Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Princes in the Tower

Prelude to Murder

The murder of the princes in the Tower of London was, of course, a political act, and was prompted by the sequence of events that began with the death of Edward IV.  Upon the death of her husband, Elizabeth Woodville, Edwards queen, sought to keep her family in power by moving swiftly to establish her son, Edward V, on the throne.

To accomplish this, she dispatched her brother, Lord Rivers, and her son from a previous marriage, Lord Richard Grey, as well as Greys chamberlain, Sir Thomas Vaughn, to bring young Prince Edward from the North.  The idea was have Edward crowned as soon as possible, leaving him free to choose his own advisers, which would, of course, be his mother, his Woodville uncles and half-brothers, and nobility loyal to Edward IV.  Thus Richard, as protector, would have his power neutralized by Elizabeth Woodville and her relatives. 

Lord Hastings, a close friend and adviser of the dead king (who shared a mistress, Jane Shore, with him) protested against the size of the escort that the queen intended to send, and Elizabeth Woodville reduced the size of the force to 2,000 men.  In the meantime, couriers from Hastings informed Richard, who was at York, of these developments, urging him to put himself at the head of an army and to arrive in London before Rivers brought the young king from Ludlow.

Lord Rivers' coat of arms
Lord Rivers' coat of arms

Richard left York for Northampton with an army of 600 men.  At Northampton he was to join Rivers and Edward V and proceed to London together.  By the time Richard arrived, he learned that Rivers and his troops had passed through the town and were now in Stony Stratford, some 12 miles closer to London.  Rivers traveled back to Northampton to extend the young kings greetings to his uncle.  Richard invited Rivers to stay for supper, and proposed that the next morning they ride together to meet the king.  During the meal, the Duke of Buckingham arrived.

After Rivers retired for the night, Richard and Buckingham plotted.  In the morning, Rivers was arrested.  Richard and Buckingham then traveled the 12 miles to Stony Stratford and met with the young king.  Richard gave his condolences, and then maintained that the same men who had encouraged Edward IVs vices were conspiring to ambush the protector.  The interview, according to Thomas More, ended with the 12-year-old king in tears, and his half-brother, Richard Grey, and his chamberlain under arrest.  When the news reached the queen, she took her remaining children and sought sanctuary in Westminster Abbey.  London was in an uproar, mollified to some degree by a letter from Richard promising an early coronation for Edward V.  Richard, Buckingham, and their retinue arrived in London, and the young king was safely lodged in the Palace of St. Paul.

All seemed calm, until Richard learned that Lord Hastings had begun to conspire with Elizabeth Woodville, shifting his loyalty from Richard, probably because he felt that Buckingham would now have access to the spoils that Hastings felt were his.  Richard summoned the unsuspecting Hastings to a meeting at the Tower, where he asked Hastings what should happen to those who would conspire against the protector. 

Lulled into a sense of relief when Richard seemed to be accusing the Woodvilles, he started to speak, when Richard slammed his fist on the table, calling Hastings a traitor.  At that sign, armed men rushed into the room, took Hastings away, and, within minutes, he was (as described by Thomas More) brought forth into the green beside the chapel within the Tower, and his head laid down upon a log of timber and there striken off.

Richard immediately called forth a number of prominent citizens and declared that Hastings and others had planned to assassinate himself and Buckingham during their meeting, and that the traitor had to be killed immediately.  The other conspirators were pardoned, no doubt to quiet the fears of the nobility.  One of them, Bishop Morton, was to be kept in the custody of the Duke of Buckingham, and would rise again in opposition to Richard.

Likeness of the boy king, Edward V (National Archives)
Likeness of the boy king,
Edward V (National Archives)

It is probable at this point that Richard decided that if he were to survive, he must be king.  Edward, the boy king, had shown some maturity, and would not be pleased to be ruled by his uncle, who had imprisoned his mothers brother, Lord Rivers, and his half-brother, Richard Grey, and who had driven his mother and younger brother into sanctuary.  Worst of all, his uncle had beheaded his Lord Chamberlain, Hastings, within sight of the royal apartments in the Tower where young Edward was now lodged.

While Richard began his program to usurp the throne, he had Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan executed at Pontefract, where they had been kept.  Most of the important opponents, including the powerful Hastings, were now out of the way.

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