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?