The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1483 by Sir John Everett Millais, 1878
The Princes in the Tower were Edward V of England, who should rightly have been crowned King and had shown early promise, and his brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.
The two brothers were the only sons of Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville, and were alive at the time of their father's death.
Then 12 and 9 years old, they were lodged in the Tower of London by the man appointed to look after them, the Lord Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
This was supposed to be in preparation for Edward's coronation as king.
By 1483 the young princes seemed to have vanished.
After Richard took the throne for himself, it is assumed that they were murdered.
This may have occurred sometime around 1483, but apart from their disappearance, the only evidence is circumstantial.
There are many theories......
In May 1483 Edward arrived in London for his coronation and was accommodated in the Tower of London, then a royal residence.
The younger prince, Richard, at that point was with his mother in sanctuary, but joined his brother in the Tower in June.
Edward undoubtedly became King of England when his father died of pneumonia, but had the shortest reign of all our kings, and was never crowned.
Both princes were declared illegitimate by an Act of Parliament of 1483 known as Titulus Regius, and their uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was crowned as King Richard III of England.
There are reports of the two princes being seen playing in the Tower grounds shortly after Richard joined his brother, but there are no recorded sightings of either of them after the summer of 1483.
Their fate remains an enduring mystery, but historians and contemporary popular opinion agree that the princes may have been murdered in the Tower.
There is no record of a funeral.
Much, much later, in 1674, the skeletons of two children were discovered under the staircase leading to the chapel, during the course of renovations to the White Tower.
At that time, these were believed to have been the remains of the two princes, and on the orders of Charles II the remains were reburied in Westminster Abbey.
In 1933, the grave was opened to see if modern science could cast any light on the issues, and the skeletons were determined to be those of two young children, one aged around seven to eleven and the other around eleven to thirteen.
This is a Victorian brass plate in the White Tower, which tells how Charles II had the bones removed and preserved in a large white urn in the North Aisle of Henry VII's Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
The area is now known as Innocents' Corner, after the children commemorated there.
This is the urn which contains the bones, which have never been thoroughly investigated.
If the boys were indeed murdered, (and they could hardly have vanished into thin air),
there are several major suspects for the crime.
The evidence is ambiguous, and has led people to various conflicting conclusions.
Many suspected Richard lll.
Richard III had eliminated the princes from the succession.
However, his hold on the monarchy was not secure, and the existence of the princes would remain a threat as long as they were alive.
The boys could have been used by Richard's enemies as figureheads for rebellion.
Rumours of their death were in circulation by late 1483, but Richard never attempted to prove that they were alive by having them seen in public, which strongly suggests that they were dead by then.
And Richard is said to have spent much money in giving gifts to those who would witness to his innocence.
Raphael Holinshed, in his Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577) reports that Richard, "what with purging and declaring his innocence concerning the murder of his nephews towards the world, and what with cost to obtain the love and favour of the communaltie (which outwardlie glosed, and openly dissembled with him) ... gave prodigally so many and so great rewards, that now both he lacked money, and scarce with honesty knew how to borrow."
Richard also failed to open any investigation into the matter, which would have been in his interest if he was not responsible for the deaths of his nephews.
Many modern historians, including David Starkey, do regard Richard himself as the most likely culprit.
There never was a formal accusation against Richard III on the matter; the Bill of Attainder brought by Henry VII made no definitive mention of the Princes in the Tower, but it did include the accusation of "shedding of Infants blood", which may be an accusation of the Princes' murder (especially since no other specific accusation of harming infants has ever been made against Richard).
It seems that Richard stands as the chief suspect.....
SUSPECT TWO: TYRRELL
Second in line as murderer is James Tyrrell, an English knight who fought for the House of York on many occasions.
Some, notably William Shakespeare, regard him as the most likely culprit.
Of course we have to remember that Shakespeare was a dramatist, not a historian.....
Tyrrell was arrested by Henry VII's forces in 1501 for supporting another Yorkist claimant to the throne.
Shortly before his execution, it is said that Tyrrell admitted, under torture, to having murdered the princes at the behest of Richard III; however, no written record of such an important confession has ever been found or referred to.
Thomas More, a Tudor Loyalist and Chancellor under Henry VIII, suspected James Tyrrell.
In his History of King Richard III, written around the year 1513, More identified Sir James Tyrrell as the murderer, acting on Richard's orders, and told the story of Tyrrell's confession, which took place after he had been arrested for treason against Henry VII.
Tyrrell was the loyal servant of Richard III, who is said to have confessed to the murder of the princes in 1502.
The Great Chronicle of London, written around the year 1512, also identified Tyrrell.
Polydore Vergil, in his Anglica Historia (circa 1513), specifies that Tyrrell was the murderer, stating that he "rode sorrowfully to London" and committed the deed with reluctance, upon Richard III's orders, and that Richard himself spread the rumours of the princes' death in the belief that it would discourage rebellion.
In his history of King Richard, More said that the princes were smothered to death in their beds by two agents of Tyrell—Miles Forrest and John Dighton—and were then buried "at the stayre foote, metely depe in the grounde vnder a great heape of stones", but were later disinterred and buried in a secret place.
SUSPECT THREE: DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM
Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, was Richard's right-hand man and sought personal advantage through the new king.
Some, notably Paul Murray Kendall, regard Buckingham as the likeliest suspect: his execution, after he had rebelled against Richard in October 1483, might signify that he and the king had fallen out because Buckingham had taken it on himself for whatever reason to dispose of Richard's rival claimants; alternatively, he could have been acting on behalf of Henry Tudor (later to become King Henry VII).
On the other hand, if Buckingham were guilty he could equally well have been acting on Richard's orders, with his rebellion coming after he became dissatisfied with Richard's treatment of him.
As a descendant of Edward III, through John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster and Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester, Buckingham may have hoped to accede to the throne himself in due course.
Buckingham's guilt depends on the princes having already been dead by October 1483, since he was executed the following month.
In the 1980s, within the archives of the College of Arms in London, further documentation was discovered which states that the murder was conducted "be (by) the vise of the Duke of Buckingham".
Another reference, surfacing this time in the Portuguese archives, states that "...and after the passing away of king Edward in the year of 83, another one of his brothers, the Duke of Gloucester, had in his power the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, the young sons of the said king his brother, and turned them to the Duke of Buckingham, under whose custody the said Princes were starved to death."
However neither document states whether Buckingham acted for himself, on Richard's orders, or in collusion with the Tudor party.
The Great Chronicle, compiled 30 years later from the contemporary London municipal records, says the rumour of the princes' death did not start circulating in London until after Easter of 1484.
And if the princes were not already dead by the end of 1483, this of course removes any possibility that Buckingham, who was executed on 2 November 1483, could have murdered them.
Perhaps not a likely suspect....
SUSPECT FOUR: HENRY TUDOR
Henry VII (Henry Tudor) following his accession, proceeded to find a legal excuse to execute some of the rival claimants to the throne.
He married the princes' eldest sister, Elizabeth of York, to reinforce his hold on the throne, but her right to inherit depended on both her brothers being already dead.
Therefore the possibility of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) being the culprit has been suggested; however, Henry became king in 1485, whereas the Princes went missing in 1483.
Realistically, Henry's only opportunity to murder the princes would have been after his accession in 1485.
This theory leaves open the question of why the princes were not seen after 1483 and why Richard did not produce them when he was suspected of their murder.
Besides, Holinshed states quite unequivocally that Richard commented on the "murder of his nephews" during his (Richard's) reign.
Maybe not a very likely suspect, then.....
To solve the mystery, we need facts: they are few and far between.
WERE THE PRINCES ACTUALLY KILLED?
Several young men later claimed later to be one of the princes.
There were subsequently a number of apparent pretenders claiming to be Prince Richard, Duke of York,although there seem to have been none claiming to be Edward V.
It has been suggested that this is because Edward V was well known and would have been difficult to impersonate; this would be less true of his younger brother.
The best-known Pretender was Perkin Warbeck.
The fact that Henry VII did not provide an official public version of the fate of the Princes, despite Warbeck's activities, until the Tyrell confession, has been interpreted as meaning either that he was unaware of the true story or that publishing it would have not been in his interests.
In 1674, some workmen remodelling the Tower of London dug up a wooden box containing two small human skeletons.
The bones were found in the ground close to the White Tower, consistent with More's description of the original burial place of the princes, but not consistent with More's later claim that the bodies had been subsequently removed and buried elsewhere (under the tower stairs).
One anonymous report was that they were found with "pieces of rag and velvet about them", the velvet indicated that the bodies were those of aristocrats.
Eventually the bones were gathered up and placed in an urn, which Charles II of England ordered interred in Westminster Abbey in the wall of the Henry VII Lady Chapel.
The rags and velvet were not mentioned again and, presumably were not included in the reinterment.
In 1933 the bones were taken out and examined, and then replaced in the urn.
They were found to have been interred carelessly along with chicken and other animal bones.
There were also 3 very rusty nails.
One skeleton was larger than the other, but many of the bones were missing, including part of the smaller jawbone and all of the teeth from the larger one.
Many of the bones had been broken by the original workmen.
Examination of photographs from this exhumation indicated that the elder child was 11–13 years old and the younger was 7–11 years old.
It was not possible at that time to determine the sex of children's skeletons.
No further scientific examination has since been conducted on the bones, which remain in Westminster Abbey, and DNA analysis has not been attempted.
Royal consent would be necessary to open any royal tomb, so it was felt best to leave the medieval mystery unsolved for at least the next few generations.
DOES ANYONE WANT TO FIND THE TRUTH?
This is a translation of the inscription on the urn in which the bones found in 1674 are preserved:
"Here lie the relics of Edward V, King of England, and Richard, Duke of York.
These brothers being confined in the Tower of London, and there stifled with pillows, were privately and meanly buried, by the order of their perfidious uncle Richard the Usurper; whose bones, long enquired after and wished for, after 191 years in the rubbish of the stairs (those lately leading to the chapel of the White Tower) were on the 17th day of July 1674, by undoubted proofs discovered, being buried deep in that place.
Charles II, a most compassionate prince, pitying their severe fate, ordered these unhappy princes to be laid among the monuments of their predecessors, 1678, in the 30th year of his reign."
A FEW ACTUAL FACTS.....
from the 1933 press reports
In July 1674, workmen in the Tower of London, digging down the stairs leading from the King's Lodgings to the Chapel in the White Tower, found the skeletons of two children.
Since the place of discovery coincided with Thomas More's circumstantial account of the disposal of the bodies of the princes, and according to a contemporary eye-witness, scraps of velvet were found with the bones, they were assumed to be those of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, and on Charles II's orders, were deposited in a marble urn in Henry VII's Chapel, Westminster Abbey.
In July 1933, the urn was opened in an attempt to determine whether the bones could indeed be those of the princes.
The findings were reported by L. E. Tanner and W. Wright in 'Recent Investigations Regarding the Fate of the Princes in the Tower', Archaeologia, vol LXXXIV (1935).
The remains were examined by Professor Wright of the Royal College of Surgeons and Dr. George Northcroft, a dental surgeon, but not by an anthropologist, a mediaeval archaeologist or a forensic scientist.
They agreed that the bones were those of a child aged between twelve and thirteen and a younger child aged between nine and eleven.
Certain peculiar features about the bones suggested close family relationship, while the elder child seemed to have suffered from a disease in the jaw which would have affected its general health and there was a stain on the skull which, Wright claimed though could not prove, was a bloodstain.
Their conclusion was that the bones were those of King Edward V and his brother and were compatible with their deaths in the summer of 1483 when Edward was twelve years and nine months of age and Richard was about to celebrate his tenth birthday.
Subsequent scholars, however, have cast doubts on these conclusions, believing the anatomical evidence for the ages of the children and for death by smothering as indicated by the stain on the skull to be unsound, although the dental evidence is generally stronger.
Scientific methods of dating bones have advanced much since 1933 and the differences in development between mediaeval and modern children may, in principle, be addressed because of the discovery in 1964 of the coffin and remains of Anne Mowbray, child wife of Richard of York, whose age and date of death are known.
This gives a direct contemporary parallel by which to judge the age and development of the controversial skeletons.
It could be possible, by DNA testing (since the hair of one of the princes' royal relations is available) to confirm or deny the identity of the remains in the urn.
John Ashdown-Hill, a 56-yearold PhD student at Essex University, hopes that DNA analysis of a locket of hair believed to belong to the boys’ niece, Mary Tudor, could reveal the answer.
It seems that there is no feeling of urgency about the matter.
Perhaps we will never know the truth.
Am I the only one who cares?