Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Question from Jean (Anne's Fan) - Comments on the Bell "St. Peter ad Vincula" book

I have been reading the Bell book about the chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula, in the Tower of London. I understand that while the bones of several people were not able to be identified were co-mingled for re-burial. Some remains were found buried where it was said they were. Among those identified were those of Anne Boleyn. The bones that were identified were put in their own containers with their name on it and reburied where they were found.
Therefore not co-mingled.

It is also interesting to note that there appeared to be evidence of the "extra" nail, that Anne was supposed to have had.


PhD Historian said...

Your comments are excellent ones, Jean. Obviously you have a sentimental attachment to Anne Boleyn and want to know "the truth." That is excellent.

But Bell’s account must be read very, very carefully. And it must be read for what it actually says, not for what we may want it to say or what we expect it to say.

He states that the bones identified in 1876 as "probably" those of Anne Boleyn were found "heaped together" in a space too small for an undisturbed burial. From a purely non-emotional, non-sentimental, scientific perspective, any time a burial has obviously been disturbed, we must ask whether the bones are actually those of the person believed to have been buried there originally. As Bell very clearly stated, a very large number of people were buried in the Chapel throughout the course of its history. Bell also very clearly stated that it was certain that some older burial remains had been moved or disturbed to make room for more recent burials. The bones identified as those of Anne Boleyn were clearly among those moved to make way for later burials.

(this will be submitted in several parts because of their total length)

PhD Historian said...

As for the bones identified as those of Anne Boleyn being "found buried where it was said they were" (beyond what I noted immediately above about the certainty that they had already been moved), it is extremely important to note the difference between "said they were" and "documented to have been." The exact location within the Chapel of the grave of Anne Boleyn was never written down, and the spot was not marked at the time. All that was known is that she was buried somewhere "in front of the altar." That space is perhaps 25 to 30 feet long and 15 to 20 feet wide. In others words, no one knew for certain exactly where she was buried beyond it being within an area of 375 to 600 square feet or more.

Bell states on page 12 that the location of Anne's grave "in all probability" was determined based on presumed custom of burying high-ranking people to the right of the altar. Again, from a purely scientific perspective, "probably" is not the same as "certainly." Some degree of uncertainty must exist when someone says "probably." Further, King Henry VIII is buried directly in front of the altar at St George’s Chapel, while most of his predecessors buried in Westminster Abbey are ranged along both aisles. The supposed “custom” of burying to the right was not consistent, or Henry would have been buried to the right of the altar. We therefore cannot be certain that Anne was indeed buried to the right of the altar.

PhD Historian said...

Bell also notes that he and his colleagues relied on "Stow." That is a reference to John Stow's Annales, or Generale history of England from Brute until the present yeare of Christ 1580. Stow does not give the precise location of the grave. Instead, he states simply that "hir body with the head was buryed in the Queere [quire/choir] of the Chappell in the Tower" (page 1007). (Stow's Survey of London of 1598 does not mention the burial of Anne Boleyn.) Again, that covers as much as 600 square feet.

Bell refers on page 20 to the reliance in 1876 on a "plan" of the burials close to the altar. That plan appears on page 52. On page 51, Bell explicitly notes that he and his colleagues came up with the plan as a “suggestive” one, to show how the graves “may have been arranged.” In other words, it was an assumption based on the available evidence, not “proof positive.”

PhD Historian said...

Bell notes on page 22 that “all” of the remains” were locked up in “a” (singular) box until separate containers could be made. Though the bones were sorted before putting them in the box, we cannot now know for certain whether or not they became intermingled before being re-sorted to individual containers. “Anne’s” supposed bones may be spread out among several containers.

Regarding the “evidence” on page 28 of an extra nail indicating a 6th finger, if you read Bell’s text very carefully, he is quoting a sixteenth-century description of Anne. At the end of the footnote, he states, “It was at first thought that this malformation could be traced on one of the finger bones, but a more careful examination dissipated that impression.” In other words, they had hoped to find the bones of a sixth finger, but they were disappointed, and they did not.

In short, Bell and his colleagues found some bones that might be those of Anne Boleyn, but their conclusion is based on very sketchy evidence ... even contradictory evidence. So for now, the best we can really conclude with certainty is that Anne Boleyn's bones are buried somewhere at the east end of the Chapel of St Peter-ad-Vincula, but the precise spot may never be known.

Nikki said...

PhD: I didn't know there was a custom to bury people to right right of the altar, as you stated in your 2nd post. Can you elaborate on that?

PhD Historian said...

I was not aware of the "custom" either, Nikki. The presumption was Bell's, not mine. He states that he and his colleagues assumed Anne was buried to the right of the altar because it was their understanding that high-status people were buried there. I have no idea where they got that idea, though.