Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

The Princes in the Tower…..or mid Devon

Today both the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail both have nearly identical stories about a theory - which I had encountered before - that the dethroned King Edward V was shunted off to live out his life as John Evans in the mid-Devon village of Coldridge.

The articles can be read at Exclusive: Richard III may not have killed young princes in the Tower of London, researchers say and at Richard III may have been INNOCENT of 'Princes in the Tower' murders Both have illustrations of the objects in the church that are taken to reinforce the argument. I will add that both articles do have one glaring mistake - it was not a descendant of the Princes who provided the mitrocondisl DNA to identify King Richard. The Princes have no known descendants: the DNA cams from their aunt Anne, Duchess of Exeter and Lady St Ledger.

As the articles point out this story, with “clues” left in the village church does seem very much on the lines of the Da Vinci Code and that seems appropriate. Will Coldridge become like the cult of Rennes le Chateau in the Pyrenees almost thirty years ago which was later exposed as an elaborate hoax? I am not saying this latest project is a hoax, but castles in the air or bricks without straw come to mind.

I would not be so crass as to say there is nothing in the story - it offers some intriguing possibilities - but I would be very hesitant indeed to accept it on the evidence that is presented.

There might be a hidden story about John Evans ( but not I think as the former King Edward V hidden in plain sight ) and if Coldridge was an estate of his older half-brother, Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, why should there not be Yorkist emblems in the church, or bought wholesale from a carver? Were there job-lots of such bosses going cheap after the events of 1483-5? And how were they painted? By 1511 they might be painted red or red and white in loyalty to the then reigning branch of the royal house.

There are not 41 deer on the ermine lining of the crown that has ended up over the figure described as King Edward V. What there are, of course, are 41 heraldic ermine tails. If 41 is a coincidence, well, that is what it may be.

People leaving coded references like that just don't work for me. Who was supposed to pick up the clue, and what were they to do about it?
Why are they only being read now, and by those presupposed to look for them?

A scrawled graffito of a name upside down means little - not on a reasonable quality effigy that would have cost good money. More than enough centuries and more than enough bored village lads could account for that. I am sure anyone defacing the effigy when it was new would have hit a clip round the ear rather than being part of a silent conspiracy to pass on The Truth.

Maybe there is some mystery about Evans’ identity. There seems to be no long standing legend as to his “real”identity. Might he have been delusional? There are not a few cases of people today who believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that they really are of royal birth, and no-one can tell them otherwise.

If the idea were true how did such a long subterfuge endure when we have knowledge of the well-known sagas of both Lambert Simnel  ( “Edward VI “ ) and Perkin Warbeck ( “Richard IV” ), not to mention who it really was, or was not, that was crowned in Dublin in 1487, the story of Richard Plantagenet the literate bricklayer of Eastwell in Kent as a putative illegitimate son of King Richard III, and the activities of the de la Pole brothers Edmund ( no title as such claimed ) and Richard ( another “Richard IV” ). Those last two could raise alarm signals and were a useful distraction for continental rulers to use in the early sixteenth century - rather like the Jacobite claimants in the early to mid-eighteenth century.

I saw a blog post recently ( I will not shame the writer by identifying her site ) that assured its readers that King Richard III collected all his neices and nephews for safety at Sheriff Hutton castle in August 1485 - King Edward IV’s daughters, George of Clarences’s two children snd, of course, the unmurdered “Princes in the Tower” ( though like their sisters they were no longer royal but illegitimate as far as their uncle was concerned ). Such a kind uncle.

On the basis of such “clues” in the church what about the pair of boys heads on a corbel  on the tower of Fulbeck church in Lincolnshire which are claimed to be the “Princes in the Tower”. Maybe they were sent there and a “clue” was left for us to find centuries later.

Are we to believe that King Richard IiI took such a risk. Legitimate or not, if alive, his brother’s teo sons were in many ways much more of a threat than Henry Earl of Richmond became once it appeared likely both here and abroad that young Edward and Richard were in fact dead i.e. in the autumn of 1483, thus vastly increasing Richmond’s standing as a credible rival to the throne. Saying that, by the way, is not to point the finger of guilt at his mother. Even if declared illegitimate the two boys could be, or it could be thought, might be successfully reinstated or, potentially, have their status rectified by Papal dispensation. A patently illegitimate son like Arthur, the future Viscount Lisle, was no threat. Two boys who had been publicly recognised as heir and spare since birth were a very different matter.  

There is a whole anthropology and sociology of missing heirs and imposters - the possible survival of King John I (vide Maurice Druon ). King Edward II ( sorry folks, no red hit poker - vide Ian Mortimer ) False Margaret and False Olaf in Norway and Denmark respectively ( vide Wikipedia), False Dimitri in Russia, the mystery around the deaths of Ling Wladislaus III of Poland-Hungary in 1444 and of King Sebastian of Portugal in 1578, and the various imposters who claimed to be him, not to mention his ever expected return. There is the tragic figure of King Louis XVIi, the quixotic death or disappearance of Emperor Alexander I anf his Empress Elizabeth in 1825, snd, of course, was Anna Anderson Anastasia - No she wasn’t any more than the Cuban lady who claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of King Carlos I of Portugal.

On the basis of this and other such pieces of creative interpretation - very different indeed from successfully identifying and unpacking King Richard III’s grave - I am afraid that too many enthusiasts for that monarch clutch at straws, and sometimes end up falling out amongst themselves as to who to blame ( except, of course, that paragon, the almost saintly Richard himself ). If not King Henry ViI, or his mother, or the Duke of Buckingham, or King Edward IV for either marrying bigamously, or dying inconveniently ( or both ), or Elizabeth Woodville for being, well, Elizabeth Woodville, or the Woodvilles as a family, or any number of lesser functionaries who took it upon themselves ( Tyrell, Brackenbury etc ) or Bishop Stillington for spilling the beans on the marriage to Eleanor Bottiler ( that of course was just after King Edward had his gay fling with her cousin .,,, yes, that is all part of the rich cornucopia of interconnected theories )

Maybe it will all turn out to be true with the one-time King Edward V happily park keeping in Devon snd his brother the erstwhile Duke of Norfolk working as a bricklayer in Colchester into the reign of their nephew King Henry VIiI. But something tells me it won’t

No comments: