The Princes in the Tower
What Happened In The Tower
Precisely what happened to the princes while they were stationed in the Tower remains a mystery. The chronicler, Mancini, while still in England refers to how the two brothers were seen, shooting and playing, in the Tower garden (the Bloody Tower was named the Garden Tower at the time). Yet, they were never seen again after mid-July. After the executions of Earl Rivers and Sir Richard Grey on 25 June – the day of the aborted parliament – a meeting at Westminster occurred, led by the Duke of Buckingham, at which accusations against Edward IV’s first marriage came to light. The following day the lords met at Baynard’s Castle and petitioned Richard to take the throne. Eventually he accepted, and on 6 July he was crowned at Westminster.
While providing a detailed insight into the events that inspired my novel, The Plantagenet Vendetta, would be mostly impossible without a second book, doing the same thing for what happened to the princes would be doubly difficult. At least one attempt at rescuing the princes occurred, the Sanctuary Plot in July, which may or may not have contributed to the princes’ deaths. The Italian chronicler Dominic Mancini had left England before the end of July. Furthermore, he was already writing about the disappearance of the princes. While it can be confirmed the princes were still alive at that time, according to Thomas More, they were both shut up and isolated except for one person who served them, named William Slaughter or ‘Black Will’. More suggests there may later have been three others, including one Miles Forrest – possibly the same man who was recorded as Keeper of the Wardrobe at Richard III’s Barnard Castle in Yorkshire.
What fate awaited the princes comes down to the period of late August, early September. According to the chronicler Commines, the princes were murdered. How exactly, depends on the version. Commines refers to the Duke of Buckingham acting under orders from Richard. According to another source found in the College of Arms, they were murdered on the vise (advice/direction/undertaking) of the Duke of Buckingham, one of Richard’s closest allies. Another manuscript, Ashmole ms 1448.60, refers to the prompting of Buckingham, while Jean Molinet suggests it was actually Buckingham.
Sadly, the opinions are far from consistent. The author of the second Croyland continuation is irritatingly silent on the matter, while More goes into far more detail. More’s unfinished chronicle specifically states the murder to have occurred on 15 August, while Alison Weir suggests More was correct in everything bar the date, 3 September being the critical event. More’s detailed description includes a letter being given to Richard III’s faithful servant Sir James Tyrell, ordering that the keys to the Tower be given to Tyrell for that night only. After this, More states it was one John Dighton and Miles Forrest who smothered the children in their beds. The chronicler Polydore Vergil also accuses Tyrell of the murder, though he mentions nothing of More’s detail. Other versions tell of the murder being by the sword or else drowned in wine – Clarence was executed that way. On his return to England in 1502 and subsequent incarceration, Tyrell is alleged to have confessed involvement, later included in More’s chronicle.
More is the only author who details what became of the bodies. He wrote that they were buried at the foot of the Tower stair and moved into the garden. In 1674 when work was being carried out at the Tower, the bodies of two small boys were found at the location where More claimed the princes had initially been buried. Also present was purple velvet rag, the colour of the monarch. Charles II was convinced the bodies were those of the princes, and they were henceforth interred in Westminster Abbey, in the urn the work of the great Sir Christopher Wren. DNA testing on the bodies in the 1930s confirmed the ages to be in the region of twelve and nine respectively.
In all likelihood, the boys were indeed the sons of Edward IV. Yet until DNA testing takes place, the matter can never be put to rest. The recent discovery of Richard III’s body under a car park in Leicester has generated new interest. Of Richard’s appearance, the gaps have finally been filled in and legend and history can at last agree.
In all likelihood, the princes were murdered. In all probability, Richard was the man who was ultimately responsible. But he is not the only candidate. Between Richard and Buckingham, and perhaps Tyrell, if indeed he was the man in question, there remains one even more compelling candidate whose need for the princes to be dead was even more significant than Richard’s. For Richard had the throne regardless. Though rebellion may well have, one day, awaited him, for Henry Tudor, the demise of the princes was pivotal. This opens up the possibility that an even more likely candidate exists.