Friday, March 27, 2009

Question from Kathy - Description of Mary Tudor Brandon's exhumation

Question for PhD Historian:

First of all (if Lara will induge me) I would like to tell you how much in awe I am of your knowledge of Tudor England, and how much I appreciate your willingness to answer questions here -- even lame-brained ones as mine certainly are. Thank you!

There have been quite a flurry of questions and answers here in the past few days, so I wondered if you saw my last post on the thread about Henry Brandon, the one about the descriptions of the exhumation of Mary Tudor Brandon's corpse and, especially what her height was? Do you (or anybody) have any idea where I could find these descriptions?


PhD Historian said...

Thanks for the compliment, Kathy, though no questions are ever "lame-brained." I really do enjoy answering questions here, since doing so helps me to remember things I might otherwise forget or to learn something new.

I apologize, but I did not see your original question until now. I am embarrassed to say that I usually stop checking older posts after about a week, purely for reasons of time management. There are just too many postings and too little time to check them all every day.

I did look back at your original question and did some creative searching through some of my favorite databases.

I do find that Mary Tudor Brandon's tomb was opened in 1731 as part of a remodeling of the church, but the coffin was left undisturbed. The tomb was repaired in about 1751 and the coffin was apparently examined then but not fully opened. The tomb was again opened on 6 September 1784. The tomb itself was dismantled and the coffin placed "in a grave no deeper than was necessary for the slab to lie over it, level with the rest of the pavement." (Samuel Tymms, An Architectural and Historical Account of the Church of St Mary, Bury St Edmund's [London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1854], p. 179)

Tymms cites an unpublished manuscript by Sir John Cullum that describes the disinterment. The manuscript apparently accompanied a lock of hair cut from the corpse and presented to the Dowager Duchess of Portland, Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, an avid collector of artifacts of all kinds. Tymms offers a transcription of Cullum's manuscript:

"6th September 1784. The Churchwardens of St Mary's, at Bury St Edmund's, designing to remove the altar monument of the French Queen, which stood in the north-east corner of the chancel, and obstructed the approach to the rails of the communion table in that part, myself and a few more had notice of it [saw it]. The coffin rested on a plank within the tomb, not sunk into the ground; it was of lead, 6 feet 2 inches long, nearly of the shape of the body, with a coarse representation of the face, like the mummy coffins. Upon the breast, which had been smoothed and polished, was rudely scratched, "Mary Quene of Ffraunc, 1533, Edmund H." Upon opening the coffin, the corpse appeared a deep chestnut colour: it had been embalmed, as Sandford says, but the whole was become extremely moist, perhaps from a small incision that had been made in the coffin about fifteen years before, which though soldered up again, had doubtless admitted a fresh mass of air. Whatever gums and resins had been used, they had lost their tenacity. The swathings were of course linen, and, as well as their extreme tenderness would suffer me to handle a piece of them, seemed to be at least ten fold; they had given way about the stomach, by which it appeared that the inside of the body had been filled up with some calcareous substance, doubtless to absorb any moisture that might exude. The sockets of the eyes were also filled with the same substance, as was also probably the cranium, if the brains had been taken out; but this was not examined, as very little disturbance was given to the royal remains. The hair was perfectly sound, retaining the original strength, and adhering very closely to the skull. It was of considerable length, some perhaps near two feet long, and of a beauteous golden colour, as was that of her mother at the time of her marriage. The teeth were all entire and even, both above and below. Some parts of the envelopes [linen wrappings] had perforations in them of about the size of a small knitting needle; if these were made by insects (as they have the appearance) the eggs of these insects must have been deposited either before the original closing of the coffin, or at its opening about fifteen years ago, before mentioned [the "small incision ... soldered up again" above]. In either case, it is a curious instance how animal life can exist without the renovation of air."

The Duchess of Portland's massive collection was broken up and sold in 1786, the year after her death. The Duke of Chandos, James Brydges (d. 1789), acquired the lock of hair and Cullum's manuscript at the sale for the sum of six pounds ten shillings. From the Duke of Chandos, it passed to his only daughter's husband, Richard Temple-Grenville, Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Following Temple-Grenville's death, it was sold in 1848 to a Mr Owen of New Bond Street, London, for seven pounds ten shillings. From there, it seems to disappear.

There was apparently a later dispute about the color of the hair. Several other samples were taken in 1784, but at a comparison in later years the colors proved to vary. Some were "high red," while others were almost auburn. This was attributed to some of the samples having lain in "pickle," or the "extremely moist" material at the bottom of the coffin.

Cullum indicates that the body was not disturbed beyond the collecting of a few hair samples. The linen wrappings were left intact. We can therefore assume that the body itself was not measured. The coffin, however, was 6'2" in overall length. But although Cullum notes it was "nearly of the shape of the body," with the lead probably shaped to encase the body fairly tightly, I think it would be unwise to assume anything about the size of the body inside. For example, if her feet were extended, as usually happens after death, the coffin would be considerably longer in order to accommodate the greater overall length of the body.

Sadly, Kathy, it appears that the disinterment of 1784 does not tell us much about Mary Tudor Brandon's height.

djd said...

There is a little blurb about it in: History Of, and Guide To, Bury St. Edmund's By Horace Ross Barker, page 65. There is another note about it when a lock of her hair was auctioned off in The Stowe catalogue. I have not seen a more in depth contemporary description of it.

djd said...

That was fascinating, PhD. Thank you for taking time to copy that description. Have you ever seen anything detailed about the remains of Henry, Anne, or any other exhumed Tudors? I did read that Katherine Parr was in an "incoruptable" condition, but have never been able to find a detailed description of the exhumation. This is because I really stink at searching the internet, but I'm learning as I go. Thanks.

Kathy said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to do that PhD Historian. I am very grateful to you. I am a bit sad that we can't find any estimates of her height. Accounts varied so wildly -- everything from short to very tall -- that it would be nice to have a rational basis.

As for her hair, I thought that was very interesting as well. The lock of it at Moyses Hall Museum in Bury St. Edmunds is a pretty uniform strawberry blonde color. But there is one hair in the lock that is decided a medium auburn color. I thought it was very odd that it would vary that much from the rest of the hair.

But all contemporary descriptions of her say she was a blonde. Just another of those mysteries we are probably never going to see solved.

I think it is possible that there may be more church repairs in the future, so maybe if they have to disinter her again, they will do a proper autopsy, including a height estimate. Also it would nice to get a definite mitochondrial DNA sample against future testing of the bones found in the Tower of London to see if they were indeed her uncles, the princes in the tower.

Thanks again.

Bladerunner said...

Red is the last pigment to fade in hair. That is why so many ancient mummies are found with reddish hair. The darker pigments have faded out.

Tudorrose said...

Mary tudor brandon was a redhead.I have seen two portraits of her and a sketch.In one portrait she has chestnut hair and in the other it is brown.what I think is that her hair was a mixture of the two.Just look at the portaits of her mother and father then youll notice.
I don't know what everyone else thinks!?
P.s Dont forget her brother Henry and her sister were redheads with the exception of Arthur.

Kathy said...

With all due respect, tudorrose, you cannot believe sketches of the period. Accuracy in hair and eye color does not seem to be a priority. For instance, just here at there is a painting of Henry VII's family showing Mary (probably as a young teenager) with blonde hair. There is also a copy of the famous wedding portrait showing her with dark brown hair and brown eyes. They can't both be accurate.

Descriptions by contemporaries are more to be believed than portraits. And I don't think I have ever read a contemporary description that says she was anything except a blonde. Her mother, Elizabeth of York, was also said to be a blonde as well, so that is very undoubtedly where she got her hair coloring.

Red hair happens to be something I know a great deal about because I am a redhead. To have red hair you have to have a specific gene for it and also a lack of a dark hair gene. So it isn't at all out of the realm of probability that Mary inherited the blonde gene but not the red one. That would give her blonde hair no matter what the color of her brothers' hair. (BTW, I have a brother who has medium brown hair without a trace of red. You cannot determine anybody's hair color by that of their siblings.)

Tudorrose said...

You can dertermine hair colour by your siblings.That is how it is dertermined.I have seen a portrait of Mary Tudor the king's daughter as princess with blonde hair but not the king's sister.I have only seen Mary the king's sister in portraits with brown or red hair.
Also it is possible I think that her hair colouring could have been a mixture of colours which she inherited from her parents or another relative.Also Elizabeth of york Henry's and Mary's mother had red hair not blonde.

Kathy said...

Tudorrose, I consulted all the sources I could find on Elizabeth of York's hair color. Most say golden and the closest I could find to red was from Alison Weir who says "red-gold" which I presume means strawberry blonde, though she doesn't list a source. I can't find any citations saying Elizabeth was redhead. But I'm always interested in finding new sources, so you could you please list your source on that? Incidentally, her grandmother, Elizabeth Woodville, is also described as having "pale gold" hair.

"You can dertermine hair colour by your siblings.That is how it is dertermined." I don't understand what you are saying. Will you please explain this.

The fact remains that all contemporary sources say Mary Tudor Brandon had blonde hair. No contemporary sources that I could locate say she had red hair. If you have one, I would love to hear of it.

Kathy said...

I need to make a minor correction on my last post. Elizabeth Woodville was, of course, Elizabeth of York's mother, not her her grandmother.

Foose said...

I submit this cautiously, but ... in the 18th century, it was social suicide in France to have red hair, especially if you were a woman. I have read there was a general belief that red-haired women smelled bad, and that red-haired people had that color of hair because they were conceived during Lent (i.e., they were conceived in sin, as intercourse was forbidden during Lent and other holy days).

(Yes, I know. It sounds insane.)

Has anyone run across evidence that this belief may also have been held in the 16th century? I am thinking that perhaps, as Mary was going to be Queen of France, contemporaries (particularly French ones) might have downplayed the redness of her hair.

Foose said...

Just to clarify ... in the 18th century, red hair was thought to indicate the parents had intercourse during the menstrual period (not during holy days, sorry, I doublechecked the reference, but this was also forbidden by the Church).

PhD Historian said...

Foose, you raise an interesting possibility ... just as you always do!

Those with red hair ... "gingers" ... are still stereotyped in the UK today as simpleminded, are they not? One therefore wonders whether the stereotype dates back as far as the 16th century. That is, did Tudor-era folk have a bias against "gingers"?

Foose said...

Per the contemporary observers who described Mary as a blonde -- I haven't seen them, the descriptions I've read of her are usually very general, although still flattering: She is a "paradise," etc. There are few specifics -- one Venetian mentioned that her eyebrows were too light.

However, J.L. Laynesmith in her book The Last Medieval Queens made the interesting point about the value of blonde hair. There was a cultural expectation that queens be blonde, which might have colored the descriptions of "the French Queen" by her contemporaries:

"A physical attribute of more symbolic significance which appears to have been particularly important to queens in the fifteenth century was blonde hair. In northern Europe ... the Virgin Mary was depicted with blonde hair ... For medieval queens the value of blonde hair may also have lain in its similarity to gold, with all the symbolism of royalty and wealth that implied."

She does not discuss Mary "Rose" Tudor but possibly the same cultural expectation applied, especially since Mary shared her name with the Virgin and her brother was the richest king in Europe at his accession. So observers might have "upgraded" Mary's auburn or red hair to blonde.

Elizabeth of York, for example, has auburn hair in her portrait, but the chronicler of her coronation mentions her "fair yelow" hair hanging down.

Tudorrose said...

Being a redhead can be seen in two different ways.You have the ginger which is classified as a redhead and aurburn or chestnut which is also a type of redhead.I think Elizabeth of york did actually have red hair.All you have to do is look at a portrait of Henry VIII to clarify that.Whearelse would he have got his ginger hair from.!? The only monarchs I can think of that had red hair where the plantagenates and this is because they descended from the scots.

Anonymous said...

Although these postings are about 3 years old, I feel compeled to add a humours note. I once worked with a women who had the blackest hair I have ever encountered - a strong statement since I am of Native American descent with black hair and a multitude of relatives with same. My co-workers ancestry was British. She wore her hair very long and one day I was standing behind her waiting in line in our companies lunch cafeteria when I noticed something remarkable. She had one single cooper red hair in the middle of all her gorgeous black hair! Just one! It was so bright it stood out like a beacon. It just proves that we do no know as much about how DNA works as we think! Why would one hair folicle produce one red hair on a head with thousands of black hairs? If any one can answer that; I'd be most interested because my brother,who is a doctor, had never heard of anything like it. It did rather fascinate me as you can tell; I must say it was the most beautiful cooper red I've ever seen and I imagine any woman would love to have that color but I've never seen it again, either natural or in a bottle!

Technically Correct Editing said...

I'm glad someone else necroed this thread because I'd like to comment on the statement that you can tell hair color from siblings' hair colors.

As a baby, my hair was light golden with red highlights. By the time I went to school, it was light auburn. As an adult it was dark auburn and now, at 68, it is dark brown with a reddish cast. (I have almost no grey...a genetic fluke in my family.) My brother was pumpkin orange from birth and is still pumpkin orange. My sister's hair is black. My brother and I have green eyes while hers are brown.

Since siblings derive their phenotype from a tossed salad of parental genes, there is no way to decide on the possible color of one child by looking at the hair of another. My father was a blonde and my mother had black hair.

This is purely anecdotal, of course, but it only takes one black swan to disprove the "all swans are white" statement.

Anonymous said...

One must bear in mind that red hair is a recessive gene and each gene HAS to have come from each parent. Even if it is not expressed for many generations. It lies dormant until two genes come together with one from the egg of the mother and one from the sperm of the father. Therefore, no matter what colour is expressed in any offspring, whether brown or black or indeed blonde, it requires two recessive genes to create a red-haired child. Hence:
Br x Br (parents)
BB Br rr BB (offspring)
B being dominant (black, brown) and r as recessive (red hair).
My parents are both dark haired as is my sister, but I'm the only red haired person in my family. Generations of my extended family going back to Great-Great-Grandparents have had no known red haired offspring.
I'm Irish, so there must have been a red hair recessive gene lying dormant for many years on both sides of my family.
Facially, I have Hazel eyes after my mother and so has my sister. my father has two recessive genes for blue eyes. A genetic trick whereas I've got dark eyed genes with a recessive coloured hair colour!
facially, I look very like my mother and a smidgen like my father!

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, red hair is the only colour in which the colour goes right through the hair follicle and every other hair colour lies on the outside of each shaft.
This is why it remains as a colour longer than the other colours in elderly people.
I've seen white haired men with strong red eyebrows in later life! If the colour does fade, it is likely to become snow white rather then grey.
As a little point of interest, there are fewer red hairs on ones head even if they are seen to be thicker and bushier in texture.