England at his boney feet

There are things which are so deeply buried in history that we can only ever make up stories.

This particular thing was rum, though. No smoke without fire, as they say.

Last Summer Maddie, Felix and I poddled off to the Tower of London. We had long oohed and ahhed from the outside whilst I winced at the entrance fee, but I felt it was time to bite the bullet, to put my head on the block, and enter those ancient walls.

And it was all as lovely and as monumental, standing on that land packed down hard with thousands of years of use, as I thought it would be. Great stone walls, impossibly historic place names, Traitor’s Gate, beefeaters and suchlike. A historical vortex overlooking an old river.

There was one moment though: one epoch-making moment when time concertinaed together in something which felt, at the moment it happened, like time travel might, should it ever be invented.

It happened like this: we trailed round all the walls and saw where Anne Boleyn was executed and then, all at once, we were in the part of the tower where the two Princes, those fated little boys, were last glimpsed through leaded windows, or playing on the green outside the White Tower.

And we found our way up to the dark-wood-clad rooms where the princes might have lodged. I turned around to see my own children at the leaded window. They were just passing the time of day, lounging speculatively around as two princes once did, waiting for who knows what to happen.

And the sight of my children doing precisely what the princes had done, precisely where they would have done it, startled me immeasurably.

They had been declared illegitimate, Edward V and the Duke of York, but they were still in the way. They did not help Richard III’s claim to the throne one jot.

They were seen by the village-like community at the Tower quite a lot when they first arrived, playing and passing the time of day. But as time wore on, they were seen less and less.

And, eventually, they disappeared all together.

Two children’s skeletons were found near the White Tower in 1674, during remodelling. They were aged about 11 and seven respectively.But beyond that we can tell little.

There is no evidence to tie this age-old piece of speculation to a pile of old bones which have just been found hundreds of miles away from the Tower, up north in Leicester.

But by now the story may well have reached you: that the man traditionally charged with murdering the two children of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville may, finally, have been run to ground.

Richard III came to a nasty end. Bosworth Field accorded him a soldier’s death, and once he was dead his body was paraded for all to see , back to the streets of Leicester.

His adversary, Henry VII, was not all bad, though. A clever academic -Dr John Ashdown-Hill – found mention in Henry’s accounts of money set aside for an alabaster tomb or Richard at a local priory.

This extraordinary man had also tracked down a living descendent of Richard III, so that – should the old rogue’s bones ever be discovered – ย DNA evidence could be used to confirm their identity.

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester have been digging in a Leicester car park for a few weeks now to find an old priory, And, after an extension to the dig, the news came. Bones have been found; bones which betray a violent death, possibly in battle.

How ironic.

For the piles of bones by the White Tower there will be no resolution. Edward V will remain a ghost child for eternity.

But Richard III may yet live to have England at his boney feet just once more.

 

You can find an excellent article on the path which led to the car park in Leicester at BBC News here

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40 thoughts on “England at his boney feet

    1. Great comment! Made me laugh out loud.

      Lovely piece, Kate. It is interesting to see one’s children in old, historical places. I experienced something similar with my sons in a castle in Estonia. Was quite a site to see them browsing around in the torture chamber! My teenager especially enjoyed it–no surprise there.

  1. Wonderful piece. Jenny took our two children to see the Tower on several occasions – long enough ago to be affordable – and I remember going there myself as a child. The picture by window is a perfect catalyst for your account of the Princes in the Tower. I enjoyed that – thanks:)

  2. Being a “royal” in the days of yore meant having a permanent bulls eye on your back! Someone always waiting for you to give up the ghost and become no more.

    Lovely wander, Kate.

  3. A fabulous post, Kate. In my last Shakespeare course we took Richard III, and though he was a complete and utter bastard, by the end of studying the play and doing some research for an essay I came away with a sense of pity for him. Which is hard to say considering he killed two small chidren. Which I truly believe he did.

  4. My mind played tricks with me reading this post, Kate, and I thought to myself that the good doctor was very forward-thinking in those times with regard to the DNA. I then realised the doctor was in the present day! Who says time travel hasn’t been invented? I find myself in a different time period almost daily! Well, my mind does, anyway…

    1. Ha! This doctor didn’t need a tardis, fortunately, Tom. He and the painstaking researchers behind this have done an amazing job getting this far. The chances this really is Richard are slim. But, just imagine….

  5. How fascinating! I hope you’ll keep us supplied with any new developments and links to breaking news! The story of the two princes was chilling. I think I can imagine the kind of thoughts that entered your mind upon seeing your children in that particular setting, Kate. I find myself wanting to know a bit more about the entire cast of characters! D

    1. It is a mystery which has preoccupied academics and writers for more than 500 years, Debra…wouldn’t it be amazing if it turned out this really was Richard? Be sure, I’ll keep you posted…

  6. Oh, the Tower. I was there alone for hours, and left with a bit of melancholy hanging over my head. I don’t know that I’d like seeing my Felix at those windows, either.

    As for Richard, well… his bones have brought word of him across unimagined seas. Perhaps his greedy heart can rest now?

  7. Dear Kate, the report here on the uncovering of the bones and the belief that they might be those of Richard III is that the spine also had a curvature to it and so he did he. I remember reading about the two royal youngsters and the Tower when I was in the sixth grade. I think our whole class was suddenly aware in a new way of that concertina-effect you spoke of. We saw ourselves as those children, hidden away in a shadowy tower and we grieved for them. Peace.

    1. I have to dig into the curved spine, Dee: Shakespeare was responsible for a huge amount of propaganda against him, and the hump was reputedly part of that, but I’ll have to go and find out more….yes: a strange folding of time, when you look at some crime committed against children.

  8. What an interesting post and historic find, Kate, and I love the photo of Felix and Maddie. Good for you for taking them to the Tower of London and exploring their history with them. I’ve always felt that children would appreciate history more if they had more opportunities to spend some time in such spaces. Ah well, I wax on. Still up here in MN, tending to baby and toddler, and living my own kind of history.

    1. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thinking of you, Penny. Hope baby and toddler are enjoying each other’s company, and that everyone up there is getting a decent amount of rest. Maddie had a brother arrive three years after she was born: it’s a careful job, accustoming a sister to the presence of a little brother, but I know Kezzie and her little brother will get on famously!

  9. To see history thru your children’s eyes … excellent. Suddenly history is no longer a remote event that history dusted off for some textbooks.
    The closest we got to the Tower of London was when the Jack the Ripper tour we were walking with stopped opposite that tower.

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