Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  However, Mr Leslau claims that John Clement was actually Richard, Duke of York, who was older than More by some four or five years. Thus, although Clement was still a schoolboy when More took him into his household, we are asked to believe that More wrote as he did to Erasmus of a man over forty. All the evidence offered above shows that Clement was considerably younger than his patron and was born much later than 1473. It is of course possible that he was fifty-three when he married Margaret Gigs, and ninety-eight when he died, but it is unlikely, and it is impossible to reconcile the chronology of his early life with that of York.

  Mr Leslau appears to rest his case on two apparently significant pieces of evidence. The first is that there is no documentation extant for the early lives of Guildford and Clement. Mr Leslau sees this as ominous, but in fact it is unusual to find detailed evidence of the early lives of even royal persons of this period. Many children died young; in aristocratic pedigrees birthdates for eldest sons are more often than not calculated from the date of their parents' marriage (if known), because their actual birthdates are rarely recorded. That of Sir Edward Guildford, a younger son, would be very difficult to determine today with exactitude. And Clement, who was of comparatively lowly birth, would have spent his early years in virtual obscurity.

  The second piece of evidence is supposedly in Rowland Lockey's painting of the family of Sir Thomas More. This group portrait, executed c.1593 and now at Nostell Priory near Wakefield, is a copy of a similar painting of 1527-- 8 by Hans Holbein, now lost. The Lockey painting is one of two commissioned for More's grandson, and shows Sir Thomas surrounded by his family and members of his household at Chelsea. John Clement stands in the doorway carrying a scroll, behind Lady Alice More and two of her daughters.

  Mr Leslau believes it is significant that Clement's head is supposedly higher than anyone else's -- though in fact, it is not -- and that above him the doorway is adorned with carved fleurs-de-lys, emblems of the French royal house which were then quartered with the leopards of England on the English royal arms in token of the claim of the kings of England to be rulers of France by ancient right. Also above Clement is a Latin inscription: 'John, the rightful heir'.

  We are fortunate that Holbein's original sketch for his painting survives; this does not portray Clement, but it does show the doorway with the fleur-de-lys carvings, part of the architectural design of the room and therefore hardly significant. As for Lockey's inscription, this probably refers to the fact that John Clement, a staunch Catholic and outstanding scholar, was the man most suited to be More's rightful spiritual heir.

  Mr Leslau has devoted many years to developing his theory, and recently his claims have attracted considerable publicity because he is hoping to have the remains of both Guildford and Clement genetically tested to see if they are blood relations. If this proves the case, he hopes to have the same test carried out on Edward IV's remains, in the hope of establishing a link. Mr Leslau's theory is intriguing, but there is no contemporary evidence to support it and much against it.

  Audrey Williamson, in her book The Mystery of the Princes, published in 1978, asserts that, according to a tale handed down in the Tyrell family, the Princes were taken from the Tower to Gipping in Suffolk, a manor much favoured by Sir James Tyrell. Unfortunately this theory rests mainly on conjecture and on a record of Elizabeth Wydville visiting Gipping with her eldest son, which must date to before 1483. There is no evidence that the Princes ever left the Tower alive.

  Finally, there is the mysterious Richard Plantagenet of Eastwell, Kent, whom some have claimed was really Richard, Duke of York. Eastwell Church, near Ashford, which dates from the thirteenth century, is now derelict, having been badly damaged by a V2 rocket during the Second World War. A plain tomb still stands in the ruins of the church, and the parish registers record that its occupant, 'Richard Plantagenet, was buried the 22nd day of November, 1550'. Beyond this nothing more would have been known of him but for the publication in 1779 of a book called Desiderata Curiosa by one F. Peck, which recounts an oral tradition handed down in the family of the earls of Winchelsea, descendants of a Kentish landowner called Sir Thomas Moyle, who owned Eastwell Park in the sixteenth century. Around 1530 Moyle had the manor house rebuilt, and one day he noticed an old man, one of the bricklayers, reading a book in Latin. It was an unheard-of thing for a labouring man to be reading such a book, or even reading at all, and an intrigued Moyle quizzed the man forthwith. In the course of their talk, an astonishing tale was revealed to him.

  The bricklayer said he had been born in 1469 and that his name was Richard Plantagenet. As a child, he had known nothing of his parents, having been brought up in the house of his nurse, whom he at first believed was his mother. When he was eleven he had been sent to the house of a tutor in London. The tutor looked after him well and taught him reading, writing and Latin. He did not know who paid the fees for his education, but whoever it was sent a gentleman to pay his board and bring provisions and clothing every quarter. Once he was taken to a magnificent house where a richly dressed man, wearing a 'star and garter', questioned him kindly and gave him ten gold pieces.

  When he was sixteen, in 1485, he had been taken to an army camp; he later realised it was Bosworth Field. He was brought to the royal pavilion where the same man embraced him. He realised then that he had been greeted by King Richard III. The King told Richard that he was his natural son and promised to acknowledge him publicly as such. 'But, child,' he went on, 'if I should be so unfortunate as to lose the battle, take care to let nobody know that I am your father, for no mercy will be shown to anyone so nearly related.' He gave the boy a purse of gold and bade him farewell.

  After the battle, Richard rode to London, sold his horse and clothes, and used his gold to apprentice himself to a bricklayer. That was how he had come to be at Eastwell Park. Moyle believed his story and kindly offered the old man accommodation in his new manor house, but Richard declined. He asked only to be able to build a one-roomed cottage on the estate, where he could live out his days in peace. Moyle agreed, and settled a pension on him. For twenty years Richard Plantagenet lived in that cottage, with his beloved books, until his death in 1550 at the age of eighty-one years. His story only came to light when the eighteenth-century Earl of Winchelsea found the entry in the parish registers and realised that the story handed down in his family might after all be true.

  Although there is no contemporary evidence to substantiate this tale, some of the details are plausible, but why Richard III should have delayed acknowledging this son when he had acknowledged two other bastards is not explained. Perhaps he had no wish to compromise the honour of Richard's mother. What is implausible is the modern theory that Richard Plantagenet of Eastwell was in fact Richard, Duke of York. There is nothing whatsoever to suggest that he was anything other than Richard Ill's bastard, and even that cannot now be stated with any certainty. Indeed, all the evidence for the alleged survival of the Princes rests on elaborate, if well thought-out, theories that have little or no foundation in fact and cannot be substantiated by the available source material.

  Of course it is possible that the Princes died natural deaths, as some have suggested. Forensic evidence which will be discussed in Chapter Twenty-One shows that Edward V may have suffered from osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone, a condition that could in those days prove fatal. It may have been this that Dr Argentine was treating him for in June 1483. Thomas More states that when Archbishop Bourchier came to remove York from the Sanctuary, Elizabeth Wydville told him that the child was 'so sore diseased with sickness that she dared not trust him to another's care'. No other source mentions this illness. It could be that the Queen had hoped to delay York's departure by claiming that he was ill. But had he really been so sick, at least one eyewitness would surely have commented on the fact.

  It seems too fortuitous and too coincidental for both Princes to die conveniently so soon after Richard Ill's accession. But if this had been the case, there was no reason for him to hide
their deaths; in fact, it would have been to his advantage to put an end to the conspiracies by producing their bodies and giving them decent burial, playing the role of grieving uncle. But Richard did no such thing.

  In conclusion, then, we may say that the evidence overwhelmingly suggests the Princes were murdered by Richard III in 1483, that this was what Richard's contemporaries and later generations believed had happened, and that Sir Thomas More's account is very near to the truth. It would be comforting to present the revisionist theory as fact, but there is just not the evidence to substantiate it.

  15. Rebellion

  By the time the Princes were murdered, Buckingham was considering treason against his sovereign. Margaret Beaufort and Bishop Morton had been working assiduously to enlist Buckingham to her son's cause. At Morton's request the Countess appointed her steward, Reginald Bray, a cousin of Lady Hastings and a man described by Morton as 'sober, secret and well-witted', to act as her secret emissary to Brecknock, his chief objective being to overcome any scruples Buckingham may have had about breaking his oath of allegiance to the King and convince him that he should support Henry Tudor. Bray was also exerting his powers of persuasion on such lesser nobility and gentry as seemed hostile to Richard III.

  Buckingham deliberated for the best part of a month before he finally decided to support a rebellion. What prompted his decision was probably confirmation from the King that the Princes were dead. The researches of Carol Rawcliffe for her unpublished thesis 'Henry, 2nd Duke of Buckingham: Political Background' (1972-3), cited by Pamela Tudor-Craig, show that Richard, unsuspecting, wrote on several occasions to Buckingham at Brecknock. It is logical to assume that he may well have sent the Duke a discreetly worded letter indicating that the deed was done. Only this would have made Buckingham so sure that the Princes were dead. More depicts the Duke saying to Morton that 'when he was credibly informed of the death of the two young innocents, O Lord, how my veins panted, how my body trembled and my heart inwardly grudged!' The chronology may be incorrect but the sentiment sounds plausible enough, being corroborated by Vergil who says that Buckingham was mortified when he learned of the murder. There is no doubt that Buckingham passed on what he knew to Morton, Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor and, later, the Wydvilles. No-one else was in a position to do so Moreover, the Princes' disappearance and the rumours put about by the King only served to confirm his story. But there was one thing Buckingham obviously did not know -- and Richard would never have disclosed this in a letter -and that was how the Princes had died and how their bodies had been disposed of. Had Buckingham learned these details he would certainly have later on communicated them to Henry Tudor, who would have made use of the knowledge when he came to the throne. But Henry did no such thing: he was, it seems, as much in the dark about these details as Buckingham.

  The Duke sent Bray to communicate his decision to join the rebels, and also the news of the murder of the Princes to Margaret Beaufort, who was just on the point of sending a courier to Brittany. The conspirators now began to plan actively, using Bray and the Countess's young confessor, Christopher Urswick, as go-betweens. Their ultimate objective was the overthrow of Richard III and the establishment of Henry Tudor on the throne of England, which would benefit all concerned, except perhaps Buckingham, who could hardly have expected to receive more from Henry than he had from Richard III, which lends weight to the argument that his disaffection from the latter was prompted by revulsion at the murder of the Princes. Buckingham may have seen himself as a latter-day kingmaker, and his later attainder states he was involved in treasonable communication with Henry and Jasper Tudor 'many times before and after' 24th September, 1483. Both the Countess and Morton could certainly hope for great things from Henry, who would be most anxious to reward those who had helped him gain a crown.

  The conspirators realised that, on the death of the Princes, Elizabeth of York had become de jure Queen of England. It was probably Margaret Beaufort who first saw the advantages of a marriage between Elizabeth and Henry Tudor, 'the very heir of the House of Lancaster'. Such a union would resolve most of the differences and long-standing divisions between the Lancastrian and Yorkist factions, and would also validate the rather tenuous Tudor claim to the throne: as Elizabeth's husband Henry would be the rightful king. Vergil says that Margaret Beaufort, 'being a wise woman, after the slaughter of King Edward's children was known, began to hope well of her son's fortune, supposing that the deed would without doubt prove for the profit of the common weal, if it might chance the blood of Henry VI and King Edward to be mingled by affinity, and so two most pernicious factions should at once be taken away'. It appears that the plan was hers from the first and that she did all in her power to promote it. Vergil claims she plotted the marriage with Elizabeth Wydville before Buckingham lent his support to the conspiracy, but this does not accord with the chronology of events in other accounts and, moreover, the Queen could only have received confirmation of the death of the Princes through Buckingham. It is clear that neither of these plans -- the rebellion, and the marriage in particular -- would have been proposed or implemented had the conspirators been in any doubt that the Princes were dead. This is further evidence that they died before 24th September, the day recorded by the Rolls of Parliament as that on which the rebels launched their enterprise.

  Urswick was despatched to Brittany to lay details of the proposed marriage before Henry Tudor, while the Countess went to London to break the news of the Princes' death to their mother. For this thankless task she used the services of a Dr Lewis, an experienced physician of grave demeanour who attended both the Countess and Elizabeth Wydville. The Countess would have looked too conspicuous visiting the Sanctuary but Dr Lewis could come and go with impunity.

  Both Vergil and More have left accounts of how Elizabeth Wydville reacted to the awful news. Vergil says she 'fell into a swoon and lay lifeless a good while; after coming to herself, she wept, she cried aloud, and with lamentable shrieks made all the house ring. She struck her breast, tore and cut her hair, and prayed also for her own death, calling by name her most dear children and condemning herself for a madwoman for that, being deceived by false promises, she had delivered her younger son out of sanctuary to be murdered by his enemy.' More repeats all these details, adding that 'after long lamentations she kneeled down and cried to God to take vengeance'. Both these accounts have the ring of authenticity and convey vividly the bereft mother's agony.

  Later, or perhaps on another, subsequent occasion, Dr Lewis gently broached the subject of the proposed marriage, saying that although her sons were dead she could still become the mother of kings if she agreed to the union of her daughter Elizabeth with Henry Tudor. If this went ahead, he said, 'no doubt the usurper should be shortly deposed and your heir again to her right restored'. Above all, the rival factions of York and Lancaster would be united.

  Uppermost in the Queen's mind was the burning desire to take revenge on her sons' murderer, and she agreed to the marriage with alacrity, which she would not have done had she not been convinced that the Princes were dead. Henry Tudor had been her late husband's enemy, and it is hardly likely that she would have supported his claim to the throne if she had not had sufficient proof of her sons' deaths. Moreover, this marriage now made good political sense, and she could once more foresee a future in which she was restored, as mother of the Queen Regnant, to something approaching her former power and influence. She therefore sent Dr Lewis back to Margaret Beaufort to tell her that 'she would do her endeavour to procure all her husband King Edward's friends to take part with Henry, her son, so that he might be sworn to take in marriage Elizabeth, her daughter'. If he agreed to do this, and overthrew the usurper, she would recognise him as king.

  Thus the Wydvilles joined Buckingham and others of their former enemies in a coalition to bring down Richard III, and plans for the rebellion, co-ordinated probably by Bishop Morton and communicated by Lewis, Bray and Urswick, were laid down during the next two to three weeks. Margaret Beaufo
rt sent her chaplain Richard Fox to Brittany with the news that Elizabeth Wydville had agreed to acknowledge Henry as king if he married her daughter.

  The time was indeed ripe for rebellion. In the first week or so of September, says Croyland, 'the people living in the regions of the City of London and several other southern counties embarked upon avenging their grievances against Richard III'. The chief causes of their disaffection were Richard's indiscriminate 'plantation of northerners in the south' and the desire to bring about the restoration of Edward V, who was then still thought by a considerable number of people to be alive. 'When at last the people began considering vengeance, it was publicly proclaimed that Henry, Duke of Buckingham, had repented of his former conduct and would be the chief mover in this enterprise against the King.' One of the London Chronicles states that 'Many knights and gentlemen gathered together to the Duke of Buckingham, which intended to have subdued King Richard, as the said King Richard had put to death the Lord Chamberlain and other gentlemen, and thereupon many gentlemen intended his destruction.' The fact that several small but influential groups of conspirators were now uniting under so powerful a magnate as Buckingham posed a serious threat to the King. And the rumours of the murder of the Princes, spread initially by Richard with the intention of removing the occasion for rebellion, gave it instead a new impetus.

 
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