Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Princes in the Tower

Summing Up

Richard III was killed on August 21, 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field, fighting valiantly against the forces of Henry Tudor.  If he had not been betrayed by Lord Stanley (who kept his forces out of the battle until he saw his chance to make it decisive for Henry), Richard would have won.  There would have been no Tudor dynasty, no Henry VIII, no Elizabeth I, and probably no James I.

The noted British historian, A.L. Rowse, described the aftermath of the battle:

Richards body was treated with great indignity.  Perfectly naked, it was trussed over a horses back, head and arms dangling on one side, legs on the other. 

Passing over a bridge the head was bruised against a stone.  It was brought to the church of the Grey Friars at Leicester, where it was exposed for two days so that people might see that he was dead.  A kings body would never have been treated in this way if he had not been what he was. 

Drawing of Perkin Warbeck
Drawing of Perkin Warbeck

However, two serious pretenders made their claims during the early years of Richards successor, Henry VII.  The first, Lambert Simnel, claimed to be the Earl of Warwick, son of George, the Duke of Clarence.  Then, changing his story, Simnel claimed to be the younger of the two princes, Richard of York.  The mastermind of this plot was probably John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, a nephew of Richard III.  Since the Earl of Warwick, was alive and a prisoner in the Tower, it was clear that Simnel was an impostor.  Henry had Georges son paraded through London in order to demonstrate that Simnel was a fraud.  The plot came to an end at the Battle of Stoke in 1487 where Henry defeated and killed Lincoln and took Simnel prisoner.  In an uncharacteristic act of mercy, Simnel was put to work in the royal kitchens.  He died in 1525.

A more serious impostor was Perkin Warbeck, a pawn of Margaret of Burgundy, a sister of Richard III.  Again, Warbeck claimed to be the Earl of Warwick, and, just as Simnel had done, then changed his identity to that of the younger Prince, Richard of York.  This imposture became a dangerous threat to Henry, in that French and Scottish supporters made the Warbeck rebellion formidable.  This conspiracy began in 1492 and lasted until 1497, when Warbecks invasion force was repelled and Warbeck captured.  He was imprisoned, and, after Henry learned that he planned an escape and intended to resume his rebellion, executed in November, 1499.  On the scaffold, Warbeck confessed that he was not the son of Edward IV.  However, his royal bearing, his resemblance to Edward IV, and his knowledge of the royal house led many to continue to believe him to be the rightful heir to the throne of Edward IV.

During the reign of Henry VII, official biographers made certain that Richard IIIs reputation would be that of murderous tyrant.  Well into the reign of his son, Henry VIII, scattered members of the York family (such as the Duke of Clarences daughter) were executed.  By the time of Shakespeares play in 1592, a number of biographies and histories, including Sir Thomas Mores, had been published which supported the idea that  Richard was a monster.

It was not until the middle of the 17th century, 150 years after the events of Richard IIIs reign, that a defense of Richard appeared.  This was the sympathetic defense by Sir George Buck, eventually published by his nephew, also Sir George Buck.

As even the most strident defenders of Richard admit, we will never know for sure what happened to the princes in the Tower.  The account of Thomas More, contemporary accounts by Mancini and certain chroniclers, and the discovery of the bones in the Tower, tend to support the contention that the princes were dead by 1483.  While the medical evidence is not conclusive, and while the timing does not necessarily mean that Richard had to be the one who ordered the murders, all of this circumstantial evidence taken together supports the finding that Richard III was responsible for the murder of his nephews.

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