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Edinburgh’s Mysterious Miniature Coffins

In 1836, three Scottish boys discovered a strange cache of miniature coffins concealed on a hillside above Edinburgh. Who put them there—and why?

smithsonian.com
April 15, 2013
arthurs-coffins-two-600

It may have been Charles Fort, in one of his more memorable passages, who described the strange discovery best:

London Times, July 20, 1836:

That, early in July, 1836, some boys were searching for rabbits’ burrows in the rocky formation, near Edinburgh, known as Arthur’s Seat. In the side of a cliff, they came upon some thin sheets of slate, which they pulled out.

Little cave.

Seventeen tiny coffins.

Three or four inches long.

In the coffins were miniature wooden figures. They were dressed differently in both style and material. There were two tiers of eight coffins each, and a third one begun, with one coffin.

The extraordinary datum, which has especially made mystery here:

That the coffins had been deposited singly, in the little cave, and at intervals of many years. In the first tier, the coffins were quite decayed, and the wrappings had moldered away. In the second tier,  the effects of age had not advanced so far. And the top coffin was quite recent looking.

Fort’s short account is accurate, so far as it goes—and for more than a century not much more was known about the origin or purpose of the strange miniature coffins. Fewer than half of them survived; the Scotsman, in the first known published account, explained that “a number were destroyed by the boys pelting them at each other as unmeaning and contemptible trifles.” Those that were brought down from the hillside eventually found their way into the collection of Robert Frazier, a South Andrews Street jeweler, who put them on display in his private museum. When, after Frazier’s retirement in 1845, the collection was auctioned off, this lot, described in the sale catalogue as “the celebrated Lilliputian coffins found on Arthur’s Seat, 1836,” sold for just over £4. The coffins thus passed into unknown private hands, and remained there until 1901, when a set of eight, together with their contents, were donated to the National Museum of Scotland by their then-owner, Christina Couper of Dumfriesshire.

Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that these coffins were the same group as the one Frazier obtained in 1836, but few more details are available. The first newspaper reports appeared some three weeks after the initial discovery, and none named any of the boys. One much later account, which is unreferenced and which appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News as late as 1956—but which is so detailed that it may have been based on some otherwise unknown contemporary source—adds that the find was made on June 25, 1836, and notes that the niche, which was “about a foot in height and about 18 inches wide,” was opened up with trowels: tools it seems reasonable to suppose a group of boys out rabbiting might have had about their persons.

Another intriguing detail in the same account states that the surviving coffins were retrieved the “next day” by the boys’ schoolmaster, one Mr. Ferguson, who was a member of a local archaeological society. The coffins were still unopened at this point, the reporter Robert Chapman added, but “Mr. Ferguson took them home in a bag and that evening he settled down in his kitchen and began to prise the lids up with a knife…. Mr. Ferguson took them to the next meeting of his society and his colleagues were equally amazed.” Where Chapman got this information remains unknown, but a search of the contemporary street directories shows that two schoolmasters named Ferguson were working in Edinburgh in 1836–George Ferguson as a classics master at Edinburgh Academy, and Findlay Ferguson as a teacher of English and math at Easter Duddingston.

The Chapman account at least explains how the surviving coffins found their way from the boy discoverers into the hands of the city’s learned gentlemen. In these murky circumstances, it is unsurprising that the precise spot where the find was made is only vaguely known. The Scotsman reported that the boys who unearthed the coffins had been “searching for rabbit burrows on the north-east range of Arthur’s seat” when one spotted “a small opening in the rocks, the peculiar appearance of which attracted their attention.” Another account, which appears to have circulated orally in Edinburgh at this time, and which was put in writing by a correspondent to Notes & Queries under the headline, “A Fairy’s Burial Place,” puts it a good deal more dramatically:

While I was a resident at Edinburgh, either in the year 1836 or 1837, I forget which, a curious discovery took place, which formed the subject of a nine days’ wonder, and a few newspaper paragraphs. Some children were at play at the foot of Salisbury Craigs, when one of them, more venturesome than the others, attempted to ascend the escarpment of the cliff. His foot slipped, and to save himself from a dangerous fall, he caught at a projecting piece of rock, which appeared to be attached to the other portions of the cliff. It gave way, however, beneath the pressure of his hand, and although it broke his fall, both he and it came to the bottom of the craig. Nothing daunted, the hardy boy got up, shook himself, and began the attempt a second time. When he reached the point from whence the treacherous rock had projected, he found that it had merely masked the entrance to a large hole, which had been dug into the face of the cliff.

Salisbury+Crags+and+Aurthur's+Seat

The mouth of this little cave was closed by three thin pieces of slate-stone, rudely cut at the upper ends into a conical form, and so placed as to protect the interior from the effects of the weather.The Scotsman‘s account is, I think, to be preferred here—Notes & Queries adds various other details which are known to be untrue, such as the statement that the coffins had “little handles, and all the other embellishments which the undertakers consider necessary to respectability” —but it is actually broadly in line with N&Q‘s with regard to location. Conversely, another Edinburgh paper, the Caledonian Mercury, describes the spot as lying “at the back of Arthur’s Seat”–that is, on the south side of the hill. Given the relative accessibility of the northern face, and the length of time that appears to have separated the burials from their discovery, it is perhaps marginally more likely that the exact site of the find was neither Salisbury Crags nor the north range of Arthur’s Seat, but a spot to the south, in a relatively remote location on the far side of the Seat from Edinburgh itself. This ties in rather intriguingly with the notion that Findlay Ferguson of Easter Duddingston may have been the schoolmaster associated with the find, since Duddingston lies directly beneath the southern face of Arthur’s Seat. Whatever the facts, it seems clear from the contemporary sources that the coffins were found not in a substantial “cave” on the hillside, as is sometimes supposed, but in a small gap in the rocks. The Scotsman, again, has the clearest description:

According to one later account, in a record in the so-called “Continuation Catalogue” of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, at least one of these slates was “rudely shaped like the headstone of a grave.” As for what the boys found when the slates had been removed, it was “an aperture about twelve inches square in which were lodged seventeen Lilliputian coffins, forming two tiers of eight each, and one on a third, just begun!” Each of the coffins, the Scotsman added,

contained a miniature figure of the human form cut out in wood, the faces in particular being pretty well executed. They were dressed from head to foot in cotton clothes, and decently laid out with a mimic representation of all the funereal trappings which usually form the last habiliments of the dead. The coffins are about three or four inches in length, regularly shaped, and cut out from a single piece of wood, with the exception of the lids, which are nailed down with wire sprigs or common brass pins. The lid and sides of each are profusely studded with ornaments, formed with small pieces of tin, and inserted in the wood with great care and regularity.

So much for the circumstances of the discovery. The greater mystery, as the Scotsman was swift to point out, was what exactly the coffins were, who had placed them in their hiding place, and when. Several potential explanations were advanced, the most popular being that the burials were part of some spellwork, or that they represented mimic burials, perhaps for sailors lost at sea. Most of these solutions, however, assumed that the newspapers of the day were correct to state that the burials had been made over a considerable period of time. According to the Edinburgh Evening Post, for instance,

in the under row the shrouds were considerably decayed and the wood rotten, while the last bore evident marks of being a very recent deposit.

This assumption is, however, hard to prove. The discovery was made not by some trained archaeologist, who made a painstaking examination before moving a single piece of wood, but by a group of boys who appear to have thoroughly mixed up the coffins by hurling them at each other, and who never gave any first-person account of their find. The best that can be said is that several of the surviving coffins display considerably more decay than the others—the most obvious sign being the rotten state (or complete absence) of the figurines’ grave clothes—but whether the decay was the product of time or simply weathering is not now possible to say. It may be that the decayed coffins were simply those that occupied the lower tier in the burial nook, and so were most exposed to water damage. If that’s the case, there is no need to assume that the burials stretched over many years.

This matters, because the only comprehensive study yet made of the “fairy coffins” strongly indicates that all postdate 1800, and that the odds favor a deposit or deposits made after about 1830—within about five years, in other words, of the discovery of the cache. The work in question was carried out by Allen Simpson, a former president of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts and currently a member of the faculty of History and Classics at Edinburgh University, and Samuel Menefee, senior associate of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia, and it was published, regrettably obscurely, in the journal of the city’s local history society: The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club.

Simpson and Menefee began their work by describing the eight surviving artifacts (which can still be seen today, on display in the National Museum of Scotland). Two, they note, were originally painted pink or red; the interior of one is lined with paper, made with rag fiber and datable to the period after 1780. As for the details of the construction:

Each coffin contains an ‘occupant’ and has been hollowed from a solid piece of wood. Each also has a lid which has been held in place by pins of various sizes, driven down through the sides and ends of the coffin base. In many instances the pin shafts are still in place, though some are bent over; when the lids were prised off the coffins most of the hand-wound pin heads became detached…. Although the type of wood has not previously been commented on, it has now been identified as Scots pine. Coffin dimensions vary…those now accessible for study are 3.7 to 4.1 inches long, 0.7 to 1.2 inches wide, and 0.8 to 1.0 inches deep with their lids in place….

Judging by the longitudinal scoring on the base of the recess, a sharp knife—probably a hooked knife—has been used. The fact that the surfaces at the ends of the recess are so cleanly cut indicates that the knife has been very sharp; but the user has apparently not been a woodworker by trade because he has not had access to an edged tool such as a chisel to cut out the base of the recess, and has had difficulty in controlling the depth of the cuts (which have even penetrated the base of coffin No.5).

There are two types of external shape. Five of the coffins (Nos 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8) have been carved with square-cut corners and edges, although most have slightly bowed sides so that the coffin has a taper at each end. However, the remaining three (Nos 3, 5 and 7) have a pronounced rounding of the edges and ends of the coffin; this suggests a different manual approach…and may indicate that the coffins could have been carved by two different individuals.

image: http://blogs.forteana.org/system/files/Soldier+sideview.jpg

Arthur's Seat coffins - fiogurine side view

A side view of one of the figurines found on Arthur’s Seat, showing how one arm has been removed to allow it to fit inside its coffin. Photo: National Museum of Scotland.

As to who did the carving, Simpson and Menefee point out that “the most striking visual feature of the coffins is the use of applied pieces of tinned iron as decoration.” Analysis of this metal suggests that it is very similar to the sort of tin used in contemporary shoe buckles, and this in turn opens the possibility that the coffins were the work of shoemakers or leatherworkers, who would have had the manual skills to make the coffins but would have lacked the specialist carpentry tools needed to make a neater job of it.

The figurines found within the coffins were also studied. Each of the eight is neatly carved from close-grained white wood, and they share almost identical proportions, varying in height by no more than 5 millimeters—about a fifth of an inch. Some have arms, but several dolls have had them removed, apparently to allow the figure to fit neatly into its coffin. This suggests that the figures were not carved specifically for the purpose of burial, but have been adapted from an existing set; Simpson and Menefee—noting their “rigidly erect bearing,” indications that they originally wore hats, and their carefully carved lower bodies “formed to indicate tight knee breeches and hose, below which the feet are blackened to indicate ankle boots”—believe they are the remnants of a group of toy soldiers, and note that each is made to stand upright with the addition of a slight weight on its front, which might have been supplied by the addition of a model musket. (There would have been no need to ensure carvings intended simply as corpses would stand upright.) The features are very similar, and “it seems unlikely that the figures were ever intended to represent particular individuals.” Moreover, “the open eyes of the figures suggest that they were not carved to represent corpses.”

Based on their appearance, the authors tentatively date the group to the 1790s; no dendrochronological analysis or carbon dating, however, has been done on the collection. Several of the surviving figurines are still clad in well-preserved “grave clothes.” As Simpson and Menefee point out, “single-piece suits, made from fragments of cloth, have been moulded round the figures and sewn in place. With some figures there is evidence of adhesive under the cloth. The style of dress does not relate to period grave clothes, and if it is intended to be representational at all then it is more in keeping with everyday wear…. The fact that the arms of figure No.8 were already missing when the figure was clothed suggests that the fabric was merely intended to cover the figures decently and not to represent garments.” All the fabrics are cheap, made of plain woven cotton, though one of the figures is clad in checks and three “seem to have commercially inked patterns applied to the cloth.”

image: http://blogs.forteana.org/system/files/Stitching.jpg

Arthur's Seat coffins - figurine clothing and stitching

Two more figurines, showing details of the stitching and clothing, crucial clues to their likely origin. Photo: National Museum of Scotland.

The evidence of the figurines makes dating the burials much easier. According to Naomi Tarrant, curator of European textiles at the National Museum of Scotland, the good condition of the surviving vestments suggests they were buried in the 1830s. More revealingly, one of the figures has been sewn into its grave clothes with a three-ply thread. Cotton thread replaced linen in Scotland from about 1800; “almost certainly,” Simpson and Menefee assert, “such thread would have been manufactured in the thread mills of Paisley, where tradition has it that cotton thread was not made before 1812.” Three-ply thread, according to Philip Sykas of Manchester Art Galleries–the leading expert on that topic – came into use in about 1830. Sykas believes that the mixture of one-, two- and three-ply threads found on the Arthur’s Seat figures “indicates a date in the 1830s.”

Now, none of this proves all the burials took place at so late a date as 1830; it is possible that the decayed surviving figurines represent interments that took place earlier than this, and also that the figurines sewn with one- or two-ply thread predate 1830. Nonetheless, it does seem possible to suggest that all the burials took place, at the outside, between about 1800 and 1830, and it is entirely likely that Simpson and Menefee are correct to state that all took place during the 1830s. This in turn suggests it is possible that all 17 figurines were interred at the same time, and the fact that the coffins seem to have been carved by at most two people and that the figurines apparently originally formed part of a single set implies that the burial(s) were carried out by the same person, or small group of people “over a comparatively short period.”

If this is true, write Simpson and Menefee, “the significant feature of the burial is that there were seventeen coffins,” and “it is arguable…”

that the problem with the various theories is their concentration on motivation, rather than on the event or events that caused the interments. The former will always be open to argument, but if the burials were event-driven—by, say the loss of a ship with seventeen fatalities during the period in question—the speculation would at least be built on demonstrable fact. Stated another way, what we seek is an Edinburgh-related event or events, involving seventeen deaths, which occurred close to 1830 and certainly before 1836. One obvious answer springs to mind—the West Port Murders by William Burke and William Hare in 1827 and 1828.

image: http://blogs.forteana.org/system/files/William+Burke.jpg

William Burke

William Burke, one half of the infamous pair of “resurrection men” responsible for 17 murders in the Scottish capital during the late 1820s.

Simpson’s and Menefee’s solution to the mystery is certainly dramatic— so much so it seems that nobody has actually asked whether the pair searched for news of any Scottish shipwreck from the early 1830s, as they suggest it might be wise to do. (It would appear that they did not.) The West Port murders, after all, were and remain notorious: They were committed in Edinburgh by two Irish laborers, Burke and Hare, to profit by supplying corpses to Edinburgh’s medical school, where they were in great demand for dissection. The pair’s victims, mostly indigents who, they supposed, would not be missed, numbered 17, of whom one expired of natural causes while the rest were murdered. The killers’ trial, in which Hare turned King’s evidence and Burke was convicted and later hanged, was one of the sensations of the age. Crucially, in the authors’ view, the fact that all of the 17 victims were dissected, and consequently had no decent burial, may have inspired a “mimic burial” on Arthur’s Seat:

Considering beliefs such as the alleged mimic burial given to Scottish sailors lost at sea, it would not be unreasonable for some person or person, in the absence of the seventeen dissected bodies, to wish to propitiate these dead, the majority of whom were murdered in atrocious circumstances, by a form of burial to set their spirits at rest. While it is always possible that other disasters could have resulted in an identical casualty list, the West Port murders would appear to be a logical motivating force.

Since Simpson and Menefee first reported their findings in 1994, their thesis has been elaborated. The Edinburgh Evening News reported in 2005 that George Dalgliesh, principal curator of Scottish history at the National Museum of Scotland, believes “the most credible theory is that were made by someone who knew Burke and Hare,” and so had a strong motive to make amends for their crimes. Attempts to suggest that Burke himself may have manufactured and buried the pieces in an agony of contrition seem to fail on the problem that the murderers were arrested almost immediately after committing their 17th killing, leaving little or no time for any burial to be made; a DNA sample for Burke has been obtained from the murderer’s skeleton, which is preserved at Edinburgh University, but no traces of DNA could be recovered from the buried figurines.

There is, moreover, one potentially fatal objection to the theory that the Arthur’s Seat coffins are connected to the West Port murders: no fewer than 12 of Burke and Hare’s victims were female, yet the clothed bodies found in the coffins were uniformly dressed in male attire.

Without knowing more about burial customs in early 19th-century Scotland it is hard to know how worrying this objection is, but certainly it would appear no more difficult to clothe a figurine in a miniature dress than it would be to stitch on trousers. In the absence of firm evidence of any connection to the activities of Burke and Hare, I would suggest the first step in any future investigation should be to examine Scottish newspapers published between, say, 1820 and 1836, for evidence of any other disasters involving the deaths of 17 people—ideally, none of them women. Two titles, the Scotsman and the Caledonian Mercury, have now been digitized, and could be searched by a determined researcher. We await further developments.

Sources

Caledonian Mercury, August 5, 1836; Charles Fort. Complete Books. New York: Dover, 1975; Edinburgh Evening News, October 16, 1956 and December 2, 2005; Edinburgh Evening Post, August 20, 1836; Samuel Pyeatt Menefee and Allen Simpson, ‘The West Port murders and the miniature coffins from Arthur’s Seat,’ The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, new series vol.3 (1994); Notes & Queries, 3S. III, April 4, 1863; Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 36 (1901-02); The Scotsman, July 16, 1836.

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Conspiracy Theory – Was Queen Elizabeth I a Man?

Is this proof the Virgin Queen was an imposter in drag? Shocking new theory about Elizabeth I unearthed in historic manuscripts

By CHRISTOPHER STEVENS

The bones of Elizabeth I, Good Queen Bess, lie mingled with those of her sister, Bloody Mary, in a single tomb at Westminster Abbey. But are they really royal remains — or evidence of the greatest conspiracy in English history?

If that is not the skeleton of Elizabeth Tudor, the past four centuries of British history have been founded on a lie.

And according to a controversial new book, the lie began on an autumn morning 470 years ago, when panic swept through a little group of courtiers in a manor house in the Cotswold village of Bisley in Gloucestershire.

Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth in the film 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age'. Could the virgin queen be a part of the biggest deception in British history?Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth in the film ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’. Could the virgin queen be a part of the biggest deception in British history?

The king, Henry VIII, was due at any hour. He was travelling from London, in great discomfort — for the 52-year-old monarch was grossly overweight and crippled by festering sores — to visit his daughter, Elizabeth.

The young princess had been sent there that summer from the capital to avoid an outbreak of plague. But she had fallen sick with a fever and, after weeks of bleeding, leeches and vomiting, her body was too weak to keep fighting. The night before the king’s arrival, his favourite daughter, the only child of his marriage to Anne Boleyn, had been dangerously ill. In the morning, Elizabeth lay dead.

Elizabeth’s governess, Lady Kat Ashley, and her guardian, Thomas Parry, had good reason to fear telling the king this awful news. It would cost them their lives. Four of Henry’s children had died in infancy and, of the survivors, one — Edward — was a sickly boy of five and the other an embittered, unmarried woman in her late 20s.

The ten-year-old Elizabeth was Tudor England’s most valuable child in many ways. She could surely be married to a French or Spanish prince to seal an international alliance — and her own children would secure the Tudor dynasty Henry so desperately craved.

Now she was dead, and when the king discovered it, Parry and Lady Ashley would surely be executed. Their sole duty had been to keep the princess safe: failure was treason. The penalty would not even be beheading, but death by the most gruesome torture imaginable.

They would be bound and dragged through the mud for a mile to the scaffold. There they would be hanged, cut down and disembowelled. Their entrails would be hauled from their bodies and held in front of their faces as they died, and then their limbs would be hacked off and displayed on spikes, to be picked bare by the birds.

Helen Mirren pictured as Elizabeth I in a Channel Four mini-seriesHelen Mirren pictured as Elizabeth I in a Channel Four mini-series

Their only chance of concealing the truth, and perhaps buying themselves a few days to flee the country, was to trick the king.

Kat Ashley’s first thought was to find a village girl and dress her up in the princess’s robe, with a mantle, to fool the king. Bisley was a tiny hamlet, however, and there were no female children of Elizabeth’s age.

But there was a boy, from a local family called Neville. He was a gawky, angular youth a year or so younger than Elizabeth, who had been the princess’s companion and fellow pupil for the past few weeks. And with no time to look further afield for a stand-in, Parry and Lady Ashley took the desperate measure of forcing the boy to don his dead friend’s clothes.

Remarkably, the deception worked. Henry saw his daughter rarely, and was used to hearing her say nothing.  The last time she had been presented in court, meeting the new Queen Catherine Parr, she had been trembling with terror.

The princess was known as a gentle, studious child, and painfully shy — not a girl to speak up in front of the king who had beheaded her mother.

So when ‘she’ stood at Bisley manor, in the dimness of an oak-beamed hall lit by latticed windows, it was not so surprising that the king failed to realise he was being duped. He had no reason to suspect his daughter had been ill, after all, and he himself was tired and in pain.

But after he left later that afternoon, the hoax began in earnest. Parry and Lady Ashley realised that if they ever admitted what they had done, the king’s fury would be boundless. They might get out of the country to safety, but their families would surely be killed.

On the other hand, few people had known the princess well enough to be certain of recognising her, especially after an interval of many months. This boy had already fooled the king, the most important deception.

Meanwhile, there was no easy way to find a female lookalike, and replace the replacement. As the courtiers buried the real Elizabeth Tudor in a stone coffin in the manor grounds, they decided their best hope of protecting themselves and their families was to teach this Bisley boy how to be a princess.

Attributed to painter William Scrots, this portrait is of Elizabeth I as a Princess in 1546-7Attributed to painter William Scrots, this portrait is of Elizabeth I as a Princess in 1546-7

Of course this entire theory sounds absurd, given that every child grows up with tales of our glorious Virgin Queen, celebrated by Shakespeare and venerated in innumerable plays, songs and films over the centuries.

And yet the many corroborating details around this extraordinary tale about the Bisley boy were enough to convince the 19th-century writer Bram Stoker, most famous as the author of Dracula. He included the story as the final chapter in his  book, Imposters.

Stoker had heard persistent stories that a coffin had been discovered by a clergyman at Bisley during the early 1800s, with the skeleton of a girl dressed in Tudor finery, even with gems sewn onto the cloth.

It seemed to chime with local legends persisting for centuries that an English monarch had been, in reality, a child from the village.

Above all, Stoker believed, it was the most plausible explanation  why Elizabeth, who succeeded to  the throne in 1558, aged 25,  never married.

Her most urgent duty, as the last of the Tudor line, was to provide an heir — yet she described herself as a Virgin Queen, and vowed she would never take a husband, even if the Emperor of Spain offered her an alliance with his oldest son.

She stayed true to that oath, provoking a war which almost ended in Spanish invasion in 1588. But Elizabeth did not waver — and never even took an acknowledged lover.
She was fond of proclaiming that she was more of a king than a queen. ‘I have the heart of a man, not a woman, and I am not afraid of anything,’ she declared.

Her most famous speech, to her troops at Tilbury as the Spanish Armada approached, was cheered to the skies as she roared: ‘I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England, too.’

American author Steve Berry believes Elizabeth could have been telling the literal truth — that she had the heart of a man, because her body was male. He has spent 18 months researching the conspiracy for his novel The King’s Deception, a Dan Brown-style thriller set in 21st-century London.

Could the real reason the 'Virgin Queen' never married was that she was secretly a man?Could the real reason the ‘Virgin Queen’ never married was that she was secretly a man?

For Berry, who has written 12 thrillers, the trail began with a chance question during a tour of Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire three years ago. ‘I always ask if there are any secrets or mysteries, and the guide told me: “There’s nothing at Ely but I’ve heard an incredible rumour in the Cotswolds.” ’
Sceptical at first, Berry uncovered tantalising hints and references in books and ancient manuscripts.

When the ‘princess’ reached her teens, for instance, she was assigned a tutor named Roger Ascham, who was puzzled by her behaviour.

‘The constitution of her mind,’ he wrote, ‘is exempt from female weakness, and she is embued with a masculine power of application … In the whole manner of her life she rather resembles Hippolyte than Phaedra.’

That last, classical allusion was quite venomous: Phaedra was an ancient princess driven mad by her lust for men, while Hippolyte was queen of the Amazons, who lived without any need for men at all. Most convincing to Berry were the contemporary portraits, which are reproduced in his novel.

One picture exists of Elizabeth as a child, attributed to the court painter William Scrots. She had slender shoulders, a delicate neck and a heart-shaped face with ginger hair and eyebrows.

In the next known portrait, shortly after she was crowned queen, her broad shoulders and neck are disguised with heavy furs. She is wearing a wig, and her eyebrows are plucked bare. Her jaw is heavy and square.

All subsequent pictures of the queen were painted to an ideal, showing Elizabeth as she wished to be seen, not as she was.

Even the official portrait commissioned after her death by her chief adviser, Sir Robert Cecil, conformed to what was known as ‘The Mask Of Youth’ — the idealised face of the monarch, which never aged.

Many Tudor courtiers suspected that Elizabeth had a deep secret. Lord Somerset was the power behind the boy king Edward VI’s throne, after Henry VIII died in 1547 when Elizabeth was just 13.

One of his spies, Sir Robert Tyrwhitt, wrote to him: ‘I do verily believe that there hath been some secret promise between my Lady, Mistress Ashley, and the Cofferer [Thomas Parry, the principal officer of the court] never to confess to death, and if it be so, it will be never gotten of her, unless by the King’s Majesty or else by your Grace.’

In modern English: ‘I am certain Lady Ashley and Thomas Parry have a secret, and that there is a pact between them to take it to the grave. If that’s the case, the only people who could force them to divulge this secret are you and the King.’

Those were ominous words: only Somerset and the King had the right to put a suspect to the rack, using torture to extract information.

Bram Stoker believed it was the sheer scale of the deception that made it possible. When Elizabeth returned to London from Bisley, more than a year after she first left the court, it would have been treason for any sceptics to suggest ‘she’ was not the king’s daughter.

‘It is conceivable,’ Stoker remarked drily, ‘that in the case of a few individuals, there might have been stray fragmentary clouds of suspicion.

This portrait of Queen Elizabeth I is by an unknown artist and is from the period 1580-1590This portrait of Queen Elizabeth I is by an unknown artist and is from the period 1580-1590

‘After a time, even suspicion became an impossibility. Here was a young woman growing into womanhood whom all around her had known all her life — or, what was equivalent, believed they had.’

Any differences in her appearance were dismissed as the natural effects of growing up. Elizabeth had been a timid child — now she was a bold and imperious adolescent.

As a little girl, she was exceptionally bright, poring over her books and learning as quickly as her tutors could teach her; now she was slower at her lessons and, though far from stupid, more academic plodder than prodigy.

Her tutor was warned to make her lessons shorter. Roger Ascham commented that the girl who had been said to soak up facts like a sponge was now more like a shallow cup — if wine was poured in too quickly, it would simply splash out again.

Kat Ashley and Thomas Parry — the pair who are suspected of carrying out the deception — remained loyal to the sovereign throughout their lives, as England’s political pendulum swung wildly after the death of Henry VIII.

During Edward VI’s reign, they were Elizabeth’s closest friends, and they stood by ‘her’ during her years of imprisonment in the Tower when her Catholic sister Mary was queen and decided the safest place for Elizabeth was under lock and key, where she could not threaten the throne.

When Mary died at the age of 42, one of Elizabeth’s first acts as queen was to make Lady Ashley her First Lady of the Bedchamber.

For the next seven years, she controlled all access to the young monarch. Elizabeth was devastated when Ashley died in 1565, and went into heavy mourning. Thomas Parry was knighted, and made a Privy Counsellor and Comptroller of the Household — the richest rewards Elizabeth could bestow.

He was a bad-tempered man who made many enemies, and few at court grieved when he died in 1560 — one wag said he expired ‘from mere ill-humour’.

Steve Berry believes the queen must have confessed her secret to her chief minister, William Cecil. The politician had a reputation for an almost supernatural ability to read people and discover facts: she needed Cecil to understand that a marriage would not just have  been pointless, it would have  been ruinous.

This painting by an unknown artist is known as the 'Darnley portrait' after a previous owner, and is from around 1575This painting by an unknown artist is known as the ‘Darnley portrait’ after a previous owner, and is from around 1575

If her secret was betrayed, the country could be plunged into civil war. There was no obvious heir, and Mary’s former husband was now Britain’s greatest enemy, Philip II of Spain. Certainly, Cecil was surprisingly stoic about the queen’s determination never to wed.

Publicly, Elizabeth sometimes claimed that people needed to feel their monarch was wedded to the whole country, rather than one man. On other occasions, she hinted that the debacle of her father’s six wives, and her mother’s death at the block, had put her off marriage for life.
If those reasons sound flimsy, the queen’s determination to control her image was iron.

She wore thick make-up and heavy wigs at all times: no one was permitted to see her without them. And she controlled her succession with equal ruthlessness.

On her deathbed, she commanded that the crown must go to her cousin’s son — James VI of Scotland, whose mother was Mary Queen of Scots. But the command itself was cryptically worded: ‘I will have no rascal to succeed me, and who should succeed me but a king?’

Was there a hint in those words that for 45 years the figure on the throne had herself been a ‘rascal’, playing a part? Author Steve Berry believes there is only one way to discover the truth. After Elizabeth died in 1603, there was no autopsy.

Instead of a magnificent state funeral for the monarch the nation called ‘Gloriana’, the queen’s bones were interred with those of her sister in Westminster Abbey.

Berry points to the recent DNA analysis that proved that remains discovered under a Leicester car park were those of Richard III, who ruled a century before Elizabeth.

Such high-tech methods would not even be necessary to establish whether the bones in the Abbey tomb were all female, or whether a male skeleton was buried there.

‘Elizabeth’s grave has never been breached,’ Berry says. ‘Now it’s  time to open it up and see what’s  in there.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2337774/Is-proof-Virgin-Queen-imposter-drag-Shocking-new-theory-Elizabeth-I-unearthed-historic-manuscripts.html#ixzz2VrJ2vkiy
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32 Facts You Probably Don’t Know about London…

A few facts you likely didn’t know about London (32 Photos)

APRIL 3, 2013 |

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