Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Princes in the Tower

The Murders

Sir Thomas Mores version, 1511

Thomas More by Richard Marius
Thomas More
by Richard Marius

Sir Thomas More, basing his account of the murders of the princes on the supposed confession of Sir James Tyrell, is vivid in his description of the deed.  It is worth quoting directly from his biography of Richard:

Sir James Tyrell devised that they should be murdered in their bed, to the execution whereof he appointed Miles Forest, one of the four that kept them, a fellow fleshed in murder before time.  To him he joined one John Dighton, his own horsekeeper, a big broad, square, strong knave.  Then, all the other being removed from them, this Miles Forest and John Dighton about midnight (the children lying in their beds) came into the chamber and suddenly lapped them up among the clothes so bewrapped them and entangled them, keeping down by force the featherbed and pillows hard unto their mouths, that within a while, smored and stifled, their breath failing, they gave up to God their innocent souls into the joys of heaven, leaving to the tormentors their bodies dead in the bed.

The Princes, reading in bed (painting by Delaroche)
The Princes, reading in bed
(painting by Delaroche)

Sir Clements Markhams version, 1906:

A popular theory of some of the revisionists is that Buckingham murdered the princes, either to clear the way for Henrys usurpation, or to gain the throne for himself.  The latter proposition, that Buckingham, also a descendant of Edward III, sought to be king, is particularly favored.  Involved in this version of the murder plot is Bishop Morton, who appears to have been a very astute politician of the time.  While he was accused of plotting against Richard with Lord Hastings, Morton was spared and given over to the supervision of Buckingham.  Regardless of whichever murder theory is believed, Morton was instrumental in helping Henry wrest the throne from Richard.  Interestingly, Sir Thomas More spent some of his youth in the household of Bishop Morton (subsequently esteemed by Henry VII as an important advisor).  It has been assumed that Thomas More obtained some of his information for his biography of Richard from Morton, who was a very involved participant in the events of 1483 to 1485.

This theory had its most elaborate presentation by Sir Clements Markham.  One might reconstruct Markhams theory with the following scene:

August, 1483:

It seems your king is not quite the generous benefactor you thought him to be.  Bishop Morton, both sleek and fat like an otter, smiled at his captor, the Duke of Buckingham.

No doubt he has his reasons, said Buckingham.

Oh, I am sure he has his reasons to go back on his word.  Richard --- or should I say King Richard III? --- always has his reasons.  Devices would be a better word.

Buckingham paced.  For one who was spared the headsmans axe, you are forward, my Bishop.

Forgive me, mLord.  It is just that when one such as yourself has the ability to rule, it seems unfortunate that you would remain here, in Wales, whilst the king progresses triumphantly throughout his realm, forgetting those who aided him in usurping the throne of the unfortunate Edward V.

You speak treason, Morton.  Mind your tongue.

I speak only the truth, as you know it to be the truth.  Your lineage is as valid as the kings --- nay, more so.  You are Chancellor of England, yet you must settle for second-best.  If you had not publicly proclaimed the illegitimacy of the princes, if you had not assisted the king in ridding him of Woodville opponents, where would our Richard III be now?

Tell me, Bishop.  You are versed in the ways of power.  What would you have me do?

Far be it for me to advise you, mLord.  You do not need the words of a humble cleric to see your path.  But it does seem to me that once the princes are --- ah, how shall I put it? --- removed from the scene, you are the foremost heir to the throne.

The princes?  But they are bastards.  They cannot inherit.  Titulus Regius sees to that.

But dont you see?  If something should befall our king, surely the act would be repealed, and then there are two who stand in your way to the throne.  Young Edward and his brother would surely be restored to their rightful patrimony.

Buckingham was silent.  Then, turning fiercely towards Morton, he said, They must be done away with.  Only the duplicitous Richard would then stand in my way.

There is the Earl of Richmond --- Henry Tudor.  But his claim is weak, and if you were to join forces with the queen and her Woodville family, it would be impossible to deny you that which is rightfully yours.

We shall see, Bishop.  We shall see.


Robert Brackenbury, summoned from a deep sleep, responded to the pounding at the North Tower Gate.  Who comes?

Opening the gate, he saw the Duke of Buckingham and three men.  Lord Brackenbury, as Chancellor of England, I command you to allow us to enter.

Of course, mLord.  What is it that you wish?

Summon those who serve the princes.  Dismiss them for the night.  Take yourself and your servants to some other place in the city.  You may return at dawn.

Brackenbury searched Buckinghams face for some indication of his intent.  Finding none that he could discern, he bowed and said, As you wish, mLord.  All of whom you speak shall be gone from the Tower in an hours time.

Buckingham led his men up the long staircase to the upper level of the East Tower.  Pausing at the door to the chamber of the princes, he said, Do it now, and do it quickly and quietly.  Do not let your hearts be swayed by their pleas for mercy.  Dispose of them in some secret spot where they will neer be found.  If you fail, you will forfeit your lives.  Come to me when your task is complete.  I will be in the constables apartment.

 Bertram Fields version,  1998:

The theory of the murders favored by many admirers of Richard III lays the deed at the hands of Henry VII.  This proposition suggests that the princes were alive at the time of Richards death at the Battle of Bosworth Field , and were not murdered until more than two years after their disappearance from public view.

October, 1485:

Henry VII, King of England for two months, was still insecure.  His impending marriage to Elizabeth York, eldest daughter of Edward IV, was, of course, a necessary political act.  The Houses of Lancaster and York would be joined, and what was left of the irritating Woodville family would be rendered ineffectual.  He cared little for who should be his wife.  Her lineage made her the most acceptable solution to the marriage problem.  Notwithstanding, he was well aware of the tenuousness of his claim to the throne.  The princes still lived, although he could thank Richard for not allowing them to be visible these past two years.  Rumors abounded, and many thought that Richard had murdered them two years before.  But, as long as they lived, his position as king was weak.  Added to that, he had been forced to reverse their illegitimacy in order to justify his marriage to Elizabeth, and that, in effect, restored the older boy to his claim to the throne. 

Henry enlists Sir James Tyrell, Richards loyal friend, to murder the princes and promises him protection . Tyrell kills the princes.

Tyrell did indeed have the protection of Henry VII, whether this version of the murders is true or not.  For reasons that are not clear, Henry pardoned Tyrell twice over the next 10 years.  The pardons could have been for Tyrells service to Richard, or they could have been for something more mysterious.  Whatever the case, Tyrell prospered under Henry VII until 1502, when he appeared to be involved in a plot against Henry.  The result was the execution of Tyrell, after he purportedly confessed to the murders of the princes in 1483.  No written account of this confession has ever been found, although Thomas More claimed to have seen it.

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