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 

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

 

Line of Kings: Time to Think…

We continue on our journey from the past to modern concept, to physical reality, as Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes takes us through the process of a ‘Thinking day’.

Our Ambition: To re-display an area of the entrance floor of the White Tower entitled the ‘Line of Kings’, which was developed most recently in 1996 – and installed at that time with a clear intention to re-visit the exhibition as soon as further resources became available. Unfortunately, this was put on hold as other plans came into play – until now.

Our Collection: The objects currently on display include a wide range of material from 12 carved wooden horses to rows of pikemen’s armours. Our challenge was to develop a brief, which would inspire a new exhibition showcasing these objects and revealing their stories.

A composite image of the current ‘Line of Kings’ display in the Entrance floor of the White Tower
© Royal Armouries Museum

Thinking Day: In June 2011, interested parties from both Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces stepped away from their day-to-day working and into a ‘thinking day’ on the ‘Line of Kings’. Thinking days offer a fantastic opportunity to focus on specific subjects, really drilling down into detail without distraction. I think they work most effectively when they take the format similar to that of the ‘Moral Maze’ on Radio 4 – evidence is presented by a diverse range of experts and then examined and discussed in order to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the subject.

For the ‘Line of Kings’ we were lucky enough to hear from two of our own staff about the current collection on display and on existing research material regarding the history of the Line, complemented by presentations on the Restoration period from Dr Jacqueline Rose (Author of ‘Godly Kingship in Restoration England: The Politics of the Royal Supremacy, 1660-1688’) and examining the horse in mythology & culture from Dr Elaine Walker (Author of ‘Horse’, a study of the horse in cultural history).

After a lively and challenging debate, our conclusion was that we needed even more information – focussing on both the Royal Armouries’ collection and its use in the ‘Line of Kings’ and this history of the Line at the Tower of London.

Research: The project, therefore, began not with the commissioning of designs but rather in the exploration of archives, the consultation of experts in areas such as wood and paint analysis and the collation of reports – all aiming for one outcome – the unlocking of the secrets of the origins of the ‘Line of Kings’ which in turn would inspire us to create our new exhibition.

 

Line of Kings: First steps…

Follow our new series of blogs, as we journey from the past to modern concept, to physical reality in the making of the ‘Line of Kings’, opening at the Tower of London in 2013.

The White Tower at Tower of London
© Royal Armouries Museum

In our first instalment Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes at the Royal Armouries tells us about those crucial first few steps.

All the best projects at delivery have started from a great idea, supported at every stage of development.

From 2007, that idea for Royal Armouries at the Tower of London was to create a showcase for our prestigious collection, embedded in the history of the Tower, which would attract visitors from all over the world. It was supported by a wide range of stakeholders – from our partners Historic Royal Palaces to sponsors such as HistoryTM, DCMS/Wolfson Galleries Improvement Fund – without whom delivering this vision would have been impossible.

Our mission: To deliver a complete re-display of Royal Armouries’ collections and stories in the White Tower, the iconic building at the heart of the Tower site, to be enjoyed by over 2 million visitors a year.

Our challenge: To ensure that access for visitors was kept open throughout and that each new exhibition was complete in itself, offering a great experience to both first time and repeat audiences.

Our plan: To research, develop, design and deliver a series of exhibitions opening annually – starting with a temporary exhibition ‘Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill’ for 2009 and completing in 2013 with the ‘Line of Kings.’

Our team: At each stage a team of Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces’ staff has been gathered with skills to support the projects at every stage of their development, through to finishing touches before the exhibition is revealed. This internal team has been complemented with a vast range of external experts and suppliers – carrying out tasks from concept drawings to electrical wiring.

Our exhibitions: These teams have delivered stunning exhibitions showcasing extraordinary objects and fascinating stories from the Royal Armouries’ collection, which have achieved hugely positive feedback from White Tower visitors. The programme included:

Temporary Exhibitions

Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill –April 2009-January 2010

Permanent Exhibitions

Fit for a King – opened March 2010

Charles I Fit for a King
© Royal Armouries Museum

Treasures of the Royal Armouries – opened March 2010

Treasures of the Royal Armouries
© Royal Armouries Museum

Powerhouse – opened March 2011

Storehouse – opened March 2012

What’s next?

The final piece of the jigsaw is a new exhibition for 2013, which started its development over a year ago with a research project which was to turn all our plans on their heads and give us the opportunity of a lifetime to reveal the story of the longest running visitor attraction in the world…

For more information about exhibitions at the Tower of London visit our website.

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.

Swords of the Middle Earth…

To celebrate the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, four heroic swords based on weapons used in the epic The Lord of the Rings film trilogy will go on display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds on Thursday (December 13). Royal Armouries’ curator of European Edged Weapons, Bob Woosnam-Savage, reveals all about the magical swords.

After our highly successful The Wonderful World of Weta: Arms and Armour from the Movies exhibition in 2008, I have kept in close contact with one of the workshop’s directors, Sir Richard Taylor, in New Zealand. So when these swords were suggested as a collection of ‘high-end’ collectibles of museum quality I knew we had to have them.

Although the swords in this collection are not movie props, they have been made at the multi-Academy Award winning Weta Workshop by the movie’s very own swordsmith, Peter Lyon, using the same designs, methods, materials and tools that were used to create the original hero weapons for The Lord of the Rings motion picture trilogy. The pieces encompass a multitude of sword making, metal crafting and wood-working techniques and are examples of present day, world-class sword-making skills. In fact it could be said that they are even better than the original movie props as Peter Lyon now has 10 years more experience in sword making!

The swords – Andúril, Strider’s Sword, Glamdring, and Sting – are all artists’ proof copies of the long since, sold-out limited editions, ranging from only 10 to 25 in number, and have been made over the past two years.

The design of some of the swords is based on real medieval and Renaissance designs, similar to those held by the museum.  Andúril, the sword of Aragorn, was based upon a large ‘cruciform’ European sword. The hand-and-a-half sword of the ranger ‘Strider’ was based closely on the proportions of a late 15th century European (bastard or hand-and-half) sword, but with non-historical design features. The result is a functional and elegant synthesis of history and fantasy. Even ‘Sting’ was originally going to be based upon a Holbein-type dagger of the 16th century, but after much rethinking ended up as it is seen. John Howe, one of the concept artists of The Hobbit also, designed the sword Andúril for The Lord of the Rings as well as co-designing Strider’s sword.

To run alongside the installation, our visitor experience team has written a demonstration entitled ‘From Battle Scene to Silver Screen’. The talk will give a fascinating look into how arms and armour are used for film and television. There will be a chance to learn about what materials are used, how they are made and the difference between props and reality. The talk is suitable for all ages, particularly The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars’ fans! At the end of the 10-minute talk, visitors will have a chance to hold the props used in the talk and feel like movie stars themselves.

The Swords of Middle Earth exhibition goes on display at Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, on December 13 and runs until February 2013.

Where Christmas began…

This year at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, Santa swaps his red suit for green and his grotto will transport you back to where Christmas celebrations began, in Victorian times.

Santa and friends at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds

It seems hard to believe now but before the 19th century, Christmas was hardly celebrated and it didn’t become a public holiday until the end of the century. It is now the biggest annual celebration and we owe the Victorians for many of the festive traditions we still uphold today.

Starting with the man himself, Father Christmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, normally dressed in green – thought to symbolise a sign of the returning Spring. The stories of St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas in Holland) came via Dutch settlers to America in the 17th century. From the 1870s, Sinter Klass became known in Britain as Santa Claus and with him came his unique gift and toy distribution system – reindeer and sleigh. (Source: www.historic-uk.com)

We also owe the pleasure of that colourful paper crown, tiny toy and joke that comes within the Christmas cracker, to British confectioner, Tom Smith, who in 1848 travelled to Paris and discovered bonbons. From this, he came up with the idea of a simple package filled with sweets that snapped when pulled apart. The sweets were replaced by small gifts and paper hats in the late Victorian period, and remain in this form as an essential part of a modern Christmas.

The roast turkey has its beginnings in Victorian Britain. Previously other roasted meat such as beef and goose were the centrepiece of the Christmas feast. Wealthier sections of the community added the turkey to the menu in the 19th century. It was deemed the perfect size for a middle class family gathering, and so became the dominant dish by the beginning of the 20th century. (Source: www.bbc.co.uk/history)

Come and experience the beginnings of Christmas in traditional Victorian style at Royal Armouries, Leeds. Christmas activities run from 1-23 December and Santa will visit every Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, visit our website.