I never told you who it was that Richard of York married, did I?
As we saw, he used the alias of Sir Henry Gylford…
and history tells us that around 1525, Sir Henry married Lady Mary Gylford…
Now she was not a newcomer to portraiture, as we saw. The name we knew her by was Elsbeth Binzenstuck, as hidden text in the paintings confirms, and she was previously married to Hans Holbein. He painted her a lot, too, and from quite an early age:
Some of you may have wondered why this list of portraits starts with number 4? That was because I chopped the first three off. And I chopped them off because some people were getting terribly upset about what Holbein was saying about the parentage of the Princes, and I didn’t want to provoke them even more. But that’s not fair to everyone else, is it? Especially since I just found another portrait of Richard of York. It’s known to art history as the Darmstadt Madonna, and he’s supposed to be the Burgermeister of Basel, but he’s not. And she’s not really the Madonna we all think her to be, either. Well, not that one, anyway. In fact you probably recognize her: it’s the recently married Lady ‘Mary’ Gylford…
and there she is with her new husband, his earlier wife (now deceased) and their kids.
But I still haven’t told you who she really was, have I? And I’m not going to. I’m just going to let you look at the rest of the portraits of her, and see if you can guess.
Yes, I know… absurd, preposterous, ridiculous, rubbish, hogwash… that’s what I thought too. But that’s what happens to us when we all live in a fairytale for five hundred years, when we believed everything we were told, and then meet the truth. It’s bizarre, surreal, incredible. So don’t believe me: believe your own eyes instead!
But of course, knowing even that doesn’t really tell you who she was, either, does it? Or why she was important enough to marry one of the Princes of the Tower?
Those who make a discovery that results in people having to rethink everything they believed had better watch out. We are simians, you see, part of the biological classification that includes apes and Old World monkeys, and simians tend to be very wary about others intruding from different troops. The alphas – of whatever simian troop we might be discussing, academic simians, for example – don’t like intruders at all. They bring trouble with them. Our intellectual experts build their reputations and prestige, their status and position in the pecking order, perhaps even their very reason for being, on an accepted way of doing things, on an acknowledged dogma. They are good at it, and they will defend it at any cost, just as the medieval church defended the theoretical foundation for its bounteous privileges against heretics of every hue. They will defend their territory and their dominance against anyone who looks like disrupting that precious order. So beware, intruder – upset them – and every dirty trick in the book will be thrown your way. They will wave the flag of academe at you, but the methods they will use will have nothing to do with the flag they wave.
For example… in 2012 it was discovered that many hundreds of old paintings were not what they seemed. They have another side to the one everyone had talked about for centuries – they are packed with hidden annotations identifying all the characters present in the image. We thought they were from the Bible or Greek myth, but in fact they were people the artists knew. The painting is also an allegory, telling tales of rape, theft, murder, piracy, slavery, illicit love, you name it, it is there. And the artists painting these scenes were all related, and all deeply mired in the vendettas of the day. They were there in the courts of Kings and Popes not just to paint, but also to spy, and on occasion to assassinate an enemy. The mercury, lead and arsenic paints they used were the perfect weapon, and to carry out their objectives, they used aliases, often a different one for every city they had cause to visit. They faked their parentage and even the deaths of their avatars as opportunity and threat demanded, and the notaries among their relatives did the paperwork.
The tales that our artists tell reveal that almost nothing we thought we knew about the Renaissance was true: for five hundred years we have believed the cover stories the rich and powerful put out to manipulate public opinion. We have been living in a fairy tale. The truth, then, as it emerges, seems utterly surreal, incredible, bizarre. But the evidence is there, and it doesn’t always take a trained eye to see. Most ordinary people I have pointed it out to not only saw it within the first minute, but immediately then started to see further hidden material as well, often annotations and sketches that I had missed. But don’t expect this new evidence to carry any weight with the academic alphas that own the old story, the story on which they based their own sense of importance. In this struggle, academic standards are about to be tossed from their windows.
One whiff of being non-troop is enough. For example, I presented two paintings by Holbein of men in their fifties, who (the artist clandestinely reveals in the paintings) are the long lost Princes in the Tower, and he provides also the aliases under which they were living. So far so good. The academics I was talking to (enthusiasts of Richard III) wanted to believe that their hero had not murdered them. There was no real opposition, a little grumbling and grunting, but no shrieks of rage: the paintings confirmed what they wanted to believe.
But then I went on to say that Holbein also named the boys’ father, and it was not at all who they expected. History knows the boys as the sons of Yorkist Edward IV, but Holbein says the father was really the Lancastrian King Henry VI, Edward’s most bitter rival. The two fought over the throne of England for decades. One possible explanation for Holbein’s revelation is that Edward’s wife, a Lancastrian, married Yorkist Edward not for glory as a Queen, but to spy on him and to help her cousin Henry to get the throne back. And since that meant having children – an heir apparent was an essential part of the deal – she had to find a way for those children to be Henry’s rather than Edward’s.
If true (and Holbein might well know, considering that he knew both Princes very well, one of them having even married his ex-wife), then the whole history of the period would have to be rethought. It would blow a hole a mile wide in everything the alpha simians and their troop had thought up to then. Paintings of the time, it was claimed, presented an invaluable new historical resource. They offered a possible breakthrough in being able to understand the period. One might expect a dedicated scholar to say ‘If that’s true, it’s really important, because xyz… let’s look at the evidence!’, and then as the full significance sank in, to add ‘and if it’s confirmed, then what else might this source tell us?!’ But no. What happened instead was a cacophony of whooping, screeching and hooting… Let me quote, because as a scientist I recorded it all: ‘nonsense!’, ‘preposterous!’, ‘pure hogwash!’, ‘far-fetched!, ‘rubbish!’, ‘ludicrous!’, and that immortal expression, so demeaning to an essential part of the human body, ‘what a load of bollocks!’. Did they look at the evidence? No. They didn’t need to. It defied and undermined the existing creed, threatened their whole way of doing things, and worst of all sent shudders through the whole social order… and for that reason alone it must be wrong. They used the same reasoning the Pope used for not looking through Galileo’s telescope: dogma forbade it from being true.
When I asked them – rather than spouting abuse – to look at the evidence that was being presented, they were furious at the impertinence. ‘You are better suited to historical fantasy!’ they said; ‘another conspiracy theory by someone who’s read too much Dan Brown!’; ‘you should focus on writing fiction, as it seems you already have!’, ‘I would be embarrassed to use it as the plot for a novel, let alone suggest it as actual history!’. That’s the best way to examine such evidence. If it’s from an interloper that defies one’s tiny vision of reality, then don’t look at it, ridicule it. Much safer.
But when I still insisted they look at the evidence, the last vestige of academic standards were thrown aside in favour of a sturdier primate weapon. Warn the troop that this interloper is from the enemy camp, that is to say, kill the message with false connotations. Associate him with something of low status, something despised in another rival tribe, something few in the troop would want to be linked to. Knowing full well the new discoveries had nothing whatsoever to do with aliens or flying saucers they threw these dishonest comparisons at the intruder: ‘It’s similar to the Aliens TV show on the History Channel’; they cried, or ‘much like the UFOs in several Renaissance paintings, like the ‘Madonna and Child with the Infant St John’. One even hooted ‘let’s add extraterrestrials, UFOs and time traveling to make these arguments even more ludicrous!’. What an intellectual powerhouse, what an example to our centuries long academic traditions! His university would be so proud!
Anyway, as it became apparent that laughing it away would not work, and that they would actually have to address the evidence itself, new strategies began to emerge. Again they refused to look at the evidence, instead bringing stereotypes to the party, with which they wanted to prove that Holbein’s claims were logically impossible. ‘It could not be true that Edward’s wife had sex with his rival Henry’, one grunted, ‘because she was a noble lady’… She was noble, noble ladies don’t do such things, so it couldn’t have happened. Alphas stick together when something threatens them all, you see, and so another added. ‘I think you need to study the period and people before impugning any more reputations of 15th century noblewomen’. Stereotypes were brandished again in arguing that Henry VI would never have had sex with Edward’s wife because ‘The one attribute of Henry VI’s about which all writers (regardless of their pro-Lancastrian or pro-Yorkist leaning) agree is the king’s sincere piety, which bordered on saintly. To cast him as an adulterer is ludicrous in the extreme’. Better to be called ludicrous in the extreme than to be naïve in the extreme, no?
Next it was seriously argued that the lack of privacy in court meant that neither adultery nor any other conspiracy could have taken place without being found out, and so it couldn’t have happened. ‘Impossible, evidence is rubbish, end of story’. So were they saying that the Queen could not disrobe without being observed? Could not fart without everyone hearing? Obviously in all palaces, there were areas of appropriate levels of privacy where personal hygiene and personal discussions could be engaged in without being observed or overheard. And these same private areas could then be used for other private purposes also. Conspiracies and adulteries happened, and were got away with.
So then, when it had become hard to argue that there was no hidden text, there was a lot of chuntering that it wasn’t worth looking at the texts, because they were coming from mere ignorant, base-born artists. These historians clearly regarded artists as outsiders, members of another much inferior troop of simians. ‘How on earth could a stranger know something about Elizabeth Woodville and her children that her husband was ignorant of?’; ‘You are suggesting that a gaggle of painters were allowed to know this secret – and yet it didn’t make it into the official records?’ (‘Gaggle of geese’, ‘gaggle of painters’ – deprecation is so much easier than looking at new facts!); and then ‘Every Tom, Dick and Holbein knew, but not the King?
And so I explained that this family of artists was not like the average artist of today. They were deeply involved in court life: Jan van Eyck arranged the marriage of the Duke of Burgundy; Leonardo attended and advised at the meeting of the King of France and the Pope to try to end the war between them; Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Ghirlandaio ate at the same table, and slept in the same room as Lorenzo the Magnificent of Florence. And there was solid evidence that Holbein was not only close friends with Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, but that he had been close to Leonardo, too, having studied with him, and been much loved by him, while using the alias ‘Salai’. It was there he learned the technique of drawing anamorphic forms like the famous skull in the Ambassadors.
But they didn’t ask how an artist could know such things because they wanted to know. They didn’t want to know. They asked because the very idea of a low caste creature from another troop knowing so much was shocking to them. So their query was a rhetorical question, derisive rather than imbued with a spirit of academic inquiry. ‘There’s no reason–indeed, no possibility–that if such a fraud were perpetrated that this information would for any reason be revealed to a court painter’ (note that privacy had been allowed back for a fleeting appearance!); ‘It reminds me a bit of modern subway graffiti. Of course, it may just be that the New York subways contain secret messages about the birth of various British royals as well.’ And so the wildest of ethnocentric metaphors followed hard on the heels of deceitful connotations. The academic ideal had taken off its mask.
It was in retreat, though, and when it became impossible to still deny that artists might know things, being so well connected, and living sometimes for years in the very courts in which they said there was no secrecy… our simian primes had to find a reason for why artists – even if they knew – could not have put it in a painting. Even though they did, and even though anyone one who open-mindedly looks can see at least some of it. Reasons as to why something cannot happen are not hard to find. They have an entire armoury of them hidden away in the trees… ‘Jupiter cannot have moons because the Earth is the centre of the universe and everything revolves around us’; ‘The earth is obviously flat because if it weren’t people would fall off’; ‘Heavier than air flight is impossible, by definition’; and so on. And so we were then treated to: ‘There is no reason that a court painter who accidentally discovered this information would take the chance of putting any hint of it in his paintings–it would be treasonous slander, and more than his life was worth.’ But they did it anyway, so the question is why?
Finally, I produced and published a video actually showing the letters emerge one by one from the background, and spelling out the name of Edward V as he posed for Holbein while in his fifties. This finally forced some of the more vociferous of the troop to actually address the hidden text, and what happened next was significant. I picked some particularly clear examples of hidden text, and started by pointing out the veritable cascade of ’78’s provided in a portrait of Henry VI’s, telling of his death. Look in any history book and we will find the date 1471, seven years earlier, because that is when Edward had no further use for the poor Henry he had locked up in the Tower of London, and had him murdered. Clearly, if he really died in 1478, then the body shown in the funeral could not have been his, and so we have to consider the possibility that the ‘Henry’ that Edward IV had captured and imprisoned in the Tower six years before, was a fake, an imposter, a fall guy set up by the Lancastrians to take the heat off the real King Henry…
It was then that obscurantism made its debut: they saw the ‘78’s but… ‘The secret 78 could have been the year he painted it, or he simply liked that number; who knows!’ No. The ’78’ was preceded by the word ‘morto’… ‘dead. And dates of paintings appeared bottom right, or on the back of hands, not on the cheek of the dead person.
And when I pointed out that a character in a famous painting (actually the son of Edward V) was making a rude crooked finger gesture, an insult well known in its day, and that he was doing it to the letters ‘R3’ engraved in the door frame, I got the response: ‘The guy might just have a broken finger’. Yes, dear.
Then for the diehards who said they really had looked at the images but still could not see the letters, I posted a picture of a lady ministering to the dead Christ with ‘ARTE’ written boldly, clearly, brazenly on her upper sleeve. One lady expert, who had clearly seen the word wrote back: ‘The only one of your examples that even looks anything like what you are trying to show is the “ARTE”, which is pretty obviously to me just a matter of somebody seeing what they want to see in the painter’s rendition of the folds or pleats of the woman’s sleeve. (I also have no clue what “ARTE” would be meant to refer to.)’ She saw it, said it wasn’t there, and said she had no idea what it meant. Sigh. It had lots of meaning, though, even the clue she lacked was the last thing she perhaps wanted to hear. The artist identified the dead Christ as Leonardo, and two of the maidens assisting him as ‘ART’ (in Italian of course) and the other as ‘SCULPTURE’ (much harder to see, but there). That is to say, ‘art’ and ‘sculpture’ themselves were lamenting the loss of da Vinci.
There had been a parting of the ways. Many saw the letters, but could not accept the implications. The internal conflict was surprisingly easy to resolve, though: Academic ideals? Be dispassionate, listen to the whole case, look at the evidence? ‘No, that is for others. Just as Henry VI was pious to the point of being saintly, and Edward’s wife noblewomanly chaste, so too we are academics. We are espoused to the idea, we don’t need to practice it.’
So, moving on from the claim that the artists could not know, they then accepted they might know, but they wouldn’t dare to put it in the painting. And when they finally accepted they had put it in the painting, they saved the sacred dogma again by saying the artist was lying: ‘Holbein was hardly innocent of painting false pictures – apparently his painting of Anne of Cleves was far from the mark’. Quite why someone would risk life and limb to tell a deliberate lie that no one would believe they saw was not explained,
Others preferred to stick with obscurantism: some were prepared to abandon the ‘no privacy’ argument by saying ‘We can really have no idea about the internal politics that went on behind closed doors, we can only surmise and that leads us to all the theories that abound’. Others preferred just to hide in the bushes: ‘This isn’t the first time art has been used to try to prove something ‘; ‘We will never know the real truth…’. ‘Any interpretation is subjective, and the so called ‘secrets’ can mean any damn thing you want it to!’; ‘All very well to say this is based on a painting and what the artist believed….but how would you even know that??’. Well, because the artist said so, and I read it. Why don’t you go read it too?
One even took it further, and having seen the evidence, then developed his own conspiracy theory. He refused to believe the artist had put it there: ‘your request for a painting of her husband was a smart move, but I don’t bite your bait. That’s an attempt by you in order to receive such painting if it exists and then put the patterns you so desperately want into the painting (yes, I’m implying forgery).’ Forgery ?! All one needs do is look at the original paintings – and anyone can see they are identical to the ones I was presenting. And that was because the messages were not from me, but from the artist. (The writ for libel will not be from the artist, though.)
Others preferred to stick with denial that the evidence existed, but not actually say so. Instead they tried to trump the evidence with ‘authority’. And they did that in two ways: first, if they perceived themselves as lower in the chain of troop dominance, by demanding to know which ‘expert’ had authenticated it, as if one needed (rather than using one’s own eyes), to have an expert tell one, yes, that does say ‘gentlemen’ or ‘ladies’, before entering a toilet to relieve oneself. And they went on: ‘you are using evidence that has not been authenticated’; and ‘may you show us your sources about the letters and documents by professional historians where your theory appears?’; or ‘publish your ideas in peer-reviewed journals of history and art history, and see what our esteemed colleagues will say about this.’ Galileo, go get the Pope to authenticate that the Earth is not the centre of the Universe, and that Jupiter really has moons…’ I think not, thank you, I have no peers there, as you know: I am an intruder. I come from bioaesthetics and the science of camouflage, in particular – the manipulation of human attention.
Those who saw themselves as at the top of the troop hierarchy preferred to simply tell me I should bow before them and shut up: ‘Some of us have spent a lifetime studying this, so why don’t you go back to your own area of expertise?’. Same thinking that suggested Giotto go back to minding sheep, Darwin go back to stuffing animals, and Einstein go back to being a patent clerk. The one that raised even my eyebrows though, the one that revealed the darkest simian flair, burst out with: ‘As I am a Portuguese – don’t mess with Portuguese History as I will crush you’.
Others still decided to escalate the assault by claiming I was ‘possessed by demons’, except that is not so chic today to say that, and instead of mentioning demons, they used the 21st C version of the same thing: mental illness: ‘I am just glad that I don’t see hidden number codes in each and every motet I deal with. If I start to, it’s time for a therapy’; or ‘I think the problem is in your head instead of being in History’; or ‘…making such idiotic claims without any base except your delusional visions’. In short… if one is an alpha simian whose status is in peril, and if one can’t defeat the evidence, then all one needs do is imply the bearer of the evidence is beyond the pale of intellectual credibility.
Oh, if only blind rhetoric were informed reason, what geniuses these learned experts would be! But there was one last weapon in the simian armoury that had not been used. In just one group, when flaming at the stake had clearly failed, the ultimate means of preserving one’s imperiled dogma slunk from its lair: excommunication. ‘I call for the administrators to expel you from this group and delete this thread‘. The Middle Ages are alive and well, and living under the mortar boards of academic pretence.
Despite all the posturing, though, all the dominance displays, all the whooping and screeching, the evidence is still there. It will not go away. For every simian troop leader who gibbered and hooted, beat his or her breast, shook the leaves of their tree, or bared their teeth in indignant fury, there were twenty free-thinking individuals that found the idea intriguing, and who resolved to go look for themselves to see what this simian intruder was on about. The genie was out of the bottle.
There were three things that worried me about the alternative theory emerging from analysis of portraits of key characters of the time and their parentage.
1. How could the children born while Henry was in the Tower be his?
The first problem was how it was possible for Elizabeth Woodville to bear Henry’s children, especially while he was in the Tower, without Edward realizing and putting a stop to it – and to her? If she and Edward were not having sex, then he would know her children were illegitimate. On the other hand, if they were having sex, as was rightly pointed out, then there was no way anyone could afterwards say for sure her children were Henry’s. It seemed to be a showstopper.
Two alternative explanations emerge, though. It has been known for countless generations that if one chooses the right part of the natural monthly cycle, then pregnancy could be avoided. Elizabeth might have used this to ensure she only bore Henry’s children, without necessarily arousing Edward’s suspicions. Is the system infallible, though? No, it’s not, and no one could have been sure the three children she bore while Henry was in the Tower were his rather than Edward’s. Based on this it still looks as if saying Henry was the father was just scandal that had fooled the artist.
There is another explanation, though. And that is that the person seized in Clitheroe and taken to the Tower, although he resembled Henry VI, was not in fact him. A surrogate could have been planted by the Lancastrians to take the heat off the real Henry, and at the same time to facilitate his access to the Queen. If the Yorkists thought they had the real thing in the Tower, the true Henry, living under an alias, would have had easier access to the Queen. Or if it was not a trick by the Lancastrians, it could have been a ploy by the Yorkists to undermine Lancastrian morale. ‘Look! We have your King!’ Better still, it might force them to try to prove Henry was still at liberty, and by showing him, to reveal where he was.
Either way, why would the Yorkists keep either the real Henry (or his impersonator) in the Tower for five years rather than killing him, and why then kill him in 1471? A very good reason was not slow in coming forth (thanks Cyndi!). Until the Battle of Tewkesbury, Henry’s only legitimate son, Edward of Westminster, was free and organizing resistance against King Edward. If Henry (real or imposter) were seen to have been slain, then Edward of Westminster would have become the heir, and he was free and outside their control. He would have been much more dangerous. And that is also why, as soon as Edward of Westminster, Henry’s son, was slain, Henry VI (or his imposter) immediately followed him to the grave.
This fake ‘Henry’ would have been known to many who had seen him in the Tower, and once dead, Edward IV could safely risk showing the face of the dead ‘Henry’ on the funeral bier. So the more likely explanation, I think, if most of Edward’s children were in fact Henry’s, was that the Henry of the Tower, the Henry paraded through the streets by Warwick on his way to his ‘restoration’, was an imposter. If Henry were still alive, though, why would his wife Margaret of Anjou not have continued the struggle after being ransomed by Louis XI in 1475? If all this is true, then she either believed Henry was already dead – or she knew he was permanently incapacitated by mental illness, and no longer fit to lead.
2. Why would Lancastrian Elizabeth have married Edward, anyway?
My second concern was about Elizabeth – why would she choose to marry Edward and then have to avoid having his children? Expert opinion was that it was surely easier for her to have not married him in the first place? But the principal reason for the marriage was not for her to be Queen. Would she have wanted to be a Lancastrian Queen? Yes, of course, but would a Plantagenet want to be a Yorkist one? That’s not obvious to me. Far more likely that she was to be the Lancastrians’ key link in the Palace, feeding back information on Edward’s plans to Henry VI. What more perfect spy could there have been? Children would have been necessary for her to sustain that role, and better they be Henry’s than Edward’s. The story hangs together.
3. Privacy? Was it possible for a Queen to do this and it to not be known?
The third worry was the issue of how Elizabeth could have had occasional meetings with Henry without it becoming common knowledge at court, with all the dire consequences that would bring? The fact is that courts did not find out all that monarchs got up to, and the more astute the player, the better they got away with it. One of the ploys much used at the time (among merchants and artists at least), was to have a number of avatars. A different alias for each major and potentially contradictory role in life. Leonardo traveled on some of the great navigations of his time. He was not one to miss out on the greatest adventure of his age. But he did it under other names, and to this day people bought it. Jan van Eyck, when he needed to engage in a major diplomatic venture in Naples, pretended to die in Bruges, and reappeared in Naples as ‘Colantonio’. Madame de Pompadour, when she wanted to sneak into town from the Palace to consult a fortune teller, did it in disguise. So perhaps Elizabeth had concocted an alias… as one of her lady attendants, even, and used that. For a crafty Queen, much was possible.
The bottom line for me is that the artists’ tale is a viable (if extraordinary) alternative story, and part of it we can be reasonably sure about: that the two Princes did survive the Tower, and that Holbein painted them 44 years later. But who was their father? Is that part of the story true? Was this just a lie concocted by the Tudors? And if so why, because it didn’t help justify killing Richard III, or building their myth of the saintly Henry VI? And should we believe this propaganda was then naively swallowed by the very astute and well connected Holbein, and the other artists who depicted Edward IV’s children? Inexplicable Tudor propaganda or was this remarkable tale true? How to know?
We have a new and important historical resource available to us now, and for those who have looked at it with an open mind, there should be little doubt that there is far more lurking beneath its varnish for us to discover! That is where the answer most likely lies.
Many feel that Henry VI was a pious man, and that to imagine him having an affair, and a series of children with his most bitter rival’s wife is ridiculous, scandalous even. Henry VI certainly seems in many ways to have been a good man. My heart warms strongly to anyone in those days, who would recoil on seeing a quarter of someone who had been horribly punished for some real or imagined crime, and then denounce it. We are told that he declared he never wanted such a thing ever done again in his name.
I have no reason to believe that he was not pious. None. But he was also a King, and had to do what Kings had to do to maintain their line. Whatever feelings he may have developed for Elizabeth, I don’t think his main reason in bedding her was mere pleasure. As we will see, he had something more desperately vital for his family in mind than that. Furthermore, he is known also to have commented on the strong desires that a bare neck might inspire, and he was human. Being pious does not mean that we always do what we should. The world is full of people who vociferously exhort us to morality, and even those who really try to practice what they preach in public, while failing dismally in private.
Another well founded worry was whether Henry VI was sane enough to make so many babies with Elizabeth Woodville. He did on occasion have serious problems, poor guy. The mental disturbances are recorded, though, as having happened primarily from August 1453 to 1461, that is to say, while he was still King, and before Edward and Elizabeth married. So yes, from the point of view of his sanity, it was possible that Elizabeth carried out her duty to the Lancastrian cause by ensuring the first born – Elizabeth of York – was a Lancastrian, not a Yorkist. There were then more babies made while he was in the Tower, and yet more after he was recorded as having ‘died’. There’s no evidence I know of that he was mentally incapacitated during this period.
And physically? Was contact possible? As Queen in a realm of many disenchanted Lancastrians it would have been far from impossible… all it needed was a visit once or twice a year, and with such limitations on affection, Henry could certainly be forgiven for enjoying a hug, and a kiss and whatever that led to. But we are missing an important factor in Elizabeth’s motivation. There was more to it than trying to get a Lancastrian back on the throne, or to spite Edward for his other women. What if she believed that Edward was not only a philanderer, but also illegitimate, and not the son of a Plantagenet? What would she have felt then about bearing his babies?
Edward IV is recorded in our history books as the son of Richard of York (1411-1460), and his wife Cecily Neville (1415-1495), along with six other siblings. Their first is said to have been Anne, Duchess of Exeter, born in 1439. She would have been conceived around 10 November 1438. At this time Richard was away, having been appointed Lieutenant of France.
Cecily was perhaps with him in France, but seemingly not at the time of Anne’s conception, because the only image I could find referring to her – a brass plate in Windsor – says she was a bastard. Things have not started well.
Maybe they finish better, I thought, and so headed for the other end of the progeny, to their last child, King Richard III. I won’t spoil it, just let you read what it says:
If Richard was the real thing, then what of George Duke of Clarence, the next youngest?
Seems Cecily was behaving herself… it says that his dad, too, was Richard of York.
What then of the next youngest, Margaret of York, married to Charles the Bold of Burgundy? In the conventional place for the dad’s name, on the cheek, it says ‘Richard’, but with a question mark, and elsewhere, seemingly with no ‘?’…it says she was the bastard of Edmund Beaufort.
The painting is unattributed, but actually if we lighten the darkness of the backdrop we can read that the painter was ‘Fouquet’, the leading court painter of the French court. He sarcastically painted a ‘B’ on her head dress, which everyone would assume meant ‘Burgundy’, but again if one lightens the darkness there, it actually says ‘Beaufort’. How rude! But who was Beaufort?
Richard of York had again been Lieutenant of France from 1440 to 1445, and his replacement, the new Lieutenant was called Edmund Beaufort. He handed over power and left for England on 20 October that year. Not soon enough, though, because it seems Edmund had already made his wife, Cecily, pregnant. Margaret was conceived around 3 August 1445.
What then of Edward himself? There was a rumour that he was the son of a bowman in Rouen (by the name of Blaybourne), and that Cecily had a fling with him while her husband Richard was away fighting. Apparently he was away from Rouen on the Pontoise campaign from 14th July to the 21st August 1441, while Edward was conceived around the 28th July that year. Sharon Connolly, though, reports that she translated an article from the French records, suggesting that there was a lull in the fighting, and Richard returned to Rouen around August 1st for ten days. If so, when he returned was there a moment of passion that resulted in Edward IV, or did he really return because he heard about Blaybourne?
British government archives have the following to add: “There is evidence that by 1469 Cecily had declared Edward to be illegitimate and, with Warwick, was pushing for the crown to pass to her second [surviving] son, George, Duke of Clarence. (See M.K. Jones, Bosworth: Psychology of a Battle (Stroud, 2002), 73-78.) This development permanently damaged her relationship with Edward, so from 1471 until after his death in April 1483 she avoided the royal court and concentrated on her private interests.” (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/citizenship/citizen_subject/neville.htm).So what did the painter of Edward’s portrait think? I guess we shouldn’t delay any longer in taking a look…
Alas for his supporters, it says he was the son not of Richard of York, but the bastard of (if I read it right) a ‘flettiero’. I’m not sure what that medieval Italian word means, but roughly, ‘a bender’. Could it be slang for a bowman? Or the ancient form, or dialect of the word ‘frecciero’, one who makes arrows? I don’t know, but I rather think I see the word ‘arciere’ (archer) on one of his buttons. The bad news is that it says who killed him, too. Quite possibly not true, but seemingly what the artist thought – he says ‘assassinato per RIII’.
So if Edward was the son of a bowman, then it seems pretty sure that Henry VI would have known, and as capo of the Lancastrian clan, he would certainly have told Elizabeth Woodville. Why? Because she was his cousin, and a Lancastrian, and because she alone could save the Plantagenet line. If she gave Edward babies, the deception could be continued forever… the fact was that Edward did not have the royal blood that most everyone thought. To save the dynasty, she had to do it with Henry, not Edward.
Puts her in a new light, no?! Not promiscuous. Not of deplorable morals. From her point of view someone who knew she was key to continuing the Lancastrian line, and preventing the continuation of the line of an illegitimate usurper.
But wait, even if we accept all this, isn’t it crazy to suggest that Henry VI didn’t die in 1471? According to reports, he was paraded through the streets to St Paul’s and he then lay with his face uncovered before being buried. If it wasn’t him, people would have known, no? In fact, most would not – he lasted only six months after being restored, and those who didn’t see him close up then would be remembering him as he was ten years before, when he first lost the throne. Further, when his remains were examined back in 1910, investigators reported that he had died of a fractured skull. But it was no simple fracture: they said the bones of his head were ‘unfortunately much broken’, and that there was dark material matted in his hair that was thought to be blood. It is sadly the case that people who have died of severe head injuries may not be recognizable even to family, so displaying his face could have been a safe bluff.
I understand people’s concerns about this radical new version of history, understand it well. I too was amazed at what I saw, and what I am expressing here is not my opinion – I have an open mind about it, most of it, anyway. What we see here is the opinion of the various artists – it is what they honestly believed, and what they were sharing with God: I don’t think they would have thought for one moment that anyone else would ever read what they wrote, except Him. But what they believed could have been wrong. The question is – was what we have believed up to now all just a cover story that we were fooled into believing – or is the tale that we saw emerging here someone else’s cover story that the artist was fooled into believing?
Much has been made of Tudor elimination of the last of the Plantagenets, but there seems to be a major misunderstanding here. The key lies in the extraordinary discovery that they were not the sons of Edward IV: contrary to all expectation they were fathered by his great rival Henry VI. It seems that the Lancastrian Elizabeth Woodville met up with Henry shortly after her marriage to Edward, and then repeatedly while Henry was in the Tower. Then, seeing the end for him was imminent, in 1471 she arranged his escape. The clandestine relationship continued until Henry died for real, according to his portrait, in 1478. And so Elizabeth of York and the two princes were Lancastrians, not Yorkists. They were safe… Henry VII did not lock up or kill Lancastrian Plantagenets.
The only Plantagenet that Henry did put in the Tower was a Yorkist: Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. He was the son of the Duke of Clarence, who was the brother of both King Edward IV – and of Richard III, who Henry defeated on Bosworth Field. Edward of Warwick was the perfect replacement for Richard III. Henry lived with this for a while, keeping him under lock and key, but to test him out, he put him together with the rebel Perkin Warbeck. The two seemed to really hit it off, and so – seeing the writing on the wall – Henry chopped Edward of Warwick’s head off. But he was the only one. There was another senior Yorkist Plantagenet he did not touch: Margaret Pole, who again was fathered by the Duke of Clarence. She only fell foul of the Tudors decades later, in 1538, when her son Reginald denounced Henry VIII for the dissolution of the monasteries, and helped build an armed insurrection against him. Margaret was probably innocent of supporting Reginald, but that did not save her, and she too was then decapitated.
There was just one other important Yorkist who was left alone: Bridget of York, the last daughter of Elizabeth Woodville, born in November 1480, long after Henry VI had died for real.
Her image (although I only have an abysmally tiny version of it) suggests she was truly Edward IV’s child, and Bridget saved her skin by remaining a nun, and staying in seclusion. What, though of the other children accredited to Edward IV? The likenesses we have of three more of Edward IV’s five surviving daughters all suggest they were the children of Henry VI, that is to say – like the two Princes, they were all Lancastrians.
First, there was Cecily (conceived around 20 June 1468):
then Anne (conceived around 2 February 1474):
and third, Catherine (conceived around 14 November 1478):
So what was Henry Tudor’s reaction to this large brood of surreptitious Lancastrians? There was Henry’s wife, of course, Elizabeth of York, who he married, and who remained privileged, respected and loved by him. And then there was Cecily, who was the reserve bride, should something happen to Elizabeth, and then her two sisters Anne, and Catherine, and all of them lived as valued and privileged members of Henry’s court. He didn’t put any of them in the Tower, and chopped not of their heads off.
Superficially at least, even in public Henry was not averse to Lancastrian Plantagenets: indeed, he made it clear how much he admired his predecessor, the Lancastrian Henry VI. He praised his piety; had a volume compiled in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, of his alleged miracles; and he started building a chapel for his relics in Westminster Abbey, a shrine that became a very popular destination for pilgrims. All of this was with Henry’s blessing and encouragement.
But why take such a risk? Surely the brood could have conspired to get the throne back from him? There were various reasons Henry Tudor didn’t worry too much about that. First, he had all his potential rivals under one roof, and if one misbehaved, he could eliminate the lot at a stroke. In the meantime, they lived lives of great privilege. There was every reason for them not to rock the boat, and for Henry not to further upset the Lancastrians.
So now we have to ask, if Henry VII had no problem with four Plantagenet Princesses in his court, then why would he kill their two brothers if they were there too? It was not Lancastrians he had a problem with, it was the Yorkists. And the reason was simple to see. Edward V and his siblings could not claim to be Henry’s children and thus rightful heirs, without admitting they were illegitimate, and thus… not rightful heirs. As Lancastrians they were no threat to Henry, at least for the time being.
But weren’t the two Princes a threat to him as Yorkist claimants to the throne? Yes, but with a big caveat. They could pretend to be Edward IV’s real children, but to overthrow Henry Tudor they would need a power base outside England. Only abroad could they raise an army powerful enough to oust the Tudors, and the only nearby power bases were Burgundy and France. France, though, was resolutely Lancastrian: Louis XI was close family to Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Edward VI, so that left only Burgundy.
Burgundy was the traditional Yorkist ally. Indeed, Charles the Bold of Burgundy had married Edward IV’s sister, so he was Yorkist through and through – alas, though, he had died in 1477. His daughter Mary, who took over from him, was from a former marriage to a Bourbon. And even the continuing influence of Charles the Bold’s widow was soon balanced by another and far more powerful force: Mary married the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian. And Maximilian? Where did he stand in the Yorkist/Lancastrian divide?
In 1493 Maximilian resolved his differences with France, and no longer had any reason to need the Yorkists. After Bosworth they seemed a lost cause, and offered only a disruption to the peace he had painfully established with his powerful neighbour. Louis XI couldn’t abide Yorkists. The Yorkist power base in Flanders and Burgundy was also gone. As Yorkists, Edward V and his siblings could do nothing. There was no force around capable of unseating the Tudors for them.
Henry saw also that a monarchy whose key claim to fame was the unification of the nation, of bringing together Yorkists and Lancastrians under a single leadership, there was every reason to seem to favour the children everyone thought had been fathered by Edward IV. The two Princes were best under his direct supervision, but obviously using false names so as not to attract supporters. There was no reason to kill them, to blow his image as unifier of the nation, or even worse, turn his wife into an implacable enemy by killing her brothers.
And this truce between the Tudors and the Lancastrian Plantagenets was to last until the 1530s. For a while it grew even stronger: in 1509 Henry VIII married into the family of the Holy Roman Emperor, the Hapsburg Maximilian. He wed Catherine of Aragon, sister-in-law of Maximilian’s son, Philip the Handsome. So long as Catherine of Aragon was Henry’s wife, then, Spain, Burgundy and the Low Countries were going to be pro-Henry, and even as pretend-Yorkists, the two Princes had ever diminishing chance of leverage from abroad. Once Catherine of Aragon was gone, though, replaced by Anne Boleyn, the deal was off. Henry had made the Hapsburgs, now led by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, his foes, and the two Plantagenet Princes in his court would be sought as allies against him.
For that reason, I think, one Prince died in 1532, and the other in 1534. For the first time in their lives they had a massive power base abroad, and they were a real peril for the Tudor dynasty. Henry could not dispose of them openly for fear of the stories that would come out: a little bit of arsenic would do the job far better.
Charles V, though, while all this was happening, knew exactly what was going in Henry’s court. From 1526 on, paintings of the time reveal, he had his own man in there, secretly liaising, influencing, manipulating and reporting back. His agent was Hans Holbein, and he could be trusted for three very good reasons. First, unbeknown to the rest of the world, Hans was not at all who everyone thought he was: he was Charles’ natural cousin. (That is another story, though, one of the great plots of the 1490s, and I will come to that in another post.) The second reason that Hans could be trusted was because in 1524 or 1525, Prince Richard of York (under his alias Sir Henry Gylford), had married Lady Mary Wotton.
What’s more, Mary Wotton, as her portrait reveals, both in likeness and name, was in reality Hans’ former wife, Elsbeth Binzenstuck.
We know Elsbeth far better under another name, one that – even knowing all I had learned over the past three years – stretched even my credulity to breaking point. But I will come to that. You may even have figured out who she is yourself!
Hans and Elsbeth had separated because of serious misconduct on Hans part. He ran short of cash, and entered into a bigamous marriage with a lady of rich parentage and with a very large dowry. He married under an earlier Italian alias, and in 1524 feigned death. He put it about that there had been a duel, and he had died from an injury from a crossbow bolt. No point in chasing a corpse for the dowry, then, so the family gave up, and Hans made off with the cash to Northern Europe, unsuspected, and from then on used only the name of Holbein. Elsbeth was understandably upset, and she dumped him, only to be snapped up by Prince Richard of York. After a while Hans and Elsbeth became reconciled, though, and – it seems – had another four or five children together. The bottom line, though, was that the younger Yorkist Prince had married Hans former wife and the mother of his children, and so Hans and Richard were linked, albeit uncomfortably, as family.
And the third reason? Well, the fact is that Hans swung both ways, and the great love of his life from 1509 on was based in the Holy Roman Emperor’s court. The young man was the lover of Margaret (Regent of the Netherlands and auntie to Charles V), and in 1526, perhaps partly as a cover, he married the (until now) unknown daughter of Erasmus. Erasmus in turn was a close friend of Sir Thomas More, and the one who introduced Hans into More’s circle of friends. He opened the English door for him, and he made good use of it. Meanwhile, Hans’ idol also spent time in the court of Henry VIII. Indeed, in 1526 he even painted his portrait.
There is a little further to go in this story, though, because I haven’t told you why Elizabeth Woodville slept with Henry VI…
The fact is, her husband was not fathered by a Plantagenet.
[To be continued…]
In earlier posts we saw that Holbein painted both our two Princes in 1527/8, aged in their fifties. They didn’t die in the Tower, they fled to Belgium and assumed new identities, returning in the fullness of time and joining the court of Henry VIII, or perhaps that of his father before him. Edward was using the names of ‘Sir Edward Gylford’, and ‘Sir Thomas Godsalve’. Richard of York was using the name ‘Sir Henry Gylford’.
But our story is about to take a bizarre twist. Do you remember the collar that Sir Henry was wearing? His Order of the Garter was adorned not with the Tudor Rose, nor even the Yorkist one. It was adorned with the Lancastrian rose. It was most perplexing. That apart, I was already concerned about something else. A good friend of mine at Bridgeman Art Library had sent me the image of Elizabeth Woodville, remarking on her resemblance to the Gylfords – there was something about the mouth, chin and eyes that suggested they might indeed be related… but – it has to be said – there was also something that did not suggest that. The noses. It did not seem the Gylfords got their noses from Elizabeth.
And so I checked out Edward IV. Apparently the nose did not come from that source either…
Maybe I was reading too much into it, but it was unsettling. And so I looked in the traditional place in Renaissance portraits where one might expect to find the name of the characters’ father – just to be sure. The lettering was unusually faint, but once one had spotted where it started, it was not hard to decipher. What it said, though, left me incredulous. It didn’t begin with the ‘E’ of Edward IV. Indeed, Holbein seemed to be asking that we question everything we thought we knew about this period in history.
It said that the father of both boys was Henry VI.
The idea was downright crazy. Should we really believe that the Yorkist Queen of England would be making babies with her husband’s arch Lancastrian rival? Should we believe that it was even physically possible for them to have met and done it? That her husband would not have known? And even if all that were possible, then how could Richard of York be Henry VI’s son, given that Henry died in the Tower in 1471, and Richard was born in 1473? There has never been a human pregnancy lasting that long, and so Henry could not be the father of Richard of York. I wiped the text, and started again, looking again for ‘Edward IV’, the name that should be there. I couldn’t find it. With quiet determination, the painting was still saying ‘Henry VI’.
I double checked. Edward V was conceived around 2nd February 1470. But from July 1465 to October 1470, Henry VI was a prisoner in the most secure of all prisons in the Realm – the Tower of London. Was it physically possible for Elizabeth Woodville to have gotten into the Tower. Well, anything is possible for a Queen, but it was hardly likely, was it? If he found out, and he likely would, then her husband, Edward IV would have killed her. And why would she, anyway? Henry was a defeated king, mentally unstable, and a prisoner in the Tower, while her husband was healthy, decisive, stable, and on the throne. Quite apart from that, she was most likely devout in her religious beliefs. It made no sense.
Holbein must have been wrong, I decided, clearly the victim of a rumour, perhaps a calculated Tudor one. I felt relieved. It’s not easy passing on outrageous truths to an incredulous public: people think you are crazy, and they tend to shoot the messenger. But just to be sure it was nonsense, I looked out a portrait of Henry VI to check what it said about his year of death. If it confirmed 1471, then Holbein was wrong, and that was an end to the matter.
First, though, I had some repairs to do. The original painting had suffered a mishap at some point in its history: it had split between two of its wooden panels, and a sliver of it had been lost. Then someone had joined it back up as if nothing had happened. Henry was missing a narrow slice through his face. So I did some work in Photoshop and tried to reconstruct how it had originally looked, filling in only the blank crevice and leaving the rest exactly as it was before:
Sure enough, his date of death was there. ‘Morto’ it proclaimed: ‘dead’, and then the year, written not once, but dozens of times over.
Henry VI, the portrait said, died in 1478, not 1471.
While I was digesting that, it struck me that his nose looked vaguely familiar, too. When I adjusted the distortion in the image (it was too high for its width), and then flipped it to its mirror image, the comparison to the two Princes was cause for concern.
It might be outrageous, but one needed to be quite sure that it was impossible. The problems were huge, certainly. First, Henry VI was reported dead on May 21st 1471, his coffin paraded through the streets, and his body displayed in St Paul’s Cathedral with the face uncovered. If he was alive in 1478, though, then it wasn’t him who was buried, and there’s a big problem… there were those who knew Henry through his confinement in the Tower, and if it had not been him, someone would have commented on it. Just one snag with that, though… there was an examination of Henry VI’s remains made in 1910, and the report said that the hair was matted in one place with a darker substance (presumably blood), and that the bones of his head had suffered substantial damage. He had been murdered by blows to the head, and so it was just possible that uncovering the face would not have helped anyone, even family, to recognize him. It was not quite as decisive as I hoped.
So had he escaped? Did someone spring him, and leave some poor unfortunate man in his place to pretend to be him for a few hours, someone who would then promptly be bludgeoned to death? Certainly not easy, I couldn’t think why anyone would agree to do that, but maybe just possible. There was another option, though… could it be that the man captured in July 1465 was not Henry VI? What better way to take get his pursuers off his back than to plant a look-alike in the path of Edward’s forces, and see him locked up in the Tower? If that had happened, then the man murdered in 1471 would not have been Henry, while everyone who saw the prisoner in the Tower over the past six years would think it was. Very conspiratorial, but not totally impossible, and not without precedent. There were two ways then, however improbable, that Henry VI might have survived his funeral in 1471, and fathered Richard of York.
Let’s go back a year, and fill in a little history. Edward was conceived in February 1470, and soon after, in March, a major rebellion began in Lincolnshire in support of Henry VI. On its own it did not have the strength to carry the day, though, and failed. Its leader, Warwick, fled to France on 1 May, met with King Louis XI and his relative, Margaret of Anjou (who happened to be Henry VI’s wife), and returned in September with ample reinforcements. Henry was restored to his throne on 30th October, Edward IV fled to Flanders, and his wife Elizabeth Woodville took refuge in Westminster Abbey – and then, on November 2nd – gave birth to Prince Edward, heir to the throne. Is it odd she remained? Probably not… she would have been seven to eight months pregnant.
Why on earth, though, would Elizabeth Woodville get pregnant by Henry VI? If this crazy new twist in history should prove to be true, then one would need to consider where her allegiances may have lain. Now, if we have to play devil’s advocate, Elizabeth was not a Yorkist. Indeed, she was a relative of the Lancastrian King Henry VI. She was his cousin: you’ll have to write it on a piece of paper to make sense of it, but her mother was Henry’s uncle’s wife – before he died and she remarried. What’s more, her first husband was a Lancastrian, too. He went into battle against her future husband, Edward IV, no less. Would she be disloyal to her Yorkist husband, though? We have to be careful not to judge her by today’s standards. In those days, blood ties were a whole lot stronger in England. Husbands come and go, but one’s blood is one’s blood. Her emotional ties to Lancaster would have been strong, and if one buys the theory of the power of blood ties, perhaps stronger than her allegiance to her Yorkist husband.
Why did she marry him, then? Wasn’t it easier to say no? The fact is that to have a Lancastrian in the heart of the Yorkist camp would be no small coup. To be able to spy on Edward and do what she could to ensure the leader of her clan got the throne back would have been invaluable to the Lancastrians. Are we slandering the good name of a noble lady by even considering the possibility? Maybe not, if her lifelong allegiance was to the Lancastrian cause. If so, then she would have been courageous indeed. But having sex with Henry is something else. Why in Heaven’s name would she do that, as indeed she must have, if Holbein was correct? Henry was unstable, not an ideal love match. And anyway, even though he had an eye for the ladies, he was a devout and pious man, and surely would never have committed adultery?
The fact of the world is that Kings do what Kings have to do, and they square it with God later. And when the survival of one’s clan is at stake, ladies too do what they have to do. This would not have been a flirtation or a bit of illicit fun. For Elizabeth Woodville, Lancastrian, to bear the children of the arch-Yorkist would have flown in the face of her blood ties. To let Edward think that was what she was doing, while making the babies instead with the chief of the Lancastrian clan, though, and thereby ensuring that whatever happened to Edward IV, the throne would surely revert to Lancastrians on his death, that would have been – in Lancastrian eyes, noble indeed.
Let’s step aside for a moment, and ask ourselves whether we believe this actually happened? The truth is we really don’t know, all we can say is it is a possibility. A shocking possibility, but a possibility, and only a possibility. Is there anything we can be sure of, then? Yes, personally I do believe this is what Holbein said, and what he believed. For us to take him seriously, though, would require a lot of confirmation from others, and an inquiry into how he could have known. First, though, there are some consequences we need to consider from this whole line of reasoning.
To have had even one child by Edward would have left the Lancastrian cause in future peril, so… if the two Princes were both Henry VI’s sons, what of Elizabeth of York, their sister? What of Elizabeth who united the Houses of York and Lancaster by marrying Henry VII? Where could we look? Well, we have a good likeness of her, created after her death, in the effigy for her tomb.
One doesn’t need a degree in art history to see there is writing across her forehead. All we need do is look for ourselves, and it is clearly there, even to the most obdurate of art historians. There was never so blatant and overt an inscription. All we need to do is read it, and wonder if anyone but the sculptor would have had the chance to engrave it there.
One reading gives the word ‘Elizabeth’, a second one, lying over the top: ‘York’, but there is a third more disturbing possibility. One might well disagree, but after puzzling for some hours over it, the alternative seemed to me to begin with a ‘B’. The second letter was harder to read, but perhaps an ‘A’, squashed beneath the word ‘de’, meaning ‘of’, and thereafter there follow more clearly the letters ‘STARD’. Who ever put the inscription there seems to say that Elizabeth was illegitimate too…
And on her head above, we see who the ‘of…’ refers to. It says in full ‘Bastard of Henry VI’.
[to be continued…]
There were two Princes in the Tower, though, not one. What happened to Richard, Duke of York?
Holbein also painted a gentleman called Sir Henry Gylford, who conventional history says was the brother of Sir Edward Gylford, who we now know was King Edward V.
Henry progressed well at court, becoming Henry VIII’s Comptroller of the Household in 1522, and it is recorded that he was the half brother of Sir Edward. I just assumed that this meant that after escaping the Tower, Edward was assimilated into the Gylford family, staying abroad for a few years until he no longer looked like the young Prince people had known at Court, and long enough for stories to be told about him so his appearance back in England would not be a surprise. Suddenly coming up with a new and hitherto unmentioned teenager would have aroused questions for his surrogate father, after all.
But I was wrong. Look at the pendant on the collar of the Order of the Garter he is wearing. It is St George, slaying a dragon.
But this is no ordinary dragon… it is marked ‘R3’, with the rather splendid ‘R’ inset with a tny ‘R’ in place of the hole in the upper loop. Rather taken aback, I looked for the name of St George, expecting to find ‘Henry VII’, but what I found instead were the letters ‘TAGENET’. And before that, requiring a little more anxious searching and imagination… ‘PLAN’.
Alarmed, I thought, well it must say Henry VII on the St George himself, because he’s the person who won at Bosworth. And so I looked on the figure. The figure was indeed made up of letters, but they spelt something quite different:
Now thoroughly disconcerted, I looked at the man’s ring, and it said ‘R’. Not ‘H’ for ‘Henry’, but ‘R’.
And then I saw a huge ‘R’ in front of Sir Henry’s face, and a ’73’ – the year of Richard’s birth – on it. I had missed the obvious.
Still not really believing it, I looked at the note pinned to the wall with sealing wax, top left, and there, much as the note on Sir Edward Godsalve’s portrait had said ‘Edward’… this one said ‘Richard’.
I had jumped to a false conclusion. Sir Henry Gylford was not a fake brother but a real one. And sure enough, when I looked into the faint brushwork of the background around Sir Henry’s head, it said ‘Richard of York’.
Signed, sealed and delivered, I thought.
And then I saw the roses.The roses in the collar of the Order of the Garter. The red roses. The Roses of Lancaster. Henry VII had changed these to Tudor roses, red and white. Was I to believe that Henry VIII, by 1527 had dropped his Tudor rose and replaced it with a Lancastrian one? And that the Yorkist Duke of York was wearing Lancastrian roses? And calling himself ‘Henry’ after the last Lancastrian King?
[To be continued…]
Edward V didn’t die in the Tower. Holbein painted him as he neared the age of 60, having escaped to Belgium, and then returning to England using at least two aliases at different times: Sir Thomas Godsalve (as in ‘God salve… the King’) – and Sir Edward Gylford (and what river more important to ford than that of guile?).
This video examines just one hidden item in Holbein’s masterpiece, letter by letter: ‘Edward V’, and judges the reliability of the evidence that he was indeed identifying Sir Thomas as the long lost Prince from the Tower. Do look for yourself, though – be sure you too can see the letters, because a lot hangs on this! Your own eyes are the best judge as to whether history should be turned on its head or not…
Do not rely on the eyes of experts, because many have reputations to defend, and this does make them look rather foolish. Their natural reaction will be to deny it is there. And do not just rely on mine, either: I want to reduce reliance on authorities, not become one myself. Trust only your own eyes!
I was a bit reluctant yesterday to say I had definitely found the false identities that King Edward and his son used during the reign of Henry VIII and later. I found names on the labels, but not all of the letters were sure. Often the artist will write the name several times, one on top of the other and that makes decoding really tough, and this seemed to be the case here. To be more confident, I wanted to find the names elsewhere too, and for this the background near the two characters seemed promising.
The first step was to increase the tonal contrast, dramatically, to reveal even the faintest traces of lettering, and once that was done, it was immediately clear that there was indeed text there in the backdrop. But what did it say? I’ve only deciphered a little, but I think enough to show you what I found.
You will need to click on the picture to make it larger, otherwise it’s impossible to see. Better, download it and open it so you can enlarge it even further.
Even enlarged, and with tonal enhancement, the text is challenging, but the reading is confirmed in various ways. First, while the ‘G’ of ‘Gylford’ may be hard to pick out surely in one place, in another it is clearer, and the same for the other letters. Cumulatively, therefore, I’m pretty sure they spell out ‘Gylford’. Second, there are often tiny versions of the letter embedded in the larger one. It is as if he created the big letter just by painting smaller versions of it in the right place. Third, there are other examples of the same text. In the bottom left corner of the backdrop, for example, the name ‘Gylford’ is clear enough to make out without my having to draw it in. Don’t expect it to be easy though: Holbein wanted to keep his head on his shoulders, and those of his friends Sir Edward Gylford and Dr John Clement.
My conclusion is that the two princes didn’t die in the Tower. Somehow they managed to make their way to the Continent, where they assumed new identities. I don’t know who helped in that rescue mission: some say that Henry wanted all Plantagenets dead, and no way would have done a deal to keep them alive and to have then honoured it. Others say the same of Richard. What are your thoughts?