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How did Henry VII find the tomb of King Arthur…?

King Arthur

King Arthur

 

 The following article is based on books by Chris Barber and David Pykitt, so I do not claim anything as my own work. The books are The Legacy of King Arthur and Journey to Avalon. It is also based on a third book by Chris Barber called King Arthur: The Mystery Unravelled, which contains more about Henry VII and King Arthur. The illustration of St Armel’s tomb is also from one of the books, the rest I found by Googling. I recommend all three works as fascinating reads about the eternally fascinating King Arthur.

According to the above authors, Henry VII knew that he was not only descended from King Arthur, but also the identity that the king assumed, and exactly where he was buried.

These are astonishing claims, because to this day no one else really knows,  so how come Henry VII was au fait with these astonishing details back in the 15th century? I mean, we all know how cunning and secretive Henry was, so he was quite capable of inventing it all, but the inference in the above books is that there was nothing invented at all. Henry was on the level. According to his lights.

Arthur and Bedivere

The thing about Arthur, has always been that when he was “mortally” wounded at his last battle, now thought to be Camlann (the whereabouts of which is not known), he just disappears. We have the story of Sir Bedivere having to be told three times to throw Excalibur into the water to the Lady of the Lake, and that’s…well, the end of it, really. He was last seen being taken away across water to be healed by magic of some sort. Of course, I’m referring to the later romances, not the real Arthur, who was a Dark Age war leader, but even so, the outcome is the same. No one knows what happened to him. Except for Henry Tudor, who, somehow, had all the facts.

Henry - Dodd, Old London Bridge 1745 (2)

Henry VII

Henry was proud of his Welsh roots. At least, he was when he needed his countrymen’s help to usurp the throne of Richard III. After that, he didn’t do much for Wales or the Welsh…except decide to claim King Arthur for himself. Arthur being Welsh too, you understand. Well, that’s my opinion, but I know there are a lot of other theories about the who, where, what and why of the real Arthur.

According to Barber and Pykitt, as far back as the eighteenth century, Arthur was known to be the hereditary leader of the Silures in South Wales, yet the vast majority of modern historians choose to ignore this, placing him anywhere and everywhere except South Wales. Oh, with a passing mention of Caerleon. Hmm, it must be a general failing of modern historians, to ignore obvious truths in order to feed a traditional obsession.

An examination of early Welsh genealogies revealed to Barber and Pykitt that a misinterpretation by academics had mixed up two Arthurs. Gildas, the monk, mentions a charioteer belonging to someone known as “The Bear”. The Celtic word for bear is “arth”, and so it is possible that the name Arthur is a nickname derived from the title Arthwyr. Whatever, the result was that the Welsh Arthrwys, whose title was Arthwyr, to a later century, and thus detaching him from the Arthur of legend and history. Once this mistake was discovered and corrected, the authors were able to locate not only Arthur’s court, the sites of his most of his principal battles and the Isle of Avalon, but even his final resting place in Brittany.

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In Nennius’s Historia Brittonem Arthur is described as not only a military leader, but a religious one too, which brings me to another important point in the story. Now, apart from the Arthur we all know, there was also a soldier-saint named Arthmael (Bear Prince), or Armel. He is portrayed wearing armour—in his guise as “Miles Fortissimus” (Mighty Warrior).

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St Armel – Church of Our Lady, Merevale

He liberated Brittany from the 6th-century tyranny of Marcus Conomorus. This soldier-saint is known to us now as St Armel (Feast Day tomorrow, 16th August), and his tomb can be seen to this day in Armel’s church at Ploërmel. The stone sarcophagus is empty now, but the identification of the saint’s resting place is definite. There is a gilded casket which is said to contain the saint’s jawbone. The church itself has been rebuilt on the site of the original church, and the tomb incorporated.

St Armel's Tomb

Barber and Pykitt have concluded that after Arthur was deposed and apparently fatally wounded in England, he actually went into exile in Brittany—“Little Britain”, where so many of his countrymen were to be found. Thus arose the story of the Once and Future King, because Arthur didn’t die as such, he simply disappeared, leaving his fate unknown to his countrymen. They, of course, hoped he would return. Then, in Brittany, Arthur became St Armel, the Bear Prince, using all his warrior skills to lead the Bretons to freedom. Crucially, St Armel was also an exiled Welshman, and so Henry would certainly feel an affinity with him, if nothing else. Is this connection rather a great leap? Who can say? After all, the authors’ reasoning concerning so many names that contain “bear” in one form or another, seems perfectly logical.

St Armel, a dragon-slayer like St George, was most certainly one of Henry VII’s favourite saints, appearing among the many saints in Henry’s amazing chapel in Westminster Abbey. And Henry, in his determination to establish his links to Arthur, made sure that his firstborn son was not only born in  Winchester, but also christened with the name Arthur. Winchester was the ancient capital of the Kings of Britain, and believed (by Malory) to be the site of Camelot. Whether Henry VII agreed with the latter is debatable. After all, surely he’d have preferred Camelot to be somewhere in Wales. But what the heck, in the 15th century Winchester was where it was at, as the saying goes. It had even possessed the famous Round Table since the time of Edward I. The table that hangs in Winchester was painted as we know it now by Henry VIII, and so after Henry VII would have known it in its green-and-white guise.

It all went awry, of course, because young Arthur, heir to the throne of England, died before his father. So there wasn’t a second King Arthur, just another Henry. And what a Henry. Say no more. Please.

There is a lot of extra detail and explanation in the books, both of which are well worth reading. When Henry and his uncle, Jasper Tudor, fled from Britain in 1471, he believed that he was saved from shipwreck off the coast of Brittany by none other than St Armel. The dragon-slaying Welsh saint always featured prominently throughout Henry’s life, and is represented in his chapel (more a cathedral) at Westminster Abbey.

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Henry VII Chapel, Westminster Abbey Canaletto

Of course, Henry spent a long time as a captive in Brittany, hunted unsuccessfully by two kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III. In Brittany it was known there was a King Arthur and a St Armel, but the connection between the two had apparently not been made. Ploërmel, where St Armel was buried, is not far from some of the places where Henry was held. (See the example of Chateau de Largoët below – and see more of Henry’s early life in Brittany here)

Chateau de Largoet, outside the town of Elven

Chateau de Largoet, outside the town of Elven

If nothing else, Henry was a sharp cookie, and quite capable of putting two and two together to make a total that might be true and that definitely suited him. He would have heard the local tales and memories, so maybe—just maybe—he drew the same conclusions that Barber and Pykitt would all these centuries later, to wit, that the saint and King Arthur were one and the same.

We’ll never know the truth, of course. But one thing we can be sure of with Henry, he went out of his way to claim descent from Arthur, and brandished this claim at every opportunity. His purpose was to imprint the belief that his occupation of the throne was justified. Which it certainly wasn’t, except by conquest. His lineage was, if anything, a hindrance. He had no right to the crown of England, and only won at Bosworth through a fluke (by the name of Sir William Stanley).

Were it not for “Judas” Stanley, Henry and his grand Arthurian claims would have been consigned to history. Hardly remembered at all, in fact. A mere footnote – as the loser on 22nd August 1485.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The little chapel in Westminster Abbey, beloved of Richard II….

CHAPEL OF OUR LADY OF THE PEW. Doorway from N. ambulatory

Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew, Westminster Abbey, opposite Tomb of Edward the Confessor

Tucked away off the north ambulatory of Westminster Abbey, so small it doesn’t seem possible it’s anything more than an entrance to the adjacent Chapel of St John the Baptist (which is also known as the Chapel of St Erasmus) is the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew. The original entrance to the St John the Baptist chapel was closed in 1524 to accommodate the tomb of Bishop Ruthall, and a way was knocked through from the tiny Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew instead.

It is situated opposite the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor, and is only 5’ square, so strictly standing room only. But there was once an important royal worshipper who went there alone. King Richard II knelt in prayer there, in front of the beautiful Wilton Diptych, which was kept on a ledge in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. [Not the statue that is there now—the first image of the Virgin Mary was presented by Mary, Countess of Pembroke, who died 1377. The hooks and outline of this image still remain.]

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It is said that as a boy, Richard prayed here before riding out to face the Peasants’ Revolt at Mile End. As a man, he knelt to pray for the soul of his dearly missed wife, Queen Anne of Bohemia. And he would have been there countless times afterward.

The chapel has been described thus: “The vaulting has red stars on a white ground with a roof boss depicting the Assumption of the Virgin, who is dressed in red. The ribs have barber pole bands and rosettes and the walls are diapered over with pine-shaped designs, on each of which is a fleur de lys. This was a popular design in the late 14th century. The antlers and head of a white hart, a badge of Richard II, can still be made out.”

The name Our Lady of the Pew might have been taken from the French Notre-Dame-du-Puy, or, alternatively, from the original meaning of “pew”, a small enclosure. At the beginning of the reign of Richard II the chapel was even smaller than now! Little more than 4’ 9”.

There was at one time no access from the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew into the Baptist’s chapel, but the two were probably joined by an aperture through the party wall to afford Richard II a view of the services held in the Baptist’s chapel. It must have been almost claustrophobic for him, but also how very private. He used it for his own personal devotions, and although it has been altered since his day, it somehow retains a sense of him.

Chapel St John Baptist, Westminster Abbey, showing narrow doorway knocked through from the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew

Chapel of St John the Baptist, Westminster Abbey, showing in the centre the narrow doorway knocked through from the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew

Looking into the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew  from the Baptist’s chapel, showing how very small it is. To the left, beyond the niche in the wall, is the way out into the ambulatory.

You will find a great deal more about this little chapel in Fourteenth Century England, Volume 3 by Chris Given-Wilson.

One thing puzzles me, however. If you stand outside the chapel, with your back to the shrine of the Confessor, you will see two “angels” on either side of the arched entrance. They are label- or head-stops, depicting what appear to be two young men with shields.

The one on the left seems very like Richard II, and his shield is definitely royal, with leopards and fleur-de-lis. His eyes seem like those of Richard as depicted in his tomb effigy. The one on the right has much curlier hair, but similar eyes, and I cannot place the shield he holds. I recognize it, but cannot for the life of me identify it. Can anyone help?

The Coronation Chair and Stone of Scone

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As we reminded you yesterday, Richard and Anne were crowned on the 6th July 1483,  a crucial part of the ceremony being when Richard was crowned with St Edward’s crown and invested with  the royal regalia while sitting on the Coronation chair also known as St Edward’s chair, named after Edward the Confessor.  It is this glorious chair that I want to focus upon now.

In 1296 when  Edward I,  aka Longshanks, returned from Scotland he brought with him the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny,  symbolic of Scotland’s sovereignty,   which he had removed from Scone Abbey, giving it into the care of the Abbott of Westminster Abbey.  Edward, not for nothing known as the Hammer of the Scots, and wishing to hammer it home in no uncertain terms that from now on it would be English and not Scottish monarchs who would now be crowned whilst sitting on this stone, a large block of red Perthshire sandstone, instructed that a chair be constructed to house it and thus was this wonderful chair created.  Master Walter of Durham, King’s Painter, whose skills also included carpentry, was commissioned  to build and decorate the chair for which he was duly paid 100 shillings.

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The Chair with the Stone of Scone intact 

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The Stone of Scone also known as the Stone of Destiny.

Since 1308 every royal derrière has sat on the chair while being  crowned except for Edward V, Mary II and Edward VIII.  Made of oak, gilded and inlaid with glass mosaics, traces of which can still be found today, while faint images or birds, flowers and foliage still survive  on the back.  Up until the 17th century the monarch would sit on the actual stone with presumably a cushion for comfort until a wooden platform was then added .  The four gilt lions were made in 1727 to replace the originals which themselves were not added until the 16th century.

The stone itself has in recent times undergone several adventures.  It was stolen, or rescued, depending upon which way you look at it,  by Scottish Nationalists on Christmas Day 1950 – in the process of which they managed to break it in half.  It was later discovered in April 1951 and after being kept in a vault for some time, eventually returned to Westminster Abbey and replaced in the chair in February 1952.  This was not the end of the stone’s travels for in July 1966, Prime Minister John Major, announced that it was to be returned to Scotland.  This was duly done and the stone now rests in Edinburgh Castle.

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The chair as it is today minus the Stone of Scone

This  wonderful and irreplaceable chair has been disgracefully abused in comparatively recent times, from the numerous graffiti mostly carved in the 18th and 19th centuries by the pupils of Westminster School – its baffling how this systematic graffiti carving  was allowed to carry on –  one graffito could perhaps be forgiven but on such a large scale? – were they simply allowed to just carry on?..but I digress – to the dark  brown varnish applied in 1887 for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a suffragette bomb in 1914 to the damaged caused when the Scottish Nationals wrenched the stone from the chair.  However I’m sure should the shade of Richard,  who would have seen the chair in pristine condition, ever return to the Abbey, he would still be able to recognise it and that it would bring back memories, for him,  of that most glorious day, when he and his ‘beloved consort’ were both crowned King and Queen of England.

Elizabeth of York and the cult of Edward of Lancaster….

Edward, Prince of Wales, the eighteen-year-old son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury, 4th May 1471. He became the subject of an exclusive posthumous cult.

The chronicle of Tewkesbury Abbey tells of the Prince’s death in battle and of his burial ‘in the mydste of the covent quiere in the monastery ther’; the short paragraph describing his death ends with the words ‘for whom god worketh’, a reference to miracles performed at the tomb, which is now lost. The plaque in the floor of the abbey merely marks that he rests somewhere close by. A little like the tomb of Queen Anne Neville in Westminster abbey. The quire is in the western part of the chancel, between the nave and the sanctuary, which houses the altar and tabernacle. In 1911, flowers were still being laid on the site of the grave.

Further evidence of interest in the Prince includes an annual commemoration, bequests at his tomb, and pilgrimage to it. Queen Elizabeth of York offered, in March 1502. ‘to Prince Edward 5s’, though it was not indicated where exactly she offered them. There was a cult of the prince’s father, the saintly Henry VI, and Elizabeth offered three times at his shrine in Windsor. Henry VII must have granted his permission for these offerings.

In 1508 Edward, Duke of Buckingham (died 1521) visited the prince’s tomb in Tewkesbury. Danna Piroyansky, author of Martyrs in the Making – Political Martyrdom in Late Medieval England, considers he may have been hoping to advertise his Lancastrian connections, which made him a potential claimant to the throne, but I cannot go along with that. Advertise his closeness to the throne when Henry VII and then Henry VIII were reigning? It would amount to something close to a death wish.

To return to Prince Edward. He is believed to have fallen in battle, and the story of him being caught fleeing could be a Yorkist attempt to ridicule the Lancastrian heir’s courage, and thus contrast him unfavourably with the ‘courageous and manly’ Edward IV. It has to be considered. As does the other story that he was murdered by Richard of Gloucester to clear the way to marriage with Anne Neville, whose husband the prince was. This latter tale strikes me as another calculated Tudor fib to blacken Richard’s name.

anne_neville_and her husbands

I digress. After the battle, Edward IV attempted to check the much more important cult that swiftly arose around Henry VI, but there is no evidence that he did the same in the case of Prince Edward. Maybe because it was a number of years after Tewkesbury—1502—when his cult began to develop. And 1502 is when we have Elizabeth of York offering 5s ‘to Prince Edward’.

Now, there was more than one Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, of course. Another was the elder of Elizabeth’s two brothers, who was briefly King Edward V, and had been famously ensconced in the Tower with his younger brother. No one knows what happened to the boys, and everyone likes to blame Richard III. Failing that, they blame the Duke of Buckingham, Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII. The disappearance of Edward IV’s sons might have suited a number of people.

There is a question mark over the claimant Perkin Warbeck, who led Henry such a merry dance. Many believe he really was who he said he was, the younger boy from the Tower, Richard, Duke of York. If that is true, then what happened to the older of the boys, the lost King Edward V? If the little Duke of York had survived to manhood, why would he, not his elder brother, come back to haunt Henry VII? Maybe because Edward V—Prince Edward—died of natural causes?

Perkin Warbeck

If so, where might King/Prince Edward be buried? Presuming he died in England, of course. Perhaps a suitably secret place was one that was really quite obvious – the tomb of another Prince Edward. Elizabeth of York’s uncle and aunt, George, Duke of Clarence, and Isabel Neville, his duchess, were already buried in Tewkesbury Abbey, so the abbey may have seemed a good idea because of them as well.

Clarence House, Tewkesbury

Above is Clarence House, Tewkesbury. Might it have once had something to do with George of Clarence? He was granted Tewkesbury, had a bridge built there, and was buried in the abbey, so it is clear he had a lot to do with the town. This might have been his residence.

Would Elizabeth of York have to go to Tewkesbury in person to offer? Or could she send someone? There is no record (as far as I know) of her visiting Tewkesbury, so I think she would have delegated. Thus she could honour her lost brother right under her husband’s nose, in the guise of commemorating Edward of Lancaster.

Too far-fetched? Well, I am a novelist, but I do not see this as being so far-fetched as to be impossible. I have no doubt that those of you who think it is wildly unlikely will soon tell me so!

PS: A third Prince Edward, another Prince of Wales, was Richard III’s little son, about whose death and whereabouts there is still such a mystery. I will not pamper the novelist in me by wondering if Tewkesbury might be his resting place as well. With his uncle, George, Duke of Clarence. A temporary interment, while Richard prepared a much grander tomb for himself, his queen and his son. But then Bosworth put a stop to any plan poor widowed Richard may have had.

 

 

 

‘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…!

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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.

Was Henry Vll mean? His funeral – and other – Expenses.

IMG_3508.JPGEffigies of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York by Torrigiano 

Henry died on 21 April 1509.  Henry has come down through history as something of a miser, a tightwad.  Whether this is undeserved or otherwise , I do not know,  although his Privy Purse Expenses make very interesting reading.  He certainly enjoyed gambling, frequently incurring debts (1) as did Elizabeth,  his wife, whose debts often Henry paid (2),  although on one occasion £100  was given as a loan and to be repaid (3).  An astonishing £30 pounds was paid to a ‘young damoysell that daunceth’ (4)..really, Henry! although the ‘little feloo of Shaftesbury’ only received £1 (5),  presumably the poor little blighter was not  half as attractive as the damoysell.  But I digress,  because what I wanted to discuss here,  are the expenses incurred from Henry’s  funeral and tomb, an area in  which Henry clearly did not wish to rein in.

I am grateful for the following information which I have gleaned from The Royal Tombs of Medieval England by Mark Duffy – a marvellous book which I can thoroughly recommend.

‘The costs of building the new chapel at Westminster are estimated at around  £14,856.  The chapel was conceived as Henry’s personal chantry, and there was to be no room for any doubt.  Henry’s will instructed that ‘the Walles , Doores, Windows, Archies and Vaults, and Ymages of the same our chappel, wittin and without, be painted, garnished and adorned with our Armes, Bagies, Cognoissants, and other convenient painting, in as goodly and riche maner as suche a work requireth, and as to a Kings wek apperteigneth'(6).

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The  pendant fan vaulted  roof of the Henry Vll chapel adorned with Beaufort portcullis and Tudor Rose ‘Bagies’.

‘The tomb commissioned by Henry itself,  featured gilt effigies of himself and Elizabeth,  plus figures of himself and 4 kneeling lords and a tomb chest of black and white marble housing 12 small images of saints to be crafted by a group of craftsmen.  The cost of this tomb was estimated at £1257.6s.8d of which the gilt metal amounted to £1050(7).’

‘The funeral expenses exceeded an unprecedented £7,000  including £ 1,000 pounds of black cloth supplied by 56 merchants and 3,606 lbs of candle wax (8)’

‘The bronze screen enclosing the tomb was supplied by a Thomas Ducheman who was paid £51.8s and housed 32 bronze statues of saints (of which only 6 survive).'(9)

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Chantry screen of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York

‘The tomb chest contains an epitaph in bronze recording the achievements of the couple, not least the procreation of Henry Vlll, suggesting his role in the detailing of the monument’ (10)

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Tomb of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York

It is ironic that  Henry Vlll’s design for his and Jane Seymour’s tomb never came to fruition and only a slab covers the vault which he shares with Charles l.  But that is another story.

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Slab covering the burial vault of Henry Vlll, St Georges Chapel, Windsor.

  1. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley pp 88, 90, 102, 108, 120, 122, 126.
  2. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley pp 95, 907, 111, 132.
  3. Excerpta Historica  Edited by Samuel Bentley p 97
  4. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley P 94
  5. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley P 88
  6. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p 279
  7. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy P.281
  8. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.284
  9. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.287
  10. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.286

Squaring the Circle

Writing The Survival of the Princes in the Tower was an enormously enjoyable project. The book, due out in Autumn 2017, considers the evidence that one, or both, of the sons of Edward IV survived well beyond 1483, when they are traditionally considered to have been murdered by their uncle Richard III. My problem with this almost universally accepted view has always boiled down to one irreconcilable dichotomy. Richard, we are told by writers from Sir Thomas More onwards, killed his nephews to secure his throne and prevent them from being a threat. Then, he kept it secret, so that no one knew they were dead. The fatal flaw in this argument is that unless Richard publicised the deaths of his nephews, the threat did not go away, as Henry VII would find out. If Richard killed them, he did it to prevent them being used as a threat, but unless he made it widely known that they were dead, they did not cease being a potential source of opposition and so the murders were rendered utterly pointless.

If a leap of faith is taken and it is accepted for a moment that the boys were not killed, many otherwise incomprehensible events begin to make more sense. What if Elizabeth Woodville emerged from sanctuary in Westminster Abbey with her daughters in March 1484 because the Princes were not dead? Why else would she write to her oldest son Thomas and advise him to come home? Why, many will ask, is there no trace of them in the historical record? Well, there wouldn’t be, would there? It was in Richard’s and Henry VII’s interests to keep their location and maybe even their survival, particularly in Henry VII’s case, a secret, so why would records be left lying around that would point to them? What may be surprising is just how many snippets that just might hint at their survival do remain. There is nothing conclusive, of course, but the clues are there.

Part of the problem becomes the number of different version of the fates of one or both Princes that can be found. They can’t all be true. This is a particular problem in relation to the younger Prince, Richard, Duke of York. There are three theories amongst those relating to Richard that are, at least superficially, mutually exclusive. The career of the young man remembered as Perkin Warbeck is perhaps the most famous example of a pretender to Henry’s throne. It is an important distinction that a ‘pretender’ is very different from an ‘imposter’. A pretender, in this context, is a name derived from the French ‘pretendre’, ‘to claim’, whilst an imposter is a fraud claiming an identity that does not belong to them. In the same way, it is applied to James Stewart, son of James II, who is known as the Old Pretender, the term does not necessarily imply an imposture. There was never any doubt of James’ identity and the term does not infer that Perkin was an imposter either.

There are two other stories of Richard’s survival that are prominent. Jack Leslau’s theory has fascinated me for years. It is very detailed and the evidence is examined in the book, but essentially it asserts that Richard, Duke of York survived as Dr John Clement, a prominent physician and a member of Thomas More’s inner circle. If true, it means that his survival was an open secret at the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII and alters More’s motives in his creation of the story of the Princes’ murder. David Baldwin’s The Lost Prince details a further theory that Richard may have survived at Colchester, where he trained as a bricklayer. A Moyle family legend tells of a bricklayer employed by Sir Thomas during the rebuilding of Eastwell Place who was caught reading a Latin book. After much cajoling, the elderly man identified himself as an illegitimate son of Richard III. He was given a plot of land on which to build a house and live out his retirement and on his death, his name was recorded in the parish register as Richard Plantagenet. Since Richard III recognised his two known illegitimate children, it has been suggested that Richard of Eastwell was, in fact, Richard, Duke of York.

These are just three of the theories, but it raises the question of how they can be reconciled to one another, even if one accepts any of them might be true. It is not impossible, though. There is intriguing evidence that Perkin might have been far more genuine than tradition allows, not least that the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella believed that he really was Richard, Duke of York. There are also contemporary suggestions that Perkin and his wife, Lady Catherine Gordon, had one child and possibly more.

What if Perkin really was Richard, Duke of York? What, then, if one of his sons was raised as Dr John Clement, an identity, based on University records, that might have been meant for his father and was simply transferred to the son? Could the bricklayer at Eastwell have been another son, who added to his age and secured a comfortable retirement with his version of the truth? This is just one possible explanation that allows three of the prominent stories of Prince Richard’s survival to exist alongside each other. There is more detail in the book, which I have no doubt will cause some waves.

One thing became clear as I was writing: All that is required to accept the survival of the Princes in the Tower is a belief that Richard III was not a reckless and disorganised enough monster to kill his nephews and then fail to see his motive realised by keeping it all a secret, that Henry VII was similarly averse to killing his brothers-in-law and possibly their young children for the love of his wife if for no other reason and that Henry VIII, at the beginning of his reign, was self-confident and assured enough to allow Plantagenet relatives to live in peace. None of these is hard to accept. Richard III did not harm Edward, Earl of Warwick or any of his other nieces and nephews. Henry VII did not execute Warwick until adulthood and only under pressure from the Spanish to complete the match between Arthur and Catherine of Aragon. As for Henry VIII, the teenager was very different from the older man. He created Warwick’s sister Margaret Countess of Salisbury, paid for the education of at least one of her sons, Reginald Pole, and was close to his uncle Arthur Plantagenet, an illegitimate son of Edward IV, until his paranoia ran wild.

I hope that the book will cause some to at least pause and consider the possibilities, to question why it is that there is a belief the Princes were killed at all and what it might mean if they did survive. The belief in their murders would be the ultimate propaganda victory of the Tudor era but might also have left them with a threat that lingered almost as long as the Tudors themselves did.

JAMES 1st – A ROYAL GOOSEBERRY

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Entrance to the tomb of Henry Vll as seen on the opening of the vault in 1869.  Drawing by George Scarf.  

How did James I come to be interred in Henry Vll’s vault?  Unfortunately it’s not known,  but we do know how it was discovered to be the case.  In 1868, Dean Stanley’s attention was drawn to conflicting reports of  the whereabouts of James’ and his Queen, Anne of Denmark’s vault.    Recognising the importance of ‘the knowledge of the exact spots where the illustrious dead repose’ (1) Dean Stanley resolved to get to the bottom of it.

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Dean Stanley

Although it had been noted  by one brief line in the Abbey’s register that James had been buried in Henry’s vault, ‘This was not enough for  Dean Stanley.  He loved exploring and he pursuaded himself that he must first eliminate all other possible places by opening up each of the Royal vaults in turn’ (2).  Vault after vault was opened, some were empty, some crammed full.  The coffins were discovered of a multitude of royal and noble personages including Mary, Queen of Scots (Dean Stanley thought James might have been interred with his mother),  Mary Tudor and her sister Elizabeth, the latter ‘s coffin on top of the other, Edward Vl, the numerous children of James II and of Queen Anne, and many others too numerous to mention here.  The vault of Anne of Denmark was also found, her coffin standing alone besides the empty space where James, her husband, should have been.  Where was he?

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James lst painted by Daniel Mytens

Laurence Tanner, Keeper of the Muniments and Librarian,  Westminster Abbey,  wrote ‘Night after night the Dean with a few of the Abbey staff was able to carry out his self-imposed task undisturbed.  On one occasion the historian Froude was present.  Speaking of it afterward he said ‘it was the weirdest scene – the flaming torches, the banners waving from the draught of air, and the Dean’s keen, eager face seen in profile had the very strangest effect.  He asked me to return with him the next night, but my nerves had had enough of it’.  (3)

At last, with nowhere else left to look, the actual vault of Henry was opened and to the Dean’s surprise, if not perhaps to that of others, James was found!  It was discovered on examination of the lead coffins therein , that Elizabeth’s had been slightly damaged at the top, possibly when it was removed to allow James’ in and then she was replaced, being rather squashed into the space between the two kings.  Its easy to imagine Henry spinning in his  coffin, as, after the enormous expense of his funeral, he and his Queen are now sharing their tomb with a gooseberry, albeit a royal one.  And here they are…

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  1. Dean Stanley, Westminster Abbey, p.651
  2. Laurence Tanner, Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary, p.177
  3. Laurence Tanner, Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary, p.177

 

 

News to come about that urn….?

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“A breakthrough in the search for Richard III’s remains was the fact that Dr Ashdown-Hill, who is a genealogist as well as historian, had used DNA science to trace a descendant of the king – Mrs Joy Ibsen who lived in Canada.

“He is now using that DNA sequencing to dispel the centuries-old myths surrounding the fate of the Princes in the Tower. Are the ‘bones in the urn’ in Westminster Abbey really those of the young princes? Dr Ashdown-Hill tempted students with the news that new evidence could be revealed later in the year.”

How exciting! I do not know what the news might be, but it seems that Dr Ashdown-Hill has something intriguing up his capacious sleeve, or so he has hinted in a talk at Brentwood School. Has he discovered something that might, at last, lead to the identification of the bones in the urn in Westminster Abbey?

We can but wait!

 

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