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Coming Upon the King: My Accidental Path Toward Becoming a Ricardian

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Late 16th century painting of Richard III

I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I was never really that interested in Richard Plantagenet, later Richard III. In school I had avoided the Anglo-Saxons like the plague, and Richard, well, perhaps like a round of the flu. He wasn’t quite as intimidating, despite the double-murder allegation lodged, and I got away with not having to write about him once my father, who was big on essays, unearthed a book about the famous American swamp fox. Not that it was easy to outsmart my dad; there was just so much history to know and he loved imparting it. In fact, he adored learning of most kinds, and almost every time I saw him he had a book in one hand, cup of tea in the other. Every weekday morning before work he would sit at the dining room table for about two hours, enjoying his study in the quiet atmosphere between night and day. He read almost anything he could get his hands on, with the notable exception of Shakespeare, of whom he was not a huge fan, though he never said why.

By the time I reached university I’d managed to evade Richard a few more times (and those fearsome Anglo-Saxons!), despite his seeming determination to capture my attention. I had to capitulate a bit when Shakespeare (him again) showed up in his own required course. I quite liked his poetry and how he played with language, but frankly didn’t care about star-crossed lovers (everyone read that in high school), a brooding Danish prince (that one too) or evil kings who seemed to be a dime a dozen. And the evil king who repeatedly crossed my path was none other than – you guessed it, Richard III.

I had to read Richard III three times because the professor, who in my opinion was quite brilliant but mystifyingly static in his forward movement, could present it in his sleep. So we read it in two regular lit classes and then in Shakepeare, in which our fearless leader liked to occasionally take on the parts of people he was teaching about. He had a larger audience here, and the more sizable lecture area gave him the space to move around as he caricatured his way through Richard’s role and the frequent trivia he was fond of. At the end of the semester I was appalled to discover that not only did 75% of our grade rest on a ten-question quiz, but also the questions had little to do with, say, history, critical theory or literary devices. A representative sample’s answer was, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” I wasn’t a snobbish student, but did possess the expectation I be delivered the education I was paying for, not a bunch of trivia and phrases repeated so often, here and elsewhere, that they became cliché.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was in equal parts driven away from all talk of Richard III and hauled back to him by the frustration of knowing that even I considered the standard presentation tiresome. Students way more brilliant than myself repeated the stock phrases, though, and I felt like shaking them as I cried out, “Wake up, man! I want to read King Lear and Huntingdon won’t teach it!” My actual response consisted of acquiring a fish (the only pet I could get away with) and calling it Richard, as if that somehow revenged a king, allowing him to be something besides the pitiful stock bad man. I was irked, perhaps even irritated, but not yet inspired.

At the time I knew nothing of the Richard III Society and wouldn’t for some years, for after I graduated, my poor fish had been given last rites and I was just so relieved to have passed statistics and survived senior year burnout. But, as the universe seemed to want to have it, Richard came up in casual conversation, at this point two years before the discovery of his remains in a parking lot. I admitted I really knew very little of the man I’d previously complained kept coming, uninvited, into my life, and determined I’d remedy that. The universe, being as accommodating as it so often is, arranged for a car crash that left me immobile for an extended period, which in turn provided for quite a lot of reading time to fill.

Sir John Everett Millais’ The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1473 (1878). Privileged placement of the work on the cover of Alison Weir’s 1992 edition of The Princes in the Tower is utilized toward this author’s assertion regarding Richard: the “two pale, innocent, bewildered boys” of her blurb paired with existing stereotypes of medieval society, seek to convince viewers of Richard’s culpability. 

I started with Alison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower. It had a fairly beckoning cover and I really had no idea of any given book on this topic to another. Mainly I was looking for details. My intention was, quite simply: read one and be done with it. And so it began. Here was an account that claimed to have studied the case of the missing princes, one heir to the throne, both rumored to have been murdered by their “usurper” uncle, King Richard III, the bodies of the two “pale, innocent, bewildered boys” never found.

It didn’t initially strike me as odd that Weir would contradict herself—on the same page of her preface, no  less—with two opposing statements of direction: “The historian’s job is to weigh the evidence available, however slender and circumstantial” and “We are dealing here with facts, not just speculation or theories.” In all honesty, I was unaccustomed to reading like an historian; instead I read for elements such as repetition, privileged position, arcs and development. Still, my literary training had served me well—even including the aforementioned professor, who really did have good reason to be on staff; the pince-nez and dressing gown during office hours was an added bonus—and I began to wonder that perhaps historical writing really does have much in common with literary.

For example, Weir’s placement of Image 15 of the insert photos: One of, if not the most biased image in the insert collection, is a picture of two child-sized skeletons, discovered nearly two centuries after the princes’ disappearance. It is cleverly shadowed with near-opposing black and white shading that easily grabs the eye. Set in the page’s upper left corner, its positioning exploits our societal left-to-right reading direction as well as the “above-the-fold” tendency book browsers often engage when skimming though potential purchases. Its caption reads: “The remains found in 1674: ‘They were small bones of lads in their teens, fully recognised to be the bones of those two Princes’ (Eye-witness report, 1674; Archaeologia).”

Should the casual observer take the time to scan the rest of the page, the two remaining images—one of the urn in which the skeletal bones now rest, another of the exhumed skull of the princes’ eight-year-old relative Anne Mowbray—each play their role in telling the story the author wants readers to believe. Anne’s stark and startling skull, shown in a fairly large photo at bottom, plays on reader emotion with the mouth in its characteristic gaping position, not unlike a scream. It is included, positioned and designed to evoke pity, for both the untimely death of this little girl as well as the boys she was once close to. Of this Weir writes: “The skull of Anne Mowbray: York’s [the younger prince, Richard, Duke of York] child-bride and the Princes’ cousin, exhumed in 1964. Dental evidence indicates a familial relationship between her bones and those in the urn.”

The urn image is somewhat sympathetic, but rather generic and positioned to the right, closer to the book’s binding. Still, it has its role in this page-long tale, with its insinuation of finality. These bones are those of the boys, Anne’s remains prove it, end of story. Three statements, three images, we’re done here. A would-be consumer who saw even only the most privileged photo (the skeletons) before placing the book back on the shelf stands a high chance of walking away believing these were indeed the missing princes—a question not even entertained on the page discussed—and with Weir’s use of the word “murder” and the accusation against Richard in the jacket blurb, we’re a handshake away. Actually reading the story within all three captions and the deal is sealed. I am inclined to believe that readers have been lazy in every age, but also know that Weir and her publishers are very aware of how the demand for instant gratification and disintegration of critical reading skills in our era has further influenced the formation of opinions.

A quick disclaimer here: I personally don’t begrudge Weir her manipulation of privileged position or other literary techniques; these are what make books appealing, literature fascinating and history come alive. Human forms in photos engage our minds in a way an inanimate object doesn’t. We don’t relate to an urn, especially if we don’t know this is what that image is, but we do relate to images of people who were once alive, especially if they are children. However, I do take issue with the dishonest verbiage she carefully chooses to create the impression discussed above. For instance, the caption below Image 15 doesn’t say what year the princes died, presumed to have died, or disappeared (c. 1483). Yet an “Eye-witness report” from 1674 “recognised” the bones to be those of the missing princes? Did this eyewitness dabble in alchemy in his 200 + year lifespan? And where did he obtain his forensic expertise, with which he surely would be able to differentiate this set of remains from the twelve-year-old sons of Henry VIII’s cousins, whose families ended up in the Tower of London, where the Plantagenet brothers were last seen? Are there any signs of cause of death? The name dropping of Archaeologia lends some needed credibility, as does the dental evidence that “indicates” a familial relationship amongst all three deceased. These are only some of the questions Weir understands all too many consumers won’t ask; they’ll just take her word for it because they are in a hurry, don’t care enough or it doesn’t occur to them. There probably are other reasons as well, but the end result is that many will accept the information at face value.

Still, this was an awareness I came to later in my reading of The Princes in the Tower, or actually, even after I had finished and contemplated what I’d read. I had a niggling feeling about the perceptions I’d experienced. As I moved deeper into the book, Weir seemed to become more aggressive in her voice, and in previous remembrances I thought I even recalled a bit of name calling, which might have been the initial turnoff. (I could be wrong; stay tuned for another entry addressing this.)

The White Tower, Tower of London. Romanticized with its modern artificial lighting, we must imagine it in the days when the complete darkness of night, the likes of which many of us have never experienced, shrouded much in and around it.

As I sat with my casted leg propped up one evening, I realized with a grunt of dissatisfaction that I could not let it go until I read some more. My back was healing, but at this point pained easily after short periods, and my best friend was dispatched to collect a book or two from the university library. She returned with about fifteen, one of which was, by chance, Josephine Wilkinson’s Richard: The Young King to Be. She ignored my pointed stare.

It wasn’t long before I recognized a quote in Wilkinson’s book that Weir had utilized—in part. I suppose it was my naiveté with regard to historical reading that surprised me a little as I realized Weir had cherry picked what supported her agenda and left the rest. (Here also, stay tuned for more specifics.) At this point it really began to annoy me, and I was flummoxed as to how so many people could have gushed about what a fabulous book this was when I so easily picked out inconsistencies. Actually, I’ll have to revise that a bit: I read several reviews in which the authors did criticize Weir, but dismissed her liberties because “there’s no real way to tell” or “he probably did it anyway.” I’m pretty sure none of these people or any of us would want that standard upheld at our own trials.

Unknown to me, at roughly this time, the now-late historian John Ashdown-Hill published Eleanor: The Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. An analysis of the life of Eleanor Talbot, the woman said to have been married to Edward IV, Richard’s elder brother, before making Elizabeth Wydville his queen, the work follows a number of pathways, including those secreted in forensic dentistry. Ashdown-Hill discusses Anne Mowbray’s line of descent, an important angle given Weir’s assertion regarding the similarities between the teeth of the young bride and those of the bodies discovered in 1674, and a condition of congenitally absent teeth. The author notes that Anne Mowbray was related to the princes via a number of lines of descent, some more distant than others.

If those who have claimed that Anne Mowbray’s congenitally missing teeth prove that she was related to TLand 2 (and that therefore these were Edward V and Richard, Duke of York [the princes]), are correct, Anne’s dental anomaly must almost certainly have descended to her via her Neville ancestry (184-5).

Ashdown-Hill goes on to relate information about the battlefield identification of Anne’s grandfather, John Talbot, in connection to an absent left molar. This provides some evidence of the congenital condition being a Talbot trait, further leading to the speculation that if Anne did indeed inherit her dentition from her grandfather, “then those same missing teeth cannot very well be cited as evidence that TLand TLare Edward V and his brother, since the relationship of these latter to [Anne’s grandfather] was extremely remote.” Of course, it is possible John Talbot lost the tooth in some other manner and Ashdown-Hill further advises that Talbot’s remains had been disturbed several times, thus making elucidation on this point difficult (184-5).

Weir, in contrast, utilizes very little more than coincidence and contradictory information when aiming to prove that the bodies discovered in 1674 are Richard’s nephews, including the discovery to begin with. This position continues with her insistence that, apparently, only Plantagenet royalty could possibly have worn velvet, a type of material present with the bones and, given its availability timeframe, unlikely to indicate the remains were Roman, as had been suggested. She even goes on quite at length about all the experts and authors who examined the 1933 reports of Wright and Tanner, who themselves examined only an urn full of bones picked apart from those of animals (!) centuries after their initial discovery and under questionable chain of custody. Nevertheless, on all of this Weir categorically pushes the conclusion that “the evidence that the bones in the urn are those of the Princes is as conclusive as could be desired” (by whom?)(255-6).

Historian John Ashdown-Hill’s analysis of Eleanor Talbot’s life includes a far deeper discussion of the dental angle as glossed over by Weir, despite the absolute nature of her accusation against the king. (Click image for more information.)

It is easy to deduce there is much more to what I have summarized here, let alone the captions under three pictures in the middle of a book on the Bestsellers! table. As mentioned earlier, this dental information I didn’t know about when I first read Weir’s book – and she counts on that as well as the likelihood that few readers will check up on her words. The truth is, she’s right: few do follow up. For how long had my professor posited the claim that Richard III died shouting the line about the horse? How many from my class still believe this today? And this is counting just the influence of one person. Multiplied by how many readers Weir (and others) has persuaded, most of whom have very little time and/or inclination to look into what she says—some of whom, frankly, are as willing to manipulate the truth—it’s no wonder there is such widespread belief that Richard did the deed.

Of course, many people simply don’t care. At one point I was one of them. I liked history but wanted it on my own lazy terms, not having to deal with dates or the same few recycled names. Others view eras such as the Middle Ages with an attitude of “life is cheap,” which perhaps explains their willingness to allow an anointed king to be so maligned, and when looking back I found it curious that it stirred something within my being. I am, after all, an American with not a single drop of royalist blood running through my veins.

This, however, may be the because rather than the despite, thanks to our Magna Carta-inspired Constitution, the law of the land guaranteeing our rights, including those of the accused, a topic on which Richard III also had something to say. The widespread reliance upon and acceptance of misinformation to convict someone from the past bothers me for the same reason similar attitudes light a fire in me today. It doesn’t matter if someone dislikes or even hates Richard or any other political figure: Anyone who claims to value justice should be alarmed when someone is prosecuted and convicted under such inconclusive evidence, especially for the sake of bragging rights to having solved a centuries-old puzzle. This king may have lived and died over 500 years ago, but thirst for power and willingness to tyrannize others to achieve it is alive and well. Why would any tyrant stop with politicians? As we have seen throughout history, they don’t.

I had the great benefit of a father who taught me how to look a bit deeper, and though I don’t have quite the historian’s mind he did, I believed fiercely in justice. I also loved a good yarn, so followed with rapture as my father related to me tales from a variety of eras.

I only vaguely recall him telling me of Richard’s ability to fight, even something favorable about Henry VII (I used to refer to him as “the Henry after Richard the last”). His narratives often changed direction and he occasionally refused to answer questions, and at some point I understood he was teaching me to think. This surely colored my perception of Weir’s ridiculous portrayal of modern writers of Richard III as those who (a) believe the monarch guilty but too timid to admit it or (b) believe he is basically a saint (1). I also question the word “revisionist” as applied to Ricardians. It seems to me the revisionism began full force August 22, 1485, with the backdating of Henry Tudor’s reign to the 21.

I also grew up with a Scottish mother who never let me forget the Stuarts; at some points my eyes simply glazed over, and it all probably contributed to my lazy childhood approach toward history, despite my love of its people. This laissez-faire attitude extended to Richard, and for most of my life I didn’t care enough about him to have an opinion on his culpability. Interestingly, it was his detractors who chipped away at this armor as they repeated ad nauseum their claims, much of which was rank hypocrisy or projection. This entry has focused on one who chose as her work’s epigraph a Shakespeare quote that illustrates both, which reads in part: “Insulting tyranny begins to jet” (Richard III, Act II, Scene IV). Here Elizabeth Wydville wigs out over fears for her family, Shakespeare conveniently ignoring her role in all of this, as does Weir. (Talk about revisionism!)

There have since been others, but Alison Weir ended up accomplishing, in my case, the opposite of her intention in that I found her scholarship to be suspect, so I looked into it; what I came to believe through further reading and discussion was that Richard III, while certainly no saint, cannot justly be convicted of a double murder on the evidence she presents. That she has to go into stealth mode and employ manipulation, insults and overreach says much more about her than it ever could about King Richard III.

Despite Weir’s preface statement that “it is unlikely the truth of the matter will ever be confirmed by better evidence than we already have,” since the 2012 discovery of the king’s remains in a parking lot, more of consequence has been learned. For example, the Shakespearean depiction of Richard as a hunchback is in fact the propaganda it has long been characterized as. Rather, the king suffered from scoliosis, resulting in a sideways, spiraling twist to his spine, as discussed in a 2014 press release from the University of Leicester, a deformity not immediately visible to those encountering him. The hunchback myth traces back to Thomas More, on information from John Morton, Bishop of Ely, instrumental in Henry Tudor’s seizure of the throne. (This alone makes their party line suspect.) Owing to this accomplishment, Tudor historians, and not Plantagenet, were the ones relating the history. As my father drilled into my mind many times, and we have all heard in history class, the winner writes the story.

Shakespeare strove to be part of that winning group, though doing it for Elizabeth I, Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, over one hundred years after the fact, illustrating the reality that low-information readers (playgoers) existed long before the rampant misinformation pushers of our own time. Granted, we are often over-saturated with details, but this also gives us advantage in having the ability to track down more than ever before, even from places far removed from a small corner of England, within which one king and his men fought within the loyalty to which they were bound, and so became we.

—Lisl P.

Sources

Ashdown-Hill, John. Eleanor, the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Stroud: History Press, 2010.

Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower. United States: Ballantine, 1992.

Images

All images courtesy Wikimedia unless otherwise noted. Click any image for more details and, if any, annotations.

AUSTIN FRIARS: LAST RESTING PLACE OF PERKIN WARBECK

UPDATED POST ON sparkypus.com A Medieval Potpourri https://sparkypus.com/2020/05/14/austin-friars-last-resting-place-of-perkin-warbeck-2/

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Austin Friars today.  This section of road covers part of  the perimeter of the Friary.    With thanks to Eric, Londonist. 

Austin Friars in London, was founded about 1260 by Humphrey de Bohun 2nd Earl of Hereford and Constable of England d.1275.   It was rebuilt in 1354 by Humphrey de Bohun d.1361, Humphrey’s great great grandson (keep up folks!)  6th Earl of Hereford, and Lord High Constable.   The friary covered a large area, about 5 acres and had a resident population at one time of about 60 friars.  It stood on the site of two earlier churches, St Olave Broad Street and St Peter le Poer, the latter was incorporated in the new church and formed the south aisle of the choir.  It must have been affluent being able to afford a new steeple in 1362 to replace the one badly damaged in a storm.

However it was not without its rather scary and unpleasant incidents.  In 1381 during the Peasants Revolt 13 Lombards were dragged from out of the church where they had been sheltering and lynched.  in 1386 a congregation of Lollards inflamed by a sermon,  given in the nearby church of St Christopher le Stocks, on the practices and privileges of Augustinian friars descended on Austin Friary.  The Friary was only saved in the nick of time by the intercession of the local sheriff from being totally destroyed by the mob.

The church stood in the centre of the friary precinct.  Adjoining the precinct was land that was used for rented ‘tenements’.  Some of these tenements must have been fairly grand as the tenants included notables such as Erasmus (who complained about the quality of the wine and left without paying his bill),  Eustace Chapuys and none other than Thomas Cromwell.  Oh the irony…Thomas living cheek by jowel with one of the religious orders  he so despised.  Anyway – as Cromwell rose to fame and fortune he acquired more land from the friary and built one of the largest private mansions in London.   Sometimes his methods to gain more land were not entirely ethical.  We know this because one of the people he rode roughshod over was none other than the father of John Stow who wrote ‘A Survey of London 1598’.  We can still feel the rising of Stow’s hackles over the centuries  as in writing his description of the Friary he added “on the south side and at the west end of this church many fair houses are built namely in  Throgmorton Street, one very large and spacious built,  in the place of old and small tenements by Thomas Cromwell.    This house being finished and having some  reasonable plot of ground left for a garden, he caused the pales of the gardens adjoining to the north part there off on a sudden to be taken down;  twenty-two feet to be measured fourth right into the north of every man’s ground,  a line there to be drawn, a trench to be cast,   a foundation laid and a high brick wall to be built. My father had a garden there and a house standing close to his south  pale; this house they loosed from the ground and bare upon rollers into my fathers garden twenty-two feet,  ere  my father herd thereof.  No warning was given him, nor other answer when he spake to the surveyors of that  work but that their master Sir Thomas commanded them to do so, no man durst go to argue the matter but each man lost his land and my father paid his whole rent which was  six shillings and sixpence for the year for that half which was left.   Thus much of my own knowledge have I thought good to note, that the sudden rising of some men causes them in some matters to forget themselves’.  Really Sir Thomas!   Stow born in 1525 and dying in 1605 at the grand age of 80 lived long enough to see the downfall of Cromwell.  He was described as ‘ a merry old man’ and I wonder what his reaction was to the death of the man who had treated his dad so disgracefully

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Austin Friars from the Copper Plate map c1550.  1.  The Church.  2.  Cloister.  3.  Cromwell’s Mansion.  4.  Gatehouse.  With thanks to online Wikipedia article

Stow made a list of the illustrious people buried in the church.  Among them were: 

Humphrey de Bohun, rebuilder of the church in 1354 and buried there in 1361 in the quire.

Edward son of Edward the Black Prince and his wife, Joan the Fair Maid of Kent.  Brother to Richard II.

Edward Stafford Duke of Buckingham executed 1521 – also in the quire

John de Vere 12 Earl of Oxford and thus son Aubrey; both executed in 1462 also in the quire

Sir William Tyrell, slain at Barnet; in the nave.  Many of the notables slain at Barnet were buried here (1).

William Tyrell of Gipping executed 1462

William Collingbourne,  author of  the infamous doggerel, executed 1484; buried in the ‘west wing’?

Sir Roger Clifford executed 1484

Sir Thomas Cook, he who was persecuted by the Woodville.  Died 1478.

Disappointingly Stow did not mention Perkin Warbeck.  Perhaps he did not have a monument,  Its difficult to see who would have  come forward and paid for one to be made under the circumstances.   W E Hampton suggests the burial site may have been in what Stow calls the ‘West Wing’ which was probably a transept.  We can only speculate that if,  after the many changes, upheaval, fires, bombs  and rebuilding that the church has undergone, any of the remains of Warbeck and the other burials have somehow survived and remain hidden in vaults, yet to be discovered at some distant future time.  Of course there always remains the miserable thought that he may have been buried outside the church in an unmarked grave.  An archaeological dig was made in 1910 in the area of the cemetery but the expected human remains were never found.  Had they been exhumed and disposed off long before?

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Perkin Warbeck.  

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John Stow author of A Survey of London Written in the year 1598.  A great debt is owed to Stow in his labours of making the Survey which tells us so much about a long lost London.  

In 1540 the bitch known as Karma finally caught up with Cromwell and he was executed, his great mansion seized by the crown – naturally – and sold off along with the friary precincts.  Most of the precincts was demolished but Cromwell’s  mansion became Drapers Hall.  Drapers Hall was destroyed in the destruction that was the Great Fire of London.  Rebuilt in 1667 it was once again badly damaged by fire in 1772.  It was  again rebuilt and later in the 19th century both the frontage and interior much altered twice.

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Thomas Cromwell.  Getty Images

In 1550 the nave of the church was given by Edward Vl to the local Dutch Protestant community to serve as their church,  the remaining part used for ‘stowage of corn, coal and other such things’.  The Marquis of Winchester, who had inherited it from his father ‘sold the monumnets of noblemen there buried in great number, the paving stones and whatsoever, which cost many thousands, for one hundred pounds, and thereof made fair stabling for horses.  He caused the lead to be taken from the roofs and laid tile in place whereof, which exchange proved not so profitable as he looked for, but rather to his disadvantage’ ( 2)

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A statue of St Augustine in Austin Friars.  A poignant reminder of the long gone Austin Friars.  T.Metcalfe 1989.  Photo thanks to Patrick Comerford.

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View of Throgmorton Street today with Drapers Hall built on the site of Thomas Cromwell’s great London mansion.

The Dutch church survived the Great  Fire of London 1666 but was badly damaged by a fire in 1862 which seems to have destroyed the nave but left the exterior standing.  The church was then rebuilt, once again, in 1863 but totally destroyed in an air raid in 1940.  It was finally rebuilt yet again in 1950-56.

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Undated photo of The Dutch Church Austin Friars..14th century.  Taken from Broad Street.  British History online. 

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The ruins of the Dutch Church Austin Friars after being bombed  1947.  A service is being held to mark the first anniversary to the German invasion of Holland.

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The  Dutch Church newly built in the 1950s.

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Plan of Austin Friars overlaid on modern street plan.

( 1) The Austin Friars article by W E Hampton, The Ricardian.

(2) A Survey of London Written in the year 1598 John Stow p163

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A passing thought that the boys in the Tower might have been buried at Winchester….

The matter of these intriguing coffins at Winchester Cathedral and whether or not one of the skeletons might be that of Queen Emma, consort of Kings Ethelred and Cnut, is very engrossing. But of even more interest (temporary, I concede) was the thought that two of the twenty-three remains, of juvenile royal personages, might have been those of the boys in the Tower, particularly now that evidence can prove or disprove the identities of the bones in the urn.

The fate of Edward IV’s sons has always been a bone (no pun intended) of contention, with poor old King Richard usually on the receiving end of all blame. Wrongly, of course, but the ignorant traditionalist view still has a grip. Anyway, the theory about the remains at Winchester was only fleeting, because “….Although researchers believe the two juvenile skeletons discovered in Winchester Cathedral were of two boys ‘almost certainly of royal blood’ and aged of a similar age to the princes, they had died sometime between 1050 and 1150 – more than 300 earlier….”

Oh, well, the possibility had me sitting up for a moment! But please read this BBC article to learn more about the Winchester coffins. There are some good illustrations. Worth a visit.

Has mtDNA identified Jack the Ripper?

“Ripperology” is quite a confused subject and at least a dozen suspects have been conclusively “identified as the Whitechapel fiend. Nevertheless, this article and the book detailed within, if taken at face value, uses the scientific techniques that identified Richard III, Jesse James, Nicholas II and others to claim to solve the East London riddle once and for all.

The critical case is that of the fourth definite, or “canonical”, victim: Catherine Eddowes, who was slain in the early hours of Sunday 30 September 1988 and found in Mitre Square, about an hour after the discovery of Elizabeth Stride. Eddowes’ apron, found nearby, is the first exhibit here and the second is a silk shawl (below left), apparently found by her body and heavily bloodstained. Russell Edwards, who wrote the article in question, located the shawl at an auction in Bury St. Edmunds in 2001 and contacted Jari Louhelainen, a senior biology lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University and crime buff.

Jack the Ripper suspect Aaron Kosminski

First, they traced Eddowes’ great-great-great granddaughter and the multiple-great-niece of leading suspect Aaron Kosminsky (right), who was, in September 1888, a 23 year-old Polish Jewish hairdresser in East London that month, later to die in a lunatic asylum in Colney Hatch, where he was admitted in 1891. Importantly, both of these living relatives were related strictly through the female line and the mtDNA of both matched the blood on the apron and semen on parts of the shawl, thus seemingly demonstrating beyond peradventure that their respective Victorian relatives had both left bodily fluids on them.

Sadly, Edwards and Louhelainen’s research is yet, five years after publication, to be peer reviewed. If it were, we would need look no further for “Jack” as Kosminski briefly entered a workhouse in 1890 and was committed to Colney Hatch (left) the following February.

Here, however, is the counter-argument, quoting Paul Begg and Dr. Turi King, disputing the connection between Eddowes and the shawl, the genealogy and the significance of the DNA match. In summary, Kosminski cannot be eliminated by Edwards and Louhelainen’s research, nor can he yet be identified as “Jack” with forensic certainty. This BBC documentary points towards him in other ways.

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 Bard’s Richard, as played by Richard’s grandfather. . .!

Serial killer? Murdered his nephews? Infamous? Had no children? Oh, well, this New Zealand article does go on to say that the actual Richard had a much better reputation than the Bard saw fit to bestow upon him. But if the illustration above is supposed to be Richard….it’s more like his grandfather! Or Jeremy Corbyn admiring the new colour of his beard!

For more, see here.

Not again: “Britain’s bloody Crown” (3)

Here at Murrey and Blue, we are not in the habit of reviewing repeats, not even when we have commented on them before. This time, it is the very fact and timing of the repeat of Channel Four’s “Who killed the Princes in the Tower?”, with the ubiquitous Dan Jones, that is at issue, together with the assumptions made by Jones in the programme and even in the title. In the show, a bearded (!) Richard is shown ordering the murder of two individuals who were declared illegitimate by the Three Estates, a verdict that some of his rivals disagreed with, giving those rivals a motive he didn’t have.

CrimewatchThe programme is the very apogee of denialism, based upon Jones’ imagination and Domenico Mancini’s wholly discredited account, presented with at least a dozen disproven “facts”, such as the definition of treason, the Constable‘s court and the boys’ “house arrest”. Mancini’s name is also wrongly rendered as “Dominic”, and Jones fails to mention that he was a spy for Angelo Cato, speaking little English. So, if you want to watch the investigation of a “crime” that may never have happened …

These assumptions include:
1) That Edward IV’s sons qualified as “Princes” – as Ashdown-Hill pointed out, their illegitimacy means that this cannot be the case.
2) That they have died – we can let him have that one!
3) That they died together – for which we have no evidence whatsoever.
4) That they died in the Tower  -again no evidence.
5) That they died in 1483 – a little suggestive evidence in one case.
6) That anyone killed them or ordered their deaths – again no evidence.
7) That Richard III was that person – again no evidence.

The timing of this repeat is also at issue because Ashdown-Hill’s discovery of the “Princes”‘ mtDNA has provided us with the opportunity to test what some people still regard as “evidence” – the remains, of whatever age, gender, era, quantity or even species, in the Westminster Abbey urn. One might argue that this repeat was scheduled “in the teeth of the evidence”.

Still, what can we expect, knowing Jones’ mentor?

An American take on the “Princes” and the new scientific evidence

Here is an article from an American website about the “Princes” and John Ashdown-Hill’s work towards determining the identity of the bones in that urn, as detailed in his “The Mythology of the Princes in the Tower”.

The article is rather good. It does fail to notice that Westminster Abbey is a Royal peculiar and so the Anglican hierarchy has no influence. Apart from that, the dental evidence suggests that the remains are unlikely to be related to Richard III, who has been analysed in great detail.

The mitochondrial DNA, which was integral to identifying Richard himself, is possibly understated here but modern scientific analysis, on the basis of this research legacy, could lead to any of the following conclusions:
1) The remains are of the wrong age, gender, era or even species.
2) Their mtDNA does not match that of Elizabeth Wydeville.
3) The remains are of more than two people.
4) The remains are of one mtDNA matching person and one other.
5) The remains are of two people of the right age, gender, era, species and mtDNA.

Conclusion 5 would positively identify them as Edward IV’s sons. Conclusions 1 and 2 would eliminate this possibility. Conclusions 3 and 4 would be more complex as a mitochondrially identical cousin disappeared from the same place sixty years later. The probability of the remains consisting of Edward V, Richard of Shrewsbury and their later cousin is surely exceedingly low, although that cousin or one “Prince” resting with an unrelated individual is more possible.

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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