What If Richard III Did It?

What if we suppose that King Richard III did, in fact, order the killing of his nephews, Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. Let us suspend arguments about his previous character and the events that surrounded him in 1483 and presume him guilty of the killing of the Princes in the Tower. Controversial, I know, but since no one can currently prove him guilty or innocent, the argument is moot. It makes for fascinating debates and it never ceases to amaze me the passions it rouses, but without the sudden discovery of a lost cache of documents or perhaps Richard III’s diary (imagine the questions that might answer!), we will never be able to shed any more light on this mystery than has kept it gloomily illuminated for over 500 years.

The Princes in the Tower
The Princes in the Tower

This impasse provides an opportunity that I think receives less examination than it merits. If we were to presume that King Richard III had the boys killed, can his actions be justified? Clearly, by modern standards, no. But this did not take place in modern times. By the standards of his time, can any justification be offered if Richard III did order their deaths? If so, it takes some of the heat out of the debate about whether he did it or not.

The first thing to mention is that there is no evidence that medieval people would have been any less repulsed by the killing of children than we are now. Murder was still murder. It was a crime. Children were just as precious to our ancestors as they are to us. Richard III’s time was more brutal and death more common place perhaps but the murder of children was no less revolting then than it is now. By this measure, there can never be any excuse for Richard if he killed the Princes in the Tower in 1483, aged 12 and 9 (or 10, depending upon when it happened).

These were not, however, ordinary children. They were political beings. In this period of English history, ravaged by war and rivalries, this alters the landscape a little. Can this help to explain King Richard’s ‘actions’? It cannot be doubted that recent history would have warned Richard against allowing a child to sit upon the throne. Edward III’s grandson Richard II had ascended to the throne aged 10 in 1377. His father, the Black Prince, had died the year before Edward III and Richard’s powerful uncles, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester and Edmund of Langley, Duke of York were apparently not trusted. A regency was avoided and a system of continual councils put in place to assist the king during his minority. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 saw the 14 year old Richard emerge onto the political stage for the first time. He agreed terms with the rebels only to go back on his word and hunt them down. The harsh response was initially applauded by his nobles but it set a precedent that would see Richard descend into a period of tyranny, surrounded by unpopular advisors until, in 1399, he was relieved of his crown by his cousin, Henry Bollingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, who became King Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king. In 1400, amid plots to restore Richard, he was killed, possibly starved to death in his prison at Pontefract Castle. He could not be allowed to continue to live.

King Richard II
King Richard II

Henry IV’s own grandson was to provide the next lesson at the expense of the peace of a nation. Henry IV’s son, the mighty Henry V of Agincourt renown, died on campaign in 1422 aged 35, leaving his nine month old son, Henry VI, to take the throne amid raging wars in France. This time, with the prospect of well over a decade of royal minority, the new king’s uncles were vital to his security. John, Duke of Bedford acted as regent of France and
oversaw the wars there with some success, eventually defeating Joan of Arc and halting French resurgence. In England, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester acted as his nephew’s Protector. Henry VI was declared of age in 1437. In 1441 Humphrey’s wife was arrested for sorcery and he was forced to retire from public life. In 1447 he was himself arrested and died in prison 3 days later. He may have suffered a stroke but there were whispered rumours that he had been poisoned.

Henry VI’s rule was to see the loss of all English territory in France apart from Calais and the eruption of the divisive and brutal Wars of the Roses. He surrounded himself with advisors that proved deeply unpopular and grew to be a weak and ineffectual king. Edward IV took his crown for the House of York and despite a brief reclaiming of his throne, once Henry’s only son was dead, Henry himself had met his end within the Tower of London. His continued existence could also no longer be tolerated.

If Richard sought a lesson from this period, it was that pretty clear.

Child kings did not bode well, not least for Protectors who were Dukes of Gloucester…..

When we look at Richard’s conduct in 1483, it must be against the backdrop of these events and all that they meant for England, because that is the only way in which Richard could have viewed them. The country had seen two changes in the ruling family in less than a century, both brought about by the failings of kings who had come to the throne as children. A third such event was potentially imminent and it was Richard’s family who stood to lose everything. No one could really be sure where a threat might come from. The Tudor family in exile, other vestiges of Lancastrian blood in Portugal or Spain. Louis XI, the Spider King, still ruled in France and may chose to seize upon any weakness he spied across the channel.

Personally, Richard’s position was precarious too. Edward IV had entailed his Neville inheritance, acquired through his wife Anne Neville, to male issue of the body of George Neville, Duke of Bedford. George had been disinherited to make way for Richard and this was meant as a mechanism for his protection. If the line failed, Richard’s interests would revert to life interests in the lands and titles so that he would be significantly weakened and his son would have no inheritance. Having spent so long so far north, Richard barely knew his nephew. He had been appointed Protector of the Realm for a boy he did not know and who did not know him. All of young Edward V’s ties and bonds were to his mother’s family who had raised him at Ludlow Castle. There is no real record of conflict between Richard and the Woodville’s before the summer of 1483 but their hold over the new king would have been a cause for concern to Richard if he was to act as Protector. Edward IV’s Chamberlain Lord Hastings had sent word to Richard even before he left the north that Elizabeth Woodville was planning to have her son crowned quickly in order to exclude Richard. Elizabeth’s son from her first marriage, Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, was supposedly boasting that their family could rule without Richard, such was their grasp on power. What was he supposed to make of this situation?

Shortly after his arrival in London, word reached Richard that George Neville had died aged 22 without issue. His personal power base was significantly weakened at precisely the time he would need it the most. How could he act as Protector from a position of weakness? The next issue to rear its head was the legitimacy of Edward V. This was either a genuine concern that was allowed to reach Richard’s ear because of the death of Edward IV, or Richard concocted the story that his brother was already married when he secretly wed Elizabeth Woodville. Either way, the outcome was the same; Richard claimed the throne for himself. This was either an act of duty, of self-preserving or of self-advancement. That is a debate that will rage on too, but the purposes of this discussion it is not important. Even the latter views, though, perhaps becomes a little more understandable.

King Richard III
King Richard III

The reality is that Richard was no longer Duke of Gloucester. He was now King Richard III. What had recent history taught him about this position? The greatest danger to him now was a rival. What sat within the royal apartments of the Tower of London? Two rivals. How must they be dealt with? Only one option was available. The one taken be Henry IV and by Richard’s own brother, Edward IV. If he allowed the boys to survive, they would always be a source of unrest and rebellion, a focus for disaffection and an opportunity for opposition to his rule. Richard’s personal security was now tied up with that of the country. Any threat to him was a threat to the national stability for which he was now responsible and vice versa. Any such threat must be dealt with. There was only one way to deal once and for all with this issue. If this was what Richard came to believe, then he was to be proven right when, at the end of the summer of 1483, there were reports of an attempt to free the boys and then the Duke of Buckingham rebelled, initially on the pretence of returning Edward V to the throne.

Is the peace and stability of a nation worth the lives of two princes?

Can such a sacrifice be measured?

Probably not, but in Richard’s world, it was kill or be killed.

The Wars of the Roses erupted when he was 3 years old. He knew no other world and perhaps saw this as a justifiable sacrifice to secure a lasting peace. A means to an end, an end that may, given time, justify those terrible means. He was not to be given that time and so many truths are lost to history, clouded in myth and legend, that all that is left is supposition fuelled by passion.

So, if Richard III did order the deaths of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, should he have been demonised for 500 years on the basis of that one act? Was it so far beyond the pale that it cannot be deemed necessary or acceptable in the context of the times, even if we cannot condone such an act today? It is true that are no real parallels to draw with it, but there are a few near contemporary instances that bear examination.

When Henry VII took the throne after Bosworth in 1485 there was a claimant of the male line of the House of York still alive. Edward, Earl of Warwick was the son of George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV and Richard III. He was 10 years old in 1485. As the prime threat to Henry he was placed in the Tower of London where he was kept, without trial or opportunity for release, until 1499 when he was implicated in an alleged plot with Perkin Warbeck to escape his prison. At his trial, he pleaded guilty and he was executed. It has been suggested that Warwick was framed to create a pretence for his execution as part of Henry VII’s negotiations to marry his son Arthur to Catherine of Aragon because her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, would not tolerate the continued existence of one who possessed a better claim to the throne than Arthur and who was a real and viable potential source of opposition. Henry effectively kept Warwick imprisoned from the age of 10 only to execute him when he was 24. He never had any hope. He was kept as a fatted calf and offered in sacrifice for the security of the Tudor dynasty. Is that really any worse than the colder but more pragmatic approach of killing him immediately?

George’s other child, Margaret, survived into the reign of Henry VIII. She was married to a Tudor loyalist and had several children who eventually came to be viewed as a threat to Henry VIII. In 1539 her son Henry was executed and Margaret was imprisoned. In 1541 she too was executed at the age of 67, her inexperienced executioner taking eleven blows in total to kill her. This is viewed as a low point of Henry VIII rule. He was probably concerned at his own failing health and his son’s young age and was seeking to eradicate any potential threat. Does this justify the execution of an elderly lady on very flimsy evidence?

In Ecclesiastes 10:16, Solomon offers the lament “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!” Whilst this is probably not meant to speak to the age of the ruler but rather their approach, ability and outlook, and the advisors with which they surround themselves, the message applies to this situation. Child kings before had fallen foul of unpopular advisors – Richard II had Robert de Vere, Henry VI relied on William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk and then successive Beaufort Dukes of Somerset. Was this the likely road down which Edward V would have taken the country, ruled by his jealously sneered upon Woodville relatives? And what of Richard once his duties as Protector had been discharged? Was he to be consigned to the political wilderness with no influence and no inheritance to leave for his son? History cautioned him that once he was no longer needed, a king, possibly falling back under the influence of his mother, would struggle to tolerate the continued existence of a man who had once exercised kingly power.

So I would ask the question again. Assuming that Richard III did in fact order the deaths of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the Princes in the Tower, can the act be excused or accepted as a necessary evil?

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’s 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.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.


The Murder of The Princes in the Tower
The Murder of The Princes in the Tower

33 thoughts on “What If Richard III Did It?

  1. I don’t believe that Richard had the boys murdered…..it does not make sense. Tudor had the greatest reason to do it. If Richard had done it, what could have been the motive? I believe he was a loyal person and loved his brother. If the boys were proven illegitimate there would be no need to kill them. If it was proven otherwise and Richard became power hungry then maybe but I dont think that was his character…………in that day and age a person did what had to be done for their own advancement. I think he could have done it if he found it necessary for the countries peace.Especially coming at that time after all the wars so…………..if he believed that there would never be peace while they lived I think he could have had it done, a necessary evil. I just dont feel that is what happened though. It was so much more a Tudor trait and Henry had much more to fear and to loose than Richard did..

    1. Thank you for your comment. I don’t happen to believe that he killed them, though it’s impossible to prove one way or another.

      I was really just wondering why this crime stands out so clearly from the wife range of crimes committed throughout this period. If they can be rationalised and justified, perhaps this can too. Edmund Tudor was 24 when he got a 12 year old Margaret Beaufort pregnant. Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI were all supposedly murdered.

    2. I’m satisfied that Richard is the most likely suspect (ordering their deaths, not actually doing it himself). They vanished on his watch and no one elses. To say that Henry VII had the most to gain from their disappearance and death is strange. It didn’t actually help him at all. To bump himself to the top of the monarchial list, he would have had to go on a veritable killing spree: taking out Richard and all his heirs (included, in 1483, Edward of Middleham and the entire de la Pole clan, among others). Sorry, but Margaret Beaufort (ever Ricardians favourite scapegoat) just didn’t have the firepower for this massacre they all blame her for.

      If we look at the way Richard was behaving in the run-up to the usurpation, too, it’s pretty dubious looking. The illegal execution (or, murder for want of a better word) of William Hastings; the judicial killings of Anthony Woodville, Thomas Vaughn and Richard Grey. It all points to a determined bid to usurp Edward V’s throne. The boys, no matter how many times he declared them illegitimate, would always be a threat to him. Sending them into exile (another lofty dream of Ricardians) would be folly in the extreme. Richard wasn’t an idiot.

      If you want to argue that the boys had been kept in the Tower alive and in top secret, only to be killed by Henry later; then that also is flawed. Everyone already believed them dead, he was King by right of Conquest, had been declared King by all the right people (and parliament) and was quickly settled into that role. If, by chance, he nipped into the Tower and found the boys alive then what did it matter? Sorry, but no matter how one wants to whitewash Richard III, it never, ever makes practical sense.

      1. I think it is hard to move away from him as the prime suspect for the reasons that you very clearly state. That’s why I wondered whether the debate could be moved to looking at (in context) how bad it really was. Why is he still so demonised 500 years on for one unproven act? I suspect though that it will always come back to them being children, if he did do it.

      2. It’s hard to move away from Richard as the prime suspect because he IS the prime suspect. No one else had means, motive and opportunity as he did. Also, I have heard these attempts at justifying Richard’s probably actions many times: “saving England from a child king…” “evil Woodvilles….” blah, blah, blah. Have you ever studied the international reaction to Richard’s usurpation? It’s quite revealing and cannot be brushed off as simple propaganda. It shows out horrified these “brutal” people were.

      3. If there were no other suspects and no other explanations we wouldn’t be able to have a debate on this subject, one that has lasted for over 500 years. The Duke of Buckingham had both motive and means, either because he was already in contact with the Tudor party or because he hoped to snatch the throne in the fall out from a Tudor invasion. After all, who would have expected Henry to succeed? Buckingham could watch them take chunks out of each other and finish off the victor.

        Thomas Stanley had plenty of means too. As Lord High Constable, he effectively had a set of keys to the Tower, he was married to Henry’s mother and could mull over the prospect of being the step-father to the new king. Margaret had plenty to gain by egging him on, or using him to gain access to the boys for herself.

        This also ignores the potential survival of the boys beyond the summer of 1483, which simply cannot be ignored.

        My real question is why this crime is so singled out amid all of the political murders and judicial killings that had gone before. I accept in my blog that these were children and that is probably the real reason it is so raw even after so long but it is a legitimate question to ask. It is healthy to debate the possibilities and look for justification, even if it only existed in Richard’s mind. I don’t think it is very healthy to slam doors and claim that there is only one answer.

        As to foreign reaction, Louis wrote to Richard on hearing of his usurpation: “My lord and cousin, – I have seen the letters that you have written to me by your herald Blanc Sanglier, and thank you for the news of which you have apprised me. And if I can do you any service I will do it with very good will, for I desire to have your friendship. And farewell, my lord and cousin. Written at Montilz lez Tours, the 21st day of July.” Hardly a threatening condemnation. Louis probably feared renewed aggression from England under Richard and was put on his guard. Charles VIII welcomed Henry Tudor to his court as the legitimate and natural son and heir to Henry VI, which was a blatant lie aimed at destabilising Richard, and I doubt that he did it out of a sense of outrage at the way Richard took the throne. The French Parliament may have condemned Richard but I suspect it had more to do with fear of hostility, especially following his part in Edward IV’s invasion and the negotiations at Picquigny.

        We can never know the truth, but I would be concerned if we were not permitted to discuss the possibilities.

      4. Stanley’s role as Lord High Constable was purely ceremonial. He couldn’t do anything in the Tower without Brackenbury’s knowing about (and Brackenbury was a Richard loyalist to the very end), and probably even Richard himself. As for international reaction, there was a lot more at variance with that. All the way over in Danzig, they were talking about how Richard had disposed of his nephews. And, contrary to what many say, the people were horrified by the possible murder of two children – Mancini tells us that much. I know Mancini spoke little English (something Ricardians love to pounce on), but he did speak Latin (as well as other key languages used in trade). We cannot dismiss his testament out of hand. As for Buckingham, he seems to have known something. His rebellion was initially to restore Edward V and that swiftly changed to supporting Henry Tudor. He must have discovered their deaths – but, one can only speculate.

        Of course discussing the possibilities is great. I will never say, categorically, that Richard definitely did it. I just don’t know. But, I’m relatively satisfied that he ordered their deaths (I don’t for one moment think he physically did the deed himself).

        But, if he did, then there’s a lot more to him than that. The Council of the North and the College of Arms were genuinely great idea. As were the bail reforms etc. But, even with all that, he was no saint. Making him out to be whiter than white is just as much propaganda as any of Shakespeare’s efforts. Sorry, but it is.

      5. I don’t think there was wide spread outrage. Most of what was recorded by contemporary chronicles reports only rumour of the boys being done away with and even then they couldn’t agree on who was to blame, some accusing Buckingham. Even Sir Thomas More could not bring himself to categorically blame Richard, reporting only rumours and what ‘men say’. He even tells how one of the men believed to have murdered the Princes was still alive and at liberty in London! An odd fate for a known regicide. People in Danzig were unlikely to know better than those in London.

        Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI were murdered in prison after loosing their crowns. All I am trying to say is that Edward V was one in a series of unpleasant deeds yet it stands out among them. The question I was trying to ask was whether it was really any worse or whether Richard’s lack of time to make amends alongside Tudor need to blacken his name to justify invading meant that it was made to stand out for a purpose, if he did it.

        Their survival makes every bit as much sense as their murder by Richard. It explains why no recorded masses were said for their souls, even after Richard’s death, why no search was made for their bodies, no explicit public declaration if Richard’s ‘crime’ was ever made, why Henry VII feared pretenders he couldn’t be sure weren’t genuine, why Elizabeth of York was prevented from meeting Perkin Warbeck.

        Buckingham’s motives must be questioned every bit as much as Richard’s or anyone else’s. He may have discovered the boys had been killed but he may have wanted the throne all along or could have been turned to Tudor’s cause.

        I never try to paint Richard as a saint. Who is? He was a man of his times, created and fired in the furnace of the Wars of the Roses. He did good things but plenty of bad too – Countess of Oxford, Hastings etc. Contemporary opposition, at home and abroad, must be measured in its context (in both international terms and their own domestic situations), just as opposition to Henry VII grew from foreign rulers who owed him vast sums of money or wished to destabilise him. He murdered several to keep hold of his crown. Is that any better than Richard?

      6. The fact that rumour reached European courts only proves that news travelled it does nothing to affirm that Richard was responsible for their murders or that they were really dead. What it did do was help Tudor’s cause in gathering financial backing and mercenary troops for his planned invasion and open the way for a marriage with their sister. So it was very much in Tudor’s interest to circulate these rumours and I would be very interested to know what precisely Bishop Morton was doing during that period of time when he had fled England after his visit with Buckingham and was known to be acting as a Tudor agent. I think he played a far greater part in propelling Tudor to power and in incriminating Richard than has been acknowledged. Tudor certainly rewarded him very well for services rendered. It was after Morton’s stay with Buckingham that he changed his position from supporting Edward V to Tudor. Why would that have been? Most logically because Morton informed him that the Princes were dead. How could Morton know this? Well the inevitable conclusion is either that he had a hand in their demise or that he was in contact with someone who knew what happened to them or was an agent for Margaret Beaufort/ Stanley who had arranged for them to disappear. Morton certainly seems to have been very well informed about who killed them, how and what happened to the bodies if he provided the substance of Sir Thomas More’s account. It does seem most likely that More got his story from Morton as he served as a page and protégé in Morton’s household and based his account of Richard’s reign on Morton’s earlier written history of Richard III. It has been suggested that More interviewed people living in the precincts of the Tower – many years after the alleged crime – and got his information from them but this hardly seems plausible given the elapse of time and the very specific details such as the boys being placed in a chest and buried 10 feet down under rubble etc…This sounds like eye witness or first hand evidence from someone who was present at the murder or had been told exactly what happened by the murderers at the time of the murder. Morton was the contemporary link in More’s chain of sources. Morton was working for Tudor and Morton was the one person who fled the country at the time they disappeared from sight. Morton seems to have had a personal grudge against Richard and was also the eye witness for the Council chamber account that turned Richard into the psychotic murderer of Hastings. Personally I do not think that Richard was the prime suspect at all because he stood to lose more than he would ever have gained by killing his brother’s children. He was already king, they were declared illegitimate, he didn’t kill Warwick’s son, they stood between Henry Tudor and his ambitions, killing them would alienate Yorkist support, killing them and not showing the bodies would lead to rebellion and pretenders and make their sister a powerful dynastic pawn when he didn’t yet have hold of her as she was still in sanctuary. None of that would make any sense when he could easily have passed off their deaths as natural and sat out the suspicion. It was against all his previous behaviour, in fact totally at odds with the picture we have of him up to 1483. I just don’t buy any of it.

      7. So typical a response from a Ricardian the plea to emotion-He could not have done it because he was such a good and loyal person. Even if he did do it he thought it was in the greater good- because he was such a good person- and that exonerates him- because he was such a a good person!

        Come on! Virtually every criminal act in human history has been justified as being ‘in the common good’. The Holocaust was sold to the German people as being ‘in the common good’- and many believed that it was so.

        Furthermore, it is hypocritical in the extreme. We are prepared to give Richard slack, and ‘understanding’ for judicial murder, because he was ‘protecting himself’- yet the moment Henry Tudor moved against someone, its because he was evil. In the name of exonerating the Holy St Richard, it becomes permissable to vilify any chosen bogey.

        Misshannah makes a good case on this matter. What he did was in no way ‘out of character’. He had already killed two loyal Yorkists- Hastings and Vaughan. Why don’t we examine their character and record. Was plotting to murder a member of the Yorkist royal family in their character? If not, why did they try? Was the charge false, trumped up to get them out of the way? If not, why were they prepared to risk so much to keep the Princes out of Richard’s power. After all, the boys father clearly trusted them. He did not appoint Richard their gaurdian. We must assume many people guilty without evidence to exonerate Richard.

        The late Charles Ross made a good case, that the one and only reason why Hastings would have gone against Richard was if he feared what Richard was going to do.

        Then lets examine Henry Tudor. ‘He had motive= they were in his way!’ he Ricardians always yell. Again, as Hannah says, so were most of the rest of Richard’s family. Killing the Princes would not have made Tudor King. He would still have had to kill Richard, and his son for good measure. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find any examples in history of claimants to the throne who thought the best way to get that throne was to kill the deposed heirs of the former King. It makes no sense at all.

        Then lets look at the status of Henry Tudor before 1483. Why would any self-respecting assassin or contract killer been prepared to murder the heirs of the former King of England at the behest of a Welsh nobody whom the present incumbent was trying to get extradited in order to kill him? Why do it for someone who could be dead within weeks- and who might not be able to deliver on any promises of power or money?

        As for the claim ‘Lord Stanley did it!’ I will plead common sense.. If someone dies or disappears from a prison- who is the first person who falls under suspicion. The guards, closely followed by the people in charge.
        Let us say, hypothetically that Stanley did have the influence and power to kill someone in the Tower without the King or other officials knowing (and Hannah has shown this is highly unlikely), and it was done. Are we to seriously believe nobody would suspect the Constable had anything to do with it? Margaret Beaufort was as good as under House Arrest. Are we really suppsed to believe Richard was not having her monitered?

        This as I see it is the fundamenal weakness of the Stanley/Beaufort theory. If their guilt is supposedly so obvious, how did they get away with it? Are we suppposed to believe 15th century people were so idiotic that could not see the plainly obvious? If there was reason to suspect anyone other that Richard, why did he not denounce them or have them arrested. It would have served his purposes. It would have worked in his favour.

        We must also look towards previous records here. Ricadians say ‘Margaret Beaufort did it because she wanted her son to be King!’ The same difficulty still stands. She would have to have had to kill more than two people to clear his way to the Throne- or she would have to have known he would beat Richard at Bosworth. Furthermore, look at her previous life and career- except for an attempt to break the Princes out of the Tower, is there any evidence she had got involved in such skuldiggery before? Was she a natural schemer. In fact, some historians and biograpraphers of Margaret have made a good case that it was more in her interests for the Princes to remain alive, and for Edward V to be crowned. Then her son could be son-in-law of the King, an insider. (There is evidence of a marriage being considered before the death of Edward IV).

  2. The only way I can believe he did it is to believe he embraced the dark side and wanted power at all costs – a heady mix for a 4th son who had no chances! The pointers he may have done so is his treatment of Rivers etc and Hastings.
    But I think survival makes more sense and fits when you look at behaviour of Eliz Woodville, Marg of York, HRE Maximilian and Will Stanley.
    Have you seen this fascinating essay on Edward V being Lambert Simnel? It seems to make sense to me. Having made the mistake of putting 1st prince in the firing line they used a pretender for the 2nd attempt. What are your thoughts on this?

    Click to access essay_simnel_dublin.pdf

    1. I haven’t read that but will take a look, thank you. Theories like this fascinate me because they can be made to fit the known facts well. There are so many gaps that it become easy to fill them in any way you might like.

    2. Excepting of course that Lambert Simnel changed his story- claiming to be Edward V and then Edward Earl of Warwick. Sounds as though even he wasn’t sure— and then of course there was the small fact that Henry Tudor spared him. Hardly the actions we are led to expect by Ricardians……..

  3. I can see what you are saying Matthew, but Richard had Tituluis Regis didn’t he? Henry Tudor had nothing apart from a VERY ambitious mother. Surely, what would be the point in Richard doing away with the boys and then publicly displaying the bodies…. children were dying all of the time from illness etc in those days….. he could have said they had died of the sweating sickness etc… Richard just didn’t say anything…. no denial, no excuse for their disappearance – nothing. The rumours that they had died were started on the Continent especially in France where Tudor was – and the French King who, I believe, was no fan of Richard’s. About the same time, Richard entrusted Tyrell with a very secret mission….. I think that they were spirited away – possibly to Burgundy and his sister – and I do think Perkin Warbeck was Richard of Shrewsbury. Did you ever hear of Jack Lesleau [?] and his theory that Hans Holbein had shown him in a painting of Thomas More’s family as he was taken in by More? Horace Walpole says in his ”Historic Doubts…..” that Richard intended to reign until Edward V was about 25 and then hand over to him and in a private letter which Richard wro.te, dated very close to when Richard was crowned King he was still referring to Edward as ‘Edward V” …..
    Apart from anything else, IF Richard had had the boys killed – he most certainly would have had them decently buried and definitely not left at the bottom of stairs… so I do NOT believe those bones in the Urn are ‘the boys’.

    1. This is the whole enthralling core of the mystery isn’t it? Nothing makes complete sense. Facts do not add up to anything conclusive, so we are able to speculate in the gaps left in a way not allowed to is by other historical events.

      Leslau fascinates me. The more you read his theory the more it makes sense until you find yourself willing it to be true, which is dangerous when seeking the truth. It has an air of The Da Vinci Code about it.

    1. Titulus Regius was just an act of Parliament. It could be over-turned at the drop of a hat and, er, it was. By Henry Tudor. Princes and Princess re-legitimised on a whim.Henry Tudor had also won the crown by conquest, so there you go.

      1. Henry had won the crown by right of conquest, though he was keen to avoid saying so. He wanted to present himself as a correction, a return to Lancastrian rule. That Titulus Regius existed, or was overturned, or was ever true or not is less relevant than the fact that it reveals the deep uncertainties that abounded at the time. Children could be made legitimate or illegitimate to suit whoever held power. Henry’s support came from vestiges of Lancastrian loyalty and Edwardian support attached to his intended bride. None of his power base or security was actually his own (which in fact only makes it all the more impressive that he held on to the throne).

  4. What about Anne Neville, daughter of an ambitious father, who must have blamed the Woodvilles for his fall, whom she may have blamed for her sisters death (if she believed Clarences’ accusations) and her brother in laws’ end. She had been princess of Wales once, and was the mother of a boy who might lose all if history repeated itself…

  5. What makes no sense from an historical point of view is for Richard to have killed the princes and not exhibited their bodies. It would have been simplicity itself for him to do so, and to have issued a public announcement that they had died of a fever or another of the childhood diseases so common to that era.

    It was customary in that age for a ruler to exhibit the bodies of his enemies to prevent any rumors of their survival. Two examples come to mind: Richard’s brother Edward IV exhibited the Earl of Warwick’s body – along with that of the earl’s brother Montagu — in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral after they died in the battle at Barnet. Edward did the same with Henry VI after he died in the Tower (likely at Edward’s order as only a king could order the execution of another king in that age).

    I’ve always thought that either Richard had the boys spirited over to Flanders to live under the protection of his sister Margaret, or someone else (Buckingham? Margaret Beaufort?) killed the boys and Richard (along with the rest of us) never knew what happened to their bodies.

    His failure to display them when doing so would have solved a multitude of problems makes absolutely no sense. Richard would have had to have been stupid to do so. No one has ever accused him of being a stupid man.

    There’s also the fact that 26 heirs to the throne were left alive when Richard died at Bosworth. Why in the world would he kill two heirs and leave the rest alive? Henry VII executed most of them; the few he left untouched, Henry VIII dispatched.

    Even Henry VII’s behavior after Bosworth — his searching the Tower for them, his watching over his shoulder constantly and worrying about pretenders to come and try to take his throne from him, his execution of the majority of the Yorkist heirs who were left after Richard’s death — it all seems seems to indicate Henry didn’t know if they were alive or dead — and he was married to their sister and initially made peace with their mother (never mind he threw her into a nunnery after the Lambert Simnel rebellion, claiming she’d been too friendly with Richard).

    There are also claims that the princes’ mother Elizabeth Woodville supported the Simnel rebellion…so if their sister and their mother never accused Richard of killing her children (either before he was alive or after he was dead)….

    All the evidence supports their disappearance. None of the evidence supports their murder. It’s all hearsay and Tudor propaganda. But still fun to debate, yeah.

    1. This is all very true. The absence of any recorded masses said for the boys’ souls is also very telling. If they had been killed by someone else (or by Richard, who sought to blame another) why not display the bodies, a portion blame and have masses said for them? Their mother came to terms with Richard but still no masses are recorded to speed them through purgatory. How could Elizabeth Woodville accept this?

      Saying masses for the souls of those who were still alive was tantamount to wishing them dead and would not have been done. The absences of masses, even after Richard’s fall, points to their continued survival, or at the very least that no one knew that they were dead with any certainty.

  6. Excellent article, really enjoyed reading it. Not all child kings were an utter disaster, Henry III managed OK, retained his crown and provided a strong successor, and Edward III surrounded himself with extraordinary people and once he rid himself of Mortimer (and able to rid himself of Mortimer) he was a brilliant king. Pity it all gets a bit muddy after him and his successors, all of them, were terrible. If only Lionel had survived…

  7. Leslau’s theory does now seem to be gathering more supporters and for good reasons. It is difficult to believe but, so far, its even more difficult to disprove. It ticks most of the boxes and Leslau was still hoping to obtain the dna evidence that would prove the Princes were alive under aliases and protected by the Tudors. Hopefully his evidential work will be continued, if it hasn’t already, as the possibility of proving the fate of the Princes could still exist.

  8. I find it very hard to believe that Richard would have executed the boys and not given them a proper funeral and had masses said for their souls. He allowed this for his enemies, it’s unthinkable that he would do less for the sons of the brother he loved best.

  9. I think there is a better and stronger argument for ‘involvement’ in the death of Henry VI – revenge, national stability, loyalty to his brother than for killing the Princes. Let’s face it, by killing them secretly and not displaying the bodies and allowing rumour to spread he opened the door for pretenders, rebellions and eased Tudor’s leverage for an invasion with his continental backers as well as repulsing Yorkists and making their sister an even more important pawn to be fought over. I can’t see that the ‘traditional’ account of Richard’s motives holds much water when you look at it logically. He was already King with parliament and the Mayor and Alderman of London backing him against their claim when he is supposed to have had them killed. They were declared illegitimate and most sane adults would have been glad for a strong, military, adult king with a track record of success and a decade plus of sound government behind him than the prospect of another minority kingship and the Woodvilles in control. He may have failed to protect them from other interested parties but I think Tudor knew they were dead before Bosworth. He didn’t exactly rush to London to secure the Tower in August 1485 and would surely have been very keen to secure their persons if he thought they are still rivals for his throne. Henry suppressed the Titulus Regius and had Elizabeth of York re-legitimised so he could marry her yet if they surfaced then he was basically declaring them the real heirs over his own shaky claim. He never accused Richard of the crime, never made Tyrrell’s confession public or sought to find the bodies and have them re-buried honourably because he knew they were dead. The parallel with the execution of Edward of Warwick is telling. If Henry had him executed because the Spanish wouldn’t back a marriage for Catherine of Aragon with Arthur because he lived then why would the French have backed Tudor’s invasion in 1485 if there was the possibility that the boys were still alive to cause problems. Invasions are uncertain and risky undertakings. A lot can go wrong and the French would have wanted assurances that if Henry took Richard out on the battlefield that he would be undisputed and he was a long way from London with the possibility of a rescue attempt before he could get there to secure them. I think that Bishop Morton fled with the news that he had either learnt from Buckingham or more likely imparted to him that they were no longer an obstacle to Henry’s destiny and who would have arranged that for him? Either Morton in the expectation of reward or his own dear mother and he husband, Stanley!

  10. It is also worth noting that Morton was well rewarded for his service to Tudor whilst in exile as he became Archbishop of Canterbury after Henry’s victory. Sir Thomas More’s account of the murders of the princes is thought to have been heavily influenced by Morton’s earlier version of the history of Richard’s reign. Thomas More grew up in Morton’s household and may well have listened to Morton’s tale of this most secret and furtive crime. How did Morton come to know so much about who the murderers were and what they had done with the bodies if he was so removed from any involvement with anyone connected to the events? How likely was it that Thomas More would have found witnesses in the Minories around the Tower all those years later who would be able to name suspects or know where and to what depth the bodies had been buried or the detail about them being put into a chest first? It all seems very unlikely indeed. If those witnesses had been available to interview wouldn’t Henry VII have been rather interested in their evidence at the time he was dealing with Lambert Simnel or Perkin Warbeck? What better way to dis-prove their claims than to produce two skeletons with a host of witnesses to back up the story? Then we have the ‘discovery’ of the two bodies – where More said they would be during the reign of Charles II. More stated that Richard changed his mind after having them buried 10 foot down and had to send the murders back to dig them up again and moved them somewhere else (all rather stupid for a guileful serial killer) yet they were still there under the stairs waiting to be identified during the troubled reign of Charles II. Personally I think it was all very convenient as it provided Charles with a chance to respectfully re-bury the remains of English royalty, re-awaken the public horror of regicide and reinforce the message of what happened to someone who dared to usurp a throne and continue to uphold the rightful descent of his own Stuart line through a Tudor princess who in turn was descended from their legitimate sister and heir to the House of York – Elizabeth. Much has been made by traditionalists of the fact that the rumour of their deaths was circulated in European courts as a token of proof that there was a widespread belief that they were dead at their uncle’s hand. Let’s remember that Morton fled England at the time of their disappearance and then worked in Henry Tudor’s service. Would it not be utterly feasible for Morton to have acted as his agent by spreading these rumours as far as possible? As a Bishop he had connections to the most highly educated communicators on the continent – i.e. scribes, chroniclers, the monastic network and all he really needed to do was visit a few harbour side taverns and start the rumour going and sit back while it gathered momentum. Henry needed financial backing and mercenary support in order to attempt an invasion. They were more likely to back his cause if they believed the Princes were out of the way and would not pose a problem later on, especially after Henry pledged to marry their sister who then became the rightful heir to the English throne. Another solid reason why Richard would not have killed them, by the way.

  11. It is possible that Richard III did give Edward V and his brother Richard a worthy burial. When St George’s Chapel was being worked on in 1789 the burial place of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were found. Two other coffins were found thought to be George and Margaret two of their children. However in the early 1800’s a coffin was found that is most likely’s George’s and his sister was nearby. See this link http://www.stgeorges-windsor.org/archives/blog/?tag=edward-iv. So who are in the other two coffins buried near Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth? A good guess would be the princes. Richard III may have done what he did out of either survival or calculated moves, but he honored his faith and his brother by burying the princes next to their father. Why hush, hush? To not draw attention to him (think of Arthurr of Brittany) and so his reign would negate any negative views, especially if he remarried and had sons, his dynasty would continue. The death of Edward of Middleham would do much to undermine Richard III’s position as he needed sons, and it would help if Richard could survive until they became adults.

    So no proof if those extra coffins are the princes, but that would fit with me the man Richard III was. Taking the throne to survive, killing off rivals was part of the day and times. Burying them with honor would keep in line with Richard’s religous beliefs and still honor his brother. Just my opinion.

  12. Well argued and thoughtful, Matthew. Briefly: Richard may have been wiling to do something to protect his wife and son that he would not have done to protect himself. Personally, I favour the Buckingham theory.

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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