This article is divided in two parts: (1) the basic facts about his life (2) and a discussion of his (possible) involvement in the death of his two nephews, the Princes in the Tower. The post is ideal for students of Shakespeare and Richard’s detractors and defenders.
Let’s get the big picture through these tables.
The Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses: The Turbulent Years of the Last Plantagenets, Seven Kings from Richard II in 1377 to Richard III in 1485:
Dan Jones, Wars of the Roses:
BASIC FAMILY FACTS
Richard was born 2 Oct 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle in Nothamptonshire. He was the duke of York’s seventh and youngest son. He was made duke of Gloucester 1 Nov 1461. He held numerous other offices and titles.
He married at Westminster shortly before 18 Mar 1472 Anne Neville, widows of Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales, duke of Cornwall, earl of Chester (died 4 May 1471, youngest daughter and co-heiress of countess of Warwick (descendant of Edward III), 4th daughter of Richard Beauchamp (descendant of Edward I). Anne was born at Warwick castle, Warwickshire 11 June 1456.
After his brother’s (Edward IV’s) death, he was named protector of the kingdom. Two months later he deposed his brother’s son Edward V, and claimed the kingdom. He was crowned king of England at Westminster Abbey on 6 July 1483.
Anne died at Westminster 16 Mar 1485 and was buried under the presbytery on the south side of Westminster Abbey.
Richard died in the Battle of Bosworth on 22 Aug 1485, fighting against Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond. He was thrown into a makeshift grave. Recently, his skeleton was found under a car park (parking lot) and his bones were examined. He had a curvature of the spine, but athletic and swordsmanship tests of another man who has a similar condition shows Richard III could still fight.
Child of Richard and Anne of Neville:
Edward was born at Middleham castle, Yorkshire, in 1476 (one source says 1473). He was invested as Prince of Wales at York Minster on 8 Sep 1483. He died at Middleham, Yorkshire, on 9 Apr 1484 and was probably buried at Sheriff Hutton, Yorkshire.
The Battle of Bosworth has been analyzed over and over again, with great summaries and images on various websites, so it is not covered here.
On the claim that Richard killed the princes in the Tower or ordered them killed, scroll down to the addendum.
- Yes, he was a “crookback.” As noted, his body was found under a car park (parking lot) by a one in a million “miracle,” and they pieced together his spine. It had scoliosis, and he had uneven shoulders and probably a small hump in the back.
- His motto was loyauté me lie or “Loyalty Binds Me.”
- When his father died in 1460, he was sent to Flanders with his brother George.
- He returned after Edward defeated the Lancastrians at Towton on 29 Mar 1461.
- Shortly afterwards, on 1 Nov 1461 he was made the duke of Gloucester.
- He was brought up from 1465-68 in the earl of Warwick’s household. Warwick was the kingmaker who first favored the Yorkists, but when Edward IV did not listen to him, he defected to the Lancastrians.
- On 18 May 1471 Richard was appointed Great Chamberlain, Lord High Admiral of England, indicating his brother’s trust in him.
- He was given the earl of Oxford’s land and Warwick’s north of the Trent.
- Then he “stole” Anne, widowed daughter of Warwick and wife of the Prince of Wales, from his brother George’s keeping and placed her in a sanctuary for safekeeping at St. Martin’s.
- He married her on 18 May 1472. He had to get necessary dispensation, for they were first cousins (Seward). Hicks says he never got the dispensation, but married her anyway.
- He also confined Warwick’s widow at Middleham for the rest of her life, just so he could control her dowry.
- His brother George, duke of Clarence, refused to give him anything freely, so they quarreled before their brother and king, Edward. Eventually an act of parliament decided the property dispute, mostly in favor of Richard, duke of Gloucester.
- At Christmas in 1472 he dragged the dowager countess of Oxford, a Lancastrian, and 68 years old, through the snow to Stepney, to force her to turn over her property to him. She was grateful to have it, because it spared her life. He bullied her retainers to sign the handover documents.
- He brought the largest retinue to France with his brother in 1475. The French paid off the English with bribes. At first he refused to accept them but then did so when he saw other lords take the bribes.
- In the north country, his place of origins, he became a hero, for he went on offense against the Scots, who had raided lands. He was skilled enough to capture Berwick-upon-Tweed.
- In Jan 1483 when parliament met, Edward created a palatinate for Richard, consisting of Westmoreland and Cumberland. A palatinate was an independent principality which was outside the king’s writ. Edward also made him hereditary warden of the Western Marshes.
- Then a disaster struck for Edward, Prince of Wales. His father Edward IV died on 9 Apr 1483. If he had died a few years later, then Richard could never have taken over because the prince could reign without a protector.
- Here’s how Richard took over—a coup d’état.
- First, he took the young king’s governor, Lord Rivers, the queen’s brother and the Woodville’s leader, away from Edward. The boy did not want him to go. He was tearful. He probably sensed a disaster looming—death. But Richard was smooth and friendly.
- At first Gloucester’s goal was simply to remove the Woodvilles from power. The council did not consider offering a regency to Richard. This was not done at the time.
- Instead, Richard made the case through surrogates that he should be lord protector. He was of royal blood and a Yorkist, while the Woodvilles were minor and not of royal blood.
- Boiled down (so far): This is going to be a battle between the Woodvilles (Edward V’s mother’s side) and the Yorkists (Edward’s V’s father’s side). There is no doubt which side had the highest status, more popularity (Londoners resented the Woodvilles), and military might.
- This explains why Rivers and key lieutenants were eventually executed without trial.
- The execution without trial was unjust, but pushing them out fits the logic of history, whether in the early, middle, or late Medieval Age.
- Why? As noted, there was no way that a man like Richard who was of royal blood could allow an upstart family of insignificant in-laws to have so much control. There were prestigious titles and lucrative dukedom and earldoms to hand out. Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was strange in the first place (see below for why).
- Queen Elizabeth (Edward V’s mother) ran for sanctuary in Westminster Abbey with her son Richard, duke of York, and daughters. The Woodvilles were unpopular in London, and they cheered when Richard led the prince into the city.
- He was placed in the Tower of London, which was also a residence, not just a prison. Sometimes kings resided there before their coronation. No doubt Richard assured everyone what was he was doing. King Edward V was to have his coronation on 4 May.
- On 16 June Cardinal Bourchier decided King Edward’s brother, Prince Richard, should be there at the coronation, so he led Prince Richard to the Tower.
- However, that day or the next day both the coronation and parliament were canceled.
- Then the following Sunday Dr. Ralph Shaa preached that Edward V was illegitimate, so he was barred from kingship (never mind that William the Conqueror was a bastard and various kings around Europe had been bastards). The timing could not be mere chance.
- On what grounds was Edward V a bastard? (1) His father Edward IV may have been precontracted to Lady Eleanor Butler, and since the late king had been promiscuous, the contract was probably consummated and therefore valid. (2) His “marriage” to Elizabeth Woodville was done in secret. (3) It was done in strange circumstances because how could a man of Edward IV’s standing and prestige take such an irrational decision to marry a low-level woman like Elizabeth Woodville? Answer: witchcraft. (4) Edward IV never annulled his precontract and did not get “remarried” to Elizabeth Woodville. (5) He never consulted the lords or parliament about the marriage.
- Therefore from Richard III’s point of view Edward V was a bastard who was no better than Edward IV’s many other bastards that he had fathered.
- Duke Richard of Gloucester had an ally in the duke of Buckingham, Henry Stafford. Richard asked him to make the case on 25 June 1483 before the citizens of London at Guildhall (a non-parliamentary gathering) that Edward V and Prince Richard were illegitimate and that duke Richard of Gloucester was the obvious choice to be king. Since the Woodvilles were unpopular in London, the people at Guildhall agreed. They voted for Richard on that very day.
- A short time later Richard even asserted the late king (his brother) was also a bastard because he was born in Rouen, a foreign land. How could he confirm he was born of Duke Richard of York, the elder?
- Also, his brother George, duke of Clarence (executed in 1478), had been born in Dublin, so how could his heirs prove that he was legitimate?
- Only Richard was born in England. And only he could rightly claim the throne without ambiguous paternity.
- All of this appealed to many Englishmen at the time because of their xenophobia. Also Richard had an army outside London, which may have been the real persuader.
- On 26 June, Richard of Gloucester acceded to the throne as Richard III.
- On 6 July Richard and Anne Neville were crowned at Westminster Abbey. Archbishop Bourchier of Canterbury officiated and put the crown on his head.
- The boys were dead probably in Aug 1483.
- Who killed or ordered them killed? See the Addendum, below, for a discussion.
- Nonetheless, tragic Edward succeeded when his father died, but was never crowned. He was by many back then and still today considered to be Edward V, the rightful king of England—except the pro-Richard lobby.
- In Oct 1483, Buckingham rebelled along with other rebels. It is not clear why he personally did (see Ross, 1999, pp. 113-17).
- As for the other rebels, they figured Edward V and his brother were dead, so the rebels were going to replace Richard III with Henry Tudor. But things fell apart. The duke of Buckingham was captured and beheaded. Henry Tudor, who arrived too late, returned to Brittany, France.
- On 9 Apr 1484, Richard III’s son died. The king and queen were devastated. At the time some said it was God’s judgment.
- An absence of a successor made Richard even more insecure. It was said even before this tragedy that he could not sleep. Now things were worse for him.
- To succeed him, he appointed his sister Elizabeth’s son, John de la Pole, to be his heir—not his brother George, duke of Clarence’s son, Edward (d. 1499).
- Throughout 1484 he desperately urged the duke of Brittany to turn Henry Tudor over to him.
- Gradually those disgruntled with Richard went to France and turned to Henry for leadership.
- Henry has his own post: Henry VII.
- On 16 Mar 1485, Queen Anne died of pneumonia. Many accused him of poisoning her—a standard accusation throughout the Middle Ages.
- Would Richard marry Elizabeth of York, Edward’s oldest daughter and Richard’s niece? He wanted to, but parliament and his advisers told him no. People of the north would rebel on a wide scale. They might think he had poisoned his wife.
- He had to give a speech before the people that he had never intended to do so in the first place and he was grieving over his wife’s death. Humiliating for him.
- So now let’s get to it.
- Henry Tudor invaded at Milford Haven, and the two sides fought at Bosworth on 22 Aug 1485. Richard lost. His horse did get bogged down in the marshy ground. He was forced to unhorse. He was not recorded as saying, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” as Shakespeare claims in his play. But the words have internal logic to them, based on Richard’s real-life need.
- Remember, Richard was killed in battle, after he fought bravely on his own—or strongly and effectively.
ADDENDUM: FATE OF THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER
Was Richard Responsible for the Death of the Princes or Not?
Let’s not split hairs. By responsible is meant he ordered them killed. The main purpose of this post has been to lay out the other facts of Richard’s life, above, but let’s see if we can answer that difficult question.
The Addendum is divided into three parts: (1) Scholars’ opinions; (2) Q&A; (3) Conclusion
Some historians weigh in.
Sir Winston Churchill
Indeed, no fact stands forth more unchallengeable than that the overwhelming majority of the nation [at that time] was convinced that Richard had used his power as Protector to usurp the crown and that the princes had disappeared in the Tower. It will take many ingenious books to raise this issue to the dignity of a historical controversy (qtd. in Ross 96, from A History of the English Speaking Peoples, vol. 1, 383-84)
Are there enough ingenious books (and now websites) to challenge—even overturn—the contemporary belief that Richard was responsible for the boys and their fate?
In his Wars of the Roses he is to the point about the disappearance of the Princes of the Tower, which goes to motive:
And the person who benefitted the most from their disappearance was Richard III. (p. 278)
Further, when Richard was on progress up north he heard of a brewing rebellion in the south:
It is extremely likely that at this point he also gave the instructions that led to the death of the Princes in the Tower. The actual murderer’s name was never discovered. (p. 280)
Michael Hicks on how Edward was an instrument in the hands of plotters, so he had to be eliminated:
As limited physically and intellectually as any twelve-year-old, Edward was a symbol of extraordinary power. More than a symbol indeed, he was an instrument—a ballistic missile—that, as long as he lived, could at any time be used to strike at and destroy King Richard III, King Richard’s government and his regime. With Edward in their hands, or even outside their hands, plotters, principled or unscrupulous, altruistic or self-interested—possessed a cause and figurehead, with which many, perhaps the majority, sympathised and often enough were willing to fight for and to risk their lives. (p. 171)
Then Hicks lays out what would have happened if Edward V were to live, which goes to motive:
Moreover, Edward V was a growing threat. Time marched on. They boy that was Edward V was destined to grow up, to progress rapidly from the twelve-year-old child to a sixteen-year-old adolescent, mature enough in contemporary parlance to rule and well as reign, to an eighteen-, twenty-, or twenty-five-year-old adult able first to function politically and militarily and then to command, direct, and rule. … (pp. 171-72)
Hick’s continues that passage by looking at things from the point of view of the public good and ruthless politics of the time:
His uncle Richard III could not leave the future to chance. To confine them and keep them single was not enough. The future had to be faced. The only way was for them to die. Killing them, moreover, was justifiable. It promised peace, order, and the public good as well as Richard’s good. Reason of state dictated their deaths. It was in the public interest. It made good practical sense. However Richard reached his throne, moreover, he himself was the king and can have been in no doubt about his own right to rule. (p. 172)
Hicks spells out the obvious on who had the strongest motive and the opportunity.
Debate at the time was about precisely how the deed was done. In England at least there was scarcely any doubt who did it: Richard. It remains an obvious presumption that he had them murdered. He had the strongest motives, and since they were in his custody, the opportunity. Who else could dispose of them and conceal the fact? (p. 174, emphasis original)
Here is the capstone to Hicks’ clear arguments and evidence that Richard had princes killed:
For five centuries it was historical orthodoxy that Richard III slew his nephews. Only Buckingham was cited as an alternative in his own day. One historian per century perversely has defended the wickedest of English kings and uncles against the majority view until the twentieth century, when the contrary became fashionable and popular. The evidence for Richard’s guilt would never stand up in a court of law, so it has been claimed. Perhaps indeed it would not in our modern courts of law, to which no statement or forensic evidence could be available and at which no witnesses could attend, but even today murderers can be convicted without a body, if motive, opportunity and circumstance suffice. Acquittal by television does not convince [a reference to a 1985 TV production that cleared Richard]. In a fifteenth-century court the evidence might well have sufficed—indeed late medieval jurors were selected from those who knew the truth—but of course kings could not be put on trial. Rex v. Rex! [King Edward v. King Richard] However damning the evidence at the time, Richard III could never have been prosecuted or convicted. (p. 175, emphasis added)
In other words, it is no good to put the two kings on trial.
As to my added emphasis about the topsy-turvy twentieth century, in my experience, Hicks is right about certain intellectuals of the 20th century who love to be contrarian. Maybe this contrarianism comes about from the luxury of so much prosperity and corresponding leisure time in the West. Maybe it comes from political and social philosophy of overturning the dominant view, if there are (perceived) cracks in the evidence, such as no bodies in this case. Maybe the contrarian push comes from protecting the (perceived) underdog and (perceived) marginalized, a kind of Marxism, a revolt against the powerful. And the belief that Richard did it has been dominant for five centuries, and that belief must not be allowed to stand. Call it Modernism morphing into Postmodernism, which means interpretation over facts, said Nietzsche. And when the facts are incomplete (e.g. where are the bodies, and the proper DNA testing?), then interpretations and suppositions without reaching conclusions based on probability are easily over-emphasized.
In other words, this Postmodern Age gets easily confused. Truth is actually not truth at all, but is too messy to postmodern man; they like it messy.
After discussing many cases of other royal prisoners and their fates—death—Ross lays out the probability:
[I]t can be argued that Richard III had both a very strong motive and obvious opportunities for finally disposing of his nephews once he became king. The idea that they were dead within some weeks of his accession to the throne seems to have been widely believed by his contemporaries. Fifteenth-century England was not a police state, in which people might disappear from view for years on end and still remain alive. It was quite possible that the boys were murdered in circumstances which no one, even at the time, was able to discover. Yet it is extremely unlikely that, so long as the princes remained alive, people with the right connections would have unable to discover that fact. Guards, servants, even officials of the Tower were corruptible. Moreover, while the boys were alive, the fact seems to have been known. They were seen shooting and playing in the gardens of the Tower, presumably some time in July 1483, and were even again observed after they had been withdrawn into its inner apartments. It was their subsequent disappearance which convinced men they were dead. (p. 99)
Encyclopedia of the War of the Roses (Hallam)
Let’s get right to it.
The fate of Richard III’s nephews, Edward V and Richard, duke of York, is the most notorious issue of his reign. The two boys were in the Tower at the time of his accession and there is no evidence that they ever emerged again. Anxieties about their fate were current when Richard was crowned in July 1483. By the autumn it was generally believed that they were dead. By the end of September Richard’s opponents had turned to Henry Tudor as rival candidate for the throne, a choice which would have been inconceivable if the princes were thought to be still alive. In January 1484, the chancellor of France spoke of the crown of England being transferred to the murderer of Edward IV’s children—the most plausible version of events, in spite of the vigorous counter-offensive launched by Richard’s modern defenders.
As king, Richard was in the best position to order the princes’ death. He also had the strongest motives for doing so. Although his coup had met with the little overt opposition, his coronation was followed by conspiracies to overthrow him and reinstate Edward V. In London there was a plot to start fires in the city and rescue the princes from the Tower under cover of the resulting confusion. The attempt failed, and four of the plotters were executed, but it proved that the princes were still a political threat. The claim that they were bastards did not bar them permanently from the succession since it could be repudiated.
By autumn 1483 Richard may have felt that his own security, and perhaps the peace of the realm, demanded the princes’ death. The men most closely identified with his regime probably felt the same. Two early accounts credit the duke of Buckingham with advising that the princes should be killed. That does not mean that Richard welcomed the necessity. A prayer composed for his use is to St. Julian (a saint who achieved redemption even after murdering his own parents) and the tone of Richard’s public pronouncements suggests that for the remainder of his reign he attempted to justify his action, spiritually, politically, through the quality of his government.
Previous usurpers had allowed deposed monarchs to live until a major rising demonstrated that they still commanded support, and the same was probably true of the princes. By killing his nephews, Richard surely hoped to cut the ground from under his opponents’ feet, and their choice of Henry Tudor, a political nonentity, as rival candidate, suggests how nearly he succeeded. However, to be successful, the tactic required that the princes’ death be publicized. Unlike previously deposed kings, the princes had no public funeral—but there was a strong and widespread rumour that the princes had died violently.
The full story of their death is unlikely ever to be known …. (pp. 286-87)
So it seems Hallam started out believing in the probability of Richard’s guilt, but then reaches an agnostic conclusion. Or does she say probability demands this verdict: Richard was responsible?
…Edward V and his brother, Richard, 5th duke of York, was confined in the Tower of London. They never emerged alive, and it is probable that they had been killed by the autumn of 1483. That is what contemporaries believed, and many were convinced it was Richard III who was responsible for their murder. (p. 69)
The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages
Richard wrested custody of the young king from Edward’s [IV’s] widow, Elizabeth Woodville, and her family, then proclaimed himself protector of the realm. Sensing a conspiracy brewing against him, Richard arrested Lord Hastings, a leading member of the council, and had him executed. Hen then had parliament declare his brother [Edward IV’s] illegitimate, imprisoned them in the Tower of London, and arranged to have them murdered. (p. 362)
John A. Wagner
Although the exact fate of Edward V and his brother has never been resolved, and the role of Richard III in their disappearance is still vigorously debated, by September 1483 most people believed the princes were dead, and Richard’s responsibility for their fate was sufficiently accepted to undermine support for his regime. (p. 85)
The fate of Edward IV’s sons was a mystery at the time and has remained so ever since. They disappeared without explanation while under their uncle Richard’s protection and in his power … Yet there is no evidence that the princes in the Tower were murdered by Richard or indeed anyone else. (p. 122)
Then he zigzags from one objection and answer to the next. He ranges from agnostic to skeptical about Richard’s guilt and seems supportive of Richard’s innocence.
[T]here is a weight of evidence in contemporary English and foreign sources that suggests Richard III was the man directly responsible for the princes’ fate. He stood to gain most from their deaths and had the power to conceal the crime, which in an age devoid of the modern notions of accountability and transparency of government, was subsumed in a culture of cover-up and silence. (p. 67)
Then she explains how Buckingham may have nudged Richard forward to kill the princes, but Richard must bear ultimate responsibility.
After saying we may never know for sure (p. 74), he writes:
The best presumption, however, must surely be that the Princes in the Tower had met a violent end by early October 1983—an end sanctioned by their uncle as the culminating act of several months in a ruthless pursuit of personal security and political power (p. 76).
The truth is that we do not know, and are unlikely ever to know, what happened to the princes in the Tower. The most reasonable assumption, based on the surviving evidence, is that they were killed in the late summer of 1483. It is highly unlikely that Richard had no knowledge of the deed before it was committed and more than likely that he ordered it done. Alive, however closely guarded, the two sons of Edward IV would have always provided a focus for discontent and rebellion. … Abroad they would not only provide opponents with a figurehead, but also attract the interest of foreign enemies and exiled. Even to have demonstrated that the boys were indeed dead, perhaps by displaying their bodies, would have been political suicide … The only solution to a highly charged and difficult situation was the one that seems to have been adopted: the princes had to be killed, in secret, and the rumours concerning their fate allowed to circulate (pp. 146-47)
A. J. Pollard
At bottom, the difficulty facing all arguments to the effect that someone other than Richard was responsible for the deaths of the princes, is the assumption that they were still alive on the morning of 22 August 1485. As an assumption this is less tenable than the assumption that they were dead by then. In circumstances in which no definitive evidence is available, one can only fall back on the balance of probabilities. The weight of contemporary opinion and belief, as much before Henry VII came to the throne as afterwards, both in England and abroad, was that Richard had them killed (p. 132)
Professor Pollard also writes:
It cannot be proved that Richard III murdered the Princes in the Tower. It is not known when, where, by what means and by whose hands they met their deaths. It is probable, however, that they were killed with the knowledge of the king before the middle of September 1483. At best Richard was culpable for failing to protect their lives; at worst he himself was directly responsible. Equally important as the probable guilt of Richard III is the certainty that, well before his downfall two years later, he was generally believed to have killed the children. (p. 136)
Pollard seems very reasonable to me, an outsider to this issue.
After discussing various candidates for the princes’ murders and their dates, he says succinctly:
Indeed, it is hard to believe that anything could have happened to the boys without Richard’s personal command. (p. 147).
Objections and Replies
The above list of scholars is stacked in favor of Richard’s guilt. You missed some.
That list is built mainly on books at a university library, which offers doctorates. They are credentialed scholars, most of whom have been teaching at a university for years.
Further, a few of them, above, believe in his innocence or are at least agnostic about it. The majority opinion of those scholars, after they discussed the issues at length, seems reasonable to me, an outsider.
However, websites exist which offer alternative explanations, similar to the alternatives to the JFK assassination—even though his assassination has been analyzed with an autopsy of the body, more modern forensic science, film footage of the assassination, and numerous witnesses! Despite all of that, the controversy continues!
Please find those pro-Richard websites at your leisure.
Those excerpts are taken out of context.
I read their long discussions of various options, scenarios, and alternatives, and those excerpts accurately reflect their views, in their final analysis.
The majority of people have been wrong before. Look how they vote for oppressive regimes!
That is far different from these credential scholars who have studied the issue for years.
There are no facts about the princes in the Tower.
If by fact the objector means a bloody knife and bodies with a tattoo on them that says “RIII was here,” then that’s true. But all sorts of circumstantial or surrounding facts exist, as sketched out in the above excerpts.
Richard was too weak and was swept up by forces out of his control.
Ross handles this one.
Richard was a man who carried out all his schemes ‘swiftly and with the utmost vigilance’ and Polydore Vergil attributed to him qualities of ‘circumspection and celerity’—and these were the judgements of writers who were in no way concerned to defend Richard. (p. 64)
Further, Ross would have us remember how quickly and without trial Richard ambushed Lord Hastings, a leading man of the Council.
Without Hastings having been given a chance to reply, armed men rushed into the council chamber, at a signal from the Protector [Richard], seized Hastings and cut off his head forthwith on Tower Hill without any semblance of trial (p. 85)
Richard does not seem weak.
Rebels and plotters did the ugly deed.
Hicks goes on to discuss the motive of rebels and plotters:
For rebels and plotters, in contrast, the princes were useful as focuses for discontent and were undoubtedly much more valuable to them alive than dead. They were the best possible weapon against the uncle. (p. 174)
The Duke of Buckingham or Henry Tudor (future Henry VII) wanted the princes dead, so one of them did it.
Unless, the one proviso, the plotter concerned actually wanted not merely to remove Richard, but to put himself on the throne. In that case, the superior claims of the princes to everyone else’s posed an obstacle to him and needed to be removed. This, of course, is the argument that supporters of Richard III have made for centuries both about Buckingham and Henry Tudor. If Buckingham was after the throne for himself, he needed both to eliminate the princes (if they were not already dead) and to secure the backing of their supporters before striking against Richard. If the princes were still living when Henry secured the Tower, he had to dispose of them if he was to continue to reign himself. What Buckingham in 1483 and Tudor in 1485 had in common with Richard was that none of them could have allowed them to live. (pp. 174-75, emphasis original)
Then Hicks tells us about Henry VII and the imposter Perkin Warbeck, who posed as Richard, duke of York, Edward V’s younger brother. No one dared to impersonate Edward V because too many people had known him when he was alive. There is simply:
[N]o contemporary evidence that the princes outlived Richard’s reign—of any sort that historians can take seriously and certainly none that is not fiction—that the princes survived into the reign of their nephew Henry VIII and into Sir Thomas More’s household. (p. 175)
Ross also states the obvious about Buckingham and Tudor:
Similar deductions may be made from behaviour of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. In the autumn of 1483. To secure general support for his scheme to replace Richard III by Henry Tudor, it was necessary for people to believe that the princes were already dead, which the rebels in the south appear to have done readily enough, can we regard them as wholly foolish? Who, among the many Yorkists loyalists supporting rebellion, would have accepted Henry Tudor as king had the princes been produced alive and unharmed—something which Richard signally failed to do? The rebels of 1483 included a number of men with close connections with the court and its personnel? It is hard to believe that they would have been duped into supporting Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne unless they had established to their own satisfaction that the rightful king, Edward V, was already dead. A body of practical and experienced men, with much to lose by backing a rebellion, would have been unlikely to act on mere rumor. Not all of them were likely to have been mistaken. (pp. 101-02)
Richard’s brother Clarence had a son, Edward Plantagenet (d. 1499) whose claim to the throne was better than that of Richard III. Yet Richard never had him executed.
The fact is that Clarence’s son Edward was never proclaimed king, as Edward V was. Richard even thought about making him his heir, since his son had died. Alternatively, the young Edward may have had a mental disability. Further, people of the time were interested in restoring Edward V, and saw no advantage in Clarence’s son. Finally, what motive could Richard have in getting involved in a side-issue and murdering him, when people already widely blamed him for the death of the two princes in the Tower? Their blame had already weakened his regime enough.
Richard could not be convicted in any court of law.
Theatre journalist Audrey Williamson (d. 1986) states the objection best:
What, I think, emerges from the material I have produced, some of it known or compared before, is that the mystery of the princes remains a mystery, whatever historians of a firmly traditionalist point of view may say to the contrary. The ascription of the murder of the princes to Richard III is totally without factual evidence whatever that would be accepted in any Court of Law (p. 193)
Michael Hicks answered this objection satisfactorily, above. As noted, if a modern skeptic needs a bloody knife and two bodies, then they don’t exist. But if one needs circumstantial facts, then they certainly exist. And suspects have been convicted without bodies and murder weapons that had been safely disposed of.
It is overwhelming to an outsider like me that Richard was responsible, if not the cause, of the death of the Princes in the Tower. Why didn’t he keep them safe? At the very least he is guilty of negligence and an accessory to the crime.
The above credentialed historians answer the question to my satisfaction—the boys had to be eliminated in case rebels or plotters would use them to undermine and indeed even overthrow Richard.
Richard gained the most from their deaths (motive), and he had them in his custody (opportunity).
Therefore, to an outsider like me, Richard III ordered them killed.
The years denote their reigns.
Henry IV (1399-1413)
Henry V (1413-1422)
Henry VI (1429-1461, 1470-1471)
Edward IV (1461-1470, 1471-1483)
Edward V (1483)
Richard III (1483-1485)
Eleanor of Aquitaine (duchess of Aquitaine, queen, and Henry II’s wife)
Eleanor of Provence (wife of Henry III and mother of Edward I)
Eleanor of Castile (married Edward I)
Matilda, Empress (Henry II’s mother). The post has links to her Norman ancestors!
Image credit: BBC
Christine Carpenter, The Wars of the Roses: Politics and Constitution in England c. 1437-1509, Cambridge Medieval Textbooks (Cambridge UP 1997).
Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (New York: Metro Books, 2006).
The Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses: The Turbulent Years of the Last Plantagenets, Seven Kings from Richard II in 1377 to Richard III in 1485, gen. ed. Elizabeth Hallam (CLB 1997).
Keith Dockray, Richard III: A Source Book (Sutton, 1997)
The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, gen. ed. Norman Cantor (Viking, 1999).
Louise Gill, Richard III and Buckingham’s Rebellion (Sutton, 1999).
John Gillingham, The Wars of the Roses: Peace and Conflict in Fifteenth-Century England (Louisiana State U 1981).
Michael Hicks, The War of the Roses, 1455-1485, Essential Histories: (Osprey 2013).
—, Edward V: The Prince of the Tower (Tempus 2003).
—, Richard III: The Man Behind the Myth (Collins and Brown, 1991). The Addendum uses his 2013 book.
David Hipshon, Richard III (Routledge, 2011).
Dan Jones, The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors (Penguin 2014).
Diane M. Kleyn, Richard of England (Kensal, 1990). She says blaming Richard for the princes’ death was Tudor propaganda, initiated by Henry VII.
Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).
The Plantagenet Encyclopedia: An Alphabetical Guide to 400 Years of English History, gen. ed. Elizabeth Hallam, (Crescent Books, 1996).
A. J. Pollard, The Wars of the Roses, 2nd ed. British History in Perspective (Palgrave Macmillan 2001).
—, Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (Sutton, 1991). It is this book that is used in the Addendum.
Jeremy Potter, Good King Richard? An Account of Richard III and His Reputation 1483-1983 (Constable, 1983)
Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 vols. (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).
Charles Ross, Richard III, Yale English Monarchs, new ed. (Yale UP, 1999).
—, Edward IV, new ed. Yale English Monarchs (Yale UP, 1997).
James Ross, Henry VI: A Good, Simple, and Innocent Man, Penguin Monarchs (Allen Lane Penguin 2016).
Desmond Seward, The Demon’s Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty (Pegasus, 2014).
—. Richard III: England’s Black Legend, rev. ed. (Penguin, 1997). I used this one for the Addendum.
John A. Wagner, The Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses, (ABC-Clio, 2001).
Audrey Williamson, The Mystery of the Princes: An Investigation into a Supposed Murder (Academy Chicago, 1992, 1978).