Elizabeth of York & Richard III

Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York circa 1500

With “The White Queen” currently being shown on TV and the release of Phillippa Gregory’s new book “The White Princess” about Elizabeth of York, there has been some controversy over a story line which sees Elizabeth falling in love with her uncle, Richard III. As ever with Phillipa’s books her plots are not just plucked out of thin air but are based on some element of evidence which she has interpreted to make a good story!

In the case of the Elizabeth and Richard love affair there is no conclusive evidence but George Buck, who was Master of the Revels to James I, claimed in 1619 that he had seen a letter from Elizabeth to her uncle the Duke of Norfolk which indicates that she was a willing participant in a marriage alliance with Richard. Elizabeth wanted her uncle “to be a mediator for her in the cause of [the marriage] to the king who (as she wrote) was her only joy and her maker in the world, and that she was his hart, in thoughts, and in all, and then she intimated that the better half of Feb was past, and that she feared the queen would never [die].”

Richard III

Richard III by an unknown artist

Unfortunately this letter no longer exists and we have no way of knowing how accurate George was being in his recollection or how corrupt his subsequent manuscript became as his great nephew was involved in editing later on. We also cannot be sure if Elizabeth was definitely asking for help to marry the not yet widowed Richard or for help in getting Richard to arrange a marriage alliance for her with someone else. There is evidence that after Anne Neville died Richard began negotiating a joint marriage alliance with John II of Portugal, whereby Richard would marry his sister Joanna and Elizabeth his cousin, the future Manuel I.

It is also true that rumours of a love affair existed at the time but these were strenuously denied by Richard. The Croyland Chronicle (sometimes called the Crowland Chronicle), an important but not always accurate primary source written at the Benedict Abbey of Croyland in Lincolnshire, says that Richard was forced to deny the rumours by the enemies of the Woodville’s who feared them getting back into power. It would certainly have been in Richard’s interests to quash the rumours so again we have a situation that can be interpreted in different ways, which doesn’t help us piece together what really happened.

Another interesting fact worth noting is that following Richard’s death at Bosworth Henry VII waited 5 months before marrying Elizabeth. Salacious as this might sound, could it have been to ensure that Elizabeth was definitely not carrying Richard’s baby?! Sadly we’ll never know for sure and the lack of any real evidence means we’ll forever be reading between the lines and drawing our own conclusions, which, if nothing else, certainly makes for an interesting debate.

The Skeleton is Richard III!

Exciting news today, it’s now been confirmed the skeleton found under a car park in Leicester is that of Richard III, solving a 500 year old mystery!

Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, defeated by the first Tudor king, Henry VII, but until now we had no idea where his remains were. Historical records told us Richard was taken to Leicester and his body put on display as proof of his death. Research then led archaeologists to the site of the former Grey Friars Church which was demolished by Henry VIII before finally ending up as a car park.

A reconstruction of what scientists believe Richard III would have looked like

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester began excavating the site in August last year and soon found the skeleton which was in good condition but missing it’s feet. A report in one paper today said the arms were crossed indicating Richard was bound when he was buried. It’s also been reported there was an arrowhead lodged near the spine.

The research team used radiocarbon dating on the bones which confirmed the man had died between 1485 and 1550. They also compared the DNA with a descendant of Richard III’s sister Anne. Lead archaeologist, Richard Buckely, described the identity as “beyond reasonable doubt” Continue reading

Has Richard III’s body been found?

There’s some exciting news in the press today. Scientists digging underneath a car park in Leicester looking for the remains of Richard III have discovered a skeleton they believe is that of the Yorkist King.

Richard III

Richard III by an unknown artist, on display in the National Portrait Gallery.

Richard III was defeated and killed in the battle of Bosworth field in 1485 by Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII. This was the final battle in the Wars of the Roses and saw the beginning of Tudor rule in England. Evidence shows that following Richard’s defeat in battle his body was taken to Leicester and put on display so everyone could see he really was dead. After this the events become more confused and there are conflicting reports as to his exact fate, although it has long been believed he was buried somewhere in Leicester.

The team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester have been excavating the car park, which is behind council offices in Leicester city centre, for 3 weeks and say there is strong evidence to support the Richard III identification! Here are the main clues:

  • They are the remains of a male – good start!
  • The skeleton shows signs of a curved spine which matches descriptions of Richard having a “crookback” and one shoulder bigger than the other.
  • There are signs of trauma to the head consistent with war wounds. Richard Buckley from the University of Leicester says “Between two of the vertebrae was an iron arrowhead, possibly with barbs”

The remains were not buried in a coffin which Richard believes shows the former King was probably buried simply, in just a shroud. A sad end for someone who had ruled England for just over 2 years but I guess that’s what has to be expected when you’ve been defeated in battle and the King needs to assert his new found power.

The skeleton will be sent away for DNA analysis which could take 3 months, so we’re going to have to be patient for the results. The DNA will be compared to DNA from Michael Ibsen who is a direct descendant of Richard III’s eldest sister, Anne of York. It must be fascinating to find out you’ve got such an interesting family tree and are part of an exciting historical find.

It’s not surprising to hear reports that the discovery has created a massive response online, this could be one of the biggest archaeological finds in years! It will help historians fill in more gaps in our knowledge of the Wars of the Roses, the end of Yorkist rule and the start of the Tudor dynasty. I’ll be keeping my eye out for more reports on this story.


Sources: Sky News (12/09/12), The Telegraph (12/09/12)