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Coming Upon the King: My Accidental Path Toward Becoming a Ricardian

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Late 16th century painting of Richard III

I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I was never really that interested in Richard Plantagenet, later Richard III. In school I had avoided the Anglo-Saxons like the plague, and Richard, well, perhaps like a round of the flu. He wasn’t quite as intimidating, despite the double-murder allegation lodged, and I got away with not having to write about him once my father, who was big on essays, unearthed a book about the famous American swamp fox. Not that it was easy to outsmart my dad; there was just so much history to know and he loved imparting it. In fact, he adored learning of most kinds, and almost every time I saw him he had a book in one hand, cup of tea in the other. Every weekday morning before work he would sit at the dining room table for about two hours, enjoying his study in the quiet atmosphere between night and day. He read almost anything he could get his hands on, with the notable exception of Shakespeare, of whom he was not a huge fan, though he never said why.

By the time I reached university I’d managed to evade Richard a few more times (and those fearsome Anglo-Saxons!), despite his seeming determination to capture my attention. I had to capitulate a bit when Shakespeare (him again) showed up in his own required course. I quite liked his poetry and how he played with language, but frankly didn’t care about star-crossed lovers (everyone read that in high school), a brooding Danish prince (that one too) or evil kings who seemed to be a dime a dozen. And the evil king who repeatedly crossed my path was none other than – you guessed it, Richard III.

I had to read Richard III three times because the professor, who in my opinion was quite brilliant but mystifyingly static in his forward movement, could present it in his sleep. So we read it in two regular lit classes and then in Shakepeare, in which our fearless leader liked to occasionally take on the parts of people he was teaching about. He had a larger audience here, and the more sizable lecture area gave him the space to move around as he caricatured his way through Richard’s role and the frequent trivia he was fond of. At the end of the semester I was appalled to discover that not only did 75% of our grade rest on a ten-question quiz, but also the questions had little to do with, say, history, critical theory or literary devices. A representative sample’s answer was, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” I wasn’t a snobbish student, but did possess the expectation I be delivered the education I was paying for, not a bunch of trivia and phrases repeated so often, here and elsewhere, that they became cliché.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was in equal parts driven away from all talk of Richard III and hauled back to him by the frustration of knowing that even I considered the standard presentation tiresome. Students way more brilliant than myself repeated the stock phrases, though, and I felt like shaking them as I cried out, “Wake up, man! I want to read King Lear and Huntingdon won’t teach it!” My actual response consisted of acquiring a fish (the only pet I could get away with) and calling it Richard, as if that somehow revenged a king, allowing him to be something besides the pitiful stock bad man. I was irked, perhaps even irritated, but not yet inspired.

At the time I knew nothing of the Richard III Society and wouldn’t for some years, for after I graduated, my poor fish had been given last rites and I was just so relieved to have passed statistics and survived senior year burnout. But, as the universe seemed to want to have it, Richard came up in casual conversation, at this point two years before the discovery of his remains in a parking lot. I admitted I really knew very little of the man I’d previously complained kept coming, uninvited, into my life, and determined I’d remedy that. The universe, being as accommodating as it so often is, arranged for a car crash that left me immobile for an extended period, which in turn provided for quite a lot of reading time to fill.

Sir John Everett Millais’ The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1473 (1878). Privileged placement of the work on the cover of Alison Weir’s 1992 edition of The Princes in the Tower is utilized toward this author’s assertion regarding Richard: the “two pale, innocent, bewildered boys” of her blurb paired with existing stereotypes of medieval society, seek to convince viewers of Richard’s culpability. 

I started with Alison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower. It had a fairly beckoning cover and I really had no idea of any given book on this topic to another. Mainly I was looking for details. My intention was, quite simply: read one and be done with it. And so it began. Here was an account that claimed to have studied the case of the missing princes, one heir to the throne, both rumored to have been murdered by their “usurper” uncle, King Richard III, the bodies of the two “pale, innocent, bewildered boys” never found.

It didn’t initially strike me as odd that Weir would contradict herself—on the same page of her preface, no  less—with two opposing statements of direction: “The historian’s job is to weigh the evidence available, however slender and circumstantial” and “We are dealing here with facts, not just speculation or theories.” In all honesty, I was unaccustomed to reading like an historian; instead I read for elements such as repetition, privileged position, arcs and development. Still, my literary training had served me well—even including the aforementioned professor, who really did have good reason to be on staff; the pince-nez and dressing gown during office hours was an added bonus—and I began to wonder that perhaps historical writing really does have much in common with literary.

For example, Weir’s placement of Image 15 of the insert photos: One of, if not the most biased image in the insert collection, is a picture of two child-sized skeletons, discovered nearly two centuries after the princes’ disappearance. It is cleverly shadowed with near-opposing black and white shading that easily grabs the eye. Set in the page’s upper left corner, its positioning exploits our societal left-to-right reading direction as well as the “above-the-fold” tendency book browsers often engage when skimming though potential purchases. Its caption reads: “The remains found in 1674: ‘They were small bones of lads in their teens, fully recognised to be the bones of those two Princes’ (Eye-witness report, 1674; Archaeologia).”

Should the casual observer take the time to scan the rest of the page, the two remaining images—one of the urn in which the skeletal bones now rest, another of the exhumed skull of the princes’ eight-year-old relative Anne Mowbray—each play their role in telling the story the author wants readers to believe. Anne’s stark and startling skull, shown in a fairly large photo at bottom, plays on reader emotion with the mouth in its characteristic gaping position, not unlike a scream. It is included, positioned and designed to evoke pity, for both the untimely death of this little girl as well as the boys she was once close to. Of this Weir writes: “The skull of Anne Mowbray: York’s [the younger prince, Richard, Duke of York] child-bride and the Princes’ cousin, exhumed in 1964. Dental evidence indicates a familial relationship between her bones and those in the urn.”

The urn image is somewhat sympathetic, but rather generic and positioned to the right, closer to the book’s binding. Still, it has its role in this page-long tale, with its insinuation of finality. These bones are those of the boys, Anne’s remains prove it, end of story. Three statements, three images, we’re done here. A would-be consumer who saw even only the most privileged photo (the skeletons) before placing the book back on the shelf stands a high chance of walking away believing these were indeed the missing princes—a question not even entertained on the page discussed—and with Weir’s use of the word “murder” and the accusation against Richard in the jacket blurb, we’re a handshake away. Actually reading the story within all three captions and the deal is sealed. I am inclined to believe that readers have been lazy in every age, but also know that Weir and her publishers are very aware of how the demand for instant gratification and disintegration of critical reading skills in our era has further influenced the formation of opinions.

A quick disclaimer here: I personally don’t begrudge Weir her manipulation of privileged position or other literary techniques; these are what make books appealing, literature fascinating and history come alive. Human forms in photos engage our minds in a way an inanimate object doesn’t. We don’t relate to an urn, especially if we don’t know this is what that image is, but we do relate to images of people who were once alive, especially if they are children. However, I do take issue with the dishonest verbiage she carefully chooses to create the impression discussed above. For instance, the caption below Image 15 doesn’t say what year the princes died, presumed to have died, or disappeared (c. 1483). Yet an “Eye-witness report” from 1674 “recognised” the bones to be those of the missing princes? Did this eyewitness dabble in alchemy in his 200 + year lifespan? And where did he obtain his forensic expertise, with which he surely would be able to differentiate this set of remains from the twelve-year-old sons of Henry VIII’s cousins, whose families ended up in the Tower of London, where the Plantagenet brothers were last seen? Are there any signs of cause of death? The name dropping of Archaeologia lends some needed credibility, as does the dental evidence that “indicates” a familial relationship amongst all three deceased. These are only some of the questions Weir understands all too many consumers won’t ask; they’ll just take her word for it because they are in a hurry, don’t care enough or it doesn’t occur to them. There probably are other reasons as well, but the end result is that many will accept the information at face value.

Still, this was an awareness I came to later in my reading of The Princes in the Tower, or actually, even after I had finished and contemplated what I’d read. I had a niggling feeling about the perceptions I’d experienced. As I moved deeper into the book, Weir seemed to become more aggressive in her voice, and in previous remembrances I thought I even recalled a bit of name calling, which might have been the initial turnoff. (I could be wrong; stay tuned for another entry addressing this.)

The White Tower, Tower of London. Romanticized with its modern artificial lighting, we must imagine it in the days when the complete darkness of night, the likes of which many of us have never experienced, shrouded much in and around it.

As I sat with my casted leg propped up one evening, I realized with a grunt of dissatisfaction that I could not let it go until I read some more. My back was healing, but at this point pained easily after short periods, and my best friend was dispatched to collect a book or two from the university library. She returned with about fifteen, one of which was, by chance, Josephine Wilkinson’s Richard: The Young King to Be. She ignored my pointed stare.

It wasn’t long before I recognized a quote in Wilkinson’s book that Weir had utilized—in part. I suppose it was my naiveté with regard to historical reading that surprised me a little as I realized Weir had cherry picked what supported her agenda and left the rest. (Here also, stay tuned for more specifics.) At this point it really began to annoy me, and I was flummoxed as to how so many people could have gushed about what a fabulous book this was when I so easily picked out inconsistencies. Actually, I’ll have to revise that a bit: I read several reviews in which the authors did criticize Weir, but dismissed her liberties because “there’s no real way to tell” or “he probably did it anyway.” I’m pretty sure none of these people or any of us would want that standard upheld at our own trials.

Unknown to me, at roughly this time, the now-late historian John Ashdown-Hill published Eleanor: The Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. An analysis of the life of Eleanor Talbot, the woman said to have been married to Edward IV, Richard’s elder brother, before making Elizabeth Wydville his queen, the work follows a number of pathways, including those secreted in forensic dentistry. Ashdown-Hill discusses Anne Mowbray’s line of descent, an important angle given Weir’s assertion regarding the similarities between the teeth of the young bride and those of the bodies discovered in 1674, and a condition of congenitally absent teeth. The author notes that Anne Mowbray was related to the princes via a number of lines of descent, some more distant than others.

If those who have claimed that Anne Mowbray’s congenitally missing teeth prove that she was related to TLand 2 (and that therefore these were Edward V and Richard, Duke of York [the princes]), are correct, Anne’s dental anomaly must almost certainly have descended to her via her Neville ancestry (184-5).

Ashdown-Hill goes on to relate information about the battlefield identification of Anne’s grandfather, John Talbot, in connection to an absent left molar. This provides some evidence of the congenital condition being a Talbot trait, further leading to the speculation that if Anne did indeed inherit her dentition from her grandfather, “then those same missing teeth cannot very well be cited as evidence that TLand TLare Edward V and his brother, since the relationship of these latter to [Anne’s grandfather] was extremely remote.” Of course, it is possible John Talbot lost the tooth in some other manner and Ashdown-Hill further advises that Talbot’s remains had been disturbed several times, thus making elucidation on this point difficult (184-5).

Weir, in contrast, utilizes very little more than coincidence and contradictory information when aiming to prove that the bodies discovered in 1674 are Richard’s nephews, including the discovery to begin with. This position continues with her insistence that, apparently, only Plantagenet royalty could possibly have worn velvet, a type of material present with the bones and, given its availability timeframe, unlikely to indicate the remains were Roman, as had been suggested. She even goes on quite at length about all the experts and authors who examined the 1933 reports of Wright and Tanner, who themselves examined only an urn full of bones picked apart from those of animals (!) centuries after their initial discovery and under questionable chain of custody. Nevertheless, on all of this Weir categorically pushes the conclusion that “the evidence that the bones in the urn are those of the Princes is as conclusive as could be desired” (by whom?)(255-6).

Historian John Ashdown-Hill’s analysis of Eleanor Talbot’s life includes a far deeper discussion of the dental angle as glossed over by Weir, despite the absolute nature of her accusation against the king. (Click image for more information.)

It is easy to deduce there is much more to what I have summarized here, let alone the captions under three pictures in the middle of a book on the Bestsellers! table. As mentioned earlier, this dental information I didn’t know about when I first read Weir’s book – and she counts on that as well as the likelihood that few readers will check up on her words. The truth is, she’s right: few do follow up. For how long had my professor posited the claim that Richard III died shouting the line about the horse? How many from my class still believe this today? And this is counting just the influence of one person. Multiplied by how many readers Weir (and others) has persuaded, most of whom have very little time and/or inclination to look into what she says—some of whom, frankly, are as willing to manipulate the truth—it’s no wonder there is such widespread belief that Richard did the deed.

Of course, many people simply don’t care. At one point I was one of them. I liked history but wanted it on my own lazy terms, not having to deal with dates or the same few recycled names. Others view eras such as the Middle Ages with an attitude of “life is cheap,” which perhaps explains their willingness to allow an anointed king to be so maligned, and when looking back I found it curious that it stirred something within my being. I am, after all, an American with not a single drop of royalist blood running through my veins.

This, however, may be the because rather than the despite, thanks to our Magna Carta-inspired Constitution, the law of the land guaranteeing our rights, including those of the accused, a topic on which Richard III also had something to say. The widespread reliance upon and acceptance of misinformation to convict someone from the past bothers me for the same reason similar attitudes light a fire in me today. It doesn’t matter if someone dislikes or even hates Richard or any other political figure: Anyone who claims to value justice should be alarmed when someone is prosecuted and convicted under such inconclusive evidence, especially for the sake of bragging rights to having solved a centuries-old puzzle. This king may have lived and died over 500 years ago, but thirst for power and willingness to tyrannize others to achieve it is alive and well. Why would any tyrant stop with politicians? As we have seen throughout history, they don’t.

I had the great benefit of a father who taught me how to look a bit deeper, and though I don’t have quite the historian’s mind he did, I believed fiercely in justice. I also loved a good yarn, so followed with rapture as my father related to me tales from a variety of eras.

I only vaguely recall him telling me of Richard’s ability to fight, even something favorable about Henry VII (I used to refer to him as “the Henry after Richard the last”). His narratives often changed direction and he occasionally refused to answer questions, and at some point I understood he was teaching me to think. This surely colored my perception of Weir’s ridiculous portrayal of modern writers of Richard III as those who (a) believe the monarch guilty but too timid to admit it or (b) believe he is basically a saint (1). I also question the word “revisionist” as applied to Ricardians. It seems to me the revisionism began full force August 22, 1485, with the backdating of Henry Tudor’s reign to the 21.

I also grew up with a Scottish mother who never let me forget the Stuarts; at some points my eyes simply glazed over, and it all probably contributed to my lazy childhood approach toward history, despite my love of its people. This laissez-faire attitude extended to Richard, and for most of my life I didn’t care enough about him to have an opinion on his culpability. Interestingly, it was his detractors who chipped away at this armor as they repeated ad nauseum their claims, much of which was rank hypocrisy or projection. This entry has focused on one who chose as her work’s epigraph a Shakespeare quote that illustrates both, which reads in part: “Insulting tyranny begins to jet” (Richard III, Act II, Scene IV). Here Elizabeth Wydville wigs out over fears for her family, Shakespeare conveniently ignoring her role in all of this, as does Weir. (Talk about revisionism!)

There have since been others, but Alison Weir ended up accomplishing, in my case, the opposite of her intention in that I found her scholarship to be suspect, so I looked into it; what I came to believe through further reading and discussion was that Richard III, while certainly no saint, cannot justly be convicted of a double murder on the evidence she presents. That she has to go into stealth mode and employ manipulation, insults and overreach says much more about her than it ever could about King Richard III.

Despite Weir’s preface statement that “it is unlikely the truth of the matter will ever be confirmed by better evidence than we already have,” since the 2012 discovery of the king’s remains in a parking lot, more of consequence has been learned. For example, the Shakespearean depiction of Richard as a hunchback is in fact the propaganda it has long been characterized as. Rather, the king suffered from scoliosis, resulting in a sideways, spiraling twist to his spine, as discussed in a 2014 press release from the University of Leicester, a deformity not immediately visible to those encountering him. The hunchback myth traces back to Thomas More, on information from John Morton, Bishop of Ely, instrumental in Henry Tudor’s seizure of the throne. (This alone makes their party line suspect.) Owing to this accomplishment, Tudor historians, and not Plantagenet, were the ones relating the history. As my father drilled into my mind many times, and we have all heard in history class, the winner writes the story.

Shakespeare strove to be part of that winning group, though doing it for Elizabeth I, Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, over one hundred years after the fact, illustrating the reality that low-information readers (playgoers) existed long before the rampant misinformation pushers of our own time. Granted, we are often over-saturated with details, but this also gives us advantage in having the ability to track down more than ever before, even from places far removed from a small corner of England, within which one king and his men fought within the loyalty to which they were bound, and so became we.

—Lisl P.

Sources

Ashdown-Hill, John. Eleanor, the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Stroud: History Press, 2010.

Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower. United States: Ballantine, 1992.

Images

All images courtesy Wikimedia unless otherwise noted. Click any image for more details and, if any, annotations.

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.

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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 http://www.catherinehanley.co.uk/historical-background/king-louis-of-england), 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

‘RECENT INVESTIGATIONS REGARDING THE FATE OF THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER’ by L E Tanner and William Wright 1933

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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’.

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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…ribs..no 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?

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 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…!

Henry_VII_Chapel_Westminster_Abbey-1000x520

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.:

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

 

Book Review: WESTMINSTER BONES BY RICHARD UNWIN

BOOK REVIEW:
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.

bones

 

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 (http://www.annettecarson.co.uk/357052362 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 (http://www.stgeorges-windsor.org/archives/blog/?p=837). 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 BONES IN THE URN
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.

Princes-Westminster-Urn

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