The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  The King, however, had his spies, who discovered what was going on and reported it to him at Minster Lovell in late July. He may also

  145

  have learned from Buckingham of the conspirators' bid to gain his support. He certainly had intelligence of the embryonic conspiracies in the South and West, but it was the Sanctuary plot in Westminster that took Richard by surprise and caused him the deepest concern and anxiety. These conspiracies were incontrovertible evidence that, while the Princes lived, he would never be secure on his throne. Nor, it seemed, would the Wydvilles ever stop plotting against him and stirring up rebellion.

  On 29th July, the King issued a warrant under his privy seal to Lord Chancellor Russell in London:

  Right reverend Father in God, right trusty and well-beloved, we greet you well. And whereas we understand that certain persons of such as of late had taken upon them the fact of an enterprise, as we doubt not ye have heard, be attached, and in ward, we desire and will you that ye do make our letters of commission to such persons as by you and our Council shall be advised for to sit upon them, and to proceed to the due execution of our laws in that behalf. Fail ye not hereof, as our perfect trust is in you.

  Because this warrant is referring to a matter on which Richard expected Russell to be well informed, much has been left unsaid. The enterprise undertaken by certain persons now 'in ward' must refer to the Sanctuary conspiracy. Croyland states that after this conspiracy was uncovered 'the noble church of the monks at Westminster and all the neighbouring parts assumed the appearance of a castle and fortress, while men of the greatest austerity were appointed by King Richard to act as the keepers thereof. The captain and head of these was one John Nesfield, Esquire, who set a watch upon all the inlets and outlets of the monastery, so that not one of the persons shut up could go forth, and no-one could enter without his permission.' Thus the inmates of the Sanctuary could be truly said to be 'in ward'.

  The latter part of the warrant implies that the King wished the conspirators to be questioned by the Council and afterwards prosecuted. But there is no record of any such proceedings, and it may be that the councillors were prevented from carrying out their master's orders because some conspirators had gone to ground or even fled abroad, and some, such as the Queen, were beyond their reach in

  146

  sanctuary. But whatever the case, this conspiracy had failed. The daughters of Edward IV remained in sanctuary and his sons remained in the Tower.

  Ironically, by seeking to ensure the boys' safety, the conspirators -including their own mother -- had sealed their fate.

  147

  13. The Princes in the Tower

  Richard III learned of the Sanctuary plot before 29th July. On that day, or shortly afterwards, he arrived with his train at Gloucester. More says that 'on his way' there he 'devised as he rode to fulfil that thing which he before had intended. For his mind gave him that, his nephews living, men would not reckon that he could have right to the realm; he thought, therefore, without delay to rid them, as though the killing of his kinsmen could amend his cause and make him a kindly king.' It was an opportune time to act: the magnates had left London, he himself was nowhere near the City and hopefully beyond suspicion, and the initial alarm over his usurpation seemed to have died down.

  More and Vergil say that when Richard arrived at Gloucester he sent for a man called John Green, 'whom he specially trusted'. John Green can be traced; he had been employed, in various capacities, by Richard when he was Duke of Gloucester, and by Sir James Tyrell, Richard's faithful retainer. He may well have been the same John Green who is recorded in the Calendar of Patent Rolls for 1474-5 as working in Edward IV's household. On 30th July, 1483, John Green signed a warrant appointing one John Gregory to take hay, oats, horsebread, beans, peas and litter for all the expenses of the King's horses and litters for a period of six months.

  The King, says More, sent Green 'unto Sir Robert Brackenbury, Constable of the Tower, with a letter and credence that the same Sir Robert should in any wise put the two children to death'. It has been argued that Richard III would never have committed such an order to

  148

  paper, but it is nevertheless plausible that he did so. His letter, like the one he sent from Minster Lovell, is likely to have been discreetly worded so as not to compromise himself. Green was to supply the 'credence', the unwritten, explicit details, to Brackenbury, and both were men trusted implicitly by Richard.

  Continues More: 'This John Green did his errand unto Brackenbury.' But Brackenbury was not of the stuff of which murderers are made. Vergil says he feared the consequences to his own reputation and safety should his complicity in what More calls 'so mean and bestial a deed' ever be made public. In Green's presence, he knelt 'before Our Lady in the Tower' and 'plainly answered that he would never put [the Princes] to death, though he should die therefor'.

  Believing that his orders would be carried out within a few days, the King rested at Gloucester until 2nd August. The Duke of Buckingham was with him but this would be the last time they saw each other, for before 2nd August Richard had managed somehow to alienate Buckingham. What caused this has been a matter for some speculation. Vergil says 'dissension sprang between the King and the Duke' because Richard would not grant Buckingham the Bohun inheritance. But Richard had already made a provisional grant of it on 13th July, so this cannot have been the reason for Buckingham's sudden disaffection. More was probably nearer the truth when he conjectured that although Buckingham had supported Richard's plan to usurp the throne, when the King revealed to him at Gloucester that he had given the order for the killing of the Princes, Buckingham realised that things had gone too far and wanted to dissociate himself. There is no other logical reason for his alienation, only something as cataclysmic as this could have provoked it. Buckingham owed all his vast wealth and political influence to Richard, and if he defected he would be placing all that, as well as his own life, at risk.

  Buckingham left the progress at Gloucester, pleading pressing business on his Brecon estates, and the King, suspecting nothing, bade him farewell and rode to Tewkesbury. For some time afterwards he would continue to write to Buckingham as though their alliance was as strong as ever. But, says More, the Duke, on his way home, considered how best to remove this 'unnatural uncle and bloody butcher from his royal seat and princely dignity'.

  Many revisionists still adhere to the theory that it was Buckingham

  149

  who murdered the Princes. This theory rests on the evidence of four slightly later sources. Commines states that the Duke 'caused the death of the two children', and later that he had acted on Richard's orders. The manuscript fragment in the College of Arms says the Princes were 'murdered on the vise [advice]' of the Duke of Buckingham, and another in Ashmole MS. 1448.60, dating from c.1490, states that Richard III killed his nephews 'at the prompting of the Duke of Buckingham, it is said'. There is no contemporary evidence for the Duke's involvement in the plot to kill the Princes. The sources quoted above appear to have reported the gossip then circulating both in England and abroad, gossip which perpetrated many far-fetched theories as to what had happened to Edward V and his brother.

  Molinet, an untrustworthy source, says that 'on the day that Edward's sons were assassinated there came to the Tower of London the Duke of Buckingham, who was believed, mistakenly, to have murdered the children in order to forward his pretensions to the throne'. Molinet states elsewhere that the Princes were murdered in late

  July, but according to Croyland they were alive until the first week in September, and Croyland was in a position to state that as a fact. On 2nd August Buckingham went to Brecon where he stayed until October.

  Buckingham, alone, could not have murdered the Princes for several reasons: he was not in the right place at the right time; he had no authority to gain access to them; Brackenbury would not have admitted him to their prison without a royal warrant signed by the King; and if these obstacles had somehow been overcome Rich
ard III would have speedily found out about it and publicly accused Buckingham, in tones of moral outrage, of the murder. But Richard did no such thing, not even later when Buckingham was charged with other kinds of treason and it would have been politically advantageous to have laid the deaths of the Princes at his door, thus diverting suspicion from Richard himself. This in itself is strong evidence that the Duke had no hand in the murder. Even more convincing is Buckingham's own behaviour after he left Gloucester. According to More, Buckingham himself later declared to Bishop Morton: 'God be my judge, I never agreed or condescended to it.'

  Richard arrived at Warwick Castle on 8th August. There he received further details of the conspiracies in the South and West,

  150

  which can only have hardened his resolve to do away with the Princes. In the meantime Queen Anne had arrived with the Earl of Warwick, and she was with Richard when ambassadors from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain came to propose a marriage between Edward of Middleham and a Spanish infanta.

  The King remained at Warwick until 15th August, when he went to Coventry. More states that John Green, returning from the Tower, recounted Brackenbury's refusal to comply with the order to kill the Princes 'to King Richard at Warwick'. Richard was annoyed, but his anger was probably superficial, for no open breach occurred with Brackenbury. Not only did Richard know Brackenbury to be an honest man with scruples, qualities that could only reflect upon and benefit the master who had appointed him, but he also could not afford publicly to censure the man or remove him from office because questions would be asked, and Richard did not at that point want public attention focused upon the Tower and its inmates. Before long he had resolved that Brackenbury should be left out of his plans.

  For the present, however, Richard vented his displeasure -- according to More, who relished scatalogical details -- whilst sitting on the close stool, grumbling to 'a secret page of his', who was certainly in Richard's confidence and probably therefore a spy whose function was to assess the loyalties of members of the royal household.

  'Ah, whom shall a man trust?' sighed the King. 'Those that I have brought up myself fail me, and at my commandment will do nothing for me.'

  'Sir,' replied his page, 'there lieth one on your pallet without that I dare well say to do your Grace pleasure the thing were right hard that he would refuse.' He meant by this Sir James Tyrell who, says More, 'was a man of right goodly personage and for Nature's gifts worthy to have served a much better prince. The man had an high heart, and sore longed upward, not rising yet so fast as he had hoped, which thing this page well had marked and known.'

  Tyrell had acted as Richard's confidential servant for at least ten years. His family hailed from Gipping in Suffolk, and it has been remarked upon that he bore the same name as Walter Tirel who had supposedly murdered King William Rufus in 1100, though no connection can be traced. James was knighted in 1471 after the Battle of Tewkesbury, and in 1473 had escorted Richard's mother-in-law, the

  151

  Countess of Warwick, from sanctuary to Middleham Castle, which proves he had already established himself as trustworthy. Thereafter he served his master well in the West and in the North, as constable of Cardiff Castle, and on campaign in Scotland where he was made Knight Banneret. In June 1483 he had briefly acted as gaoler to Archbishop Rotherham, and early in Richard Ill's reign had been appointed Master of the King's Henchmen. In late July he had travelled on the King's business from London to York and thence to Warwick, where his duties were to serve Richard as a Knight of the Body, which was why he was sleeping on a pallet outside the door to the royal bedchamber, his function being to guard his sovereign and guarantee him a peaceful night's sleep. More implies that Tyrell had hoped for better rewards for his devoted service, but that Ratcliffe and Catesby stood in his way. The page told the King that Tyrell was so desperate to rise in the world and have his revenge on his rivals that he would agree to do anything, however unpleasant.

  Richard had apparently been unaware of how desperate Tyrell was for advancement, and he decided there and then that he would entrust him with arranging the murder of the Princes. He rose from the privy, pulled up his breeches, 'and came out into the pallet chamber where he found in bed Sir James. The King, calling up Sir James, broke to him secretly his mind in this mischievous matter, in which he found him nothing strange.'

  While Richard plotted with Tyrell, Buckingham was still travelling to Brecon, which he reached by the middle of August. Vergil says he now deplored his failure to resist 'King Richard's evil enterprise'. At Brecknock Castle, his prisoner, John Morton, Bishop of Ely, awaited him. Morton loathed Richard III and regarded him as a usurper who should be eliminated without scruple. He had made no secret of his views and it was therefore natural that Buckingham should confide in him.

  More's book ends with an account of the conversations between Morton and Buckingham which may have come direct from Morton himself, as no other source gives similar details. The Duke told Morton that after hearing of the King's resolve to murder the Princes, he 'abhorred the sight and much more the company' of Richard. More says Buckingham told Morton he was considering pressing his own

  152

  claim to the throne, and that Morton told him he had 'excellent virtues meet for the rule of the realm'. Unfortunately More's unfinished narrative ends at this point.

  Morton was a shrewd man and his political instincts were sound. He must have been appalled to learn that Richard had ordered the murder of the Princes and probably predicted that the usurper would not reign for long after the deed was done. It is likely that he warned Buckingham of what would happen to him if Richard's enemies succeeded in deposing him: none as yet knew of Buckingham's disaffection, and he would be dealt with as befitted the tyrant's chief supporter.

  More states that Buckingham's conversation with Morton was what persuaded him actively to rebel against the King. It is clear from the attainder later passed on Buckingham that this was to be a separate conspiracy from those in the South and West -- one lead by Buckingham and the clever Morton, whose situation was already precarious and who was later attainted with the Duke for plotting treason.

  Buckingham is said by the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall to have not long afterwards met Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond by virtue of her first marriage to Edmund Tudor and now the wife of Lord Stanley, on the road between Bridgenorth and Worcester. She, thinking Buckingham to be still close to the King, begged him to intercede with Richard on behalf of her son, Henry Tudor, an exile in Brittany for many years, telling the Duke she longed to have him home. Henry Tudor was the Lancastrian claimant to the throne, but he was virtually unknown in England and few people took him seriously, except for his mother, who, the evidence suggests, had been involved in the conspiracies against the King. Buckingham may have suspected or known as much and realised that here was a potential ally. He told the Countess what was in his mind and confided that he was considering making a bid for the crown himself, but she, with great firmness, reminded him that both she and her son stood as 'both bulwark and portcullis' between him and the throne. Only if he supported Henry Tudor's claim would she lend him her support. Buckingham, whose chief motive in rebelling was probably self-preservation, and who had probably always been a Lancastrian at heart, began then to consider abandoning his regal pretensions and offering his allegiance to Henry Tudor instead. The Countess, he knew, would be a valuable ally.

  Margaret Beaufort was a fervent Lancastrian. For all her small

  153

  stature she was a formidable woman: highly intelligent, literate, strong-minded, devout and austere in her religious observances. She was the sole heiress of the Beaufort descendants of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. In 1455, at the age of twelve, she had been given in marriage by Henry VI to Edmund Tudor. He was one of the sons of Katherine of Valois, widow of Henry V, and her Welsh clerk of the wardrobe, Owen Tudor, who may have been her husband, although there is no evidence to prove it. In 1452, however, Parl
iament had declared Edmund and his brother Jasper legitimate, and Henry VI had created them earls of Richmond and Pembroke respectively. Edmund's marriage to Margaret Beaufort was highly advantageous to him, but in 1456 he was captured and imprisoned by the Yorkists in Carmarthen Castle, where he died later that year. Twelve weeks later, in January 1457, his widow, aged only thirteen, bore a son, Henry Tudor, at Pembroke Castle. He was to be her only child, her 'own sweet and most dear son', and would all his life excite in her the deepest maternal sentiments and ambitions.

  Henry was Earl of Richmond from his birth. His early years were spent at Pembroke in the care of his mother and his uncle Jasper. Between 1459 and 1464 Margaret married the Lancastrian Sir Henry Stafford, who later switched his allegiance to Edward IV, thus allying his staunchly Lancastrian wife with her enemies. In 1461 Jasper fought for the Lancastrians against Edward, and when the latter became king that year Jasper was forced to flee abroad. The new King made Henry the ward of Lord Herbert, a loyal Yorkist to whom had been granted the ownership of Pembroke Castle, and in whose custody the boy spent his formative years. King Edward undoubtedly hoped that being brought up in a good Yorkist family would preclude Henry from having any ideas about pressing his somewhat tenuous claim to the throne or developing strong Lancastrian sympathies. Certainly he did not see his mother after 1461, and before 1462 he was deprived of the earldom of Richmond, which was given to Clarence.

  During the brief restoration of Henry VI in 1470-71 Jasper Tudor returned from exile and presented his nephew at court, on which occasion Henry VI is said to have predicted that Henry Tudor was 'he unto whom both we and our adversaries must yield and give over the dominion'. Henry and Jasper then returned to Wales. After the deaths of Henry VI and his son the House of Lancaster's claim to the throne became vested in Henry Tudor, the only viable claimant. However, he

 
Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]