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Julius Caesar Comes to Kent

Recent archaeological excavations in Kent by the University of Leicester have pinpointed  the probable landing point for Caesar’s invasion of Britain. No full study on this important historical event has taken place  in the last 100 years and it was widely thought amongst academics that both of Caesar’s incursions into Britain had been regarded as ‘failures’ in the Roman world ‘ With new evidence, it appears this may not have been the case, and they were perhaps seen as great advances for Rome in that the armies passed beyond the ‘known world’. (Britons and the Irish were the ‘people behind the North Wind.)

What is also becoming clear is that the Romans and Britons may not all have been outright enemies. There is evidence that treaties were made with local British petty kings and chieftains in Caesar’s time, and these led to the quick capitulation of southern England in the later  Claudian invasion. Recent archaeology has shown that a number of tribes were already trading with the Mediterranean world and were quite welcoming of the Roman armies.

The Romans’ own propaganda has perhaps delayed some of the study into the interaction between the Romans and native Britons. In their records they speak of people wearing nothing but animal hides and ‘knowing not the use of raiment’ and yet we know from archaeology that people have woven clothes in Britain since the later Neolithic. No  mention is made of the trade we also know happened (lots of fine imported wine and pottery!), and the Druids had a hatchet job done on them (quite literally at Anglesey.)

It seems important to remember that records, even if kept with some accuracy, will reflect the bias of the writers, and may have been used as propoaganda tools–here to convince that the Druids needed to be eradicated and that the Britons needed to be ‘civilised’ (ie Romanised and under Roman control.)

https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/press-releases/2017/november/first-evidence-for-julius-caesars-invasion-of-britain-discovered

 

 

invasion

 

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What was the London Stone’s original purpose? And who erected it…?

London Stone from street

These days, the London Stone (also called the Brutus Stone) is set into the wall of the Bank of China on the south side of Cannon Street, EC4. Well, part of it is. Just the tip. The entire Stone stood originally in Candlewick Street (Cannon Street) on the south side near the gutter, facing the door of St Swithin’s church on the north side of the street.*

London Stone map

Made from Clipsham limestone, the displayed portion is roughly shaped and round-topped, with two grooves worn in the top. Its origin and purpose are no longer known, but it was always of some importance to Londoners, who, as far back as 1198, referred to it as the Lonenstane. What we see today is only a fraction of the original Stone, the rest of which still lies beneath Cannon Street. There must surely be something of great interest awaiting discovery. Starting with how tall the Stone was in the beginning.

One suggestion put forward is that the Stone was of Druidic origin. The most popular theory is that it is Roman. Oh, dear, isn’t everything linked to the Romans these days? It’s as if no one in Britain had a clue about anything before they were invaded and taught how to breathe and set aside the woad. A present-day rising against those pesky Romans might not go amiss! Where is Boudicca/Boadicea when we need her?

boadicea

However, I digress. One of the Roman theories is that perhaps it was a central milestone, one from which all mileage measurements in the province of Britannia were taken. A sort of Greenwich Meridian for the length of journeys. Maybe it was, we may never know. Unless they dig up the rest of it, which is still deep underground.

Excavations at Cannon Street Station have revealed the remains of the governor’s palace, which may have some bearing on the Stone. Or not. The same goes for it being the top of a Roman wayside funerary monument. Without examining the rest of the Stone, we aren’t going to know.

Stones have always been of importance in our history. For instance, there is the Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, which many believe to be the stone that Jacob raised to bear witness to his covenant with God. Whatever that particular stone’s original history, it was for centuries fixed into the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. Our kings were crowned upon it. As had been Scottish kings before them. It has, of course, now been returned north of the border.

Another stone, less factual perhaps, is the one from which Arthur drew Excalibur, but this story is best approached with caution. Why? Because we have no idea if it is fact or fiction. As is the case with so much where Arthur is concerned. But swords and stones have an ancient connection. In his 1450 rebellion against the corrupt government of Henry VI, Jack Cade struck the London Stone with his sword, and declared that he was now the Lord of the City.

Jack Cade strikes the London Stone

London was not founded by the Romans, they merely expanded on what was there already. A favourite myth these days is that London was actually commenced by Brutus and the Trojans, who left their own land to find somewhere to found a New Troy. They did, the name was confused into Trinovantum, and then the Romans happened along. It is wondered if the London Stone was the foundation stone of New Troy.

Brutus of Troy

An exciting fact is that excavations at St Swithin’s Church revealed Roman levels some 4’-6’ below the surface. But also revealed massive stone walls some 15’ below the surface, therefore considerably predating the Romans. So, who is to say that the London Stone wasn’t from this earlier period? Just how far back might it go? Just how sacred might it have been? And to whom? Whatever, it should not be left, forgotten, in its underground tomb. Liberate it, and it may have important things to tell us.

To learn more on the London Stone, I recommend reading Appendix I of The Holy Kingdom by Adrian Gilbert, Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett. It is from this that I have taken much of the above article. 

*This is how I understood its perambulations, but there are slightly differing accounts and new developments. All I can say is that as far as I now know, the top of it was in the wall of the Bank of China, but is now temporarily in the Museum of London. I think. It is a very mobile object!

Three new books about Herefordshire villages….

Herefordshire Archive and Records Centre (HARC)
& Logaston Press
invite you to celebrate the launch of three Parish histories
at 7.30pm on Tuesday 7th November
at HARC, Fir Tree Lane, Rotherwas, Hereford HR2 6LA

With short talks by the authors Refreshments available

Eardisley's Early History and the story of The BaskervillesEardisley’s Early History
and the story of The Baskervilles
Edited by Malcolm Mason
This book details the results of research projects commissioned by Eardisley History Group, including a geophysical survey and archaeological excavation of the castle; a building survey of some of the outlying farms and their barns by Duncan James; an evaluation of the earthwork remains at Bollingham and in The Pitts, an area between The Field and Eardisley Wootton; and an account of the changes in the road pattern in recent centuries, and the various projected routes of the tramway. It also includes new research by Bruce Coplestone-Crow on the Baskerville family

The Story of DilwynThe Story of Dilwyn
by Tony Hobbs & Andrew Stirling-Brown
This book gives an outline history of some of the post Domesday landowners and their families, along with what is known of the castle site and development of the churches at both Dilwyn and Stretford, and the brief appearance Dilwyn made in the Civil War. Much of the book then focuses on the past 150 or so years, giving the history of various properties, the school, and those of the local shops, pubs, businesses and some of the farms, together with much social history on the recent life of the village.

 

History of Lyonshall

A History of Lyonshall
From Prehistory to 1850
by Sarah & John Zaluckyj
This book covers the evidence for both prehistoric man in the parish and for settlement in the Roman period, the building of the Saxon dyke, and the arrival of the Normans. It relates the history of the lords of the castle, some of whom had a role on the national stage, and then, from the 1600s, that of the wider population of the parish. The effects of enclosure as strip fields were amalgamated is detailed. Included are various overseers’ efforts to help the poor, as well as accounts of theft, slander and drunken misbehaviour. The shift of the village centre and the effect industries and the industrial revolution with the coming of the tramway are also explored.

ALL PROFITS GO TO HARC

The Princesses in the Tower? Mistaken Sex in Ancient Remains

The mystery of the Princes in the Tower has been the topic of hot debate for centuries, and that debate shows no signs of vanishing anytime soon.

Neither does the misinformation that appears on the Internet with depressing frequency:  ‘Tanner and Wright proved it was the princes’, ‘The discovery of two skeletons indicated they were murdered by smothering,’ and even an astounding article that claimed the Princes were murdered specifically on July 26!

Some who argue for the ‘bones in the urn’ being those of Edward and Richard like to say ‘What are the chances that two random children’s skeletons would be found in that spot?”

Answer: pretty good, actually. England is an old country, with layer on layer of occupation. There was Roman and Iron Age settlement under the Tower, dating from 1000 years before the present structure. It is the same across the country. A field near my house  turned up 70 or so Romans…their graves built over the burial ground of a man known as the ‘king of Stonehenge’ who died in 2400 BC. There could well be bones below my house; there certainly was at a local carpark (carparks always seem to have lots of archaeology!) where Bronze Age cremations mixed with much later Saxon bones. Bones lie everywhere; and without modern techniques, ID is simply guesswork, and in the case of the Princes, people believing what they want to believe.

There is also a good chance (50%!)  these two skeletons may not  even be male. Some who have examined the photos of the remains think the elder has some female characteristics. They did not have the expertise in Tanner and Wright’s day to make an absolute determination of the sex of juveniles.

It is a tricky business determining sex of young people even today, without DNA confirmation. Windeby Girl, a preserved Danish bog body with long blond hair, was long thought to be female, a teenager punished by death in a peat bog, perhaps for adultery. In recent years, further testing was done on the remains. She is a he!

The Red Lady of Paviland, an ancient skeleton discovered in Wales in Victorian times, was also believed to be  female because of the adornments found with the bones. The excavator thought she was Roman and possibly a harlot!  It turns out ‘she’ is a young man who lived some 33,000 years ago.

A recent case of mistaken sex took place with the bodies discovered near to the famous ‘Ice Maiden’ burial in Siberia. One burial was of a pigtail-wearing young person of around 16, who was interred with a much older man, and described as a strongly built female dressed in male clothes. ‘She’  has turned out to be a male wearing a different hairstyle to his elders, perhaps because of his youth and different status.

Even more recently, the sex of the remains of the ‘princely’ Celtic burial at Lavau in France confounded archaeologists, splitting  them 50/50. The tests have now come back as male. So sex can be questionable even with a fully developed adult. (As you will remember they tested for Richard III’s  y-chromosome just to affirm that the Greyfriar’s  skeleton was male, because of his gracile frame and wider than average pelvic notch.)

So no one should be 100% sure about the Tower bones until further analysis is permitted. If you are convinced 100% that the remains are those of the Princes, it is purely because of generations of story telling and assumption passed off as fact.  The  ‘Princes’ might just well turn out to  be ‘Princesses’.

Site of the Tower in the  Roman era, showing settlement.:

towersite

Lapper, Ivan; Artist’s Impression of the Tower of London Site, c.AD40; Royal Armouries at the Tower of London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/artists-impression-of-the-tower-of-london-site-c-ad40-135132

 

THE SEVEN PRINCES IN THE TOWER

king-richard

The title sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Well, I’m once again going to address the matter of those pesky princes in the Tower as I found myself recently debating with several folks who still want to hang on to a certain rather improbable fairy story about them—the one created by our ‘favourite’ saint, Thomas More.
We all know about the two sets of bones, undated and not properly sexed, that are currently sitting in an urn in Westminster. Enough has been said about them on this blog and elsewhere, at least for the time-being.
But what about other remains found over the centuries that have been thought to be the princes? They are more bones than there are boys.
Two children’s skeletons were said to have been found walled up in a hidden chamber in the Tower during the time of Sir Walter Raleigh (the early to mid-1600’s). Supposedly found laid out on a table, the bones were immediately believed to be the missing princes…despite their ages being estimated at between six and eight, too young to be ‘our’ princes.
That said, of course there was no archaeology or osteology in the 1600’s and any guesses as to age at death or cause would be very untrustworthy indeed. However, the idea that they were the princes had some backing….Jean Molinet, the French chronicler and poet, who died in 1507 (so someone who lived at the time the princes vanished, although he was not in England at the time, and was of course, French, which meant his writing would show the English in as bad a light as possible) wrote that the two boys had in fact been bricked up and died of starvation.
However, this tale rapidly seems to have been forgotten (presumably because Molinet was not a saint like Thomas More, and he was French to boot) and the two children’s skeletons vanished who knows where.
Later, of course two coffins were also discovered in a sub-vault adjacent to the main crypt when Edward IV’s tomb was opened in 1789. These were supposed at the time to be the coffins of his children Mary and George, who had died young; however Mary and George were found in different parts of St George’s chapel at a later date.
Sounding likely for the princes? Only until you realise we don’t know if these ‘children’s coffins’ were in fact for children at all (they were only supposed to hold children) or again, what date they were from or if that sub-vault was from another era altogether. Substantial re-ordering in the chapel had taken place throughout the Tudor era and there were later works too.
Records are sketchy and contradictory…at one point 14 year old Mary, whose body was apparently very well preserved, with open blue eyes and long golden hair that had infiltrated through chinks in her coffin, was mistaken for the middle-aged Elizabeth Woodville, her mother!
Back to the Tower of London itself, another child’s skeleton was found at a much later date….in modern times, 1977. Once again, this individual appeared to be that of an adolescent. Examination by a modern bone specialist showed it had male characteristics. A missing prince? No, carbon dating showed it was an Iron Age boy from before the Roman occupation of Britain.
So there have been seven possible princes. We could add an eighth if you want to include another set of bones found in a high up turret in the great Norman fortress—first touted as a lost and heinously murdered prince, it turned out the bones were the remains of an escaped ape!
Many would still argue that More identified the ‘right place’ (ignoring the fact of course that his history says the princes were later moved from the tower staircase by a solitary priest) and that it would be too much coincidence.…but maybe the reason he chose that spot for the ‘scene of the crime’ is simple. Perhaps occasional human bones turned up around that area (as they still do today, it would seem.) Centuries before archaeology existed, people like More would only assume one thing.

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