Sir Thomas More and The Princes in the Tower

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 Sir Thomas More and The Princes
           in the Tower
                   Part One

  The conventional and unconventional
 in the portrait Sir Thomas More and his
  (Nostell Priory, Nr. Wakefield, West Yorkshire,


I may now draw attention to the
persons depicted life-size in this large
painting    (approximately          3.5    x    2.5
meters). From left to right, the Latin
inscriptions identify :

Margaret       Clement         (née        Giggs),
adopted daughter of Thomas More and
wife of Dr. John Clement ; Elizabeth
Dauncey (née More), second daughter
of Sir Thomas More and wife of Sir
William    Dauncey       ;    Sir   John       More
(More's     father)      ;     Anne       Cresacre
(fiancée of John More II) ; Sir Thomas
More ; John More II (More's son) ;
Henry Patterson (More's "Fool") ; and,
in front of Patterson : Cecily Heron
(née More), More's youngest daughter
and wife of Giles Heron ; Margaret
Roper   (née   More) wife    of William
Roper and More's eldest daughter ;
Lady Alice (second wife of Sir Thomas
More). An unmarked man is reading in
a back room and an oddly marked
mystery man stands in a doorway.

This man is dressed in the old Italian
style and all other persons depicted are
dressed in the English style. The name
above his head is 'Johanes heresius'
(sic), with 'ius' heavily marked.
Line 1 reads : ‘Johanes heresius
Thomae'. Line 2 reads : ‘Mori famul:
Anno 27' (sic). Since 'famul:' is an
abbreviation,          presumably,               for
'famulus' or 'secretary', this person
has been identified as More's secretary,
John    Harris.       However,      the     word
'heresius' has not been given a capital
letter, unlike all other surnames in the
painting. It means it is not a surname
'Harris'. And if not a surname, then
'heresius'      perhaps    means        what      it
means in the Latin Vocative when
addressing,     for    instance,    a     king     :
'heres' ('heir') and 'ius' ('right' or,
„rightful') -- the „rightful heir'.

„John the rightful heir‟ is located 'head
and shoulders' higher in the family
group (the person of highest status
was conventionally placed highest in a
portrait   in   the     sixteenth       century),
meaning he is of higher status than
Thomas More, who is depicted seated.
Infrared photographs of the mystery
man show that the top of his hat is
higher than the hat of any other
depicted, one more symbol of seniority.
(See : “Bookstall” CD ROM) There is

The     artist   has   painted     an     optical
illusion above the head of 'Johanes
heresius' beneath a series of fleur-de-
lis (a symbol of royalty) above the
doorway. Seen from the left, there
appears to be a door, which is half-
open -- seen from the right, an angled
view of the doorframe. The effect of
the   illusion   is    to   make    the     door
'disappear'. [01]
In addition, he is wearing a sword (a
servant ? wearing a sword ? in an
informal portrait ?) and one curiously
bent finger is touching the pommel of
the    sword      handle.      He     holds     a
parchment with two seals and near his
sword is a buckler (a warrior's status
symbol) with a polished rim and spokes.

If what is pictorially represented is
translated        into     familiar      French
language     --    an    'optical   illusion'   is
'porte-à-faux' (literally, 'false door').
[03] The man holds the parchment 'il
tient le parchemin' means, in courtly
French, 'he holds the right and title of
nobility'. The spoke of a wheel is 'rai'
and the rim 'jante', a split-homophone
of 'régente', and 'le bouclier du
régente' means 'buckler of the king'.
The    ceiling     timbers       are     not     in
perspective above his head, an artist's
'line-fault', or 'faute      de        ligne' or
'faute de lignage', which also means
a 'fault in the lineage'.

I have to draw attention to one or two
hidden lines. For instance, the top of
the mystery man's hat is on the same
horizontal line as the top of the /M/ in
More's name, which is centrally placed
above More's head. The intersection of
the vertical and horizontal lines forms a
right angle. The free-hanging cords of
the clock weights enable all lines and
angles to be measured 'true' without
recourse to assumed verticals on doors
or window frames. The statistically
improbable       right   angle     signals      an
unconventional           pictorial             part
"message" : 'The man of highest status
is quartered on Sir Thomas More'
(living with him).

Similarly, the pendant on the collar of
SS, the gold chain of office on More's
shoulders, is not hanging centrally but
has been moved to the observer's right.
A   vertical   line   upwards   from   the
pendant to the higher clock weight and
a horizontal line leftwards from the
same point to the purple-and-gold flag
iris forms a right angle at the base of
the clock weight.
The door of the clock is open and the
round    decorative   emblem   shows   a
solar eclipse. The single clock hand is
represented by a right hand with the
index finger pointing 'near the eleventh

The impression is that : (1) The Sun is
a symbol of the royal house of York. (2)
The mystery man is a Duke of York,
marked by a hidden perpendicular from
the arc of the sun's corona (a symbol
carried on the personal arms of the
second son of the English kings : i.e.
the Duke of York). (3) Someone has
just died, since the curtain is drawn,
the emblem shows a black eclipse and
Thomas         More     is   oddly    unshaven
(symbols of 'death' and 'mourning').

The     second      statistically    improbable
right angle marks the purple-and-gold
flag iris, suggesting a second royal
personage, since the colour and flower
are both associated with royalty. Either
this    is    a   tautology    or,   since    the
existence of a purple-and-gold flag iris
is unknown to horticulture, the artist is
referring in an allegorical mode to a
Royal        Standard    Bearer,     an   official
position at court. (See : 'standard', or
'flag'; 'stem', 'bearing-stem' or 'bearer',
for '' ['iris', in Greek], Oxford
English Dictionary. See also Isaiah II,
'The [royal] stem shall come forth from
Jesse'). [04]

The   impression        is   that   this   non-
existent      purple-and-gold       flag    iris
signifies a person of higher status than
a Duke of York (placed higher in the
painting). If true, it was this person of
higher     status      who   had    just   died
(marked by the black eclipse) and was
now left quartered ('left-quartered') in
the heart of the former Chancellor of
the Duchy of Lancaster, More's office at
the time (with which the gold pendant
and      collar   of    SS    are    generally

Investigation shows that seven of the
heads    in    this   painting   are   almost
certainly from the original sketches
made by Holbein of the More family in
their Chelsea home, during his first
visit to England in 1526 until 1528 and
now in the Royal Collection at Windsor.
This does not mean the painting is
dated some time between 1526 and
1528. The sketches may have been
amalgamated into the painting some
time later. That may not be obvious to
us at first today, but plainly obvious to
More‟s family and friends some five
years later, during Holbein's second
visit   to    England,   when    the   family
documentation shows, it was painted
by Holbein in the Roper family home at
Eltham in Kent.

I must now draw attention to the facial
skin of 'Johanes heresius'. It has a
'waxy' quality compared to the realistic
facial skin of Henry Patterson standing
beside him.
The impression is that the artist has
'waxed young' 'Johanes heresius'.
[05] Since Holbein does this in two
other paintings where names and ages
(or dates) are included and the person
is depicted at least half his known real
age, the hypothesis was tested that
'Johanes heresius' is depicted in the
picture at half his known real age. He
is not 27 years ('anno 27') but 54.
The impression is that the man of
highest status, a notional person (one
who       only        apparently     exists),
conjecturally the second son of an
English king and the rightful heir --
must factually pre-suppose a deceased
elder brother, a Prince of Wales (the
title of the first son of the English

Examination      of    the   open   book   on
Margaret Roper's lap (right foreground)
shows two pages of Seneca's Oedipus
and     that    Margaret     is     pointing,
unmistakably, to the word 'Oedipus'.
Beside her, Cecily Heron is counting on
her fingers. The impression is that
Margaret is pointing to some sort of
tragedy concerning a king while Cecily
signals: 'One king or two kings -- one
tragedy or two tragedies ?‟

The lines depicted in Latin on the two
pages are from a speech by Seneca's
Chorus in Act Two, beginning : 'Fata,
si    liceat   mihi    fingere      arbitrio
meo...' ('If it were permitted to me to
change Fate according to my will...'). It
continues in the sense that he (or 'she')
would have matters other than they
are. The facing page is headed 'L. AN.
Seneca' or 'Lucius Annaeus Seneca'
or,   more     probably,   'Lucii    Annaei
Senecae' (Latin Genitive).
However, Oedipus solved the riddle of
the Sphinx and the name is sometimes
given     to     persons    good      at   solving
puzzles (See : 'Oedipus', OED). The
latest opinion for the birth year of
Thomas More opts for 1477, either 6/7
February. 'L. AN.' means 'fifty years'
or   'fiftieth    year'    in   French,     which
corresponds with the age written above
More's head 'an / no 50'. 1477 add
50 equals 1527. Bearing in mind the
open clock door and that the time has
been changed -- the artist appears to
declare    that     this   portrait     was     not
painted in 1527 when the clock was
stopped 'near the eleventh hour' (the
pendulum is missing). It means that
1527 was not the date of the execution
of the painting but the year of the
family    matters      referred    to      in   the
painting -- a retrospective painting.

Examination of each book depicted
shows : (1) the open book in Margaret
Clement's hand (far left) contains blank
pages and her middle finger is pushed
into the spine of the book.

(2) The closed book under Elizabeth
Dauncey's right arm (second from left)
is Seneca's Epistolae (written along
the edge). (3) The book by the head of
Sir   John   More   (seated     beside   Sir
Thomas More) is de Consolatione
Phil[-osophiae] by Boethius (written
along the edge) containing (according
to Geoffrey Chaucer's translation) 'his
complaints and miseries'. [06]

(4) The book being read by the man in
the back room shows the claw marks of
a small animal across the open pages.
We will return to this again.
(5) John More II is reading a book,
most   intently.   It   has   long   been
conjectured whether John More was
overshadowed by his classically trained
sisters. Above his head the artist has
written : 'Joannes Morus Thomae /
Filuis anno 19' (sic) -- or 'John, Son
of Thomas More, aged 19'. „Filuis?‟ We
do not have to be experts to know that
the word is „Filius‟ or ‟Son‟ („slightly
backward‟ in Latin ?). This corroborates
family documentation and is relevant
to known history : 'John More, Sir
Thomas's son, was reckoned foolish
and his picture represents him as such.
But by the help of a good education he
was able to write one or more Latin
letters to Erasmus.‟
Also to be considered are the three
flower arrangements in the portrait,
two of which are neatly blended and
matched, and one other which is un-
neat, un-blended and un-matched. This
latter   marks    Margaret     Clement.
Another non-existent flower, a purple
peony of similar colour to the flag iris,
is included with its lower edge on the
same line as the base of the lower of
the two clock weights (above More's
head) and the top of the hat of
'Johanes heresius'. [07]
Similarly, from the purple peony, the
line   of   the     lute    marks   Margaret
Clement, and above, a similar line
marks Elizabeth Dauncey through the
line-faulted      viol.    Both   women   are
positioned under a fringed canopy (a
symbol of marriage). On the shoulder
of the viol is an improbably placed f-
hole in the shape of a down-curved
pair of horns, and behind the heads of
the two women is a large plate. In
front of the plate, a vase is covered
with a cloth. Elizabeth is oddly depicted
with only one glove and her little finger
is strangely bent.

The floor is strewn with rushes and a
small dog with one ear cocked is
seated at Thomas More's feet. [08]

If we project a line from the cupolas of
the two Belladonna lilies in the left-
hand flower arrangement to the centre
of the cocked ear of the little dog, the
line   passes   precisely   between   the
heads of the two women. Another
projected line, from the pink depicted
in the right-hand window to the same
point in the centre of the dog's cocked
ear, touches the noses of 'Johanes
heresius' and Cecily Heron, and where
this second line meets the first line at
the centre of the ear -- an obtuse angle
is described.
It   is     clear     that     these          factual
observations make no sense in English.
However, a French version produces a
series of linguistic equivalents, which
do indeed make sense. Similarly, if we
identify the flowers, their symbolism in
their own language of flowers (long
forgotten)      may      be    understood.          I
concluded that the lines and angles
were      not   random        but       had     been
mathematically        calculated        since    the
alignment referred to at least one
intermediate        point      between           the
extremities. I observed that each one
of   these      points    had       a    linguistic
equivalent : 'These lines, touch secretly
upon persons A, B and C ; are directed
at A and B and C ; or concern A and B
and C' -- and that they ALL made

In view of the large canvas, virtually all
the detail is visible. In addition to the
central placement of the figure of
Thomas     More,   and   the        figure   of
Margaret Roper (which dominates the
right foreground), two other details are
points of focus -- the clock at the top
and the small dog at the bottom, both
near the centre-line.

An        unconventional              pictorial
representation of the artist's name
might be a small dog : 'Fetch-the-bone'
in   English,   'Hol-bein'     in     German
('holen', 'to fetch' and 'bein', 'bone').
The clock with the open door may be
taken to mean that the time had been
changed    and,     from     the        central
placement, that this was an important
factor.   The      impression      is     that
'obtuseness in the family had come to
Holbein's ear'. From the placement of
the plate behind the heads of Margaret
Clement and Elizabeth Dauncey, the
pictorial statement suggests the two
women were not at ease with one
another    since     'être   dans         son
assiette' means, „to be at ease‟ in
familiar French or, literally, 'to be in
one's plate'. The artist has NOT placed
the two heads 'in the plate'.

An inquirer may be surprised that
'peony' is a sixteenth century name for
a physician (See Note 7) and purple
means 'royal' -- thus a royal doctor, or
a doctor who is royal. Since the flower
stands on the same line as the base of
the lower clock weight and the top of
the mystery man's hat it suggests that
'Johanes         heresius'            ('John,     the
rightful heir') is the doctor in question.
Factually, a certain John Clement was
indeed a member of More's household,
described as a tutor, and was later
appointed        president       of     the     Royal
College of Physicians, but this was
many years after the death of Holbein.
Unless, of course, it means what it
suggests : John Clement was a royal
AND a doctor. I have to draw attention
that Dr. John Clement gained his M.D.
abroad, at the University of Siena, Italy,
in March 1525.

The placement of the viol marking
Elizabeth Dauncey implies "violation"
by    the    royal   doctor       ('violer',      'to
violate'), that she had cuckolded her
husband,         William      Dauncey           ('les
cornes', the 'horns' of a cuckold) ; and,
from direct inspection, that she was
visibly     pregnant       and    in     maternity
clothes.      The      book       of      Seneca's
Epistolae Elizabeth is carrying under
her       arm,     records        the      author's
commentary on Vices and Virtues. The
impression of the singleton glove with
the finely embroidered wristband is
that   a   glove        apparently           lacks       the
companion of the pair. Curiously, 'le
pair lui manque', or 'le père lui
manque') means that a woman lacks
the father of her child. It is similarly
possible, in the case of the famous
portrait of Elizabeth I, that the single
glove she carries is a most offensive
reference by the artist to a parental
union unblessed by the Pope ('Le
[Saint]-Père lui manque'). If true, in
the process of removing her glove (the
little finger 'pops-out' when taking off a
glove),     Elizabeth          is    revealing           her
extremities (fingers) or 'extremes of
behavior', 'elle nous découvre ses
extrémités' in French. The curious
curb-shaped           little   finger        or    'doigt
courbé'     is     a     homophone            of     'doit
courber',        or     'she        must     curb        her
extremes of behavior with fine excuses',
taking     'la        broderie'         in        familiar
language      to       mean         some          sort    of
elaborate        justification          or        excuse.
Elizabeth is unconventionally portrayed
in profile. Heads of state and their
consorts have been depicted in profile
over a considerable period of time, a
convention reserved for persons of
highest status on medals and coins,
not in paintings at this time. We will
return to this again. For the present, I
have to draw attention that Margaret
Roper and Cecily Heron are similarly
dressed in maternity clothes and there
are reports that eleven „grandchildren‟
were later seen running around the

Although Elizabeth Dauncey was only
married on 29 September 1525, the
artist claims the child of the illicit union
was born live and Elizabeth miscarried
foetuses by her legitimate husband on
two separate occasions. Around her
waist there is a gold-coloured piece of
material    knotted     underneath      her
stomach, which falls in two bands at
the ends of which are fringes. The
unconventional green pattern on the
bands      appears       to      represent
pronounced and heavy veins such as
might be seen on any large animal.
'L'enfant est noué' means, literally,
the child is 'knotted' or, in familiar
language, 'born with an impediment',
implying 'illegitimacy'.

CODE: 'Deux traits / ornés / veinés
/ verts / deux frangés' ('Two bands
/ gilded / veined / green / two fringes
or   'both     fringed'),   is   homophonic
substitution         and         linguistically
equivalent in French to CODE : 'Deux
trés/ors nés / venaient / verts /
d'oeu/f rangé' ('Two treasures, born
green, came from the proper egg').

Margaret Clement (similarly in profile)
is portrayed with a large 'derrière', a
reticule, an elaborate piece of jewellery
hanging    from     her    waist    and    an
inexpensive white rabbit-skin cap (the
other      women         have      expensive
headdress). She is depicted on the left,
on   the   fringe   of    the   family.   The
meaning of her finger in the spine of
the book suggests 'le doigt dans
l'épine' or 'she keeps on at him'. This
means the royal doctor, presumably,
who 'fights' with her, since 'lute' is a
homophone of 'lutte' or 'fight'.

The covered vase is taken to be a
reference       by     the     artist   to      the
expression 'vase d'élection' or 'The
Chosen One' (a king) and the covering
of the vase with a cloth suggests the
artist did not like Margaret Clement, he
paints    her       unflatteringly,     and     his
opinion was 'Le vase est couvert',
meaning 'The Chosen One is justified'
(or 'covered'). [09]

The      distinct      impression       is    that
Margaret is „left on the fringe' of the
family and someone else, not the artist,
may 'fill in the blank pages'. It seems
that     Margaret        was      unfortunately
shaped (her reticule is a synonym of
'ridicule'),     the     elaborate           jewel
suggesting a certain derogatory pre-
Grand Siècle preciousness; and, that
she was a 'précieuse'. The placement
of   the   untidy,     but   by    no       means
unsightly flower arrangement, denotes
„an untidy arrangement‟ (her marriage).

The artist's inclusion of the purple
peony is a reference to the husband of
Margaret Clement (Dr. John Clement),
presumably, since she is the named
wife of John Clement ('uxor Johannis
Clemens') and concurrently suggests :
'The   doctor    who     was      royal',    John
Clement,       and   'Johanes       heresius',
were one and the same notional person.

This decrypt and interpretation appears
to gather substance when it is noticed
that the young man in the back room is
depicted with the short hairstyle worn
only by monks but the monk's tonsure
is missing : the 'hair is there' or, (a
short step from the pictorial sublime to
an English subsidiary) 'Harris-there'.
John Harris was indeed Thomas More's
secretary over a substantial period of
time. The colour of the background
against which John Harris's head is
portrayed is not a true green but a
false green (compared with the true
apple green colour of his doublet). [10]
In painters' jargon, the false-green
colour    depicted    is    'vert    faux',   a
homophone of 'vers faux' meaning
'something does not ring true'. Finally,
since 'à la griffe on reconnait le
lion' („one recognizes the lion by his
claw     marks‟)     may    also     mean,    in
familiar French, that 'one recognizes
the master by certain characteristics',
(for instance, the mark of a potter‟s
thumbnail pressed into             a clay pot
before firing), the claw marks on the
pages     of   the   book    ('les    griffes')
suggest the mark of the master painter
of Basel, Holbein.

The impression is that Doctor John
Clement was of royal blood but this
was not known by his wife Margaret
(the book with the blank pages) ; that
his real age in 1527 was not 27 but 54
years (the series of Holbein's paintings
with 'waxy' skin : Code for “half-age
paintings”) ; and, due to the death of
the unknown person of higher status in
the same year (the solar eclipse and
the purple-and-gold flag iris), Clement
was addressed as the rightful heir to
the throne (the styling 'heres-ius').
The carpet on the sideboard suggests
the covering-up of confidential matters
'cacher la crédence sous le tapis',
literally „to hide the sideboard under
the     carpet‟   (‘crédence’     means
„confidential matters‟ in courtly French).
The rushes (strewn on the floor) are
linguistically equivalent to 'jonchère'
or 'rush-strewn', a near-homophone of
'Jean-cher' or 'John-dear' (hidden in
the family group).

By deduction, it may be seen that the
alleged true year of birth of Dr. John
Clement is 1473 (1527 minus 54). In
this connection, Richard, Duke of York,
the younger son of Edward IV, was the
only prince born in the male line in
1473 ; and, he and his elder brother,
Edward V, were said to have died in or
about     1483.   This    allegation   is
contained in Thomas More's History of
King Richard the Third, written some
thirty years later (commenced in 1513
according to nephew William Rastell in
the preface of the printed version of
the book in Rastell's 1557 edition of
More's Workes) and circulated only in
manuscript, presumably, before that
date. [11] This book is regarded as a
major source for the denigration of
King Richard III as the instigator in the
murder of the princes, at the ages of
about 13 and 10 years, in the Tower of
London. From factual material in this
painting the present author concludes
that Thomas More is alleged to have
laid down a smokescreen over the
continued existence of the two princes
by implying that they died in or about
1483, that the book was a blind and
the artist had revealed this in a secret
method of communication.

It may be seen that the artist depicts
only three fingers of More‟s hand at the
centre of the painting beneath the red
velvet sleeve. More appears to be
signaling   with   three   fingers.   The
elements of the three fingers and the
red velvet sleeve may be taken to refer
jointly to More's Richard, since '[faire]
le Richard (III)' means „he made [or
„wrote‟] the book Richard III’, which
is a homophone of 'faire le richard',
meaning 'to pretend to be a rich man'.

It is not at all clear, but since red
velvet is a symbol of a rich man and
since More has only two sleeves, the
impression is that the artist is referring
to an odd event in history we have not
heard before, perhaps a More family
in-joke. [12]

Finally, the artist appears to comment
one more time on More's book, the
centre   piece     of   this   truly   arcane
composition. From direct inspection, it
may be seen that the artist shows
Thomas More wearing the "S"-pattern
chain    usually    associated     with   the
Duchy of Lancaster.

Conventionally, the central placement
reflects the high importance attributed
to the chain by the artist. This is surely
correct,    in    substance   and   in   fact.
However,         whereas   the   esses    are
depicted conventionally on the left side
of the chest -- upon closer examination
it may be observed that the esses have
been reversed, reflected mirror images,
on the right side of Thomas More.
These conventional and unconventional
esses and their placement marking
More's History of King Richard the
Third are simultaneously relevant to a
pictorial representation of the words :

           'D'un côté -- est-ce
            (esses) gauche ?
            De l'autre côté,
           réflection faite,
      Est-ce (esses) adroit ('à
                droite') ?'

Or, in familiar English language : 'On
the one hand, is it gauche (clumsy) ?
On the other hand, upon reflection -- is
it adroit (clever) ?'

I take this to mean that the artist
questions the plan of deception and
whether More's attempt to lay down a
literary smokescreen by writing the
book was clumsy or clever ; and,
presumably, time would tell.

The conclusion was finally reached that
the   central     placement     of    More's
Richard was the 'confidential matter'
referred   to    by   the   carpet   on   the
sideboard, that Tudor deception in a
previous    century     was    the   raison
d'être of the portrait, and everything
flowed from this point. It was seen that
Edward V (b. 1470) is reported by the
artist to have died, aged fifty-eight,
some five months after the fiftieth
birthday of Thomas More, in 1527.
Since New Year 1528 began on Lady
Day (March 25), it means the death
was in mid-July 1528 (all the flowers
are in bloom at this time). [13] Finally,
I have to draw attention that the flower
selection includes floral symbols of
royalty and mourning (fleur-de-lis and
irises) and that the odd and enigmatic
quality   of   this    remarkable   painting
reflects, presumably, the sorrow of
those who were aware of the royal
death ; and, that the witness, Holbein,
who was an invited guest living in
More's house, between 1526 and 1528,
was   secretly        communicating   these
matters for posterity.

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