Richard III: The Princes in the Tower – Channel 4


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OK, we’ve heard all the arguments about who might have killed the Princes in the Tower a million and one times, but it was inevitable that they’d be brought out again as Richard III’s reburial approached!  And this programme did rather a good job: no-one came out with any of the more bizarre theories that people, probably more for the sake of trying to say something new than because they actually believe them, come up with.  No-one suggested that Margaret Beaufort was somehow responsible for the princes’ death (a particularly silly theory, and one which always annoys me), nor did anyone suggest that Richard, the younger boy, actually escaped and that he and Perkin Warbeck really were one and the same person.

One theory which was presented was that Edward V might have died a natural death.  It’s known that he had some sort of problem with his jaw.  Mortality rates were high in the 15th century and, as was pointed out, the Tower of London is hardly the healthiest of environments.  Would that also explain why no false Edwards ever turned up, only a false Richard?  The usual explanation given is that it would have been embarrassing to have impersonated a crowned monarch, but that’s not exactly convincing.  It’s possible.  However, it’s just speculation.

It’s all speculation.  Well, perhaps a bit more than that – we can weigh up what we do know, and try to form a sensible judgement – but we don’t know for certain, and that’s why this debate has raged on and on for over half a millennium.  They had some American lawyer on, waffling about how no jury would convict Richard III of his nephews’ murder because it cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt that he was guilty … but surely that was stating the obvious.  It cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt that anyone was guilty.  It cannot even be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the boys actually were murdered.  It’s very annoying, but it’s also fascinating.

Well, I still think, as I have always thought, that Richard was indeed behind the murder of the princes.   All right, he’d declared them illegitimate, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t still regard them as a threat.  If he thought they were no danger to his throne, why didn’t he let them out of the Tower and send them back to their mother?  They were never seen again after mid-1483.  Richard must surely have been aware that people were saying he’d murdered them: if he hadn’t murdered them, why on earth didn’t he disprove the rumours by letting them go for a wander round the Tower grounds, as they’d been doing before then.   Yes, there’s a possibility that it was Buckingham who had them murdered, but would he really have dared to do something like that?  Even if you were a leading noble and of royal blood yourself, murdering two of the king’s nephews without his permission would have been pushing your luck in … well, rather a big way, to put it mildly.

And, if they were still alive, where were they?  Shut up in the Tower and never allowed out?  If they were still alive when Henry VII took the throne, and it was Henry who murdered them, then would Henry really have been so panicky about Perkin Warbeck?  Well, I suppose he might.  And I suppose that Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York might have agreed to the younger Elizabeth becoming Henry VII’s queen even knowing that the two boys, in their eyes the rightful heirs, were still alive … but it seems a lot less likely than the traditional idea that the elder Elizabeth allied herself with the Tudors because she’d learned that Richard had murdered her sons.

Furthermore, whilst I wouldn’t put it past Henry VII to have made up the story about James Tyrrell murdering the princes on Richard’s orders, nothing that we know about the character of Thomas More, the one who wrote it all down, suggests that he would have deliberately lied about something so important.  It’s all in so much detail, as well.  The deciding factor for me is the fact that the boys disappeared in 1483, though.  That doesn’t prove that Richard had them killed, but it makes it by far the most likely explanation for what happened to them.

I was a historian from a very early age :-).  When I was a kid and thought that I was going to be brilliantly famous and successful, as kids do, LOL, there were three things, in particular, that I wanted to achieve.  One was to prove that Nicholas and Alexandra and their five children really had been murdered by the Bolsheviks.  Well, someone beat me to that!  One was to make the Turkish government acknowledge that the Armenian genocide took place … it’ll be 100 years this year, and I do very much hope that someone manages to achieve that.  And one was to prove what really happened to the Princes in the Tower.  I doubt that anyone will ever manage that, but wouldn’t it be amazing if they did?!

And, ultimately, this is a very sad story about two young boys, one only 12 years old, one only 9 years old, who lost their lives because they were born royal at a time of civil and dynastic strife.  In all the debate about whether it was Richard II, Henry VII, the Duke of Buckingham or anyone else who had them killed, the boys themselves, and the effect of their disappearance on their family and friends who genuinely cared about them, tend to be forgotten. It’s an intriguing mystery, but it’s also a great tragedy.

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