Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Question from Gervase - Recreating faces from skulls

I have always wondered if they ever exhumed the skulls of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I,Mary Stuart etc., what they actually looked liked should they have been allowed to work on their skulls ( sounds horrible of me huh?) recreating their facial features. I sound goory even to myself, but I ,as well as all of you, are fascinated with these people and just to be there once to pay my respects to persons I ac tually feel so familiar with would be a soulful joy!


Elizabeth M. said...

I for one would love to see this, especially with Anne Boleyn. However, since each lady is buried in a royal peculiar and the permission of the Queen is needed to do any such exhumation and testing, it will never be done.

PhD Historian said...

I agree with Elizabeth M that such forensic pathological studies are unlikely ever to be carried out since the present queen has consistently refused to allow any other kinds of exhumations and studies on remains in royal peculiars (Westminster Abbey, St Peters-ad-Vincula at the Tower).

And I have to say I agree with the Queen. Better that such questions should remain unanswered than that we should disturb the dead in their graves.

Michelle said...

Does anyone know if Prince Charles has an opinion on the matter? My guess is that it does not officially contradict the Queen, but I wonder if he'll take a fresh look when he becomes King. Not merely for the sake of curiosity, but considering modern technology, more for the sake of proper identification and (if necessary) proper burials.
Especially for the Princes in the Tower, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, it is my opinion that as Queens and Princes/would-be-King, they deserve to be respectfully identified and interred as separate and whole remains in their own right.
But, unfortunately, I agree that this is extremely unlikely.

Marilyn R said...

Anne Boleyn fans beware of wishing for your heart’s desire - you might not like what you get!

I have always loved the splendid Bronzino portrait of the elegant and beautiful Eleanor of Toledo and her little son, but the Medici family exhumations of 2004 were an eye-opener,

“Eleonora da Toledo, beautifully portrayed by Agnolo Bronzino in a painting on display at the Uffizi, was five feet tall, had twisted legs, suffered from toothache and had shin splints caused by an inflammation of the outer layer of the bone that occurs often during the later stages of syphilis. Multiple hairline fractures of her pelvis are the results of numerous births before she died at 40.”

I know that the exhumations revealed the family died from malaria, thus dispelling the myths that they perished in a bloodbath, and indeed there was a lot of interesting stuff, but I cannot help feeling that such people were once living, breathing flesh-and-blood human beings like us and we should do them the honour of allowing them to rest in peace.

Stephanie LK said...

I am a huge AB fan, and I am not worried about what she looks like. It would be wonderful to see what she really looked like. Then she should be placed in a much larger tomb. She deserves so much more than a sad little tile.

Marilyn R said...

Although I firmly believe that we should let the dead rest in peace, I am nevertheless very curious as to how one would go about collecting the scientific evidence to identify 500-year-old remains.

Say permission was obtained for forensic studies of the remains thought to be those of Anne Boleyn, who would be her nearest kinfolk for purposes of blood/bone/hair/tissue samples - would it be Mary Boleyn’s descendants, past and present? Presumably permission would not be granted for the exhumation of Queen Elizabeth I.

The present Duke of Norfolk has common ancestry with Queen Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn & Kathryn Howard, but in the past his predecessors have been opposed to this avenue of scientific enquiry, and as hereditary Earls Marshal the Norfolks carry an awful lot of weight.

In the 1960’s the scientific tests on the newly-found remains of Lady Anne Mowbray, child-bride of the younger of the Princes in the Tower, were challenged by the then duke (their common ancestor was Thomas Mowbray 1st Duke of Norfolk c.1366-1399) and she was reburied before they could be completed. Admittedly these were the remains of a child and there was distaste about certain photographs in national newspapers.

I know someone will probably tell me she was hastily re-interred because the necessary paperwork had not been acquired before the tests on her remains began, but in recent years I have twice been through all the documents and press cuttings associated with this case, now held by the Museum of London, and the Duke of Norfolk’s displeasure played a great part in it. Incidentally, the Medici descendants were bitterly divided over the 2004 exhumations in Florence.

If Lady Anne were to be exhumed again, could she be used in the identification of the Princes in the Tower, since her great-grandmother, Katherine Neville, and her husband’s grandmother, Cecily Neville, were sisters?

Going back to Gervase's original post - there have been some interesting and varied comments on this subject on this site in the past 12 months which are worth a look.

Foose said...

The new book Eleanor the Secret Queen, by John Ashdown-Hill, in delineating the life of Edward IV's "secret wife" Eleanor Butler, features a reconstruction of her face that gives an impression of a personality rather forceful and alarming. It also offers a color photo of Anne Mowbray's hair, presumably exhumed from her tomb -- disturbingly red and dampish-looking and matted. I can understand the "distaste" that Marilyn R mentions, although I'm in favor of digging them all up.

Marilyn R said...

Eleanor Butler’s sister, Elizabeth Duchess of Norfolk and Anne Mowbray’s mother, was regarded as a good-looking woman. I think Eleanor was buried in a monastery church in Norwich. Was this a forensic reconstruction from an exhumation?

Foose said...

It seems to be based on the author utilizing the existing images of Eleanor's sister and another niece (not Anne Mowbray), plus the skull of a "medieval woman" (good teeth, by the way) that has been located and tentatively identified as Eleanor. So I don't think most scholars would regard it as a concrete identification and reconstruction. Still, it's interesting and the author takes his mission very seriously, although he's definitely "in the bag" for Richard III.

David Green said...

The major reason the present queen has refused to permit any exhumations and DNA testing etc. is that then the truths will become known and the myths of history will disappear. We would actually learn just who was related to who, and, more importantly, who wasn't. The queen is afraid of this, as all the old myths would be out the door, and the result could be that many who sat on the throne under the guise of being a son/daughter of a monarch had no right to be there. THAT is why the queen doesn't want the bodies dug up: history would have to be re-written to be a little more truthful, and of course no royal wants something like that to happen. It could be that Liz has no right to be the queen.
I say dig them all up; those graves are a treasure trove of archeology and history, and are a wasted resource. Scholars have no qualms about digging up Neolithics and early Saxons etc., and steal Inuit and Indian bones for museums. There's no acceptable reason why we shouldn't be allowed to examine the graves of the more recently dead, particularly royal graves. It should npt be the queen's decision, it's none of her business.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you David. The Queen may not allow future exhumations but I think this it should be done, with all this new technolgy we can cancel out so many myths and legends, such as Anne's sixth finger and her age as a few examples. We have all this technology that we spend so much money on, it should be put to good use.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if anyone will look at this since the last post was years ago but for those who are very curious about Anne boleyn's appearence... there is a site that talks about the time when her body was found. It goes into great detail on the description of her skull. I foudn this on the Anne Boleyn files site, as well as a Tudor wiki. Maybe someone could replicate either a model and cover it with clay or a frontal sketch of the skull and with tracing paper draw the skin eyes and etc. For Elizabeth We can see what she looks like. On flicker site type elizabeth effigy head. There is a head with a ruff in a glass display. At first it looks like a head made of wood but if you click for a full size you can see blemishes, and other things. As people who documented her appearence. I dont know if anyone would agree but I found the death mask very beautiful. It looks 85 percent close to the rainbow portait.