A Never-Ending Mystery  and One With an Ending!

In their first session of the term, the Year 8 Scholars were treated to a fascinating exploration into the mystery of “The Princes in the Tower” led by School Archivist and author Andrew Beattie. Having published a historical work on this topic as well as a recently-released related piece of children’s fiction, Mr Beattie was well-placed to open up this topic to the students.

In a sweeping narrative, the students heard about the Wars of the Roses, the factions within the House of York, and the key geographical locations on the Princes’ route to the Tower – with the main focus centring on the nature of their fate. The Year 8 Scholars were asked to think about five possible explanations for their disappearance with evidence offered for and against. The fascination of this topic lies in the ongoing questions – such as what if the alleged bones of the princes now in Westminster Abbey were permitted to be re-examined in the light of DNA technology? Perhaps most poignantly, every new RSC production of the play Richard III reinforces the powerful narrative of the evil murder. Oh, I forgot to add we didn’t omit the account of Richard’s body being unearthed in a Leicester car park before being ceremonially laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral.

Picking up on the theme of the use of DNA in historical research, Mr Cavendish told the students about the case of  Anna Anderson. She had claimed to be Anastasia, one of the daughters of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. Nicholas and his family had been murdered during the Revolution and their remains buried in a remote forest, and Anna claimed to have escaped this execution. When the bones were later discovered, after the fall of communism, it  was possible to  subject them to DNA testing. This proved that the remaining bones were all members of the Russian Royal family, the Romanovs.  However, the bones of the son Alexei, and one of the daughters, were not present. Could this be the missing Anastasia/Anna? Fortunately, although Anna was dead by this time, a strand of her hair and a tissue sample from a hospital survived. Tests on these samples proved she was definitely not a Romanov and therefore not Anastasia. In 2007 a second grave was found which contained the bodies of the missing two children and DNA testing proved that they were indeed the Tsar’s children. All the remains are in the St Catherine Chapel of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg.

A marvellous start to the programme with the students left with many questions.