I sometimes go on Quora to give answers to various questions, usually about Richard, and occasionally I get drawn into arguments with those who are entrenched in the belief that Richard was a usurping, chid-murdering hunchback. I can easily argue against these and, as an osteopath, I can state with authority that he wasn’t a hunchback. This is par for the course, but sometimes they get the strangest ideas about him.
Recently, one such misguided individual insisted that Richard was cruel to his mother in law and to George, Duke of Bedford. It seemed a weird thing to pick on and then I found out that he had just read the new ‘biography’ of Richard by Prof Hicks. No wonder he has such strange ideas. Hicks always seems to grasp onto snippets which either don’t make sense and which are just his own opinion or else takes a tack that nobody else has thought of (e.g. that the remains found in Leicester are not Richard, that he committed incest by marrying Anne), usually because it is clearly wrong or unlikely.
I am still arguing with this particular troll and many will say it is pointless. In a way it is as he will never change his view, it is so firmly entrenched. But the reason I do it is that there are innocents viewing the answers given on Quora and I want them to have the true facts. Usually it is obvious who is the most logical and fair-minded in these discussions, so I hope to convert a few neutrals to being Ricardians by showing up these narrow-minded people as illogical and unfair.
A friend remarked that she had heard Quora pay ‘plants’ to argue with people and stir up trouble deliberatley in order to increase the traffic to their site. The same conclusion applies: neutral readers will still see that our Ricardian arguments are much better than the Cairo-dwellers‘ ones!
Does anyone else rise to the bait at times for this reason?
Well, I have to say that the above carving is very startling. It is believed to be of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and has just been discovered at Bradwell Abbey, Milton Keynes. There is nothing in this article to say why they are so certain it’s Eleanor, but they seem in no doubt.
The first thing that occurred to me, however, was that the eyes reminded me very forcibly of the carving of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, as a mourner on the tomb of his father-in-law, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick.
There is also a likeness of the Beauchamp tomb of the Kingmaker’s sister, Cecily Neville, Duchess of Warwick, and she too has these striking eyes. I’m told by a friend that in his biography of the Kingmaker, Professor Pollard decided there had been a real attempt to create a true likeness, so I imagine that these eyes must indeed be a trait in the Neville family.
There is an odd little story about Edward III, in which he apparently gave credence to the story of his family being descended from Melusine, the Devil’s daughter. The king claimed that the House of Plantagenet was descended from Melusine, and that slanting eyes appeared to be evidence of this. There is one member of that house who definitely had slanting eyes, Richard II.
So, where did those eyes originate? Or was it all mere coincidence that the likes of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Kingmaker and Richard II appear to have shared such a memorable feature?
While looking in A Dictionary of Superstitions, edited by Iona and Moira Tatem, specifically for anything concerning Midsummer traditions, I found one that involved the orpine/sedum plant. The following passage was taken from Brand, Antiquities I 263-4, 1777:-
“….on 22nd January, 1801, a small gold ring….was exhibited to the Society of Antiquaries….It had been found….in a ploughed field near Cawood, in Yorkshire, and had for a device two Orpine plants joined by a true-love knot, with this motto above: ‘Ma fiance velt’, i.e. my sweetheart wills, or is desirous. The stalks of the plants were bent to each other, in token that the parties represented by them were to come together in marriage…From the form of the letters it appeared to have been a ring of the fifteenth century….”
Apparently the tradition at Midsummer was to take two slips of orpine/sedum plant and put them close together in a chink in the roof joists. They were kept moist and called Midsummer Men, representing a lover and his sweetheart. The way the slips grew toward or away from each other told if the lovers would know happiness or not. Woe betide them if the slips died!
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out more about this ring, not its present whereabouts or an illustration, but it is yet another such treasure from the fifteenth century found in Yorkshire.
Cawood has an ancient bridge over the River Ouse, and a former residence of the Archbishops of York that is now called Cawood Castle. According to Wikipedia: “….George Neville became Archbishop of York in 1465 and held a feast at the castle. The Earl of Warwick, the Archbishop’s brother, aided in the preparation of the feast and is said to have wanted a feast larger than the King’s coronation feast. Guests included the Duke of Gloucester, the King’s brother. The feast lasted several days and became known as the Great Feast of Cawood due to the sheer size of it. Records from the feast show that a substantial quantity of food was consumed, including 104 oxen, 6 wild bulls, 400 swans, 1000 capons and 104 peacocks; 25,000 gallons of wine were consumed with the meal….”
To read more of the feast and of the castle and its history, go to this article This site is well worth a lengthy visit.
Perhaps it was during this great shindig that the ring was lost! But all this goes to show how astonishing research can be. This time it started with finding an interesting Midsummer superstition, led to a 15th-century ring with twined sedum flowers, and thence to a nearby residence of the Archbishops of York and the famous Great Feast of Cawood, attended by Richard and Warwick the Kingmaker, among others. From little acorns great oak trees do grow!
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.
Reconstruction of a Medieval Painting from St Stephen’s Chapel. Possibly Queen Philippa with her daughter. Ernest William Tristram c.1927. Worked from original drawings made by the antiquarian Richard Smirke 1800-1811 before the fire of 1834. Society of Antiquities. Parliamentary Art Collection
St Stephen’s was the medieval royal chapel of the Kings and Queens of England and part of the old Palace of Westminster. What a jewel in England’s crown and what a loss. Destroyed by a fire in 1834 that also destroyed what was left of the old palace, which had already lost its royal apartments in a fire in the 1530s. King Stephen is said to have built the original chapel, first mentioned in the reign of King John 1199-1216, with Edward lst beginning a major refurbishment in 1292. The architect was Michael of Canterbury who also designed the beautiful Eleanor Crosses. On two levels the rebuild took over 70 years to complete which seems to have been because of the ebb and flow of the finances of the first three Edwards. The top level was for the use of the Royal Family and a door south of the altar lead to the royal apartments. It must have been a sight to behold…with it ceiling painted in azure and thousands of stars of gold. The lower chapel, darker because it was slightly below ground level, was known as St Mary Undercroft, and after being used for numerous purposes over the centuries , including some say Cromwell stabling his horses there, has managed to survive to this very day and back to its original use, that of a chapel.
Kings and queens who happened to die while residing in Westminster Palace were taken to the chapel to lie in repose. Among those to lie there before their burial, usually in the Abbey, was the ‘seemly, amiable and beauteous’ Queen Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker and consort to King Richard III (1). On a happier note St Stephen’s may also have been where their wedding took place. Several royal weddings did take place there for certain including that of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia and also Edward IV’s youngest son Richard of Shrewsbury and Anne Mowbray. Anne was only 4 years old at the time, the groom being even younger at 3, and Richard Duke of Gloucester led Anne by the hand into the chapel.
The chapel was dissolved at the Reformation in the time of Edward VI and thereafter it became the first permanent home of the House of Commons. Certain abuses of the Chapel begun from then on including the removal of the beautiful soaring upper celestery by Wren. The final fire took hold at around 6 pm. on the evening of 16th October 1834. The final destruction by fire begun with the burning of two cartloads of wooden tally ‘Exchequer’ sticks which caused a furnace to overheat. Warnings of the danger of fire had been ignored by a ‘senile housekeeper and a careless Clerk to the Works’ leading to the Prime Minister to declare the disaster was one of the ‘greatest instances of stupidity on record’. During the course of the conflagration medieval paintings and decorations that had been hidden over the centuries were once again revealed and gawping crowds flocked to see them.
Wooden tally or Exchequer sticks. The burning of two cartloads of these caused a chimney to overheat which led to the destruction of Westminster Palace including St Stephen’s hall.
We are very fortunate that 30 years prior to the disaster life sized copies were made of the most important medieval paintings, which would have been to the east of the chapel where the alter was, while the chapel was being renovated by an antiquarian Richard Smirke. The art historian and conservator, Ernest William Tristram (1881-1952) meticulously reconstructed Smirke’s drawing in a collection of 20 paintings. The British Museum now holds fragments from the paintings and decorations salvaged from the fire and from them can be gleaned an impression of the quality and beauty of the lost works.
The new building, now called St Stephen’s Hall, was rebuilt in Neo Gothic style on the footprint of the old Chapel carefully adhering to the same measurements, 95ft long and 30 ft wide. Brass studs now mark where the Speaker’s Chair which in turn would have marked the place where the high alter once stood.
King Edward’s Sons. Reconstruction of medieval wall painting St Stephen’s Chapel. Ernest William Tristram. Worked from the original drawings by Richard Smirke.
King Edward and St George. Ernest William Tristram. Reproduction of medieval wall painting from St Stephen’s Chapel. From the original drawing by Richard Smirke.
Some of the 17 fragments of wall paintings salvaged from the fire and now in the British Museum. All came from the east end of the north wall.
Upon Westminster Hall. George Scharf. The intrepid Mr Scharf made this painting over four days after climbing on to Westminster Hall’s roof for a better view of the destruction of the chapel and palace..
The smaller chapel on the lower level. Known as St Mary Undercroft. Survived the fire and is once again in use as a chapel. Watercolour by George Belton Moore.
Another watercolour by George Belton Moore picturing a demolition of a doorway next to St Stephens. Ive been unable to ascertain where this doorway was situated.
The Ruined St Stephen’s from the East prior to demolition. Parliamentary Art Collection.
I am indebted to Sir Roy Strong’s book Lost Treasures of Britain for some of the above information.
The effigies of Joan Neville and her husband William Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel.
On a recent visit to the Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel, I stood transfixed at Joan Neville’s beautiful monument. Carved from Caen stone. Joan’s effigy lies next to that of her husband, William Fitzalan Earl of Arundel (1417-1489). Her head turned toward him, she gazes serenely at him, but whether that is artistic licence by the artist who carved her monument, hennins and coronets such as Joan’s being difficult to represent in stone, or because it was requested by her husband we shall never know.
Joan’s headdress, Yorkist necklace and the cushion still retain much of the original colouring as well as embossed wax..
The fact that the effigies were out of sight of man for many years – until 1981 when they were moved and restored – helped preserve them to a great extent, Joan’s still having retained traces of original colouring – red, gold gilding and embossed wax on her headdress, surcote and robes. We can only guess that when they first made they must have ‘stunned viewers with their magnificence'(1)
Note the wonderful detail of Joan’s cuff, her girdle, necklace and surcoat.
Joan and William’s effigies now in their glass case….Joans feet resting on a griffin.
Joan Neville, future countess of Arundel, born before 2 November 1424 and dying about the 9th September 1462 was the eldest of six sisters to Richard Neville who became known as Warwick the Kingmaker and one of 12 siblings. Her parents Richard Earl of Salisbury and Alice Montacute, as was the custom of the day arranged marriages for all of their daughters while they were still children and Joan was duly married to William Fitzalan about 1438 when she was 14. However her first son was not born until 1450 with a further 5 children to follow. Their marriage was to endure 24 years and William never remarried after her death. Whether her death affected him or his own health was in decline or perhaps for some other reason that eludes us, Willam certainly ceased to show any interest in anything political after her death.
The Fitzalan Chapel. Joan and William’s tomb is to the right hand side.
The Chapel suffered greatly during the English Civil war and it is more than fortunate that the Fitzalan tombs and monuments have survived in such good condition.
Painting by Thomas Cane of the chapel c1886.
Of the aristocratic families who lived during those turbulent times few if any escaped terrible and tragic loss. The Nevilles were no different and although Joan did not live long enough to see her brothers, Richard and John die at Barnet, she had suffered the loss of a brother, Thomas, and her father, Salisbury, during and after the aftermath of Wakefield. To find out more on Joan, her five sisters and their husbands, David Baldwin’s The Kingmaker’s Sisters can be recommended.
Sally Bedham Medieval Church and Churchyard Monuments p34.
I like to be fair. I really do. Even when I find it hard. Take Elizabeth Wydeville ..or not if you prefer. Although I am not and never will be a fan of this lady… ‘wife’ to Edward IV, illustrious Son of York, a golden warrior but a man prone to keeping his brains in his pants..I try to remain open minded. Of course the fact that Elizabeth swiftly skedaddled across the road from the Palace of Westminster into the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey upon hearing of the approach of Richard Duke of Gloucester, after he had taken her son, the uncrowned Edward V into his care following a failed assassination plot on the Duke’s life, looks extremely suspect. Taking her younger son, Richard of Shrewsbury, his sisters and Thomas Grey, her oldest surviving son , plus the royal treasure, Elizabeth prepared herself for a long stay.
The outcome of all that is well known and I won’t go into it here. Later, Elizabeth, sent into ‘retirement’ into Bermondsey Abbey, by an unforgiving son in law, paid a very high price for her propensity for plotting. But are other stories about her true..as they say give a dog a bad name..and one I have often wondered about is the story that Elizabeth was behind the judicial murder of Thomas Fitzerald, Earl of Desmond..and not only that ..his two small sons. The story goes, which is oft repeated in both fact and fictional accounts, is that she was mightily offended by a casual comment made by Desmond to Edward, which Edward foolishly and naively repeated to her (this was in the early days of their marriage and would imply he was not yet fully aware of the nastier and vindictive side to her nature) that he believed Edward had made a ‘mèsalliance‘ and that ‘he should have chosen a more suitable bride‘ and thus consumed by malicious spite, she misappropriated her husband’s privy seal, removing it from Edwards ‘purche’ while he slept, and sent instructions to John Tiptoft, first earl of Worcester, then Chancellor and Lord Deputy of Ireland, to have Desmond executed on trumped up charges including a ‘ridiculous and groundless allegation that he sought to make himself king of Ireland’.
Later Edward on finding out the terrible truth was not best pleased..as Rosemary Hawley Jarman put it so succinctly in her novel The King’s Grey Mare …‘I fear Madam, he saidvery slowly, I very much fear Bessy, that you have become unkind’and set out to pour oil on troubled waters for the execution caused much uproar, turmoil and rebellion in Ireland. Surely this story is too horrid to be true even for those violent times. I was thus pleased to discover an excellent article by Annette Carson and the late John Ashdown-Hill which they co-wrote for the Ricardian back in June 2005. For surely these two know their onions and would be able to discern truth from fiction. After reading the article I came away a little shocked for their in-depth investigation did not put this story to rest but rather made it seem more probable that Elizabeth Wydeville, with the connivance of Tiptoft, did indeed bring about the execution of a man merely because of words spoken that she took umbrage to.
The article can be found here for those of you who wish to explore more fully this unedifying story of Edward’s queen and a man who would be known as the Butcher of England and who himself was executed in 1470 by Desmond’s friend, Warwick the Kingmaker, Tiptoft’s former brother-in-law, and good riddance to him. Perhaps Warwick had another, more personal “axe to grind” – could it be that Tiptoft treated his first wife Cicely, Warwick’s sister, coldly for he requested in a letter to Henry Cranebroke, monk of Christchurch, Canterbury, following the death of his 2nd wife, Elizabeth Greyndour, prayers ‘with special remembraunce of her soul whom I loved best'(1) surely an unnecessarily slight to the memory of his first Neville wife. Tiptoft has been described as a man of culture, erudite and a reader and lover of books! Whoopi doo dah! More specifically he was a man who thought it perfectly acceptable to have impalement added to the already awful sentence of hanging, drawing and quartering. This was the fate 20 of Warwick’s men suffered at Southampton on Tiptoft’s command and which caused much revulsion in an already cruel age. No wonder he was described by a contemporary chronicler as ‘that fierce executioner and horrible beheader of men’ (2).
John Tiptoft’s memorial, Ely Cathedral. Effigy of Tiptoft with two of his wives probably Cicely Neville and Elizabeth Greyndour..
Nevertheless it would appear that Elizabeth Wydeville may have asked Tiptoft to aid and abet her undaunted by his reputation for harshness. The most appalling part of this story is the accusation that Tiptoft also executed Desmond’s two young sons. Another possibility is that Tiptoft was fooled by the forged letter. But in any event ‘this yeare the Earle of Desmond and his two sonnes were executed by ye Earle of Worcester in Drogheda'(3) the youngest one asking the executioner to take care as he had a boil on his neck.
MAGDALENE TOWER – ALL THAT REMAINS OF THE DOMINICAN FRIARY AT DROGHEDA. DESMOND WAS REMOVED FROM THE FRIARY AND SUMMARILY EXECUTED.
And so dear reader, do take time to read this most interesting article if you would like to explore the matter and draw your own conclusions. The authors of the article in-depth examination of the sources, some of which have been ignored by previous writers on the subject is compelling and persuasive. Among the somewhat damning points made are that Desmond was in fact in England, to give Edward his account of the coin and leverage accusation being made against him, at the precise time that the Wydeville marriage became public. Edward found in Desmond’s favour and gave him a grant of manors. Furthermore the other two men accused along with Desmond, including Kildare, his brother, only escaped execution because they managed to evade Tiptoft long enough until the matter reached the ears of Edward, who extended clemency to the pair, which implies that Tiptoft had acted without the ‘knowledge or consent of the king’. Edward went on to quell the rebellion begun by Desmond’s oldest sons who ‘raised their standards and drew their swords , resolved to avenge their father’s murder’ by promising them pardon if they lay their swords down ‘protesting at the same time Desmond had been put to death, without his order, nay his consent’. The king would later go on to ‘clearly acknowledge’ Thomas’ son, James’, title to the earldom despite Tiptoft’s act of attainder against his father.
The nave of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Dublin..Thomas Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond was finally laid to rest somewhere in the Cathedral (now known as Christ Church Cathedral).
Later Richard III wrote a conciliatory letter, which has survived, to Desmond’s son, James, followed up with instructions that his messenger, Bishop Thomas Barrett, was to ‘amplify’ the message that Richard’s brother, Clarence, had suffered a similar fate as Desmond in that his death had been brought about by ‘certain persons’. It must be concluded that the ‘certain person’ alluded to was Elizabeth Wydeville for according to Mancini writing in 1483 contemporary opinion at the time held her responsible for the death of Clarence… ‘the queen concluded that her offspring by the king would never come to the throne unless the duke of Clarence was removed and of this she easily persuaded the king..’
King Richard III sent a conciliatory message to Desmond’s son, James 8th Earl of Desmond comparing the judicial murder of his brother Clarence to that of Desmond ..
And so there we have it dear reader..if this indeed be the case, its very hard to feel pity for Elizabeth when fate’s fickle finger finally gave her the prodding she so richly deserved.
(1) W A Pantin, ( 3.103-4)
(2) Gairdner, (183)
(3) The Register of the Mayors of Dublin records (erroneously under the date 1469)
We all know the amazing reconstruction of the head of Richard III, and the confirmation it gave of how he really had looked. Forget Shakespeare’s Richard III, the real man had been young, good-looking and altogether normal, except for scoliosis that affected his spine. But when he was dressed, it wouldn’t have shown, especially in the sumptuous clothes of the 15th century. So, no murderous, hump-backed monster he. Ricardians always knew it, but the reconstruction from his skull was final, undeniable proof.
I have always been fascinated by the actual appearance of great figures from the past, and want to know if my imagination is creating something even remotely close to the truth. Take Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. I can imagine so much about him, but all I really know of his physical appearance is from his stone likeness of the tomb of his Beauchamp father-in-law in Warwick. There he is, one of many hooded weepers around the tomb, but does that rather grim face really bear any resemblance? Frustratingly, we will probably never know.
Now, while Richard III was the first king I could ever have called my favourite, he now has a companion, his predecessor with the same name, Richard II. And for Richard II, we have what is reckoned to be the first true painted likeness of a King of England – the full-length portrait that now hangs in Westminster Abbey.
Richard II’s looks would seem to have been almost oriental, with heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes, but his complexion is pale and his curling hair a tumble of auburn curls that is decidedly not oriental. There is another likeness of him, as an older man, taken from his tomb, which bears a marked resemblance to the Westminster Abbey portrait.
Richard III’s portraits were eventually proved to be very like the real man. But would the same be said of Richard II’s portraits, if we were to be fortunate enough to see a reconstruction of his head?
To me, Richard II is visually unlike any other king, but then, we don’t actually know what his predecessors (and some of his successors) really looked like. I think we can be sure from Richard III, Henry VII and onward, but before then, the likenesses we have are rather standard, as if selected from a pattern book.
For instance, we have no true portrait of Richard’s father, the “Black Prince”, unless we count his tomb effigy in Canterbury Cathedral. But as this depicts him in full armour, with close-fitting headwear that rather confines and squashes his features, it’s hard to say what he was really like.
However, we surely have a credible image of Richard’s grandfather, the great Edward III, because his tomb effigy is based upon this death mask. And so we see a handsome old man with long hair and matching beard, and a slight droop of the mouth that is reckoned to be proof of a stroke. But we still do not have an actual portrait of him. His grandson’s likeness in Westminster Abbey holds the honour of being the first.
So, did Richard II look like his Westminster Abbey portrait and effigy?
In the case of Richard III, we had his skull and sufficient advance in scientific and artistic knowledge to recreate his head. We may not have the skull of Richard II, but we do have the next best thing, because his tomb was opened in 1871, and very detailed drawings were made of his skull, complete with measurements.
Thought to have been lost, those drawings have been rediscovered in the basement in the National Portrait Gallery, together with a cigarette box containing what are believed to be relics from Richard’s tomb—fragments of wood, probably from the coffin, and a piece of leather thought to have been part of the king’s glove.
The find was made by archivists who were cataloguing the papers of the Gallery’s first director, Sir George Scharf, who had been invited to witness the opening of royal tombs (Richard II, Edward VI, Henry VII, James I and Elizabeth of York) and the date on the cigarette box containing the relics matches that of Sir George’s visit—31st August 1871.
One thing the drawings prove is that Richard was not bludgeoned to death, for there is no sign of damage to the skull. So Shakespeare was wrong about that! He’s wrong about a lot of things when it comes to kings by the name of Richard.
Last night I watched an episode of the new River Hunters series, in which two divers with metal detectors go searching rivers for evidence of historical events. This episode (see these excerpts ) was centred upon the River Avon in Warwickshire, specifically at Warwick Castle. The aim was to find evidence of the Wars of the Roses. The first impression I gained was that nothing in history had happened to the area other than the period of those wars. Warwick Castle was suddenly there, complete with Richard Neville, and then disappeared again once Richard III ceased to be.
They didn’t find anything of significant interest, leading me to believe that the Kingmaker had been down there first, with a large magnet. The best that was found by the TV adventurers was a riveted copper round that was identified as part of a strap end of 1200-1500, and a book clip of 1400-1700.
Next they moved on to Tewkesbury, because of the “decisive encounter” of 1471. Their target was the little (very little, when they were there) River Swilgate, which flows through Bloody Meadow. They found a helmet from WW2, a bedpan, an old signal/warning lamp, a teapot, tray and other metal tableware, all of which looked to me as if it had been discarded there by a thief. Then came a jawbone, which one of the presenters said gave him shivers. It had probably given similar shivers to the sheep to which it turned out to have once belonged.
They did find a 14th-15th century suspension mount for a belt, to hang things on. It was guessed to have belonged to someone affluent, perhaps trying to escape from the battlefield. Next there was a piece of leatherwork, which might have been part of a leather jerkin or an archer’s arm/wrist guard. And a bigger piece with punched holes. Great excitement, except that the latter was identified as merely Victorian. Collective sigh of disappointment.
But the worst let-down for the team was the possible halberd which was pulled out. It was very impressive, and large, and there were great hopes that it was indeed a relic of the Battle of Tewkesbury. Alas, not. On examination by an expert, it was identified as too “manufactured” and was only an agricultural implement.
So, this time I guess it was Edward IV who’d been down there first, wading around with the large magnet he’d pinched from the Kingmaker! Whatever, evidence of the Battle of Tewkesbury was rather lacking.
The programme was entertaining for all that, and I hope they have more success with other rivers.