Therefore, be ye also ready…

To my dear Dad, a gentle gentleman, whom I grieve to have lost in recent days.
To my dear Mom, whose memory I cherish; she was a sparkling font of wisdom.
To my dear Aunties, Marjorie, Patricia, Jane and Maisie for their keen interest in family and family history.

They have all ‘gone on ahead’ but they are my inspiration.

We start this genealogy article with a memento mori—sorry to depress you right off the mark, but it’s a reminder that we all have to die. This one comes to you courtesy of the Petrie monument above the family vault in Sligo Cemetery, one side of which you can see in the banner of this article.

Every tombstone by its very nature is a memento mori, I suppose, but the inscription here really drives the point home. If we read between ‘the line,’ it says, “I was mortal like you and I have died—so keep your affairs in order since the same could happen to you at any time.” Actually, given the times, this warning probably had less to do with keeping your finances in order than keeping your soul in good shape for St. Peter’s entrance-to-heaven examination. (Because it might be a pop-quiz.)

In my teens I used to like the following inscription on a grave monument for its ‘chills-down-the-spine factor’:

Remember, friend, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you shall be.
Prepare for death, and follow me.

I’ve lost my desire to have that on my own tombstone, however. The Petrie monument inscription has more appeal for its brevity and understatement, although the implication that ‘the worst’ could happen at any moment had, perhaps, a little more impact in the age before antibiotics and modern pharmaceuticals. (Blithely disregarding for the moment the fact that some modern pharmaceuticals might polish you off faster than your disease ever would.)

Back then a myriad of diseases and conditions, from tuberculosis to an abscessed tooth, could carry you off to ‘a better world’ with little opposition from the world of medicine. That’s not to say that we don’t have our share of such things in this day and age–call to witness the growing list of antibiotic-resistant superbugs–but our chances of making old bones have vastly improved since the 19th century. There are fewer cholera epidemics from contaminated water supplies, for one thing. For another, more babies survive beyond infancy, and considerably fewer women die as a result of childbirth.

In those days (and our main focus is the 19th century, incidentally), life was a precarious proposition, and especially in the endeavour of procreation. Marriage must have taken great courage on the part of young women. If they, themselves, did not die while having a child, the odds of escaping the monumental heartbreak of burying that child in a few short years were very much against them. Three of my great-grandfather’s four sisters died in their 20’s. One was buried along with her 10-week-old daughter, who died the day after her. More on that later…

I read something a while ago on Jenny Lawson’s blog site that resonated with me. She remembers as a child her grandmother telling her about HER grandmother (her grandmother’s grandmother) from Bohemia, and since Jenny has no photographs of her Bohemian great-great grandmother, she drew a picture of her from her imagination. In the intricate design around the circular border, Jenny inscribed the words: “I miss the people I never met but who made me who I am– and the people I have yet to meet who will make me who I will become.”

While we are, or ought to be, a work in progress until our dying day, I think it’s fair to say that external influences factor into our development much less in later years. However, I can say that I also “miss the people I never met but who made me who I am.” That one statement encapsulates my feelings about my ancestors. I want to know them and I can’t, so I hunt for details about their lives.

I read about what was going on socially and politically at the time in the places they lived, what things they might have done to accomplish daily household tasks, what sort of food they might have eaten, what illnesses they might have suffered, what medical remedies they might have used, what grief they experienced, what financial reverses they endured, what difficulties and impediments they encountered with travel and communications…and so on.

There are scads of things to learn, and a little intuition and rudimentary sleuthing applied to the bare facts provided by marriage and birth registers, census information, obituary notices, etc., can provide an interesting–if not entirely accurate–picture.

And so I feel as though in telling the story of my ancestors’ lives I’m painting an Impressionist landscape–all atmospheric glimmers of light and deepening tints of shadow, behind a watery curtain.

Back to the inscription on Jenny’s imaginary portrait of her great-great-grandmother…I would say that there are basically two ways that our ancestors have made us who we are…

First, by influencing essential morality and lifestyle choices. In cultures where story-telling is a tradition, the elder members of a family might pass on family values from one generation to the next by featuring in their anecdotes an ancestor with personal attributes they consider worthy of praise. One would rarely hear family stories that feature no-good Uncle Earl who wasted his life and dragged the family name through the muck—unless one has strayed from the straight and narrow path, and requires a moralizing lecture!

We have a decision to make when we hear these things. We might accept those family values and use them as guidelines for our own lives—or we might reject them, for whatever reason, and live our lives in such a way as to be as far in contravention of them as possible. Either way, our families have an influence on our outlook and worldview, for good or ill.

Another way our ancestors make us who we are is biological, and we’re learning more and more all the time about the influence of our DNA on the likelihood of developing certain diseases.

But might there also be something in our DNA that predisposes us to have a particular outlook on life? Is it possible that character traits can be passed down to later generations through our genes?

Consider Ernest Hemingway’s family…not only did he commit suicide, but also his father, two of his siblings, and his granddaughter. Is it possible that our genetic heritage can be the source of such attributes as fortitude or fearfulness, patience or impatience, optimism or pessimism? I’m sure that many of us have heard a relative say that a member of the younger generation is “so much like” an older relative in terms of temperament. It makes one wonder.

I really believe that introverts and extroverts (or the particular mix of both that most people are), are born that way, and not necessarily created by early life experiences. So, can that core character attribute be genetic?

Jenny had to draw an imaginary portrait of her great-great-grandmother, and so would I, since I have no photographs of my paternal great-great grandparents George and Mary (Coghill) Bain, or William and Elizabeth (Williamson) Petrie, or George William and Bridget (Boone) Bartlett, or my great-grandmother Elizabeth (Bishop) Bartlett’s parents (for whom I do not even have a name at this point in time), or my great-great grandparents on my mother’s side, Michael and Amelia (Perry) Foote, John and Susanna (Wiseman) Adams, Isaac and Caroline (White) Rideout, and the parents of my great-grandmother Mary Jane (Wilcox) Foote–whomever they might be!

That’s 16 people who are my great-great grandparents. Of course we all have that, as well as eight great-grandparents and four grandparents. My eight great-grandparents are surnamed Petrie/Bain, Bartlett/Bishop, Rideout/Adams, and Foote/Wilcox. My grandparents are surnamed Petrie/Bartlett (paternal) and Foote/Rideout (maternal).

Great-grandparents are near enough in time to find traces of in photographs–if we’re lucky–and in our parents’ memories of their grandparents, if they knew them. I have a 1916-ish photograph of Thomas and Mary Jane (Wilcox) Foote, my mother’s paternal grandparents, as well as a few anecdotes which hint at their characters.

I also have photos of my father’s maternal grandparents, Isaac William and Elizabeth (Bishop) Bartlett, as well as letters and family history relating to them. And photos of my father’s paternal grandparents, Alexander and Georgina (Bain) Petrie, and a great deal of family history relating to them. My mother’s maternal grandparents, John and Charlotte (Adams) Rideout, are a bit of a mystery, since Mom’s mother died a few months after her birth, and…well, it’s a long story, which I’ll reserve for another time.

The most extensive family photographic record I have is for my father’s side of the family…the Bartletts and the Petries.

Since I’ll be talking about the Petries in this article, here is a photograph of my great-grandparents, Alexander and Georgina Petrie…

2 Alexander and Georgina

I’ll be talking backwards, forwards, and all around them (in time)—but they will be the anchor and central focus of this article.

So, what can we tell from the photograph of Alexander and Georgina? Not very much, although it appears that my great-grandmother was petite in stature, and her facial features incline me to say that she had a mild temperament. On the other hand, it is more difficult to guess at Alexander’s personality from his photographic image. He does not engage with the camera as this portrait is being taken, which was in keeping with the fashion of the time.   Even so, something about his image made me wonder whether he might have been a stern type of person.

It was therefore a delightful surprise to see him described in James P. Howley’s book, as “a jolly, witty Irishman from the Black North.” [Howley, James P. Reminiscences of Forty-Two Years of Exploration in and about Newfoundland., May, 2009 (St. John’s: Memorial University) p. 1300]

Howley was a geologist doing survey work for the government, and he stayed at The Petrie Hotel when he was in The Bay of Islands area of Newfoundland. He met my great grandfather on a number of occasions, and—bless him forever—wrote about it.

Howley’s comment about ‘The Black North’ has to do with the Roman Catholic-Protestant issues afoot in Newfoundland and elsewhere at the time. ‘The Black North’ refers to Protestantism. Here’s a bit about Howley’s background from Wikipedia that should explain the remark: “James Patrick Howley’s father, a prominent businessman and financial secretary of Newfoundland, had arrived in St John’s from Ireland in 1804. His sons formed an interesting group; they included Michael Francis, the first native-born bishop of Newfoundland, and Thomas, a surgeon in the American Civil War.”

Yes, James P. Howley’s brother was the first native-born bishop of Newfoundland. His remark about Alexander was a bit ‘tongue-in-cheek’ I think. He was an intelligent, engaging man, and I liked him after reading his ‘Reminiscences.”

Howley refers to Alexander in much the same way in at least two other places in the book. On first meeting my great grandfather, Howley says, “Petrie himself is quite a jolly fellow.” (p. 1200) And after seeing him again after an absence, Howley says, “Petrie is as jolly as ever.” (p. 1211) So it seems that Alexander was a personable type of man, in spite of his photographic image.

Look at his eyes in the photo below. I’d guess that he was a vital man with a strong personality, in addition to being thoroughly congenial company. It’s tragic that he died at only 47 years of age. His ‘Last Will and Testament’ supports that sentiment, since there are indications in that document that he was a thoughtful husband and caring father.

1 Alexander Petrie

I wish I had some of the letters Alexander and Georgina must have written from Newfoundland to their brothers and sisters back in Ireland and Scotland. They might have spoken of such daily concerns as food supplies and clothing–their availability, cost, and suchlike–to give their family members in ‘the old country’ a sense of what life was like in the new. At the same time, I believe I might have been able to glean bits of their character from their words.

My great-grandmother Georgina was the daughter of a ‘Free Church’ Scottish school teacher from the city of Wick in the county of Caithness in northeastern Scotland, so her letter-writing skills must have been every bit as good as her husband’s in an era when female education may have been more practical and domestic than academic. I feel quite certain that she must have written to her family in Scotland.

As for letters in general…I’m a person who cannot throw a letter in the garbage after I’ve read it. It will go in my ‘archive’ shoebox…or, actually, shoeboxes, at this point in time. Even Christmas cards with a small paragraph or two must be squirrelled away.

Family documents of this nature are beyond value to some of us. Too often these records are lost when people who do not know or appreciate their importance become custodians through inheritance. I’m sure that most of us have heard horror stories of someone’s relative being given the responsibility of clearing out an elderly or deceased parent’s home, and kicking all the family papers and photo albums to the curb.

Of course it could be that a letter recipient will answer the letter received, and then just trash it. Not everyone keeps letters (hard to understand, but there you are!). So, while I’m sure that there would have been plenty of letters sent by both Alexander and Georgina, none of that correspondence has likely survived.

Mind you, in spite of that, I cherish hopes that someone ‘over there’—Scotland or Ireland–may have a treasure trove of family correspondence from years ago in an old box in a dusty attic, just awaiting discovery.

But although I have nothing written by my great grandparents, I do have a letter written to ‘Georgy’ by her brother-in-law, my great-uncle William Petrie, brother of Alexander.

It’s dated May 10th or 18th of 1894, almost two years after Alexander’s death in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, on July 29, 1892, and I believe it concerns Alexander’s property in Ireland, of which I’m sure the widowed Georgina had need.

When Alexander died in 1892 of ‘stomach cancer’ (in quotes because I’m repeating family lore, with no evidence to support it), Georgina was 45 years old, with four children ages 16 (William), 13 (John), 8 (Ethel), and 5 (Annie), and she was continuing to operate the family business, The Petrie Hotel, as a means of supporting the family.

At the time of her brother-in-law’s letter in 1894, two years after Alexander died, Georgina would have been age 47, and her children ages 18, 15, 10, and 7. No doubt her sons were beginning to be of help in running the hotel, but my guess is that she was struggling.

Here’s a photo of the family ca 1899. I guess the date based on the age of the youngest of the family, Annie (left front), whom I would say to be around age 12. If that’s right, then Ethel (right front) would be 15, John (standing, left) would be 20 (b. December of 1878), and William (standing right) would be 24. Georgina would be 52.

3 Family photo after Alexander died, maybe 1898, Wm 22, John 20, etc

Back to the letter…William has written on stationery printed with ‘William Petrie’ at top left and a drawing of a fish immediately below his name. Beginning at centre top are printed the words “Fishery Office” set off by a scrollwork design:

4 Wm Petrie letter to Georgy, top portion

The letter contents are below…

Dear Georgy–

Your letter to hand this morning. I am sorry to learn the contents of it. & I have had a very trying time myself since my father died keeping all things going as when he died he left everything in a bad way—over £2,200 due to the National Bank Ballina & interest and he lodged Alick’s life insurance, my own, & his as security & I have not got mine as yet although my father is dead 10 years this fall. All through I thought George and Tom were corresponding with you. George was at a Fair last February. I heard him say he was going to send you something as he got the benefit of Alick’s and my father’s insurance–

Tom was telling me that Willie mentioned in a letter to him that he intended coming home this summer. We shall be delighted to see him—

A very severe winter just [over?] here and was very much against the spring fishery—

I am getting up in years myself and have 7 grandchildren.

I am writing George this week regarding your letter.

With kind regards,

Yrs Sincerely,

Wm Petrie

There is much to be learned from these few words.

First, William appears to have been a good man, and we know from the newspaper articles reporting his death—which occurred just six months after he wrote this letter—that he was very much appreciated by the townsfolk of Sligo, Ireland.

5 snippet of Wm Petrie Jr funeral article, Nov, 1894

As the newspaper article describing his funeral procession stated: “The number of carriages, traps, and other vehicles present were computed to number about 200, and they made up a double row of about a mile long.” Then there were all the marchers on foot…the Masons, the session and committee of the Presbyterian Church, the members of the Corporation and the Harbour Board…and the “great multitude of the general public.”

There were other articles about William in the newspapers after his death, and I’ll just provide a portion of this one from the Sligo Independent newspaper of November 24, 1894. The excerpt is a bit lengthy, but it is useful beyond its purpose as a character portrait; providing, as it does, some biographical information that will help you to follow subsequent information in this article–although I have to say that there is some misinformation. When William’s father died, he did not become sole owner of the fisheries. His brother Alexander (my great-grandfather) was co-owner at the time. The writer of this article would not have been aware of Alexander’s existence, since Alexander had been living in Newfoundland for around 20 years—from 1872/3 up until his death in 1892, two years before William’s. I’ve broken the article into paragraphs, for easier reading…

“It is with feelings of the deepest sorrow that we have this week to announce the death, after a short illness, of Mr. William Petrie, of Carrowroe House, the well-known proprietor of the Sligo salmon fisheries. The deceased gentleman was highly esteemed by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. Of an open and generous nature, his purse was always ready to help the poor and needy, and no one ever called in vain for his assistance.

It is some forty-four or forty-five years since Mr. Petrie first came to Sligo with his father from the town of Errol, in Perthshire, Scotland, and during the latter’s lifetime Mr. Petrie assisted him on his numerous farms and in the extensive fishing operations which he carried on all around the Sligo coast. At his father’s death, which occurred some ten years ago, Mr. Petrie became sole owner of all his valuable fisheries. He continued to carry on the farming, but his energies were principally directed towards improving and extending the fisheries, thus giving employment to many who would otherwise have had a hard struggle for existence.

At the Rosses Point he was a veritable prince, the people there coming to him for advice and help in times of trouble. The great influence which he had with rich and poor alike was always exerted as a means of doing good, and many a poor fisherman and struggling toiler has good cause to bless his name. Of Mr. Petrie it can be truly said he was most happy when doing good to others. The bathers at the Point will long regret the death of a sincere friend. The deceased was always thinking of their safety and comfort, providing bathing stages and life-buoys, and in many little ways showing his interest in them.

The Presbyterian Church, of which Mr. Petrie was a member, laments the loss of, perhaps, its most generous and valued adherent. His name always headed the list in any good work, and it was chiefly through his instrumentality and influence that a sufficient sum was raised with which to erect a church at Rosses Point for the convenience of visitors during the summer months. Needless to say, his own name appeared at the top of the subscriptions with a handsome donation. It is sad to reflect that he did not live to see this favourite scheme of his become a reality. Yet the influence of his benevolent actions while in life will be felt as time rolls on, and his friends and relations will be comforted when they review a life nobly spent in works of kindness and charity.

On all sides the poor people are heard loudly lamenting the loss of one who brightened many a dark hour for them, and brought comfort to them in their affliction.

The children, too, have lost a loving friend, whose kindly heart beat in sympathy with them in their little joys and sorrows. He was a true friend, a loving and tender husband, and an affectionate and indulgent father…”

…and on it goes!   One has to wonder how it is possible for any human to have achieved that level of perfection, but I think we can at least stand ready to salute him for the level of public admiration that he evidently inspired.

Mind you, while it’s good to know that he was a generous and charitable man, the suspicion arises that he may have given until it hurt—since the value of his estate at death was somewhat less than one would expect. Below is an excerpt from a registry of wills…

6 will registry for Wm Jr

£2420 in today’s money would be £288,647.59
Converted to USD = $358,197.59
Converted to CAD = $478,981.81

This seems respectable enough, except that we know the Petries were extremely wealthy at one point in time, so by this account their fortunes were much reduced from formerly. Also, William’s cousin, Charles Petrie of Liverpool, seems to be his executor, and not his brothers who were living near to him in Ireland. Ominously, Charles is described in the registry as “a Creditor.” We must pause to wonder how much of the estate value would be going to cousin Charles.

Charles, incidentally, would have been age 41 in 1894, and at this point in time he was approximately seven years away from election to Lord Mayor of Liverpool (1901), and being awarded a knighthood subsequent to his term in office. He was raised from knighthood to baronetcy in 1918.

This is from Wikipedia: “Petrie had salmon fisheries in Scotland and Ireland, and oyster fisheries in Ireland, at Fleetwood and in Essex. He was leader of the Liverpool Conservatives, knighted in 1903 after his term as Lord Mayor, and created a baronet in 1918. He was a Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire.”

While Charles may have been an agent for the Petrie Fishery when he first arrived in Liverpool, I believe his own independent fishing interests eventually took precedence. There may have continued to be an affiliation, but not in the way that there once was.

Another thing of note from my great-uncle William’s short letter to my great-grandmother Georgina is his remark that he had seven grandchildren and was “getting up in years.” Would it surprise you to know that he was only 53 years of age at this time? Perhaps he was experiencing some ill health. We can’t know, of course, but we do know that his letter preceded his funeral by just six months.

The following is another death announcement for William (there was no shortage!); this one from The Daily Express newspaper, Friday, November 23, 1894. A transcript follows, for better readability.

7 section of another article, Wm Petrie Jr. funeral


Sligo, Thursday

This morning at nine o’clock Mr. William Petrie, T.C., a prominent figure in the social and political life of Sligo during the past thirty years passed away at the comparatively early age of 54 years. He had been a member of the Sligo Corporation, Harbour Board, Board of Guardians, and Fishery Conservation, where his common sense and energy, in conjunction with his impartiality, were greatly appreciated. At the time of his death he was, in fact, a candidate for municipal honours. He handed in his own nomination on Friday, being then apparently in his normal health, but on Saturday morning he was struck down with Bright’s disease, and never rallying, died this morning. Today all the shops in the town are shuttered, and the flags on the vessels in the harbour are at half-mast.

This little article is useful in telling us something about the nature of the illness that killed him. It seems that he wasn’t ill for very long.

“Bright’s disease” was a sort-of catch-all term for kidney disease, but perhaps more specifically, nephritis…inflammation of the parts of the kidney responsible for the production of urine. It can be acute or chronic, and is considered hereditary–one of the most common genetic diseases. Nephritis causes a build-up of fluid in the body, with resultant high blood pressure, and a variety of other symptoms—none of them pleasant. As this article seems to indicate, William had the acute form, and it took him down, hard.

Returning to William’s letter to Georgina yet again…another thing to learn from it is that mail delivery is not all that one would wish for in terms of efficiency. She wrote to him March 30, 1894; he received it May 9th or 17th of 1894. So, the letter took at least five weeks to go from the Bay of Islands on the west coast of Newfoundland to Sligo on the north coast of Ireland. Much like Christmas card deliveries by our modern postal services. (gratuitous dig at the Canadian post office)

Postal delivery within Newfoundland in 1872, around the time that Alexander first arrived in Newfoundland, was fairly abysmal as well. The excerpt from Rev. Rule’s reminiscences below tells us that it took almost two months for a letter to go from St. John’s on the Avalon peninsula (southeastern Newfoundland) to Birchy Cove in the Bay of Islands (western Newfoundland).

In case you’re wondering about Rev. Rule, he was the first resident Church of England clergyman posted to the northwest coast during the period 1865 to 1872, and made Birchy Cove his headquarters. Birchy Cove was later named Curling in honour of Rev. Rule’s successor, Rev. J. J. Curling, whose tenure lasted for approximately 16 years, 1873 to 1889. Curling is now incorporated into the town of Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

This (below) is from a letter written by Rev. Rule to a correspondent in St. John’s on February 14, 1872…

“Yesterday I received a letter from you dated December 18th, and I have this good news to tell you that the stamp put on it brought it all the way to Bay of Islands without any additional charge. We are it seems, fairly within range of the post office; so that instead of paying an Indian letter carrier a dollar for each letter from the nearest post office at Channel, now we have a post office here and another at Bonne Bay. The postage from here to St. John’s is three cents, but there are no postage stamps here yet …

The despatch of letters just spoken of was the first despatch of “government” mail we have ever had in winter in Bay of Islands…”

[Rule, Rev. U.Z., Reminiscences of My Life, Dicks and Co. Ltd., St. John’s, NL, 1927]

Mail had to come by ship from St. John’s to the post office in Channel, near Port aux Basques–there being no roads linking the east and west coasts of Newfoundland. From Channel, another means of transportation had to be found to carry the mail to the communities further up the west coast. In wintertime, at least, an Indian ‘runner’ (probably using a dog sled) had to be hired to make the overland trip to Birchy Cove.

As for the key content of my great-uncle William Petrie’s letter to my great-grandmother Georgina, no doubt the news he was “sorry to learn” in 1894, had to do with financial difficulties for the Petrie family in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland. Two years later, in 1896, my great-grandfather Alexander’s estate was sued for bankruptcy. He had been dead for four years at the time of that lawsuit.

I expect that the family business, The Petrie Hotel, suffered both from Alexander’s death, and from the troubles that rocked Newfoundland to her core over the next couple of years.

First, we’ll step back to the month of Alexander’s death, July of 1892. The great St. John’s fire happened that same month. There was massive devastation from the fire, and since St. John’s was the centre of Newfoundland commerce and government, there was more than the charred remains of homes and businesses to cope with in its aftermath. I suspect that the later economic crisis (December of 1894), can trace its roots to that catastrophic event.

8 Stjohns_afterthefire1892

attrib PD-US,

This description of the years immediately following Alexander’s death gives us an idea of how bad things were:

“Our successive disasters, the fire of 1892, and the jarring of the political factions, seemed enough to fill up the cup of our woe; but worse was in store for us. Up to fatal Black Monday, 10th December 1894, Newfoundland credit stood high. Our principal monetary institution, the Union Bank, had for forty years maintained the highest reputation at home and abroad; suddenly credit, financial reputation, confidence in both mercantile houses and banks, fell like a house of cards. For several days we were the most distracted country in the world—a community without a currency; the notes of the banks had been the universal money of the Colony—circulating as freely as gold on Saturday, on Monday degraded to worthless paper.


The misery caused by these failures of banks and mercantile houses was as disastrous, as widespread, and as universal within our border as the bursting of the South Sea bubble was in the United Kingdom.”

[Prowse, D.W., History of Newfoundland, Boulder Publications Ltd., Edition 2007, orig. published: London, Macmillan and Co., 1895.]

The book that I’m quoting from was written by D. W. Prowse in 1895, when the effects of the St. John’s fire of 1892 and the financial collapse of 1894 were still fresh. Prowse’s description of the financial crisis brings to mind the stock market crash on Tuesday, October 29, 1929, but Newfoundland’s Black Monday of 1894 preceded Black Tuesday of 1929 by 35 years.

The St. John’s fire began on July 8, 1892. Great-grandfather Alexander died twenty-one days later, on the 29th, having written his will on the 3rd day of that same month, clearly in expectation that his days were numbered. But as for the fire, he and his family were living on the west coast of Newfoundland, and would not have seen any of the devastation first-hand–even had they been able to look beyond their own troubles during that terrible month.

The capital city of St. John’s is on the Avalon peninsula on the southeastern tip of the island of Newfoundland. That is 416 km (258 miles), as the crow flies, but the direct route across central Newfoundland is impossible, even today. In the 19th century, and for perhaps the better part of the 20th, people had to take “the long way ‘round.” Coastal boats connected the various settlements of people, small outports mainly, which basically rimmed the island.

Newfoundland is the 16th largest island in the world; slightly smaller than New Zealand’s North Island, and slightly larger than Cuba or Iceland.

Here’s a size comparison between my Great-Grandfather Alexander’s former home island (Ireland) and his new home island (Newfoundland). The population statistics are from the year 2015.

Newfoundland (Canada); area: 108,860 km2; population: 479,105

Ireland (Republic of Ireland and United Kingdom); area: 84,421 km2; population: 6,378,000

In 1869, just prior to Alexander’s arrival in Newfoundland, and six years before his marriage to Georgina in Bay of Islands, the population of Newfoundland was 146,536. [Side note: That year Newfoundland rejected confederation with Canada in the elections.]

In July, 1892, in the absence of telephone communications, people in the Bay of Islands on the west coast of Newfoundland would have heard about the St. John’s fire by telegraph—that service being established to Birchy Cove in 1878. Other communities in 1890s Bay of Islands were Sprucy Point, pop. 101 (which became the judicial centre in the 1890s), Bannantyne’s Cove (pop. 117), Pleasant Cove (pop. 80), and Petries—named for great-grandfather Alexander—with a population of 48.

Petries is still known as such today, although it, like Curling/Birchy Cove, is now incorporated into the city of Corner Brook. There were two other areas of the Bay of Islands known as Petries Point and Petries Crossing, also named for Alexander, as well as Petries Valley, and a waterway called Petries Brook.

The population of Petries increased a little from these early days, as can be seen from each successive Newfoundland census. But in the census of 1945, the population of Petries was still no more than 658.

9 map showing Petries and Corner Brook

[Decks Awash, Vol. 18, No. 1, Jan-Feb 1989, Memorial University, Centre for Newfoundland Studies, p. 2]

The previous ‘great’ fire in St. John’s, that of 1846, “began with the upsetting of a glue-pot in the shop of Hamelin the cabinet-maker; the still greater fire of July 1892 commenced in a stable, and was, in all probability, caused by the spark from a careless labourer’s pipe. Commencing on a fine summer’s evening, fanned by a high wind, the fire burnt all through the night, and in the bright dawn of that ever-memorable 9th of July, ten thousand people found themselves homeless, a forest of chimneys and heaps of ashes marking where the evening before had stood one of the busiest and most flourishing towns in the maritime provinces.” [Prowse, pp. 521-2]

Here is a description from Prowse of the aftermath of the St. John’s fire:

“A walk through the deserted streets demonstrated that the ruin was even more complete than seemed possible at first. Of the whole easterly section scarcely a building remained. In the extreme north-east a small section of Hoylestown was standing protected by massive Devon Row, the remainder of St. John’s east had vanished. Of the immense shops and stores which displayed such varied merchandise and valuable stocks gathered from all parts of the known world; of the happy homes of artisans and middle classes…of the comfortable houses…of the costly and imposing structures and public buildings…scarcely a vestige remained…” [Prowse, p. 528]

And so July of 1892 was a calamitous month for both the Petrie family of Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, and the residents of Newfoundland’s capital city, St. John’s.

This small obituary was posted in the Harbour Grace Standard newspaper on August 30, 1892…

9.5 obit from Harbour Grace

[Mr. Petrie, a well known merchant of Bay of Islands, died at that place Saturday last after a lingering illness.]

Corner Brook on the map below will take you very close to the Bay of Islands. I suppose that Alexander was lucky to have attracted any notice to his passing, given the events of July of 1892. Interesting that there was no other identifier than “Mr. Petrie” in his obituary. Evidently there could be only one “Mr. Petrie,” so no other distinguishing marks were necessary.

10 map of NL, Harbour Grace to Corner Brook

Harbour Grace, as you can see on the map, is on the opposite side, the southeast coast, on Newfoundland’s Avalon peninsula. It was a significant commercial centre at that time in 1892, having a population in excess of 6,486 (this number comes from the election roll returns).

I don’t know Alexander’s connection to this place, but for his obituary to have been published in the Harbour Grace newspaper, he must have been known to various people there. Possibly the Petrie fishery, when it was operating in Newfoundland, would have been a presence in Harbour Grace—their ships, at least.

[Side note, and unrelated!: Harbour Grace was popular to pirates in the 17th century, with ‘The Pirate King’ Peter Easton having his headquarters for some years after 1602, as well as pirate Henry Mainwaring, after 1614. One of them (Easton) retired to what later became Monaco, in which place he was known as the ‘Marquis of Savoy,’ supposedly with 2 million pounds of gold underwriting his retirement. Mainwaring was knighted by King James I in 1618.]

Of course, Alexander may have been known to people in Harbour Grace who might have stayed in The Petrie Hotel when they visited the west coast.

Alexander and Georgina Petrie had been operating The Petrie Hotel for some years before Alexander died (possibly more than 10), and it was, as are hotels everywhere, dependent on business travellers and vacationers. It could be that the hotel’s Newfoundland business dropped off after the St. John’s fire of 1892, with many travellers staying close to home while reconstruction of the capital city was underway.

There would probably have continued to be visitors from the Canadian mainland, but I suspect that the usual American vacationers were scarce, especially in the year following Alexander’s death…1893.

That year, 1893, was a bad one for the U.S.

The Panic of 1893 was a serious economic depression in the United States that began in 1893 and ended in 1897. As a result of the panic, stock prices declined, 500 banks closed, 15,000 businesses failed, and numerous farms ceased operation. The unemployment rate hit 25% in Pennsylvania, 35% in New York, and 43% in Michigan. Soup kitchens were opened to help feed the destitute. The Northern Pacific Railway, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad failed.

Then there were the hurricanes. In August 1893 a major hurricane, known as the “Sea Islands Hurricane” struck the offshore barrier islands of Georgia and South Carolina. Over 1,000 people were killed (mostly by drowning); and 30,000 or more were left homeless. The “Cheniere Caminada Hurricane,” Sep 27 1893 to Oct 5 1893, killed nearly 2,000 persons, the vast majority from coastal Southeastern Louisiana.

Also, assuming that the Americans who normally visited the West coast of Newfoundland for vacations were not affected by the Panic of 1893 or the hurricanes, they might still have decided to spend their time and money on a visit to the Chicago World’s Fair, which commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the New World. It opened on May 1, 1893, and over the next six months had more than 26 million visitors.

10.5 Chicago World's Fair 1893

My guess is that The Petrie Hotel may not have entertained its usual quota of American visitors in 1893.

Hard times for a wee Scottish widow-woman with four children. That she was no stranger to hard times must have been a help to her…

She had been widowed for the first time in her mid-20s (ca. 1873) when her first husband, John Campbell, whom she married on November 4, 1870, died. They were both 23 years old at the time of their marriage…

11 Campbell and Bain marriage, Nov. 4, 1870

She had lost her only child (Mary Jane Campbell, b. October 30, 1871) from that first marriage.

12 Mary Jane Campbell birth registration

While I haven’t yet found the death registry for either John or Mary Jane, I wonder whether John may have been ill at the time of Mary Jane’s birth. Note that the fathers signed the birth registry for the other two babies recorded on the same page as Mary Jane, and that Georgina’s name was written in by the registrar. (Perhaps the registrar didn’t realize that Georgina could write, and never thought to ask.) It’s also possible that John, whose occupation was ‘Commercial Traveller, fish trade’ was just away at the time. The birth was recorded by Georgina on November 15, a little over two weeks after the baby was born.

Both of Georgina’s parents died shortly after Mary Jane’s birth. Her father, George Bain, was the first to go, dying at age 58 on March 19 of 1872, when his granddaughter was five months old (assuming she was still alive).

13 George Bain death announcement

Georgina’s mother, Mary (Coghill) Bain died the next year, on September 16 of 1873, at age 67. George and Mary were buried in the same plot with their 17-year-old daughter, Jane, Georgina’s sister, who died in 1857 of a fever. I believe the gravestone shows Mary’s age as 65, but her birth year was 1806, and her baptism was on March 28, 1806, which would make her age 67 in September of 1873.

14 tombstone, George, Jane and Mary Bain

The card announcing George Bain’s decease includes the information that he was an “F.C. Teacher”—which means that he was one of the 408 teachers who joined the breakaway Free Church after The Disruption of 1843. “The Free Church was formed by Evangelicals who broke from the Church of Scotland in 1843 in protest against what they regarded as the state’s encroachment on the spiritual independence of the Church.” [Wikipedia] This was an attack on the patronage system, which gave rich landowners the right to select local ministers.

Here’s a news item from the John O’Groats Journal of July 18, 1845, in which my great-grandfather George Bain is mentioned:

July 18 1845 JOGJ (School Examination East Banks GB) John OGroats Journal

“Pulteneytown” which is also shown on the death notice, was a planned town which is now incorporated into the city of Wick in the county of Caithness, Scotland. It came into being in 1808 after The British Fisheries Society commissioned Thomas Telford to design both a new harbour for Wick, and the town, which was to be located south of the river. Pulteneytown was named for Sir William Pulteney, who was the former governor of The British Fisheries Society.

George Bain appears to have died of heart disease, according to the death registry:

15 George Bain, death registry page, shows fathers name

Georgina’s sister, Jane Bain, apparently had a fever for 22 days, and died on July 2, 1857. The registry page appears to have her father’s actual signature on it.

16 Jane Bain, Georgina sister, died age 17, 22-day fever, father signature

Note that on Jane Bain’s death registry page, as well as her father’s, the address is shown as “Francis Street” in Pulteneytown. Georgina’s register of baby Mary Jane Campbell’s birth showed that the baby was born on Francis Street—so possibly John and Georgina were living with her parents. It’s also possible that Georgina went home by herself to have her baby at her parents’ home, with John to join her later. Or maybe John and Georgina lived on the same street as her parents. Or possibly John was no longer in the family picture, and Georgina was widowed and living with her parents…?  At the moment, I just don’t know.

Georgina was living in Perth at the time of her marriage to John Campbell, since the address given for her at that time was 40 Glover Street, Perth. That was also where the marriage took place. Georgina’s older brother, Donald, was a witness. Donald Bain was born in 1842, so he was age 28 in November of 1870 when Georgina and John married. I’m wondering if the house at 40 Glover Street was Donald’s.

John Campbell also had a brother named Donald.

In the 1871 Scottish census, four months after John and Georgina’s marriage, they were living in an apartment building at 54 Fisher Street in the Civil Parish of Springburn in Glasgow with John’s parents and brother: John Campbell, Sr., age 60, occupation: Druggist’s porter, his wife Rachael, age 59, and their son, Donald Campbell, age 21, occupation: Grocer’s porter. The occupation of Georgina’s husband was “Commercial Traveller, Fish Trade” in the census records. Both Georgina and John were 24 years of age at that time. Everyone is recorded as having been born in Wick in Caithness, except for John Sr., who was born in Inverness.

The census was taken early April of 1871 (April 2/3). I would guess that Georgina was two months pregnant with Mary Jane at that time.

17 1871 Census Scotland Georgina Bain Campbell

This map of Scotland will show you where Georgina’s birthplace–Wick–was in relation to Perth where she was married, and to Glasgow where she lived with her husband and his family after their marriage:

18.5 Map of Scotland

Glasgow and it’s citizens were suffering the effects of a severe housing shortage at the time Georgina and John went to live with his family. There had been an influx of people from the highlands to population centres due to the potato famine and the clearances. Rents were high (due to demand), and wages low (due to competition). Crowded living conditions promoted the spread of disease, especially tuberculosis…

“That tuberculosis was an infectious disease carried by a bacillus was not realised until 1884, and it took much longer to eradicate. In the period 1861-1870, TB killed 361 in every 100,000; in 1901-1910 it was still high at 209. It took until the 1940s and the discovery of penicillin for respiratory diseases like TB to be brought under control. Until that time they remained the main killer.” [Knox, W. W., A History of the Scottish People, Health in Scotland 1840-1940, Chapter 3]

“In Glasgow, one-third of deaths in 1870 were from respiratory conditions, especially tuberculosis (consumption, or TB).”

“Knock-on effects have also been discernible in Glasgow’s housing. While the influx of immigrants in itself created a problem of overcrowding, the low wage economy which they made possible meant that they could also afford little rent to resolve the problem. […] But low wages also combined with higher rents per square foot of floor space, and this so constrained demand, that the nineteenth-century housing built in Glasgow crowded around two thirds to three quarters of households–78 per cent in 1871, 66 per cent in 1911–into one or two room flats, in tenements built high and without gardens to maximise the return on the land. [Williams, Rory, “Medical, economic and population factors in areas of high mortality: the case of Glasgow.(MRC Medical Sociology Unit, University of Glasgow), p. 174]

I think we can guess how Georgina’s baby came to be born in Wick and not Glasgow on October 30th of that year (1871). For one thing, she probably wanted to be living near to her mother and sisters when she had her first baby. Maybe she was also aware that Glasgow apartment or tenement living was hazardous to one’s health. But mainly I think Georgina realized that living with a newborn baby in the Campbells’ no-doubt cramped apartment would be a nightmare.

That being said, Georgina was no stranger to cohabiting with other family members, since her own family was fairly large. Her parents, George and Mary Bain, had seven children:

James, born in 1833 in Wick
David, born in 1835 in Wick
Ann, born in 1837 in Wick
Jane, born in 1840 in Wick, (died July 2, 1857)
Donald, born in 1842 in Kilconquhar, Fife
Esther, born in 1844 in Wick
Georgina, born in 1847 in Wick

Sisters Ann and Esther seem likely prospects for being a help with the new baby.

I don’t have a way of discovering whether John Campbell’s brother Donald accompanied them to Wick from Glasgow, but he ended up in Wick at some point. His death record tells us that.

18 Donald Campbell Death, Jan 20 1874, Pulteneytown

Donald Campbell died at age 24 in 1874 of phthisis pulmonalis—an archaic term meaning pulmonary tuberculosis with progressive wasting of the body. Pulmonary tuberculosis is spread through the air when a person with an active infection coughs, spits, sneezes or speaks. There can be a genetic susceptibility to the disease.

His maternal uncle, William Sinclair, provided the information for his death certificate, which indicates to me that Donald’s brother, Georgina’s husband John, was possibly ill himself, or even dead at the time of his brother’s death, or he would have been the one to do this.

Donald and John Campbell’s parents outlived them; John Campbell, Sr. dying in 1885, and his wife Rachael in 1881. Both died in Wick. They had only the two boys in their own family, so when John, Donald and granddaughter Mary Jane died, they had no immediate family remaining, excepting each other.

There was no shortage of sad family stories in those days.

Perhaps John and Rachael Campbell moved from Glasgow to Wick to help nurse one or both of their sons, and ended up staying there.  In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I think we might assume that John Campbell died of the same disease as his brother.

And so sometime during the years 1871-1874, Georgina was widowed. I can find no record of John Campbell’s death, but I know that he died during those years. Also, her baby daughter disappeared from the written record, and any evidence of either her death or her continued existence is absent (at least I can’t find it). She did not accompany her mother on the voyage to Newfoundland, which tells me that she was also dead.

As we’ve seen, Georgina lost husband, daughter, father and mother in a few short years.

It has always amazed me that Georgina had the courage to leave her homeland and gamble her future on a new life in Newfoundland, so far from her family in Scotland.  Newfoundland was a largely undeveloped place, and sparsely populated, especially on the west coast. But perhaps after undergoing all that grief and loss, emigrating from Scotland to Newfoundland was not the traumatic upheaval it might otherwise have been.

How did she meet Alexander Petrie? While I can’t pinpoint the exact time or place, I think the key to that is John Campbell’s occupation as “Commercial Traveller, Fish Trade.” The Petrie fishery had a base in Wick, so that seems to be the connection.

However, Wick is eastwards from Sligo, and Alexander seems to have been pointed in the other direction entirely. He was moving westwards, possibly first to the Bay of Chaleur, New Brunswick (1869-ish), and then to the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland (1872-ish).  So I think that there’s an important piece of their story missing here.

In any event, Georgina Campbell, née Bain, took what was likely a six-week sea voyage on some sort of sailing ship (likely a Petrie Fishery ship), went to Newfoundland, and married Alexander Petrie in the Bay of Islands on March 31, 1875.  Perhaps a jolly, witty Irishman of Scottish ancestry was just what was needed to make her think that the future might still hold some promise of happiness.

Possibly her voyage to North America was undertaken on board The Hibernia (or Hibernian?—I don’t trust the accuracy of the newspapers, and I’ve seen records of a ship called Hibernian).

This clipping below talks about the acquisition of a new ship for the Petrie Fishery by my great-great grandfather William Petrie (note:  not the William Petrie who wrote the letter to Georgina, but his father).

The Sligo Independent, March 5, 1874:

19.5 newspaper clipping Wm Petrie ship purchaseSince we can’t know how they met and made the decision to marry, we might wonder how well Georgina knew Alexander Petrie. Did she have any misgivings about her decision during that ocean voyage to her new home? It’s not like she could return on the next bus if she found her situation unsuitable or uncomfortable in any way. For the times, it was tantamount to an irrevocable decision, and she would have to make a success of it, come what may.

Consider the visual contrast with the places she’d lived before.

Here’s a photo of her birthplace, Wick, in the county of Caithness, Scotland, where the herring fishery was an important part of the local economy…

19 Wick Harbour, 19th century

“Wick developed rapidly throughout the 19th century. The inner harbour was completed in 1810 and was reconstructed between 1824 and 1831. An outer harbour was built between 1862-7 due to pressure of trade. By the mid-19th century, the town was the largest herring fishing port in Europe, and at the peak of the town’s trade in 1862, an estimated 1122 boats were fishing out of Wick. Francis H. Groome, editor of ‘The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland’ (published between 1882 and 1885) said of Wick that, “During the season, in July and August…herring and herring barrels are everywhere to be found along the shore, sometimes occupying considerable spaces along the sides of the streets in the portion of the town nearest the harbour.”
above, with photo: []

19.2 Herring gutters, Wick

She married in Perth, where she was apparently living at 40 Glover Street (her brother Donald’s home?). And after her marriage she went to Glasgow to live with her in-laws.

Below is a 19th century photo of Glasgow:

20 19th century glasgow from 'Historic B&W photos etc' from

Glasgow had a population in the 1870’s of around 500,000. Wick’s population was more in the range of 8,000 – 9,000, but that was still impressive compared to the population in The Bay of Islands in 1871: there were 947 people, scattered amongst a variety of settlements.

Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, was positively rural by comparison to either Glasgow or Wick (photo from Holloway, below).  But I think it had the edge for beauty…

21 Bay of Islands, Petries, looking towards Mount Moriah

The following description of the Bay of Islands comes from Lovell’s Directory of 1871, in which Alexander did not, as yet, have a business listing.

West Coast – Lovell’s Directory 1871

Bay of Islands

A large bay on the western coast of the island, forming a part of what is called the French Shore. The resources of this portion of the island are quite sufficient to support a much larger population that at present resides here. Indeed, both in the way of agriculture and the fisheries, no section of the country offers greater inducements to settlers than does this section.

The herring fishery forms the staple industry of the people, and is prosecuted with great success. Herrings are taken during the months of January, February, March, May, June, October and November. In the winter months nets are used, which are let through holes and channels cut in the ice, but in summer the herring are mostly hauled in seines. The average quantity of herring annually taken may be stated at 30,000 barrels, most of which find a market in the adjacent provinces.

On the banks of the Humber river, which flows into this bay, large quantities of fine timber are produced suitable for lumbering, which is however, as yet availed of but to a small extent, together with large beds of limestone, and marbles of beautiful varieties, and masses of gypsum almost exhaustless in quantity. The land around is level and capable of easy cultivation, but is availed of merely as an accessory to the herring and cod fishery. The bay is studded with islands and the scenery remarkably fine. Distance from north head of St. George’s Bay 55 miles.

Population 947.”

In any case Georgina’s marriage to Alexander Petrie seems to have been a good decision, even with more difficult times ahead.

She had another child right away, a boy this time (William Thomas, b. September 4, 1875), then lost a child (George Alexander (b. Jan. 27, 1877, d. after May 27, 1877), had a child (John Albert b. December, 1878), lost a child (Samuel Kelly, b. Sept. 22, 1880, d. after Oct 31, 1880), had a child (Ethel Bain), b. Jan. 16, 1884, lost a child (‘Lizzie’), and had a child (Annie Daisy, b. Feb. 6, 1887).  I don’t know anything about Lizzie, but George Alexander and Samuel Kelly lived for a short while.

I was a bit puzzled by “Samuel Kelly” as a name for one of Alexander and Georgina’s children, until I realized that Alexander and Georgina’s sister-in-law, the former Elizabeth Kelly, was the daughter of Dr. Samuel Kelly. Dr. Kelly died before his daughter’s marriage to Alexander’s elder brother William in 1861. Alexander would have been 16 years old at that time. What was the connection that would have prompted Alexander and Georgina to name their child after their sister-in-law’s father, twenty years after that man’s death and before he could have had a significant impact on their lives? It’s a mystery to me. Maybe they just liked the name.

This next photo is an old tin-type photograph of Georgina with her two young sons.  William would be the older child, and he was likely between three and four years old at this time.  Baby John, who was born in December of 1878, was maybe five or six months old.  That puts this photo somewhere in the late spring or early summer of 1879.  It seems that George Alexander (born in January of 1877) must have died, or there’d be three children in the photo.  George would have been around two and a half years old, if he’d lived…

22 tin-type photo Georgina and two young boys

The next major event after the birth of their last child, Annie Daisy, in 1887 was Alexander’s death five years later, at age 47, again (supposedly) due to stomach cancer. And Georgina was widowed for the second time.

She’d had more than her share of grief to this point in time, I’d say. Her losses were:   one sister (Jane Bain, who died at age 17), two husbands, four children, and both parents. She was 45 years old.

And, given the economic times, her letter to her brother-in-law looking (I presume) for the inheritance money from Alexander’s property in Ireland must have been prompted by real need.

This is Alexander’s Last Will and Testament:

Petition of William K. Angwin – Estate of Alexander Petrie

Probate year 1892

To the Honorable Sir Frederic T Carter, KC Jn G Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland the Honorable Sir Robert J Pinsent DCL and the Honorable Joseph J Little Assistant Judges of the said Supreme Court.

The Petition of William K Angwin of Bay of Islands in the Island of Newfoundland Merchant,

Humbly sheweth

That Alexander Petrie late of Bay of Islands aforesaid Gentleman deceased departed this life on the twenty ninth day of July AD 1892

That the said Alexander Petrie previously to his decease made and published his last will and testament which is hereto annexed marked A that the said will has been duly proved in common form.

That under the said will the said Alexander Petrie appointed his brothers George and Thomas Petrie of Sligo Ireland and your Petitioner Executors of his Estate.

That he left his Widow Georgina Petrie and four children viz William Thomas, John Albert, Ethel Bain and Annie Daisy him surviving.

That the said deceased was at the time of his death possessed of property of the probable value of Five Thousand Dollars.

That no Probate or Administration to the Estate of the said deceased has been taken or applied for.

(part missing) ….may be granted to Your Petitioner in this Island of Newfoundland the rights of George Petrie and Thomas Petrie the other Executors named.


The last will and Testament of Alexander Petrie, Gentleman of Bay of Islands, Colony of Newfoundland.

I Alexander Petrie considering the uncertainty of this mortal life and being of Sound mind and memory, do make and publish this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following that is to say

First I give and devise unto my beloved wife Georgina Petrie during the term of her natural life and so long as she shall remain single, all that messuage or tenement at present occupied and held by me, together with all my other liquids and freehold estate whatsoever, situated, lying and being on Bay of Islands, Colony of Newfoundland. At the death of my said wife Georgina Petrie, or in the event of her marrying again, I direct that the land messuage or tenements aforesaid shall go to my sons William Thomas and John Albert in equal shares. And in the event of the death of either of my said sons William Thomas or John Albert before they shall arrive at the age of twenty one years, I direct that the share of the deceased shall go to the surviving brother.

I further direct that from the proceeds of my Life Insurance Policy, my executors shall pay first the amount advanced by my brother William in payment of premiums on the same. Second they shall set aside the sum of One Thousand Dollars which shall be appropriated as they may decide towards the education of my children. And thirdly the remainder of the sum received from the aforesaid policy I devise and bequeath in Equal Shares to my daughters Ethel Bain and Annie Daisy. And I further direct that my Executors shall invest the same and keep the same invested for the benefit of my said daughters and shall pay over to them the interest accrueing there free from the control of their husbands should they marry and at their death I direct that the principal shall be paid over to their heirs or as they may by will direct.

And whereas certain real estate property in Sligo, Ireland, is now held in the name of my brother Thomas, but which belongs to me, I direct that my Executors shall obtain from my said brother Thomas a conveyance of said property to themselves and at such time as they may think advisable I direct that they shall sell the said property and after paying all charges thereon I direct that they shall divide the proceeds thereof between my children share and share alike. And I further direct that the share of each shall be paid over to them when they shall reach the full term of twenty-one years.

And I also give and bequeath to my said children in equal share all the rest and residue of my property of whatever nature or wherever situated.

I hereby appoint nominate and appoint to be the Executors of this my last will and testament my brothers George and Thomas Petrie of Sligo Ireland and William K Angwin, Merchant, of Bay of Islands, Colony of Newfoundland

In witness whereof I have hereunto signed my name and affixed my seal on the third day of July A.D. 1892.

Alexander Petrie

Signed Sealed published and declared by the said Alexander Petrie as and for his last will and testament in the presence of us who in his presence and in the presence of each other and at his request have signed our names hereto as witnesses there of. The words “lands and” having been first inserted on the first page.

John Putnam Halcones
Joseph C Meredith

William Angwin rented his lobster packing business premises from Alexander and Georgina and was mentioned in Howley’s book as residing at The Petrie Hotel, at least at one point in time.  As we can see from the will document, he was named one of the three executors of Alexander’s last will and testament; the other two being Alexander’s brothers, Thomas and George, in Ireland.

It’s a little puzzling to me that Alexander’s elder brother and business partner William (author of the letter to ‘Georgy’) was not named executor, but instead Thomas (who was the only one of the brothers not to marry, and who emigrated to Australia around ten years after Alexander’s death in 1892), and George. I’m sure that George was stable enough to be relied on for this task—even though he would have been hampered by distance—but Thomas? In preference to William?  Perhaps this was due to the fact that he was holding some of Alexander’s property, and possibly the purpose for that was to keep it separate from any connection to the business.

Alexander and Georgina’s first son was named, “William Thomas,” likely named for Alexander’s father, William, and his brother, Thomas. Since Thomas was given the first honour of a namesake in his brother’s family, I’m guessing there was likely a special bond between brothers Alexander and Thomas. Were they close in age? Not especially…Alexander was born in 1845, and Thomas was born in 1857, so there were 12 years of difference in their ages. Alexander’s other brothers, Peter (b. 1849), John (b. 1852), and George (b. 1855)—even William (b. 1841)—were closer in age to Alexander.

Now, you might want to say that perhaps the reason Alexander named a much-younger brother as executor was because he might reasonably expect some of the brothers nearer to his own age to predecease him, and that there would be a better chance of the youngest brother still being around when needed. But I don’t think so, because Alexander’s will was drawn up not too long before he died, July 3rd to be exact—just 26 days before his death. Maybe he couldn’t be certain of not lasting much longer, but one suspects that he had a pretty good idea.

In any case, Alexander named brothers Thomas and George in Sligo as executors, along with William Angwin, who was local to Bay of Islands, Newfoundland.

I very much like the fact that Alexander wanted to set aside one thousand dollars for the education of his children—note that he does say “my children” and not exclusively “my sons”– and also that he sets aside some funds to be invested for his daughters’ benefits, “free from the control of their husbands should they marry.” He was a progressive, caring father, evidently. I’m not sure that all 19th century fathers thought of giving their daughters an education and a little financial independence—as much as could be provided to that end, that is.  The bulk of his property went to his sons, but only after Georgina was done with it.

Back yet again (one last time) to the letter from William Jr., to his widowed sister-in-law, ‘Georgy’ in Newfoundland…the key message we take from it is that finances are a problem–both in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, and in Sligo, Ireland.

But there are many questions to answer concerning that.

How did things come to this stage, and what happened to the family fishery business? Alexander came to the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, to open a new branch of the successful Petrie fishery business based in Sligo, Ireland–so what happened? Also…

I knew of the existence of The Petrie Hotel at Pleasant Point, or Petrie’s Point, in the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, but I had originally thought that the hotel came about after Alexander’s death, as a means for Georgina to be able to support the family on her own.

While it was in fact her sole support after his death, The Petrie Hotel started up many years before Alexander died, and he and Georgina were running it together. The hotel was apparently their primary source of income from approximately 1878 onward, apart from rental income earned by premises let to another business owner, William Angwin (Alexander’s executor, and, I would guess, friend).

The switch from fishery to hostelry in the late 1870’s must have been prompted by some significant events, and so it was.

Did Georgina’s troubles end with her second widowhood? No, they did not. There were more trials ahead…a lawsuit and another family death, for two.

With the daunting prospect ahead of her of being the sole head of the family, did she pack everyone up and return to Scotland or Ireland to live near relatives?

No, she did not.

I said to a friend of mine, “Why would Georgina stay on in The Bay of Islands, when she was alone, struggling financially, and trying to raise four children?”

My friend said, without hesitation, “Because she loved Newfoundland.”

Well of course. That explains it perfectly.

This is the end of Part One.



Richard III: Digging for the Truth

The University of Leicester–who kindly gave me permission to use the images of their 2012 exhumation of Richard III from under the car parking lot in Leicester (England)–tell us that 500 years after Richard was unceremoniously wedged into the ground in the choir of Grey Friars church in Leicester, his skeleton is still almost complete.  Missing are his left fibula (lower leg bone), a few small hand bones, some teeth, and his feet–which they say were probably separated from the rest of him during the construction of a Victorian outhouse on top of the grave.

I don’t know what to think about that…the Victorian outhouse, I mean.  I was tempted to write to the University of Leicester and ask them whether by ‘outhouse’ they mean an outdoor toilet, as we would refer to it in North America.  Could it be possible that they might mean an out-building like a garden shed?  Sometimes commonly understood terms in North America mean something a little different in Britain, and vice-versa.  In this case, I certainly hope so.

Richard’s skeleton showed dreadful injuries, among which was an ‘insult injury’ as evidenced by a cut to the pelvis–which indicates a stab to the buttocks.  Historical accounts say that he was stripped naked after his death, slung across a horse, and paraded in front of many people in that state.  A very ignominious treatment for a dead body, no matter whose it is—but maybe especially for a king.  The eventual placement of the body in the ground with the head wedged against the upper end of the burial pit is another potential indicator of disrespect to the deceased.  And then, centuries later, an outhouse constructed over his last resting place?  (Unintentional, mind you, since they didn’t know he was there.)

Perhaps Richard III does have a lot to answer for in the events of his 32-year life and two-year reign, but he would not be unique in that respect among medieval monarchs.  Beheading, hanging, drawing and quartering and suchlike punishments for disloyal subjects were commonplaces of the time.  “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”–from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2, Act 3, Scene 1—is very apt in describing the siege mentality that must have been an integral part of the medieval king’s daily outlook.  Any king that showed weakness, or failed to brutally suppress traitorous actions, might be inviting contenders for his throne.  There was more than self-interest in this, since civil wars cost the lives of thousands of people, and there were no social services to offset the impact on a family from the loss of its breadwinner.

For these reasons, young monarchs who succeeded during their minority needed a strong Regent or Lord Protector, and Richard found himself acting for his young nephew in that capacity when his brother (Edward IV) died at age 40 in April of 1483.  We cannot say, however, that Richard performed his responsibilities well, since that nephew and his younger brother disappeared–never to be seen again–under the care and protection of Uncle Richard.

Maybe the outhouse wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

But, in fairness, among the many blameworthy actions ascribed to King Richard III are quite a few blatant falsehoods.  Also, while we–and people of any stage in history come to that–can look with horror on the murder of two young boys, it was never conclusively proven that they met their deaths at the orders of their uncle.

All that aside (for the moment), the discovery and identification of Richard III’s skeleton by the University of Leicester’s team of scientists and archaeologists–at the prompting of the Richard III Society in Britain, and with their collaboration in obtaining funding–was nothing short of miraculous.  They are to be congratulated for their scrupulous handling of the archaeological dig, meticulous identification process, and for providing thorough documentation along with photos and film explaining procedures and findings every step of the way.   Fascinating…and extremely well done.

Richard III portrait and skeleton

Now we know what happened to him (if not to his nephews).  But, as the Richard III Society would tell us, we should all take another look at Richard III’s life and times; and try to glean the truth of it from the available accounts.

Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard III is compelling for its artistry, and it’s difficult to discount his version of the villain we love to hate–but it does seem a bit severe…

“Never hung poison on a fouler toad. Out of my sight! thou dost infect my eyes.”

[Richard III, Act I, Scene II]

So, let’s start at the beginning of the end…

On August 22, 1485, the 32-year-old King Richard III–the last king to die in battle in Britain–led a charge directly against his rival, Henry Tudor, 2nd Earl of Richmond, and the small party of soldiers surrounding him.  Richard had seen from his vantage point that Henry was at that moment vulnerable to attack, and therefore he hoped to bring the battle to a quick end by eliminating the leader of the opposition himself.

This was the crucial moment in the famous Battle of Bosworth–which acquired its name at a point in time 25 years after the battle had been fought.  The name known to contemporaries was the Battle of ‘Redemore’, meaning place of reeds.  Given that name, it is unsurprising that marshland conditions had to be factored into battle strategy by the opposing forces.  Recent archaeology (2009) has located the site of the Battle of Bosworth not far from Stoke Golding, and knowing that the land was marshy in 1485 was key to identifying the exact place.

Richard gambled big with his somewhat rash action attacking Henry, and since he was ‘all in’ he gave it every bit of force and speed he could.  He killed Henry’s standard-bearer, Sir William Brandon, in the initial charge and “unhorsed burly John Cheyne,” Edward IV’s former standard-bearer.  But Henry’s bodyguards managed to protect him during the onslaught.  [Horrox, Rosemary (1991) [1989]. Richard III: A Study of Service. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press.] 

A record of this pivotal moment in British history was written over 20 years later by historian/chronicler Polydore Vergil (1470-1555), an Italian priest who arrived in Britain in 1502.  Vergil was commissioned by King Henry VII to write a history of Britain, and began his Anglica Historia in 1506. [].

Polydore Vergil

Polydore Vergil, 1470-1555

His account of Richard’s attack on Henry follows, and I’ve tried to reproduce the olde English (against auto-correct’s unwelcome assistance) to give your brain a workout!  We’ve all done those reading exercises on Facebook and suchlike where only the first and last letters of a word are correct, and the intervening characters are gobbledegook.  Vergil’s account shouldn’t be too much of a problem, since there are few words of an antique character…’espyalls’ might be one.  We use the verb ‘espy’ or ‘espied’, but we don’t use a noun form that I’m aware of…

Whyle the battayll contynewyd thus hote on both sydes betwixt the vanwardes, king Richard understood, first by espyalls wher erle Henry was a farre of with smaule force of soldiers abowt him; than after drawing nerer he knew yt perfytely by evydent signes and tokens that yt was Henry; wherfor, all inflamyd with ire, he strick his horse with the spurres, and runneth owt of thone syde withowt the vanwardes agaynst him. Henry perceavyd king Richerd coome uppon him, and because all his hope was than in valyancy of armes, he receavyd him with great corage. King Richerd at the first brunt killyd certane, overthrew Henryes standerd, toygther with William Brandon the standerd bearer, and matchyd also with John Cheney a man of muche fortytude, far exceeding the common sort, who encountered with him as he cam, but the king with great force drove him to the ground, making way with weapon on every syde. But yeat Henry abode the brunt longer than ever his owne soldiers wold have wenyd, who wer now almost owt of hope of victory, whan as loe William Stanley with thre thowsand men came to the reskew: than trewly in a very moment the resydew all fled, and king Richerd alone was killyd fyghting manfully in the thickkest presse of his enemyes.   [Polydore Vergil, Anglica Historia, Books 23-25, (London:  J. B. Nichols, 1846, first published 1556), p. 224.]

No matter what opinion one holds of King Richard III—and Shakespeare’s depiction of Richard III as evil Machiavellian schemer, unscrupulous opportunist and heartless child-murderer is one view—he died valiantly in battle, apparently betrayed by Sir William Stanley, who switched sides (perhaps understandably) at an opportune moment for Henry.

Polydore Vergil goes on to say that Richard had the opportunity to save himself, and didn’t…

The report is that king Richerd might have sowght to save himself by flight; for they who wer abowt him, seing the soldiers even from the first stroke to lyft up ther weapons febly and fayntlye, and soome of them to depart the feild pryvyly, suspectyd treason, and exhortyd him to flye, yea and whan the matter began manyfestly to qwaile, they browght him swyft horses; but he, who was not ignorant that the people hatyd him, owt of hope to have any better hap afterward, ys sayd to have awnsweryd, that that very day he wold make end ether of warre of lyfe, suche great fearcenesse and suche huge force of mynd he had: wherfore, knowinge certanely that that day wold ether yeald him a peaceable and quyet realme from thencefurth or els perpetually bereve him the same, he came to the fielde with the crowne uppon his head, that therby he might ether make a beginning or ende of his raigne. And so the myserable man had suddaynly suche end as wont ys to happen to them that have right and law both of God and man in lyke estimation, as will, impyetie, and wickednes. Surely these are more vehement examples by muche than ys hable to be utteryd with toong to tereyfy those men which suffer no time to passe free from soome haynous offence, creweltie, or mischief.  [Vergil, Anglica Historia, Books 23-25, pp.225-226.]

…and so, according to Vergil, King Richard was counselled to take the fresh horses brought to him, and flee.  Richard’s reported refusal to save himself was said to be due to his hope of converting his people’s hatred of him to respect by making a brave showing at the battle.  As Vergil tells us, he said, “that very day he would make end either of war or of life.”

It’s a romantic account of Richard’s last moments, and presented by King Henry VII’s own historian, whom one would not expect to show his patron’s enemy in any favourable light.  But perhaps victory over a worthy opponent (his personal attributes aside) made for a more laudable triumph to Henry.

We might, however, want to question whether Richard was truly hated by his people, or whether Vergil was simply fulfilling his role as political propagandist for Henry VII.

And as for Henry, Polydore Vergil says that “Henry perceived King Richard come upon him, and because all his hope was then in valiancy of arms, he received him with great courage.”

But William Burton’s 1622 The Description of Leicestershire, 2nd edition 1642, printed 1777, differs:  “If Henry moved at all it was backwards. […] The ferocity of Richard would have terrified a better man than Henry.”

Burton’s account is below.  The final manuscript of the 1642 edition was in folio and transcribed by a professional copyist in a seventeenth-century Secretary hand.  I believe the English used in the original text must have been updated with this transcription, but could not find that stated anywhere.  I included the handwriting here, which I admire very much for its style and readability…

If Henry moved at all it was backwards [William Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, 1622, 2nd Ed, 1642, (W. Whittingham, printed 1777), p. 116.]

This account tells us that Henry Tudor, 2nd Earl of Richmond, was not the conquering-hero type.  We know that he had little experience of battle, and at Bosworth field he relied heavily on the Earl of Oxford, John de Vere’s, greater experience and knowledge.  Judging by what we know of his subsequent reign as Henry VII, he could perhaps more aptly be described as an avaricious and parsimonious bean-counter than a valiant warrior.

King Richard III, on the other hand, was a valiant warrior.  All sources, even those that disparage his character (which is most–if not all–of them), concur.

But there seem to have been other factors besides valour influencing Richard’s actions at that point in the Battle of Bosworth.  While choosing to preserve his own life by taking the horses and retreating to safety might not have earned him respect, a live king would still trump a dead king.  Would the cunning and calculating (as he is purported to be) King Richard deliberately press on with a brave but futile encounter with his enemy if there were another choice?

Consider these characteristics of Richard, attributed to him by Thomas More…

He was close and secrete, a deepe dissimuler, lowlye of counteynaunce, arrogant of heart, outwardly coumpinable where he inwardely hated, not letting to kisse whome hee thoughte to kyll; dispitious and cruell, not for euill will always, but ofter for ambicion, and either for the suretie or increase of his estate.  Frende and foo was muche what indifferent, where his aduauntage grew, he spared no mans deathe, whose life withstood his purpose. (Thomas More, The Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, Ed. J. Rawson Lumby, D.D., (Cambridge:  At the University Press, 1883), p. 6.)

(Modernized, below…)

He was close and secret, a deep dissembler, lowly of countenance, arrogant of heart, outwardly companionable where he inwardly hated, not omitting to kiss whom he thought to kill; pitiless and cruel, not for evil will always, but more often for ambition, and either for the protection or increase of his estate. Friend and foe were all the same; where his advantage grew, he spared no man death whose life obstructed his purpose.


Thomas More, 1478-1535, Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527

However, before wholeheartedly accepting this assessment of Richard’s character, we need to consider the many inaccuracies in Thomas More’s Historie…, and the fact that at the time of Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth, More was only seven years’ old.  His information was second-hand at best, and possibly relied too much on the biased accounts written by earlier historians/chroniclers.  Probably another source was John Morton, Bishop of Ely, who was More’s mentor at an early age.  It would be an understatement to say that Morton was not enamored of Richard III.

Also, considering that More wrote the account ca 1513, did not finish it prior to his death in 1535, and the publication of it came about when More’s son-in-law discovered the manuscript and had it published in 1557, one wonders whether More had any intention of completing or publishing it.  There’s also some speculation by historians that the history was written by John Morton, Bishop of Ely, and merely copied-out by Thomas More.  The following is from the introduction to the volume, and an updated version follows:

intro page for Historie of Kyng Rycharde, Thos More

“The History of Richard III (unfinished) written by Master Thomas More, then one of the under-Sheriffs of London about the year 1513 Which work hath been before this time printed in Hardyng’s Chronicle and in Hall’s Chronicle, but very much corrupt in many places sometime having less and sometime having more and altered in words and whole sentences, much varying from the copy in his own hand, by which this is printed.”  [More, The Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, Introductory page.]

And so that particular volume was true to More’s handwritten text, but we still might wonder whether the actual source of More’s Historie was John Morton.  Another perplexing question is:  if Thomas More truly thought that the work had merit and ought to be published, would he not have completed it sometime in the 22 years before he died?  (Sir Thomas More—later ‘Saint Thomas More’ when he was beatified in 1886–was beheaded for high treason in 1535 for refusing to recognize that King Henry VIII was Supreme Head of the Church in England.)

And now back to the Battle of Bosworth…King Richard III was on marshy ground in more ways than one.  He had reason to doubt the loyalty of his allies, and so his superior numbers (12,000-ish men versus 5,000 on Henry’s side) did not guarantee him a sure victory.  For one thing, Richard’s rear guard of 7,000 men under Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, appear not to have engaged with the enemy at all–for reasons that are unclear.  Speculation for this runs from treachery to the unfavourable battleground conditions.   John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, was apparently loyal to Richard, but his position on Richard’s right flank was threatened by the Earl of Oxford, a seasoned warrior and the leader of Henry’s forces.  Norfolk himself was killed in the fighting.  Add to this the potential uncertainty about Thomas Lord Stanley’s and Sir William Stanley’s loyalties (Richard had taken Thomas Lord Stanley’s son hostage as security against his father’s support), and Richard’s decision to expose himself to danger becomes more  understandable.

So perhaps there was little choice, but this does not diminish Richard’s bravery…

“All accounts attest to Richard’s strength in battle. Even John Rous, who compared Richard to the Antichrist, admitted “if I may say the truth to his credit, though small in body and feeble of limb, he bore himself like a gallant knight and acted with distinction as his own champion until his last breath”. []

Additionally, he fought wearing his crown, which made him an easy mark…

Richard was the only English monarch since the conquest who fell in battle, and the second who fought in his crown, an indication of courage, because from such a distinguishing mark the person of majesty is readily singled out for destruction.  Henry V appeared at Agincourt in his…     [Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, p. 123.]

Richard’s doubts about the support of the Stanley brothers were obviously well founded.  We can easily imagine Sir William Stanley observing Richard’s attack on Henry with a calculating eye.  At that moment, the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth was clearly in his hands.  Two small contingents of men, each containing one of the two key antagonists, were involved in a skirmish—and Stanley’s support could win the day decisively for one or the other.  He chose Henry.  Stanley surrounded the king’s men with his own, larger forces, and brought the Plantagenet dynasty, and King Richard III, to an end.

Below is Shakespeare’s dramatic recreation of this key moment in the battle, with Richard unhorsed, and looking for a mount to continue the fight. This is from Richard III, Act V, Scene IV…


Rescue, my Lord of Norfolk! rescue, rescue!

The king enacts more wonders than a man,

Daring an opposite to every danger:

His horse is slain, and all on foot he fights,

Seeking for Richmond in the throat of death.

Rescue, fair lord, or else the day is lost!

King Richard:

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!


Withdraw, my lord; I’ll help you to a horse.

King Richard:

Slave!  I have set my life upon a cast,

And I will stand the hazard of the die.

I think there be six Richmonds in the field;

Five have I slain to-day, instead of him.—

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

These events were certainly the stuff of which dramatic theatre is made.  Only consider the 15th-16th century world in which there were no Hollywood movies, no television programs, no radio broadcasts, no ‘superstar’ actors and no recognizable celebrities.  The famous, moneyed, powerful people were the aristocrats, and one had to be careful when representing one of them in an imagination-generated storyline loosely based on fact, because an unflattering characterization could result in dire consequences to playwright and players.

Richard III, the last Plantagenet monarch, was a safe choice for theatrical villain after Henry VII ascended the throne and established the Tudor dynasty.  Henry VII’s son (Henry VIII) and grandchildren (Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I) succeeded him, and Elizabeth was on the throne at the time Shakespeare wrote Richard III.  Queen Elizabeth I could have few objections to Richard III’s public vilification, since the Tudor accession–by right of conquest–would gain justification through a perception of superior merit.  It might be said that Elizabeth hardly needed that justification, but perhaps her father Henry VIII’s interesting solution to the problem of marital dissatisfaction, and the religious persecutions during her half-sister ‘Bloody’ Mary’s reign were not all that distant in memory.  Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed at Elizabeth I’s command in 1587, just five years prior to Shakespeare’s Richard III (ca. 1592), so she was not a supremely confident monarch, secure in her power and position.

Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, draws on Thomas More’s Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, and it seems that both works paint a much darker picture of Richard III than was warranted by fact.

For one thing, Richard is not suspected of murdering his wife, Anne Neville; she was ill for two months and may have died of tuberculosis.  Nor did Richard have marital designs on his niece, Elizabeth, for whom he had been negotiating marriage with a Portuguese prince.  He did not kill Anne’s father, the Earl of Warwick, who died at the Battle of Barnet (April 14, 1471).   Nor her first husband, Edward of Westminster (son of Henry VI), who died at the Battle of Tewkesbury (May 4, 1471).

richard-iii-stained-glass, Cardiff Castle

King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville, Stained glass, Cardiff Castle

There is also no evidence to suggest that Richard killed Henry VI, who died ca May 21, 1471, while incarcerated in the Tower of London after the Battle of Tewkesbury.  It’s possible that Richard, as High Constable of England, might have delivered to the Tower Edward IV’s orders (if such there were) to execute Henry, but there is no documentary evidence of this.  There was also a belief by some that Henry may have ‘died of melancholy’ when he heard of his son’s death at the Battle of Tewkesbury.  That may seem somewhat fanciful, but Henry’s mental state was known to be fragile; he had had mental breakdowns and suffered hallucinations and lengthy periods of dissociation from his surroundings—modern speculation is that he may have suffered from a form of schizophrenia.  Owing to these frequent episodes of mental incapacity, his Queen, Margaret of Anjou, often ruled in his place.  She led her own army at the Battle of Tewkesbury, and was taken prisoner by Sir William Stanley until ransomed in 1475 by Louis XI of France.

An interesting side note on this strong, remarkable woman is that both she and Henry shared a love of learning.  Queen’s College, Cambridge, was founded in 1448 by Queen Margaret of Anjou, and King’s College by King Henry VI.

Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI

Margaret of Anjou and King Henry VI

It occurs to me that if either Edward or Richard wanted Henry VI out of the way, they’d have done better to eliminate Margaret of Anjou.

Richard also does not appear to be responsible for the death of his brother George, Duke of Clarence, who was executed for treason by their elder brother, King Edward IV.  According to Horace Walpole in his Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, (Published 1768), “The Duke of Clarence appears to have been at once a weak, volatile, injudicious, and ambitious man.”  He seems to have been largely at fault for his own downfall.

Here is an illustration of dubious information provided in Shakespeare’s Richard III, Act I, Scene I, a soliloquy in which the character of Richard says:

For then I’ll marry Warwick’s youngest daughter.

What though I kill’d her husband and her father?

As previously stated, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, Anne’s father, died at the Battle of Barnet; and her husband, Prince Edward, son of Henry VI, died at the Battle of Tewkesbury…both fighting against Edward IV, Richard’s brother, and therefore traitors.  Richard is unlikely to have killed them.

Anne Neville, Richard’s wife and queen, was Warwick’s youngest daughter.  At the time of her young husband Prince Edward’s death at Tewkesbury, she was 14 or 15 years old.  She later married Richard at age 16; Richard was 19 at the time.

This excerpt from the play’s dialogue (Richard III, Scene II) has Richard of Gloucester–who was not yet King Richard III–admitting guilt to Anne Neville for the death of Henry VI.


Thou wast provoked by thy bloody mind. Which never dreamt on aught but butcheries: Didst thou not kill this king?


I grant ye.

Edward IV is more of a suspect for Henry VI’s death, having more to gain by it.  Even so, Thomas More’s History of Richard III explicitly states that Richard killed Henry (which explains why Shakespeare picked this up for his play), an opinion More might have derived from Philippe de Commynes’ Memoir.

Philippe de Commynes (a.k.a. ‘Philip de Comines’) was a diplomat and writer in the courts of Burgundy and France, and lived during the years 1447 – 1511, so he was contemporary with the time of Richard III.  He says:

“I had almost forgot to acquaint you that king Edward finding king Henry in London, took him along with him to the fight:  this king Henry was a very weak prince, and almost a changeling, and, if what was told me be true, after the battle was over, the duke of Gloucester, who was king Edward’s brother, and afterwards called king Richard, slew this poor king Henry with his own hand, or caused him to be carried into some private place, and stood by himself, while he was killed.”  [The Historical Memoirs of Philip de Comines, Book III, (London:  Printed by W. McDowell, Pemberton Row, Fleet Street, for J. Davis, Military Chronicle Office, 1817),  p. 168.]



Philippe de Commynes, c. 1447-1511

Note that de Commynes says, “if what was told me be true”…a frank statement acknowledging that his source may or may not be reliable.

It’s interesting to see what a foreign king thought about what was happening in England at the time Richard III took the crown.  Philippe de Commynes writes of the reaction of Louis XI, King of France…

Our king was presently informed of king Edward’s death; but he still kept it secret, and expressed no manner of joy upon hearing the news of it.  Not long after, he received letters from the duke of Gloucester, who was made king, styled himself Richard III. and had barbarously murdered his two nephews.  This king Richard desired to live in the same friendship with our king as his brother had done, and I believe would have had his pension continued; but our king looked upon him as an inhuman and cruel person, and would neither answer his letters nor give audience to his ambassador; for king Richard, after his brother’s death, had sworn allegiance to his nephew as his king and sovereign, and yet committed that inhuman action not long after; and in full parliament caused two of his brother’s daughters, who were remaining, to be degraded, and declared illegitimate upon a pretence which he justified by the bishop of Bath…  [The Historical Memoirs of Philip de Comines, Book VI, Chapter IX, p. 359.]

It would be helpful to know where King Louis acquired his information about the ‘barbarous murder’ of Richard’s two nephews.  We know that Henry of Richmond (later Henry VII) fled to Brittany when Richard’s brother, Edward IV, regained the throne in 1471, and that he lived there for most of the next 14 years under the protection of the Duke of Brittany, Francis II.  Did the report of Richard murdering his nephews come to King Louis XI of France via Richard’s enemies?

Not only was there no documented proof of the deaths of the princes, it seems that Henry VII never launched an investigation into their supposed murders upon his accession to the throne after defeating Richard at Bosworth field.  According to Horace Walpole in his Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third…

No mention of such a murder was made in the very act of parliament that attainted Richard himself, and which would have been the most heinous aggravation of his crimes.  And no prosecution of the supposed assassins was even thought of till eleven years afterwards, on the appearance of Perkin Warbeck…

Perkin Warbeck presented himself (in 1490/91) as the younger of the two ‘murdered’ nephews, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, returned to England after living abroad.  He was captured and interrogated by Henry in 1497.

Henry had never been certain of the deaths of the princes, nor ever interested himself to prove that both were dead, till he had great reason to believe that one of them was alive.  [Walpole, Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third]

Philippe de Commynes’ report of King Louis XI’s response to Richard’s diplomatic overtures is interesting in terms of timing.  Richard began his reign on June 26, 1483, and his coronation was July 6, 1483.  King Louis died on August 30, 1483.  Below is Philippe de Commynes’ assessment of King Louis XI’s qualities…

In all of them there was a mixture of bad as well as good, for they were but mortals.  But without flattery I may say of our king, that he was possessed of more qualifications suitable to the majesty and office of a prince than any of the rest, for I knew the greatest part of them, and was acquainted with most of their transactions; so that I do not speak altogether by guess or hear-say.  [The Historical Memoirs of Philip de Comines, Book VI, Chapter X, p. 361.]

Philippe de Commynes seems well aware of the temptation to report ‘guess or hear-say,’ and delivers his lively account of events with wide-ranging information of both anecdotal and historical character, enriched by an analytical and perceptive human viewpoint.  He is considered to be “one of the first of the moderns, for his manner and veracity.”   [from the Preface to the Memoirs]

It is an unfortunate omission that de Commynes could not tell us how Louis XI came by the information that Richard “had barbarously murdered his two nephews.”  In any case, it could only be ‘guess or hearsay’, since there was no official announcement of their demise–natural or unnatural.

Thomas More’s account, on the other hand, begins with a flagrant inaccuracy, in that he says, “Kyng Edwarde of that name the fowrth, after that hee hadde lyued fiftie and three yaeres, seuen monethes, and sixe dayes…”  [More, The Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, p. 1.]

In fact, King Edward IV was not 53 years, seven months and six days old, he was closing in on his 41st birthday at the time of his death on April 9, 1483 (his date of birth was April 28, 1442).  More’s statement of Edward’s lifespan is strangely precise for being completely wrong.  One almost wonders whether this learned man was leaving his readers a clue to regard the body of the text in the same light as his opening sentence–with scepticism.

With such an inauspicious beginning to More’s account, some doubt might naturally attach to the subsequent information, although it’s difficult to argue with this passage, which refers to the young princes, Richard’s nephews:

For Richarde the Duke of Gloucester, by nature theyr vncle, by office theire protectoure, to their father beholden, to them selfe by othe and allegyaunce bownden, al the bandes broken that binden manne and manne together, withoute anye respecte of Godde or the worlde, vnnaturallye contriued to bereue them, not onelye their dignitie, but also their liues.” [More, The Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, p. 4.]

Modernized below:

For Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, by nature their uncle, by office their protector, to their father beholden, to themselves by oath and allegiance bound, all the bands broken that bind man and man together, without any respect of God or the world, unnaturally contrived to bereave them, not only of  their dignity, but also their lives.

Prior to his own violent end, Richard himself never made any attempt to explain the disappearance of his nephews–at least no attempt that is visible to us.  When it seemed apparent that they were dead [the questionable true identity of Perkin Warbeck aside], everyone was left to wonder how, why, when…and even, perhaps, where.  It seems likely that their end came at the Tower of London, since that was the last place they were seen alive.  ‘When’ is an open question, as may be ‘how’—although More claims to know the specifics from a confession by two of the participants in the nefarious deed.  That leaves ‘why’–and too many people had an answer for that.

The Two Princes in the Tower, 1483, by Sir Johb Everett Millais, 1878, public domain

The Two Princes in the Tower, 1483, by Sir John Everett Millais, 1878

Thomas More writes this condemnation of Richard, and yet adds at the end that some people doubt that the princes were killed during Richard’s reign:

Now fell their mischiefs thick. And as the thing evil gotten is never well kept, through all the time of his reign there never ceased cruel death and slaughter, till his own destruction ended it. But as he finished his time with the best death and the most righteous, that is to say, his own, so began he with the most piteous and wicked: I mean the lamentable murder of his innocent nephews – the young King and his tender brother.  Whose death and final misfortune has nonetheless so far come in question that some remain yet in doubt whether they were in his days destroyed or not.  [from More’s Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, p. 93…my update of the language]

More goes on to write this account of the deaths of the young princes…

For Sir James Tyrrell devised that they should be murdered in their beds. To the execution whereof, he appointed Miles Forest, one of the four that kept them, a fellow made for murder before time.  To him he joined one John Dighton, his own housekeeper, a big, broad, square strong knave. Then all the others being removed from them, this Miles Forest and John Dighton about midnight (the innocent children lying in their beds) came into the chamber, and suddenly wrapped them up among the bedclothes – so bewrapped them and entangled them, keeping down by force the featherbed and pillows hard unto their mouths, that within a while, smothered and stifled, their breath failing, they gave up to God their innocent souls into the joys of heaven, leaving to the tormentors their bodies dead in the bed.

Which after that the wretches perceived, first by the struggling with the pains of death, and after long lying still, to be thoroughly dead, they laid their bodies naked out upon the bed, and fetched Sir James to see them. Who, upon the sight of them, caused those murderers to bury them at the stair foot, appropriately deep in the ground, under a great heap of stones.

Then rode Sir James in great haste to King Richard and showed him all the manner of the murder, who gave him great thanks and, as some say, there made him knight. But he allowed not, as I have heard, the burying in so vile a corner, saying that he would have them buried in a better place because they were a king’s sons. Lo, the honorable station of a king! Whereupon they say that a priest of Sir Robert Brakenbury took up the bodies again and secretly put them in such place that only he knew and that, by the occasion of his death, could never since come to light.

[More, The Historie of Kyng Rycharde III, p. 84, my update of the language]

More gives as his source for this information the confessions of Sir James Tyrrell and Dighton as they were held in the Tower for treason against Henry VII.  Tyrrell was subsequently beheaded for his treason on May 2, 1502, approximately 19 years after the alleged murders of the princes.  Dighton was released, as More says, “…in dede yet walketh on alive in good possibilitie to bee hanged ere he dye.” [More’s Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde p. 85]   (More evidently does not rate Dighton’s prospects in life very highly.)   No documents of Tyrrell’s or Dighton’s confessions, if such there were, survive.

If More, a lawyer, heard–or heard of–these confessions and intended to make them public, wouldn’t a signed document be useful as proof?

Very truth is it and well known, that at such time as Sir James Tyrell was in the Tower, for Treason committed against the most famous prince king Henry the seventh, both Dighton and he were examined, and confessed the murder in manner above written but whither the bodes were removed they could nothing tell.  And thus as I have learned of them that knew much and had little cause to lie…  [More’s Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde p. 84]

It’s still ‘hearsay’ as we would call it today, unless there is a document to substantiate it,  and More is not above using sources of dubious authenticity (again, assuming that he had actually written this account).  More has said that he “heard by credible report of such as wer secrete with his chamberers, that after this abhominable deede done, he never hadde quiet in his minde, hee never thought himself sure.”  [More’s Historie…p. 85.] Evidently More spoke to someone who spoke to someone who imagined that the king was troubled in his mind owing to some restlessness during the night–no doubt exaggerated in the telling.  Polydore Vergil wrote something similar.

While it’s impossible to come to any irrefutable conclusions about Richard III’s involvement in his nephews’ deaths, we do know that he took steps to have their Woodville relatives eliminated quite expeditiously, and with little semblance of a legal trial.  On June 25, 1483, Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers, young Edward V’s maternal uncle; Richard Grey, the king’s half-brother; and Thomas Vaughan, the king’s chamberlain, were all executed at Pontefract Castle, on Richard’s orders, for a supposed ‘treasonous’ plot to deny him his role as Lord Protector.

Lord Hastings, who was Master of the Mint and Lord Chamberlain to Richard’s brother, the late King Edward IV, seemed to be a foot in both camps.  He supported Edward IV’s son, Edward V, as the successor, but he appears to have also seen a Woodville (young Edward V’s mother’s family) conspiracy to increase their power and influence during the king’s minority.  From all reports, Hastings was a loyal, trustworthy man, who would not, however, have supported Richard’s ambition to be king in his nephew’s place.  During a council meeting at the Tower of London on June 13, 1483, Richard accused him of conspiring with the Woodvilles, and had him summarily executed in the courtyard at that very moment, in rather barbaric fashion.

However, there may have been reasons for Richard’s evident suspicion of the Woodvilles.  When Edward IV died, Richard was in the north of the country, returning from a successful expedition against the Scots.  The young Prince Edward was with his uncle, Earl Rivers, at Ludlow.  On the death of her husband…

The queen wrote instantly to her brother to bring up the young king to London, with a train of two thousand horse:  a fact allowed by historians, and which, whether a prudent caution or not, was the first overt act of the new reign; and likely to strike, as it did strike, the duke of Gloucester and the ancient nobility with a jealousy, that the queen intended to exclude them from the administration, and to govern in concert with her own family.  It is not improper to observe that no precedent authorized her to assume such power. […]  Yet all her conduct intimated designs of governing by force in the name of her son.  [Walpole, Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, (Published 1768).]

Also, while we look askance at these summary executions, we must consider the times in which Richard III lived, “…we must not judge of those times by the present.  Neither the crown nor the great men were restrained by sober established forms and proceedings as they are at present…” [Walpole, Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, (Published 1768).]

Now to move ahead in time and review the remarkable excavation by the University of Leicester on the site of the Grey Friars friary in Leicester in August of 2012.

Grey Friars was originally built in the first half of the 13th century, and named for the Franciscan order, whose garments were a grey colour.  The buildings were demolished in 1538, and the building materials used in the construction of other buildings.

In the early 17th century, former mayor of Leicester, Robert Herrick, built a house on the site, with a three-foot pillar erected in the garden containing the inscription, “here lies the body of Richard III sometime King of England”.  (As reported by the father of the famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren.)

Subsequent subdivision and selling of the land resulted in the displacement and loss of the pillar, so that Richard III’s final resting place was no longer known.

Parts of the site were built over in the succeeding centuries…houses in the 18th century, a schoolhouse in the 19th century, and offices in the 20th century.  The unbuilt land became a car parking lot for the Leicester City Council offices adjacent to it.

The Richard III Society in England, under the leadership of Philippa Langley, were the originators of the project to find the remains of Richard III.  The University of Leicester provided all the knowledge and expertise, and broadened the scope to encompass an investigation of the Franciscan friary and its church to gain a better understanding of these structures dating from medieval Leicester.

[This information comes from the University of Leicester website:, and all photos of the bones and excavation are used by kind permission of the University of Leicester.]

Three trenches were dug with a north-south orientation, in the expectation that the buildings would be orientated east-west, and therefore the trenches might transect any evidence of wall constructions.  The hope was to locate the choir of the church, the most likely spot for Richard III’s remains—IF they were there, and it was no certainty that they were.

excavation, Leicester

Excavating a Trench in Leicester Car Park

Miraculously, the initial digging of Trench 1 uncovered what was later found to be the skeleton of Richard III.   Since it was early in the excavation, and there were no other structures as yet identified to provide a location for the remains, they were carefully covered up again.  When the cloister walk and choir locations were discovered, the importance of the skeleton in relation to them prompted a careful exhumation, with all precautions taken to preserve DNA integrity…latex gloves, full body suit, etc.

The body was seen to have been placed in the ground with little ceremony, since the head was wedged at an angle to the body against one end.  The ground had been disturbed by the foundations of Victorian buildings just centimetres away, and the feet of the skeleton were missing as a result of this later construction.


Bones of Richard III

There was also 19th century brickwork just 90 mm above the skeleton in places and if the Victorian workmen had dug any deeper or wider, the remains might have been severely damaged or destroyed.

The spinal column of the skeleton showed a pronounced curvature, which was determined to be due to scoliosis.

Judging by the length of the thigh bone, Richard would have stood about 5’8” if his back had been straight.  The scoliosis would have reduced his apparent height significantly, making him much shorter than the average man in the medieval period.  (By contrast, his brother, King Edward IV, was said to be unusually tall, at 6’4”.)  Richard’s right shoulder would have been noticeably higher than his left.  We can compare this finding with More’s description of Richard III on page 5 of his Historie:  “…little of stature, ill-featured of limbs, crooked-backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right, hard favoured of visage…”  More’s source evidently got the higher shoulder wrong.


The shape of the individual vertebra supports the finding of scoliosis (photo below).  Furthermore, this was determined to be idiopathic adolescent onset scoliosis which is not due to any known cause but may have a genetic component.  The two vertebrae pictured below show signs of osteoarthritis…

two vertebrae, osteoarthritis

(Richard has my sympathy in this, since I also have idiopathic adolescent onset scoliosis, and osteoarthritis as a result.)

The skull showed evidence of the sort of injuries which would have occurred in battle, but not to a man wearing the type of helmet used with the body armour of the time.  Richard’s head protection may have been dislodged during the fighting, or forcibly removed.


Richard III armour

A massive, fatal blow to the base of the skull (#5 in the photo below) was likely caused by a heavy-bladed weapon such as a halberd or an axe, wielded with force.  It completely sliced away a portion of the skull.  The halberd consists of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on a long shaft (see insert in photo).

Fatal injuries and halberd

The other fatal wound is indicated by the smaller, jagged hole (#6 in the photo), which may have been made with a sword.  Marks on the interior of the skull in relation to this indicate it penetrated to a depth of 10.5 cm.

Another blow shaved off a piece of skull, but would not have been fatal:

bladed weapon clipped skull, shaved off top layer of bone

Bladed weapon shaved off piece of skull.

There was a slice into the jawbone by a bladed weapon:

injury, blade cut right side of chin2

Injury to right side of chin: blade cut.

Another wound to the pelvis indicated a possible post-mortem mark of disrespect to the body—a stabbing to the buttocks, as mentioned earlier.  This type of injury would not have been possible if the body was encased in armour.  It may have happened after death, when the body was stripped naked.

Burton’s The Description of Leicestershire (1642 edition), tells us, “No king ever made so degraded a spectacle…”

The body of King Richardinsult weakness is highly blameable

[Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, pp. 126-127.]

There were other injuries as well–a small, round puncture wound to the crown of the skull, for example.  The totality of injuries tells us that Richard III was ferociously attacked from all sides by multiple people using a variety of weapons.

Richard might now be said to have been in the midst of a fire, and that of his own kindling.  He continued his ferocity till his powers and his friends failing, for every one of his followers were either fallen or fled, he stood single in the midst of his enemies, when, becoming less desperate through weakness, many durst approach within the length of a sword, who some minutes before dare not…

[Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, p. 118]

For the purpose of establishing the identity of the skeleton, Dr. Turi King of Leicester University took a tooth and a portion of the femur to grind up for an attempt at extracting DNA for sequencing.  It was by no means certain that any DNA could be found to be of use…much depends on soil conditions and suchlike for DNA to have been preserved in a useable state.  The tooth was potentially a good source, since the DNA would have been protected from deterioration by the tooth enamel.

Once useable DNA was found, two descendants from Richard III’s sister Anne (Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig), contributed their DNA,  first to compare with one another (they matched), and then to compare with the skeleton (which they also matched).

Wendy Duldig and Michael Ibsen

Wendy Duldig and Michael Ibsen, (image by kind permission of the University of Leicester)

Since Richard had no surviving offspring, his sister’s descendants were of prime importance, and the mitochondrial DNA, which passes unchanged through the female line, was key to this testing.

A mother’s mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is shared by all her children, but is only passed down to the next generation by females.  So Richard III had the same mtDNA as his sister, Anne of York, who passed it to her daughter, who passed it to her daughter, and so on.  Finally, that same mtDNA reached Joy Ibsen and her children, Michael, Jeff and Leslie.


Michael Ibsen is a cabinet maker from London, Ontario, and Wendy Duldig is an Australian now living in London, England.  They are two of only four people in the world who share Richard III’s mitochondrial DNA, amongst the millions of descendants of the Plantagenet dynasty.  None of these four people have had children, so that the opportunity of testing for identification based on Richard III’s DNA ends with this generation.

Not only was it extremely fortunate that the remains of Richard III were found, it is also fortuitous that they were found at this time, and not a hundred years from now.

This is Michael Ibsen’s Line:

Katherine Roët (Swynford) (+ John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster) -> Lady Joan de Beaufort -> Lady Cecily Neville -> Anne of York (1439-1476) -> Anne St. Leger (1476-1526) -> Catherine Manners (c. 1510-c. 1547) -> Barbara Constable (c. 1530-c. 1561) -> Margaret Babthorpe (c. 1550-1628) -> Barbara Chomley (c. 1575-1618) -> Barbara Belasyse (1609-1641) -> Barbara Slingsby (1633-?) -> Barbara Talbot (1665-1763) -> Barbara Yelverton (c. 1692-1724) -> Barbara Calthorpe (c. 1716-1782) -> Barbara Gough Calthorpe (1746-1826) -> Ann Spooner (1780-1873) -> Charlotte Vansittart Neale (1817-1881) -> Charlotte Vansittart Frere (1846-1916) -> Muriel Stokes (1884-1961) -> Joy M Brown (1926-2008) -> Michael Ibsen

This is Wendy Duldig’s Line:

Katherine Roët (Swynford) (+ John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster) -> Lady Joan de Beaufort -> Lady Cecily Neville -> Anne of York (1439-1476) -> Anne St. Leger (1476-1526) -> Catherine Manners (c. 1510-c. 1547) -> Everhilda Constable (c. 1535-?) -> Katherine Crathorne (c. 1555-1605) -> Everhilda Creyke à Everhilda Maltby (1605-c. 1670) -> Frances Wentworth (1631-1693) -> Dorothy Grantham (1659-1717) -> Frances Holt (1681-1771) -> Frances Winstanley (c. 1703-1766) -> Frances Truman (1726-1801) -> Frances Read (1750-1820) -> Harriet Villebois (1774-1821) -> Harriet Plunkett (1807-1864) -> Frances Gardiner (1828-1907) -> Sophia Lysaght (1861-1945) -> Marjorie Moore (1891-1954) -> Gabrielle Whitehorn (1928-2004) -> Wendy Duldig

As might be expected from rival claimants to the throne, Richard III and Henry, Earl of Richmond (later Henry VII), were second cousins, once removed.

John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Katherine Roët  (a.k.a. Katherine Swynford, from her first marriage), were:

Richard’s Great-Grandparents, and

Henry’s Great-Great Grandparents

Richard III and Henry VII

King Richard III (1452-1485)    King Henry VII (1457-1509)

Here’s William Burton’s colourful assessment of their characters:

The ruling passion of Henry, after he grasped the sceptre was avarice  Had he moved in a servile state, he would like other misers, (the dregs of existence), have denied himself common support, dined upon offals, and his small savings would at his death, have been found in a rag.  And Richard’s was ambition  This is a laudable passion when guided by reason, but being possessed in the extreme, and under no controul [sic], it proved destructive to many, and in the end to him.

[Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, pp. 65-66.]

Burton adds the following to his character analysis and comparison of Richard and Henry:

The crown was now to be disputed with the utmost acrimony, by two of the ablest politicians that ever wore one; they were both wise, and both crafty; equally ambitious and equally strangers to probity.  Richard was better versed in arms, Henry was better served.  Richard was brave, Henry a coward.  Richard was about 5 feet 4, rather runted, but only made crooked by his enemies; and wanted 6 weeks of 33.  Henry was 27, slender, and near 5 feet 9, with a saturnine countenance, yellow hair, and grey eyes.  Richard was a man of the deepest penetration! perfectly adapted to form, and execute a plan; for he generally carried what another durst not attempt…

[Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, p. 101]

It’s interesting that DNA analysis points to a 96% probability that Richard III was blue-eyed, and a 77% probability that he was blond-haired.  [King, T. E. et al. Identification of the remains of King Richard III. Nat. Commun. 5:5631 doi: 10.1038/ncomms6631 (2014).]

Most blond hair darkens with age, which explains why Richard’s portraits–none of them contemporary–show him with dark hair.

Apparently the arch-top portrait of Richard III (c. 1510-1540) in the collection of The Society of Antiquaries of London comes the closest in representing Richard III’s actual appearance (see below).  This portrait is likely a copy of a prototype painted during the king’s lifetime, and unique in that it underwent relatively little overpainting throughout the intervening centuries.  Even this small amount was removed by professional conservators in recent years.    []

Richard III portrait from SAL

Richard III Portrait, c. 1510-1540, (By kind permission of The Society of Antiquaries of London)

The Society of Antiquaries of London website:

Even though we can probably absolve Richard III of many of the killings for which Shakespeare accuses him, he does seem to have set about eliminating his nephews’ supporters quite ruthlessly.

Also, albeit with some difficulty, he managed to pry his younger nephew, the 9-year-old Duke of York, away from Queen Dowager Elizabeth Woodville, the boy’s mother.  She had kept her younger son with her in sanctuary, but eventually, with assurances that he would be safe, she let him go to be with his brother in the Tower.   At that point Richard had both princes.  If his intention was to eliminate them as rival successors to the throne, he needed them both.

Thus Richerd, without assent of the commonaltie, by might and will of certane noblemen of his faction, enjoyned the realme, contrary to the law of God and man; who, not long after, having establyshyd all thinges at London acording to his owne fantasy, tooke his journey to york, and first he went streight to Glocester, where the while he taryed the haynous guylt of wicked conscyence dyd so freat him every moment as that he lyvyd in contynuall feare, for thexpelling wherof by any kind of meane he determynyd by death to dispatche his nephewys, because so long as they lyvyd he could never be out of hazard;…

[Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History, pp. 187-188.]

We might ask Polydore Vergil how he came to know that Richard’s “heinous guilt of wicked conscience did so fret him every moment as that he lived in continual fear…”  It seems a thing unlikely to have been known by anyone other than the sufferer.

Vergil goes on to describe in rather dramatic fashion the reaction of the people, and the boys’ mother, when—according to Vergil—the news of the deaths of the princes was made known…

But whan the fame of this notable fowle fact was dispersyd throwgh the realme, so great griefe stroke generally to the hartes of all men, that the same, subdewing all feare, they wept every wher, and whan they could wepe no more, they cryed owt, ‘Ys ther trewly any man lyving so farre at enemytie with God, with all that holy ys and relygyouse, so utter enemy to man, who wold not have abhorryd the myschief of so fowle a murder?’ But specyally the quenes frinds and the chyldrens exclamyd against him, ‘What will this man do to others who thus cruelly, without any ther desert, hath killyd hys owne kynsfolk?’ assuring themselves that a marvalous tyrany had now invadyd the commanwelth. Emongest all others the news herof was unto thynfortunate mother, who yeat remanyd in sayntuary, as yt wer the very stroke of death: for as soone as she had intelligence how her soons wer bereft thys lyfe, at the very fyrst motion therof, the owtrageousnes of the thinge drove her into suche passion as for feare furthwith she fell in a swowne, and lay lyveles a good whyle; after cooming to hir self, she wepeth, she cryeth owt alowd, and with lamentable shrykes made all the house ring, she stryk hir brest, teare and cut hir heire, and, overcommyd in fyne with dolor, prayeth also hir owne death, cawlyng by name now and than emong hir most deare chyldren, and condemning hirself for a mad woman, for that (being deceavyd by false promyses) she had delyveryd hir yownger soon owt of sayntuary, to be murderyd of his enemy, who, next unto God and hir soons, thought hir self most injuryd; but after long lamentation, whan otherwise she cowld no be revengyd, she besowght help of God (the revenger of falshed and treason) as assuryd that he wold once revenge the same.      [Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History, p. 189.]

Again, according to Polydore Vergil (and we need to bear in mind that he is King Henry VII’s agent, and therefore not sympathetic to Richard III), the king sent an order to the lieutenant of the Tower to murder the princes, and the lieutenant could not bring himself to commit so heinous an act.  The king then ordered James Tyrrell to the Tower to carry out the command–which was supposedly done.  Richard III then let the news of their deaths circulate amongst the people (according to Vergil), so that they would now understand that since no male issue of King Edward were left alive, they might, “with better mind and good will bear and sustain his government.”  However, as Vergil says, this news was apparently received by the populace with great sadness, outrage, and horror.

This would have been such an astonishing announcement–official or unofficial–that had it truly been done, there would certainly have been a record of it somewhere.  But there is not.

Vergil goes on to say that the former queen and mother of the murdered princes was overcome not only with grief but with remorse for handing over her younger son (after supposedly being pressured to do so, and deceived by false promises for his safety) to be killed.


Elizabeth Woodville (ca 1437-1492), Edward IV’s Wife and Queen, Mother of ‘the Princes in the Tower’

IF Elizabeth Woodville believed her two sons to have been murdered on the orders of Richard III, we might wonder about her reaction to the appearance of the pretender, ‘Perkin Warbeck’ in 1490/91.  Elizabeth died in 1492, and so she would have known before her death about Perkin Warbeck claiming to be her younger son.  Would there have been any communication between the two of them?  Would she have recognized him had she seen him seven years after his disappearance from the Tower?  I’m inclined to think she would still have known whether he was genuinely her son, in spite of the changes seven years would have made.  It seems that Henry VII was sufficiently alarmed by Warbeck that he eventually obtained–or forced–a confession from him that he was an imposter, and had him executed on a charge of attempting to escape from the Tower in November of 1499.

As we’ve seen, there are many unanswered questions yet.  Leading the quest to re-assess the life and reign of Richard III are the members of The Richard III Society.  This is an organization with branches in various countries (Britain and Canada for two) that has attempted to redress some of the false accusations and aspersions on the character of Richard III.

Their patron, the present Richard, Duke of Gloucester, sums up their mission: “… the purpose—and indeed the strength—of the Richard III Society derives from the belief that the truth is more powerful than lies; a faith that even after all these centuries the truth is important. It is proof of our sense of civilised values that something as esoteric and as fragile as reputation is worth campaigning for.”

It becomes an even more difficult mission when an important playwright like Shakespeare embeds a host of misconceptions in a great work of literature.  Shakespeare’s Richard III is performed in theatres and on film to this day, and Shakespeare’s plays are still (to my knowledge) entrenched in secondary school English studies.  The lines between fiction and fact can become blurred when a play is based on actual events from the past with the names of historical personages assigned to players.  Given that many historical accounts already contain conjecture, even propaganda, a theatrical reconstruction takes us another step further away from the truth.  The need for heightened drama and exaggeration for entertainment value can further distort an already distorted account of what really happened and why.

And which of the two will be the account we will be more likely to remember?  Would it be the school textbook or the Stratford Festival Theatre production of the Shakespearean play?

I think it is fair to say that Shakespeare embellished unreliable historical accounts for dramatic effect, and that Richard III perhaps did not deserve the entirety of the villainy accorded to him.  Whether or not Richard could be held accountable for the deaths of his nephews (which would indeed have been a horrible crime), it appears that the historians/chroniclers of the 16th century did let their imaginations run amok—and ‘Shakespeare’ (whomever Shakespeare might have been, since we have questions about him as well), ran with it.

Shakespeare’s primary purpose was to provide entertainment, although his plays contain great insight into human nature in all its variations and permutations.  He might also have expected Sir Thomas More’s account of Richard III’s reign to be factual, given More’s reputation.  More was not only a well educated man who promoted learning, but also a statesman whose uncompromising adherence to his religious views cost him his life.  That Shakespeare might have expanded on More’s account should not be surprising, since the general condemnation of Richard III’s character implicitly granted free rein to the playwright’s imagination.  From what Shakespeare would have read about Richard III, he might have deemed him capable of anything.

I took the following from the Richard III Society of Canada’s website:

“Richard was indeed responsible for the deaths of the Woodville conspirators Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan. The Woodville attempt in the late spring of 1483 to have Prince Edward of York crowned and Richard’s position as Lord Protector reduced to a mere title, resulted in the deaths of the three for treason at Pontefract castle, or as Shakespeare has his characters call it, Pomfret.”

The “Woodville conspirators” were the young King Edward V’s family and supporters, and Edward was the rightful heir to the crown.  However, Richard was appointed Lord Protector for his nephew by his brother, King Edward IV, and Richard had a duty of responsibility to the 13-year-old king.  Had Richard as Lord Protector been shunted aside by the Woodvilles, young Edward would have been under the influence of his mother’s family to a much greater extent.  Richard was used to being in a position of power and trust during the reign of Edward IV, and would naturally be unwilling to relinquish it.  This put him dangerously at odds with the Woodvilles.

This passage (below) from Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, is, I believe, key to understanding the events of this time.  The Woodvilles were elevated in social standing when Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville, causing great consternation amongst aristocrats (owing to her position as one of the minor nobility).  This was compounded by the fact that the powerful Earl of Warwick was at that time negotiating a match for Edward with a French princess, and would not have appreciated appearing foolish and inconsequential to the French.

The ambition of the queen and her family alarmed the princes and the nobility:  Gloucester, Buckingham, Hastings, and many more had checked those attempts.  The next step was to secure the regency:  but none of these acts could be done without grievous provocation to the queen.  As soon as her son should come of age, she might regain her power and the means of revenge.  Self-security prompted the princes and lords to guard against this reverse, and what was equally dangerous to the queen, the depression of her fortune called forth and revived all the hatred of her enemies.  Her marriage had given universal offence to the nobility, and been the source of all the late disturbances and bloodshed.  [Walpole, Historic Doubts…]

And did Richard orchestrate the Titulus Regius that declared his brother’s children illegitimate (owing to their father’s supposed engagement to another woman before marrying their mother) and therefore not entitled to inherit the throne?  Well, it’s another piece of the puzzle that fits.  If it’s true that Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville attempted to push Richard aside after the death of her husband–this is how he pushed back.  With the Titulus Regius her marriage was discredited, and her power base neutralized.

A defense for Richard has been that once his nephews were declared illegitimate, there would have been no reason to kill them.  However, it would always have remained a possibility, if the young princes had lived long enough to challenge the Titulus Regius, for there to have been future wars of succession.

And as for whether or not they were actually dead during Richard’s reign, the key question must be:  why is it that when (if) Richard III was widely believed to have murdered his nephews he did not produce them publicly to disprove the allegations?  We know that he didn’t.  He probably didn’t because he couldn’t.  And he probably couldn’t because they were dead.  This, of course, assumes that he was “widely believed to have murdered his nephews.”  We have that from the “historians” working for Richard’s successor, Henry VII.  But is it true?

If his former ally, the Duke of Buckingham, had committed the murders, Richard III could have brought this fact to public attention in 1483 when Buckingham was disgraced and executed for treason.  Buckingham would have been a convenient scapegoat–guilty or not guilty–but Richard did not use him for this purpose.  Possibly Richard knew it would have diminished his own authority in the minds of the people for Buckingham to have acted independently in such a serious matter.  They also might ask why Buckingham was not punished if Richard was aware that he was the killer.  And then if Richard didn’t know of Buckingham’s actions at the time, why didn’t he?  Implicating Buckingham would still not explain why Richard made no effort to discover the whereabouts of the missing princes, or attempt to explain their absence.

Other than circumstantial evidence and motive, there’s nothing more to implicate Richard.  He controlled access to the princes and their safety was in his hands (circumstantial), and their murder would result in the removal of a future threat to his position as monarch (motive).  And so it does seem likely.

As it happened, Richard’s own reputation and lack of alliances amongst his nobles may have been the greater threat to the continuity of his reign, as can be seen from the results at Bosworth field.  If he believed himself to be reviled by his people (as say the accounts that profess to know his mind on the matter), only a brave and heroic action which would definitively proclaim him victor over his enemy would secure his position.  And yet, as William Burton’s, The Description of Leicestershire states, “That Richard was not so little beloved as our historians represent, appears by the veneration in which he was held, long after his death, in the northern countries where he resided in youth…”  [p. 131]

But the same publication summarizes Richard’s downfall in this way:

Here then must terminate...[Burton’s The Description of Leicestershire, p. 106.]

We know for a fact (all sources agreeing) that Richard came to a courageous end in battle, after which his dead body was shown the greatest disrespect.  That disrespect continued over the subsequent centuries with the general condemnation of his supposed actions and imagined character.  Many would say that he was deservedly maligned, based on his guilt for the fate of his nephews–whether he was directly responsible for their deaths or not.

That he was ultimately responsible for their welfare cannot be denied, and if he brought about their deaths, we might see a glimmer of retributive justice if we believe that Richard III lost the support he needed to win the Battle of Bosworth owing to his treatment of his nephews.  That Richard was also not accepted as king by the kings of other countries seems likely in view of Philippe de Commynes’ account of French King Louis XI’s refusal to acknowledge Richard, or to receive his ambassador, after being told that Richard killed his nephews and took the crown for himself.

Two years after Richard’s coronation, when Henry of Richmond was looking for French support in his bid to challenge Richard for the throne in England, King Louis XI’s son, Charles VIII, was on the throne of France.  Coincidentally, Charles VIII of France and the murdered Edward V of England were both born in 1470, and both were 13 years old in 1483 when their fathers died and the boys succeeded to the thrones of their respective countries–although Edward was declared illegitimate before his coronation.  The French provided ships and men to Henry, and one wonders if the French monarchy’s distaste for Richard was a factor in their decision to assist Henry.

It might be seen that the two young princes in the Tower indirectly brought about Richard III’s own violent death.

With Richard III’s remains recovered and respectfully reinterred 527 years after his death, we’ve had an opportunity to learn much about this infamous 15th-century monarch.  We know from his bones that Richard ate luxury items such as fresh fish and game birds, and increased his consumption of wine in his last years.  We know from evidence in the burial pit that he had a roundworm infection.  We know the extent of his scoliosis and osteoarthritis.  We know of his bone-related battle injuries.  We know that he was unusually slender, and 5’8” tall, but that his scoliosis would have shortened his stature.  We’re pretty sure he was blue-eyed, and that his original hair colour was likely blond before it darkened with age.  We know that he was not (Shakespeare, please note), a hunchback, nor did he have a withered arm.  And we know, at last, thanks to The Richard III Society and the University of Leicester, where he was buried after the Battle of Bosworth.

But we do not know, for a certainty, whether he ordered the murders of his nephews, nor where their remains might be found.  The skull unearthed from the Greyfriar’s site in Leicester might once have contained that knowledge, but it does no longer.

And there are some secrets the bones will not tell.


A Grand Home is a Castle: Dirleton and the Ruthvens

The crumbling ruins of a formerly great edifice can put one in mind of the bones of dinosaurs.  One cannot see the entity at its peak of strength and function, but its remains hint at the grandiosity that was.  Even when all that’s left of a castle are a few stones marking the outer perimeter of a former bulwark against the elements, one can feel awed by the ghostly presence of the massive structure that once stood on that spot.  In the absence of the long-departed people who sustained and maintained it from centuries ago, a castle’s ruins can be evocative of an ancient, neglected graveyard in which even the monuments commemorating the remains of former lives are themselves gradually disintegrating with every passing year.

In bygone times, a castle was the physical manifestation of wealth and position, and its impressiveness was an adjunct to its defence along with the actual fortifications themselves.

Dirleton Castle gate, built by the Halyburtons, photo, Jonathan Oldenbuck

Dirleton Castle gate, built by the Halyburtons, Photo by Jonathan Oldenbuck,

The nobility were the castle-owners, and they were significant political forces in Scotland’s history, owing to their role in supporting the sovereign militarily, monetarily, and judicially.  Their alliances were vitally important, not only for prosperity, but also for survival.  This was not just posturing; it was a way to keep one’s foothold on the political landscape–of being influential, consulted and considered.  Any wealthy, noble family without power and alliances would be vulnerable, and potentially under threat.

A great structure housing a noble family could speak in mute eloquence of power and influence.  If its beholder is an enemy, he is meant to feel daunted, and be dissuaded from engaging in a dispute with the laird.  If a potential friend, he is meant to feel the desirability of an amicable and mutually beneficial relationship.  A castle therefore fulfilled its purpose not only when it sheltered and protected, but when it played a part in courting potential allies, and cowing potential enemies.

But perhaps not all castles fulfilled their promise in this respect, as we shall see…

My featured image is a painting by Andrew Spratt (used by permission).   Andrew has researched and reconstructed Dirleton Castle, which is located twenty miles east of Edinburgh on a rocky outcrop that was, during its early history, surrounded by marshland.  A deep moat once encircled the castle’s rock base, and two drawbridges provided entrance:  one for foot traffic, which faced eastwards toward the village; and one for horse, cattle and wagons, which faced south.

A wooden palisade enclosed the moat and extended east to protect the village.


Dirleton Castle, painting by Andrew Spratt. Used by kind permission.

The castle was situated to guard the coastal approach to Edinburgh from England via the port of North Berwick.

Today the ruins comprise a 13th-century keep and a 16th-century house adjacent to it, which the Ruthvens built during the time the castle was in their hands.  During the 14th and 15th century occupancy of the Halyburtons (prior to the Ruthvens), a large hall and tower house were added, of which only the basement levels survive today.

When originally built by the de Vaux family in the 13th century (after 1240), it was quite a complex structure, with five round towers, three of which were D-shaped in plan, and two additional square plan towers, all joined by a battlement wall.  The de Vaux based its design on the Château de Coucy in France, north of Paris.

[Description, Andrew Spratt:]

The de Vaux were originally from Rouen, and migrated to England after the Norman conquest of 1066.  Two de Vaux brothers or cousins were among the Anglo-Norman knights granted land in Scotland by King David I in the 12th century.  John de Vaux was the first builder of Dirleton Castle.

Dirleton Castle was besieged in 1298 by Bishop Bek on behalf of King Edward I of England (the “Hammer of the Scots”) during the Wars of Independence with England.  The de Vaux continued to resist even after Wallace’s defeat at Falkirk, but they were eventually overcome and allowed to surrender the castle and flee.  By 1311, Dirleton was re-captured by the Scots, and, following King Robert the Bruce’s policy of dismantling fortifications to prevent their re-use by the English, the castle was ‘slighted.’  Three towers were destroyed and significant damage caused to the others.  When the Halyburtons married into the de Vaux family in the 1350s they rebuilt much of the castle, although they did not restore it to its original state.

Moving ahead to 1363, the Halyburtons’ former allies, the Douglases and Dunbars, seized Dirleton castle as part of their rebellion against King David II of Scotland.  The rebellious families were defeated by King David II at the battle of Lanark, and Dirleton was returned to the Halyburtons.

In the early 1500s, Direlton passed to the Ruthven (Scottish pronunciation, “Rivven”) family through marriage, when William Ruthven, 2nd Lord Ruthven, married Janet Halyburton, Lady Dirletoun.

Some of Sir William Ruthven’s history includes being fined in 1532, along with other barons, for not appearing to sit as jurymen at the trial of Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, for poisoning her husband.  He was a member of the privy council in 1542, and appointed keeper of the privy seal in 1546.  At the parliament held at Edinburgh in March 1543, after the death of King James V,  Ruthven spoke on behalf of the laity being granted liberty to read the Scriptures in the English tongue; and at the same parliament he was chosen to be one of eight noblemen who were to have the charge of the young queen, two at a time, every three months.

The earliest recorded ancestor of the Ruthven family was Thor, “who may have been the Thor, son of Swein (or Swan), who appears as a witness to royal charters between 1127 and 1150.  He was the owner of the lands of Travernent or Tranent, the church of which he granted to the monks of Holyrood.  He was also not improbably the overlord of the extensive territory of Crawford.”  (The Scots Peerage, Vol. IV, p 254)

William, second Lord Ruthven, was Provost of Perth in 1528, and made custodier of the royal manors and hospitals within the burgh.  He was appointed an extraordinary Lord of Session in 1539, and Keeper of the Privy Seal in 1546.

He died between December 3 and 16 of 1552.

“He married, and by so doing greatly added to his estates, Jonet, eldest daughter and co-heiress of Patrick, Lord Haliburton of Dirleton…” ( The Scots Peerage, Vol. IV, p. 259)

And so it is apparent that at this stage in the history of the Ruthven family, William, second Lord Ruthven, was a respected nobleman, and in a position of trust in the ruling classes of Scotland.

Below is a portrait of Sir William Ruthven, second Lord Ruthven (again, he was my 13x great grandfather), which was taken from the frontispiece of The Ruthven Family Papers, by Samuel Cowan, Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. Ltd., London, 1912.

William Ruthven

Sir William, 2nd Lord Ruthven, 1528-1552, Keeper of the Privy Seal, and Provost of Perth, 1529

His son, Patrick, who succeeded his father as the third Lord Ruthven, was born about 1520, and educated at St. Andrews.  “He was an adherent of Darnley, and was the principal actor in the murder of Riccio, March 9, 1566, having risen from a sick-bed for the purpose.  After the murder, abandoned by Darnley, he fled to England, where he died at Newcastle, June 13, 1566.” (The Scots Peerage, Vol IV, p. 261)

Patrick’s sister, Lilias Ruthven, who married David Drummond, 2nd Lord Drummond, was my 12x great grandmother…

Lilias Ruthven

Lady Lilias Ruthven, daughter of the second lord, and wife of David Drummond, 2nd Lord Drummond

William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie and son of Patrick Ruthven, 3rd Lord Ruthven, was also implicated in the murder of Rizzio (a.k.a. “Riccio”) in 1566.

Here’s an account of Rizzio’s murder in the apartments of Mary Queen of Scots at Holyrood Palace, taken from The Memoirs of Sir James Melville of Halhill, The Folio Society, London, 1969, pp 51-52…

It was supposed also that the Earl of Lennox knew of the said design.  For he had his chamber within the palace, and so had the Earls of Atholl, Bothwell and Huntly, who escaped by leaping down out of a window towards the little garden where the lions were lodged.  This vile act was done upon a Saturday [9 March 1566] about six hours, when the queen was at supper in her cabinet.  A number of armed men entered within the close, before the closing of the gates, and took the keys from the porter.  One part of them went up through the king’s chamber, conducted by the Lord Ruthven and George Douglas; the rest remained in the close with drawn swords in their hands, crying, ‘A Douglas, A Douglas’ for their slogan, for it was in the gloaming of the evening.  The king was before gone up to the queen and was leaning upon her chair, when the Lord Ruthven entered with his helmet upon his head, and George Douglas entered in with him, and divers others, so rudely and irreverently that the table, candles, meat and dishes were overthrown.  Riccio took the queen about the waist, crying for mercy; but George Douglas plucked forth the king’s dagger that was behind his back and struck Riccio first with it, leaving it sticking in him.  He, making great shrieks and cries, was rudely snatched from the queen, who could not get him safe neither for threats nor fairness.  He was forcibly drawn forth of the cabinet and slain in the outer hall, and Her Majesty kept as a captive.

Mary Queen of Scots would have been around seven months pregnant at this time, since James VI was born on June 19 of that year (1566).

In addition, William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, supposedly “devised” the 1582 plot to seize King James VI, known as the ‘Raid of Ruthven.’ As a result of that action he was attainted, with all his honors forfeited.  He was executed in May, 1584.  (But there’s more to that story below.)

The following photo shows Huntingtower Castle, which was known as the Place of Ruthven when it was owned and occupied by the Ruthvens.  The ‘Ruthven Raid’ took place here, to which the 16-year-old son of Mary Queen of Scots, James VI, was taken while out hunting.  He was subsequently held against his will for a year, being moved to various locations during that time.

Huntingtower_Castle,_near_Perth, Ruthven

Huntingtower Castle, near Perth, formerly ‘Place of Ruthven’ Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0 By Brian D Osborne, CC BY-SA 2.0

Notably, Mary Queen of Scots honeymooned here with Lord Darnley in 1565.

Sir William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, and his allied nobles purposed, by having James VI within their control, to present him with (and gain his agreement to) a ‘supplication’ intended to reform the government of Scotland and limit the influence of French and pro-Catholic policy.  During this time, the earl of Gowrie remained at the head of the government, assisted by other like-minded nobles.  The Regime was endorsed by influential ministers of the Kirk of Scotland, from the pulpit. These churchmen were called “Melvillians” after their spokesman, Andrew Melville.  [Andrew Melville was the uncle of Sir James Melville, diplomat and writer.]

Portrait_of_James_I_of_England_and_James_VI_of_Scotland, public domain, wiki

James VI of Scotland

In addition to the concerns over French influence and pro-Catholic policy, the coup was also prompted by the urge to curb excessive spending at court. Because of its (the court’s) extravagance, the Earl of Gowrie as Lord High Treasurer of Scotland was owed £48,000 Scots. This debt was never repaid.  [Julian Goodare, ‘Debts of James VI’, in Economic History Review, vol. 64, no. 4 (November 2009), pp.926-952 at p.934-936, and see also, Boyd, William K. ed., Calendar of State Papers Scotland, vol. 6 (1910), 240.]

Sir James Melville records these words of Andrew Melville’s, spoken to James VI:

“Sir, we will humblie reverence your Majestie always, namlie in public, but sen we have this occasioun to be with your Majestie in privat, and the treuthe is, yie ar brought in extream danger bathe of your lyff and croun, and with yow, the country and Kirk of Christ is lyk to wrak, for nocht telling yow the treuthe, and giffen of yow fathfull counsall, we mon (must) discharge our dewtie thairin, or els be trators bathe to Christ and yow! And thairfor Sir, as divers tymes befor, sa now again, I mon tell yow, thair is twa Kings and twa Kingdomes in Scotland. Thair is Chryst Jesus the King, and his Kingdome the Kirk, whase subject King James the Saxt is, and of whose kingdome nocht a king, nor a lord, nor a heid, bot a member!”

Andrew Melville evidently never hesitated to inform James VI, boldly and bluntly, of the error of his ways, despite his kingship.  It occurs to me that the king, having acquired his sovereignty during his minority, might have developed a sensitivity to being dictated to by Scottish nobles and churchmen, no matter how well intentioned.  So this degree of frankness carried its risks.

Here’s a bit of information about Andrew Melville from

Andrew Melville,  (born Aug. 1, 1545, Baldovie, Angus, Scot.—died 1622, Sedan,  Fr.), scholar and Reformer who succeeded John Knox as a leader of the Scottish Reformed Church, giving that church its Presbyterian character by replacing bishops with local presbyteries, and gaining international respect for Scottish universities.

He eventually ran seriously afoul of James VI after James succeeded Elizabeth I and became James I of England as well as James VI of Scotland, uniting the two countries:

…his [Melville’s] satiric Latin poem composed to combat constant Anglican pressures on him turned his own career in another direction. Imprisoned in the Tower of London  for four years for his intransigence, Melville was released only to accept a chair in France, that of biblical theology at the University of Sedan, where he remained until his death.  []

Here’s a ‘fanciful Victorian illustration’ of Andrew Melville at the court, in the presence of James VI:

Andrew_Melville_upbraids_a_bishop_at_the_court_of_James_VI, public domain, wiki

Andrew Melville Upbraids a Bishop at the Court of James VI

That aside, I think we can determine from the Raid of Ruthven, and Andrew Melville’s lecture to James VI, that there were indications James might have been brewing two undesirable characteristics in a monarch that perhaps manifested even more strongly in James VI’s descendants.  James’s son, Charles I, believed firmly in the ‘Divine Right of Kings,’ and his arrogant refusal to consider the participation of parliament resulted in his execution by beheading in 1649.  Evidently he was not inclined to accept wise counsel.  As for money management, James’s grandson, Charles II’s profligacy and spendthrift ways were often in evidence.  Both James’s son and grandson married Catholic princesses, Henrietta Maria of France (Charles I), and Catherine of Braganza (Charles II), so apparently the concerns of the Scottish nobility with regard to religion and foreign influences was not something James VI espoused nor instilled in his son, and, by extension, his grandson.

As for the outcome of the Raid of Ruthven, there were meetings and negotiations, and eventually a reconciliation between James VI and his nobles.  Sir James Melville gives an account of the king’s actions after obtaining his liberty:

“Of a truth His Majesty was of a merciful mind, and gently inclined toward all the nobility, intending to win all their hearts by his own discreet behaviour, and to that effect he went first to the house of Ruthven, to let the country see that he was entirely reconciled to the Earl of Gowrie; who, after he had made His Majesty a great banquet, fell down upon his knees, lamenting that His Majesty should have been retained in that unhappy house as his last being there, which, he said, fell out rather by accident than deliberation, only for the safety of the Earl of Arran’s life; alleging that he knew no other thing than that at His Majesty’s being at Dunfermline they were all minded to present him an humble supplication, asking pardon for that accidental fault:  which His Majesty graciously promised never to impute to him, knowing how blindly he was brought upon it, by the practices of others.”  [Memoirs of Sir James Melville of Halhill, The Folio Society, London,  1969, p. 114]

But my guess is that James VI harboured a grudge, although he was canny enough not to give evidence of it at this point.  Sir James Melville believed that the eventual execution of Sir William Ruthven was the result of the Earl of Arran’s influence on the king, who was, after all, only 17 years and 11 months old at that time in 1584…

Melville thoroughly disapproved of Arran’s influence over the king, and believed that Arran frustrated James’s own intention of settling his government on the principle of conciliation all round.  After a bitter quarrel with Arran, during which Melville said, ‘I would get more honest men to take my part than he would get throat-cutters to assist him’, Melville resolved to retire from the court.  ‘At my leave-taking His Majesty said he doubted not but I would return when called for.  By which I understood that I should not come back till sent for.’  [Memoirs of Sir James Melville of Halhill, The Folio Society, London, 1969, p. 124]

It seems that the Earl of Arran was a thoroughgoing ne’er-do-well, according to Sir James, and mis-used his influence and power…

“Now the Earl of Arran triumphed, being chancellor, and captain of the castles of Edinburgh and Stirling.  He made the whole subjects to tremble under him, and every man depended upon him, daily inventing and seeking out new faults against divers, to get the gift of their escheats, lands, benefices, and to procure bribes.”  [Memoirs of Sir James Melville, p. 124]

The Earl of Arran hated Sir William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie…

“…for Gowrie had been his first master, and despited his insolent pride, oppression and misbehaviour plainly in council, which few others durst do; therefore he hated his person, and loved his lands, which at length he obtained.”  [Memoirs of Sir James Melville, p. 124]

And so the Earl of Arran obtained William Ruthven’s lands by engineering his execution, after Ruthven was implicated in the seizure of Stirling Castle.  This action against Stirling was a move by other nobles (the Earls of Angus and Mar and the Master of Glamis among them) against Arran.  William Ruthven would have wanted to support them in this, but he was by no means the only one…

“…His Majesty had compassion upon him, and had no intention of taking his life.  But the Earl of Arran was resolved to have his lands, which he divided afterwards with others, to get their votes and consents that he might be ruined.  At his death upon the scaffold, he showed himself a devout Christian and a resolute Roman, much regretted by many that were present and heard his grave harangue, and did see his constant end.”  [Memoirs of Sir James Melville, p. 125]

I have to say that I was inclined to believe the Ruthvens were ‘a bad lot’ from the bare facts…but there’s a great deal more to this than the bare facts can supply.  Another thing that Melville says is that when James VI was first taken ‘prisoner’ he was brought to the Place of Ruthven (Huntingtower Castle), for undetermined reasons—although it was speculated that the other lords involved might have wanted this, “to embark the Earl of Gowrie [whose house it was], more deeply in their bond.”  [Memoirs of Sir James Melville, p. 109]

Another alleged attempt by the Ruthvens to capture King James VI occurred in 1600 in the “Gowrie Conspiracy.”

The suspicious circumstances of the event in 1600, combined with the fact that by obliterating the Ruthvens in ‘officialdom,’ King James VI would realize enormous benefit—wiping out the debt of money owed by him to the Ruthvens, and seizing their property to bolster the royal coffers—raised questions at the time.   No doubt previous actions by the Ruthvens—the murder of Rizzio, and the Raid of Ruthven—were expected to give credence to King James VI’s account of what happened in 1600.  Since the father of the two Ruthvens (John and Alexander) killed during that altercation was William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, who was executed in 1584 for treason (as stated previously), doubtless James VI thought that his version of the encounter with William Ruthven’s sons would likely be believed.  Remember, too, that William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie’s father was Patrick, 3rd Earl of Ruthven who was the purported ringleader of the Rizzio murder.

Guilt in the ‘Gowrie Conspiracy’ would have made three generations of Ruthven in contravention of the law.  The first with Rizzio’s murder (Patrick, and also son William), the second in the ‘Raid of Ruthven’ (William), and the third would have been the ‘Gowrie Conspiracy’ (William’s sons, John and Alexander)–IF the ‘Gowrie Conspiracy’ were real.

“In that notable and momentous event, the so-called Gowrie Conspiracy, of which we have now unquestionable proof, there has always been mystery surrounding it, evidently founded on the refusal of the Scottish Clergy and Magistrates of Perth, and the majority of the Scottish people of that period, to recognise it as a conspiracy of the Ruthvens, and the Clergy’s refusal to pray for the King’s deliverance; believing, as many of them did, that the King was himself the author of the plot.”  (The Ruthven Family Papers by Samuel Cowan, 1912, p. 5)

Samuel Cowan’s book is based on:

“…a paper of historical value, in respect that it confirms the views of the Scottish Clergy and Magistrates of Perth of 1600, that the King, and not Gowrie, was the conspirator, and stamps the King and his six nobles, amongst whom were divided the illegally confiscated Gowrie estates, as the sole conspirators, enterprisers, and negotiators of the plot, and alone responsible for the consequences of that catastrophe with all its brutalities, cruelties and persecutions.”  (The Ruthven Family Papers by Samuel Cowan, 1912, p. 6)

This is what happened following the events of the “Gowrie Conspiracy”:

The dead bodies of the Earl and his brother were carried to Edinburgh, and an indictment of high treason was preferred against them. Witnesses being examined, the Parliament, 15 November 1600, pronounced sentence, declaring them to have committed manifest treason on all points contained in the summons ; and therefore decerned their names, memory, and dignity to be extinguished ; their arms to be cancelled ; their whole estate, real and personal, to be forfeited and annexed to the Crown, their bodies to be taken to the Cross of Edinburgh, and drawn, hanged, and quartered; the name of Ruthven to be abolished, and their posterity and their surviving brethren to be incapable of succeeding to, or holding, any offices, honours, or possessions.’ Their lands were parcelled out among those who had supported the King during the slaughter.” (The Scots Peerage, Vol IV, p. 268)

If, as modern-day scholarship is inclined to believe, the Ruthvens were innocent of the charges, it was certainly a severe and unjust punishment for innocent men and their families.  Mind you, they avoided the stress of the trial and pain of the execution by being already dead at the time they were tried, pronounced guilty, hung, drawn and quartered.

It can easily be seen from this episode in history how precarious the lives and fortunes of the nobility were in those brutal times–and not just in Scotland, of course.  One would expect that the lives of drudgery, dirt and disease suffered by the common folk in that era to be infinitely worse, but it would be quite a jolt to fall from grace in the way that the Ruthvens did in 1600.

The Ruthvens returned to the Scottish peerage 50-ish years later with the title “Lord Ruthven of Freeland,” which was granted to Thomas Ruthven in 1651–by Charles II while he was still in exile.

The following is the 1600 act of parliament abolishing the surname of Ruthven.

Long citation The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, K.M. Brown et al eds (St Andrews, 2007-2016), 1600/11/11. Date accessed: 2 March 2016.

Act abolishing the surname of Ruthven

Forasmuch as the surname of Ruthven has been so naturally bent these many years bygone to attempt most high and horrible treasons against his majesty and his most noble progenitors that his majesty is thereby brought in vehement suspicion of their whole race and of his natural clemency, being careful that the infamy justly inflicted to the guilty shall not disgrace such of his subjects as are innocent of the said treasons, for extinguishing of the memory of the treasonable committers of the crimes foresaid and removing of the blot that with the surname might follow such of his highness’s lieges as have not been participant of the said crimes, his majesty, with advice and consent of the estates of this present parliament, statutes and ordains that the surname of Ruthven shall now and in all time coming be extinguished and abolished for ever, and that such of his highness’s subjects bearing the said surname in time past as are free and innocent of the said crimes of treason attempted against his majesty and his predecessors in manner foresaid shall be held and astricted to renounce the said surname of Ruthven, and never to use the same in any time coming, and to take to themselves, their bairns and posterity any other honest and undisgraced surname between now and Whitsunday [31 May] next, whereby they, their bairns and posterity shall be called in all time coming, and to use the same in all contracts, bonds, pacts, infeftments, writs, securities, proclamations of banns, subscribing of letters, speeches, conferences and other occasions whatsoever under the pain of banishment during the king’s pleasure to be executed against them and every one of them with all [rigour] and extremity as often and so often as they or any of them does in the contrary; and ordain the name of the barony and place of Ruthven to be changed and called in all time coming the place and barony of Huntingtower. And to the effect that the foresaid odious fact may abide and remain manifest to the posterity, the said estates ordain the round of the said lodging in Perth within the which his majesty’s murder was treasonably attempted to be demolished and razed to the ground and a monument to be erected in the place thereof containing inscription of the danger wherein his majesty was and form of the same conspiracy and manner of his highness’s delivery.

I suppose I have to admit some partiality to the Ruthven side of things, although I don’t know what to make of the murder of Rizzio. Patrick Ruthven was apparently very ill at the time of the murder, and was drawn from his sick-bed to participate.  That doesn’t excuse him, but I’m inclined to think that there might be extenuating circumstances surrounding his participation–possibly he was compelled to do it, at King Consort Darnley’s instigation.  In all likelihood his son William (later the 1st Earl of Gowrie), who was among those implicated in the murder, wasn’t even there.  William would have been around 23 years old at the time of the murder in 1566.  His father Patrick is variously reported as ‘abandoning’ King Consort Darnley and fleeing to England after the murder, and being himself abandoned by Darnley, and thus forced to flee to England.  In any event, he died in England two months after the murder.  So…bad guy or ‘fall guy’?  I don’t know.




Dirleton Castle This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 License

Dirleton Castle ended up in the hands of the Earl of Arran after the execution of Sir William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, in 1584, and he entertained James VI there in 1585.  The following year it was restored to Lady Dorothea, widow of the 1st Earl of Gowrie, passing to her son John, the 3rd Earl of Gowrie, in 1600, but he didn’t hold the castle for long.  He was killed in the ‘Gowrie Conspiracy’ and the castle was forfeited by the Ruthven family yet again…this time to Thomas Erskine, later 1st Earl of Kellie.

Dirleton Castle then passed to the Nisbet family, who abandoned it as a residence.  It is now in the hands of Historic Scotland.

When the Ruthven were forced to forfeit the ’Place of Ruthven’ (named Huntingtower Castle in James VI’s act abolishing the surname of Ruthven), the Murrays, earls of Tullibardine and later dukes of Atholl, acquired it.  It is also in the care of Historic Scotland now.

Finally, we can conclude that while a castle was an important acquisition for the nobility in the early centuries of Scotland’s history, it seems that even multiple castles were no protection if a king is one’s debtor–and he casts covetous eyes on one’s land and fortune.


Sir Charles Petrie, Historian

He was the younger son of Sir Charles Petrie, 1st Baronet, and his wife Hannah.  Born in Liverpool, he was educated at the University of Oxford, and in 1927 succeeded to the family baronetcy.

He was also my second cousin, twice removed.

He was my father’s second cousin, once removed.

He was my grandfather’s second cousin.

He was my great-grandfather’s first cousin, once removed.

And he was my great-great grandfather’s grand nephew.

Aren’t family relationship charts fun?

I somehow ended up in the blogsite, ‘Tea at Trianon’ one day, which had an article posted about Sir Charles Petrie.  I was a little surprised that they described him as being an outsider during his time at Oxford University, owing to his being both a Liverpudlian and a Catholic.

I know that he was born in Liverpool on September 28, 1895, and that his father settled there some eighteen years before he was born, but his family was not Catholic.  Not that it would matter, except for the fact that the writer says his Catholicism had a great influence on his work and his life.

Here is the information from Sir Charles’s autobiography Chapters of Life, (1950) that refutes the assertion that “his family derived from the Irish Catholic aristocracy”:

We attended Sefton Park Presbyterian Church, then in the days of its glory under Dr. Watson, the great “Ian Maclaren” and later under Mr. Connell.  Rarely have I seen a church so crowded as it was every Sunday morning:  even pew-holders had to be in their places a quarter of an hour before the service began, and there was a majesty about the church officer that would not have shamed a Lord Chamberlain. (Chapters of Life, p. 20)

He’s a funny sort of a Catholic to be going to a Presbyterian church every Sunday morning.

Here’s a quote from the ‘Tea at Trianon’ article:

“It was not at all that he wore his Catholicism on his sleeve. Indeed he seldom discussed religion overtly in any context. (When he helped establish the Military History Society of Ireland, he insisted on the complete avoidance of sectarian disputes; to this end, he successfully offered society membership to Lord Rathcavan — Protestant Speaker of the Ulster Parliament at the time — and De Valera.) Nevertheless Petrie’s Catholicism did give him a habit of mind which he would not have harboured if he had sprung from the agnostic or atheist upper-middle-class environment which has produced most recent British scholars.”

The article I’m referencing is pasted-in towards the bottom of this article. I subsequently discovered that she (the Trianon blogger) lifted her text out of the online article referenced immediately below:

In search of Sir Charles Petrie

by R. J. Stove

National Observer Australia’s independent current affairs online journal No. 83 (June – August 2010).

And thus is misinformation propagated on the internet!

If they’d just said that his family was Catholic, I would have said, “Well, that’s not right, but who cares?” However, you can see that they are presenting ‘his Catholicism’ as somehow being an influence on his work–his ‘habit of mind.’

Perhaps they thought that was a fit because of his writings about the Jacobites and his sympathy (supposedly) for the Stuarts, and maybe because amongst his 50-ish books there are biographies of three Spanish Kings?

He did a biography of Louis XIV as well, who would have been Catholic, but he also wrote about the Four Georges, who would not.

Maybe somebody decided he was Catholic when he wrote for the Catholic Herald (which he apparently did, according to Wikipedia), although one did not need to be Catholic to write for the Catholic Herald. I looked through the past contributors for that publication, and did not see Sir Charles listed. The list does include Malcolm Muggeridge, however, who once wrote a column, “Why I am not a Catholic.” Interestingly, as Wikipedia says, “he (Muggeridge) later became a Catholic and a columnist for the Herald.”  We assume they mean, “regular columnist,” since he had already written a column when he was not a Catholic.

Conversion to Catholicism seemed to be a thing some of the literati were doing during the past century; among them were G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Anthony Rhodes, Evelyn Waugh, and Tennessee Williams (although I hesitate to include Williams since he was not British).

So possibly Sir Charles Petrie converted, although I can’t find evidence of it.  In any case, they say that his family derived from the Irish Catholic aristocracy, and that wouldn’t be right.  In fact, his/our family derived from the Scottish aristocracy, since we can trace our lineage in a direct line to Robert the Bruce, (King Robert I of Scotland), through my 5x great-grandmother, Elizabeth Colville, daughter of the 6th Lord Colville of Culross.  (She would be Sir Charles’s 3x great-grandmother.)

I wonder whether Sir Charles was aware of our connection to the Kings of Scotland.  Perhaps he didn’t look at the females in our ancestry.  Some of them had very interesting pedigrees indeed.

The information that follows comes from Sir Charles’s biography, Chapters of Life, 1950.

As stated above, he was born in Liverpool on September 28th, 1895, and it was his home until the outbreak of the First World War.

The Petries originally came from Scotland, Aberdeen and Kincardine. In the early years of the reign of Charles II, one Robert Petrie, laird of Portlethen, was Provost of Aberdeen on several occasions, and was M.P. for that city from 1665 to 1667 and again from 1669 to 1674. He was knighted by the Duke of York, afterwards James II.

According to Sir Charles…

Not long afterwards the family fortunes declined, for the Petries supported the Stuarts after the Revolution.” He goes on to say that Sir Robert’s great-grandson, and his own great-great grandfather was George Petrie, soldier, and that as a subaltern George was captured with his regiment, the 21st Foot, at Saratoga.

I have a small problem with this—and wish I didn’t—because it would be nice to know for a certainty that there is a line of descent from Robert Petrie of Portlethen to George.  I’m not saying that there isn’t, but I haven’t found the intervening connections.

I know that George was the son of Robert Petrie and Elizabeth Colville; and that she was the daughter of the 6th Lord Colville of Culross (again, it is through the Colvilles that we are connected to Robert the Bruce).  Therefore, George was Sir Charles’s great-great grandfather, and my 4x great-grandfather.  BUT, I personally can’t fill the gap between Robert Petrie of Portlethen and the later Robert Petrie, my 5x great-grandfather, George’s father.  I’m still working on that.

The reason I’d like to know that Robert of Portlethen was a direct ancestor of George (and me), is because Robert of Portlethen married Anna Forbes, who was the daughter of Sir William Forbes.  Sir William, the first Baronet of Craigievar (created by Charles I, apparently), built–or rather, finished building–Craigievar Castle in 1626, and it is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

I do love Craigievar Castle; it looks like something out of Disney.  I think it would be such fun to say that this was one of my ancestral homes…owned by my 7x (?) great-grandfather.


Well, I can’t claim it directly, not yet.  But I will continue to try.  In any case, Sir Charles, a historian, believed that we are linked to Robert of Portlethen and Anna Forbes.  I wish I could see his sources.

Sir Charles also says,

More remarkable than George Petrie was his wife, Margaret.  She was born in Canada in 1750 and died in 1857.”  This would have made her 107 years’ old at the time of her death.

I have to take issue with that.  I’ve found George’s will (he died in Ceylon/Sri Lanka), and there’s no indication there that he was married.  If he was married to a ‘Margaret’ and she outlived him, he obviously didn’t know anything about it.  Also, there should have been mention of their only surviving son, Peter, in his will, and there is nothing.  So Sir Charles’s assertion that George Petrie married Margaret is something I have yet to validate–but I’m very doubtful.

He goes on to say,

My father was five at the time of her death, and he remembered her description of Wolfe’s capture of Quebec.  This event had naturally impressed itself upon the old lady’s memory, for she was a MacDonald by birth, and her father (James MacDonald, a younger brother of Aeneas MacDonald, one of the Seven Men of Moidart) had managed to escape to Canada after fighting for the Stuarts in the Forty-Five.”  (Chapters of Life, p. 12)

Again, I can find no ‘Margaret MacDonald’ who married George Petrie.  The census information for Ireland does not record the existence of Margaret.  I suspect that the elderly lady Sir Charles’s father remembers was Jane Thomson or Thompson, who was the widow of Peter Petrie, purported son of George.  Jane would know nothing of Wolfe’s capture of Quebec.  I suspect that Sir Charles’s father’s childhood memory was faulty.

As Sir Charles says, our branch of the Petrie family “had left Scotland for Ireland, and had settled near the mouth of the River Moy on the borders of Mayo and Sligo.”

I can add here that they left Scotland from Dundee, where my great-grandfather, Alexander Petrie, was born.  (My great-grandfather Alexander was born on February 21, 1845, and died in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, on July 29, 1892.)

Another of his links with the past was his grandfather, Alexander Petrie, whom he says was

…born in 1823 and he did not die until 1920.  An elder of the Presbyterian Church, a strong Radical, and a supporter of Home Rule, he was a man who did not know what compromise meant, but he was universally respected, and he is still remembered in Ballina.

Sir Charles’s grandfather, Alexander of Carrowcarden, was the brother of my great-great grandfather, William of Rosserk.  My great-grandfather, Alexander (son of William of Rosserk), was named for his uncle.  [No doubt this family connection stuff is very confusing and not a little boring! I include these details in the expectation that my cousins will want to see them.  My sincere apologies to anyone else reading this.]

Sir Charles relates an anecdote about his grandfather, as follows:

It must, however, be confessed that humour was not his strong point, and there is a story which illustrates this weakness on his part.  One Sunday morning during a very hot summer in the seventies when he arrived at Ballina Presbyterian Church he was told by the minister, Mr. Duff, that instructions had come from the General Assembly, then meeting in Belfast, for prayers to be said for rain.  “All right,” replied my grandfather, “pray away:  but it isn’t much use while the wind is in the East.” (Chapters of Life, pp. 13-14)

I find the details of daily life in those times fascinating.  Sir Charles tells us:

One rose at six, and breakfasted very substantially at seven:  there were light refreshments between twelve and one, but they amounted to no more than sherry and biscuits, and the pangs of hunger had to be repressed until five when there was a truly gargantuan repast which centred round, if the season was right, a salmon which had been boiled whole.  When the gentlemen joined ladies later in the evening, tea was served and, after a last look round outside to see that everything was all right, one retired to bed at nine.  Although my grandfather was advanced in his opinions he was conservative in his habits:  smoking indoors he would not tolerate, there was no lighting save lamps, and the closets were of the earth variety.  He was wonderfully active until almost the end of his life as is attested by the fact that he drank a whole bottle of whiskey to his own cheek in the Moy Hotel, Ballina, on his ninetieth birthday. (Chapters of Life, p. 14)

[I’d like to talk about Sir Charles’s grandfather’s brother, my own great-great-grandfather, William of Rosserk, but I’ll need to do that separately or things will get confused.  We’ll carry on with Sir Charles’s immediate family…]

Sir Charles says,

When my father was Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1901-2 heavy eating was still the order of the day.  Here, for example, is the menu of a dinner which he gave in honour of Lord Rosebery:

Caviar             Anchois

Tortue Claire

Saumon, Sauce Médoc           Filet de Sole à l’Adelphi

Poulet, Reine Demidoff        Asperge en Branches au Beurre

Quartier d’Agneau

Filet de Bœuf Hollandaise

Granit au Kümmel

Canard Sauvage         Bécasses           Russian Salad

Pouding Impérial       Macédoine au Fruits      Méringue au Crème

Pouding Glacé à la Chantilly


Private dinner parties of eighteen or twenty people were the rule rather than the exception, and the small dinner was unknown.” (Chapters of Life, p. 18)

“In the provinces, as in the capital, King Edward VII had been on the throne for some years before there was any general relaxation of the customs which had obtained during the later decades of his mother’s reign.  Social relationships were subject to a rigid code of etiquette.  All women who had any social pretensions had “At Home” days to which they strictly adhered:  my mother’s, if I remember aright, were the second and fourth Thursdays in each month.  (Chapters of Life, p. 18)

I doubt that this level of formality ever existed at my great-grandfather’s house in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland.  My great-grandfather would have been Sir Charles’s father’s first cousin.  (More boring relationship stuff.)

This is a rather fun comment on Sir Charles’s writing style, as provided by R.J. Stove in the Observer article, “In Search of Sir Charles Petrie”:

As for Petrie’s prose style, one of its most appealing features is the formal elegance with which he could trash his opponents. A few instances will serve. Here, from A Historian Looks at his World, is Petrie’s agreeably catty verdict … on Stanley Baldwin:

“Baldwin also possessed the supreme merit of being able to learn from experience; indeed, it may be said to have been the only way in which he did learn.”

[A note:  Stanley Baldwin was the British Prime Minister during the abdication crisis of 1936.]

And here is Petrie delivering the coup de grâce to Mussolini’s Foreign Minister:

“Whereas Edda [the Duce’s daughter] was very good company indeed, with her diverting stories of Shanghai, where she and her husband had lived for a time, Count Ciano seemed to me to be one of those people of whom it could be said that if one bought him at one’s own price and sold him at his there would be a considerable profit on the transaction.”


Below is the Tea at Trianon blog site article (which is an extract from R.J. Stove’s Observer article)—and its comments about the influence of the (Presbyterian) Sir Charles Petrie’s “Catholicism”:

In Search of Sir Charles Petrie

One of Britain’s finest, and yet most completely forgotten, modern historians.

Meanwhile other men who called themselves historians, and lacked even one tenth of Petrie’s learning, received honours piled on honours, such as Petrie never enjoyed. This was the case even when they consciously and deliberately betrayed Britain itself, by siding with civilisation’s enemies. More of them later on.

First of all, Petrie belonged to a very different social class, and a very different geographical background, from the average British academic. He was born in 1895 in Liverpool, where his father was Mayor; but his family derived from the Irish Catholic aristocracy, and his father had been educated in Dublin. Through his father he met, at an early age, a great many notabilities, both British and, in particular, foreign.

Liverpool was, and is, largely Hibernian-Catholic in its population; and during Petrie’s youth it was mostly despised in Oxford, Cambridge and London. The days when the Beatles would make Liverpool’s public image not merely interesting but fashionable lay unimaginably far ahead. As a consequence of this background, Petrie, while he did go to Oxford, was separated from most of his fellow Oxford students by his creed and his city of origin. This separation marked his whole life. For all his conviviality of temperament, he had what was very much a Latin outlook, a European outlook, retaining little patience for English parochialism. It was not at all that he wore his Catholicism on his sleeve. Indeed he seldom discussed religion overtly in any context. (When he helped establish the Military History Society of Ireland, he insisted on the complete avoidance of sectarian disputes; to this end, he successfully offered society membership to Lord Rathcavan — Protestant Speaker of the Ulster Parliament at the time — and De Valera.) Nevertheless Petrie’s Catholicism did give him a habit of mind which he would not have harboured if he had sprung from the agnostic or atheist upper-middle-class environment which has produced most recent British scholars.

[So…he didn’t wear his Catholicism on his sleeve.  Perhaps, since he was Presbyterian, that might be expected?]

The following is Sir Charles Petrie’s entry in “The Peerage”:

Sir Charles Alexander Petrie, 3rd Bt.1

M, #549078, b. 28 September 1895, d. 23 November 1977

Last Edited=25 Feb 2013

Sir Charles Alexander Petrie, 3rd Bt. was born on 28 September 1895. He was the son of Sir Charles Petrie, 1st Bt. and Hannah Lindsay Hamilton.  He married, firstly, Ursula Gabrielle Borthwick Dowdall, daughter of  Harold Chaloner Dowdall, on 7 October 1920.  He and Ursula Gabrielle Borthwick Dowdall were divorced in 1926. He married, secondly, Jessie Cecilia Mason, daughter of Frederick James George Mason, on 24 February 1926. He died on 23 November 1977 at age 82.

He was educated privately. He fought in the First World War. He gained the rank of Lieutenant in the service of the Royal Garrison Artillery. He graduated from Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, in 1919 with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.). He graduated from Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, in 1921 with a Master of Arts (M.A.). He was a historian. He was invested as a Fellow, Royal Historical Society (F.R.Hist.S.). He was a corresponding member of the Royal Spanish Academics of History and Hispanic Society of America.

He succeeded to the title of 3rd Baronet Petrie, of Carrowcarden, Castleconnor, Tieragh, co. Sligo [U.K., 1918] on 13 December 1927.

He wrote the book The History of Government, published 1929.1 He wrote the book George Canning, published 1930.1 He wrote the book The Jacobite Movement, published 1932.1 He wrote the book History of Spain, published 1934, with Louis Bertrand.1 He wrote the book The Four Georges: a revaluation, published 1935.1 He wrote the book The Stuarts, published 1937.1 He wrote the book Life and Letters of Sir Austen Chamberlain (Volume One), published 1939.1 He wrote the book Life and Letters of Sir Austen Chamberlain (Volume Two), published 1940.1 He wrote the book Diplomatic History 1713-1933, published 1946.1 He wrote the book Earlier Diplomatic History 1492-1713, published 1949.1 He wrote the book Chapters of Life, published 1950.1 He wrote the book The Marshal Duke of Berwick, published 1953.1 He wrote the book The Carlton Club, published 1955.1 He wrote the book Wellington: a reassessment, published 1956.1

He was invested as a Commander, Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 1957.1 He was invested as a Knight, Order of Civil Merit (Spain).1

He wrote the book The Royal House, published 1958.1 He wrote the book The Powers Behind the Prime Ministers, published 1959.1

He was Honorary Counsellor in 1959 at Institute of Fernando Catolico, Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain. He was invested as a Knight, Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain).1

He wrote the book The Victorians, published 1960.1 He wrote the book The Modern British Monarchy, published 1961.1 He wrote the book Philip II of Spain, published 1963.1 He wrote the book King Alfonso XIII, published 1963.1

He was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) by University of Valladolid, Valladolid, Castile-Leon, Spain, in 1964.1

He wrote the book Scenes of Edwardian Life, published 1965.1

He was invested as a Commendatore, Order of the Crown of Italy.1 He was decorated with the award of the Order of George I (Greece).1

He wrote the book Great Beginnings, published 1967.1 He wrote the book Don John of Austria, published 1967.1 He wrote the book The Drift to World War 1900-1914, published 1968.1 He wrote the book King Charles III of Spain, published 1971.1 He wrote the book A Historian Looks at His World, published 1972.1

Child of Sir Charles Alexander Petrie, 3rd Bt. and Ursula Gabrielle Borthwick Dowdall:

Sir Charles Richard Borthwick Petrie, 4th Bt.  b. 19 Oct 1921, d. 1988

Child of Sir Charles Alexander Petrie, 3rd Bt. and Jessie Cecilia Mason:

Sir Peter Charles Petrie, 5th Bt.  b. 7 Mar 1932


Sir Charles’s second son is the present Baronet:

PETRIE, Sir Peter (Charles) is the 5th Bt, and lives in France.  He’s married to the Countess Lydwine Maria Fortunata von Oberndorff, and they live at The Hague and Paris.

He was ‘Adviser on European and Parliamentary Affairs’ to the Governor of the Bank of England, 1989 – 2003; and HM Diplomatic Service, retired.

Wonder if I should call ’round for a cup of tea, sometime?

After all, we’re third cousins once removed…his father was my second cousin, twice removed…his grandfather was…oh never mind…