronation was safely over. He wasn’t about to be labelled her consort! He was kingy, and she had to wait to be his queeny. But he remained haunted by the missing boys throughout his reign. He dreaded their return. Maybe Perkin Warbeck was indeed the younger of the boys, Richard of York…in case he was, Henry sliced his head off. But there was still the older brother, the more important Edward V, who would have succeeded his father had his illegitimacy not come to light.
Is it a flight of Ricardian fantasy for me to perceive in Henry’s death mask the dying horror of seeing vengeful Yorkists coming for him at last? Yes, probably too much fantasy.
So there you have it. In my opinion, the arrival of Elizabeth of York at her uncle’s court suggests to me that Richard was letting his opponents know her brothers were still alive and under his protection. It was a risk, not least because Henry’s scheming mother, Margaret Beaufort, was also at court, and doing everything she could to support her son. Margaret was very definitely the enemy within, and there were others too, but Richard thought it worth the risk. And, as far as I’m concerned, it worked to some extent. But thanks to Tudor indoctrination, his not having actually produced the boys had the unwelcome side-effect of marring his reputation through the centuries.
Now I don’t doubt that many will disagree with this theory, and will probably say so. There may be holes in my reasoning, but I see these events as a strong indication that the boys in the Tower were still alive and remained so right to the end of Richard’s reign.
And for Henry, Richard’s ghost—and those of his nephews—always waited in the shadows, taunting the first Tudor king. Taunting the entire House of Tudor throughout its ascendancy.
If you watch a lot of a Hollywood ‘medieval’ movies, you would be forgiven in thinking that all medieval people, from the youngest to the oldest, ate like pigs at the trough, threw gnawed animal bones on the floor, belched and yelled loudly at the dinner table, and merrily ate their dinners with filthy nails and mud smeared on their faces.
In fact, there were several books written about manners showing a very different code of conduct, particularly where eating was concerned. The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke, which was written about 1480, was a book of manners for Wars of the Roses era youngsters. Perhaps it was even used in the upbringing of Richard’s son, Edward of Middleham, or the children of Edward IV and George of Clarence. In it, children are exhorted not to pick their noses, belch as a bean was caught in their throat, dig at their teeth with a knife or spit over the table. They were also told not to be greedy when the cheese arrived (I presume cheese must have been seen as a special treat since it is specifically mentioned). They were also cautioned not to laugh, grin or talk too much–a bit in the vein of the Victorian ‘children are to be seen, not heard.’
The Lytille Childrenes Lytill Boke, whose author is unknown, has recently been digitised by The British Library, along with many other classic, later works. The copy they have used for the digitisation has a name written inside it–‘Maria’ (most likely a Mary). I wonder if young Mary heeded the good advice and never burped at table or grabbed at a slice of cheese?
2020 is the 800th Anniversary of the founding of Salisbury Cathedral. Before ‘New Salisbury’ came into existence, the town stood on the windy cone of Old Sarum, a huge iron-age hillfort with massive earthen ramparts. There was a particularly forbidding Norman castle on the height, with a windswept bridge over a deep moat–here, Henry II kept his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine imprisoned for some sixteen years, served by a single loyal lady-in-waiting. The old town also had a cathedral, begun somewhere after 1075. It was rather an ill-fated building, however, being severely damaged in a storm just five days after consecration. Sometime in the late 12th century, it was decided to move the cathedral from the height due to the lack of water. The cathedral was dismantled and much of the stonework taken down to the new site near the river, where the town of Salisbury as we know it would grow around it. The first stones of the English-style Gothic building were laid in 1220, in the reign of Henry III, with foundation stones being laid by, among other notables, the King’s half-uncle, William Longespee and his wife Ela, Countess of Salisbury, a remarkable woman who later became Sheriff of Wiltshire.
To commemorate the founding of Salisbury cathedral, a light show recently took place within the great building with projections of charters, drawings, stained glass, saints and rulers who played a part in Salisbury’s history. On the bleak ruins of Old Sarum, beams of light were shot high into the night sky so that they were visible from Salisbury town centre.
There are many interesting monuments inside the cathedral, including that of founder William Longespee (who was thought to have been poisoned–and a RAT found in his skull when his tomb was opened was full of arsenic!), Sir John Cheney, the 6ft 6 giant who was unhorsed by Richard III at Bosworth, and possibly Lionel Woodville, who was Bishop there until Buckingham’s rebellion, when he fled to Brittany hearing of Buckingham’s failure. Salisbury also has one of the copies of Magna Carta and the tallest spire in England. The building of the cathedral was fictionalised in the best-selling novel ‘PILLARS OF THE EARTH’ by Ken Follett, which recently was made into a TV series.
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,anysympathy, 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.
Lurking among the many books around my home is a little booklet called A Calendar of Flowers and Their Saints, subtitled“A Flower for Every Day. A Saint for Every Flower.” It has no publication date, but is stamped Writers Service Bureau, London W.C. 1. Its pages are brown at the edges, there’s a teacup stain on its front cover, and it came from my aunt’s house. She had been a newspaper reporter in South Wales from the end of WWII to the 1980s. That is all I know of the booklet.
Anyway, when I came upon it again, I wondered what (1) Richard’s flower would be, and to which saint it was dedicated. As you know, his birthday was 2nd October, and according to the booklet his designated flower is the friar’s minor soapwort (saponaria dyginia). See above. This flower’s patron saints are the Guardian Angels. I tried in vain to identify this particular soapwort, and so the illustration is of the Saponaria officinalis. As to the Guardian Angels, they weren’t awake at Bosworth!
Next I decided to see what (2) Anne Neville’s flower would be. She was born on 11th June, for which the little book says it’s the ox-eye daisy (chrysanthemum leucanthemum). This flower is dedicated to St Barnabas.
From here I went on, and the following is a brief list of other birthdays and associated flowers/plants/saints. There is even a mushroom in there! Please remember that sometimes the saints are connected to the plant, not to the birth date or actual saint’s day. And if you query the absence of, say, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, it’s because his birthday isn’t known,
(1)Edward IV, 28th April, cuckoo pint (Arum maculatum), St Didimus/Didymus. Um, given Edward’s track record, I have to say that this plant seems rather appropriate!
(2)Elizabeth Wydeville, 3rd February, great water moss (fontinalis antepyretica), St Blaise. Might be fitting for the daughter of the “Lady of the Rivers”?
(3) Elizabeth of York Her birthday was today, 11th February, red primrose (primula verna rubra), St Theodora.
(4)Edward of Westminster (Edward V), 2nd November, winter cherry (physalis), St Marcian. This plant is known to me as Chinese lanterns.
(5)Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, 17th August, toadflax (linaria vulgaris), St Manus (St Magnus the Martyr?)
(6)George, Duke of Clarence, 21st October, hairy silphium (silphium asteriscum), St Ursula – George’s birthday and the saint’s day are the same. I’m not sure which plant is being referred to here, especially as a lot of the genus seem to be from the southern states of the US, where it is commonly known as cup plant. Suffice it that they are almost all yellow, with daisy-like flowers.
(7)Isabel Neville, 5th September, mushroom (agaricus campestris), St Laurence Justinian (who wasn’t a saint at the time of Isabel’s life).
(9) Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, 14th August, zinnia (zinnia elegans), St Eusebius. Unfortunately, the zinnia hails from America, and so would not have been known to Margaret. And St Eusebius’s feast day does not match her birthday.
(10) Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, 3rd May, poetic narcissus (narcissus poeticus). Saint – Invention of the Cross – indeed associated with Cecily’s birthday.
(11) Richard, 3rd Duke of York, 21st September, Cilcated Passion Flower (passiflora ciliata) St Matthew. The duke’s birthday and the saint’s day are the same.
(12) Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, 22nd November, trumpet-flowered wood sorrel (oxalis uniflora), St Cecilia. I’m afraid I do not know which sorrel is referred to here, and so the image is of the common wood sorrel, as found in British woodlands. In the Kingmaker’s case, his birthdate and the saint’s day are the same.
Oh, and we must not forget dear Henry VII, lucky number (13). His birthday was 28th January, double daisy (bellis perennis plenus) and the saint is St Margaret of Hungary (born 27th January, died and feast day 18th January). It’s rather hard to imagine him as any daisy, let alone a double one.
Bisham Abbey was the burial place of the Earls of Salisbury, and also Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’ and his unfortunate grandson Edward of Warwick, executed on a trumped-up charge by Henry VII. The Abbey was destroyed in the Reformation, and on the grounds now stands the National Sports Centre, where many professional athletes train. However, it is less known that it is not just a sports centre but a hotel too, and that although the priory buildings are gone, the medieval manor house still remains.
The house is very striking–and what a history! It was first built and owned by the Knights Templar, passing into the hands of King Edward II when the order was dissolved. Elizabeth, the wife of Robert the Bruce, was kept in captivity there for a while, along with the Bruce’s daughter, the tragic young Marjorie.
Later, in 1335, William Montacute, Earl of Salisbury purchased the building. He founded a priory that stood alongside the manor house, and he and many of his descendants and their spouses were buried there. Burials in the priory include:
William Montacute, 1st Earl of Salisbury & 3rd Baron Montacute, d.1344 along with Catherine, his wife.
William Montacute. 2nd Earl of Salisbury, d.1397
William, d.1379/83, son of William Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury
John Montacute. 3rd Earl of Salisbury, d.1400 along with Maud his wife
Thomas Montacute. 4th Earl of Salisbury, d.1428 and his two wives. He and his three-tier monument (as described in his will) can be seen depicted in the east window of Bisham Church.
Richard Neville. 5th Earl of Salisbury, d.1460 (aftermath Battle of Wakefield)
Sir Thomas, d.1460, son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury (Battle of Wakefield)
John Neville, d.1471, Marquis of Montague and Earl of Northumberland (Battle of Barnet)
Richard Neville “Warwick the Kingmaker”, d.1471, 6th Earl of Salisbury and 16th Earl of Warwick (Battle of Barnet)
Prince Edward, 8th Earl of Salisbury & 18th Earl of Warwick, d.1499, son of Prince George, Duke of Clarence (executed)
Arthur Pole, son of Richard Pole & Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, 1539
Margaret Pole, tragic daughter of George of Clarence and Isabel Neville, also lived at Bisham for a while, and a dovecote, still standing, is thought to have been raised by her.
The priory church was completely destroyed in the Reformation, although some of the cloister remains attached to the side of the manor house. Judging by its position, this would place the east end of the priory church, with its high status burials, somewhere under the modern tennis courts. So the Kingmaker and his relatives lie snugly under tarmac, much as Richard III lay in the buried remnants of Greyfriars. If there was ever a move to locate them, it would be quite easy to identify the remains; if autosomal DNA could be extracted, they all should have close similarity to Richard (the 5th Earl being his uncle, and the Kingmaker being a cousin, and Edward of Warwick should share Richard’s Y-Dna through George, as well as a lot of autosomal DNA). Several of the skeletons should also show battle wounds, and several evidence of beheading.
Although the priory site has been obliterated, part of two tombs have, in fact, survived–although they are not in Bisham. In the tiny, sleepy village of Burghfield, a few miles outside Reading, the broken effigy of Richard Neville, 5th earl of Salisbury lies in the porch next to a lady who is NOT his wife but most likely one of his ancestors. Records from the 1600’s describe how Salisbury’s effigy was ‘dragged to Newbury by wild horses’! How it ended up in Burghfield is unknown but it seems the local lord had some Neville ancestry, so he may have rescued it because of that. Although the face seems to have been mutilated, Salisbury’s effigy shows a great deal of fine craftmanship and must have been very spectacular in its day.
Top left: Salisbury’s effigy, Burghfield; Top right. The tennis court where the burial most likely lie. The rest: Views of the manor house, including the cloister.
Now here’s an excellent reason for buying a lottery ticket? What a wonderful place to live. In 1513 it was given to Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury by Henry VIII…who was to have her executed! Margaret was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence.
As you probably know, the list of women who have been beheaded in England is very short. Helena Bonham Carter has played two of them so far – Lady Jane (1554) in 1986 and Anne Boleyn (1536) (opposite Ray Winstone’s Henry VIII on ITV) in 2003 and I heard that she was about to play a royal character named Margaret.
Further reading informs me that this is to be Princess Margaret, late sister of Her Majesty and Countess of Snowdon, NOT of Salisbury (1541). The other beheaded women in England were Katherine Howard and Jane, Viscountess Rochford (both 1542), Mary of Scotland (1587) and Alice, Baroness Lisle (1685).