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Black Death Resurfaces in London!

There have been a slew of medieval skeletons found across the UK in recent months. The latest finds are Black Death victims uncovered in London during the excavations for the new Crosslink rail at Farringdon. The exact location of the mass grave was previously unknown, and archeologists are uncertain exactly how many skeletons there may be buried under the site – they may number in the thousands – but experts are satisfying themselves with just studying the ones found in the shaft. They are already running out of room to store the ones they’ve found!

300 skeletons were previously dug up during the excavation for a new station at Liverpool Street, also plague victims in a mass grave. These mass graves were set up around 1348, when the Black Death arrived on the shores of England. They were quite orderly, with the deceased being buried in individual graves alongside each other, not just thrown into a big pit as most plague death victims were later on, when the disease was widespread, space was tight and the need to remove bodies was paramount.

Black Death plague was indiscriminate of class and killed so quickly it left few traces of it’s presence on the bones of it’s victims. Just a small cross section of the skeletons found will provide historians with enormous amounts of information about the lives of Londoners in the early 1300‘s. The remains will later be reburied in a different location.

BlackDeath-ToggenburgBible1411

An illustration of plague afflicted victims, from the Toggenburg Bible (1411)

We will have our very own “Black Death” performance at the Abbey Medieval Festival this year, courtesy of the fantastic House Troupe who will be entertaining our visitors throughout the day.

Face to Face with History

The remains of King Richard III were found earlier this year after a four year search led by Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society. The king, who reigned for only 2 years, died aged 32 in 1485 the Battle of Bosworth Field where he was defeated by Henry VII. His body lay in an unmarked grave for centuries, beneath what finally became a council car park in Leicester, England.

Shown above facing Michael Ibsen, one of King Richard III’s descendants , his reconstructed visage shows features that appear kind and prominent. The distinctive chin and long nose match the portraits and descriptions of the monarch. Fans of Shakespeare will know Richard the Third as a tyrant with slanted eyes, hunched back and cruel frown, but we are now able to see for ourselves a more accurate effigy lacking the centuries-long stereotyping.

This facial reconstruction of King Richard III was created by scanning and measuring his skull. No ‘hints’ were taken from the various portraits of the king as to the shape and size of his features, which are accurate to within 2mm, as the modellers did not want to be biased by preconceived imagery. Clues towards his skin colour, eyebrows and hair were however drawn from these paintings and historical documents.

While his face might not be as evil as the Tudors painted him, the monarch really did have a curve in his spine which would have given him a hunched appearance, as is evidenced in this photo of Richard III’s skeletal remains taken at Leicester University:

Not every long gone monarch is as ‘easy’ to find as Richard III. The remains of King Alfred, also referred to as Alfred the Great, has had quite a rough time since his burial in 899. But that story is for another post… 😉

 

Good things come in threes, and so do Teutonic Knights…

The identities of three knights found in 2007 in Poland have recently come to light. However, these three men were no ordinary knights, but the grand masters Werner von Orseln, Henrich von Plauen and Ludolf von König Wattzau of the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, better known as Teutonic Knights.

The findings correspond to historical written sources about each of the three grand masters, the characteristic features of the skeletons (build, height, injuries, etc), approximate ages of death and DNA results. It has taken six years for archeologists and historians to verify the remains which were discovered in a crypt under a cathedral in Kwidzyn, Poland.

The crypt is believed to have been part of a smaller church which stood on the site of the current cathedral. Over time some of the coffins were damaged by bricks falling from the hastily built crypt ceiling, and apart from the skull of one knight being found on the floor instead of above his shoulders, their remains were found intact.

The Order was first formed in the Germanic region in the late 1100s to establish hospitals and aid pilgriming Christians on their journeys to and from the Holy Land. During the crusades they came to be known as Teutonic Knights when their order turned military. The word ‘Teuton’ literally means ‘German ‘.

While the Order has gone through significant upheaval, losses, gains and wars since it’s establishment over 800 years ago, it still exists today as a charitable organisation working across Central Europe. Their motto, “Help, Defend, Heal” appears to have come full circle.