Leslau, Holbein, More and Clement

Before I begin, I have two words of warning. The first is that a huge spoiler for my novels Loyalty and the sequel Honour unavoidably follows. Just so that you know!

Secondly, the following is my telling of the theory researched and expounded by Jack Leslau, an amateur art enthusiast who believed that he stumbled across the answer to the riddle of the Princes in the Tower hidden in Hans Holbein’s stunning portrait of Sir Thomas More’s family. I am not seeking any credit for the facts and ideas below and am relying upon Jack Leslau’s work entirely. Since he passed away, his theory seems to have sat somewhat unattended. I have tried to make contact using the details on the website (that still exists, but is extremely hard to read) to no avail. I am not aware that this work is for sale anywhere and do not intend to breach any copyright. If I do so inadvertently, I am sorry and will remove this as soon as I am made aware of such an infringement.

My reason for writing this is threefold. Firstly, I was fascinated a long time ago by the compelling nature and originality of Jack Leslau’s work. Secondly, in no small part it inspired my novel, Loyalty, for which I owe the late Mr Leslau a debt. Finally, this work is becoming less and less accessible and I find this a great shame.

I do not say that what follows is an indisputable truth. Much of Leslau’s theory can be, and frequently is, contended. Perhaps you will find it interesting, even compelling. In the absence of other evidence, it certainly bears some consideration. Richard III is so frequently condemned on hearsay and supposition, I think this might offer an alternate reading of events worthy of contemplation. I hope that you will join me for this fight of fancy. There is no quick way to impart this detail, I’m afraid, so strap in, and if you are sitting comfortably…..

Sir Thomas More was one of the most influential men in Henry VIII’s England in the 1520’s. A close friend to the king, this lawyer’s star was on the ascendant when artist Hans Holbein arrived in England. Probably in 1527, Holbein was commissioned to execute a group family portrait for Sir Thomas. He made a sketch, which he probably took back to the Continent with him to translate into the final painting. The painting includes Sir Thomas, his son, his daughters, including his adopted daughter, his second wife and his late father. There are also a few other figures who may not attract the eye, but it is upon one of these figures that Jack Leslau built his fascinating theory.

More Family Portrait
More Family Portrait

The figure toward the right at the back marked as ‘Johanes heresius Thomae Mori famul: Anno 27‘ has long been believed to represent John Harris, Sir Thomas More’s long standing secretary. Leslau, however, uncovered several interesting anomalies that he believed pointed to a different occupant for this position, and the unravelling of England’s greatest mystery. Leslau believed that this figure was, in fact, Dr John Clement, the husband of Margaret Giggs, Sir Thomas More’s adopted daughter, and, more controversially, that Dr John Clement was the assumed identity of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower.

'John' -Is this Richard, Duke of York?
‘John’ – Is this Richard, Duke of York?

Let us begin with what is known of Dr John Clement. His date of birth is uncertain and a matter of debate. He is widely believed to be the ‘puer meus’ of Sir Thomas More’s seminal political tract Utopia. This led many to believe that he had been born around 1500, which would be consistent with the age offered for ‘Johanes heresius’ of 27. It is believed that Clement attended St Paul’s School under the tutelage of William Lily, though Leslau was unable to find evidence of this. Clement is first recorded in More’s household in 1514 and he may have gone with More on his 1515 embassy to Bruges and Antwerp. It was in More’s household that Clement met his future wife, Margaret Giggs, Sir Thomas’s adopted daughter. She was born around 1508 and they married in 1530.

At some time between 1518 and 1519, Clement was appointed as Cardinal Wolsey’s reader of rhetoric at Corpus Christi College, the foundation of Bishop Richard Foxe that was dedicated to humanist study. Clement later became a reader of Greek at Oxford before leaving there during the 1520’s to study medicine in Italy. It is known that Clement travelled via Louvain and Basel, where he met Erasmus, and that he delivered a copy of Utopia to Leonico at Padua in 1524.

By March 1525 he had received his MD from Siena. On his subsequent return to England, Clement aided his successor at Oxford, Lupset, in completing the Aldine edition of Galen and later in 1525 he appears in the royal accounts as a Sewer (Server) of the Chamber in the Royal Household, as he did again in 1526. On 1st February 1527 or 1528, Clement was admitted to the Royal College of Physicians and in 1529 was sent, along with two other physicians, under Dr Butts to treat the ailing Cardinal Wolsey following his fall from grace.

In 1535, Dr Clement was consulted on the treatment of John Fisher’s liver during his imprisonment in the Tower. 1538 saw him granted a semi-annual income of £10.00 from the royal household, though this appears to have been cancelled in 1539. In 1544, Clement was made President of the College of Physicians and Leslau discovered, and confirmed, that Clement is unique amongst the long history of Presidents of the College of Physicians in that no copy of his signature exists in the possession of the College, nor any record of his origin or background. Every single other President has a preserved copy of their signature. This may, of course, be coincidence, but it set Jack Leslau along an interesting road.

There is more of Clement’s story to come, but perhaps we should return our attention now to the painting and some of the anomalies that Leslau uncovered, along with the meaning that he attributed to them.


More Family Portrait
More Family Portrait

Jack Leslau became fascinated by Sir Thomas More’s involvement in the story of King Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. Why, he asked, would a man as learned and respected as More, a lawyer and theologian, lend his name and reputation to the collection of inaccuracies and rumours that comprise his Historie of King Richard III? If the Princes were murdered, why did no-one, including even their own mother, ever raise hue and cry or point the finger at King Richard after his death? Leslau believed that Holbein’s portrait unlocked this mystery.

Jack Leslau compared Holbein’s preparatory sketch, made around 1527, with the post-1532 portrait and found 1 major and 80 minor changes, each of which was relevant to the ‘hidden secret’ he believed was contained in the painting.


Holbein's Preparatory Sketch
Holbein’s Preparatory Sketch

The major change was the addition of the controversial figure in the doorway, who was omitted from the sketch. There are several interesting and compelling anomalies that revolve around this figure. The first thing to consider is the writing above his head that identifies the man, which is more cryptic than at first appears. It reads ‘Johanes heresius Thomae Mori famul: Anno 27“. ‘Johanes heresius‘ is usually assumed to refer to John Harris, yet if ‘heresius‘ is intended to equate to ‘Harris’ then it is the only surname in the painting that is not designated by a capital letter. The word ‘famul‘ has been assumed to be an abbreviation of famulus, meaning secretary, but these two words have possible other meanings.

John's Identifying Mark
John’s Identifying Mark

In the Latin vocative, heresius can be translates as heresheir, iusright or rightful, so that heresius could translate as rightful heir. Suddenly, we are presented with John, the rightful heir.

Secondly, John stands, literally, head and shoulders above the More family. Leslau contends that it was traditional in portraits of this era for the person of highest status in a painting to be placed in the highest position. Infrared photography has been used to prove that the top of John’s hat is the highest of any in the picture.

Add to this the fact that above John’s head is a row of fleur-de-lys, the traditional symbol of French royalty. One of Holbein’s famous optical illusions also means that the structure is simply part of the door frame when seen from the right, yet from the left it appears to be a half open door. John therefore stands before a vanishing door, or an impossible door.

John's Fleurs de Lys
John’s Fleurs de Lys

The figure attracts further intrigue when considering that he is dressed in an Italian style, unlike the English dress of the other sitters, pointing to Clement’s Italian medical training. Not only does he hold a roll of parchment, but he also sports a sword and buckler, extremely odd for a secretary, but the traditional trappings of a warrior, which fits neither secretary nor doctor. One oddly bent finger touches the pommel of his sword and the buckler has a polished rim and spokes.

To these anomalies, Leslau applied the principles of French courtly language that Holbein apparently frequently used. The French for optical illusion, as used on the vanishing door, is porte-a-faux, which literally translates as false door, pointing to tricks or hidden falsehoods within the scene. ‘He holds a parchment‘ in French is ‘il tient le parchemin’, which, in courtly French, can mean ‘he holds the right and title of nobility‘. The spoke of a wheel, as seen on the buckler, is ‘rai‘ and the rim is ‘jante‘, which Leslau identified as a split homophone of ‘rejente‘, which translate to regent.

Furthermore, Leslau points to the fact that the ceiling timbers are out of alignment at the top of the painting. Applying the same principles to this anomaly, a line fault becomes a faute de ligne or fault de linage, which equates to a fault in the lineage.

Incorrect Alignment of Ceiling Beams
Incorrect Alignment of Ceiling Beams

The sideboard in the background of the picture is covered by a carpet. ‘To hide the sideboard under the carpet‘ in French is ‘cacher la credence sous le tapis‘, with Leslau pointing to the word ‘credence‘ being used in French courtly language to mean ‘confidential matters‘. Are confidential matters being hidden from view in the painting, swept under the carpet?

If all of this were true, it points toward the figure named John being of importance; he is marked by fleur-de-lys and occupies the highest station in the painting. Some French courtly language tricks could be used to further mark him as someone demanding closer attention. No secretary would carry a sword and buckler and he is potentially named as a rightful heir.

The Clock
The Clock

At the centre of the picture, at the top, is a beautiful clock, a symbol of wealth and status at this time. Yet even this clock holds hidden meaning to Leslau. The pendulum is missing, an important factor relating the ceasing of the passing of time which we will revisit later. The clock’s door is open, which suggests that the time has been altered too. This might also have importance to the person of John. The dial has only one hand, which points to the number eleven, perhaps denoting the eleventh hour and also the one remaining prince, a matter we shall also return to in a while. Above the clock face, a solar eclipse is shown. Given that the Sunne in Splendour was the emblem of the Princes’ father, Edward IV, its eclipse is perhaps relevant. Leslau identified that John is perpendicular to the arc of the sun’s corona, a symbol that forms part of the Duke of York’s arms, and suggests that this points to John’s identity as Richard, Duke of York.

Jack Leslau also believed that code within the painting identified the recent death of the elder of the Princes in the Tower, Edward V. The curtain at the back is drawn, there is a black eclipse and More appears unshaven, all of which are symbols of death and mourning. At a point in the painting higher than John stands an arrangement of purple and gold flag iris. The colours of these flowers do not exist in nature and are well known symbols of royalty. Leslau even points to the fact that More’s chain of S’s sits off centre, over his heart, and that this forms a perfect right angle from the flowers at the end of the weight on the clock. This left angle is used by Leslau to suggest that the recently deceased royal is ‘left quartered’ in the heart of Thomas More and the royal Duchy of Lancaster.

Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More wears the Duchy of Lancaster chain around his neck. Close examination shows that the ‘SS’ symbols of the chain are reversed on More’s right, but correct on his left. Once more applying the principles of French courtly language, Leslau contended that the following statement could be created;

“D’un cote, est-ce (esses) gauche?

De l’autre cote, reflection faire,

Est-ce (esses) adroit (a droite).”

This can be translated thus;

“On the one hand is it gauche (clumsy, or left)?

On the other hand, upon reflection,

Is it adroit (clever, or right)?

Is this a cunningly constructed reference to More’s attempts to hide the continued existence of the Princes in his outrageously inaccurate story of Richard III? The artist is uncertain whether it was clumsy or clever, suggesting perhaps that only time will tell. Interestingly, Thomas More shows only three fingers, perhaps also a reference to Richard III.

Other figures in the portrait also contribute further to Leslau’s theory. The two women sitting toward the front on the right of the picture are identified as Margaret Roper (on the right) and Cecily Heron (on the left), More’s daughters. The book that is open on Margaret Roper’s lap show two pages from Seneca’s Oedipus. Margaret points at the word Oedipus, suggesting a tragedy relating to a king, while beside her, Cecily counts on her fingers. Does she count tragedies? Or kings? Or both?

The Sisters
The Sisters

The lines on the opposing page of Oedipus show a speech by Seneca’s Chorus from Act 2, which begins “Fata, si liceat mihi fingere arbito meo“, which translates as “If it were permitted to me to change Fate according to my will…” and the speech continues that he would have things other than they currently are if it were within his power. Does this point to More’s desire to see the House of York restored as the rightful kings?

The top of the page on Margaret Roper’s left shows “L. AN. Seneca”, which may refer to Lucius Annaeus Seneca. However, ‘L. AN’ in French is 50 years, More’s age in 1527 and the age shown above his head in the painting. Leslau believed that this suggested the fact that the portrait was not actually painted in 1527 but pointed to events in the More family and household in that year, that this was when the clock was stopped.

Two dogs sit on the floor before the family. Sir Thomas More has central placement in the picture. Above him, the clock is central, perhaps marking the importance of its hidden message, and the odd looking dog at More’s feet is also on that central line, marking it as also of some import. Leslau notes that the German for ‘fetch the bone’ is ‘hol bein’, a homophone for Holbein, perhaps marking the strange little dog as a devise representing the artist. If this is the case, then the dog’s cocked left ear suggests that some news has reached Holbein’s ear, perhaps even that he is like a dog with as bone.

Holbein the DogThe lady at the far left of the portrait also requires our attention. She is Margaret Clement, nee Giggs, wife of Dr John Clement. I would point out the since John and Margaret apparently did not marry until 1530 yet the portrait is ‘set’ in 1527, marking her as Mrs Clement at this point seems significant. Margaret is placed on the far left, on the outskirts of the family, left on the fringe, and wears a cheap rabbit skin hat, whereas the other ladies wear expensive headdresses. She is also painted unflatteringly, which Leslau suggests points to the artist taking a dislike to her for some reason. Her finger is pushed into the spine of a book – in French, ‘le doigt dans l’epine‘ can also mean ‘she keeps going on at him’, suggesting disharmony between John and Margaret. This is further supported by the lute behind her, pointing to her back, since ‘lutte‘ is French for ‘to fight’. The vase behind her, ‘vase d’election‘ (‘the chosen one’), is covered – ‘la vase est covert’ in courtly French means ‘the Chosen One is justified’, perhaps suggesting that Holbein believed John Clement to be in the right in whatever arguments they engaged in. Margaret’s book is blank, perhaps suggesting that they argue over nothing, or even that she is unaware of the secret of the painting, that she does not know who her husband really is. The placement of an untidy flower arrangement behind Margaret points to an untidy arrangement – perhaps her marriage to Clement – and includes purple peony, a flower with double significance which will be further examined shortly.

Although Leslau describes several other anomalies, some do not relate directly to the identity of John Clement and I am already conscious of the length of this blog. With much still to say, I am skipping some of these items. I will just point out the man at the far rear of the painting, apparently outside on a balcony. He is reading and has the short hair of a monk, though he is missing the tonsure, the shaved bald spot. ‘Hair is there‘, Leslau suggests, is a homophone for ‘Harris there‘. John Harris, More’s secretary, is included for good measure.

We may return now to the life of Dr John Clement and his age, which seems to offer some controversy and even support for Leslau’s theory. Clement’s identification as the ‘puer meus’ of Utopia led many to believe he was born around 1500. However, Leslau uncovered an entry in the register of enrolment at Louvain University from 13 January 1489 for ‘Johannes Clement’, marked ‘non juravit’ (‘not sworn’). Another entry in the Louvain register from January 1551 read ‘Joannes Clemens, medicine doctor, anglis, noblis (non juravit ex rationabili quandom et occulta sed tamen promisit se servaturum consueta)’. This could be translated as ‘The Lord John Clement, doctor of medicine, English, of noble birth (has not sworn the oath for a reasonable hidden cause, but has nevertheless promised to keep the customary oaths).’

These entries are 62 years apart. Could they refer to the same person? If so, Clement was clearly born before 1500. Interestingly, Richard, Duke of York was born in 1473, so would have been approaching his 16th birthday at the time of the first entry in 1489. This age would be consistent with the correct age for university enrolment at this time.

The second entry records John Clement as both a ‘Lord’ and as ‘of noble birth’. No noble Clement family existed in England at this time, so the entry is either wildly inaccurate or was made in the knowledge that John Clement was the assumed identity of an English nobleman. The bracketed note after the entry is also interesting. John Clement had not ‘sworn the oath’, as he had not in the 1489 entry, though this time a reason is offered; ‘for a reasonable hidden cause’. Leslau’s research discovered that such an explanation is unique between the periods 31st August 1485 and February 1569, a period during which 49,246 entries were made. If Clement was, indeed, using an assumed identity, then swearing the oath under a false name would have been perjury. The fact that the University may have lost its right to the privilegium tractus in such an event might explain the acceptance of the failure to swear, whilst simultaneously implying that the University was aware that Clement was living under an assumed identity, and doing so for an acceptable reason – at least implying no fraud.

Further weight is given to the theory that Clement was older than a birth date in 1500 would allow by an entry in the Letter and Papers of Henry VIII, 1, Part 2, Appendix, page 1550. This note refers to a set of challenges and answers for a feat of arms planned for Wednesday 1st June 1510. The list runs thus;

King – Lord Howard

King – John Clement

Knyvet – Earl of Essex

Knevet – Wm Courtenay

Howard – Sir John Audeley

Howard – Arthur Plantagenet

Brandon – Ralph Eggerton

Brandon – Chr Garneys

Of the ten participants (beside the king, Henry VIII), five (Lord Howard, Thomas Knyvet/Knevet, Henry Bourchier Earl of Essex, William Courtenay Earl of Devonshire and Arthur Plantagenet) were close relatives to the king either by blood or marriage. Additionally, Charles Brandon was probably Henry’s closest friend and would later become his brother in law and Duke of Suffolk. Leslau points to this as evidence that Clement could not possibly have been born in 1500, since he would only have been 10 years of age at the time. I would also add that it creates the significant possibility, if this set of challenges was filled with Henry’s closest friends and family, that Clement was amongst that elite set and that he held his position there because Henry knew who he really was. Was Clement’s true identity an open secret amongst Tudor England’s ruling class? At least in Henry VIII’s youth, while he brimmed with confidence.

In 1534, Clement appears to have imprisoned in Fleet Prison at the same time that More was incarcerated in the Tower. Perhaps not unusual for a family member who may have shared More’s views, but we can find John Dudley, later Duke of Northumberland, writing on 11th October 1534 to Thomas Cromwell commenting on Clement’s case. He writes;

farthermore as towchyng maistr Clements mattr I beseche your maistership not to gyve to much credens to some great men who peraventure wyll be intercessours of the matter and to make the best of it for Mr Clement by cause peraventure they theym selves be the greatest berers of it as by that tyme I have shewed you how whotly the sendying of Mr Clement to the flete was taken, by some that may chawnce you thinke to be your frende you wyll not a little marvayle

Dudley’s intercession is of interest because Leslau contends that Edward V survived as Sir Edward Guildford, who happens to be John Dudley’s father in law. Dudley is also clearly under the impression that “some great men” will take interest in Clement’s case.

Clement’s later life is also interesting, and some portions are relevant to this discussion. In 1549, as Edward VI’s Protestant rule became established, Clement and his wife quit England for Louvain. Although he returned during Queen Mary’s reign, Clement was unable to regain the extensive 180 book library he had lost when he left. The motive for this departure and return is not hard to discern. The Public Record Office in Chancery Lane holds an inventory of Clement’s Marshfoot house, showing property seized by Sir Anthony Wingfield with the approval of Sir William Cecil, the future Lord Burghley. The Chapel Chamber contained many Catholic artefacts, including “an awlter, a picture of our Lady, a picture of the V woundes” (the sign of the five wounds featured prominently as the badge of the popular uprising against Henry VIII, the Pilgrimage of Grace).

The Five Wounds

On the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, Clement left England for the last time in 1558. In March 1562, an entry appears in the Louvain register for “Dominus Joannes Clemens, nobilis, Anglus” and he appears for a final time in the register in 1568: “Dominus Joannes Clement in theologia“. In total, these entries span an incredible 79 years.

John Clement died on 1st July 1572, two years after his wife of some 40 years. In a final significant act, he was laid to rest near the high altar of St Rombout’s Cathedral in Mechelen, a spot traditionally reserved for members of the House of Burgundy, Margaret of York’s family by marriage. If he was Richard, Duke of York, he lived to the ripe, improbable, but not impossible age of 98.

So, we have a man who, by circumstantial evidence, appears to have been a nobleman living under the assumed identity of Dr John Clement and who may appear in a family portrait as a rightful heir of some kind. There is more that this painting can tell us yet.

When compared to the figure beside him, John appears to have very waxy, pale skin, whereas Henry Patterson (More’s fool) has a more natural tone. Leslau tells us that on two well known, well documented occasions, Holbein used the technique of waxy skin to show people at half their true age. This fits with the clock’s suggestion that time has been not only stopped, but also altered. John is marked as ‘Anno 27’. If this is in fact half his true age, he would be 54. Richard, Duke of York’s date of birth in 1473 would make him 54 in 1527, the year to which the portrait appears to refer.

John and Henry

I would add as my own observation that the figure of Henry Patterson, More’s fool, bears a striking resemblance to Henry VIII. He also appears to sport a red and white rose, separated, on the top of his hat. Henry also stands just below John in terms of height in the portrait. If the height is used to mark precedence, then the order would appear to be: A missing royal who has just died (Edward V), John (Richard, Duke of York), Henry (Henry VIII). This appears startlingly blatant to me, dangerous for both Holbein and More, particularly if Henry VIII knew who John Clement was, yet perhaps Henry was in on the joke?

Holbein's Henry VIII

Level with John’s head is a purple peony, a colour of this flower which apparently does not exist in nature. Purple is a colour denoting royalty, and Paion was the physician to the Greek gods in myth, and a nickname applied to doctors at this time. Hence, the purple peony, an impossible flower, marks a royal doctor. Clement was not made President of the College of Physicians until much later, so perhaps this refers instead to a doctor who is royal?

So, Leslau’s conclusions seem to run thus. The painting tells us that there are secrets hidden within it (the sideboard under the carpet). The figure of John represents Dr John Clement, a member of More’s household, husband to his adopted daughter and a person of significance. The household is in mourning for the recent (in 1527, at least) death of a royal. This death entitles John Clement to be addressed as the ‘rightful heir’. The flower selections within the painting are impossible, attracting attention, and point toward royalty, by using purple and gold and fleur-de-lys, and to medicine in the use of the peony. The clock tells us that time has been stopped, even altered, and that this is important, whilst also referencing the House of York. John is shown at half his real age, making him 54 in 1527, the precise age of Richard, Duke of York.

Though long, this is a pared down version of Leslau’s complete research.

Put simply, Leslau’s conclusion is that the painting contains code that tells us very clearly that Dr John Clement is the assumed identity of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, younger of the Princes in the Tower, and that both boys lived long into the reign of Henry VIII, the younger surviving until 1572 in the rule of Elizabeth I. It would also appear that the younger lived within the household and under the protection of Sir Thomas More and it is perhaps clear that Henry VIII knew of this fact.

Did this contribute to Henry’s growing paranoia and panic as he failed to produce a male heir, then seemed set to die when his only son was a young boy? Was knowledge of this secret the reason Henry could not allow More to live as a private citizen following his resignation as Lord Chancellor?

Or is all of this a mere flight of fancy, seeing things because one is looking for them rather than because they are really there? Could a prince live to be 98 years old keeping his existence a secret, even though plenty seemed to know?

I don’t know, but given that Richard III is frequently convicted of murder based upon no evidence at all, surely some potential positive evidence in this elusive case must be given due consideration. Of course, that the Princes survived cannot tell us by whose hand this was achieved. Richard III may have laid the foundations that became the arrangements for their incognito existences. It may have been a reaction to Richard III’s defeat at Bosworth. They may also still have been rescued from a plan by Richard to murder them. Some questions cannot be answered by this theory, but perhaps some can.

Do you see an answer here?

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.


Matt has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.


The Richard III Podcast and the Wars of the Roses Podcast can be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube


Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

Jack Leslau’s old website can still be accessed at http://www.holbeinartworks.org/


50 thoughts on “Leslau, Holbein, More and Clement

  1. Reblogged this on First Night History and commented:
    Matt lays out the theories of Jack Leslau regarding what Holbein’s painting of Thomas More’s family could be telling us about the Princes in the Tower. It is a riveting article and, to my mind, a theory that is highly plausible. You may think differently. It is a long post but I recommend reading it all.

  2. I’m really pleased that you have seen fit to keep this theory out there Matthew. What a shame Leslau died before he was able to extract the DNA from Clements’ skeletal remains in Mechelen. I wish an historian would take this up and complete Leslau’s work.

  3. I am really pleased that you have put this theory out there in such detail so much so that it seems to me that there must be something in this. A few months ago I accessed Jack Leslau ‘s site and tried to find out more, I didn,t know he had passed away, but I assumed as much. I too felt it a shame that he couldn’t access the skeletal remains in Mechelen, if the DNA matched Richard’s, what a find that would be. I have always been convinced that the Princes were not murdered in the Tower. I believe Richard made sure they were taken away to safety. There are many historical accounts of Richard ‘s care of his other nieces and nephews (accounts in the Harliean of payments for their welfare etc.) it would have been completely out of character to harm the Princes, I don’t think it would have even crossed his mind to harm them , far, far beneath him. And for those who would argue that they were a threat to him, lets be sensible, they were the number one threat to Henry Tudor not Richard

  4. Pity that Leslau’s theory has not been researched after his death and very glad you wrote this entry, Matthew. Maybe John Ashdown-Hill could be interested in taking this on knowing his excellent job into the RIchard III’s DNA sequence.

  5. Oh my, I remember reading about this theory back when I was at school in the nineties. I honestly can’t tell whether it is plausible, but it’s an absolute delight. It’s still a heap of fun, but, like others, my first thought now is for DNA testing. I wonder if there are any descendants lurking around who would be willing?

  6. I don’t believe Henry viii was in on it. It would have been a difficult secret to keep but this painting with all its secret signs demonstrates the lengths the artist went to to put the truth out there without incriminating himself or giving Clements away to any enemies

  7. Don’t you think that More’s “fool” bearing a striking resemblance to Henry 8 is actually telling us something ?

    1. I don’t know. That’s my observation and is outside Leslau’s own theory, but the resemblance of the person at the second highest point in the portrait is interesting, I think. Perhaps it suggests that Henry knew, supported by the register of Clement’s involvement in the 1510 lists, or perhaps even that Henry VIII is the fool for failing to see the truth. I really wish that I knew!

      1. I knew Jack well.. He taught me of his theory from the age of 11 and hoped I would continue his work. I found more rebuses and have a lot of private correspondence from him. He was a wonderful, errudite , imaginative father figure to me and i miss him terribly.He was also wily and he understood human nature and people’s iniquity and the thirst to tell truth to posterity even at great personal peril.
        As this painting would have remained in a private collection with limited peilople viewing it, Jack and I discussed ghat the resemblance to Henry, brave and cheeky as the rest if the daring secrets hekd within, was utterly plausible. The likeness and stance are too similar to be coincidental, the roses in the hat clearly identify Henry plus he’s the ONLY one in the oainting to dare to look directly at the viewer. I apologise for all these awful typos! Do get in touch if you want more info about Jack and his amazing theory. I was one of his protegees and feel ashamed i havd sat on all my knowkedge for so long! My excuse is motherhood as a lone parent although I have started to teach pupils at school about it again and live seeing tge sparkle come to ignite their imaginations just as it did mine as an 11 year old bilingual child ! Thank you for putting Jack’s theory so clearly. He would have been absoluyely delighted. And he had a super sense of humour himself!

  8. sorry pressed the wrong button! I meant to add that Henry 8 was a fool because he didn’t know of the survival of the two princes-rivals for his throne

  9. A well researched and explained post yet again Matt! I wasn’t aware of this theory, but having read your post, it has given me a lot of food for thought. As someone who does not believe the Princes lost their lives at the hands, or orders of Richard III I find this theory plausible.

    I do wonder if Henry VIII would have truly known, given his paranoia over those with links close to the throne, if he had no qualms executing Margaret of York, would the younger Richard be safe if Henry was aware of who he was. Though, it was to Tudor’s benefit if the Princes did live to not share that knowledge for their own security on the throne, and to cast the dye even further that Richard III was a black hearted villain – obviously integral if the Tudors were to be seen as the ‘saviors’.

    I have always found it dubious that a man as learned and intelligent as More would write what he did about Richard III – I mean it just repeats hearsay really. He doesn’t every present true facts.

    I’m especially skeptical about the remains found at the Tower as from what we do know about Richard III is that he was not a man who would do a job by half measures. Why would he have the two princes, his nephews, sons of the older brother he was so steadfastly loyal to firstly murdered, and secondly, have their remains buried within the Tower of London, the site of the ‘murder’? The Tower of London at that point was a royal residence and as such, was one that was constantly being remolded at various times – which would mean that eventually the remains would be found. In my opinion it would make much more sense to weight the bodies down and throw them in the Thames if you wanted to get rid of them. Or sneak the remains out for burial elsewhere.

    It especially annoys me that the discovery of two mystery coffins within Edward IV’s crypt at Windsor has gone ignored, especially as the coffin’s they originally identified them as being were found elsewhere, in a different crypt. I’m so, so curious about those mystery coffins.

    I’ve digressed… I like this theory. I like this theory a hell of a lot more than the twaddle that is force fed down people’s throats that Richard murdered his nephews.

    Great post once again Matt!

    Poppy Coburn

    1. Hi Poppy,

      Thank you reading, and for your kind words.

      I tend to agree that burial within the Tower would have been madness. Not impossible, but highly improbable.

      There is so much more to think about that I find it frustrating Richard’s guilt is expounded as the easy answer.

      I wondered about Henry VIII’s knowledge simply because he didn’t begin his rule as a paranoid tyrant. He was, in his early years as king, powerful, athletic and boundlessly confident. He surrounded himself with his mother’s family – his uncle Arthur perhaps most notably. Did this extend to his other uncle(s)? Could that explain Clement’s imprisonment when More fell and his flight abroad before Margaret Pole’s execution. Did he see the tide changing and escape in time?

      I don’t know, but these things warrant some consideration, I think.


  10. The portrait of John Clement looks very much like Richard III to me…..the name John’s meaning noble son…..could be referring to Richard III being the rightful heir perhaps….if TR was reversed then Edward V and Richard Duke of York would be the rightful heirs to the throne if they were still alive and the latter could have been John Clement perhaps. Really fascinating….in which case was Shakespeare in on the “secret” too?……x

    1. If you are meaning John of Gloucester Richard III ‘s illegitimate son, I believe he was executed by Henry VII after being kept in the Tower of London for many years.

  11. I stumbled upon this blog accidentally. The survival of the 2 princes is my preferred theory also. I look forward to following this and hope that someone will pick up on the DNA trail again one day. Thank you!!

  12. I too stumbled upon your fascinating blog looking for Jack Leslau. As a descendant of Thomas More I have always been perplexed by his writing about R111. The smokescreen theory would make sense & More could not have imagined Shakespeare would make use of it.
    I will now read your books & follow your excellent blog – in the wake of Wolf Hall it will be much appreciated!

    1. Thank you for reading the blog. I hope you’ll enjoy the books. More plays a larger part in the second book, Honour. Loyalty is more about Richard III. The idea captured my imagination and is plausible, however improbable. Please let me know what you think if you do read the books.

  13. I was a friend of Jack Leslau’s at the time he “read” the Holbein painting and for many years to follow. Such a shame his theory wasn’t proved in his lifetime. It is wonderful to know is ideas are still being discussed. Matt, you could contact me through my e address if you wished.

    1. Hi Margaret. I’ve been lucky enough to make contact with Mr Leslau’s sons and daughter via @Countrywives on Twitter know the family. The theory has fascinated me for years now and is the basis of both my novels, Loyalty and Honour. I will see if I can get your email address via this message.

  14. I’m glad you came back to this theory, I ready it several years ago and although risky, it seemed interesting for me. Holbein definitely used symbolic code in his paintings (like in ‘The Ambassadors’) and it’s worth to analyse it on a deeper levels. Thank you and greetings 🙂

  15. Long before i was aware of anything about Richard III, the Princes, or Holbein, I saw a reproduction of that painting. More’s Fool stood out like a set of photo shopped abs on a skinny middle school kid. To me, it was clearly Henry VIII. I now have some background and I find it addictive, enlightening, and provocative. Is there a descendant of either of the two “surviving Princes”?

    1. I believe John Clement had several children but I don’t know where those lines lead or if they are still running. The likeness to Henry VIII is striking and makes the fact that Clement’s head is at a higher point even more interesting.

      1. Edward Guildford (is he a candidate) fathered several children. I would like to send up a flare to the readers and see if anyone has done a family tree for either of the “brothers”.

      2. In answer to Randy’s query, I believe Dr. Ashdown-Hill is trying to trace Woodville DNA and possibly descendants, that’s going to be extremely helpful if it is possible.

  16. Thank you for this blog! I know it was written a while ago, but o just checked out the audiobook of The Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett.

    Will definitely be looking for your novels! The Princes in the Tower have always fascinated me because it would have been the height of folly for Richard III to have had them murdered. Have you also read The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. She started my meandering a through the War of the Roses. Again, thanks for laying it all out there as that particular portrait of More and his family has always grabbed my attention.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve found Leslau’s theory fascinating for years. I haven’t read Sunne in Splendour – when I started writing I decided not to read other Ricardian fiction so that I wouldn’t be influenced by it. If you get a chance to read Loyalty and maybe Honour it would be great to hear what you think of them.

  17. This is all so very fascinating. The picture is amazing. I do feel that everything fits except Clement’s age. He could not have lived to 98, in my humble opinion. Everything else, though ….Maybe there were two John Clement’s.

    The body language between John Clement and the Fool is very telling. Clement looks down sadly and reproachfully at the Fool, who stares out with arrogant confidence straight at the viewer.

    Also the “door” over Clement looks more like a throne. (Just to add my own thoughts to the analysis).

  18. Very interesting. I have been looking for info on this subject for a long time. I would like to know if John Clement had children and if so, if they grew up in Mechelen. I live 20 km from Mechelen. Maybe we are family.

    1. Hi Emile. Thank you for reading the post. The couple did have children but there seems to be no record of what happened to them. It seems likely that they were in Mechelen for at least some time. It would be amazing if you were related to John. Have you traced your family tree at all?

      1. We started last year and could trace back till 1622 when a Gerardus Clemens maried Christina Vraesers. Gerardus was a soldier. There it stops (so far). In the registers the name was spelled differently: Clemens, Clement, Clements, Clementis. This was due to the fact that the clergymen who registered the new borns wrote phonetically. From the 17th century on it was always Clemens. We will try to dig futher and keep you informed if something interesting comes up.

    2. Hi Emile/ Mat
      I am very interested in Emile’s comment and I can help her with his/ her question re the family of Doctor John Clement….. as you may know I am a member of the Richard lll Society actively involved in the TMPP Richard lll project working on/investigating Doctor John Clement.
      Can you possibly put me in touch with Emile or pass my contact details to him

  19. I knew Jack well.. He taught me of his theory from the age of 11 and hoped I would continue his work. I found more rebuses and have a lot of private correspondence from him. He was a wonderful, errudite , imaginative father figure to me and i miss him terribly.He was also wily and he understood human nature and people’s iniquity and the thirst to tell truth to posterity even at great peril

  20. It is very interesting that this almost two years old post started to be commented again now,when in connection with your present article I stopped keeping back what I had kept back for long.An answer to the problem of this article? The same.You can toy with a thousand theories,and it definitely interesting to investigate them,but the basic answer is that Richard should have never been -as you say–convicted with no evidence.This is the only case when the innocence has to be proved,not the guilt.This horror could only happen because he was the fallen hero,and human nature is just like it is described by Swift,in Gulliver’s Travels,Third Part.Most people side with power,no matter how immoral that power is.NO evidence against Richard,but overwhelming evidences against the Tudors.These are politely overlooked.No palpable evidence is needed to prove Richard’s innocence.If he had ordered the killing of his nephews,he would have been only similar to most politicians until the present day.But if he was a saint,it is even more outrageous what. was done to him.The role of the present monarchy isn’t edifying in connection with this subject either,as I mentioned in my other post. The establishment is behind all this.
    Shakespeare’s, Moore’s DELIBERATE misinterpretation, just to serve the establishment,these are the basic questions.Last year,we ‘spoke’ about researching more thoroughly Shakespeare’s age and theatre.But it didn’t work out,did it?

  21. I suggest every Ricardian to stop toying with unimportant, minor details,and focus on the great ones.By now,I am a100%sure that both Shakespeare AND More were partly deliberately misinterpreted to serve the monarchy and its institutions like the Anglican Church,that go. back to the Tudors.Some villains did it intentionally knowing that others would follow the trend not noticing the truth.All this will be in my new book and on my website.But the reasons why and how this happened are the basic questions. The present establishment doesn’t want the truth.But in an almost- democracy, like Britain,the barriers can be pushed a little further.Investigate,research these really basic questions,the establishment likes it or not.. More and Shakespeare were misinterpreted to hide very important truths.

  22. I love this theory and your breakdown of all the intricate pieces! I am also now picturing myself as a secret princess of York!

  23. Just came across this theory and must say it was a very interesting read I came across this article when looking up an ancestor. My family name now Clemett used to be Clement I have had my paternal haplogroup tested and as of yet haven’t matched to any other family including other Clement/Clements families. I wonder sometimes why my family name is so rare and where it came from. There is a story of Royal Blood in my family an ancestor came over to Devon from France, the farthest ancestor back I have managed to trace is a Stephan Clement who was residing in Frithelstock, Devon he died in Frithelstock in the year 1576. My haplogroup is R-Z8 which unfortunately I do not know much about other than it may have a germanic origin. It would be great if someone could research this further and Dr Clement’s DNA could be accessed and analysed I for you would be very interested in the results.

  24. Hello Matt,

    Have you read “The Ugly Renaissance” by Alexander Lee? He gives a really interesting narrative from the perspective of the artists involved and their station in life living in the shadows of those who commissioned the work. It is fascinating to consider the passive aggressive messages often put into paintings, statues, music, and other works of art (illuminated manuscripts are the best for this) throughout human history, but especially in the Renaissance era. We have romanticized the fact that artists even today are often expected to perform or provide a service for less than what the service is worth. We need only look at how hairdressers are often approached by family and friends for free haircuts 🤦‍♀️

    What we see as a beautiful piece of art or music, etc usually has many emotional as well as physical layers. For example anytime I hand-bind a book that I have made I use how I feel about the person that I am making it for. Those feelings come through, even down to whether the binding is Coptic or Japanese stitching and whether thread, twine, ribbon, or even yarn is used.

    Of course as we have seen artists can also be used to smear someone’s reputation and the artist may or may not really insert feelings into the work at all except the goal of pleasing the person who wanted the work done. Although I wonder if for the famous painting of Richard that the artist(s) worked on it so poorly so that people would know that it is a caricature and not actuality? In short a passive aggressive means towards the person who wanted it painted.

    I am just finished Loyalty and am reading Honor, I love how you have incorporated Leslau’s theory into your story.


    1. I haven’t read that book Colleen but it sounds fascinating. It’s well documented that artists hid messages all over the place, but how many we can be certain of, and if this is one of them, remains a mystery.

      1. Hi Matt,
        The book is fascinating. I came across the title as I was searching for something on the Medici’s a couple of years ago. I was stunned by the title because we tend to only look at the Renaissance as a positive and thought to myself “what could be ugly about the Renaissance?” Needless to say curiosity got me and I was drawn into a world of shady dealings, violence, and rather startling evidence that enlightenment didn’t necessarily mean equality for all and humane ideals.

  25. Matthew I met you at one of the Richard III events and asked you about the supposed link I had read about between Erasmus and Edward V – it would indeed be interesting if both the so called Princes in the Tower survived. Looking forward to the work being undertaken into the survival of the Princes being published at some time in the furure. Read Jack’s website many years ago and found it hard to follow, your explanation is great.

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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