Research uses space-age technology on 16th-century history

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Scientists from the Space Research Centre are working with an art historian to reveal secrets of the Tudor Reformation

Cutting-edge space science technology of the sort used to analyse moon rock is being applied to fragments of 16th-century tombs. Scientists from the Space Research Centre in Leicester are working with an art historian from the nearby university as well as academics from Oxford and Yale in a three-year project that hopes to shed new light on our understanding of the Tudor Reformation.

The tombs, at the parish church in Framlingham, are close to the family seat of the Howards, the extremely wealthy and powerful Dukes of Norfolk. But they were originally sited 40 miles away at Thetford Priory, traditional resting place of the Howards until Henry VIII had it dissolved in 1539. They were moved and reassembled some time in the 1540s while the third duke languished in the Tower of London. (Henry was becoming increasingly paranoid about the threat that he posed to his infant heir.) The reassembly process was flawed, however. Some different materials were used.

What appear to be fragments of the original tombs were unearthed at Thetford by archaeologists as long ago as 1934. But they languished in a warehouse for decades and came to light only recently, when Dr Simon Thurley took over as chief executive of English Heritage and asked all curators to find out what they had in store.

Leicester University art historian Dr Phillip Lindley was called in to investigate the fragments and was immediately fascinated – not just by the quality of the artwork by French sculptors, but also by the possibilities that arose of re-thinking parts of Tudor history. "We're trying to relate what happened to the monuments to what happened to the number one power family of the day," he says....

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