Civil War is one of the focus areas of the site. In this article, Myra-Lee discusses the intrigues behind the 1483 murder of the Princes in the Tower that led to the killing of Edward IV’s sons, an event that took place in an England that was in a period of civil war, The Wars of the Roses.

 

 Edward IV

Edward IV

We’ve all heard the stories… King Richard III, a cruel, twisted, power-hungry maniac steals his nephews like some monster in the night, locks them up in the tower and kills them. Why? To secure the throne. Thanks to Shakespeare’s pioneering efforts, Richard’s reputation has faced six hundred years of slander. Modern historians would scoff at the thought of using Shakespeare as a historical reference, especially seeing as he wrote of the death of the Duke of Somerset at the hands of Richard when in reality the latter was only two years old. Yet some refuse to give up the claim that Richard, sensing glory, would kill his defenseless nephews for the crown. They fight tooth and nail to convict the long dead king. Others fight for Richard, claiming that his arch enemy, Henry Tudor, was responsible for their deaths.

Of course, the latter claim needs a huge leap of imagination as Henry was in Brittany at the time, had an almost non-existent claim to the throne, and had very little support and power in England. So how would he have done it? Well chances are he probably didn’t (unless he had some sort of teleporting power that history has forgotten to mention). As with all mysteries, there are other suspects, ranging from near royals to near paupers to everybody in between.

Henry Stafford, the second Duke of Buckingham, is one such suspect. Seeing his chance to inherit a throne, he murders the boys in the night (haven’t we heard this before?). In 1502, Sir James Tyrell, an ally of both Richard III and Henry VII (the world’s first double agent?), was arrested and executed. After his death a confession was found which claimed that he was responsible for the murder of the boys and was acting under orders from Richard (how convenient). It has to be noted that roughly the same time as this “confession”, there were two men alleging to be the princes. Both men had armies. Both men had to be fought off by Henry VII. And this is where the supporters of Richard III get excited… Could Henry VII have forged the confession because he knew that the boys were long dead and any pretender claiming to be one of the princes was just that, a pretender? Could he have known this because it was in fact he who killed them?

 

The other suspect

There are many suspects, even more theories, and a smorgasbord of unanswered questions surrounding the princes in the tower. For every question, there is a theory and for every theory there is a suspect, and for every suspect there are more questions. So in honor of this tradition, allow me to add my own suspect - Lady Margaret Beaufort.

 Richard III

Richard III

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that she snuck in like a monster in the night (maybe tripping over her skirts – those staircases in the tower are small) and killed the boys in cold blood, something that would have been quite a task seeing as they were probably bigger than her. I’m merely suggesting that maybe, just maybe, Lady Margaret was the puppet master in an attempt to get her son on the throne. It has long been known that Margaret dedicated her adult life to the pursuit of putting her only son, Henry Tudor, on the throne. Is it such a stretch of the imagination to assume that she would stop at nothing, not even murder, to get this done?

Allow me to explain. The princes were taken to the tower on April 29 1483 after the death of their father Edward IV (he died of pneumonia after a fishing trip). The boys stayed at the tower awaiting Edward V’s coronation; however, due to the political situation, that never came to pass and Richard III was crowned. Only a small group of Englishmen disputed this. One assumes that after many years of civil war, England would have rather had an accomplished warrior for a king and not a sickly 12-year-old boy. Despite what Shakespeare would have us believe, Richard was extremely popular and respected.

This all meant that England didn’t really bat an eyelid when Richard was crowned and the boys continued to live at the tower. They were frequently seen playing on the grass. This is until after July 1483. Suddenly the boys seemed to have disappeared. At this point, Henry’s supporters jumped up and said that Richard was responsible for their deaths. But why? He was already King; killing them would be like shutting the barn door after the horse had run away. Richard had no need to kill the boys - he wasn’t even in London at the time. Even the boys’ mother, Elizabeth Woodville, didn’t think Richard had harmed them - she put herself and her daughters in his custody for protection. All of this ‘Richard-blaming’ is smoke and mirrors when you think that on July 20 1483, Lady Margaret and her followers staged a rescue mission for the boys. History tells us that it was unsuccessful and Lady Margaret then changed her strategy, instead meeting with Elizabeth Woodville to offer a marriage alliance between Margaret’s son and Elizabeth’s daughter.

 

 The Princes in the Tower by Samuel Cousins

The Princes in the Tower by Samuel Cousins

History and the truth

But what if History was lying? What if the “rescue” mission was actually a success and Lady Margaret never actually changed strategies but instead kept on the path of a most perfect plan?  Did old Maggie kill the boys in order that their elder sister, Elizabeth of York, was made heir to the throne, so allowing her son to marry Elizabeth and become King? Did Lady Margaret simply take out the competition? Sure, Richard III was king, but he had no heir meaning Elizabeth of York and her husband would have ruled whether Henry Tudor had won the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field or not. Is it such a stretch of the imagination to assume that Lady Margaret and her rescue mission had rescued nothing but the Tudor Dynasty? Also, take another one of the suspects on board – Henry Stafford, the second duke of Buckingham. Did you know that Henry’s uncle was married to Lady Margaret for two decades? Could Lady Margaret have used her family connections to have the boys killed? And what of the other suspect, James Tyrell? Was he just a pawn in this game too? Did Henry and his mother not like these pretenders and thought it best to do away with the rumors that the boys had survived?

Throughout medieval history women had the curse – and sometimes blessing – of going unnoticed. Could a smart woman with ambition and a serious agenda use that to her advantage? Did Margaret Beaufort move in the shadows to kill the boys, arrange her son’s marriage with the new heir, and have her son crowned King while everybody watched the men? Maybe, just maybe.

We will of course never know what happened to the boys. It is one mystery that history keeps for herself and watches as we sprout new theories and suspects. We have to resign ourselves to the fact that unless we build a teleporter, we will never know for sure. In the meantime, my money is on Maggie.

 

Do you agree? Who do you think killed the boys?

 

By M.L. King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger.

The next article in the Wars of the Roses series is an introduction to the Wars of the Roses - available here.

 

If you enjoyed the article, JOIN US! Click here for a world of updates, plus free books!

Selected references

Who’s who in British History by Juliet Gardiner (Published by Collins and Brown Limited)

Tudor Queens – http://www.tudor-queens.co.uk/margaret-beaufort.html

Buckinghams Retinue – http://www.bucks-retinue.org.uk/content/views/302/330

Tudor History – http://tudorhistory.org/people/beaufort