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“Laboratory examination of possible royal bones moving ahead!”

If only that were the headline coming out of Westminster Abbey with regard to the infamous urn believed to contain the remains of Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York (aka “the Princes in the Tower”).  But, it’s not.  It’s from Winchester Cathedral, where – since 2015 – they have embarked on a project where skeletal remains are being analyzed with modern laboratory techniques.  The bones, some belonging to past English kings and a queen-consort, had been stored in Renaissance-era mortuary chests and placed near the high altar.  There could be as many as 12 individuals contained in them.

Westminster-urns

Westminster urn which tradition says contains the bones of the “Princes in the Tower”

 

We’ve all heard the arguments against testing the bones in Westminster:  It sets a precedent for widespread tomb-raiding.  The urn has multiple skeletons, making them indistinguishable. The amount of information gleaned would be minimal.  Royal bones deserve to be left alone.  None of these arguments dissuaded the Dean and Chapter of Winchester from pursuing historical truth and conservation.  The project, which will culminate in an exhibit (called “Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation”) about the Cathedral’s Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman origins, involves opening the chests, taking an inventory of what’s inside, and having the contents analyzed.  So far, radiocarbon testing performed at the University of Oxford has confirmed that the bones come from the late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods.  More research on the bones will be carried out by the University of Bristol to determine their gender, age at death, and physical characteristics such as stature.

mortuary-chests

Mortuary chests at Winchester Cathedral thought to contain commingled royal bones.  Here, they have been moved to the Lady Chapel, in anticipation of analysis. (c) Winchester Cathedral

The chests are thought to contain the mortal remains of some of the early royal families of Wessex and of England, and three bishops, amongst other artefacts and mortal remains.  They include kings Cynegils (d.643), Cynewulf (d.786), Ecbert (d.839), Æthelwulf (d.858), Eadred (d.955), Edmund Ironside (d.1016), Cnut (d.1035) and William Rufus (d.1100). Also thought to be buried in the chests are Cnut’s wife Queen Emma (d.1052), Bishop Wini (d.670), Bishop Alfwyn (d.1047) and Archbishop Stigand (d.1072).  These individuals died and were buried in the Old Minster, but were re-interred when the present Winchester Cathedral was built over the Anglo-Saxon one.  Historical records indicate that their bones were placed in the mortuary chests around the high altar in the twelfth-century.  However, in 1642, at the beginning of the English Civil War, Parliamentarian troops entered the cathedral and toppled the chests in an act of sacrilege. The church officials, who had no way of knowing which bones belonged to who, simply placed them back in six Renaissance-era chests.  They have been opened several times since then, but with the advent of modern forensic laboratory tests, the Cathedral staff believed the interests of historical inquiry made a strong case for the project to proceed.

Let’s hope this may bode well for a change in the Abbey’s and monarch’s current position against disturbing the bones in the Urn, although it’s not likely.

For more information, see the Winchester Cathedral website http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/2015/02/03/the-mortuary-chests/

Canute

Chest believed to contain the mortal remains of King Cnut, located in a high status place atop the Presbytery screen. The chest is from the Renaissance era (note the Tudor double-roses). (c) Winchester Cathedral

Thomas Langton: Richard III’s Character Witness

RICARDIAN LOONS

Amongst the glories of Winchester Cathedral, there is a chantry chapel of outstanding beauty and magnificence. The man who is buried there, and for whom the roof bosses provide a rebus clue, is Thomas Langton, who died of plague in 1501 only days after being elected by Henry VII as Archbishop of Canterbury. Earlier, he had served as the Bishop of Winchester (1493-1501), Salisbury (1484-93) and St. David’s (1483-84), and acted as a servant to three — or four, depending on how you count — English kings. As the information plaque at Winchester Cathedral succinctly announces, Langton had been a chaplain to Edward IV and Richard III, and Ambassador to France and Rome.

Although his death came as a surprise in his 70th year, he did have the opportunity to make an extensive will, showing he died a very wealthy man. It runs to over 100 items, and contains…

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So Richard SEIZED the throne, did he….?

Skidmore and Pinnochio

“I’ve spent four years writing a biography of Richard III, which will be out in April 2017, so I’m looking to give the audience a taster of some of the research that I’ve conducted into Richard’s life, focusing in particular on why he decided to seize the throne in June 1483.”

Seize the throne? SEIZE the throne…..????????  What happened to the facts of the matter? Clearly the forthcoming book will be a little short on such things! Bah Mr Skidmore! Stick to the day job.

http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/york-and-winchester-history-weekends-5-minutes-chris-skidmore

Time to go digging for kings again…

bayeaux-tapestry-getty_2

A section of the Bayeaux Tapestry showing the death of Harold II Hulton Archive/Getty Images

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeology/five-missing-kings-and-queens-and-where-we-might-find-them-a6798966.html

I think we should all get out our trowels and knee-pads to go digging around again!

More mtDNA investigations

This time, the subject is Edward II and the investigator is Kathryn Warner, his most recent biographer:
http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/elizabeth-de-clare-isabella-de-verdon.html

Like Richard III, Edward II was reportedly buried in a prominent position – the high altar of Gloucester Cathedral. Although Kathryn Warner doesn’t believe that he died in Berkeley Castle in September 1327, she is seeking his female line relatives to prove it either way because mitochondrial DNA is so reliable and has found a few of his nieces who may be of use, one line already stretching to the eighteenth century so far. Also like Richard, Edward has been plagued by demonstrably absurd denialist myths.

The Auramala Project, as this is now known, has involved some in the interesting city of Pavia – in this case a tomb at the .http://www.eremosantalbertodibutrio.it/index.php?lang=en that is the alternative location for Edward’s remains. I wonder how close it is to the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro where Richard’s nephew, Lord Richard de la Pole, was buried in 1524-5 and is still supposed to be?

There is, of course, a second possible method. Richard’s own Y-chromosome is now recorded, as have several descendants of an early Duke of Beaufort. Although his Y-chromosome differs from theirs (and one of theirs from the others), all are thought to descend from Edward II and thus should be identical to him in this respect.

Just to return to the rules:
1) Find some records of the burial.
2) Find a bearer of identical mtDNA – and a Y-chromosome sharer if convenient.
3) Describe the deceased in terms of age, height, build, era, diet and other factors.
4) If an individual turns up in the right place who is a DNA match and a physical match, you have probably found your target.
5) Eliminate all other DNA matches if possible, as in Appendix 1 of Ashdown-Hill’s “The Mythology of Richard III”, although someone like Hicks will still claim that the remains could belong to “anyone”.

If the DNA process can be carried out for Richard III (b.1452) then Edward II (b.1284) should be possible and easier than Stephen (b.c.1096 and apparently in Faversham), Henry I (b.c.1068, being sought in Reading) or Alfred (b.c.849, a fragment found in Winchester). We will follow this Project with interest.

More missing monarchs

On Saturday, we reported that the “Kingfinder General” (Philippa Langley) is now on the trail of Henry I, originally buried in Reading Abbey, and hoping to test the remains in Westminster Abbey that purport to be Edward V and his brother but are reckoned not to be by modern scientists.

Feversham Abbey in Kent, which is reasonably close at hand, was the burial place of Stephen in 1154, together with his wife and eldest son, on a site he founded seven years earlier. Here again, there are rumours of the bones being removed. In Winchester, right under Michael Hicks’ nose, is a pelvis that may belong either to Alfred the Great or Edward the Elder.

Henry I, Stephen and the Wessex pelvis will be almost impossible to find a mtDNA or Y-chromosome match, as was relatively easy for Richard III. Nevertheless, the rest of the evidence may add up in one or more of these cases.

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