The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  What is possible is that one of More's sources deliberately gave him the wrong information in order to avoid a search being made for the bodies and the uncovering of incriminating evidence. Or More may have simply reported what people had supposed had taken place, in view of the fact that no bodies had been found up to that time, despite several searches. It may even be that Richard III ordered a priest to perform obsequies over the grave, and that More and others assumed, in view of the mystery surrounding the bodies' whereabouts, that he had also ordered the Princes' reburial.

  From Richard Ill's point of view, if it was necessary that the Princes

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  should die, it was also necessary that people should know they were dead, in order to put an end to speculation and confound those who might plot to restore Edward V. According to Vergil, 'King Richard kept the slaughter not long secret, who within few days after permitted the rumour of their deaths to go abroad to the intent that, after the people understood no male issue of King Edward to be now left alive, they might with better mind and goodwill bear to sustain his government.' It is unlikely that these rumours spoke of the Princes being murdered -- just that they had died. As it was widely accepted by the beginning of October that they lived no more, and the rumours would have had to be in circulation for at least a fortnight to be this effective, it is quite likely that it was indeed Richard himself who instigated them. When, on 8th September, he walked hand in hand with his son and his wife into York Minster for young Edward's investiture as Prince of Wales, the King did so in the belief that he had removed the last dynastic threat to his throne and put an end once and for all to the conspiracies that had overshadowed his reign.

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  14. The Wicked Uncle

  It has been stated many times, in many books, that there is no proof that Richard III murdered the Princes in the Tower, and very little likelihood that the full facts about their disappearance from the pages of history will ever be known. That it is impossible, 500 years after the event, to prove beyond reasonable doubt who murdered them or, indeed, that they were murdered at all.

  But is it? Most of the facts of the matter are recorded in the surviving contemporary sources, and beyond this there is a vast amount of compelling circumstantial evidence that substantiates the known facts and leaves no room for any alternative theories.

  It has often been said that the evidence available to us would not be sufficient to secure the King's conviction in a modern court of law, and this claim appeared to have been vindicated by the 'Not Guilty' verdict that resulted from Channel 4 Television's 'The Trial of Richard III' in 1984. However, the fact is that some of the most pertinent evidence was not offered at that 'trial'. Historians, moreover, are not, and should not, be bound by the same rules as juries. The historian will be more familiar with the bias of contemporary material and is able to take far more evidence into account than would be allowed a jury. A jury must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a person is guilty of a crime; a historian constructs his theory on a balance of probabilities. In this case there are facts and the testimony of witnesses as well as probabilities, and the historian is perhaps therefore in a better position than a modern jury to arrive at the truth.

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  So what is the case against Richard III? The most damning evidence is the simple fact that the Princes disappeared for good whilst they were being securely held in the Tower under the King's protection, as prisoners, and that Richard gave no explanation of what had happened to them nor made any reference to their continuing existence after this time. Nor did he produce them alive to counteract rumours deeply damaging to his reputation as king, or, later, to confound once and for all the treasonous designs of a Lancastrian pretender. Not to have produced the Princes when it was to his distinct advantage to do so is strong evidence that he was guilty of having had them assassinated.

  It is highly unlikely that any third party could have gained access to the Tower to carry out the murder without the King's knowledge. We have already seen how securely the Princes were confined and how loyal to Richard was Constable Brackenbury, who had charge of them. Even had these stringent security precautions been breached and another person succeeded in killing the boys, Richard III would have found out about it almost at once, and it would have been in his interests to name and prosecute the culprit, since the children, although declared bastards, were still his nephews and the sons of a king; people had an interest in them. But Richard did no such thing. The fact remains that he himself was the only person with the authority and obvious opportunity to dispose of the Princes. He also had several powerful and compelling motives for wanting them out of the way.

  He was insecure on his throne. He was not popular, and the basis of his title to that throne was precarious, since few believed in the precontract story. His future security depended largely on him retaining the loyalties of his magnates, and there were many of them who resented him because of his northern affiliations. While Edward V lived he remained a focus for rebellion; Richard had seen alarming proof of that in the recent conspiracies on Edward's behalf. He had also seen enough treachery during the Wars of the Roses to convince him that self-seeking, power-hungry nobles would readily espouse the cause of a would-be king if there was hope of rewards for themselves, and he was well aware that any legislation bastardising the Princes could always be reversed by Parliament in the event of a successful coup on their behalf. Then would follow the triumphant return to power of the Wydvilles, who would not hesitate to destroy the man who had executed Rivers, Grey, Haute and Vaughan, insulted the Queen, and deposed and

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  disinherited her children. The revisionists have often argued that, once the Princes had been declared illegitimate, they posed no further threat to Richard, and that he had no motive for killing them. This argument does not take account of the realities of fifteenth-century politics, the fact that Richard himself viewed the Princes as a danger (otherwise he would never have kept them in such strict confinement), and the fact that there had already been several plots to restore Edward V. It was these, undoubtedly, that spurred the King to the realisation that the former King and his brother must be removed beyond the reach of any conspirators as soon as possible.

  There were several historical precedents for the murder of a deposed monarch or of persons whose existence threatened the security of a reigning king. Every deposed monarch so far -- Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI -- had been assassinated on the orders of the men who had overthrown and succeeded them. Arthur of Brittany, Thomas of Woodstock, Humphrey of Gloucester and George of Clarence had all posed a threat to the crown at one time or another, and had all been eliminated. Richard III himself had early on learned a lesson in ruthless pragmatism from the deaths of Henry VI and Clarence, and he had excellent reasons for following precedent.

  The House of York had a history of employing violence for political ends. Richard's previous acts of tyranny, such as the executions of Hastings and Rivers, prove that he was a ruthless man who did not shirk from using violence as a means to an end. He was no respecter of the law and was undoubtedly capable of cold-blooded murder. Nothing we know of his early-life experiences and character is at variance with this conclusion. Given that the victims in this case were two children aged twelve and ten, his own nephews, we may assume he felt he had no alternative but to get rid of them; he may even have been reluctant to take such a step, but his reasons for doing so were sufficiently compelling for him to risk both his popularity and his future security as king, should the truth ever come to light.

  Thus the murder had to be carried out in the strictest secrecy. The King took only a select few, who were unlikely to talk, into his confidence. Afterwards he adopted a policy of 'least said, soonest mended'. Even high-ranking courtiers did not know what had happened. But the disappearance of two royal children, one a former sovereign, raised questions in many people's minds, questions that

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  many must have been too scared
to voice. It was only later, when the threat of reprisals had been removed, that people began to ask those questions openly, or to speak of what they knew.

  After the murder, Richard III may have remained officially silent on the subject of the Princes, but his behaviour is indicative of a man with a guilty conscience. His personal prayer in his Book of Hours, dedicated to St Julian who murdered his parents and then obtained God's forgiveness, perhaps held a special significance for Richard. He also planned to found a chantry at York served by no less than 100 priests who would offer masses for the salvation of his soul; enlisting the prayers of so many priests, unprecedented in England, is a strong indication that Richard felt he had some serious sins to expiate.

  Sir Thomas More says he 'heard by credible report by such as were secret with [Richard's] chamberers' that the King 'never had quiet in his mind; he never thought himself sure. He took ill rest at night, lay long waking and musing, sore wearied with care and watch, rather slumbered than slept, troubled with fearful dreams. His restless heart continually tossed and tumbled with the stormy remembrance of his abominable deed.' Croyland also refers to Richard having bad dreams on the night before the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, while Vergil states that the King's conscience began to trouble him after the death of the Princes.

  This evidence is, of course, all circumstantial, but even without the further evidence in contemporary sources it is the basis of a formidable case against Richard III. There is plenty of evidence that Richard's contemporaries believed him guilty of murdering the Princes, and that the 'Black Legend', alleged by the revisionists to have originated with later Tudor chroniclers, was already established in Richard's own lifetime. It was only elaborated upon after his death because men felt able to speak more freely about him. Evidence for this is to be found in nearly every source.

  Mancini, writing in December 1483, refers to 'the Duke of Gloucester, who shortly after suppressed Edward's children'. The verb used is 'oppressis which has sometimes been incorrectly translated as 'destroyed', but it is likely that Mancini was implying the same thing because rumours that Richard had murdered his nephews had reached France by the time Mancini was writing. Even before the coronation, he records, men had feared the worst. Mancini would not have been

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  surprised to learn that it was widely believed to have happened.

  Croyland, astonishingly, is silent on the fate of the Princes, and yet he, of all people, must have had some knowledge or suspicion of the truth. Quoting 'a certain poet' on the three King Richards of England, he refers to 'the third, [who] after exhausting the ample store of Edward's wealth, was not content until he suppressed his brother's progeny'. Again, this ambiguous word 'suppressed', which could refer either to disinheritance or to murder, or even imprisonment. Croyland wrote his chronicle after Richard's death and therefore his reticence on the subject argues either that, not being favoured with the King's confidence, he really did not know what had happened to the Princes and considered it frivolous to speculate, or he wished to cover up his own complacency in the matter, or even that he felt he ought to be discreet until Henry VII's policy on the subject became clear, or until new and conclusive evidence came to light.

  Two contemporary manuscript fragments, one in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and one in the College of Arms, London, accuse Richard III of the murder of his nephews, and on 1st March, 1486, a Spanish envoy, Diego de Valera, who obtained much of his information from 'trusty merchants who were in England at the time of the battle' (of Bosworth, in August, 1485), observed in a letter to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain:

  It is sufficiently well known to your Royal Majesties that this Richard killed two innocent nephews of his, to whom the realm belonged after his brother's life. It is alleged that he had them murdered with poison.

  Dafydd Llywd ap Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, a Welsh bard of Martharfan, wrote in c. 1485-6 an 'Ode to King Richard, who destroyed his two nephews', calling him 'a servile boar [who] without penance' murdered 'Edward's sons in his prison. He slew without favour of the Bench his two young nephews. He caused disgrace, the bravery of cruel Herod.'

  More contemporary evidence is to be found in some Flemish wall paintings in Eton College Chapel. They were begun before 1479-80 and were complete before the end of 1487, but were covered up in the Reformation and only rediscovered in 1847. They portray, in

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  allegorical guise, the usurpation of Richard III, who is represented as the evil brother of an emperor. This villain is shown wearing a collar with the Yorkist emblem of the Sun in Splendour and a crescent similar to a crescent pendant found near Middleham Castle and linked to Richard III and Anne Neville by the engraved initials 'R' and 'A'. The paintings show that the emperor entrusted his family to his brother, who betrayed that trust and murdered his nephew, then accused the empress of the deed. She is shown retiring to a convent, as did Elizabeth Wydville in 1487. The parallels with Richard III are obvious, as they were intended to be. This work could not have been merely Tudor propaganda. It was in a public place within a royal foundation, and what it portrayed had to be entirely credible to onlookers.

  We come now to what the Tudor chroniclers had to say about the fate of the Princes. John de Giglis, papal collector in England, and Pietro Carmeliano, both writing in 1486 under the patronage of Henry VII, predictably portray Richard III as a tyrant who murdered his nephews. And Rous, writing in 1490, states firmly that Richard 'killed Edward V, together with his brother'. William Parron, court astrologer to Henry VII, makes the same accusation in his work De Astrorum vifatale, written in 1499. Bernard Andre, a few years later, says that Richard III ordered the Princes to be put to death secretly. Not surprisingly, The Song of the Lady Bessy alleges much the same thing.

  These works were naturally biased in favour of the regime that had replaced Richard, yet they were circulated amongst men who had known him well and would instantly recognise any jarring inconsistencies. They also refer to the murder of the Princes in such a way as to imply that they are not informing their readers of some sensational piece of news but stating a well-known fact.

  One striking piece of evidence comes from Philippe de Commines, who in his memoirs states that the 'wicked' and 'cruel' King Richard 'arranged the death of his two nephews'. He then tells us that Louis XI of France, a crafty and unscrupulous monarch known as the 'Universal Spider' because of his intrigues, believed that Richard III was responsible for having 'the two sons of his brother King Edward put to death', and would have nothing to do with him because, he said, he was 'extremely cruel and evil'. Louis XI died of the effects of a stroke on 30th August, 1483. For a week beforehand he had been unable to speak. Yet at the beginning of July he had written a most courteous letter to

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  Richard III, congratulating him on his accession and offering to do him any service, 'for I desire to have your friendship'. Within six weeks Louis' attitude had changed dramatically, and it is likely that his spies in England had heard the same kind of speculative rumours that Mancini had heard in early July. It is worth noting that every contemporary European chronicler believed in Richard's guilt.

  In the early 1500s, in England, Robert Fabyan wrote, 'It was common fame that King Richard had within the Tower put unto secret death the two sons of his brother Edward IV.' The London Chronicles all make similar accusations and some date the event to 1483.

  All of this evidence is circumstantial, but it reflects the weight of public opinion at the time. For the best evidence, that of actual witnesses, we must turn to Sir Thomas More's biography of Richard III, spurned by most revisionists and some serious historians but now, in the light of recent discoveries and study, beginning to be respected once more as a key source for the death of the Princes, and with good reason. More's book contains the earliest account of the murder. He supplies numerous details that are nowhere else recorded, saying: 'I shall rehearse you the dolorous end of these babes, not after every way that I have heard, but after that way t
hat I have heard by such men and such means as me thinketh it were hard but it should be true.' He tells us he got his information from 'them that knew much and had little cause to lie'.

  It seems highly likely that More's account came very near to the truth. He himself believed it to be true, and he had plenty of means of searching out and verifying the facts, having been moved to do so by the realisation that the deaths of the Princes had 'so far come into question that some remain yet in doubt whether they were in Richard Ill's time destroyed or no'.

  We should now pause to consider why the account of the murder given by Sir Thomas More, on which the reconstruction of the events in the previous chapter is based, should be accepted as an authentic record of the facts. More himself claims to have relied greatly upon the confession said to have been made in 1502 by Sir James Tyrell, the man allegedly chosen by Richard III to arrange the murders. This confession was never published but there are good grounds for believing it to be genuine, which will be discussed in Chapter Twenty. More, however, almost certainly used other, equally important sources. One was John

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  Dighton, an associate of Tyrell's and, according to Francis Bacon, 'the principle means of divulging the tradition'. More knew of Dighton's whereabouts at the time he was writing because he states he was still alive and 'in good possibility to be hanged', and we may therefore suppose that he had contacted him and obtained information from him. But More had other, perhaps better, links with those who were in a position to know about the Princes' fate.

 
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