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Richard III: Who killed the princes in the tower?

In 2012, the Richard III Society commissioned an archaeological excavation on a city council park in Leicester. After identification of the skeleton by the University of Leicester research team, the discovery became a huge historical landmark within the East Midlands city. Despite this significant and almost bizarre discovery, there will still be one main discussion that divides historians and casts a question mark upon the name of the fifteenth century king.

In the late fifteenth century, the control of the throne of England had seen The War of the Roses break out. From 1455, the Houses of York and Lancaster conflicted as an aftermath to the troubles that had resulted from the impact of the Hundred Years’ War. The initial failings and demise of Henry VI and the House of Lancaster saw the House of York spark an interest in the English monarchy. Edward reclaimed the throne he had held once before and attempted the consolidation of power from the House of York in 1471.

Richard’s ascension to the throne was rife with controversy. After the sudden death of Edward IV in April 1483 the throne was bequeathed to Edward’s oldest son, the 12 year-old Edward V. Edward IV’s death meant Richard became the protector of the realm for the incumbent King Edward V and escorted him to the capital to lodge in the tower of London. Days before his expected coronation, Edward V and his nine-year-old brother Richard of Shrewsbury went missing. On 26 June 1483, Richard III took to the throne of England.

The absence of defining evidence to explain the disappearance of the two princes has resulted in multiple theories being put forward. The most widely supported view is that Richard murdered the two boys, their bodies hidden to hide any evidence. Certainly, Richard’s insecure hold on the monarchy meant there was a Yorkist backlash against him. Many believed Edward V to be the true successor to the throne and the princes, while alive, remained a threat. Richard never proved that the Edward IV’s sons were still alive by having them seen in public; meaning rumours of their death in late 1483 were strongly supported. However, while never totally proven, the case for other suspects remains opened.

Historians such as A.J. Pollard have suggested that the only other plausible suspect comes in the form of Henry VII. Henry VII executed rival claimants to the throne following the seizure of the crown by the House of York. Henry was also believed to attempt to spite Elizabeth Woodville, the princes’ mother, after Woodville allegedly knew rumours that Richard had murdered the princes were false. However, as Henry was out of the country during the reign of Richard, his only opportunity to murder the princes would have been after his ascension. Seemingly, Richard had more to gain.

Perhaps the mystery of the princes will never be truly revealed. Richard’s death in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 catalysed the Tudor years under Henry VII. To this day, the story of the princes remains unknown; it is simply down to a matter of opinion when identifying the guilty party.