King William II murdered in the New Forest?

On 2nd August 1100, while hunting in the New Forest, William II met his maker at the end of an arrow. It was deemed an accident, and yet something about that day continues to raise eyebrows. Could the Red King have been murdered?

The mysterious death of King William II—nicknamed William Rufus or the Red King because of his ruddy complexion—is one of the first things I remember learning about in History when I got to secondary school. It stuck with me because of the mystery and conspiracy theory that continues to surround the incident to this day.

Our view of the hunting expedition on 2nd August 1100 is murky at best. Contemporary chroniclers have tried to piece together the events, but all of them had agendas and none were eyewitnesses. The earliest mention of the event is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which records that William II was “shot by an arrow by one of his own men”. Later chroniclers gave the name of William’s killer as nobleman Walter Tyrrell, sometimes spelled Tyrell or Tirel.

The most extensive contemporary account comes from William of Malmesbury, writing in circa 1128—so still almost 30 years after the event. He says that the king dreamed he was going to Hell the night before the hunt and that the Devil had said to him, “I can’t wait for tomorrow because we can finally meet in person!”

The next morning, William and his hunting party headed out into the New Forest. Walter Tyrrell was present. So was William’s younger brother, Henry, along with several other lords. William forbade them from leaving his side but, as the hunt began, William and Tyrrell ended up separated from the rest. Apparently, Tyrrell went to shoot a stag but missed, his arrow plunging into the king’s chest.

Tyrrell fled the scene and hightailed it to France. The king’s body was discovered by a poor charcoal-burner called Purkis, who placed the body in his cart and conveyed it to Winchester Cathedral.

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The Princes in the Tower: Britain’s most famous missing persons case

The unexplained disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, aka 12-year-old Edward V of England and his nine-year-old brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, is one of Britain’s coldest cases. Five and a half centuries on, it remains the subject of debate and conspiracy theory. But are we any closer to the truth?

When King Edward IV of England died on April 9th 1483, his son, also Edward, succeeded him as Edward V. Because he was only 12, his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was supposed to act as Lord Protector of the Realm till he came of age. This didn’t quite go to plan. Richard sent both Edward and his younger brother to the Tower of London, supposedly in preparation for Edward’s coronation. But the coronation never happened. Instead, Richard took the throne for himself and the little princes disappeared.

A game of thrones

On his deathbed, Edward IV named his brother, Richard of Gloucester, Lord Protector of the Realm until his son reached maturity. However, Elizabeth Woodville—Edward IV’s wife and queen consort and Edward V’s mother—wasn’t too thrilled about this. She and her family either didn’t trust Richard or wanted to seize power for themselves in the wake of the king’s death (or both).

In any case, Elizabeth ordered her own brother, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, who was looking after Edward V at Ludlow Castle, to bring the boy king to London immediately to be crowned. And she told him to bring an armed escort of 2000 men. Whatever her motive, it certainly looked like Elizabeth was preparing to do battle with her brother-in-law.

But Richard, aware of what was going on, intercepted Edward V and Anthony on their way to London. Also present was Richard Grey, Edward V’s half-brother (the product of Elizabeth Woodville’s first marriage), and Thomas Vaughn, Edward’s chamberlain. Richard met them at Stony Stafford and dined with them, lulling them into a false sense of security before arresting all three men for treason the following morning. (They were later beheaded at Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire.) When the boy king protested the arrests, Richard told his nephew of a plot to deny him his role as Lord Protector, and that his guardians had been a part of it. He then escorted Edward V to London himself.

On hearing of her brother and second-eldest son’s arrests, Elizabeth Woodville fled into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey with her daughters and nine-year-old son, Richard of Shrewsbury.

Edward V and Richard of Gloucester arrived in London together. At the time, Richard still promised his nephew he would be crowned, but postponed the date from 4th May to 22nd June. On 19th May, Richard sent Edward to the Tower of London because, at the time, the Tower was the traditional residence of monarchs prior to their coronation.

In early June, Richard wrote to a number of important lords asking for their support against “the Queen, her blood adherents and affinity” because he suspected Elizabeth Woodville and her cohorts of plotting his murder. At a Privy Council meeting on 13th June at the Tower of London, Richard accused Lord Hastings of conspiring with the Woodvilles against him. It is said that Hastings was dragged out of the Council chambers and immediately beheaded in the courtyard.

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A 3,200-year-old stone unmasks the mysterious Sea Peoples

Between 1250 and 1000 BC, all of the major civilisations of the Bronze Age suddenly collapsed. No one knows why. Climate change? Volcanoes? Drought? Or was it because of an invasion by the shadowy and unidentified Sea Peoples? Archaeologists claim that a 3,200-year-old stone slab has the answer.

The Late Bronze Age collapse brought a violent end to all the major urban centres and governing systems of the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and most of Southwest Asia. The Hittite Empire fell and the New Kingdom of Egypt fragmented and lost a bunch of its colonies. Almost every city between Pylos and Gaza was destroyed, with scores of others abandoned. The collapse sparked a period of turmoil, famine and mass migration, and left behind the isolated village cultures of the Greek Dark Ages.

Nobody knows what or who caused the Late Bronze Age collapse. Scholars have long suspected that a mysterious seafaring confederation known only as the ‘Sea Peoples’ may have had something to do with it. Now archaeologists have managed to decipher the ancient symbols on a 3,200-year-old, 29-metre-long limestone frieze, shedding new light on these maritime conquerors.

The stone was found in the 19th century in what is now modern Turkey. Its inscription is the longest known hieroglyphic inscription from the Bronze Age and written in an ancient language called Luwian, which only about 20 scholars on the planet can actually read.

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Does Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” contain clues to a Tudor conspiracy?

Everybody’s seen a Hans Holbein. His portraits of Henry VIII and the Tudor court are some of the most famous works of the Renaissance. But his 1533 masterpiece The Ambassadors is not just a painting. It’s a nest of puzzles and codes that hints at a conspiracy to change the course of history…

At first glance, The Ambassadors reflects the glory of the Tudor age, showing two noblemen with an array of musical and scientific instruments, all painted with beautiful photographic precision.

But look closer and you’ll realise that there’s a lot more going on here than just a show of wealth and knowledge.

The clues

  • The most obvious oddity is the distorted shape in the foreground. You have to look at the painting from low down on the left side or high up on the right to see the shape as an accurate rendering of a human skull (turn your computer/phone to the side and you’ll see what I mean). It’s called anamorphic perspective, an invention of the Early Renaissance, which has since been used by artists to disguise all kinds of furtive images in their work. The skull has been interpreted as a memento mori, a reminder of death.
  • In the top left corner you can see Jesus on the cross, half concealed by the green curtain.
  • The lute on the bottom shelf has a broken string, a symbol of discord and disharmony.
  • One of the flutes is missing from the case, reinforcing the discord symbolism.
  • The mathematical textbook begins with the word “divide”.
  • The hymnal next to it is in Martin Luther’s translation.

The Anne Boleyn conspiracy

At the beginning of the 1530s, Catherine of Aragon had been unable to give Henry VIII a son and heir, and Henry had become determined to marry his latest mistress Anne Boleyn. At the same time, the Protestant Reformation was in full throttle across Europe, sparked by Martin Luther’s criticisms of the Catholic Church and his calls for reform.

And while Henry VIII was a devout Catholic who despised Luther and considered him a heretic, the King was surrounded by a close-knit cabal of secret Protestant supporters who wanted to end the Pope’s dominion over England.

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Secret snake discovered in Elizabeth I painting – what was she hiding?

In 2010, scientists investigating a 400-year-old portrait of Queen Elizabeth I made a very curious discovery — a hidden snake in the queen’s hand…

The mysterious painting was created in the late 1580s or early 1590s by an unknown artist. In it, Elizabeth I is depicted in a magnificent, jewel-laden gown with a faint smile and a small posy of flowers in her hand, a conventional symbol of virginity and virtue. The painting’s deterioration over time has caused an image beneath the posy to resurface, that of a dark-coloured snake coiled around the queen’s fingers.

Scientists believe that the artist originally painted Elizabeth holding a snake, then painted over it shortly afterwards with the posy. Since nobody knows who the artist was or what the circumstances surrounding the painting were, we can’t be sure what their motivations were for drawing the snake, or for removing it.

What we do know is that snakes and serpents were highly ambiguous in their symbolism. Sometimes they were used as a symbol of wisdom, prudence and good judgment, all good traits for a queen. However, in Christian iconography, their symbolism was a lot darker. Christians associated snakes with evil, original sin and Satan himself, and Elizabeth I was a devout Protestant.

What does this say about how the artist viewed Elizabeth? If they intended to paint her with a symbol of the Devil in her hand, did they see her as evil? As a sinner? As hiding something?

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Jesus didn’t rise from the dead — he went back to the future

Here’s a thought. Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t the son of God at all. He was a time traveller. His miraculous abilities were the product of technology and medicine brought back from the future. And his ‘resurrection’ was just him returning to the future. Go on. Prove me wrong.

It’s Easter, the time of year that Christians celebrate Jesus Christ magically rising from the dead (and the rest of us stuff our faces with chocolate eggs). What better time to explore the notion that Jesus duped us all into thinking he had magical powers and zombie tendencies, when in fact all he had was some clever future tech and a time machine? Naughty scamp.

Seriously, though, it’s worth considering. The gospels have Jesus performing a whole bunch of different miracles. Could all those healing miracles be the result of Jesus using medicine that was way ahead of its time? Okay, so a lot of the stories talk of Jesus touching lepers, paralytics and blind people and instantly curing them of their ailments. Even the technology of today wouldn’t be able to do that.

But there are two possible arguments we can make here. The first is that these are stories, not historical accounts. Most modern scholars and historians and some liberal Christians recognise this. None of the gospels are contemporaneous and all are inconsistent with one another. So these healings could easily be distorted accounts of events that, in reality, involved medicine, technology and recuperation time. If Jesus was using today’s medicine, it would still have appeared miraculous to people at the time, and then decades of Chinese whispers would’ve led these stories to become the instant-healing-with-a-magic-touch tales that were recorded in the gospels.

Taking the gospel stories more literally, the other argument is that Jesus’s magic touch was the result of medical technology far beyond anything that we have today. After all, time travel itself hasn’t been invented yet (or has it? There’s debate on this…). It’s quite feasible that if Jesus was a time traveller, he came from our future. Perhaps a hundred years from now. Perhaps two hundred. Perhaps a thousand. Who knows what medical technology we might have in a thousand years? Healing someone with a single touch sounds like science fiction. But two thousand years ago, so would antibiotics.

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The Nampa figurine — more evidence that time travel is real?

nampa-figurine-1In 1889, well-drillers discovered the Nampa figurine, a mysterious artefact that really puts a spanner in the works of modern evolutionary theory. But I have another idea. What if the figurine is proof that time is not as linear as we all thought, but a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff?

On August 1st 1889, workers led by M.A. Kurtz were drilling a water well in Nampa, Idaho. Suddenly their steam pump spat out a small piece of a brownish clay and sparked a baffling archaeological mystery.

The object, also known as the Nampa image, was one and a half inches in length, made from clay and quartz, and clearly human-shaped, with one leg partially broken off. Geologist G. Frederick Wright said it was a “female figure” with “lifelike lineaments” and “remarkable for the perfection with which it represents the human form”.

Professor Albert A. Wright of Oberlin College (yes, another ‘Wright’, but I think the two are unrelated…) said that there were “faint geometric markings on the figure, which represent either clothing patterns or jewellery”. These markings, mostly on the arms, wrists and around the neck, led Wright to conclude that “the doll is the image of a person of a high civilisation, artistically attired”.

Wright also commented on who might have crafted the figure. He decided that it was not the work of a “small child or amateur”, but of a “true artist”.

Herein lies the problem. The problem that has confounded scientists for decades.

An out-of-place artefact

The Nampa doll was recovered from depths of 320 feet. The stratum at that depth was about 2 million years old. However, humans like us have only been walking the Earth for 200,000 years. This makes the Nampa figurine an out-of-place artefact, an ‘oopart’, because, well, who the hell could have crafted it if humans didn’t exist?

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Did dragons really exist?


Have we got history all wrong? Is it possible that dragons were real animals that walked the Earth and ruled the sky? Could it be that dragons lived among us?

Everybody loves a dragon. They’re a fantasy staple, appearing in dozens of books, films and TV series, from Sleeping Beauty to The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to Game of Thrones. Sometimes they’re man-eating monsters. Sometimes they’re Toothless, the most adorable dragon ever, in How to Train Your Dragon. And they feature on numerous national flags, emblems and coats of arms, too. (I, of course, felt compelled to join in all this dragon fun when I wrote my fantasy novel, The Pendulum Swings, so I added a sassy dragon character with a deformed wing called Guibbette.)

Welsh flag

Welsh flag

Across Europe, dragons have a recognisable form. Take a look at the Welsh flag, which depicts the red Welsh dragon. These bodily features are what we imagine when we think of a dragon. The reptilian snout. The scaly hide. The bat-like wings. The four legs with eagle-like feet and talons. The long, sinuous tail with an arrow-shaped end. The reptilian tongue. And many dragons are also depicted with horns, neck frills and spines down their backs to add to their grandeur and might.

Depiction of a Chinese dragon

Depiction of a Chinese dragon

Mind you, this is just what the European dragon looks like. The other famous dragon is the Chinese dragon, which looks more like a multicoloured snake with four legs. Its reptilian snout and scaly hide are similar to its European cousin, but Chinese dragons do not have wings and are nearly always depicted with colourful flame-like frills and spines.

And while Chinese dragons are well-known for summoning rain, the European dragon has an arguably more famous trait: breathing fire.

Most people think of dragons as mythical creatures in mythical stories. Just make-believe. However, a small body of dragon believers argue passionately that dragons were real animals. Could they be onto something?

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