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A very busy presenter

Rob Bell seems to be on television a lot at the moment. Although he is an engineer and not quite a historian, many of his programmes go back in time as structures were built. Walking Britain’s Lost Railways, for instance, goes back under two centuries because of the subject matter, but Great British Ships (both Channel Five) has already covered HMS Victory and the Mary Rose, which was built in 1510 and sank in 1545. At the same time, possibly literally, Bell is appearing on BBC1 and BBC4’s (repeated) Engineering Giants, projects which he narrates actively with enthusiasm and technical knowledge, together with an interest in the local culture. For example, he tells viewers of Brunel’s great feats, tries to explain why the Mary Rose sank and walks most of the Dartmoor route from Plymouth to Exeter, although a small stage of this track has re-opened in recent years.

The last episode featured Ruabon to Barmouth via Llangollen, where the Irish Ladies lived.

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Strange Times by Joan Szechtman

strange timesToday, we interview Joan Szechtman, an American writer who has just published her third time-travel novel about King Richard the Third.  Fans of Joan have read her books, THIS TIME, which was published in 2009 and LOYALTY BINDS ME which was published in 2011.  Her third Richard the Third novel, STRANGE TIMES, has just been published and is available on Amazon.

Joan, to begin with, what made you interested in Richard the Third?

In 2004 I read Sharon Kay Penman’s THE SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR. It turned my perception of Richard III from Shakespeare’s arch-villain I loved to hate to a sympathetic character I had to learn about. From Penman’s book I found RICHARD THE THIRD by Paul Murray Kendall.

Those are two great sources to use when researching Richard the Third.  Please tell us how you became involved with the Richard the Third Society? I believe you hold several key posts in the American branch.

As I continued my research, I realized I needed to find resources beyond my local library and found the UK and American Branch websites of the Richard III Society. In addition to joining the American Branch, I signed on to both branches email lists so that I could ask questions of other members who were far more knowledgeable than me.

At the time I joined the American Branch, the New England Chapter had just formed and they contacted me to see if I would be interested in participating. So, I joined them as well. A couple of years after joining the New England Chapter the first moderator resigned her position and I became the new moderator for the next two years.

In 2011, the American Branch needed a new editor and I was pressed into service. I’m still the branch’s editor. We have two semi-annual publications: The Ricardian Register and The Ricardian Chronicle. The Register is more academic oriented and features scholarly papers and book reviews and is published both in print and digital editions every March and September. The Chronicle is basically a newsletter, focusing on member events, Ricardian travels, and member interviews. It’s published digitally every June and December.

Amazing resources for the American students of Richard!  Your new book “Strange Times” is now available on Amazon. Can you tell us something about it?

This is the third book of the trilogy about Richard III in the 21st century. While each book follows Richard today chronologically, the books are written so there are no cliff hangers and can be read in any order, though it’s best to read them sequentially. The book does contain a brief “previously on” for those who haven’t read the first two books or need a refresher.

What fascinates me about Strange Times is that it attempts to cover the fate of my favorite person in all of Richard the Third’s life:  Viscount Francis Lovell, Richard’s closest friend.

STRANGE TIMES takes place in both the 15th and 21st century and investigates what might have happened to Francis Lovell, Richard’s loyal supporter. Currently, there is no definitive historical record of Lovell after the Battle of Stoke where Lovell fought on the losing side against Henry VII. Richard is haunted by one possible outcome that has Lovell starving to death locked in an underground chamber in Minster Lovell. The book follows Richard using the time travel device to “see” what happened to Lovell after Stoke. Then everything goes pear-shaped.

The trilogy is available on most online book sellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble for both print and digital editions, and digitally on iTunes, Kobo, Sony, etc.

I know you have a science background which has influenced your books, so can you give us some background information? And why combine that interest with Richard the Third and the time travel books?

While I do have an engineering background, having spent most of that career working on computer science and data communication, I believe my main reason stems from my love of science fiction and time travel stories. When I began my research on the real Richard III, I dreamt of having dinner with him. Since that was impossible, I decided to write him into the 21st century. I based his character on my research.

One of the things that nagged at me was Richard III was quite young when he died—32. I felt there was more to his story than his short life revealed. I wanted to examine his character in a modern setting, without imposing our modern sensibilities on his 15th century actions. By bringing him into the future, I could challenge him in ways that I couldn’t in his own time.

A primary goal in all my books about Richard III is to get the known history right. For that which is not known, I felt free to speculate as long as it was plausible. For example, there is no extant documentation as to what happened to Edward IV’s eldest sons—Edward, putative heir to the throne until parliament declared him illegitimate due to Edward IV’s bigamous marriage, and Richard of York, next in line until declared illegitimate. I developed a plausible theory that Richard hid them in other countries, such as Spain, and they survived Richard.

In STRANGE TIMES, I have Richard learn what happened to his nephews after he had “died” and solve the mystery surrounding Lovell after the Battle of Stoke.

Good for you!  It is so frustrating to try to make people understand that there is no evidence that Richard the Third murdered his nephews.  People have this need to cling to myths.

STRANGE TIMES came to my attention because you received a “Discovering Diamonds” review. Please tell me something about “Discovering Diamonds” and the review.

Rather than paraphrase what Helen Hollick’s blog is about, I will let “Discovering Diamonds” speak for itself:

“Our aim is to showcase well-written historical fiction for readers to enjoy. We welcome indie-published writers because indie writers do not have the marketing backup of the big publishing houses, but if traditionally published novels come our way we’ll be happy to read and review them! Our intention is to have a good mix of good historical fiction to share with you, a reader.

“However, we are fussy: we only publish reviews of the best books, so we also take note of correct presentation and formatting as well as the quality of writing – and when space and time are limited we may only select a few books a month to review. …”

Getting reviews is important for any author, and can be a struggle for indie authors, of which I am one. I am therefore pleased to share the link to my “Discovering Diamonds” review:

Fantastic review.

Thanks for talking to the Murrey & Blue blog.

discovering diamonds review

 

Richard III, snooker and probability

One thing of which we can be certain is that Richard III never played snooker. It was not invesnookernted until 1875 in Jabalpur by a Colonel Chamberlain (1). Nevertheless, it is an excellent vehicle for demonstrating the laws of probability with particular reference to the descent of the Plantagenet Y-chromosome from Edward III.

Imagine that you have walked into a snooker club where a member lends you four white balls and fifteen reds, the white balls obviously from more than one set, but in a drawstring bag. The cue balls represent the paternal links from Edward III to Richard III and the reds represent the descent from Edward III to Henry, 5th Duke of Beaufort (2). We already know that the 5th Duke’s living putative descendants have a different Y-haplogroup to Richard III, indicating that there is at least one “false paternity event” in one or both lines, but “Somerset 3” has a different Y-chromosome to his putative cousins, showing that another such has occurred at some time since 1760.

The bag is now held towards you and you are invited to insert your hand and withdraw a ball but you cannot discern its colour until you are holding it outside the bag – we are assuming randomness a priori. The probability of one random ball being red is 15/19 or approximately 79%. If you withdrew two balls, the probability of both being red is 15×14/19×18 or about 61%. The probability of three balls all being red is 15x14x13/19x18x17 or about 47%.

The probability of any paternal link in these chains being false is the same as stated above. We only know that there is one such event and it is 79% likely to have been in the descent to the 5th Duke but 21% to Richard. We cannot yet assume there to be more than one broken link in either chain and it would take three “milkmen” for the red ball (Beaufort) probability to fall below 50% and for a York false paternity event to be probable.

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_snooker

(2) http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms6631

THE LOST CITY OF TRELLECH-FOUND

Once upon a time, back in the  Middle Ages, a large, thriving Welsh city existed between Monmouth and the village of Trellech. Its size was astounding for the day—it had 10,000 inhabitants (for comparison London had 40,000.) Another 10,000 souls may have lived in a shanty town along its edges.

What makes Trellech’s size particularly startling is that it reached this number in a mere 25 years, meaning that vast numbers of people must have been flooding into the area. This was undoubtedly something to do with the powerful de Clare lords, who held the local lands and used Trellech for smelting iron for their personal army.

Then…something happened. It possibly began with a  devastating raid over poaching deer, which destroyed a large portion of the town.  Then the Black Death roared in during the 1300’s, causing the population to drop dramatically. More trouble followed in the early 15th century when Owain Glyndwr was on the rampage in those debatable borderlands. By the time of the Civil War, the city had been completely abandoned, and soon nature reclaimed what was once its own, and grass grew over the walls of once mighty Trellech.

By modern times, it was mainly known through a few medieval documents and in local legend, its precise location lost and subject to much speculation, with many believing it was sited under the modern village of Trellech.

No one seemed terribly interested in definitively locating it and finding out if it was as extensive and important as claimed, although some earlier surveys were indicative. But then an enthusiastic young archaeologist, intrigued by the story of the lost city,  decided to use his life savings to buy the fields where folklore said Trellech stood.

And it turned out,  when the trenches were dug, that legend, this time, was correct.

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4083716/History-fan-spends-32-000-life-savings-buying-field-digs-discover-lost-medieval-city.html

trell

http://www.lostcityoftrellech.co.uk/

 

The project is ongoing, so if anyone is in the area and wishes to join in this summer, there are details in the second link.

Besides the archaeological site of the city, the nearby village of Trellech is itself worth a visit, with its Holy Well dedicated to saint Anne, the Grade I Church of Saint Nicholas, a castle motte called the Tump, a 16th C pub, and three enormous Bronze Age standing stones (Harold’s Stones) which are aligned on the Midwinter sunset.

 

 

George III revealed

This documentary, presented by Robert Hardman of the Daily Mail, unveils some of our longest-serving King’sgeorgeiii secrets, such as a draft abdication letter after American independence was achieved. It also discusses his health issues in greater detail. Until recently, it was thought that he suffered from porphyria, a physical disease that Mary Stuart carried to her descendants but now it appears that he was afflicted by some form of insanity and was aware of it in the early stages. Hardman tells us that George, as a prolific writer, is likely to have appreciated the many scientific and georgetechtechnological advances that followed his reign.

We are also told how, at the onset of his reign, he micro-managed his royal duties, possibly wearing out his formidable mind. Just like Henry VI, George III had an early attack, in 1782 when his favourite son died and the letter was drafted, but recovered within months, only to lose that mind irrevocably at a later stage. Fortunately, George had several adultoldgeorgeiii sons, the eldest of which could serve as Regent, whilst he stumbled around unaware, either mentally or visually, of his granddaughter Charlotte’s death in childbirth or of her cousin’s birth. At least he knew about the “discovery” of Australia.

Here  is a link to the recently released “Georgian Papers Online”, now part of the Royal Collection and here is Hardman’s original article.

MONUMENTAL MOUNDS AND MOTTES

When the Normans came to England they built their stern castles upon  huge mounds that gave them clear views across the countryside from the height of the donjon or keep. For many years, it was thought these mottes were mostly of Norman date, contemporary with the castle structures,  or else were natural, glacial features utilised by the incomers.

Recently, however,  archaeologist Jim Leary, well known in the Wiltshire area for his work at Marden Henge and Avebury, has been studying these numerous round mounds in some detail and finding that many of them tell another story. Sometimes on that stretched far into the depths of time.

Marlborough mound is one example. For years, various guidebooks debated whether the enormous  hill in the grounds of Marlborough college, complete with later grotto inserted in its flank, was a Norman construction, a prehistoric earthwork,  a natural hill, or even a much more recent garden folly.

The castle, of which no stone remains above ground today, was quite prominent in the 12th century: an oath of allegiance was sworn to King John in its now-vanished hall, and Eleanor of Brittany, kept prisoner for most of her life by John and then his son, Henry III, due to her closeness to the throne, was briefly incarcerated within its walls.  Later, it became a dower property of Eleanor of Provence and a host of subsequent queens, until it finally fell into ruin, becoming completely uninhabitable by 1403. The Seymour family, who owned many local lands, ended up with it.

About five years ago, Jim Leary had some charcoal found inside the mound carbon dated. It turns out Marlborough mound, reputed in legend to be the burial place of Merlin, is a Neolithic artificial hill dating from 2400 B.C., a smaller sister to the famous, pyramid-sized Silbury Hill, which liesa few miles down the road near the stone circles of Avebury.

Now Dr Leary is working on analysing further monumental mounds, with exciting and unexpected results from the motte at Skipsea castle,  which was built in 1086 by Drogo de la Beauvriere as protection against an incursion of Danes via the North Sea.  The castle was destroyed  by the forces of Henry III in 1221, when William de Forz rebelled and was never subsequently rebuilt, with only the mound remaining today.

In the recent analysis of Skipsea, the archaeologists have found that the motte is neither Norman nor natural glacial hill (as was generally thought) but, unusually, that it is an artificial mound dating from the Iron Age. It is quite possibly a burial mound, which would make it a one of a kind in this country, since by the British Iron Age huge funerary barrows had long dropped out of fashion. It bears a marked similarity to the large German Celtic barrows, which often hold rich remains, such as those of the Hochdorf chief (also known as the Prince with the Golden Shoes, due to his blingy footwear!)

Leary and his  team have also recently surveyed Fotheringhay and Berkhamsted mottes. The study goes on….

 

https://roundmoundsproject.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/fieldwork-2015-photos/#more-359

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/03/skipsea-castle-yorkshire-built-on-iron-age-mound

 

motte

Kingfinding fever spreads to Scotland

This Glasgow Herald article illustrates how historian Sheila Pitcairn wishes to search Dunfermline Abbey and identify Malcolm III and his family. Robert I (le Brus) can easily be found there already.

Margaret_and_Malcolm_Canmore_(Wm_Hole)

The widowed Malcolm III married (St.) Margaret of Wessex, great-niece of Edward the Confessor and granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, in about 1070, allowing Anglo-Saxon royal blood to pass into the Scottish monarchy and then the English Plantagenets via their daughter Edith who married Henry I. St. Margaret is also among the lost members of the House of Dunkeld thought to be buried at the Abbey, together with their offspring: Edward (killed with Malcolm fighting the Normans at Alnwick), Edmund (a co-ruler) and Ethelred (Abbot of Dunkeld), Edgar, Alexander I and David I (three of the kings who reigned after Malcolm) and their grandson Malcolm IV (David I’s son).

Exhumers would also expect to find Donald III (Malcolm III’s brother) and Alexander I’s wife Sybilla although some parts of Malcolm and St. Margaret may have been in Edinburgh Castle, the Scots College at Douai in France or the Escorial in Madrid. They may have been lost due to later events.

A 1962 talk about That Urn and what Richard might or might not have done ….

I apologise in advance for posting this in so many picture files, but the manuscript of Dr Lyne-Pirkis’ 1962 speech about the urn in Westminster Abbey was sent to me, page by page, in PDF format. I couldn’t work out how to post them, so turned them all into separate JPEGs They come courtesy of a friend in the US, who found it on going through some old papers. She is a Ricardian, but slightly lapsed, and still has some of her memorabilia.

Apologies too for some of the words/attitudes used in the speech – things were a little different in 1962 – not very p.c.

Dr Lyne-Pirkis - Speech about bones in urn - 1962 - 1

Dr Lyne-Pirkis - Speech about bones in urn - 1962 - 2

Dr Lyne-Pirkis - Speech about bones in urn - 1962 - 3

Dr Lyne-Pirkis - Speech about bones in urn - 1962 - 4

Dr Lyne-Pirkis - Speech about bones in urn - 1962 - 5

Dr Lyne-Pirkis - Speech about bones in urn - 1962 - 6A

Dr Lyne-Pirkis - Speech about bones in urn - 1962 - 7

The King In The Lab – The Unsanitary Lifestyle Of Richard III

RICARDIAN LOONS

Today’s blog focuses on another widely-reported discovery from Richard III’s skeletal remains: the presence of roundworms in his gravesite and the scientific theory that he suffered from an intestinal infection prior to death. We’ve previously reported on how the scoliosis of his spine was literally twisted out of proportion by mass media and some historians to arrive at dubious conclusions, so it would seem a worthy endeavor to take a closer look at this issue to see if a similar dynamic is playing out, and whether certain myths and misconceptions are being created even as others have been solidly debunked.

A quick internet search for the topic of Richard III and roundworms immediately leads to headlines and stories suggesting that the king’s body was “riddled” and “crawling” with parasites, that his infection produced symptoms that limited him physically and mentally, and that his lifestyle was dissolute with luxuries yet simultaneously…

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The King In The Lab – Richard III’s Dissolute Diet

RICARDIAN LOONS

I recently had the opportunity to attend a talk by Professor Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey, co-author of the multi-isotope analysis which explored what the last Plantagenet king of England ate and drank. As I mentioned in a previous science post, this study formed the basis for the widely reported claim that, although he was a capable soldier, he overindulged on food and drink and that this “dissolute” diet was the reason for his unexpected defeat at the battle of Bosworth. As this seemed to be at odds with both historical sources and also the study itself, I was hoping to finally get to the bottom of the facts. I wasn’t disappointed.

What Isotopes Can Tell Us

Professor Evans began her talk by explaining that isotopes are particles which transmit information from geology to us via our food chain. Basically:

Rock > soil > plants > herbivores…

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