Anne Mowbray

Finding out about people in the 15th century: Anne Mowbray
Continuing our series on 15th century people let us look at the life of a child; normally we should not be able to find out anything except the general outlines of upbringing and education that are described in such fascinating studies as Shulamith Shahar’s Childhood in the Middle Ages (1990) or Nicholas Orme’s From Childhood to Chivlary (1984), but this was a very important little girl, the only child of John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, and therefore the heir to his wealth and estates. As one of the most influential families in the area the doings of the Duke and Duchess are often mentioned in the letters of the Paston family and in a letter written on 18th December 1472 Sir John Paston describes how little Anne was christened by William Wayneflete, the Bishop of WInchester, at Framlingham when she was only a few days old.

She then disappears from the records until the next major event in her life, her marriage to Richard Duke of York when she was five years old and the groom was four. By then her father had died, leaving her as a most eligible heiress, whom Edward IV secured as a bride for his younger son after protracted negotiations with her mother, cannily writing into the contract the proviso that should Anne predecease her husband without leaving any children her Norfolk estates and titles should be retained by her husband. The splendid ceremony and the feast and jousting which followed it are descriibed in ‘A Narrative of the Marriage of Richard Duke of York and Anne of Norfolk’ taken from Illustrations of Ancient State and Chivalry from Manuscripts preserved in the Ashmolean Museum (edited by W.H. Black, 1840). To complete the progression from cradle to grave our last record is the payment to Piers Curteys, the Keeper of the Great Wardrobe (the government department responsible among other things for providing everything necessary for state occasions), of the sum of £215. 16 s. 10 d. for the expenses of her funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey. She had died at Greenwich in November 1481 just before her ninth birthday. Later her coffin was moved to the church of the Poor Clares in Stepney when Henry VII demolished the chapel of St. Erasmus to make his new royal chapel in the Abbey.

That would have been the last anyone heard of Anne Mowbray had it not been for the sharp eyes of a workman on a building site in Stepney in December 1964 who spotted a small lead coffin among the debris of demolition. It was taken to the local police station and later collected by an official of the London Museum. A press release issued by the Museum describes what happened next – the inscription attached to the coffin was deciphered giving Anne’s name, titles and date of death; a specially equiped laboratory was set up at the Museum which was then based at Kensington Palace, and the coffin was opened and found to contain the remains of a child. A detailed scientific and medical examination of the contents of the coffin was to be carried out over the next few months in an archaeological journal. In May 1965 Anne’s body was reinterred in Westminster Abbey, near her original burial place.

Unfortunately the detailed report promised in the press release has never materialised, but two articles on specific aspects of the examination have been published: ‘The Teeth of Anne Mowbray’ by Martin A. Rushton in the British Dental Journal, (Vol. 119, No. 8, 19th October 1965) and ‘Anne Mowbray: skeletal remains of a medieval child’ by Roger Warwick in the London Archaeologist, (Vol. 5, No. 7, Summer 1986).

The information we have on Anne Mowbray is well summarised in two articles in The Ricardian both entitled ‘Anne Mowbray’: by J.M. Meluish (Vol. 1, No. 12, May 1965) and by Philomena Jones (Vol. 4, No. 61, June 1978) and in an illustrated article ‘The World of Anne Mowbray’ by P.M. Kendall in the Observer Colour Magazine of 23rd May 1965.

All the books and articles mentioned above are available for loan from the Society’s Library. — HCH