A New Theory about Richard III’s Boar Badge

Richard III fascinates people because his story has so many profound mysteries.  Take, for instance, the case of the disappeared Princes in the Tower.  Or the execution of William, Lord Hastings.  These two events have filled up hundreds of pages of speculation in books, have spawned endless social media threads, and remain the subject of heated debates in historical societies.  They’re like the two giant elephants in the room whenever the topic of Richard III crops up.

Nevertheless, there are certain facts that are known about Richard.  One of those is that he adopted the White Boar as his personal badge while he was Duke of Gloucester, a title given to him at age 9.  We don’t know exactly when he adopted it, but it would be reasonable to assume that he would have had to pick a badge (or several) as soon as he was retaining men into his affinity and given the task of arraying troops. The earliest known account of Richard retaining men is contained in the Paston Letters, which observe him recruiting men into his affinity in June 1469, during the Robin of Redesdale crisis.  At that point, Richard was almost 17 years old.  Certainly, there is no question the White Boar became his most prominent badge by age 23 at the time of Edward IV’s 1475 invasion of France; Richard’s men are clearly identified by it in the list of troops summoned for the campaign.

But where did Richard draw inspiration for choosing the White Boar?  The traditional explanation is that the medieval spelling for boar (“bore”) was an anagram for the Latin word for York (“Ebor” or “Eboracum”), his royal house.  In my article “The Fotheringhay Boar(s)”, published by the Richard III Society in their Ricardian Bulletin, I offered a theory that Richard first saw carvings of boars at the church of St Mary and All Saints in Fotheringhay, where he was born and lived until age 6 or so.  St Mary’s was intended to be a mausoleum for his family, and already housed the tomb of his uncle who died at Agincourt.  Here is a photograph I took of a misericord that was in situ at St Mary’s at the time of Richard’s birth and prompted my theory1:

Fotheringhay boars

Fotheringhay boars

Yet, on reflection, after I wrote that article, I was not content to think that these boars would have provided him with sufficient inspiration to select his badge.  They were too bucolic, and were more in line with what wood carvers were doing in other church parishes and cathedrals to represent the cycle of life, when the season of pawnage (September) came about and common swineherds were allowed into royal forests to feed their pigs on acorns and other foraged items.  You see this theme repeated in other churches throughout England, without any reference to heraldry or family badges.

Delving deeper into this mystery, I ran across another candidate:  the Taymouth Book of Hours. It was created in London, during the reign of Edward III, and is now considered one of the most famous manuscripts of its period. It is elaborately decorated with scenes from the Bible, the lives of saints, bestiaries, legends, and tales of chivalry.

There are many theories about who first owned it. Possibly it was Edward III’s queen, his mother, or one of his sisters.  The book ended up in Scotland in the 16th century, and then came into the possession of the earl of Breadalbane of Taymouth Castle during the late 17th century (hence its name). However, there is indisputable evidence that it had been in the possession of the Neville family, particularly the Nevilles of Raby, in the 15th century. This is proven by this page:

Taymouth Hours-Coat of Arms of Ralph Neville, First Earl of Westmoreland

Taymouth Hours-Coat of Arms of Ralph Neville, First Earl of Westmorland

Here, we have a miniature of the Virgin Mary interceding on behalf of a dying man, with St Michael holding scales and two devils vying for his soul. At the bottom of the page there is a lion holding a shield of arms Gules a Saltire Argent (red background with a white saltire), which is repeated elsewhere in the book.  Those arms, according to my correspondence with Windsor Herald at the Royal College of Arms, belong to none other than Ralph Neville, first Earl of Westmorland – the father of Cecily Neville and, thus, Richard III’s grandfather.

It would be safe to say that the Taymouth Hours would have been a very expensive book to acquire or an extremely generous gift.  It is richly decorated and would be exactly the type of thing that a wealthy nobleman would want in his library collection, especially given its royal provenance.  And, with its depictions of gallant heroes, “wild wood men”, and scenes of women hunting on horseback, it would have been a popular book in any household, for young viewers in particular. Inserting one’s coat of arms into an illuminated manuscript was one of the ways people showed ownership.

But where did it go after being in the possession of the first Earl of Westmorland?  He had 22 children by two wives, the first being Margaret Stafford and the second being Joan Beaufort.  Well, in a rather inexplicable turn of events, he dispossessed the heirs of his first wife, leaving their oldest surviving male heir practically nothing but the title, and settled the bulk of his estates and possessions on the children of his second wife.  The one who ended up benefiting from this legacy was Richard Neville, fifth Earl of Salisbury, the father of the notorious Kingmaker.

That the Taymouth Hours was owned by a Neville brings it in close proximity to Richard III’s life.  His mother owned several religious texts, and of course, her arms would have been the same as her father’s until she married the Duke of York, so the arms we see above could actually be her’s.  Alternatively, her nephew, the Kingmaker, could have acquired it from his father and kept it at his principal castle of Middleham, where Richard lived as a ward from age 13-16.  And it’s also conceivable that George Neville, the Kingmaker’s brother and an enthusiastic collector of books, could have possessed it.  Richard was reported to have attended George’s enthronement as archbishop of York at his residence of Cawood castle.  Could Richard have seen the Taymouth Hours by any of these close associations with the Nevilles?  I believe it’s well within the realm of possibility.

However, there is one piece of evidence that is hard to ignore, and perhaps this tips the scale further towards probability.  And that is the illustration shown on this page:

White Boar

Taymouth Hours – White Boar

This is an illustration within a series of bas-de-page images telling the legend of Guy of Warwick. The tale was enormously popular in the late medieval period, and involved a story of a great boar “of passing might and strength”. The hero – Guy – is a lowly squire who has fallen in love with the high-born Felice. In order to win her heart and hand in marriage, he must go on a quest and defeat multiple enemies including slaying a dragon and killing the boar depicted here. We know that Richard enjoyed such stories of romance and chivalry: he signed his name at the bottom of a manuscript telling the legend of Ipomedon, which also involves a knight who must prove his worth and valor in order to win the hand of his lady.

What is striking is the similarity between the boar illustrated on this page with Richard’s boar badges found on the foreshore of the Thames River in in London and at the Bosworth Battlefield:

When we combine the Neville provenance, Richard’s known connections to that family, and his explicit enjoyment of chivalric tales, it is difficult to discount the Taymouth Hours as being one of the sources of his famous boar badge.


  1.   For information about what happened to the misericords and quire from St Mary’s church in Fotheringhay, and the other boar still located there, see this blog
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The King In The Lab – Bones Don’t Lie

We may jokingly call ourselves Ricardian Loons, but we’re serious about our research. Consequently, science will be a key area of focus for our blog. Since the discovery of Richard’s lost grave in 2012, the scientific examination of his remains has revealed – and continues to reveal – a wealth of new information. Some people insist that these insights have no bearing on history, but we disagree. In our opinion, they’re casting doubts on many popular theories about England’s most controversial King.

I’d like to kick off our science series with a paper I wrote for the University of Oxford’s “The Wars of the Roses: Power, Politics and Personalities” course, which asked how far the analysis of Richard’s remains changes our understanding of his life and reign. So, what can his bones tell us about the man? As it turns out, quite a lot.

More than meets the eye: 3D model of Richard’s spine © University of Leicester

Starting with his childhood, they put his relationship with the north into perspective. Much has been written about Richard’s childhood home at Middleham Castle and his wardship in the Earl of Warwick’s household. According to wide-spread belief, he lived in Yorkshire for most of his formative years and it has been suggested that the happy time spent amid its purple moors and rolling hills shaped his personality. Others have argued that, having lost his father at an early age, the ambitious Kingmaker became his mentor and served as role model for his more controversial actions, such as the executions of Hastings and Rivers and the deposition of Edward V.

By carrying out a multi-isotope analysis of Richard’s teeth, which would have formed during his childhood and early adolescence, and bone samples from parts of his skeleton which would have regenerated at slower rates, scientists were able to plot his life history geographically. The results indicate that from age 7 he lived in southwest Britain, possibly Ludlow in the Welsh Marches, part of the duchy of York. Only during his adolescence did he move back into eastern England.

This ties in with the view held by a number of historians that Richard was only in Warwick’s custody for about 3 years, from age 13 to 16. Although his name was added to charters and commissions before 1465, these were most likely nominal appointments, similar to the office of Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine to which he was appointed around the same time. As AJ Pollard has pointed out, “a child of 9 cannot be a commissioner, any more than he could preside over admiralty courts.”

Moreover, Richard may have only seen Warwick at special occasions, such as the enthronement feast of George Neville as Archbishop of York, as the Earl’s commitments required him to travel and it is unlikely that he personally tutored his ward in lessons as diverse as horsemanship, weapons training, hawking, languages, music and dancing. It is therefore doubtful that Richard saw him as a mentor or that his wardship had a significant influence on his personality.

Moving on to his adult life, the analysis of Richard’s spine has shown that he was not a “hunchback”, but suffered from adolescent onset idiopathic scoliosis. The condition typically associated with the word hunchback, which is not a medical term, is kyphosis, a forward curvature of the spine that causes the upper part of the back to appear more rounded than normal. By contrast, scoliosis is a sideways curvature which results in uneven shoulders or hips. Based on a 3D reconstruction of Richard’s spinal column, scientists concluded that his scoliosis was spiral shaped with a Cobb angle of 70-90 degrees during life. While this is classed as severe, the curve was well balanced and abnormalities of individual vertebrae were restricted to the chest region, which means that the physical disfigurement was slight and could be easily disguised with custom-made clothing. Aside from this, his bones were symmetric and well formed. He did not have a withered arm nor did he walk with a limp.

This explains why Tudor sources describe Richard as deformed while contemporary accounts do not: his contemporaries weren’t afraid to speak the truth; they simply couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. It wasn’t until after his death at the battle of Bosworth, when his naked body was thrown over a horse to transport it back to Leicester, that his condition became public knowledge. Indeed, one way of diagnosing scoliosis is to ask the patient to bend forward as this causes the curve to protrude. Unfortunately for Richard, in the Middle Ages an imperfect body was seen as indication of a corrupt mind, so his condition was seized upon and further embellished by the Tudors to justify the usurpation of Henry VII. We should therefore be wary of the logic that, if the Tudors were right about his deformity, they were probably also right about his character: not only did they attribute deformities to him that he did not have, but in the age of Paralympics and equal opportunity employment we hopefully no longer see physical imperfection as a sign of mental corruption.

According to the scientists, Richard’s scoliosis was not disabling as back pain and breathing or heart problems are rare, even in severe cases. This was vividly demonstrated in the TV documentary “Richard III: The new evidence”, which saw a young man – Dominic Smee – with Richard’s gracile bone structure and the same degree of scoliosis explore the king’s ability to wield medieval weapons and fight on horseback. To the surprise of medical experts and combat instructors, he mastered every challenge, even though he had no prior experience and led a sedentary lifestyle. The experiments revealed that, far from reducing his physical ability, the plate armour and medieval saddle actually improved it by supporting his back. Richard would have trained for combat since childhood and therefore grown up to be considerably more athletic than his body double, so his scoliosis would have affected him even less.

The programme also confirmed that a 70-90 degree Cobb angle can be easily disguised. In a loose fitting t-shirt Dominic’s scoliosis was barely noticeable and under armour it was completely invisible. Like that of his body double, Richard’s armour would have been custom-made to accommodate his uneven shoulders and hips, but there is no reason to doubt his well-documented military reputation based on his physicality. Consequently the reverse argument that, if he managed to overcome his disability, this indicates a powerful personality capable of great ambition and potentially evil, is also no longer credible.

The conclusion that his scoliosis was not disabling is further supported by the analysis of the perimortem trauma on his remains, which identified 11 injuries from bladed weapons inflicted around the time of death, 9 to the skull and 2 to his ribs and pelvis, indicating that he really was killed “fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies”. The absence of defensive wounds on arms and hands suggests that, although he had lost his helmet, he was indeed wearing armour. Since this would have protected his body, the cuts to his ribs and pelvis are thought to be humiliation injuries, inflicted post mortem when his naked corpse was thrown over a horse.

The treatment Richard’s body received in death is sometimes cited as evidence for his unpopularity, but this overlooks the fact that Henry Tudor’s army consisted largely of foreign mercenaries, who wouldn’t have seen him as their anointed king, but as an enemy they were paid to defeat. Richard’s remains show fewer post mortem injuries than those of the men who died at Towton, another battle fought with the help of mercenaries, and while he was buried with minimal effort, his grave was located in a place of honour. James IV of Scotland, who historians describe as a wise and charismatic ruler, fared far worse at the hands of his brother-in-law, Henry VIII. After his death at the battle of Flodden his unburied corpse was allowed to rot until his head became detached from his body and eventually both parts were lost. Seen in this context, Richard’s fate was not unusual.

The assumption that he was hated or feared was also at the heart of the belief that his remains had been dug up at the dissolution of the monasteries, carried through the streets by a jeering mob and then thrown into the river Soar. This story was so widely accepted that it was even cited by ULAS, the archeologists commissioned to dig for Richard’s grave under the now famous Leicester car park, on the application for the license to exhume the remains suspected to be his. The positive identification of the undisturbed remains has since shown that it had no basis at all.

Unfortunately, as old myths are debunked, new ones are being created. Much was made in the TV documentary of the fact that Richard suffered from roundworm infection and osteoarthritis and that, according to the multi-isotope analysis, his diet became more fancy in the last 2-5 years of his life and contained a higher proportion of wine compared to water and beer. The programme concluded that his “ill health” and “dissolute” lifestyle were responsible for his defeat at Bosworth and even suggested that he charged Henry Tudor on horseback because he was too unfit to fight on foot. This contradicts both historical records, which show that this diet was normal for a medieval king and that only a year before Bosworth he was described as very slender and more interested in conversation than food, as well as scientific research which indicates that he had fewer parasites than the average medieval person and that arthritis was common in the Middle Ages. The authors of the multi-isotope analysis have since dismissed the allegations as unfounded and Dominic Smee has revealed that he spent 20 minutes on a treadmill before running out of breath, so again there’s no reason to assume that Richard, who reportedly killed or unhorsed several opponents at Bosworth, was significantly physically disadvantaged.

Since Richard’s scoliosis was not visible and not disabling, it is also unlikely that it caused self-loathing or other psychological or emotional defects. This explains a contradiction in his psychological portrait which puzzled its authors. The psychological analysis predates that of his spine and assumes that the scoliosis would have been very visible and difficult to disguise. The psychologists therefore expected Richard to have struggled with interpersonal relationships in his adult life as he would have found it hard to establish trust, but couldn’t find any evidence for this in historical accounts. On the contrary, they concluded that “he seemed remarkably able to engender and build trust with the people with whom he worked.”

Indeed, it is difficult to see how he could have established himself as Edward IV’s Lieutenant of the North if he suffered from serious psychological defects. Given the bitter divide between the Yorkist south and the Lancastrian north, this was not an easy task. Only 10 years earlier, Yorkist propaganda had accused northerners of “slaying and maiming liegeman in such detestable cruelness as has not been heard done among Saracens and Turks to Christian men” and as late at 1471, when Edward returned from exile to reclaim his throne from Henry VI, the city of York closed its gates to him. 19-year old Richard moved to Yorkshire that same year and adolescent onset scoliosis sets in between age 10 and 13, so it would have already been present. As the multi-isotope analysis shows, it is unlikely that he developed strong emotional or social ties during his wardship, so far from enjoying a nostalgic homecoming he was planted into hostile territory and, as AJ Pollard pointed out, “had to win round the political elites in the aftermath of Warwick the Kingmaker’s downfall. He had not been then the expected or natural heir”. Nevertheless, Rosemary Horrox concluded that he managed to build “one of the great affinities of the Middle Ages, both in scale and cohesion.” To accomplish this he would have needed all his wits and it is highly improbable that he suddenly lost them when he became king.

Combining all of the above, the picture that emerges of Richard is that of an able-bodied and psychologically stable young man, who was as competent on the battlefield as he was in the council chamber and who wasn’t any more feared or hated than other rulers of his time. Some may find this hard to accept, but bones don’t lie. Richard is talking to us and after 500 years of questioning his every word and action it’s time we started listening to him.

2 Parking Spots

Related Posts:

“The King In The Lab – Body Of Evidence”
“The King In The Lab – Richard III’s Dissolute Diet”
“The King In The Lab – The Unsanitary Lifestyle Of Richard III”

Sources And Further Reading:

Angela Lamb et al: “Multi-isotope analysis demonstrates significant lifestyle changes in King Richard III” (JOURNAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL SCIENCE)

Jo Appleby et al: “The scoliosis of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England: diagnosis and clinical significance” (THE LANCET)

Jo Appleby et al: “Perimortem trauma in King Richard III: a skeletal analysis” (THE LANCET)

Piers Mitchell et al: “The intestinal parasites of King Richard III” (THE LANCET)

Mark Lansdale and Julian Boon: “Richard III – A Psychological Portrait” (THE RICARDIAN BULLETIN)

Channel 4: “Richard III: The New Evidence”

History Extra: “What does the discovery of Richard III’s remains mean for history?”

Alex David: “Alison Weir on the Real Richard III” (endorsed and linked on WWW.ALISONWEIR.ORG.UK)