This article follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here.


What is the best way for a King to secure his throne?

Have a son.

What is the best way for a King to plunge his kingdom into years of brutal civil war?

Have too many sons.

One such King was Edward III, who had no less than eleven legitimate children. Five males grew to adulthood, leaving Edward with what he thought would be a strong reigning family. Instead, he got a long-line of feuding male descendants who all believed they belonged on the throne.


Edward III proudly receives his son, Edward the Black Prince, after success in the 1346 battle of Crécy. Edward the Black Prince did not survive his father though. Source: public domain image.

Edward III proudly receives his son, Edward the Black Prince, after success in the 1346 battle of Crécy. Edward the Black Prince did not survive his father though. Source: public domain image.

Edward’s eldest son and heir died before he did, leaving a child as the new heir. Edward himself died when this new heir, Richard, was only ten years old. This left England in the dangerous position of being under the rule of a King who hadn’t reached puberty yet. Richard’s uncles, especially John of Gaunt, ruled the country until Richard was old enough and wise enough to exile the men trying to rule through him. John of Gaunt’s son then led an army against Richard, kicked him off the throne, and ruled as Henry IV. Which just goes to show, when it comes to the throne of England, family loyalty does not exist. This incident was also the starting point of a strong belief that would continue for centuries – ‘if there is a weak King and you have some sort of claim to the throne, you are permitted to fight for that throne.’ It was a belief that would savage England, kill many innocent people and make anyone with royal blood a would-be murderer.

England at this time was involved in a very expensive war with France - The Hundred Years War. For five generations English soldiers were shipped over to France where they were trained to be as brutal and blood-thirsty as possible. When the war ended with France winning and re-claiming all of her territory, 116 years of violence and war-lust was returned and set loose upon England. Suddenly fifth generation soldiers with advanced degrees in torture were expected to be farmers, tailors, blacksmiths… peaceful people. Under the rules of Henry IV and Henry V, England had been full of happy warriors fighting for land, fighting to make England rich. It was, to them, almost like the golden days of Arthur and Camelot. Unfortunately, the loss of French territory, coupled with the crippling of the Royal treasury, meant Camelot was quickly replaced by a broken country. The feeble-minded Henry VI only added fuel to the fires of unrest that burned across the land.

When the black plague struck in 1348, the majority of the labor force was wiped out. This caused severe inflation of labor and products which did little to quell the unrest. The lack of man-power meant a shift in England’s ruling class. Small landowners could now buy up more land from the dead, creating more wealth for themselves. For the first time, the land owners were now richer than the King. This put the Royal Family in a precarious position as the land owner could call on their tenants to take up arms and fight at any time. A smart King would then need friends in the right places; alas, Henry VI was not a smart King. He kept company with very unpopular Dukes who were descendants of Edward III, as well as cousins of the King and his enemies. When madness struck the King – possibly caused by the loss of French territory - the unpopular Dukes were happy to step in and rule through him.

A shaky peace existed between 1450 and 1453 as the mad King had no heir and was expected to die soon. The next in line for the throne would be a cousin of Henry VI, the popular and respected Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York. Richard had an unbroken male line all the way to Edward III. England was just playing a waiting game.

The birth of Henry VI’s heir in 1453 complicated matters. If the mad King were to die, he would leave a baby on the throne and the unpopular Dukes would surely rule through him. And so, the Duke of York and his followers took matters into their own hands. Remember those fifth generation soldiers schooled in brutality that came home to England with nothing to do? The House of York found a new job for those soldiers. And so began the Wars of the Roses, also known as ‘The Cousin’s War’. On May 22, 1455, the battle of St. Albans kicked off thirty years of war between the male descendants of Edward III.



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

The next article in The Wars of the Roses series is about the death of gentlemanly war and the battles from 1455-1464 - available here.


Join the debate and hear about the next in the series! JOIN US and we’ll keep you updated! Click here.


References -

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

Richard III: The Maligned King by Annette Carson (published by The History Press)

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

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 –

Buckinghams Retinue –

Tudor History –