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THE EARLS IN THE TENNIS COURT: A VISIT TO BISHAM ABBEY

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.

 

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An obituary

Here is the BBC’s official post about Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, who died last Friday. However, his permanent legacy includes these Powerpoint presentations, originally devised so that he can still educate you about Richard, his life, family and era when he first became unwell enough to do so in person. Alternatively, this is the East Anglian Daily Times’ take.

Image: Riikka.

Another view on that urn

This excellent post from Nerdalicious, whose tabs appropriately include “History of Folk and Fairy Tales”, shows just how desperately ridiculous the Cairo case really is, particularly when they treat More’s first half as a Fifth Gospel and ignore his second.

After all, we have already shown that the small coffins buried with Edward IV are irrelevant, that several different discoveries were made during the seventeenth century, that Charles II benefited from the find in 1674 and that the “Princes” mtDNA could well be available soon.

The Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, Pavia

This was the burial place of Lord Richard de la Pole who fell in this city in 1524/5 and he is likely to still be there.

Thanks to Kathryn Warner, who visited it for a different historical mission, for these stunning

photos.

A book excerpt

With permission, we present  an extract from Kristie Davis Dean’s book “On the trail of the Yorks”, with a particular focus on Margaret of Burgundy and the duchy ruled, during her marriage and widowhood, by her father-in-law, husband, stepdaughter and stepson-in-law. Mechelen is, of course, where a certain historian sought Margaret’s remains, although their identity could not yet be proven.

Quest for the Norman Kings

Quest for the Norman Kings

Finding a present day mitochondrial DNA match for either Henry I, buried in Reading Abbey in 1135, or Stephen, buried with his family in Kent’s Faversham Abbey in 1154, is going to be very difficult. However, one factor is often overlooked: Stephen is the son of Henry I’s sister so both are descended in the female line from Matilda of Flanders. In other words, if both sites still contain likely remains of noblemen between fifty-five and seventy, they ought to be identical in their mtDNA. At Faversham Abbey, younger male remains should belong to Eustace, Stephen’s son and heir who predeceased him.

Straight from the horse’s mouth?

……… in which Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, who located the mtDNA match, tells nerdalicious what these findings really mean, not what the Cairo brigade (eg Hicks, Dan Jones and their acolytes) are already twisting them to mean:

http://nerdalicious.com.au/history/what-do-king-richard-iiis-latest-dna-results-really-prove/

1) Given that Richard III is only four generations down from Edward III, whilst the Somerset samples are about twenty down, they are about five times as likely to contain the “milkman”‘s DNA. In the interview, he even mentions the John of Gaunt – John Beaufort “connection” as a possibility for the broken link, which would substitute the (mere gentleman) Sir Hugh Swynford for Gaunt.
2) One of the live Somerset “cousins”, descended from the 5th Duke of Beaufort, doesn’t match the others, suggesting that the broken link could be quite recent, as well as the extra one this shows.

On Harold II and others

I would recommend Mercedes Rochelle’s post here http://mercedesrochelle.com/wordpress/?p=719 : a discussion of Harold II’s possible remains.

Just to emphasise a few points:
1) “forensic evidence in the 1950s was not exacting” – it wasn’t in the 1930s either, as we know.
2) Richard III is unquestionably the template for such cases. First, find your location. Then find a mtDNA or Y-chromosome comparator, preferably one who is still alive (but a mixed line will not do). Then find permission to dig and compare the DNA sample. Consider the height, age, approximate year of death, dietary evidence and wounds.
3) Harold was Richard III’s ancestor, via Russia and France. Both were experienced and successful commanders who had reigned for a short time having been chosen (by the Witangemot or Parliament) after a longer reign by an Edward who had reclaimed the Crown. Harold had won battles in Wales in 1064 just as Richard’s 1482 campaign in Scotland was a success. Both were defeated by French invasions led by challengers with no valid claim.

The best of luck to anyone identifying Harold II, or Alfred, particularly with the DNA comparison.

The 1980s case that made it easier to identify Richard

Colin Pitchfork was a bakery worker who raped and murdered two teenage girls in and around Narborough between 1983-6. Although the culprit’s blood type and semen sample could be determined, the remaining evidence still left a tenth of the adult male population as subjects. (Sir) Alec Jeffreys’ DNA analysis technique had only been outlined in 1985 and not used hitherto.

The immediate prime suspect was actually another youth, who confessed to one murder, of a victim he knew, but denied the other. Jeffreys’ technique, however, proved that there was only one killer and it wasn’t Richard Buckland. Leicestershire Police then decided to request samples from the five thousand remaining possibilities but were initially unsuccessful, principally because Pitchfork had persuaded a colleague to give a sample for him. The colleague admitted this and Pitchfork’s own DNA was taken in custody, resulting in a perfect match and a life sentence.

Many people have subsequently crossed the Narborough Road without even thinking about Colin Pitchfork and I am one of them. His conviction proved the technique and it could be developed to the point of comparing Richard III’s mtDNA with that of two multiple-great-nephews. A real landmark case.

Dr. Crippen and the “Princes” in the Tower (2009)

Ricardians view the 1933 conclusions of Tanner and Wright with considerable suspicion. Tanner and Wright expected the 1674 bone-find at the Tower of London to be the skeletons of two male siblings aged about ten and twelve, because those were the ages of Edward of Westminster and Richard of Shrewsbury in summer 1483, the time of their last proven sighting. However, recent analysis of the conclusions suggest that the bones need not be of two people, male, late medieval at death or even human.

Five’s recent documentary (“Revealed”, series 1, episode 5) provided an intriguing parallel. In 1910, police officers seeking Mrs. Crippen, nee Belle Elmore, searched a house in Hilldrop Crescent, also in London, where she had lived with her homeopath husband, Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen. Inspector Dew and his officers duly found some remains and the pathologist Dr. Sir Bernard Spilsbury pronounced them to be those of Mrs. Crippen. Consequently, Dr. Crippen was arrested and subsequently hanged.

However, new analysis of the remains shows no relationship between the corpse and Belle Elmore’s mitochondrial heirs, traced in her native America. If not her, who could the corpse be? Perhaps Dr. Crippen was short of money and practicing as a back-street abortionist, a procedure that occasionally procured the unfortunate additional death of the mother? Strange as it seems, the fresh and highly pungent remains at Hilldrop Crescent seem now to be male and possibly even planted at the scene – the police could not have missed the smell yet “found” nothing for three days.

Spilsbury was a very authoritative figure, once addressed by a flustered defence counsel as “St. Bernard”, famous for never admitting his mistakes and for eventually taking his own life in December 1947. He very probably erred here – does this not make it more likely that Tanner and Wright did twenty-three years later?

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