The Princes in the Tower

Nearly all the information we have that Richard killed the princes comes from Thomas More’s history, later regurgitated by Holinshead, and upon which Shakespeare drew for his play.

More would have us believe that the deed was done quietly, at night, and that the boys were smothered in their beds. He then says that the bodies were buried “meetly deep” beneath a stair  within the Tower. So, when the skeletons of two children were discovered during renovation work in the reign of Charles II it was widely accepted that these were the earthly remains of the poor unfortunate princes. No regard is paid to More’s next statement that Richard, having pangs of guilt, arranged for the bodies to be exhumed and buried elsewhere. Nor was there any question asked of how the deed(s) could possibly have been accomplished. The remains, now in an urn in Westminster Abbey, were found ten feet down, under a stone staircase, and the burial supposedly took place overnight, without the hundreds of staff then living & working in the Tower being aware that a stone stair had been dug up, a hole ten feet deep been dug, the hole then back-filled & the staircase rebuilt under cover of darkness, when at the time of year it’s suggested it took place, there would have been limited darkness in which to work. If More is to be believed, the disinterment was accomplished by one man. There is no chance that he could have accomplished this without attracting interest. So, More’s story is rubbish. We also know that More, as a child, spent time in the household of John Morton, that thorn in Richard’s side. A Lancastrian through & through, Morton returned to Edward IV’s court after Tewkesbury, where he had been in Margaret of Anjou’s service. He was a party to the Hastings plot, but escaped execution by Richard, who wouldn’t execute a priest, and then succeeded in turning Buckingham, into whose custody Richard had handed him, against Richard, on the promise of what? We don’t know. We do know that Morton then fled the scene and didn’t return to England until his Tudor master had won the day at Bosworth. Some historians have sought to prove that More’s text was actually written by Morton, and that the document available now is but a copy made by More, but more recent assessments have returned to the opinion that it is More’s work. Whether it was influenced by Morton is also debatable, as More was a child in his household, but children listen to what’s being said around them, and remember.

So, if the ones in the Abbey aren’t those of the princes what happened to them? There are various possibilities. First there’s Perkin Warbeck. How did a child of Flemish or Burgundian birth come to have such knowledge of the past of Richard Duke of York? Margaret of Burgundy couldn’t supply the little details, she wasn’t at the English court at the time. Why did she accept him as her nephew? What was on the ship that travelled to the Low Countries that was of such importance that Richard insisted that it should not be inspected?

Then there’s Jack Leslau’s theory that John Clement, who married More’s adopted daughter, was a member of, and later president of the Royal College of Physicians was Richard, the younger of the princes. He alone, of all members & presidents of the college has no history to speak of. Leslau also had a theory that one Edward Guildford was Edward V, and, interestingly, Guildford was the grandfather of Jane Grey’s husband, and also of Robert Dudley favourite of Elizabeth I.

Whether anyone takes these tales seriously, what they do is confirm the doubt of the murder of the princes. When Perkin Warbeck arrived on the scene, Henry did not produce any evidence to prove that his claim was fraudulent. To do that he would have had to have proof of the deaths of the princes, and nothing would have secured his place on the throne better than proof that they were murdered by Richard. The Tower servants who were still there after Bosworth would no longer have had any constraints placed upon them to maintain silence if they had been aware of any misdeed relating to the princes. Morton’s nephew took charge of the Tower in the aftermath of the battle, and would have left no stone unturned to find out what had happened to them, but no information or evidence was forthcoming. It was only two years after their supposed murder. If Henry VII couldn’t find proof positive of Richard’s guilt, what chance now?

What we can be sure of is that by the time Christopher Wren saw that monument, Richard’s character had been so monstrously defiled, that no-one would have been interested in removing his body & giving him a proper royal funeral. After then, he was lost until August 2012.

 

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