Written by Sarah Greenwood
Opening the newspaper to see the skull of Richard III with a hole bashed in it by a halberd – yes Richard III’s actual skull – can’t fail to give you a bit of a thrill. The drama of it!
I’ve been haunted by an image of the blow falling and the ghastly muddy messy confusion of a Wars of the Roses battle. Then the naked body of the King, now suddenly ex-king, carried off to Leicester, abused and handed to the Priory to put into the ground without pomp or recognition. There’s something of the pub brawl about the Wars of the Roses; the battles were vicious and bloody and largely fought between a small group of people who knew each other well and were often related.
It’s a period full of myth, and contrast between the tall handsome knightly elder brother Edward IV and Richard, the youngest brother, ‘short of stature’. Now we know he had was bent, scoliosis made one shoulder higher than the other which would have surely meant that he walked a bit oddly and wasn’t a top swordsman. It’s tough on the Richard III Foundation who have long wanted to overturn the legend and reinvent Richard as an upright character. So the miracle of modern science tells us that, physically at least, he would not have stood straight, but was he morally upright? The mystery remains.
And disinterring bodies is not only happening in Leicester. Down in Cornwall archaeologists have been checking out another myth. Sir James Tillie was surely a great friend to have. Anyone who chooses to be buried in their best clothes well provided with tobacco and alcohol must have had a brilliant zest for life.
Just like the Pharaohs, Sir James clearly wanted to be sure that he was well provided with earthly pleasures in the afterlife and family legend remembered that he asked to be buried sitting up in his best chair with his books, pipe and wine after he died in 1713. He also chose his burial spot carefully, building a mausoleum in his garden at Pentillie Castle to make the most of the sweeping views across the River Tamar, still one of the most beautiful spots for a wedding.
This week, the Coryton family found the remains of their dead ancestor and, yes, it seems he may indeed have been sitting in a chair, decayed woodwork with what looks like leather covering with metal studs surrounding his bones, would fit perfectly with a late seventeenth century chair. This garden mausoleum, later embellished by Humphrey Repton, is probably the earliest in the country so well worth the funds for excavation and restoration provided by Natural England and the Country Houses Foundation.
No need to test these bones, unlike poor old Richard III, Sir James Tillie’s descendants are still around to clean up his mausoleum and raise a glass to him. How pleased he would have been! For more information on what is happening at check out the Pentillie Castle website.