The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  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

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  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.

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  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

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  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

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  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

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  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 Beaufort 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

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  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.

  Later that September, says Croyland, 'a rumour was spread that the sons of King Edward had died a violent death, but it was uncertain how'. Croyland makes it clear that this was not the rumour initiated by the King, and implies that Buckingham and his accomplices were responsible for it. This rumour -- disseminated over a wide area by agents working for Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort -- spread fast and soon infiltrated the court itself. Within a short while it was the talk of the courts of Europe. This was what the conspirators wanted, for they meant to heap such opprobrium on Richard III that his people would be ready to rise up and join them when the time came. What was to their advantage was that there was no point in spreading a rumour that the King could so easily have disproved by producing the Princes alive; the story was entirely credible and people believed it. Within weeks of their deaths it was widely accepted that the Princes had been murdered in the Tower on the King's command. This is hardly surprising since no-one had seen the boys since early July at the latest and the life expectancy of a deposed monarch was notoriously short. Evidence of how strongly the rumours were believed is to be found in the commonplace book of Richard Arnold, a London merchant, for the year 1482-- 3: 'This year the sons of King Edward were put to silence.' Fabyan says it was soon 'the common fame' that King Richard had killed his nephews.

  The late fifteenth century was a violent age not noted for sentimentality. It was accepted that men often died horribly in battle or on the scaffold. Yet the murder of children provoked appalled shock and indignation. The Tudor chronicler Hall spoke for the majority when he wrote:

  To murder a man is much odious, to kill a woman is in a manner

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  unnatural, but to slay and destroy innocent babes and young infants the whole world abhorreth, and the blood from the earth cries for vengeance to Almighty God. Alas, whom will he save when he slayeth the poor lambs committed to him in trust?

  Vergil says that 'when the fame of this notable foul fact was dispersed through the realm, so great grief struck literally to the heart of all men that the same, subduing all fear, wept everywhere, and when they could weep no more, they cried out, "Is there truly any man who would not have abhorred so foul a murder?"' Mancini also, it will be remembered, had referred to men weeping, and that was back in July when the Princes were still alive but people had begun to fear for their safety. King Richard, it was now felt, had committed an atrocious crime, and should pay for it.

  The fact that people believed so implicitly in Richard's guilt was of greater significance historically than whether or not he had actually committed the crime. It damaged irrevocably his already tarnished reputation, and it cost him the brief popularity fuelled by the progress. It also lost him much support among the Yorkist old guard who had served Edward IV, and it prompted many more people to join those who were already conspiring against him. Alive, the Princes had represented a potential threat to Richard's security; dead, they were a very real danger.

  This public belief in the death of the Princes had an immediate effect. There had been some conspirators, mainly in the South, who maintained the belief that Edward V still lived in the Tower, and whose chief motive in rebelling was his restoration. But now, faced with compelling rumours which were doubtless confirmed by links with Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort, these men also switched their allegiance to Henry Tudor and co-ordinated their plans with those of the other plotters, so that the planned rebellion became one cohesive movement to overthrow Richard III and establish a Tudor dynasty; this amounted, in effect, to a fresh outbreak of the Wars of the Roses. This time, however, the House of York would be opposing that of Tudor in a conflict which -- in the final analysis -- was the direct result of Richard Ill's murder of the Princes.

  Margaret Beaufort was now sending frequent messages and letters to her son in Brittany, urging him to come to Wales and join Buckingham

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  in this righteous war against the usurper. Legally, as her attainder later stated, she was a traitor, 'imagining the destruction of the King and assisting Henry, Duke of Buckingham, in treason'. The Countess, of course, would not have viewed her activities in that light. The triumph of her son might be only weeks away, and she would not contemplate failure since she must have known that it would herald the ruin of all the conspirators.

  After his successful visit to York, Richard III travelled on 20th September to Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. Queen Anne had left for Middleham with the Prince of Wales and Warwick. By 24th September the rebel plans were complete and co-ordinated uprisings were scheduled to take place, according to the Rolls of Parliament, on 18th October.

  There were to be five separate uprisings. In Kent, the Hautes, close kin to the Wydvilles, were to march from The Mote near Maidstone and Ightham Mote. Exeter was to be roused by Dorset, Sir Thomas St Leger, the husband of Richard Ill's sister Anne, and members of the Lancastrian Courtenay family, earls of Devon. Lionel Wydville was to organise a rising in Salisbury. Buckingham would have an army standing at battle alert in Wales.

  On 24th September, Buckingham, on behalf of both the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions, wrote to Henry Tudor, inviting him to invade England on 18th October, to deliver the realm from tyranny. Vergil says this invitation was conditional upon Henry swearing a solemn oath that once England was his he would marry Elizabeth of York and, says Croyland, 'together with her take possession of the throne'.

  Henry Tudor had until now made no effort to promote his claim to the English crown. He owed this new and unexpected opportunity to do so entirely
to the murder of the Princes and its effect on Richard Ill's reputation. He now found himself transformed from a penniless fugitive to king-elect in the eyes of many, and he lost no time in taking advantage of Buckingham's invitation. While the conspirators were busy enlisting support among the gentry in the south of England, Henry and his uncle Jasper Tudor persuaded Duke Francis of Brittany to loan him 10,000 crowns, enough to employ 5,000 mercenaries and fit out some ships. It appears that some of the royal treasure appropriated by the Wydvilles went to finance the venture. By 2nd October Henry Tudor was ready to invade England.

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  The rebels were aware, even now, that King Richard could command awesome support. He could still count upon the loyalty of great magnates such as Norfolk and Northumberland and many northern nobles and gentlemen. However, the rumours concerning the Princes were now so widespread, and so damning to him, that his position had been considerably weakened. By the beginning of October Richard must have been aware of the malicious rumours put about by his enemies and of their devastating effect upon public opinion. Croyland says he was aware that many of his subjects saw him as 'the wretched, bloody and usurping boar', the White Boar being his personal emblem.

  He knew now that the Princes posed a greater threat in death than they had in life. An innocent man would have countered this threat by exhibiting the Princes alive or making a statement disclaiming all responsibility for their deaths, for which he could have offered a plausible explanation, and he would have produced their bodies for honourable public burial. But Richard kept silent and ignored the rumours. He neither denied them, nor made any statement about the fate or whereabouts of the Princes, nor accused anyone else of murdering them. His policy on the subject was complete silence, a silence he maintained to the end of his life: a silence that has condemned him in the eyes of most historians, and which probably confirmed his contemporaries' worst suspicions.

 
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