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Terry Jones’ opinion of Richard III….

RIII - Royal Collection

I am a great fan of Terry Jones’ writing/opinions when it comes to medieval history, and today just happens to be Terry’s birthday.

That he supports King Richard II I already knew, but I did not know he also thinks highly of King Richard III. What I write below is taken from a book, which itself was originally inspired by the television series Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives, produced by Oxford Films and Television for BBC Television and first broadcast on BBC2 in 2004. It was first published in hardback 2004, and in paperback in 2005.

So, it has to be emphasised that Jones’ opinions were expressed before Richard’s remains were discovered in Leicester. Before so much more had been discovered about that much-wronged king. Jones was a Ricardian at least as far back as 2004. And please do not think that anything in the following paragraphs is my opinion, I merely take from Jones’ writing in order to convey his view of Richard III. So the comments about the bones displayed in the Tower, and Richard’s second coronation in York are his views. The illustrations are my additions. Please buy the book, it’s well worth reading.

Book cover

Toward the end of the book, when he reaches the matter of Richard III, he expresses his view by launching straight in that the king we all know (from Shakespeare) is very different from the actual man who sat on the throne between 1483-5. Jones refers to the Bard’s character of Richard III as a ‘cardboard cut-out’, to be ‘booed and hissed’, but points out that this creation was written when the Tudors were on the throne. Tudor propaganda is to blame for the wilful and cruel destruction of the real Richard III. An extraordinary effort was made to create the story that Richard plotted to seize the throne of England and then ruled as a brutal tyrant.


Anthony Sher as ~Shakespeare’s Richard III

Medieval kings ruled by consent, which mostly meant the consent of the nobility of southern and central England, with the earls

In the north being gradually edged aside, which eventually led to the Wars of the Roses, which had ended with Edward IV defeating the northern nobility.

Edward chose his brother Richard to govern in the north, and Richard duly arrived in 1476 with 5000 men. This might have been deemed a threat by the city fathers, but according to their records: ‘After greetings were exchanged, the duke addressed the civic officials within Bootham Bar, saying that he was sent by the king to support the rule of law and peace.’

And so he did, devoting himself to the minutiae of government and justice. He heard pleas on quite small matters:

‘Right and mighty prince and our full tender and especial good lord, we your humble servants, havnyg a singler confidence in your high and noble lordship afore any other, besecheth your highnesse. . .concerning the reformation of certain fish traps. . . In 1482 the York gave him gifts, ‘for the great labour, good and benevolent lordship that the right, high and might prince have at all times done for the well of the city.’ Richard was presented with: ‘6 pike, 6 tenches, 6 breme, 6 eels and 1 barrel of sturgeon’, a local speciality of spiced bread, and fourteen gallons of wine to wash it all down.’

Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

But the darkest story to damn Richard for posterity was the deaths of his two nephews, the sons of Edward IV. Edward, when dying, named his 12-year-old son, another Edward, as his successor. He also designated Richard as Lord Protector, the guard the kingdom and the boy himself until the latter was of age. Richard was in the north when the king died on 9 April 1483, and did not know what had happened. The little king-to-be was in the hands of his mother’s family, the ambitious Woodvilles, who had no intention of giving up power to Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Keeping him in the dark, they began to rush the boy to London, intending to have him crowned on 4 May, but Richard found out, and intercepted them. Outwitted them too. Taking charge of the boy, he escorted him to London, where the future king was installed in the royal apartments at the Tower. The coronation was rescheduled for 22 June, but on the 13th of the month, an extensive plot against Richard was exposed. This caused Richard to see that his younger nephew, another Richard, was placed in the Tower. The boys were thus together, and then the coronation was deferred until November.

Evil Richard with Edward V

This was because on 22 June, Dr Edward (sic) Shaa, brother of the mayor of London, declared to the citizens of London that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, which had taken place in secret, had been illegal because the king was precontracted to marry Lady Eleanor Talbot.

Richard of Gloucester had been a dutiful and loyal lieutenant for Edward IV, and had spent many years governing the north in his name. Richard was ‘popular, widely trusted, knew everyone and was a capable administrator’. Now he had learned that the children of the Woodville marriage were illegitimate. This meant that Richard himself was the rightful successor.

Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III

Everyone agreed with this, and he was acclaimed king on 26 June and crowned on 6 July. Then the princes seem to have vanished, and in due course Tudor spin would make it seem that Richard had them killed.

The Coronation Procession of Richard III, 1483

The Coronation of Richard III

King Louis the First and Last (see, is generally regarded as not being a king of England because he had no coronation. However, the eldest son of Edward IV is counted as Edward V, even though he was never crowned and certainly did not rule. Jones believes this was entirely due to Henry Tudor, who had no ‘meaningful’ claim to the throne, but had seized it in 1485 when Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry, a usurper, saw how helpful it would be for him if Richard could be designated a regicide. That was why the boy Edward was recognized as a king, even though he never had been. And if anyone had a motive for killing the boys in the Tower, it was Henry Tudor!

‘The bones of two children are still on show in the Tower [sic], proof of Richard’s wicked deed. They were discovered in the seventeenth century, and examined in 1933, when they were said to be vital evidence of the crime. But no-one knows when they date from.’

Everything we know of Richard reveals him not to have been a tyrant. To quote Jones: ‘Almost the first thing he [Richard] did on becoming king was to pay off £200 he owed to York wine merchants. Now there’s a tyrant for you!’

RIII and Anne Neville

Next Richard, with his queen, Anne, rode north with his entire court, to stage a second coronation. The city of York was notified in advance by the king’s secretary:

‘Hang the streets thorough which the king’;s grace shall come with clothes of arrass, tapestry work and other, for there commen many southern lords and men of worship with them.’ 

The city put on a particularly lavish display, and all the city fathers, with the mayor, wore scarlet robes as they rode with the king and queen. York seemed to be made of cloth, and the monarchs stopped to watch ‘elaborate shows and displays’.

Of course, all this did not go down well with southern lords. It plunged still farther when Richard gave his northern friends plum places at court. That was why the unworthy outside, Henry Tudor, gained support. He had no real right to claim the throne, but he managed, through treachery, to kill Richard at Bosworth.

Henry Tudor is crowned at Bosworth

York was devastated. ‘King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was through great treason of the Duke of Northfolk and many others that turned ayenst him, with many other lords and nobles of these north parts, piteously slain and murdred to the great heaviness of this city.’ 

The only reason we have been brainwashed into believing ill of Richard III is because the Tudors were clever and forceful when it came to spinning their side of events. Henry Tudor’s reign commenced shakily, so he invented a bogeyman.

When Richard was alive, writer John Rous wrote of him as ‘a mighty prince and especial good Lord’. Under the Tudors, Rous ‘portrayed him as akin to the Antichrist’: ‘Richard spent two whole years in his mother’s womb and came out with a full set of teeth’. Shakespeare also wrote under a Tudor monarch, and his sources were Tudor documents.

‘Propaganda, thy name is Henry.’

Richard III - reconstruction

Reconstruction of Richard III




Interior view of the Henry Vll Chapel by Giovanni Canaletto.  Henry’s tomb can be seen in the distance with the chapel housing the urn to the left.Tanner,-L.E.-after-Maundy-service-72.jpg

Lawrence E Tanner Keeper of the Muniments (1926-66)  Librarian, Westminster Abbey

Who could blame anyone, after reading Tanner and Wright’s report of their investigation into the infamous bones in the urn in the Henry Vll Chapel in Westminster Abbey,  for concluding that both the gentleman may have believed the bones in the urn were, indeed, those of Edward’s IVs sons, Edward Prince of Wales  and Richard of Shrewsbury.  Tanner was Keeper of the Muniments and Librarian of Westminster Abbey while Wright was a distinguished anatomist and president of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland.  Wright was assisted thoughout the investigation by Dr George Northcroft, a dental surgeon of wide experience especially in the dentition of children.

Tanner explains in his book – Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary –  that in July, 1933,  in an attempt to solve the questions and allegations that the urn was either empty or contained animal bones and not human bones,  the then  Dean of Westminster, Dr Foxley Norris, although not without considerable hesitation,  determined to have the urn opened.  This was done on the evening of 5 July by the Clerk of the Works and the urn then covered with a white tablecloth until the next day.  At 9 a.m. on July 6 1933 , with various dignitaries  present,  the cloth was removed, and voila!, the urn was to be seen full of bones.  On the examination commencing  ‘it soon became apparent that these bones were those of two children of about the right age for the Princes.    Parts of two skulls, two jawbones, two thigh bones were seen to be there and the thigh bones when placed side by side, demonstrated  that one was longer than the other'(1).  It was then decided that the matter ought to be pursued further and the chapel was closed so that Prof Wright, aided by Dr Northcroft, could work there undisturbed.  Lawrence Tanner was entrusted with the ‘historical’ side of the investigation, that  of  determining the ages of the ‘princes’.


Urn designed by Sir Christopher Wren to contain the bones of the two children

It  would seem that Prof Wright was on something of a roll, as they, say, concluding that from the evidence he saw, the bones were those of children of the same age as the princes and, besides that, he had ‘no doubt’  that the red/brown stain on the face of elder child ‘was a blood stain such as would have been caused by suffocation,  which is well known to be associated with intense congestion of the face…which of course  corresponds to the traditional account of the murders (2).  Before long Prof Wright is addressing the bones as Edward and Richard!  He opined ‘As to what happened after their death no-one can say, but I imagine that when placed in the elm chest in which they were found, Edward lay at the bottom on his back with a slight tilt to the left, that Richard lay above him face to face, and that when the chest was discovered in the 17th century the workmen broke into it from above and near its middle.  I am led to these conclusions from the fact that there was far more of Edward’s skeleton present than that of Richard’s, since presumably lying deeper it was less disturbed… less than six have been found, and that of these,  three were of the left side and belonged to Edward and three of the right side belonged to Richard…and that similarly only the left clavicle of Edward and the right clavicle of Richard were present, strongly suggesting that the left shoulder of Edward had been in close contact with the right shoulder of Richard…’ …need I go on?


 Skulls of the  two children in the Urn..

FullSizeRender 2.jpg Lower jaw of the younger child                          Lower jaw of the older child

Later,  in his book, Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary,  Tanner wrote “It will be noted that Prof Wright for convenience assumed that the bones were those of  ‘Edward’ and ‘Richard’.  This was perhaps unfortunate for it has led some people to suppose that we definitely identified the bone as those of the princes.  No such claim was made, and I was, in fact particularly careful in the paper which we read before the Society of Antiquaries to make no such indentification , and to adopt a cautious and ‘not proven’ attitude throughout’.

Furthermore Tanner, who lived to the ripe old age of 80, and whose ashes are buried in the lower Islip  chapel, Westminster Abbey,  lived long enough to read Paul Murray Kendall’s biography of Richard and the conclusions drawn by that author,  that he had ascertained the opinions of various professionals and that  a) it was not possible to determine the sex of either child and b) that the stain on the skull was not a bloodstain.  Tanner, who was not without a sense of humour, seems to have kept an open mind on the whole,  although it does seem to have been mostly a toss up between Richard or Henry Tudor being the murderer..if there was one.  He quotes his friend,  Geoffrey H White,  who summed it  all up rather nicely when he remarked “that a strong case can be made out for either view if  the arguments on the other side are ignored”.

I would love to know  what Tanner would have thought, if he  had survived long enough, he died in 1979,   if he had  read Helen Maurer’s  excellent article  “Whodunit: The Suspects in the Case” written in 1983,  in which she made the comment in her notes “As for why the bones should have been discovered more or less where More said they would be, it might be profitable, in the interests of leaving no stone unturned, to forget about Richard, Henry and the last 15th century for the time being and concentrate upon Charles II and the political pressure and perceived necessities of the 1670s.  Any takers?”.  Anyone interested in going on to find out  what Maurer’s thoughts on this matter were,   can find them in her follow up article “Bones in the Tower Part 2.  I’m sure this marvellous and remarkable gentleman would have been very, very intrigued.

(1) Lawrence Tanner Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary p153.

(2) Lawrence Tanner Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary p156


A lesson in disposing of That Urn…!


Here is an excellent account of That Urn at Westminster Abbey. It demolishes all the “Tudor” flimflam, and entertains as it does so. Read, enjoy and digest, in connection with this.

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 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.:


Lapper, Ivan; Artist’s Impression of the Tower of London Site, c.AD40; Royal Armouries at the Tower of London;



WESTMINSTER BONES: The Real Mystery of the Princes in the Tower by Richard Unwin

Richard Unwin is an author who generally writes novels set during the Wars of the Roses era (The Lawrence the Armourer series), which contain a positive rather than traditional view of Richard III, as seen through the eyes of his followers rather than Richard himself. He has also written an interesting alternative history, The Doom Assigned, in which Richard wins Bosworth and continues on as King.
Here, however, in Westminster Bones, Unwin turns from fiction to non-fiction and presents a very different view of what could be the story behind those undated and unsexed bones that lie in an urn in Westminster, still celebrated by many as ‘the Princes in the Tower’.
Unwin believes the whole scenario of the discovery could have been an elaborate hoax of the 17th c. Others in the past have suggested that Charles II may have used the finding of the remains as propaganda (against the deposition of rightful kings) , but Richard Unwin goes a step beyond that: he believes not only were the bones used for propaganda by King Charles, but that they probably came from outside the tower, were relatively modern in date and had been brought there deliberately for the purpose of a deception.
Although this differs from my own thoughts (that the bones are ancient, potentially Iron Age or Roman) and their find coincidental (though not terribly surprising considering the long history of the Tower), I have myself wondered how much truth was attached to the original reports of the location in which they were found. Archaeology as a science did not exist in the 17th c, and we do not even have drawings of the remains in situ as proof that they were indeed below the tower stair, in that huge excavation going well into the prehistoric layer. I always wondered if the supposed find under the stairs in fact occurred elsewhere around the grounds and by the time someone began to realise the possible significance of the remains, the tale had ‘grown in the telling’ to match Thomas More’s fable (although in fact it does not, as More later claims the princes’ remains were moved.)
In Westminster Bones, Unwin informs us of the political situation of the day, and also of the burgeoning theatre in Restoration London (which plays a part in the mystery!) Once again Tanner and Wright’s 1930’s findings on the bones are re-analysed and taken to task, with some interesting extra details added, showing  the unreliability of the initial analysis: the seeming lack of interest in the nails found near the skull, which were almost certainly the cause of the ‘red stain’ that the doctors tried unconvincingly and unscientifically to tie in with suffocation. Other interesting titbits are revealed regarding the so-called velvet scraps found with the bones, the condition and preservation of certain parts of the skeletons, and the state and substance of the wooden ‘box’ that the bones were supposed to have been found in.
All in all, a short but interesting read that adds yet another dimension to the mystery of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ and may be another nail in the coffin (pardon the bad pun!) of the old legends regarding their finding and identification.



Examining an alternative theory

For several centuries, some historians and other writers have connected Sir Thomas More’s narrative of the murder of Edward IV’s sons to the bones found in 1674 and declared them to prove his case, even to the point of deluding Tanner and Wright in 1933 into calling the bones “Edward” and “Richard” before they even started. This theory has required its adherents to believe that More, who was five in 1483, was telling the absolute truth at first but suddenly switches to falsehood when he tells of the bones being disinterred and reburied somewhere else. Now, of course, modern medical interpretations of Tanner and Wright’s results (Carson, pp.214-32) express doubts as to the age, gender and number of individuals buried there whilst Carson herself ( and in the same chapter) notes the extreme depth of the burial, implying that it considerably pre-dated 1480-90, together with the evidence that “Edward” was likely to be mortally ill. The entire theory is becoming a colander and the probability of a real scientific investigation increases.

The Cairo residents, however, seem not to have given up. “Those may not be the actual bones and More’s second half may be accurate”, they claim, pointing us towards two small coffins found in Edward IV’s Windsor tomb in 1789 ( At first these were thought to belong to Mary and George, Duke of Bedford, Edward IV’s other children by Lady Grey, his “widow”, but these have subsequently (1810) resurfaced and are no longer candidates for these identities. This theory too, has several holes, relating to the times that the tomb was sealed. Edward IV died on 9 April 1483 and Lady Grey on 8 June 1492. Both were buried relatively quickly and the tomb resealed until 1789.

Suppose we test the theory that Richard III killed them and they are buried there, by assuming it. If so, one of these scenarios must have happened:
1) Edward Prince of Wales and Richard Duke of York both predeceased their father and were buried with him. Any source that gives either or both as alive after April 1483 is mistaken or worse.
2) Richard hid the bodies and someone else he trusted moved them into this tomb in 1492 – someone like Brackenbury, Catesby, Lincoln, Lovell, Norfolk or Ratcliffe, except that they were all dead and Brampton and Tyrrell were abroad. Lady Grey had to die some time and there would be such an opportunity.
3) Richard climbed out of his Greyfriars tomb one morning and bought a day return to Windsor after Lady Grey died, placed the coffins in the tomb himself (as (2)) during the days that it was opened for her funeral before catching the trains back to Leicester before his bedtime.
4) Richard didn’t die in 1485 but someone else was buried in his place. After smuggling the corpses into Edward’s tomb, as (2/3) above, he eventually really died and was substituted for the decoy corpse in Greyfriars – because he knew how important his mitochondrial DNA was to be five hundred years later. Nobody in the days after Bosworth had noticed that the wrong body was being exposed.

None of these are remotely plausible. The two small coffins probably relate to two of Edward’s unknown other children, by Lady Grey or a different mistress, or perhaps two of their young servants who died just before 1483 or 1492.

Back to square one for the denialists as their second theory is also a Swiss cheese.

Another view

Note, in particular, the beginning of the last paragraph:

The main accusation against Richard III has always been the assumption that he murdered his nephews, and the discovery of the skeletons of two children under a Tower staircase in the 17th century has often been quoted as virtual proof of this dastardly act.

I should like to try and put a few of these assumptions into perspective. In 1674 at the Tower of London a group of workmen were employed to demolish the stone staircase attached to the White Tower, and over several days had dug a full ten feet down to the level of the Tower foundations, when they came upon two human skeletons. Seeing little of interest in this discovery, they threw the bones, along with the surrounding rubble, onto the rubbish dump.

When the workmen related these facts afterwards, others realised that this find could be of some importance. Since the skeletons appeared to be of two young people, being neither of fully grown adults nor of small children, someone began to wonder if these could be the remains of the so-called ‘princes in the Tower’ – i.e. the two sons of the late King Edward IV who had seemingly disappeared during the subsequent reign of King Richard III. The bones were therefore recovered from the dump. The reigning monarch at the time (Charles II) subsequently ordered the bones entombment in an urn, to be kept in Westminster Abbey. The assumption, given that forensic examination was unknown at that time, was to accept the bones as those of the allegedly murdered ‘princes’.

This was certainly not the first time that human bones had been discovered in and around the Tower. However, not only did these particular skeletons seemingly, judging by size alone, match the ages of the king’s lost boys, but they were discovered under a staircase, and this rang bells with the unfinished story written long before by Sir Thomas More and entitled “The History of King Richard III.” So those are the simple facts. But a considerable number of myths, misinterpretations and assumptions have gathered around these facts ever since, and the principal one concerns that same unfinished story left by Sir Thomas More.

Neither at the time, nor during the Tudor age following, did anyone else conjecture as to such precise details concerning the boys’ fates – though assumption continued and increased as the blackening of Richard III’s reputation became a political tool of the Tudors. The only reliable account of when they were last sighted (at least by anyone who cared to write of it) appears in the Crowland Chronicle which indicates they were still resident in the Tower in late August or early September 1483. Yet surprisingly the actual contemporary evidence appears to indicate that little interest was aroused in the vicinity at the time of this disappearance, and Londoners went about their business as usual. Many today speak as though contemporary rumour of the murder was rife, but this is absolutely untrue as far as surviving documentation tells us. Whether the sons of Edward IV then died, were murdered, or were simply smuggled safely away, was guessed at but never proved.

It was not until around 1515 (30 years after the death of Richard III) that Sir Thomas More started to write his ‘history’. Over the years he wrote several versions of this but neither finished nor published any of them. They have survived however, and many researchers have chosen to take them seriously in spite of the anomalies, excessive number of mistakes, and insistence on recording discussions word for word even when the possibility of knowing what had been said was completely non-existent.
Within his pages, More initially records that the fate of the boys remained in doubt. Then later and quite suddenly he offers a detailed scenario of their heinous slaughter. He gives no explanation of how he could possibly know the exact details which he relates, however the story appears to be partially inspired by Polydore Vergil, the man recently employed by Henry VII to write a history of England. More, however, elaborates hugely on Vergil’s account, adding no end of specific extra colour. How (more than 30 years after the fact) he suddenly came by this wealth of gossip is difficult to imagine. Did More chat afterwards with the murderers? Did he talk with the priest, yet decide to confide in no one else even though he then wrote it down for anyone to read? Did he receive information from some other nameless soul, who also chose to disclose these essential facts to no one else? More, however, now confidently tells us that after their violent deaths the two sons of Edward IV were secretly buried at the foot of a staircase in the Tower of London. He then goes on to explain that Richard III (who had ordered the murders) objected to such an improper burial and ordered a priest to dig up the corpses and rebury them in another more suitable (but unnamed) place, and that this was promptly done.
So the burial under a stairwell is certainly mentioned. Yet according to More, (the only one ever to mention burial under a staircase at all) that is NOT where the two bodies were finally left. He specifically says they were moved to a secret place more appropriate to their station. And here the secret supposedly remained – no longer under a staircase at all.

Yet the actual ‘bones in the urn’ were found under a stone stair attached to the exterior of the White Tower (known as the Keep). Apart from the contradiction within More’s absurd story, such a rigorous endeavour is difficult to accept as this area was the access point to the only entrance, and would certainly have been one of the busiest parts of the Tower. Anyone digging there would have been clearly visible. So we are asked to accept that a couple of amazingly determined murderers managed between them to dig 10 foot under solid stone, avoiding all passing gentry including the guards, and to deposit there two suspicious bundles – all while the princes’ staff raised no alarm nor even blinked in curiosity. And the subsequent solitary priest somehow dug them up again? And so, in accordance with More’s little book – why were they still found under the staircase?

At that time hundreds of busy people, many with their entire families, lived and worked in the Tower. This was no dreadful place of isolated dungeons and cold haunted corners. It was a royal palace with grand apartments and a number of council chambers, beautiful gardens complete with gardeners, clerks and administrators, a menagerie and its keepers, the Royal Mint and all its wealth of workers, a whole garrison of guards, kitchens, cooks, scullions and cleaners. How a pair of strange and suspicious ruffians could have dug such a deep secret grave in one night completely unnoticed by anyone is frankly an impossible situation. Even at night the Tower really was a hive of industry and activity, and the ‘princes’ themselves had servants day and night. They were not under arrest and nor were they locked in the dungeons – they lived together in a comfortable apartment and more than 14 personal staff were paid to look after them. Yet we are asked to believe that their murder was magically accomplished without anyone at all knowing how, who, or even exactly when.

But let us return to the urn. It rested undisturbed in the Abbey for many years, but in 1933 it was decided to open it and discover just what was inside. The complete description of the contents is on record of course, and the remains were immediately examined by experts of the time. Apart from the fragmented human remains, there were a number of animal bones – clearly all collected together from the rubbish pit nearly 300 years previously. There were, however, no textiles of any kind. So please – let’s forget that other silly myth of the scraps of expensive velvet. Yes – hundreds of years ago an anonymous scribble in a margin evidently mentioned velvet – but no such thing is mentioned elsewhere, no such thing has survived in any form, and the anonymous scribble has also disappeared – if it ever existed in the first place. So no velvet. Another red herring.

I have also read that a dark stain which ‘could’ be blood, was found on one skull. After 200 years underground we are asked to accept an anonymous stain as an indication of violent murder??? And when this same skull had been left for some time rolling around with fresh animal remains from the butchers? Indeed, those who mentioned the possibility of the stain being blood, later entirely retracted their statement, although this important development is often overlooked. Another ludicrous myth.

Now the more important evidence – the scientific examination. But this was 1933 and science has moved a long, long way since then. No DNA examination was possible back then. Carbon dating was not employed, impossible anyway with bones that had been so contaminated for so long. Their antiquity could not therefore be established, so simple assumptions were made – which have been seriously questioned since. The age of the children when they died is also extremely open to opinion. There is absolutely no possibility of sexing these bones. They could have been girls and this remains perfectly likely. At the time a conclusion was made that the two children had been related (this from an examination of the teeth and not from DNA) which has now been shown as probably erroneous. Historians and orthopaedic experts are divided. Some still maintain that these remains ‘could’ be the sons of Edward IV, while others point out the inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

And there are other anomalies. For instance, it has been shown that the lower jaw bone of the elder child indicates the presence of a serious bone disease. This would have been both painful and visible. Yet the young Edward V is documented as having been fit, active, prepared for coronation, and described as ‘good looking’. No record is shown of any such existing disease which would have seriously undermined his future life and reign.

There’s another red herring here. Doctor Argentine, the elder prince’s long-standing physician, related that, “the young king, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed death was facing him.” But Dr. Argentine did not visit his charge because of ailing health. All junior royalty were under the permanent care of doctors who were responsible for their day to day health ever since birth. And the prince’s recorded statement, apart from being second-hand hearsay, is extremely ambiguous. I doubt he was cheerful at the time, poor boy – with his status in doubt, and his expected coronation suddenly delayed. He may well have expected (and been warned by his dour and pessimistic Lancastrian and Woodville guardians) a bitter end. This does not mean it actually occurred.

So these are the basic facts, and as anyone can see, they do not point specifically in any direction. They prove nothing, not even circumstantially, and any assumption that the bones in the urn are almost certainly those of the two lost boys of Edward IV is absolutely unjustified. Until permission is finally given (many have asked and always been denied) for the urn to be opened once more and the contents subjected to up-to-date forensic examination, we cannot know anything at all. So far the very sketchy facts (based on depth of burial and the type of soil, etc) point towards the bones dating from Norman, or even from Roman times, and at least some experts strongly suggest that the elder is female.

Those interested authors of articles claiming these bones are definitely those of the lost boys, are either fooling themselves or attempting to fool their readers. Should the bones eventually be examined and proved by DNA matching to be the ‘princes’ after all – we may with our present level of technology discover roughly when they died (to the nearest 50 years). We may perhaps also ascertain the causes of their deaths, but unless there are signs of injury it is unlikely we will learn whether they were killed – still less who killed them. If, on the other hand, as seems most likely, they are proved NOT to be the ‘princes’ it will settle a long-standing controversy, and provide some very interesting material for archaeological study. In particular it will silence some of the more exaggerated and erroneous myths.

Just what or who is in that urn in Westminster Abbey….?

This may be something everyone else knows but I didn’t. So I’ll post it, in case others might wonder as I do. Who or what is in the urn in Westminster Abbey, which supposedly contains the bones of the two boys known as the ‘Princes in the Tower’?

I have acquired a book called The Archaeology of the Medieval English Monarchy, by John Steane, in which there is a fairly detailed passage about the urn and the ‘princes’, etc. This is only a small extract:-

“There is no proof that the bones placed in the marble urn in 1678 were identical with those dug out in 1674. Some of the bones, in any case, were given away. There is no mention at the time of any bones of animals or birds and yet when the urn was opened in 1933, a large variety, including fish, duck, chicken, rabbit, sheep, pig and ox were found. Wright (of Tanner & Wright, 1935, 1-26) came to the conclusion that a number of the original bones, including those appropriated by Ashmole, were given away or sold as relics. When these bones were called for to be interred in the Abbey, the persons in whose charge they were, hurriedly collected any bones they could lay their hands on.”

So who is to say any of the remaining human bones are the original ones? Are there even any human bones? To my mind, this makes it even less likely that anything can be proved or concluded if the urn is opened and the bones get the ‘Richard III’ treatment in some university lab. And as an afterthought . . . were all the animal bones returned to the urn . . . .? What, exactly, is inside it now?

To be honest, the chances of it being the remains of the illegitimate sons of Edward IV are pretty slender. The bones were discovered ten feet under a stone staircase in 1674, which makes it far more likely they predated the Tower itself. More likely they are Roman remains, with 17th century animal bones chucked in for ballast when the Wren urn was ‘filled’ in 1678. Or, of course, it has been suggested the animal bones are evidence of Roman ritual practices. Could be. Who knows? Without getting inside that pesky urn, we will never find out.


The book Kendall could write today (2) – The “Princes”

The reaction to the first part of “Kendall 2014” has been interesting. “According to Williams, Brampton was sent to Portugal as early as 22 March 1485, only six days after Anne’s death. ‘Brampton brought a double proposal to Portugal – for Richard to marry Joanna and for Elizabeth of York to marry…John, Duke of Beja…In return Richard offered, if necessary, to send an English army to help the King against dissident members of the aristocracy…'” – ie Brompton was despatched eight days EARLIER than we had previously known him to have been in Portugal, although the sea journey would surely be shorter. Apparently, some people think that the Portuguese archives mean something other than they actually say.

Now on to an even more important issue – that of her brothers, the “Princes”. Writing towards a 1955 publication, Tanner and Wright’s report from 1934 would still be fresh in the reader’s mind and Kendall’s first appendix assumed the full accuracy of their conclusions, including their approximate ages at death – “the Princes were murdered at the instigation of one of three men” (p.466), an assumption also followed by Tey in her remarkable amalgam of C15 history and C20 fiction.

In the nearly sixty years since his publication, science in particular has marched on and the Tanner-Wright conclusions, having been reviewed by later practitioners, can no longer be said to follow their basic report. Hanham, Williamson and Fields, in the seventies and eighties, were the first to dispute the assumption that the boys had necessarily been killed by anyone at all, a disputation that necessitated a challenge to the scientific conclusions. Leslau’s theory that both lived on in close proximity to (of all people) More dates from this period. It was followed by Wroe’s 2003 “Perkin” and Baldwin’s 2007 “The Lost Prince”, both being full-length expositions of hypotheses that one “Prince” or other may have lived until executed in 1499 (Wroe) or did live peacefully into the 1530s (Baldwin). Ashdown-Hill has referred to the subject obliquely in the excellent “Eleanor” and traced a lock of hair from Mary “Tudor” (Brandon), their niece, although it was of no avail in mtDNA terms. He has also written about Richard’s brief Low Countries exile, which should serve as a significant clue.

It is the recent arrival of Carson’s “The Maligned King” that has moved the situation on further. Chapter 9 (pp. 167-199) reviews the various survival options, the Gipping possibility and “Perkin”‘s “chain of custody” until he reappears with the Brampton household, the sheer improbability of: the killings and single-handed burial ten feet deep with nobody else on a busy site noticing, the removal and reburial by the same priest before the bones mysteriously returned to the first site, the unmolested life of the “culprits” (Tyrrell and Dighton) until 1502 and the latter’s “confession” eight or more years after his execution. Chapter 10 (pp. 200-233) deals with the science, in the era of DNA analysis, which identified Richard himself. The more recent experts are referred to from page 215. They disagree with each other a little but it is noticeable that they contradict Tanner and Wright. We cannot be certain of the remains’ gender or congenitality, whilst the elder corpse suffered from a jaw disease of terminal effect that witnesses must have noticed, except that nobody did. Furthermore, evidence is adduced (p.214) that the depth of the burial suggests the eleventh century. It is now apparent that we cannot assume either of Edward IV’s remaining sons to have been killed during 1483-7 by anyone.
Of course, it is a trait of the Cairo-dwellers to adhere firmly to any convenient statement, even when they know that it has been comprehensively disproven. This may be the issue where cognitive dissonance gives way to a degree of dishonesty on their part. It is important to note that, by 1478, Richard of Gloucester had only three (legitimate or then thought so) fraternal nephews. Of two, subsequently proved illegitimate, the fate is unknown. Of the third, excluded by attainder, we know that Richard treated him well, only for Edward of Warwick to be imprisoned almost immediately after Bosworth and eventually executed on a pretext. Richard’s conduct in this case should attest to his character and likely treatment of the first two.

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