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]
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Could We Please Allow The Former Kate Middleton, Duchess Of Cambridge To Sunbathe Topless In Peace?

william and kate royals duke and duchess of cambridgeA French magazine owned by Silvio Berlusconi has published grainy photos of the former Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, sunbathing topless in a thong bikini while on holiday in Provence, prompting a lawsuit. Various websites, including Gawker and Egotastic, and newspapers, such as Ireland’s Daily Star, have reproduced the photos, which appear to have been taken by paparazzi staking their villa out from a neighboring property.

Surprisingly, the British tabloids have so far refrained from republishing the voyeur shots according to a story in Saturday’s New York Times. Let’s hope they’ve learned a lesson from the way they harassed Princess Diana. But it’s a shame that William and Kate can’t enjoy even a bit of privacy while on vacation. One of the great joys of travel is the opportunity to reinvent oneself and to do things that you might not do at home. The royals and other celebrities don’t have that luxury but I don’t think many will be shedding tears for them.How many women around the world would gladly trade places with Kate, even if it meant that they’d have to be a bit more careful while sunbathing topless? I’m also a bit surprised that William and Kate wouldn’t be a bit more paranoid knowing how the paparazzi are. But according to the story in the New York Times, the villa they stayed in advertised itself as a very private secluded hideaway.

“The villa complex, built around a 19th-century hunting lodge called the Château d’Autet, is set in 640 acres of woodland and can house up to 17 people at four main properties. Apart from being a vacation retreat for Lord Linley and his family, it has also been rented out for thousands of dollars a week, offering guests a variety of recreational options including a tennis court, a swimming pool and an area to play the French bowling game called boule.”

In any case, they’ll certainly be more guarded moving forward after this incident, which comes on the heels of Prince Harry getting caught with his pants down while on holiday in Vegas. The British press also got scooped on that debacle and CNN called their restrained coverage of the story a “watershed moment for the UK press.” But in the Internet age, it almost doesn’t matter what the print publications do, because there’s always going to be some website that will satisfy the public’s curiosity.

That’s the downside to fame but I wish that everyone had the ability to cut loose while on vacation, because everyone deserves the right to let their hair, or bathing suit top, down now and then.

[Photo by UK Repsome on Flickr]

Have Archaeologists Found The Lost Tomb Of Richard III?

Richard III
Back in August, we covered a new excavation in the English city of Leicester searching for the lost tomb of King Richard III. Now the University of Leicester reports that their team has discovered bones in the church where he is said to have been buried.

Richard III was the last of the Plantagenet kings and fought an epic struggle with the Tudors during the War of the Roses for control of England. He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Support for the Plantagenet line crumbled and soon Henry Tudor was crowned King Henry VII.

After the battle, Richard III’s body was buried in the church choir of the Franciscan friary of the Grey Friars. The church and friary were demolished in the 1530s during the reign of Henry VIII and the precise location was eventually lost. Using old maps, archaeologists figured out the church lay beneath a modern parking lot.

Archaeologists from the university and the Richard III Society sunk trenches through the parking lot and soon located the friary’s chapter house and the cloister, a courtyard with a covered walkway around it. Soon after, the team found the church itself. A public day last weekend attracted more than 1500 people.

Artifacts uncovered include inlaid floor tiles, a medieval silver penny, metal letters that perhaps once were part of an epitaph, and architectural elements from the choir and church. An added bonus was the discovery of a garden from an early mayor of Leicester.

Now the excavation has revealed two skeletons, one of a female and one of a male. The male was found in what archaeologists believe is the choir, where Richard was said to have been buried. This well-preserved skeleton shows trauma to the skull from a bladed instrument and a barbed metal arrowhead was found between the vertebrae of the upper back. The skeleton also has spinal abnormalities.

The university press statement says: “We believe the individual would have had severe scoliosis – which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder. This is consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard’s appearance. The skeleton does not have kyphosis – a different form of spinal curvature. The skeleton was not a hunchback. There appears to be no evidence of a ‘withered arm.'”

Richard was said to have had a hunched back and withered arm, but many historians believe this was later propaganda. Perhaps it was an exaggeration of a real ailment?

Is this the skeleton of King Richard III? The university can’t say for sure. Richard was probably not the only person buried in the church choir, this being a common practice, so the bones will have to be analyzed further. Genealogists have tracked down a direct descendant of Richard’s sister who can provide DNA to check for a match.

The university says a full analysis may take up to 12 weeks. When the results come in, we’ll be sure to report on it.

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Archaeologists Search For Lost Grave Of King Richard III

Richard IIIArchaeologists in Leicester, England, are looking for the grave of a king – in a parking lot.

The grave of Richard III is believed to be beneath the parking lot of a local government building, according to analysis by the University of Leicester.

Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the decisive battle of the War of the Roses. The victor was Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII.

Richard was buried at the Franciscan friary of Greyfriars. Later development erased all trace of this church and the site was lost. Richard III is one of the few English kings for whom there is no recognized burial place. Now archaeologists have analyzed old maps and believe they have pinpointed roughly where the church was.

Heavy machinery moved in this weekend to break up the pavement, the Leicester Mercury reports. Once they’re done, the archaeologists will dig two trenches using more meticulous methods in the hope of hitting part of the church. The trenches will run from north to south, maximizing the chances of hitting the church. Medieval churches were traditionally built from east to west.

If they do find any bones, they’ll be able to tell if they belong to the slain king. Genealogists have discovered a direct descendant of Richard’s sister and will be able to use DNA analysis to check for a match.

The work should be finished in two weeks. On September 8-9 the excavation will have an open house for the public.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Photo Of The Day: Madrid’s Palacio Real

Today’s photo, by Flickr user APANCHA, takes place at the changing of the guard at Madrid’s Royal Palace (Palacio Real). The tight marching pattern of the soldiers, evenly spaced as they pass in front of the palace’s stately architecture makes for quite a show for photo-snapping tourists. There’s an intriguing geometry to the shot – the neat, upright marching of the soldiers almost seems to mimic the palace’s stately vertical columns behind them.

Taken any great photos during your own travels? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.