The princes in the Tower, Great Chess and the 41 giraffes

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The princes in the Tower, Great Chess and the 41 giraffes

(Alamy)

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” (The Bible, Old Testament, Book of Jeremiah)  

King Edward V (aged twelve but not yet officially crowned) and his brother Richard, aged nine, were locked in the Tower of London, declared illegitimate and allegedly killed by their wicked uncle Richard III, so that he could seize the English throne in 1483. However, several clues found in the Devon church of St. Matthew’s, Coldridge, on the estate of Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, the princes’ half-brother, suggest that Edward, at least, might have survived and been permitted to live quietly nearby, under the pseudonym of John Evans.   

This startling theory was adumbrated in an extensive article in The Daily Telegraph of December 29th 2021 by Bill Gardner. It is based on the research of John Dike and Philippa Langley, team leader of The Missing Princes Project. Fanciful though this quest might appear, Philippa Langley, in particular, must be taken seriously, since it was she who commissioned the successful dig that identified the bones of Richard III in 2012, which were found under a car park in Leicester. 

The clues in this new case include: the face of the presumed John Evans in a window dedicated to Edward V, carrying a crown but not wearing it; various designs of the Rose of the House of York and the Sunne in Splendour, the personal device of King Edward IV, father to the princes, and a broken shield on John Evans’ tomb, bearing the misprinted name John Evas, which might be construed as “Edward V” (EV) plus “AS”, short for ASA, meaning “sanctuary” in Latin.  

Most intriguing of all is a glass portrait in this out-of-the-way church, depicting Edward V with a floating crown decorated with 41 deer. John Evans was the estate’s Lord of the Manor “ Deer Parker ” and the illustrated window dates from 1511, when Edward V, had he still been alive, would have been 41 years old. Nothing else is known about John Evans, who seems to have appeared out of the blue in Coldridge. 

I have examined the 41 “ deer ” and in my opinion the animals depicted are not deer at all, but 41 giraffes. Giraffes might have been rare in Europe, but not unknown. Julius Caesar brought one to Rome in 46 BC, where it was promptly named a “ Camelopard ”, a cross between a camel in appearance and a leopard, because of its spots. Indeed, its species name is “ camelopardalis ”.

Here is the Roman author Cassius Dio’s account: “I will give an account of the so-called camelopard, because it was then introduced into Rome by Caesar for the first time and exhibited to all. This animal is like a camel in all respects except that its legs are not all of the same length, the hind legs being the shorter. Beginning from the rump it grows gradually higher, which gives it the appearance of mounting some elevation; and towering high aloft, it supports the rest of its body on its front legs and lifts its neck in turn to an unusual height. Its skin is spotted like a leopard, and for this reason it bears the joint name of both animals.” —  Dio,  Roman History (XLIII.23.1-2)

A giraffe (origin “Zerafa”, Arabic for charming or lovely) was included as a piece in the Great Chess of Alfonso el Sabio (the Wise) dated to 1283  where it performed the function of a super-charged knight. A giraffe was also presented in the early 15th century to the Chinese Emperor Yongle by his widely travelled explorer admiral Zheng He. The emperor regarded this rare beast as a “ qilin or quasi mythological creature.

Why should the Coldridge church be decorated with giraffes? The Book of Jeremiah  13:23  in the Old Testament states that the leopard (and pari passu the Camelopard) could not change its spots, hence implying that Edward V, in spite of his obscure exile, could not have his status as legitimate king altered or diminished in any way, neither by deposition nor exile. Perhaps not even by assassination. Naturally, in the late 15th and early 16th centuries the English translation (as given at the start of this column) would not have been current, but the Latin Vulgate original would have been common knowledge:  si mutare potest Aethiops pellem suam aut pardus varietates suas…  

Why, then, choose a giraffe and not an actual leopard? My guess is that there could be several reasons: the Camelopard is far taller and more majestic; it is, or was, much rarer; it cannot be mistaken for a cat, even a regal feline, such as a lion; and finally, the giraffe’s horns give the impression of a crown.

Of course, an alternative and plausible explanation for the proliferation of tributes to the uncrowned Edward V in St. Matthew’s Church, is that Edward’s half-brother, Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, under whose aegis the church fell, wanted to honour the memory of his slain semi-sibling, who was so prematurely cut down before his coronation day. 

To catch up on other matters in this first column of 2022, after demolishing Ian Nepomniachtchi (Nepo for short) in their World Championship match in Dubai, the victor, Magnus Carlsen travelled to Poland to compete in the less weighty World Rapid and Blitz Championships. In my opinion this was an unwise move. World Championships at classical chess, even for the winner, extract a premium in terms of expenditure of energy and mental exertion. To jump into the saddle again, almost immediately after defending his classical title, was an invitation to Nemesis.

This duly overtook him in the forms of 17-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov, from Uzbekistan, who seized the Rapid Title, defeating Carlsen, Caruana and Nepo in the process, and the experienced French Grandmaster Maxime Vachier Lagrave, who took the Blitz Title. Carlsen should have learned from history. Immediately after a brilliant title defence against Boris Spassky, World Champion Tigran Petrosian suffered a humiliating setback in the 1966 Piatigorsky Cup, while Garry Kasparov, having demolished Anand in 1995, went on to a career nadir in the tournament at Horgen. Worst of all, after crushing Spassky in the most celebrated match of all time at Reykjavik 1972, Bobby Fischer felt so mentally drained that he failed to play another serious game for twenty years!   

This week’s game links are to Nodirbek’s crucial three wins from the World Rapids against  Fabiano Caruana , Magnus Carlsen  and Nepomniachtchi . It is noteworthy that in two of the games the new superstar revives Aron Nimzowitsch’s 1926 English Opening System based on e4 and c4, described as “The Iron English” in a recently published book  by Grandmaster Simon Williams and International Master Richard Palliser. 

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Member ratings
  • Well argued: 98%
  • Interesting points: 99%
  • Agree with arguments: 95%
67 ratings - view all

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