The Battle For Richard III’s Bones

Richard III
University of Leicester

King Richard III just can’t rest in peace. He was the last of the Plantagenet dynasty, and after being killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 by the rival Tudor dynasty, his body was mutilated, stabbed in the ass and buried in a hastily dug grave in the local friary in Leicester. The friary was later destroyed and his grave lost. For a while there was an outhouse right next to it. Eventually his burial site was paved over and became a parking lot.

His luck was looking better when he was rediscovered by archaeologists and his bones became a television sensation. With great fanfare Leicester Cathedral announced that it would spend £1 million ($1.6 million) on a new tomb and a museum about his life and death.

But now it looks like poor Richard won’t rest in peace quite yet. The Daily Telegraph reports that a group called the Plantagenet Alliance, which includes 15 of the king’s descendants, is challenging the decision to bury him in Leicester. The king, they say, had a long relationship with the city of York and had stated that he wanted to be buried in York Minster with the rest of his family.

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester who dug up the king had already received a court’s permission to decide where he should be reinterred and chose Leicester Cathedral. Another judge has decided to allow the Plantagenet Alliance’s complaint to go to court, however, because of the unprecedented nature of the case.

The judge, Mr. Justice Haddon-Cave, has warned both sides to keep the dispute from descending into a “War of the Roses Part Two…It would be unseemly, undignified and unedifying to have a legal tussle over these royal remains.”

Of course, the court’s decision will determine where millions of pounds in potential tourism revenue will go. There’s more than a medieval political rivalry at stake in this case.

In Fine Style: The Art Of Tudor And Stuart Fashion Opens At The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace

Tudor
The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, London, is putting on a fashion show, although the fashions are more than 400 years out of date.

In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion” examines the luxurious clothing and jewelry worn by British monarchs and members of their court. It focuses on the two dynasties of the 16th and 17th centuries with everything from ornamental armor for a teenaged Prince of Wales to a bejeweled case for storing the black fabric patches that Queen Mary II stuck on her face to emphasize the whiteness of her skin.

Many of the items are on display for the first time, such as a diamond signet ring given by King Charles I to his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, in 1628. It bears her cypher and the royal coat of arms. Another never-before-seen piece is a pendant of gold, rubies and diamond with a miniature portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. There are also some elegant articles of clothing like a pair of lacework gloves.

Of course, most costumes and jewelry from this period have disappeared, no matter how important their owners. To augment the exhibition there are more than 60 portraits showing royalty and nobility wearing their finest, including a startling portrait of a Duchess dressed as a man.

“In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion” runs until October 6. If you make it to London before July 14, you might also want to see Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsarsat the Victoria & Albert.

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Victoria & Albert Museum Showcases Treasures From Royal Courts

Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has just opened a new exhibition about the development of trade and official relations between Russia and the United Kingdom.

“Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars” brings together more than 150 objects for a look at the interaction between both courts from the accession of Henry VIII in 1509. He and later Tudor monarchs were eager to expand contacts with Russia to tap into the lucrative fur trade, selling English wool and luxury items in return. The artifacts show how the courts affected one another through the reigns of two English dynasties.

Timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the founding of the dynasty of the Romanovs, the exhibition focuses on gifts and cultural exchanges between the two royal courts instead of the rather humble trade that financed them. Included are Shakespeare’s first folio, a little-seen portrait of Elizabeth I, Henry VIII’s suit of processional armor and royal jewelry.

The exhibition also includes objects loaned from Russian institutions, such as this odd silver basin showing a dolphin from 1635. It’s part of a collection of English and French silver given to the Tsars by the British royal family. Examples of this kind of silver are rare in England because most of it was melted down to finance the English Civil War. What’s interesting about this basin is the way the dolphin is portrayed – more like those seen in Greek and Roman art than what dolphins look like in reality. It appears the silversmith had a Classical education but not much contact with the sea!

%Gallery-180975%There’s also quite a bit about the Muscovy Company, an English firm given a monopoly on trading rights with Russia from 1555 until 1698. The company’s captains made a fortune trading with Russia and even tried to open a route to China by sailing north of Siberia. The so-called Northeast Passage was as bad of an idea as it sounds and many sailors froze to death in the attempt.

The Northeast Passage remained a dream until 1878, when the Finnish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld sailed the Vega from Europe to Japan via Siberia. Sadly for him, the Suez Canal had opened nine years before and there already was a shorter route to China.

“Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars” runs until July 14.

[Photo courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London]

Reassembling The Skeletons Of Medieval Royalty

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A team of scientists from Bristol University are using DNA analysis to identify the remains of early medieval English royalty.

The bones are kept in several mortuary chests in Winchester Cathedral and include the remains of King Cnut, a Norse ruler who conquered England and ruled it from 1016-1035. The other remains are of Emma, his queen, and later kings Harthacnut, Egbert, Ethelwulf and William Rufus.

During the English Civil War the cathedral was looted by the supporters of Parliament, who disliked the “Popish” trappings of the elegant house of worship. In addition to stealing everything of value, they opened the mortuary chests and scattered their contents. The bones were replaced but of course are now mixed up.

The Daily Mail reports that the team will use DNA matching to determine which bones belong to which person. One of the DNA matches they will use will be from a recently excavated 10th century queen from Saxony named Eadgyth, who was related to some of the royals kept at the cathedral. The team is working within the cathedral so as not to remove the bones from hallowed ground.

Winchester Cathedral is the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe and dates to 1079. Like most historic churches in England, there was an earlier church on this site and many later changes to the present structure. The nave has a beautiful vaulted ceiling and some very nice stained glass, as well as an interesting museum. The town of Winchester boasts not only the cathedral, but also some other fine medieval buildings. It’s an hour by rail from London and makes a good day trip.

[Cathedral photo courtesy Tony Hisgett. Photo of coin bearing the inscription "Cnut King of the English" courtesy Wikimedia Commons]
medieval

Remains Of King Richard III Discovered In Parking Lot


Back in September, we reported that the lost tomb of Richard III may have been found in Leicester, England. Now the Daily Mail reports the remains in that tomb have been determined to be those of the king.

Richard III was the last of the Plantagenet kings and fought the Tudors during the War of the Roses for control of the kingdom. The final showdown came in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard was killed. His body was buried in the church of the Franciscan friary of the Grey Friars in nearby Leicester. The church and friary were demolished in the 1530s and its location forgotten. Using old maps, archaeologists from the University of Leicester and the Richard III Society figured out that the church lay beneath the parking lot of the city’s social services department.

The team sunk exploratory trenches and soon located the friary and the remains of a man and a woman. The male skeleton had wounds from an arrow and from a blade to the skull, consistent with accounts of Richard’s death. The skeleton also suffered from scoliosis. Richard was said to have been a humpback, and this disease could have created such a deformity.

There has yet to be an official announcement. The Daily Mail cites an unnamed source with “knowledge of the excavation” and states that an official announcement won’t come until a TV documentary airs in January. A descendant of Richard III was used to provide a DNA match but it’s unclear if this is what has determined the body is that of the dead king.

The Daily Telegraph has also reported that unnamed sources confirm the skeleton is that of the king “beyond all reasonable doubt.”

While royalty are generally buried in Westminster Abbey in London, the Ministry of Justice has ruled that any remains determined to be those of Richard III should be buried in Leicester Cathedral.