Biographies & Memoirs

Book title


First, it now seems possible to offer clearer and more accurate information than was hitherto available in respect of the adult heights of the Duke and Duchess of Clarence. In attempting to predict the height at death of George, Duke of Clarence, we should consider the following evidence:

  1.  Towards the end of March 1461 George (future Duke of Clarence) was aged 11 years 5 months. His younger brother, Richard (III), was aged 8 years 5 months. The Burgundian chronicler, Wavrin, who saw them at this time, estimated their ages as 9 and 8 respectively.1 This suggests that while Richard was of about average height for his age, George was smaller than normal, a characteristic which, as we have seen, he may possibly have inherited from his mother.

  2.  The modern average height for a boy of 11 is about 4ft 9in, and for a boy of 12 about 5ft. This suggests that an average boy aged 11 years 5 months would be about 4ft 10in in height.

  3.  The average modern height for a boy of 9 is 4ft 5in.

  4.  These figures suggest that in March 1461 George may have been 4 or 5in below the average height for his age.

  5.  In March 1461 Richard (III) was of about average height for his age.

  6.  At the time of his death in 1485, at the age of 32, Richard III’s height (ignoring any possible effect of his scoliosis) was about 5ft 8in, based on measurement of his bones as found in August 2012. This is considered slightly above the average height for a man of his age, social class and period.

  7.  If George had remained shorter than his brother, his height at the time of his death (in 1478, at the age of 28) could well have been 4 or 5in less than the height at death of his brother Richard.

  8.  In this case, at the time of his death we might tentatively predict George’s height to have been of the order of 5ft 3in or 5ft 4in.

Book title

Graph showing growth rates of two modern boys, which approximately correspond to the apparent growth rates of Richard III and George, Duke of Clarence.

  9.  A graph (the relevant curve of which is reproduced here, labelled ‘G’) which shows the growth rates of modern boys who were of similar height to George at the age of eleven and a half, indicates that their adult height (aged 20) is likely to be about 5ft 5in.2

10.  The same graph (curve ‘R’) indicates that modern boys who share Richard III’s estimated height at the age of 8 are likely to be about 5ft 9in at the age of 20.

11.  Since we know that Richard III’s true adult height would have been 5ft 8in it is not unreasonable to conclude that George’s adult height would also have been about an inch less that the height indicated by modern statistics (curve ‘G’) – i.e. about 5ft 4in.

12.  There are many possible causes of below average height. It can be genetic (inherited). The fact that Edward IV and Richard III were of above average height while their mother was reputedly of short stature makes it difficult to generalise about the likely height of members of the House of York.

13.  Another possible cause of low height can be arthritis: ‘there is often a more generalized growth reduction in children with active arthritis’.3

Book title

Comparison of the respective adult heights of the brothers, Edward IV, George, Duke of Clarence and Richard III.

There is no surviving direct documentary evidence relating to the height of the Duchess of Clarence at any stage of her life. However, it is possible to make a rather tentative and approximate prediction of Isabel’s height at the time of her death, based on illustrations from the Salisbury and Rous Rolls. First we have an illustration showing Richard III and his wife, Anne Neville, standing side by side. Anne’s head is lower than Richard’s, and also her feet appear to be slightly higher than his.

Book title

Comparison of the adult heights of King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville, based on an illustration in the Salisbury Roll.

Book title

Comparison of the respective adult heights of the Duke and Duchess of Clarence, based on an illustration in the Rous Roll.

Since we know that Richard’s adult height was approximately 5ft 8in, we can deduce that this image implies that Anne Neville was several inches shorter than her husband. Therefore, her height may have been in the region of 5ft 4in (see illustration).

The Rous Roll shows the Duke and Duchess of Clarence standing side by side. Having now deduced from other evidence that George’s adult height may have been in the region of 5ft 4in, one would conclude from the nineteenth-century engraving of this image which we reproduced earlier, that Isabel Neville was a little shorter than her husband, and that her height may have been somewhere between 5ft and 5ft 4in.

However, it is important to consult contemporary sources as far as possible. Interestingly, when the nineteenth-century engraving of the Rous Roll image of the Duke and Duchess of Clarence is compared with the original fifteenth-century drawing, it emerges that, while the engraving is generally accurate, in respect of the height of Isabel Neville it is slightly misleading. When the engraved image is superimposed over the original drawing it can be seen that the fifteenth-century image actually depicts Isabel as having been of about the same height as her husband. As a very rough approximation, we could therefore predict Isabel Neville’s height at death as having been in the region of 5ft 4in. This suggests that Isabel was probably of approximately the same adult height as her younger sister, Anne.

As we have seen, the remains lying in the Clarence vault in the second half of the twentieth century were given their first systematic modern examination in 1982 by Dr Michael Donmall. A mixed assemblage of variably preserved human bones was revealed: parts of two skulls, an assortment of long bones, pelvic and shoulder girdle fragments, parts of the spinal column and some foot bones. There were no remains of teeth or hand bones. From the first it was clear that the remains, of at least two individuals, were very incomplete. The fragments had been arranged for display, with the two crania resting on the largest long bones. Six iron coffin handles, a fragment of flat metal and a nail were also found amongst the bones.

After cleaning, necessary reconstruction of the skeletons was attempted using a water-soluble adhesive. The bones were formally assessed (i.e. morphologically) in order to assign where possible sex, the number of individuals, their pathology, and an estimate of age and stature at death. No scientific tests were undertaken.4

The male remains were estimated by Dr Donmall to be in the age range 40–60+ years, and the female remains 50–70+ years. The putative male was described as being ‘rather short’ – about 5ft 3in. The height of the putative female was estimated as about 5ft 4.5in.5 The male bones were described as showing ‘mild age-related arthritic changes’. The female bones were said to show ‘more advanced arthritic change’.6 Obviously, the heights estimated in 1982 accord quite well with the new evidence offered here for the probable heights at death of the Duke and Duchess of Clarence. However, the suggested ages do not correspond.

Dr Donmall’s 1982 report observed of the male skull that ‘the cranial sutures are mainly fused (or fusing) but not generally obliterated’. This point was not further analysed, nor evaluated as a possible indicator of the age at death of the male individual. Probably this was due to the fact that there is much debate about the value of cranial suture obliteration in assessing adult age.7 However, the male skull from the Clarence vault could perhaps belong to an individual who died at a somewhat younger age than that estimated by Dr Donmall for the other male bones. As we have seen, George, Duke of Clarence was 28 when he died, while his wife Isabel Neville was 25 at the time of her death.

The April 2013 re-examination of the Clarence vault bones by Dr Joyce Filer suggested that the remains of more than two individuals are present. In respect of the majority of the limb and body bones, and also the female cranium, the 2013 assessment of the ages of these individuals at death agreed in general terms with the 1982 findings. These bones therefore appear to represent the partial remains of a male and a female who are too old to be the Duke and Duchess of Clarence. Their possible identification will be considered shortly.

However, the damaged male skull which is preserved today in the Clarence vault may not belong with the other male bones. Some differences of colour and preservation were observed between the skull and the post-cranial male remains. The skull may therefore represent a different – and possibly younger – male. The person concerned had suffered a cut to the front of his head several years prior to his death, which had healed. This is potentially consistent with the report that George suffered an injury at the Battle of Barnet about six and a half years before his death (see above, chapter 10). As we saw in the previous chapter, there is also some written evidence that the male skull remained intact until the mid-twentieth century, and may have been articulated with two neck bones. In the 1930s this was thought to suggest that at some point this head had been cut off – a point potentially consistent with Jean de Roye’s account of the final stages of George’s execution. It is therefore possible that the partially surviving male skull may be that of the Duke of Clarence.

As for the older male remains, they could possibly belong to William de la Zouche, 1st Baron Zouche, who was born c. 1284 and died 28 February 1336/7. Although his date of birth is not precisely recorded, William’s age at death would probably have been about 53, which is consistent with the age of the male body and limb bones from the Clarence vault, as estimated in both 1982 and 2013.8 William de la Zouche was originally interred in the eastern Lady Chapel of Tewkesbury Abbey – a chapel commissioned by his wife. However, following the Dissolution, when the eastern Lady Chapel was demolished, his tomb superstructure was rescued and re-erected at Forthampton Court (a former residence of the abbots), probably by John Wakeman, last Abbot of Tewkesbury, and first Bishop of Gloucester.9 Forthampton Court was granted to former Abbot (soon-to-be Bishop) Wakeman by the crown in 1540.10 It is possible that when the tomb superstructure was moved, William’s corpse was also rescued, and reburied in the Clarence vault, which had the space to accommodate further burials, and which lay just opposite the entrance to the eastern Lady Chapel which was then under demolition.

It would therefore be tempting to conclude that the accompanying female bones and the partial skull which appears to belong with them might be those of William de la Zouche’s wife, Eleanor de Clare (Despenser), born 3 October 1292, who died on 30 June 1337, at the age of 45.11 Eleanor, an ancestress of the Duchess of Clarence, was the founder of the eastern Lady Chapel at Tewkesbury, where she was buried beside her second husband, William. Her body, too, might therefore have been removed to the Clarence vault when the Lady Chapel was demolished. Unfortunately, however, the main collection of female remains in the Clarence vault today appears to belong to a woman older than Eleanor is reported to have been when she died.12

In addition to the partial remains of a woman who apparently died aged about 60, the Clarence vault also contains very fragmentary remains of another female, of slender build, who appears to have died in her twenties. These female remains (which include a mastoid process in no way associated with the surviving female cranium) are few in number, but are completely different in colour compared to the remains of the older female. They may comprise surviving fragments of the body of Isabel, Duchess of Clarence.

There is no immediate prospect of using DNA testing in an attempt to further clarify the identity of the remains in the Clarence vault. At present no mtDNA sequence is available for the Duchess of Clarence, for her ancestress, Eleanor de Clare, or for the latter’s second husband, William de la Zouche. Nor are Y-chromosome details available for William. Thus, at the present time there is nothing with which to compare DNA from the two sets of female remains or the older set of male bones. George, of course, would have had the same mtDNA sequence as his mother and siblings. I published the full details of this sequence (J1c2c) in 2007, following my discovery of Anne of York’s all-female-line descendant, Joy Ibsen,13 and in 2013 Dr Turi King of Leicester University confirmed that this sequence matched that of the bones from Richard III’s grave. But, unfortunately, the partially surviving skull of the younger male in the Clarence vault is incomplete. It has, for example, no surviving teeth – which would have offered suitable material for DNA testing. There remains the possibility that Carbon 14 dating could be considered, in an attempt to substantiate or disprove the tentative identities proposed here for the surviving Clarence vault remains, based upon the dates of death of the individuals concerned.


  1.  See above, chapter 5.

  2. (consulted March 2013).

  3.  R. H. Shmerling, MD, ‘Can we predict height?’, p.4. (consulted February 2013).

  4.  TA4, p.32.

  5.  TA4, p.36.

  6.  Ibid.

  7.  See for example (consulted March 2013).

  8. (consulted June 2013).

  9.  J. Bettey, chapter 7, p.73 in Morris and Shoesmith (eds), Tewkesbury Abbey.

10.  C. R. Elrington, ed., VCH Gloucester vol. 8 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), (consulted June 2013).

11. (consulted June 2013).

12.  Though Eleanor had eleven children by her two husbands, and she spent a total of about five years in prison in the Tower of London and elsewhere.

13.  J. Ashdown-Hill, ‘Margaret of York’s Dance of Death — the DNA Evidence’, Handelingen van de Koninklijke Kring voor Oudheidkunde, Letteren an Kunst van Mechelen, 111 (2007), p.201.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!