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.

Count Factula…

Ahead of the How to Kill A Vampire seminar hosted by Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, we are sharing what you never knew, thought you knew and wished you didn’t know about Vampires!

Vampire Slaying Kit purchased by Royal Armouries

Unusual Slaying Techniques
If myths are to be believed, a clove of garlic, a stake through the heart or a strong Christian belief and cross in hand would be the weapons of choice to fend off a vampire. However, one way you may not have heard of is to throw seeds (usually mustard) outside the door or place a fishing net outside a window. Vampires are compelled to count the seeds or the holes in the net, delaying them until the sun comes up.

Never invite a vampire in
Thresholds have historically held significant symbolic value, and a vampire cannot cross a threshold unless invited. The connection between threshold and vampires seems to be a concept of allowance. Once a commitment is made to allow evil, evil can re-enter at any time.

Not even the fruit bowl is safe!
Certain regions in the Balkans believed that fruit, such as pumpkins or watermelons, would become vampires if they were left out longer than 10 days or not consumed by Christmas. A drop of blood on a fruit’s skin is a sign that it is about to turn into a vampire.

Vampires on screen
By the end of the twentieth century, over 300 motion pictures were made about vampires, and over 100 of them featured Dracula. Over 1,000 vampire novels were published, most within the past 25 years.

Dracula Disease
Vampires are said to have pale skin, not have a reflection in mirrors, and grow fangs. Doctors believe there may be a medical explanation for the proliferation of vampire stories in Eastern Europe. Porphyria (also known as porphyric haemophilia or Dracula disease), a hereditary blood disease, was once widespread among the aristocracy. Patients were sensitive to light, developed brownish teeth, and had skin lesions. They were often told to drink blood from other people to replenish their own.

Come along to the How to Kill a Vampire seminar to delve deeper into the history of slaying vampires in both folklore and fiction, and discover the real story behind the mysterious vampire killing kits. Get up close to the kit and join in a discussion with Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms at Royal Armouries in Leeds, who has a particular interest in the mythology of arms and armour as well as popular culture and the supernatural.

With Halloween just around the corner, what better way to prepare than with a crash course in protection from the undead…just in case!

How to Kill a Vampire
The Bury Theatre, Royal Armouries Leeds
Tuesday 30 October, 7pm

For more information and to book tickets visit our website here.

Facts courtesy of www.facts.randomhistory.com

Something to get your teeth into…

The Royal Armouries has just acquired a very unusual piece – a vampire killing kit that was recently put up for auction in North Yorkshire.

Vampire Slaying Kit - a mahogany casket with pistol, crucifix, rosary beads, three glass bottles, mallet and four wooden stakes

The complete Vampire Slaying Kit, recently acquired by Royal Armouries, Leeds comprises a mahogany casket complete with pistol and bullet mould, crucifix, prayer book, rosary beads, glass bottles labelled holy water and holy earth, a mallet and four wooden stakes

This intriguing kit comprises a mahogany casket, packed with everything a vampire hunter might need. The box is split into two tiers. The top layer contains a percussion cap pistol with an octagonal barrel – for firing silver bullets and a bullet mould. The lid holds a crucifix and rosary beads, to ward off ‘evil spirits’.

Other compartments contain three glass bottles, two of which are labelled ‘holy water’ and another ‘holy earth’. As a last resort there’s a mallet and four wooden stakes, plus The Book of Common Prayer, dated 1857.

The Book of Common Prayer opened to the title page, and a wooden crucifix

The Book of Common Prayer from the Vampire Slaying Kit, dated 1857

A handwritten extract from the Bible, quoting Luke 19:27, reads, ‘But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.’

I’m really pleased to be able to add this fascinating object to our world-class collections, which as well as conventional arms & armour, also contains a number of unusual objects. One category within our collections is known as ‘Firearms Curiosa’ – unusual and quirky pieces sometimes made to test new technology and ideas, sometimes to deceive, and sometimes just for fun! This kit definitely falls into this category.

Although often claimed to either be made for genuine vampire slayers, or as novelties for travellers to Eastern Europe, this is probably not the case with this piece. I’ve been researching vampire-killing kits for five years, and there is no evidence of their existence prior to 1972, around the time of the famous ‘Hammer’ horror movies. For some people, this makes them ‘fakes’, but is it possible to have a fake if there is no original to copy?

I argue that they are instead ‘invented artefacts’ – movie props without a film. We will be subjecting our kit to some sensitive scientific analysis to see if we can find out more about it, but chances are that it was made relatively recently. This is not a bad thing – museums today collect far more widely than just traditional art and historical pieces, and the level of interest generated by this kit shows how culturally important it is. It’s hard evidence of the undying love people have for supernatural fiction, from Dracula to Twilight and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It also reflects centuries of folklore relating to vampires and the best ways to dispose of them, which for some people, even in the 21st century, remains a frightening reality.

We hope to put the kit on display by Halloween. In the meantime it will be available for researchers to examine by appointment.

Take a look at my article in issue 288 of the Fortean Times – ‘To Kill a Vampire’ for further details.

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