Today is the anniversary of the battle of Bosworth Field that ended the Wars of the Roses in England, and inaugurated the Tudor era with the crowning of Henry VII. I’m not big on celebrating battles and am not going to concentrate on the battle itself. Rather I am interested in the curious relationship between the battle and the recipe for Bosworth Jumbles – a sweet biscuit (cookie in the U.S.), as well as the discovery of Richard III’s bones in a public car park in Leicester.
Let’s dispense with the battle first. The Wars of the Roses were a series of dynastic wars fought between supporters of two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet, the houses of Lancaster and York (whose heraldic symbols were the red and the white rose, respectively), for the throne of England. They were fought most intensely in several sporadic episodes between 1455 and 1485, although there was related fighting both before and after this period. They resulted from the social and financial troubles following the Hundred Years’ War. The final victory went to a relatively remote Lancastrian claimant, Henry Tudor, who defeated the last Yorkist king, Richard III, at Bosworth Field, and married Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, to unite the two houses.
If you listen to Shakespeare, Richard III was a thoroughly nasty man, but Shakespeare’s plays are heavily larded with Tudor propaganda. I would be inclined to believe that he was nasty, but not any nastier than most other kings of his era. He had the habit of killing off claimants to the throne, but hey, who didn’t? However, his implication in the death of his nephews, who were better claimants to the throne than he was, as well as rumors he had killed his wife, unsettled the English nobility. Henry Tudor, exiled in France, seized on Richard’s difficulties to make his own claim on the throne (which was considerably weaker than Richard’s). Henry’s first attempt to invade England was frustrated by a storm in 1483, but at his second attempt he arrived unopposed on 7 August 1485 on the southwest coast of Wales. Marching inland, Henry gathered support as he made for London. Richard mustered his troops and intercepted Henry’s army south of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire. For centuries the exact site of the battle was merely conjectured but in 2010 archeologists discovered weapons, canonballs, and a silver boar insignia that Richard’s knights wore in a field near Stoke Golding that is the actual site.
Henry’s army was outnumbered by Richard’s about 2 to 1 (10,000 to 5,000), but nonetheless won a decisive victory culminating with Richard’s death. Richard’s circlet (battle crown) was recovered and Henry was crowned king. Richard’s body was unceremoniously buried in the priory church of Greyfriars monastery, which was located within the city of Leicester, near Leicester cathedral, about 15 miles from the battle site. Henry had put the body on display in the church for several days and then had it buried in an unmarked grave as a sign of disrespect.
For decades historians and archeologists had sought to discover the site of the burial. One of the major problems was determining the exact location of Greyfriars which had been dissolved as a monastery under Henry VIII in 1538, and demolished shortly afterwards. Another was assessing the probability that the body was still there (one narrative said that Richard’s body had been flung in a river). In August 2012 an archeological team from the University of Leicester in partnership with the Leicester City Council began digging in a city car park in Leicester basing their location on exhaustive research. The dig was carried out by University of Leicester archaeologists, who uncovered a human skeleton on the first day of work. It soon became apparent that the body was that of a man in his thirties who had suffered multiple wounds from a variety of weapons and had been hurriedly buried in a grave that was too small. The skeleton had a number of unusual physical features, most notably a severe curvature of the back that caused the right shoulder to be higher than the left.
Scientific analysis showed that the man had probably been killed either by a blow from a large bladed weapon that cut off the back of his skull, or by a halberd thrust that penetrated his brain. There were signs of other wounds on the body, which had probably been inflicted as “humiliation injuries” on a corpse that had been stripped of its armor. The bones’ age at death matched the age at which Richard died; they were dated to approximately the period of his death and were mostly consistent with physical descriptions of him. DNA analysis also showed that mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones matched that of two 17th-generation matrilineal descendants of Richard’s sister Anne of York. Timing was critical. Both of these descendants are old and have no children.
The battle of Bosworth Field is also associated with the recipe for Bosworth Jumbles, a light, sweet, buttery biscuit. Legend has it that these biscuits were the specialty of Richard III’s chef and they were so named because the recipe was found after the battle on the battlefield. The name jumble comes from gemellus, the Latin for ‘twin’ which gives us gimmel ring, a ring with two interlocking parts (often mistakenly called a two-fingered ring). Only the wealthy would have worn such jewelry.
Likewise, only the wealthy could have afforded the sugar to make the jumbles. The first published recipe for Bosworth Jumbles comes from The good Huswifes Jewell by Thomas Dawson (London, 1585).
To make Iombils a hundred.
Take twenty Egges and put them into a pot both the yolkes & the white, beat them wel, then take a pound of beaten suger and put to them, and stirre them wel together, then put to it a quarter of a peck of flower, and make a hard paste thereof, and then with Anniseede moulde it well, and make it in little rowles beeing long, and tye them in knots, and wet the ends in Rosewater, then put them into a pan of seething water, but euen in one waum, then take them out with a Skimmer and lay them in a cloth to drie, this being doon lay them in a tart panne, the bottome beeing oyled, then put them into a temperat Ouen for one howre, turning them often in the Ouen.
I’ve never tried this recipe because I have no confidence I could make it work. Boiling the dough and then baking for an hour (even in a very slow oven) seems like a recipe for disaster without more detailed instructions. But the information that they were tied in “knots” is useful. I’m envisaging something like a pretzel shape to imitate a gimmel ring. Here’s a modern recipe. These days Bosworth Jumbles are usually “S” shaped, but interlocking rings or knots would make a good talking point with friends.
12 oz. (350 g.) self-raising flour
8 oz. (225 g.) caster sugar
8 oz. (225 g.) butter
1 teaspoon anise essence (or almond)
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C
Mix the flours and sugar together, and rub in the butter with the fingertips until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Or you can use a food processor for this step. Pulse the mixture 8 to 10 times.
Stir in the egg and almond essence, and knead for about 1 minute until the mixture forms a smooth dough.
Roll the dough to make a thin sheet about cut into pieces about 5 inches (13 cm) wide. Cut strips about ¾ inches (2 cm) wide and shape them into knots or interlocking rings. [Or, break off pieces of dough and make them in S shapes.]
Place the jumbles on a greased and floured baking sheet well spaced out so that they will not run together while baking. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 10 minutes, giving them a quarter turn after 5-7 minutes if necessary so that they all bake evenly.