The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  At New Year 1505, More dedicated his first book, his Life of John Picus, to his 'right entirely beloved sister in Christ', Joyeuce Lee or Leigh, a Poor Clare nun and the sister of his friend Edward Lee. More had been friendly with the Lee family, prosperous London grocers, for some years, and often visited Joyeuce after she became a nun at the Minoresses' convent in Aldgate, which stood outside the City wall and opposite the Tower of London. Here she lived in 'the great house within the close' with a group of well-born ladies who, for reasons of their own, had chosen to retire behind convent walls. Between them, these ladies could have imparted a great deal of information about the Princes in the Tower.

  One was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Robert Brackenbury, Constable of the Tower at the time of the Princes' disappearance. Sir Robert had been killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and in 1504-5 Elizabeth was living in penury at the Minories. With her lodged Mary Tyrell, a sister or cousin of Sir James Tyrell, and Mary's aunt, Anne Montgomery, whose husband Thomas had been an executor of Edward IV's will and an adherent of Richard III. Finally there was Elizabeth Mowbray (nee Talbot), Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, a relative of Eleanor Butler, and mother-in-law of Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes; she had retired to this house at the beginning of Henry VII's reign and later invited the other ladies to join her. She, above all, would have had a keen curiosity about the fate of her son-in-law. It is inconceivable that the Princes' disappearance would not have been discussed by this group of ladies, who all had good reason to know something about it, and even more inconceivable that More, on his visits, did not obtain information from them. Indeed, the possession of such unique information may have been what inspired him to write his book and so put an end to the rumours then in circulation.

  Sir Thomas did more than any other writer, except Shakespeare, to

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  publicise the 'Black Legend' of Richard III. Erasmus tells us that More particularly loathed tyranny, and it may be that he wrote his biography primarily as a moral tale to illustrate the nature and consequences of tyranny. Certainly he himself believed Richard to be guilty of many crimes, though he did try to be fair to him, praising his courage and his qualities as a military leader. And while his descriptions of Richard's deformities are exaggerated, they were drawn from earlier sources and used by More, in the fashion of his time, as outward manifestations of villainy to underline the moral thrust of his work.

  As has been demonstrated to striking effect, More's account fits in almost perfectly with the known facts of the Princes' disappearance and the events of late summer 1483. Croyland informs us that the sons of Edward IV remained in the Tower under guard while events such as the coronation, the progress and Edward of Middleham's investiture as Prince of Wales on 8th September were taking place. He does not refer to them being alive after this date, which is probably significant. Croyland speaks with the authority of one who knows what is going on; as an historian he was a man of caution, and therefore it is likely that his information is trustworthy.

  John Rous, however, implies that the Princes were already dead by the time of Richard's usurpation, saying 'he ascended the throne of the slaughtered children, whose protector he was himself. Elsewhere, he says of Richard that, as Duke of Gloucester, he 'received his lord, Edward V, with embraces and kisses, yet within about three months he killed him, together with his brother'. This would place the murder before the end of July, and neither date ties in with the evidence of Croyland, More and Vergil. Nor, by the same token can we trust the evidence of Molinet, who states that the Princes were murdered five weeks after they entered the Tower. As York joined his brother there on 16th June, this would argue a date in late July, which is not borne out by the other evidence.

  We do not know when Richard III first conceived the idea of murdering his nephews. There is no evidence that his decision to do so was made before Edward V's accession. The idea was probably born after Richard realised that his power might not last beyond the coronation, which was in May 1483. He had probably made up his mind by the time he was plotting against Hastings, for it is known that he had already decided to move York from sanctuary to the

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  Tower. The transfer of both princes to high-security quarters, and the removal of their servants, were arguably the first premeditated steps towards actually carrying out the deed, an event that must have, of necessity, to await a propitious moment. This would preferably be when the furore over Richard's accession had died a natural death and he himself was away on progress.

  What probably spurred Richard III into actually committing the murder was news of the conspiracies to restore Edward V, proof enough that the deposed king posed the deadliest of all the threats to Richard's security. Fortunately for Richard, that former king, a helpless child, was in his power.

  It has often been suggested that either Buckingham or Norfolk were somehow involved in the murder of the Princes. The case against Buckingham will be examined in the next chapter, where it will be shown to be unsubstantiated. Norfolk, meanwhile, stood to lose his dukedom if ever Edward V was restored to power, but there is, however, no evidence to support the theory that Norfolk was Richard's accomplice.

  Nor is there any evidence to substantiate the claim, made by Sir George Buck and based on information in 'an old manuscript book which I have seen', that 'Dr Morton and a certain Countess, contriving the death of Edward V and others, resolved it by poison'. This countess was presumably Morton's friend and confidante, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, but she would not have been able to gain access to the Tower. Morton himself was a prisoner of the Duke of Buckingham at Brecknock Castle at the relevant time. Apart from the practical difficulties involved, there is no contemporary evidence of any such plot.

  Some revisionists, among them Mr Jack Leslau and the late Audrey Williamson, have claimed that the Princes were not murdered in the Tower in 1483 but were secretly moved by the King to a safe haven in the country in order to confound future conspirators. Rumours that they were still alive were current for years after their disappearance, and Vergil records a popular theory that they had been spirited abroad. Such theories are easily understood, given that the alternative was too dreadful to contemplate: even in that violent age, child murder attracted the deepest revulsion, and still, today, we look for evidence that would reassure us it never took place. Alas, there is none. When the

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  Princes were alive people knew of their existence and referred to it. After the late summer of 1483 -- silence. Had they survived they would have left traces. There are none anywhere.

  Some revisionists, notably Sir Clements Markham and Jeremy Potter, have asserted that, when Richard III established a household at Sheriff Hutton Castle, Yorkshire, in 1484 for his nephew John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln and newly-appointed President of the Council of the North, the Princes were still alive and were secretly moved there. This assertion rests on the evidence of two warrants in Harleian MS. 433 in the British Library. One, dated 23rd July, 1484, refers to Lincoln and Lord Morley being at breakfast with each other and 'the children together' at another breakfast. The second, dated 9th March, 1485, is a warrant to Henry Davy to deliver two doublets of silk, one jacket of silk, one gown, two shirts and two bonnets to 'the Lord Bastard', a title used for the deposed Edward V in the Wardrobe Accounts. Elsewhere in official documents the former King is called 'Edward Bastard'.

  There were royal children at Sheriff Hutton: the King had sent young Warwick there and probably his sister Margaret also. It is possible that the four younger daughters of Edward IV were at some time in residence too, as well as the King's bastard son, John of Gloucester -- to whom the second warrant most probably refers. John was not a lord in the official sense, but as the King's natural son he was styled as such out of courtesy. There is nothing to suggest that the Princes were ever at Sheriff Hutton. If they had been, many people would have known about it.

  An intriguing theory about the Princes' survival has been put
forward by Mr Jack Leslau, an amateur historian from London. He contends that the Princes were given new identities in 1485 after a secret agreement between Henry VII and Elizabeth Wydville, Henry agreeing to spare them and marry their sister in return for Elizabeth's consent to their 'disappearance'. Mr Leslau contends that Edward V is to be identified with Sir Edward Guildford, son of Sir Richard Guildford, Comptroller of the Royal Household and, later, Marshal of Calais; Sir Edward's only child Jane became the wife of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Lord Protector of England during the minority of Edward VI. Sir Richard Guildford was a prominent courtier, whose father had been comptroller of Edward IV's household. His first wife was Anne, daughter and heiress of John Pimpe of Kent,

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  and by her he had two sons and four daughters, of whom Edward was not the eldest. Sir Richard married secondly, in the reign of Henry VII, Joan, sister of Sir Nicholas Vaux, who bore him another son Henry between 1478 and 1489. The sheer practical difficulties of Mr Leslau's theory defy belief: Sir Richard was well-known at court. How he managed to explain the sudden acquisition in 1485-6 of a teenaged 'son' to his friends and acquaintances is baffling. More to the point, in 1485-6 there would have been many in Guildford's circle who would have recognised Edward V. He could not have 'disappeared' by this route.

  Mr Leslau has also claimed to have identified Richard, Duke of York, in one Dr John Clement, who was a notable scholar and protégé of Sir Thomas More. He became President of the Royal College of Physicians and died in 1571. Clement probably came from a Yorkshire family and, according to Nicholas Harpsfield, More's mid sixteenth-century biographer, was 'brought up in Sir Thomas's house. The said Clement was taken by More from Paul's School in London and hath since proved a very excellent, good physician, and is singularly seen [i.e. proficient] in the Greek tongue.' Harpsfield tells how More wrote of him, 'being yet a child', to Erasmus, the great Dutch humanist, saying: 'My wife greets you, and also Clement, who makes such daily progress in Latin and Greek that I entertain no small hope that he will be an ornament to his country and to letters.' Harpsfield also refers to 'this young Clement'. More himself calls Clement 'my pupil servant', and a woodcut by Ambrosius Holbein, dated 1518, shows Clement as a youth coming to serve More and two of his friends with wine. In 1526 Clement married Margaret Gigs, More's foster daughter, who was born around 1508. Clement had been her tutor before their marriage, and she too became a noted Greek scholar and evinced a keen interest in medicine.

  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

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  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

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  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

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  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.

 
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