My blog ... updates ... news

19. Jul, 2018

Before getting excited about finding a modern comparator whose mtDNA would be the same as Edward IV's sons (the 'Princes in the Tower'), there are several reasons to proceed cautiously ...

1. We don’t know how many individuals are represented by the bones in the Westminster urn, which contains animal bones as well as human. When discovered in 1674, the bones were thrown on a rubbish heap where they lay for an unknown period. They were subsequently handled, and other material probably substituted, an unknown number of times. The urn was opened again in 1933 and the entire contents once more subjected to extensive handling and examination. They are therefore thoroughly contaminated.

2. To identify Richard III’s remains (which had lain pristine and undisturbed for five centuries) the only successful DNA retrieved was from a tooth.

3. The only way to make reliable DNA comparisons from the urn would be to test every human bone it contains. If you test only the teeth, the ‘mystery’ is not conclusively solved: there will always be dissenters who will claim that the princes’ bones are present but never yielded DNA samples.  

4. When John Ashdown-Hill submitted his first mtDNA comparator for Richard III, the laboratory refused to accept it without double-checking and finding their own mtDNA donor. They even insisted on doing research to find a Y-chromosome donor to cross-check against the remains. Is this going to happen with Glen Moran’s discovery?

5. It’s a temptation to want to solve a mystery – the chaps in 1933 thought they were doing that. But they hadn’t enough scientific knowledge then, and neither do we now, if DNA testing is all we have.


20. Mar, 2018

The good news is that my biography of Captain Armstrong is almost complete. On the other hand, after four months I am no nearer to a publishing contract. At this point the old adage about eggs in one basket comes into play <sigh>. If it's to appear in time for Armstrong's centenary in November this year, it looks like I must talk to other publishers. Here goes!

18. Jan, 2018

It’s time I updated my website. Way past time in fact. A busy person’s work is never done, and since November I’ve been working full tilt on my biography of Captain D.V. Armstrong, DFC, RAF, whose centenary is coming up this year.

But first I had finish my promised checking and general assistance with Dr Arthur Kincaid’s revision of his magisterial edition of Sir George Buc’s The History of King Richard the Third. He contemplated this as a project in the autumn of 2015; it was commissioned in February 2016; and eventually Arthur’s proofs arrived on my desk in June 2017, a remarkable rate of productivity for such a huge work. Scholars will welcome this revised edition, which updates research on this subject to our present state of understanding, and includes a wealth of material not present 40 years ago when the original was published.

My work on checking proofs finished at the end of October, and it’s now with the publisher. Watch this space for a publication date!

In November I returned to my pilot, aware that time wasn’t on my side. Then I had a stroke of luck. In the course of my research I came across an editor at an aviation publisher who immediately said he’d like to publish the biography. By this time I had a vast accumulation of notes which I’d set aside for five months, and I quickly had to cobble together a draft ... which he liked. We have a meeting planned in mid-February, when I hope we’ll reach an arrangement.

The biography is very much a photographic essay, as I am using Captain Armstrong’s own WWI photo album which has a lot of interesting material. Anyway, research and writing has proceeded non-stop with only a couple of days’ relaxation over Christmas, and I think a final draft will come together in time. Grateful thanks to all who have helped, and especially to Rob Fletcher in South Africa who has been invaluable in his advice and help.

28. Jun, 2017

In case anyone reading this is a member of the Richard III Society, you may have been as interested as I was to read an article in the March 2017 edition of the Bulletin where a contributor, Isabella Nanni, seemed to have discovered a new source for Richard and Anne’s marriage. In her words, they were ‘described as man and wife by autumn 1472’.

I had myself done a lot of work on estimating their marriage date, which was published in a 6,000-word article in the issue of December 2016, and I was under the impression that I had weighed up all known sources. They included (1) the Crowland Chronicle, which recorded the well-known dispute between Gloucester and Clarence during the Michaelmas term of Parliament (October-November 1472), after which Clarence hid Anne away and Richard found her in the guise of a cook-maid and placed her in sanctuary. And (2) the earliest known reference to them as ‘the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester’ which is reported in the Rolls of Parliament covering the sessions that ran between 6 October 1472 and 8 April 1473, although unfortunately the actual petition containing these words isn’t individually dated (PROME, ‘Edward IV: October 1472’, Roll 1, Item 24).

Consequently the most likely date indicated for their marriage seemed to be some time between Anne’s withdrawal into sanctuary (post-October 1472) and the subsequent reference in the Parliament Rolls to their married state. Other considerations narrowed the date down, but these were the outside parameters. In the expectation that an exciting new source had been found describing them as ‘man and wife by autumn 1472’, I contacted Isabella Nanni, only to be disappointed. There is no new source.

In fact I understand from her that she is actually referring to the same Rolls of Parliament as mentioned above (although I’m afraid they cannot be claimed to have been written by the autumn of 1472, when Parliament had not yet sat). And her reason for dismissal of the account in the Crowland Chronicle is that she does not accept the chronicle’s contents. I think these factors are relevant when considering her alternative view of Richard and Anne’s date of marriage.

14. Apr, 2017

I hate unfinished business, and some recent correspondence with my friend A J Hibbard has reminded me of two articles from a series of four I started in 2015 and never finished. I had decided that too many Ricardian dates had been taken for granted without adequate proof, so I began by investigating the following four:

  *  The marriage of Richard and Anne Neville                                                                           *  The birth of Edward of Middleham                                                                                       *  The death of Edward of Middleham                                                                                      *  The marriage of Anne Neville and the Lancastrian Prince of Wales

I mentioned my research to Marie Barnfield and she offered some very helpful insights, so rather than merely acknowledging her assistance I suggested she should join me as co-author. Marie’s involvement has not worked out as I had hoped, but at least we eventually got the first two of these articles into print in the Ricardian Bulletin in 2016 (September and December issues).

I’ll return later to Anne and the Prince of Wales. Today being Good Friday, I want to discuss the death of Edward of Middleham, whose short life was the subject of one of my illustrated talks at the 2016 Middleham Festival. The circumstances of his death, funerary arrangements and tomb are another matter. Here I am just summarizing the question of the date, for which I’m pleased to say my advice was taken by English Heritage to commemorate it at Easter, rather than 9 April, in the plans to fly their flag at half-mast at Middleham Castle. In due course I’ll follow this up with a longer piece on this website under ‘Ricardian Topics’, citing more detailed evidence.

I will mention three references here which should be carefully compared. The first is the well known entry in the Crowland Chronicle which states that he died in April 1484, ‘on a day not far off King Edward’s anniversary’. The mention of ‘anniversary’ has led to the assumption, by even the most well-read Ricardian scholars, that Edward died exactly a year – to the day! – after his godfather Edward IV died on 9 April 1483. Not only is this NOT what the chronicler wrote; it represents only one of various possible anniversaries.

Second, a much more specific date is given by the Warwickshire priest John Rous. This chronicler’s political credibility is highly suspect, having praised Richard III during his reign and attacked him after his defeat; but in plain recitals of facts and dates his record can prove useful. Rous wrote that young Edward died ‘at Easter-time’ (tempore Paschali). Easter Day in 1484 fell on 18 April.

Compare this with my third reference: the recorded fact that it was not until Tuesday 27 April that Richard left for the North after receiving the terrible news while he was at Nottingham Castle. In my longer article I will deal with possible reasons which might have caused delay, but the distance from Middleham to Nottingham is not one of them: this could have been traversed within a day’s ride. Indeed there is nothing to explain the gap of more than a fortnight from the commonly assumed date of Edward’s death on 9 April until Richard is known to have left Nottingham on 27 April.

It is particularly poignant to remember this sad anniversary, with his parents driven almost mad with grief, when Easter in 2017 falls on dates so close to little Edward’s death.