Press "Enter" to skip to content

Richard III and the Princes in the Tower

Over 500 years later, the reason for the deaths of Edward and Richard, sons of Edward IV, remains one of the most frequently debated topics in English history. Some believe that the murder of the two was orchestrated by the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, while others protest his innocence. The increased interest in the late king can largely be attributed to the 2012 finding of his remains in a car par in Leicester, which stirred a renewed debate as to his character and claimed actions, a debate that came even further to the fore as Richard’s remains were reburied in a large and official ceremony at Leicester Cathedral.

One of the main arguments that support the belief that Richard was responsible for the two boys’ deaths is that he gained so much from it. The princes had already been declared illegitimate on the grounds of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage allegedly not being legitimate, but it can be considered that their deaths would prevent further opposition to his rule. Another significant point is the question of how the princes couldhave disappeared from the heavily guarded Tower of London without Richard’s knowledge.The idea that someone could have entered the Tower while under strict royal guard is considered by some to be absurd.

It is often said that Richard’s servant, Sir James Tyrell, committed the murders, under order from Richard, an argument backed up by historians who say that several sources confirm that Tyrell confessed. When the point that the female children of Edward IV remained unharmed arises, the argument is often made that they wouldn’t have been a strong rallying point for potential rebel forces, due to their lower standpoint in the line of inheritance. Another incentive for keeping them alive would be to marry them off into advantageous marriages to create strong alliances.

On the other hand, some protest Richard’s innocence, stating that it is against what we know of Richard’s good character to murder two young boys.Richard was incredibly loyal to his elder brother Edward IV, and those who absolve Richard of blame often say that it would be ‘out of character’ for Richard to orchestrate the murder of his brother’s sons, even though it would be in keeping with the violence of the period.

Furthermore, blaming Richard for the deaths of his nephews has been argued to be consistent with what is often called ‘Tudor propaganda’, which dually served to entertain a Tudor audience and bolster the reign of the Tudor dynasty. The most famous example of this concept is Shakespeare’s play Richard III, which portrays Richard as an almost irredeemably evil character, with a hunched back and violent nature. Although Richard has been proved to have scoliosis, which would result in his spine being curved, the claim that he was an inherently evil man has been argued against by Richard’s defenders, raising the point that Richard was well-loved in the North. Shakespeare’s depiction of Richard killing Henry VI to illustrate his violent nature, is refuted by contemporary evidence that suggests that Richard was away from London, the place of Henry’s death that day, and proponents of Richard’s innocence use this evidence to question the other events depicted in Richard III,including Richard’s arranged murder of the Princes in the Tower.

It is unlikely that there will ever be a conclusive decision on whether Richard is responsible for the deaths of his nephews, as firstly, evidence from over 500 years ago is divisive both in content and nature, with the focus on political allegiance and bias rather than having a strong root in historical fact. The vast majority of the supposed ‘facts’ are either inconclusive, fabricated or stem from fiction. A great deal of claims for or against Richard’s innocence rely on motive, whether it be Richard’s allegedly clear motive or someone like the Duke of Buckingham, a man who eventually turned against Richard and is said to have a great deal of reason to kill the two boys in the tower. It is immensely difficult to conclusively prove or disprove that Richard is responsible for the murder of his nephews, making this argument one that will endure for years to come