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The Fate of the Princes

Going Incognito?

One main Ricardian objective is to advance the idea that Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, were not murdered by Richard III in the Tower of London in 1483.  In an effort to develop an alternate reality regarding the fate of these boys, they come up with ingenious fictions.

To advance their arguments, they pretend that the mysterious circumstances in which their fates are shrouded were characteristic of their lives from the start.  Therefore, nobody knew them or knew what they looked like, so they could “disappear” into the crowd and live their lives in obscurity long after their infamous uncle Richard was dead.

However, the Princes in the Tower were not raised by wolves.  They were not raised out of public view, little known, little loved, and little mourned.

How can one begin to describe the silliness of the notion that Edward V slipped into a prominent family, which then passed him off as a teenage relative, as if he were too unknown and too little seen to be recognized?  Or that Richard, Duke of York, became the protege of Thomas More, a man five years younger than himself?

Then, at a time when nobodies were being raised as pretenders to Henry VII’s throne, we are expected to believe that both boys, more deserving of the Crown than the current occupant, were content to live in obscurity.  Were both of them so devoid of ambition?

What Conspiracy?

Some Ricardians try to convince us that More’s description of their murder in the Summer of 1483 was ridiculous because of the number of people in collusion.  Then, these same Ricardians go on to create a great Tudor conspiracy in which those in collusion include the King, his heir, his wife, his mother-in-law, his sisters-in-law, their relatives, and the Princes themselves.  How many people are involved in this conspiracy?  A hundred?

Who knows how close to the truth More came, but at least he had the modesty to admit that he wasn’t sure, and he was much closer to the event in time than we can ever be.  However, unlike many Ricardians today, he at least provided us with a rationale (trustworthy sources, the alleged Tyrell confession) for believing that his version of the story came near the truth.

Believed to be Dead

Contemporary sources are unanimous in recording that Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, were dead, or believed to be dead, in 1483.  We should note that their cousin John de la Pole and the others who spearheaded the Lambert Simnel imposture in 1487, when drumming up support against Henry VII, apparently never acknowledged that the boys were alive in Richard III’s time or murdered in Henry’s.  The Perkin Warbeck imposture much later was ingenious but not believable, since the friends, allies, and supporters of Richard, Duke of York, would have advanced his candidacy for the Crown early in Henry’s reign, when he was still insecure and vulnerable and emotion for the lost Princes more acute.  These allies would have replaced Lambert Simnel with the genuine article rather than offering someone pretending to be Edward of Warwick, who was alive and Henry’s prisoner.  Thus, Henry was able to confound the conspirators by displaying Edward of Warwick alive.  This is in direct contrast to Richard III, who never displayed Edward V or Richard, Duke of York, alive in order to dispel rumors of their death and to confound his opposition.

On the other hand, there is absolutely no evidence to support the speculation that Edward V and Richard survived Richard III, other than the fertile imaginations of Ricardians, who are reduced to seeking hidden meaning in every piece of contemporary information that might be construed to support their arguments.  The traditionalists have no need to invent evidence, as the contemporary sources plainly and openly support their arguments.  As history is the attempt to know the truth about events and people of the past, I’ll take the records of contemporaries over present speculation and wishful thinking every time.

We may never know exactly what happened to Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, but it is likely that they were murdered in 1483.  If so, Richard III must be held culpable because he was the reigning King and was responsible for their welfare.  In my opinion, the only argument is how culpable he was.

Life After Death?

There were people during Henry VII’s reign who believed (or hoped) that the Princes were still alive. Even individuals like William Stanley, the King’s own step-uncle, expressed an interest in Perkin Warbeck’s imposture of Richard, Duke of York, in the 1490s. Because there were people who still believed or hoped that the Princes might have survived Richard III, Ricardians assume they must therefore have still been alive.

However, history has proven again and again that deposed and murdered royals are often believed to have still been alive years after their assassination. There were people who believed that Richard II was alive long after his death in 1400, and Henry IV’s opposition continued to foment rebellion in his name.

A curious letter written around 1437 contends that Edward II had not been assassinated, but instead had escaped his prison in Berkeley Castle to live in obscurity on the Continent.

Louis XVII, the young King of France and son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, is said to have died in prison during the French Revolution, but rumors persisted that he had escaped that fate, and there were those who claimed his identity.

More recently, individuals have claimed to be Alexis and Anastasia Romanov, the youngest children of Nicolas II of Russia, who had somehow escaped the execution that destroyed the rest of their family. The impostors had very plausible stories and even convinced a few who had once known them. DNA testing of their remains has proven otherwise.

It seems to be not so unusual for people to pin their living hopes on a dead deposed monarch.

Here are my reasons for believing that Edward V and Richard of York died in 1483:

Contemporary sources indicate that they died in 1483 and finger Richard III and/or the Duke of Buckingham as the instigator.

Croyland Chronicler (an anonymous writer whose narrative indicates that he was on Edward IV’s council and had served him in diplomatic missions, claims to have written his account in 10 days in April 1486):  “Rumor spread that the sons of King Edward had died a violent death, but it was uncertain how.”  He goes on to quote a poem about the Three Richards:  “The Third was not content therewith but must destroy his brother’s progeny…The Boar’s tusks quailed and, to avenge the White, the Red Rose bloomed.”  Concerning Bosworth, he refers to “the children of King Edward, whose cause in especial was avenged in this battle.”

Dominic Mancini (an Italian visitor to England who received his information from courtiers and left England in mid-July following Richard III’s coronation, wrote in December 1483):  “I have seen many men burst into tears and lamentations when mention was made of him (Edward V) after his removal from men’s sight, and already there was a suspicion that he had been done away with.”

Robert Ricart, recorder in Bristol, wrote in his calendar book for the year ending September 18, 1483 that the Princes “were put to silence” in the Tower of London.

London citizen 1483 to 1488:  “This year (1483) King Edward V…and Richard…were put to death in the Tower of London.”

Guillaume de Rochfort, Lord Chancellor of France, in a speech to the Estates General (January 1484):  “Think of his (Edward IV’s) children, already grown and promising, being murdered with impunity and of the crown’s passing to their assassin.”

Bodlian MS Ashmole 1448 Miscellaneous manuscripts from reigns of Edward IV through Henry VII:  “Richard…removed them from the light of the world…vilely and murderously.”

Diego de Valera (March 1486):  Richard poisoned his nephews.

Merchant Richard Arnold’s commonplace book for 1483 contains the item:  “Two sons of King Edward put to silence.”

Great Chronicles of London:  Tyrell or an old servant of Richard murdered the boys.

John Rous, antiquarian for the Earls of Warwick:  “The usurper King Richard III then ascended the throne of the slaughtered children.”

BL MS Landsdowne 762, fo. 11: Richard was made king “at the occasion of an unhappy deed by the murdering of young Edward our king.”

Vitellus, Chronicles of London:  “King Richard…put to death the two children of King Edward, for which cause he lost the hearts of the people.”

See Political Poetry for more contemporary opinion.

The actions of the Yorkist loyalists indicate that they had given the boys up for dead.
There was a conspiracy to free the Princes in July 1483, before they were thought to be dead.  Around mid-September, rather than attempting to restore Edward V, the conspirators supported the exiled nobody Henry Tudor, with the caveat that he marry Elizabeth of York.  This happened around the time that Buckingham joined Richard’s opposition, suggesting that he was the one who informed Richard’s opposition of the Princes’ death.  Henry took a vow to marry Elizabeth on Christmas Day 1483, in the presence of the Yorkist exiles.  With her brothers assumed to be dead, Elizabeth was now her father’s heir.

Edward V and his brother disappeared from history. 
There has never been evidence that they resurfaced after the summer of 1483.

Richard III was silent about what happened to them and never showed them alive publicly to stop the rumors.

Rumors of the deaths of Edward V and Richard of York were raised again after the death of Richard’s only legitimate child.
After the death of Richard’s son Edward of Middleham, the Croyland Chronicler reported “whisperings” that the Princes were dead.  It was all too easy for credulous minds to believe that this was punishment from God.

Henry’s first Parliament accused Richard of “shedding infants’ blood.”
There were political reasons for not mentioning the Princes by name.  Henry did not have to be reminded that he was the substitute for Edward IV’s dead sons.

The probability of murder was 100%
The English kings who were deposed previous to Edward V were assassinated.  Edward II was hideously murdered in Berkeley Castle; Richard II was assassinated in Pontefract Castle; Henry VI was assassinated after years of captivity by Edward IV following the death of his son and heir in battle in 1471.  Edward IV was lucky to escape death because he fled the country and then returned to reclaim his crown.  There is no proof that Edward V or Richard of York ever did the same.

The idea that Richard III was too nice a guy to kill the Princes is not shown by the evidence.
He killed people on his way to the throne; he killed people to preserve his throne, and there are no contemporary sources to support Paul Murray Kendall’s assertion that the assassination of the boys was “repugnant” to his character.  To the contrary, the contemporary sources were inclined to think the worst of him (i.e., their propensity to believe that he had a romantic interest in his niece and wanted his wife Anne to die).  Even Kendall had to concede that Richard III “probably” murdered Edward V and Richard of York.

The bodies of two young people were found in the Tower of London. 
However, there is no irrefutable proof that these are the remains of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York.