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 

Saving Littlecote…

Twenty-seven years ago, the last great private collection of English Civil War arms and armour – kept since the time of its use at Littlecote House, an English country house near Hungerford – was threatened with dispersal at auction.

The Armouries co-ordinated a national appeal for funds and succeeded in securing the armoury for the nation. The collection is important for several reasons. For students of firearms, it contains the single most important group of mid-17th century English military guns in existence, forming the key reference for the development of the earliest flintlocks. For students of armour, it contains the largest surviving group of buff coats and other equipment of buff leather in the world. Almost everything dates to a single brief period, and although a few pieces were added in modern times, the core collection survives untouched.

Royal Armouries’ staff visited the house twice during the period leading up to the sale to record the armoury contents for future study. The catalogue compiled at that time has now been completed and published by the museum. The Royal Armouries’ former Academic Director Graeme Rimer and I were centrally involved in saving the Littlecote armoury for the nation, and we took part in the sponsored march, wearing armour, from Littlecote to London, which formed part of the fundraising.

Soldiers marching

We have been working away ever since to produce this catalogue, the most detailed record of a single corpus of munition arms and armour ever published, and hope it will stand as a monument to the importance of the Littlecote armoury to the 17th century study of arms and armour for many years to come.

Littlecote book cover

The catalogue was released to coincide with the museum’s English Civil Wars conference held at Leeds on 15 September 2012, and has been selling like hot cakes ever since. You can get your copy of the limited litho edition from the Royal Armouries shop here.

Blogger: Thom Richardson, Keeper of Oriental & European Armour at Royal Armouries, and co-author of Littlecote

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

 

The Axe and the Head

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections, tries not to lose her head in the mystery of the heading axe…

Recently I received an enquiry regarding an axe; could we identify it as a heading axe? Well if anyone could, you’d think the Tower of London could. However, identifying a heading axe is a lot more difficult than you would think.

Indeed, the shape of an axe head can tell you a lot about what an axe was used for. From Coachmaker Axes (clue’s in the name) to Blocking Axes (often used in shipbuilding), axes were often designed as tools of trade rather than weapons. To discover their uses we often turned to trade directories or the handy Salaman’s Dictionary of Woodwork Tools.

Nevertheless, cutting heads off isn’t normally named as a particular use and ‘Executioner’ isn’t generally the sort of trade these works are discussing. Depictions of public executions aren’t always reliable either. Artistic impressions are sometimes made long after the execution with no way of knowing if the artist attended any public executions. The image below of Lady Jane Grey’s execution was actually created in the 19th century. Furthermore written descriptions don’t tend to focus on the design of the axe when describing a public figure’s last few moments.

Engraving by George Cruikshank showing the execution of Lady Jane Grey on Tower Green in 1554. From The Tower of London / by W.H. Ainsworth (1845)
Copyright: Board of Trustees of the Armouries

Consequently, provenance is our best indication. Beheading was an execution preserved for the rich and (previously) powerful. The average execution involved hanging and if you were particularly treacherous you were hung, drawn and quartered. Moreover, it was primarily the English who favoured an axe beheading, whereas the executioners on the continent preferred the sword. Not trusting the axe, and perhaps an English executioner, Anne Boleyn requested a swordsman and sword to be shipped over from France especially for her execution.

Heading axe. Probably English, 16th century
Copyright: Board of Trustees of the Armouries

The Tower of London’s heading axe is traditionally believed to be one of four that we know were stored here in the 17th century, but we don’t have details about its use. We actually know more about the block it is displayed with, which was used for the execution of Lord Lovat in 1747, but that is a different story. So in conclusion, to know if you have a heading axe you need to know where your axe head comes from.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

Behind the Scenes: Kings of Cloth of Gold

We spoke to Set Designer, Ruth Paton about having history at her fingertips as she prepares the scenery, props and costumes inspired by the Royal Armouries collection for Kings of Cloth of Gold.

Emanuel Brierley as King Francis I and Dominic Goodwin as King Henry VIII

What inspiration have you taken from the Royal Armouries’ collection?
The amazing thing for me was being able to see the actual armour that Henry VIII wore. As it is a complete head to toe body shield with no part of him showing, you can really imagine that he is inside there. It was moulded to his body and so you get a feeling of his physical presence. There is also a beautiful tent on display, a replica of one in the famous panting. It is very impressive and a good reminder of the display of power shown from both sides. We have to come up with something that alludes to the scope and grandeur of that scene.

What props are being used from the Royal Armouries?
We have generously been allowed to borrow some gorgeous and authentic costumes and I think we will be borrowing some weaponry, swords and daggers too.

Tell us about the set and costumes.
It is quite a difficult brief. I must provide the different locations that the text demands, demonstrate the vastness and wealth of the tents and palaces both nations brought with them, whilst at the same time design something that can be put up and down quickly on the tour. It also has to be versatile enough to fit into a whole range of different performance spaces, from village halls to proscenium arches. So, we have come up with something golden and tented, which can be manipulated by the actors on stage to imply different locations. The costumes have come from the Royal Armouries and the Royal Shakespeare Company and are as sumptuous as you would expect for the early Tudor period.

What does it mean to you to have the resources of a museum’s historical collection at your disposal?
I consider it a great privilege to have behind the scenes access to the museum and it’s staff. Meeting Karen Watts, Senior Curator of Armour, was completely inspirational. Her knowledge and passion was infectious. I was interested in her description of handling historic artifacts and the art of “reading” them. She spoke about the importance of passing on her knowledge. In a far lesser way, I also feel responsible for describing history although I must admit to using a huge pinch of artistic license- my world is that of make believe after all.

What stage of preparation are you at now?
Well, I am writing this from the train to Stratford Upon Avon where I have an afternoon in the costume store looking for suitable things. Scale drawings are on my desk at home ready to be sent to our production manager Steve and I have fabric samples in my bag of the fabric for the tents as I am trying to make a decision.

Kings of Cloth of Gold by Angus & Ross Theatre Company, premieres at the Royal Armouries on 29 September 2012.

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

Behind the scenes: Kings of Cloth of Gold

We will be giving you an exclusive glimpse behind the scenes of a new production, Kings of Cloth of Gold by Angus & Ross Theatre Company, which premieres at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds in September.

Emanuel Brierley as King Frances I and Dominic Goodwin as King Henry VIII

Emanuel Brierley tells us what its all about and why the Royal Armouries makes the perfect stage…

There are three of us at the heart of Angus & Ross Theatre Company: Em Whitfield Brooks (director) Dominic Goodwin and myself (actors).

Kings of Cloth of Gold is the fourth show that Goodwin and I have worked on together and the third project for Em, we work really well together and bring different things to the creative mix. As they say “three is the magic number”.

Kings of Cloth of Gold, funded by Arts Council Englandis an exciting new play written by Tony Lidington. The year is 1520. In this brand new family comedy, Henry VIII of England meets Frances I of France at the most magnificent tournament ever held: the ‘Field of Cloth of Gold’. (So many pavilions were made of costly gold cloth that it became the byword for extravagance) These two kings compete to outdo each other in displays of wealth, wit, feasting and sporting prowess. Each king is proud, intelligent, and the epitome of chivalry. But who will eventually win this battle of vanity?

What makes a man? 
Why does he do what he does? 
How absurd and terrifying battle is…”

We’ve been fortunate enough to consolidate a partnership with Royal Armouries and have taken inspiration from their Tournament gallery, which houses Henry IIIV original suits of armour and is well worth seeing.

We’re really excited by what this partnership offers, as all their expertise, curatorial advice and fight training will help to create a gripping, funny and interesting piece of theatre and something I’m really looking forward to starting. The fact that we’re able to rehearse fights in Royal Armouries Tournament gallery will add to the atmosphere and create a buzz and interest around the show, right from the very beginning. I’m sure that the production’s premiere at Royal Armouries will be incredible both for the audience and us, knowing we are surrounded by such historic artifacts.

Make sure you don’t miss it.

Blogger: Emanuel Brierley, Angus & Ross Theatre Company

Kings of Cloth of Gold
The Bury Theatre, Royal Armouries, Leeds
Saturday 29 September, 2pm & 7.30pm
Sunday 30 September, 2pm

To book your tickets visit our website.

Introducing Other Ranks…

Sound artist, Amie Slavin, brings the multi-sensory, sound-based installation, Other Ranks, to the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, this November to form part of our Remembrance events.

Other Ranks by Amie Slavin comes to the Royal Armouries in November 2012.

Amie gives us an insight into what to expect…

Other Ranks is a project aiming to tell the civilian public how life is for ‘squaddies’ and helping to honour the sacrifices made by those serving in the British Army.

The installation will feature the stories of current and ex-soldiers, who have been on active service in dangerous places. Their stories will be played out of 16 speakers, interspersed with extracts from written sources, from classic fiction and well-known poetry, to unpublished thoughts of the rank and file.

The endless parade of marching feet, drill, handling weapons, tackling an assault course and training in urban warfare will also be heard. These sounds intend to evoke thoughts of the people inside the marching boots; each is a human being, a man prepared to give his life in combat, each is the hero of his own story. These sounds move and swell around us, illustrating the unimaginably large number of people who have gone to war under a British flag.

How many of us ever really consider what it has meant, through the centuries, for a hundred, a thousand, half a million troops to be killed in the various theatres of war? Each broken body is the culmination of a person’s life, their hopes and dreams. Raising the question of whether these men are a breed apart – or ordinary people, stepping up to do an extraordinary job?

Empty boots will stand in the space, as a further reminder of the people, mostly men, who have worn those boots and made that ultimate promise to their country. How many boots have been left standing empty, through the generations?

Under your feet, as you move around the space, the entire floor will be covered with photographs, pictures of people, thousands of them, all overlapping and layering, an apparently numberless throng. Many of the people in the photos on the floor are in uniform. The uniforms vary endlessly, but each one contains a unique person. Among the uniformed folk you will also find other people, some are the mothers, the sisters and the children. Others are the farmers, the entertainers and the cooks. They are all the victims of war; nobody is exempt; the floor is covered with pictures of humanity; those who can be shot, bombed, diseased or bereaved.

We honour and commemorate the lives lost in wars – the officers, the civilians and, centrally, the ever-marching Other Ranks.

For more information about Other Ranks, or to donate your own photographs or old military boots, please visit Amie’s website.