Saturday, 27 April 2013

X marks the spot - or does it?

The ‘Bloody Tower’ in the Tower of London is ‘traditionally’ the place where the two princes, Edward and Richard, sons of Edward IV, were reputed to have been murdered by, or on the order of, their ‘wicked’ uncle, Richard III.
In the 15th century, it was known as the Garden Tower, because it overlooked the gardens of the Lieutenant’s lodging in the Tower (now called the Queen’s House). It’s worth noting that the Tower at this time was a royal residence, and a contemporary French chronicler mention the boys playing and practising archery in the garden in the summer of 1483.
Nothing more was seen or heard of them but this doesn't necessarily mean they had been killed. Reams have been written about them, including the theory that they had been taken elsewhere for safety, possibly in Flanders, but I don’t intend to go into all this now.
The first ‘evidence’ came during the reign of Henry VII who defeated and killed Richard at the battle of Bosworth in 1485. One of Richard's knights, Sir James Tyrrell, ‘confessed’ (under torture) that he ) had killed the princes, with the assistance of two others, but was unable to say where their bodies were. However, there is no evidence that Tyrell's alleged co-murderers were ever interrogated, and Tyrell was not charged with regicide.

Thomas More, who gives the most detailed account of the supposed murder, says the bodies were first buried 'at the stayre foot, metely depe in the ground under a great heape of stones' and then moved to a 'better' site 'because thei were a kinges sonnes'. The priest who reburied them had died by this time, and so no one knew where the bodies were buried. How very convenient!

In 1674 (i.e. nearly 200 years later) workmen demolishing a stone staircase connecting the royal apartments with the White Tower, found bones in a wooden chest, about “ten feet in the ground”. This has been taken to mean they were found under the stairs, rather than ten feet further down. It was decreed that the bones were those of the two princes, and King Charles II commissioned a marble casket for them which still stands in Westminster Abbey.
The whole story seems to have more holes than a sieve! More says the princes were buried at the stair foot, and then moved to a ‘better site’ and the information board at the Tower reiterates this. It says the bodies were buried for 24 hours under the stairway leading to the Wakefield Tower which adjoins the Bloody Tower, and were then removed by a priest and buried under an exterior staircase leading to the White Tower. One wonders how that could possibly be called a ‘better site’? And pity the poor priest who supposedly dug up the bones from under one staircase - and promptly buried them under another! At the time, probably dozens, if not hundreds, of people lived in the Tower of London. So no one saw a priest digging under a couple of staircases and asked questions? Add to that the fact that, if (and this is a big 'if') the princes had been murdered, it would have been far easier to take the bodies through the gate very near the Bloody Tower which led to steps down to the River Thames, from which a boat could take them and dump them out at sea.
In 1933, experts were allowed to examine the bones in the casket, but scientific knowledge at that time was scanty at best, and concentrated mainly on dental evidence, much of which has now been discredited.

However, until the royal family allow further examination of the bones, with modern methods of dating etc, there is no way of proving whether or not the bones in the casket are really the bones of the princes. And even if they are, there is still no proof that Richard III killed them. There were others with far greater motives for wanting the princes dead.
The memorial in Westminster Abbey,
supposedly containing the bones of the Princes
P.S. For true Ricardians, I apologise for this much abridged version of ‘ what happened to the princes?’ I’m well aware it is far more complex than my basic summary here!


  1. Absolutely, many had more reason to "do away" with the princes' than Richard the Third. He was King, they could not challenge that, only the Tudor was insecure in his claim.

  2. I too have used the title X marks the spot (it was that or X factor) but your post is much more informative.

  3. Intriguing post about the princes and all the mystery surrounding their deaths. Makes me want to know more.

  4. So fascinating. And why would the current royals agree to allow the bones to be examined? I mean, would they not have a claim to the throne? Or would Richard's defeat by Henry negate any claim an heir to the princes might have? Interesting. Great post, Paula. :-)

  5. That's the most significant point, isn't it, Margaret?

    Many thanks, L :-)

    Cathy, I can give you plenty of recommendations about how to find out more, but one of the best starting points is Josephine Tey's 'The Daughter of Time'.

    Teresa, the princes were too young to have any descendants, so there are no claimants to the throne from them. The Queen's grandfather allowed the bones to be examined in the 1930s, and I don't really know why she has refused to allow another examination.

  6. I wonder whether the finding of Richard's skeleton might eventually lead to a reexamination of the bones? Wouldn't that be fascinating, with today's forensic methods?

  7. I just made a reply to one of your previous comments about the Queen not allowing the bones to be re-examined, Perhaps a later sovereign (William, maybe?) will give consent!

  8. Why do you Richardians, blame everything on the Tudors. Maybe Queen Anne, got some of her royal knights to do the deed. She did want her husband and son to be king an heir, and she feared as long as the kings nephews were live, they were a threat. Ever, think of that.