The Princes in the Tower

The Holbein Connection

13/06/2020
The Hans Holbein connection was pointed out to me by a family friend, who once visited one of the nunneries in Belgium. From what I can gather from my research, researcher Jack Leslau first conceived the idea in the 1970s. Among other things, Leslau claimed that both Edward V and Richard, 1st Duke of York, survived and continued to live under the guises of one Sir Edward Guildford and one Dr John Clement.

Historically, there are far too many holes in this intriguing theory for it to hold water, but it is unquestionably a fascinating one. According to Leslau, Clement survived and entered the household of Thomas More and later married his foster daughter, Margaret Giggs.

The main problem here is age. Richard, 1st Duke of York, was about nine when he disappeared and would have been well into his fifties at the time the Holbein painting was done. The man in the picture, also mentioned in the novel, is far too young to be York. According to most biographies, albeit vague ones, Clement was born in 1500, and parts of his early years are documented, including his education at St Paul’s. Richard of Shrewsbury was himself born in August 1473, making him twenty-seven at the time of Clement’s alleged birth. While that alone should draw things to a conclusion, Clement’s death in 1572 equally stretches a point. Though technically he could have lived to ninety-nine, it doesn’t seem very likely for a man living at a time when life expectancy was around forty.

That said, there are interesting observations, the best of which I have picked up on in my novel. John, the rightful heir, is mentioned in the main painting, standing beneath a fleur-de-lis. He is also standing at the highest point. Intriguingly, his identity has never been satisfactorily explained. While I congratulate Mr Leslau on some interesting points, Clement is too young to be Richard, 1st Duke of York. If there is any truth in the theory, surely Clement was his son.

On a sounder historical note, the painting in question by the famous Hans Holbein the Younger was lost in a fire in the 1700s; the copies by Rowland Lockey that survive are therefore all the more important. They were completed around 1593 and now hang at both Nostell Priory in Yorkshire and the National Portrait Gallery. The suggestion in the novel that there are multiple copies in existence is false. The idea that Elizabeth I in some way tampered with the paintings is also made up.