The Final Moments of Richard III…

Bob Woosnam-Savage, Curator of European Edged Weapons at Royal Armouries, formed part of an expert team that on Monday 4 February confirmed the identity of the “skeleton in the car park” as those of England’s last king to fall in battle – Richard III. His role was to investigate the battle-related trauma on the skeleton, and attempt to identify some of the possible weapons used to kill the last of the Plantagenets.

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L to R: Philippa Langley (Richard III Society), Dr. Stuart J Hamilton (Deputy Chief Forensic Pathologist, East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, University of Leicester), Bob Woosnam-Savage (Curator of European Edged Weapons, Royal Armouries) and Dr. Jo Appleby (Lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology, University of Leicester).

Bob tells us the story of what historians now believe were the final minutes of Richard III – slain by the army of Henry Tudor, father of Henry VIII.

What we have is a very tentative, first attempt to try and create a possible narrative reconstructing the last minutes and death of Richard III, the last king of England to die in battle. It is extremely important to bear in mind that this is exactly that; a first attempt. It will no doubt evolve as more is discovered.

My narrative that follows is a synthesis, based upon various elements from the historical accounts – the veracity of each is a discussion for another time – and what we presently understand the evidence the skeleton may possibly suggest.  The scenario offered suggests just one possible scenario. Material from existing histories is written in italics.

Richard was described as leading a mounted charge against Henry Tudor in an attempt to kill him. Cutting down Tudor’s standard bearer, Sir William Brandon, there is the possibility Richard’s momentum was stalled by marshy ground, a feature confirmed by the recent archaeology of the Bosworth battlefield. His horse stuck, or slain, Richard, fully armoured, continues fighting manfully on foot, maybe only a few feet away from his intended target, Henry Tudor.

However, the tide of battle had seemingly already begun to turn as Stanley’s forces decided to side with Tudor, and they came down upon the Plantagenets and Richard. Tudor’s own bodyguard would have been defending him as well and so, within a very short space of time, Richard could have found himself outnumbered and in the press of his enemies. But then what?

His armour, successfully protecting him up to this time, probably began to fail under ferocious attack. There is no evidence to say how long this sustained attack lasted but at some point it would appear that his helmet was forcibly removed (possibly cut or ripped away). It is perhaps from these moments that the skeleton appears to begin to provide some glimpses of a possible scenario, regarding the dying moments of Richard III.

At this time, Richard immediately receives more blows; a number of individual wounds from bladed weapons to the head, particularly to the top and rear of the skull, indicate a sustained and repeated attack on an unprotected head, one particularly massive blow possibly proving fatal. That particular blow could well have been delivered by a staff weapon such as a halberd. Other blows, including a penetrating wound to the top of the skull, and another to the base, both again probably dealt to an unprotected head, appear to have been perhaps delivered either near, or at the point of, death, with Richard possibly finally keeling over in a kneeling position or even lying semi-prone on the ground (although the body position must remain speculative at this time). This trauma to the head certainly would appear to fit accounts that include descriptions such as his head was shaved and that his brains came out with blood.

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Halberd. Swiss or German, about 1480 (VII.1497)

However the skeleton bears other wounds which, if it were that of Richard, can only be explained as having been delivered after any armour was removed from the body and therefore probably after the king was presumably already near death, or dead. These ‘insult injuries’ might have included the small stab wound to the face; a stab in the back from behind, which struck a rib and, perhaps most tellingly of all, a stab wound, possibly delivered with a knife or dagger, to the buttocks. This last, insulting, blow could easily have been delivered to king’s body by an infantryman with a bladed weapon after it had been slung over the back of a horse, ‘with the armes and legges hanging down on both sides’, as he was borne to Leicester.

A point of interest is that compared to a number of the dead from the Battle of Towton (1461), the face itself seems to bear comparatively little trauma. This may be of significance as the body of the king was subject to at least two days of exposure, from the time of his death to his burial. One of the reasons for such exposure, which was not exceptional at this time, was to allow an individual’s death to be witnessed and accepted – a severely damaged or unidentifiable face, preventing recognition, would obviously largely defeat this purpose.

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The skull of the skeleton found at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester.
© University of Leicester

Finally it should be borne in mind that the trauma to the skeleton (over 10 wounds) must be regarded as an under enumeration of the number of wounds the body originally sustained – for Richard may well have borne wounds to the soft tissue, which have not been preserved. The state of his body would therefore no doubt have matched descriptions, which say Richard was all besprinkled with mire and blood.

This investigation has been an excellent example of everyone working together within the research team. Our real work is now only beginning.

Visit our website for more information and images.

A continuing story of museum ffoulkes – The Tower Armouries – February 1913

Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries reveals all about what happened on this day 100 years ago at the Tower of London…

Feb 1, 1913 Suffragette outrage in the Jewel House, one case broken.  No damage in Armouries.”   February certainly started with a bang for the Tower.  Leonora Cohen’s action in entering the Jewel House – at this time housed in the Wakefield Tower – at 10:30am among a school group and dropping an iron bar into a side case containing the insignia of the Order of Merit of King Edward VII was a freelance act of militancy on behalf of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) at a time when the campaign for female suffrage was becoming increasingly violent. As Yeoman Warder Ellis later stated in Court, Leonora’s first words were “This is my protest against the Government”.

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The label attached to Leonora’s bar preserved among her papers at Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, Leeds.

The label attached to Leonora’s bar preserved among her papers at Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, Leeds.  Her message reads “Jewel House, Tower of London.  My Protest to the Government for its refusal to Enfranchise Women, but continues to torture women prisoners – Deeds Not Words. Leonora Cohen”/ reverse “Votes for Women.  100 Years of Constitutional Petition, Resolutions, Meetings & Processions have Failed”. WSPU colours were purple, white and Green.

Mrs Cohen was an active member of the Leeds branch of the WSPU between 1909 and 1914.  Born June 15, 1873, she was the eldest child of Jane and Canova Throp.  Canova, an artist, died when Leonora was five, and the family moved from Hunslet to central Leeds where Jane supported her three children by working as a seamstress. Leonora suffered from TB as a child, and Jane found the time and energy to home school her, as well as work when she was younger. In due course Leonora became a milliner and a skilful one.  At this time, there was a strong movement in Leeds campaigning for better working conditions for women, and this no doubt added to her education. Although she first met her future husband, Henry Cohen, a Polish immigrant jeweller, as a teenager they did not marry until 1900.  They married for love, and in the eyes of society, Leonora had made a step up the social ladder.

Leonora’s WSPU activities came at a high price.  She enjoyed the support of her mother, brothers, husband and son, but friends ostracised her and the family received hate mail. Initially she just attended meetings, but from 1911 began to engage in more militant acts. Her first trip to London in November 1911 to a meeting at Caxton Hall and deputation to Parliament ended as a violent clash with Police and window breaking (the preferred method of action at the time).  A total of 220 Suffragettes were arrested – a record number for one night according to a disapproving Daily Telegraph- including Leonora.  As a result she was detained in Holloway Prison for seven days, found guilty of malicious damage.

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A portrait photograph of Leonora after her release from Holloway Prison in 1911. Thanks to Leeds Museums Service.

In selecting the Tower as a target, Leonora was making a considered and bold statement. It was a freelance act of militancy, but not a random one. She chose to act against government rather than private property. No doubt the authorities, already concerned at the escalating levels of violence, recalled the Fenian campaign of the 1880s, which had resulted in an explosion in the White Tower Banqueting Room (modern first floor west). In the immeadiate aftermath, the Tower was closed to the public, as were Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, Kew and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Thereafter, security was heightened as it was at other public buildings including museums and galleries.

Leonora was arrested and taken to Leman Street Police station, appearing in Court within hours, charged with unlawful and malicious damage to public property.  She was remanded on bail to appear at the London sessions on February 4, where she successfully defended herself and was acquitted by the jury – no mean feat. Returning to Leeds, her WSPU involvement reverted to attending meetings and speaking at them. However, having attracted official attention she found herself imprisoned once more for incitement, and with her health deteriorating, the Cohens moved from Leeds to Harrogate. There, Leonora’s guesthouse was a place of refuge for other activists evading the infamous “Cat and Mouse” act (officially Prisoner (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913) whereby hunger-strikers could be released from jail rather than force-fed, but were then re-arrested when deemed recovered.  Leonora was photographed revisiting the Tower in the 1960s, and in 1976 she contributed to the oral history of the Suffragette and Suffragist movements recorded by Brian Harrison (now held by the Woman’s library).  She died September 4, 1978.

Mr ffoulkes makes no other mention of the incident.  The day book continues to be an interesting mix of the mundane and unusual. On February 7, he showed 25 students from the Royal College of Art round the Armouries, as well as the Countess Feo Gleichen (in fact HSH Countess Feodora Maud Georgina Gleichen – sculptor and medallist).  More importantly for the ascendant Curator, on February 13 he was presented to HM the King at a Levee in St James’s Palace by the first Commissioner of Works.  Viscount Dillon attended, and the event was duly recorded on camera.

The boys in party mode. © Royal Armouries

Charles ffoulkes and Viscount Lord Dillon at St. James Palace on 13 February 1913
© Royal Armouries

Six days later, Mr Guy Laking, Keeper of the King’s Armoury, called.  (Interestingly, the entry in the revised Day book [ I.188] compiled by ffoulkes from 1933 onwards following his retirement from the Imperial War Museum and prior to his autobiography’s publication, corrects “Sir” to Mr Guy Laking and titles him “The King’s Armourer”. ).

From militant protest to social climbing, all in all February 1913 was quite a month.

With huge thanks to Emma Trueman, and Nicola Pullen & Judith Ferris of Leeds Museums and Galleries.  If you want to find out more about Leonora, Emma’s undergraduate dissertation is available in RA Tower Library, and Leonora’s papers are held by Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, Leeds who will, I am sure, be delighted to share them with you.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries

The Search for England’s lost king – Richard III

Bob Woosnam-Savage, Royal Armouries’ Curator of European Edged Weapons, explains his role in investigating the fascinating case of the “skeleton in the car park” – potentially that of Richard III, England’s lost king and the last of the Plantagenets.

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Bob Woosnam-Savage, Royal Armouries’ Curator of European Edged Weapons

In September 2012, a skeleton was unearthed during an archaeological project at the former site of Greyfriars Church in Leicester, England – now a local council car park.

Part of the project’s remit was to excavate the inauspicious site to discover if it was the last resting place of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, who fell at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and was buried in the choir of the church in August that year.

The hunt for Richard was never going to be easy.  Tradition described how his mortal remains were disturbed during the Dissolution in 1538 when Greyfriars was demolished, as part of Henry VIII’s suppression of the Roman Catholic Church.

Richard’s remains were then thrown into, or buried near, the River Soar, which runs through the city – with no marked grave or tomb.

Amazingly, as investigators disinterred the skeleton, it gave many tantalising clues. Not only did it bear the signs of scoliosis giving rise to a curvature of the spine (Richard has notoriously been described as having some possible malformation; one posthumous reference called him a ‘crookback’) – but also the trauma of battle.

These were all strong indications that ‘the body under the car park’ could well be that of the medieval monarch, but had Richard III really been found after nearly 530 years?

Archaeologist Richard Buckley, Co-Director of University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) and team-leader of the Greyfriars’ Project, invited me to join the research team to examine the skeleton and help interpret the evidence of battle-related trauma which indicated that the individual had met a violent death.

Since its excavation the Greyfriars skeleton has been studied for four months by a number of different specialists and subjected to a barrage of scientific tests. Following this scientific analysis and archaeological investigation the preliminary results of this multi-disciplinary project, involving a number of experts in such diverse areas as DNA, carbon-dating, diet, osteology and forensic pathology, study are divulged on Monday (February 4) in a Press Conference at Leicester University which Bob is attending. You can find out more information on the Leicester University website.

The Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park the full inside story of the hunt for Richard III , is also broadcast on Monday and includes interviews with me, the preliminary results of the examination and shows the techniques used to identify ‘the body under the car park’. It also reveals what we know about this individual and describes how, blow-by-blow, he possibly may have died.

All will be revealed on Monday…

Blogger: Bob Woosnam-Savage, Curator of European Edged Weapons, Royal Armouries 

Line of Kings: Return of the Prince

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections, welcomes back, a true treasure, the armour of Henry Frederick Stuart, which will be displayed within the Line of Kings this Summer.

After forming part of the very successful Lost Prince exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, we are delighted to welcome back the armour of Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales, to the Tower of London.

Henry was the eldest son of James I and was heir to the throne until his untimely death in 1612, aged just 18. This beautiful armour was made by Dutch armourers and was presented to Henry, the Prince of Wales, by Sir Francis Vere, a former soldier, under Elizabeth I, in 1607.

Henry was about 13 years old when he received this armour. Though only just a teenager, he was being prepared for a future role as king. He showed promise as a swordsman and jouster, was a keen huntsman and a patron of the arts, as well as a strong advocate for Protestantism.

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The armour of Henry Stuart in pieces

The armour consists of 15 parts and is extremely delicate. It is transported in pieces, which are carefully unpacked before being reassembled in the gallery. Closer inspection of the armour reveals its true beauty, with wonderful gilt bands of decoration showing scenes from the life of Alexander the Great, including elephants. Therein lies a problem.  The decoration continues along the lames and, where these rub over each other, any movement erodes the surface. Older cleaning methods, using brick dust and oil, while keeping the bright sections glowing, have also left their mark.  However in spite of the passage of time, and elbow grease, this armour remains one of our treasures. With such delicate and beautiful armour, it is always a relief to see it finally reassembled and back on display.

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Henry Stuart back on display

Henry Stuart’s armour will form part of our exciting new exhibition Line of Kings, opening in the Summer, so be sure to come and see it, in all its splendour, then.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

Skyfall – Making sense of Bond’s PPK…

After the release of the latest James Bond movie, Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms at Royal Armouries talks guns and gadgets and poses the question – does Bond’s PPK still make sense?

Gadgets, cars and firearms have always been part of the Bond package, from novelties like the famous ‘Golden Gun’ to Bond’s own personal issue pistol. Most famously, 007 traditionally carries the Walther PPK (Polizei Pistole Kriminal), though from ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ until Daniel Craig’s first outing in ‘Casino Royale’, he adopts the bigger, plastic-framed Walther P99. In keeping with Skyfall’s ‘back to basics’ approach, the PPK appears again, this time with a biometric set of grips to prevent Bond’s enemies from turning his own weapon against him.

Walther Model PPK pistol, German (PR.12124)
© Royal Armouries Museum

Some early PPKs, like the above example, were made for the Nazis during the Second World War. It is perhaps ironic that one of post-war Britain’s greatest fictional heroes be armed with the same weapon.

Once a personal choice, it seems that Bond’s preferred sidearm has made a comeback as the standard issue sidearm of MI6. Though unlikely to be the case in real life today, the slightly larger PP is indeed an official British military issue pistol, and one has seen use by Special Forces. It will only be replaced as a personal defence weapon for aircrew this year by the new L113A1 Glock pistol that is set to replace the standard-issue Brownings and SIGs in current use.

Bond’s own fictional relationship with the PPK came about in an interesting example of a fan being able to influence a production design choice. In the 1950s, firearms expert Geoffrey Boothroyd wrote to Bond author Ian Fleming, with tongue only slightly in cheek, criticising his initial choice of a .25 calibre Beretta and suggesting instead the now-iconic PPK. (Read the letter here)

Boothroyd became Bond’s unofficial armourer, and as the spin-off movie franchise took off, became immortalised as the now famous character of ‘Q’ (for ‘Quartermaster’). Q returns in ‘Skyfall’ as a nerdy cyber-warrior who places more faith in computers than in firearms. Well, as this change would suggest, times have indeed moved on since 1955, and I like to think that Mr Boothroyd would now find the PPK to be rather out of date. It’s low-powered, low-capacity, and excessively heavy when compared with more modern choices for a concealable covert-operations weapon. Likewise, the .357 Magnum revolver preferred by Boothroyd at that time makes little sense today, being heavy, hard-recoiling, difficult to conceal, limited to six rounds, and no more capable against the typical hench-person than most modern semi-automatic pistols. More of a ‘Dirty Harry’ than a James Bond gun!

So, what should Bond carry next time around? It’s not publicly known what operatives of the real-life Secret Intelligence Service now carry, but as the similar P228 and the larger P226 are British military issue, the SIG-Sauer P229 makes a lot of sense and, if I were following in Boothroyd’s footsteps, would be my own recommendation. It’s more accurate and powerful than the venerable PPK, as well as packing twice as many rounds into its magazine. The downside is that it’s larger and heavier than the tiny PPK. Smaller options include the Ruger LCP9, the Kahr CM9, or another SIG, the P239. All of these are similarly light and powerful, firing the 9mm Parabellum cartridge rather than the 9mm Short or the even weaker 7.65mm Browning cartridges available for the PPK. The same goes for perhaps the best compromise choice, the slimline PPS – Walther’s spiritual successor to the classic PPK and the weapon chosen for last year’s 007 novel ‘Carte Blanche’.

Personally, considering the modern concealable holsters and specialist tailors available that would still enable Bond to wear his best tuxedo, I would have to advise him to opt for the P229, pictured below:

SIG-Sauer P229 blowback, double, single of DOA action, manufactured by SIG Arms/J.P. Sauer & Sohn GmbH, Switzerland. (PR.8188)
© Royal Armouries Museum

But perhaps, like the Aston Martin DB5, the classic elegant lines of the PPK are what keep filmmakers coming back for more. Due to the high-pressure rounds they fire, as well as modern fashion, all of the modern alternatives above are chunky-looking by comparison, even if they hide just as well under clothing. They really don’t make ‘em like they used to!

You can see a PPK along with some of the other iconic movie firearms and covert equipment in our Self-Defence Gallery here at Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

 

Behind the Scenes…

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes at a national museum? Now is your chance to find out as our curatorial department plans a special day for you to meet the curators and get their hands on the amazing study collection.

Curatorial Manager Lynda Jackson tells us why the behind-the-scenes experience is a must for museum lovers.

While the galleries are home to a huge selection of objects, these displays represent only a small selection from the 70,000 plus arms, armour and archives that make up the Royal Armouries’ collection. These objects include a huge range of European and Oriental-edged weapons, firearms, armour and artillery, alongside original manuscripts, artworks and prints.

Senior Curator of Armour and Art Karen Watts and Thom Richardson, Keeper of Armour and Oriental Collections, will guide guests through the collection and provide an opportunity to handle original pieces and view the study collections. Feeling the smooth finish of Greenwich armour, or the weight of an early matchlock, really helps visitors to understand how objects work and how they were originally made and used.

The session starts with a unique seminar in which Karen and Thom will discuss a range of special objects, including edged weapons, firearms and armour. Guests will then be given the opportunity to touch and handle these important objects. Most museums have large study collections in storage but few people get the opportunity to explore them with a world expert in their field.

Finally, it’s time to relax with pre-dinner drinks in the gallery and the evening is rounded off with a three-course meal in the Hunting Gallery’s Gun Room, hosted by Karen and Thom. This is a fabulous opportunity to view behind the scenes and a real treat for any lover of arms and armour.

This unique ‘Behind the Scenes’ experience will take place on 19 January 2013. For more information and to book, visit our website.

Explaining the unexplainable…

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms, reveals how he aims to explain the unexplainable in his How to Kill a Vampire seminar.

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms, holding the Vampire Slaying Kit

Here at the Royal Armouries, we have a Self Defence gallery, detailing the ways in which civilians have protected themselves, and been protected, by arms and armour. Knives, guns, swords, even walking sticks, have all been weapons of choice. This Halloween, we’re going to tackle a new area of self defence, against a threat that most of us no longer believe in, but a lot of us remain fascinated by…Vampires.

Vampires are everywhere; even zombies haven’t quite managed to topple them from their position as our favourite fictional monsters. Movies, books, and games have all given us varied and often contradictory ways in which to defend ourselves from their fangs and claws, but what about people that really believed in vampires? What about the ones that still do? What did they use to ‘slay’ the vampires they thought were a genuine threat to their communities? Who did the slaying? Was there any basis to their fears? We will answer all of these questions, as well as giving you an insight into the vampire killing kits that vampire fans may already have heard something about…

Five years ago, someone gave me a link to an eBay auction for a supposedly 19th century ‘vampire killing kit’. It wasn’t very convincing –  one of the giveaways being a rather cheesy, stainless steel fantasy dagger, which as a student of arms & armour stuck out to me like the proverbial sore thumb. Like many people, I wondered whether there might be a ‘real’ kit out there somewhere, so I set out to find it, initially online, and then out in the real world.

The more I looked, the more I realised that whilst the truth remains fixed, ‘real’ can be a flexible term. Some kits appeared old, but how old? Could some have been made for people that really believed, or still believe, in the supernatural? At least one is owned by someone who claims to be a real-life vampire slayer! But how many of the kits are lighthearted pieces of fun, or more troublingly, were made to deceive unwary buyers? I had aired my initial thoughts on a blog, but wanting to make a more scholarly study of the kits, presented a paper last year at the ‘Exploring the Extraordinary’ conference in York. I believe that I now have the answers to all of these questions and more, and look forward to sharing them in this talk. The evidence points to a more recent, but no less interesting, origin and still leaves room for an air of mystery to these fascinating objects. I wrote about this in a Fortean Times article earlier this year, but since then we at the Royal Armouries have acquired our own vampire kit – the only one in a UK public museum. You will also have the chance to get your hands on the real thing.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms, Royal Armouries Leeds

How to Kill a Vampire takes place on Tuesday, 30 October, doors at 6.30pm. For further information, and to book tickets, visit our website.