The Skull of Lord Darnley1


IN the year 1869 Mr. J. W. Belt presented to the Royal College of Surgeons a skull—minus a mandible—and a thigh bone, believed by the donor to be those of Lord Darnley. He had obtained them from Mr. Grimshaw, a dealer, who had bought them four years earlier at a sale by Messrs. Sotheby and Co. of certain effects belonging to the Hon. Archibald Fraser of Lovat. The Conservator of the Museum, looking the gift horse in the mouth, entered the bones in the Museum catalogue, with the remark that “the internal evidence afforded by both bones conclusively negatives their authenticity. Darnley at the time of his death in 1567 was about 22 years old, and the bones are those of a man considerably more advanced in life and of great muscular development. The almost complete absence of frontal elevation, which is one of the most striking features in the skull, finds no corroboration in any of the known portraits and descriptions of the young Earl, and the femur could not be that of a person invariably described as ‘tall’ or ‘long,’ as calculating at the usual ratio of 27-5 to 100 it would give a height of only 5 feet 2-2 inches. So adverse a decision would be sufficient to deter most from further inquiry, but not Prof. Karl Pearson, who has attempted, with what success we shall see, to establish the authenticity of the more important of the relics, namely, the skull.


  1. 1

    Biometrika: a Journal for the Statistical Study of Biological Problems. Edited by Karl Pearson, assisted by Egon S. Pearson. Vol. 20 B, Part 1, July. Pp. 104 + 46 plates. (London: Biometric Laboratory, University College, 1928.) 21s. 6d. net.

  2. 2

    "Guide to Buxton, the Peak, Dovedale, etc." (London: Ward, Lock and Co.)

  3. 3

    "Saint Albans" (Bell's Cathedral Series).

  4. 4

    British Medical Journal, Sept. 8, 1928.

  5. 5

    British Medical Journal, Sept. 15, 1928.

  6. 6

    Lancet, 1908.

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WRIGHT, W. The Skull of Lord Darnley1. Nature 123, 20–23 (1929).

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