From the Princes in the Tower to Northumbria’s Golden Age

It has been ten years since the discovery of the remains of Richard III in September 2012 and, like Stonehenge or Tutankhamun, the discovery of the king in the car park looks set to become one of those archaeological stories that never fades (see CA 272 and 277). Recent media coverage has focused on the controversy around The Lost King, the film about the search for Richard III’s grave that has been accused of demonising the archaeologists and academics involved (see our review in CA 393). The film adopts the fashionable trope of the passionate amateur with a spark of intuition who gets it right (hurrah!), versus the cold and sceptical ‘experts’ (boo, hiss!) who belittle the amateur then try to steal her glory when, after many a battle, she is proven right.

The 1951 best-selling novel, The Daughter of Time by Elizabeth MacKintosh (1896-1952), using the pen-name Josephine Tey, brought the mystery of the Princes in the Tower into the public mind.

A decade hence there might be yet another feature film involving some of the same cast of characters – notably Philippa Langley, the heroine of The Lost King. She is now ‘seeking the truth’ about the Princes in the Tower – the uncrowned 12-year-old Edward V and his 9-year-old brother Richard, Duke of York, heir presumptive – who were, as tradition holds, both brutally pushed aside by the Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III, as he clawed his way to the throne.

Elizabeth MacKintosh (1896-1952), using the pen name Josephine Tey, wrote a best-selling novel called The Daughter of Time (1951) that was hailed as ‘the greatest crime novel of all time’ by the Crime Writers’ Association in 1990. Tey’s detective, Inspector Alan Grant, decides to keep his brain active while confined to bed with a broken leg by investigating the fate of the brothers and the question of the Duke of Gloucester’s involvement in their disappearance. Tey’s detective concludes that Richard III was innocent of the crime of murdering the Princes in the Tower and that the king had been a victim of Tudor propaganda.

If so, what did happen to Edward and Richard? Philippa Langley is patron of the ‘Missing Princes Project’, which aims to answer that question using ‘Cold Case History Investigation Methodology’ and ‘modern Police investigative techniques’. It is clear from the project’s website ( that the investigators have adopted an ‘innocent until proven guilty’ approach and that, like Inspector Alan Grant, they are inclined to the belief that Richard has been maligned. Stressing her ABC mantra (‘Accept Nothing; Believe Nobody; Challenge Everything’), Philippa Langley and her colleagues are determined to re-examine every one of the numerous theories that the boys survived.

One line of enquiry that they are following up is the theory, first propagated by Devon historian Beatrix Cresswell in the 1920s, that Edward was not murdered but agreed to live out his days quietly in a Devon village. Under the pseudonym ‘John Evans’, he was granted the Manor of Coldridge and the Stewardship of the Royal Coldridge Deer Park, located on Dartmoor, some 15 miles north-west of Exeter.

The clues are to be found in the rare stained-glass portrait of Edward V (found in the Coldridge Church of St Matthew and one of three to survive in England) wearing a crown decorated with 41 deer, a reference to Evans’s role as deer-park manager and the age that Edward V would have been at death in 1511/1512. Further symbols throughout the church all seem to point to a link between Evans and the king. The tomb effigy depicts Evans wearing chain mail, a gown, and a jousting shield, looking pointedly at the stained-glass figure of the king; meanwhile, the name on the tomb is said to be carved incorrectly as EVAS – perhaps standing for EV (Edward V) AS (‘in asylum’).

To be fair, nobody associated with the project has claimed that this proves anything – they have simply said ‘we look forward to finding out more’ – but historian David Starkey has characterised the story as ‘really bad history’. He dismisses the EVAS reading as incorrect (the ‘N’ is there in the form of a bar above the ‘A’, a standard medieval abbreviation), while the 41 ‘deer’ are in fact the black tails of the ermine furs used to line the ‘cap of maintenance’, the hat that monarchs wore (and still wear) under their crowns. David presents a persuasive argument for Evans being a servant of the murdered king, not the king himself.

The accession of Charles III, though, might help to solve this longstanding mystery. In 1674, according to the official history of the Tower of London, his predecessor Charles II ordered the demolition of what remained of the royal palace to the south of the White Tower. The location included a turret that had once contained a privy staircase leading into St John’s Chapel. Beneath the foundations of the staircase, some 3m (10ft) below the ground, the workmen found a wooden chest containing human bones and pieces of velvet.

Charles II arranged for the remains to be reinterred in Westminster Abbey, but the bones were re-examined in 1933. Then, it was concluded that they were those of two boys of similar age, but these conclusions have since been challenged – it is difficult to tell the sex of deceased children and the remains appear to come from more than two sets of bones.

DNA analysis is one way to answer some of the outstanding questions. The Church of England, Government ministers, and the late Queen have repeatedly refused requests to carry out further forensic tests ‘simply to satisfy our curiosity’; they also believe that it sets a precedent that would lead to a flood of similar requests. Charles III is ‘said’ to be more receptive to the idea, but who knows whether that is true – Buckingham Palace has ‘declined to comment’.

Ad Grefin Anglo-Saxon Museum and Whisky Distillery

Sutton Hoo is another of those perennially referenced archaeological sites that have entered the popular imagination, so it is no surprise to hear that the new Ad Gefrin Anglo-Saxon Museum ( that is due to open in Wooler, Northumberland, in February 2023 has been referred to as ‘the Sutton Hoo of the North’.

The Anglo-Saxon hall excavated near Yeavering between 1952 and 1962 by Brian Hope-Taylor will soon benefit from a new museum, opening in February 2023. IMAGE: Sally Ann Norman

Ad Gefrin (meaning ‘at the hill of the goats’) was described by Bede (Book 2 Chapter 14 of the Ecclesiastical History) as the royal palace (villa regia) of the Northumbrian king Edwin and his queen Æthelburg where, in AD 627, Bishop Paulinus of York (d. 644) spent 36 days preaching and baptising converts in the River Glen. The site, near the hamlet of Yeavering, was excavated between 1952 and 1962 by Brian Hope-Taylor, whose painstaking work uncovered a huge complex consisting of a timber great hall and grandstand, kitchens, weaving shed, and a ‘Great Enclosure’ for cattle or horses.

The opening of the museum marks a long overdue telling of the story of the summer palace and the importance of early medieval traditions of hospitality, cultural exchange, and kinship – represented by some spectacular finds which, says Dr Chris Ferguson, Director of Visitor Experience, ‘illuminate the intricate craftsmanship and rich culture of Northumbria’s golden age’. The museum is all the more likely to be a success because it will be launched alongside a new whisky distillery founded by the local Ferguson family.

One hopes, too, that it will do justice to the legacy of Brian Hope-Taylor, often described by those who knew him as gifted and inspirational but ‘a perfectionist, prone to dissatisfaction and unable to glory in his achievements’. He trained as a wood engraver and became interested in archaeology while doing war work, modelling landscapes for training bomber pilots based on aerial photography. He wrote his PhD thesis on Yeavering at St John’s College, Cambridge, despite not having a first degree nor having previously been to a university. He subsequently taught in the Cambridge faculty and enjoyed a successful television career as a broadcaster during the 1960s and 1970s, writing and presenting two archaeological series for Anglia TV (one of which can be seen on the Gefrin Trust website:

His papers, including works of art, printing blocks, personal correspondence, and family photographs, now reside in the archives of Historic Environment Scotland (HES). The HES catalogue entry describes the archive as having been ‘presented to RCAHMS following Hope-Taylor’s death’. In reality it was rescued from a skip by a group of former students, including Diana Murray, then Chief Executive of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monument of Scotland, who by sheer good fortune had gone to Hope-Taylor’s house in Wooler, after hearing that Hope-Taylor’s books were being sold off.

They also rescued the 7th-century Bamburgh Sword in the nick of time, just as it too was heading for the skip. Excavated at Bamburgh Castle by Brian Hope-Taylor in 1960, the sword is now back on display there. It serves as a warning to all archaeologists with important objects and archives sitting in the attic or garage to place them in a public repository.