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I.—Recent Investigations regarding the Fate of the Princes in the Tower

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 July 2011

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‘Edward Vth ended his reign on the 25th [of June 1483], and with his brother, Richard, then disappears from authentic history. How long the boys lived in captivity and how they died is a matter on which legend and conjecture have been rife with no approach to certainty. Most men believed, and still believe, that they died a violent death by their Uncle's order.’ In these words Bishop Stubbs summed up a mystery which has never failed to fascinate those who have attempted to probe it.

Research Article
Copyright © The Society of Antiquaries of London 1935

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page 1 note 1 Constitutional Hist. of England, iii, 231.

page 2 note 1 It may be noted that Professor Wright and myself worked independently and did not compare our results until we had arrived at our conclusions.

page 2 note 2 The evidence may be conveniently found in Ramsay, Lancaster and York, ii, 510 and notes; Kingsford, English Historical Literature in the Fifteenth Century, pp. 101, 183 n., 184 n.; Calendar of State PapersMilanese i, 299; The Great Chronicle of London (‘But afftyr Estyrn [1484] much whysperyng was among the people yt the kyng hadd put the childyr of King Edward to deth’), f. ccix b. By the kindness of the authorities of the Guildhall Library I have been allowed to examine and quote from the manuscript of the Great Chronicle which is now being transcribed for publication.

page 2 note 3 ‘Aspicite, quaeso, quidnam post mortem regis Eduardi in ea terra contigerit; ejus scilicet jam adultos et egregios liberos impune trucidari, et regni diadema in horum extinctorem, populis faventibus, delatum.’ Journal des États-Généraux de France, lenus à Tours, 1483–4, by Jehan Musselin (Documents Inédits), p. 39.

page 2 note 4 Eng. Hist. Review, vi, 250 et seq.

page 2 note 5 Ibid., vi, 444 et seq., and Richard 111 (1898), pp. 119–28.

page 2 note 6 Philip Lindsay, King Richard III. A Chronicle (1933), p. 325. It is fair to say that the author frankly admits that his book ‘is not written for students of history but for the public’ (p. 343). Mr. Lindsay has since published a pamphlet entitled On Some Bones in Westminster Abbey, giving his views on the subject of this paper.

page 3 note 1 But the sacrist, treasurer and infirmarer paid small sums towards guarding the church and sanctuary ‘tempore advent’ Kanciencium’ (W. A. M. 19717, 23085, and 19452).

page 3 note 2 Scofield, Edward IV, i, 546 n., quoting Cal. Pat. Rolls 1467–77, p. 365.

page 3 note 3 Rackham, Nave of Westminster, p. 33. The Queen while she was in Sanctuary made a donation of 60s. ‘pro diversis lesionibus in voltis ecclesie’ (W. A. M. 19717).

page 4 note 1 Add. MSS. 6113. See also Gent. Mag., 1831, i, 24; Notes and Queries, 8th series, ix, 51; and 7th series, vi, 386; G.E.C. Complete Peerage.

page 4 note 2 Scofield, Edward IV, ii, 60 n. Ramsay, Lancaster and York, ii, 469 and note. The princess was buried in Westminster Abbey on Dec. 11, 1472. For inscription formerly on her tomb see Dart, Westminster Abbey, ii, 29.

page 4 note 3 I am indebted to Mr. J. B. Oldham, librarian of Shrewsbury School, for kindly copying for me this entry from the Taylor MS. in that library. In a subsequent letter to The Times dated December 12, 1933, he pointed out that the Taylor MS. is obviously ‘based in its earlier portion upon Holinshed, and that Holinshed makes no mention of the birth of Prince Richard. This goes far to prove that in this particular case of putting the birth between September 1472 and September 1473, the local Chronicler was following local tradition. Unfortunately there is nothing in the Shrewsbury Borough records to throw any light on the question.’

page 4 note 4 Scofield, ii, 60 and note.

page 4 note 5 Gairdner, Richard III, pp. 290, 291.

page 4 note 6 Mr. Gilbert West in Notes and Queries, cliii, 381.

page 5 note 1 Gairdner, p. 290 n.

page 5 note 2 Mr. Manning sent a copy of this document to The Times (December 12, 1933). He has kindly allowed me to examine the original, which is unquestionably genuine, and to have it photographed.

page 5 note 3 With regard to the actual day, it is worth noting that on 17th August, 1480, the duke of York received from the king ‘as a gift’ a purple velvet gown and the Garter, while the king, the prince of Wales, the marquess of Dorset and Earl Rivers (the queen's brother) all had new robes. It suggests a birthday celebration. N. H. Nicolas, Wardrobe Accounts of Edward IV, pp. 160, 161.

page 5 note 4 Sir Thomas More, Workes, 1557, p. 42.

page 5 note 5 Ibid., p. 43.

page 6 note 1 Ramsay, ii, 486.

page 6 note 2 f. ccix b. Sir Edmund Shaa, Mayor 1482–83.

page 6 note 3 The English Works of Sir Thomas More (Eyre and Spottiswood, 1931), ed. W. E. Campbell, pp. 26, 34, 42. See also A. F. Pollard in History, xvii, 317.

page 6 note 4 Richard III, p. 119.

page 6 note 5 Lancaster and York, ii, 512, 514. Cf. C. L. Kingsford, English Historical Literature of Fifteenth Century, pp. 185–90; Oman, Political History of England, iv, 481 and note.

page 6 note 6 Workes, 1557, pp. 67 et seq.

page 6 note 7 In The Times of December 7, 1933, Mr. K. F. Brackenbury drew attention to the remarkable (and perhaps significant) series of rewards given to Sir Robert Brackenbury in 1484.

page 7 note 1 The Great Chronicle of London has the following entry, which to some extent supports More's account and is interesting as giving the rumours of the time: ‘Concideryng the deth of Kyng Edwardys chyldyr Of whom as than men Ferid not opynly to saye that they were Rydd owth of this world. But of theyr dethis maner was many opynyons For some said they were murderid atwene ii Fethyr beddis, some said they were drownyd in malvesy and some said that they were stykkid wyth a venymous pocion, But how soo evyr they were put to deth Certayn it was that beffore that daye they were departid From this world. Of which cruell dede Sr Jamys Tyrell was Reportid to be the doer, but other putt that wygth upon an old servaunt of kyng Rychardes namyd [blank] …’ (f. ccxii. b and ccxiii).

page 7 note 2 ii, 510 et seq. The authorities were Sir T. More; the Croyland writer; John Ross; and Jean Molinet.

page 8 note 1 Sandford, Genealogical History of the Kings of England (1677), p. 402.

page 8 note 2 In a copy of Yorke's The Union of Honour (1640) in the possession of Mr. Leslie W. Wegg there is the following manuscript note (p. 42 beneath the account of Edward V) in Knight's handwriting and signed by him: ‘Ao 1674. In digging down a pair of stone staires leading from the Kings Lodgings to the chappel in the white tower ther were found the bones of two striplings in (as it seemed) a wooden chest wch upon the presumptions that they were the bones of this king and his brother Rich: D. of York, were by the command of K. Charles the 2d put into a marble Vrn and deposited amongst the R: Family in H: 7th Chappel in Westminster at my importunity. Jo. Knight.’

page 8 note 3 In a copy of ‘a Catalogue and succession of the Kings … of England’ which belonged to John Gibbon, Bluemantle, and is now at the College of Arms, is the following autograph note: ‘Die Veneris July 17 Anno 1674 in digging some foundacons in ye Tower, were discoverd ye bodies of Edw 5 and his Brother murdred 1483. I my selfe handled ye Bones Especially ye Kings Skull, ye other wch. was lesser was Broken in ye digging. Johan Gybbon, Blewmantle.’

page 8 note 4 Wren in the Parentalia gives a similar account. He states that the bones were found ‘about 10 feet deep in the ground … as the workmen were taking away the stairs, which led from the royal Lodgings into the Chapel of the White-tower’, p. 333. Kennett (History of England, 1719), i, 551 n., describing the finding of the bones, writes that ‘when … great heaps of records of bills and answers lying in the Six Clarices office were removed thence to be reposited in the white Tower and a new pair of stairs were making into the Chappel there, for the easier conveyance of them thither, the labourers in digging at the foot of the old stairs came to the bones of consumed Corps, cover'd with an heap of stones’.

page 9 note 1 pp. 22–3.

page 9 note 2 I have been unable to trace the present location of this manuscript.

page 10 note 1 Venn, Alumni Cantabrigiensis. Cf. ‘Medical Court Roll’ by S. D. Clippingdale, M.D. (manuscript in the Royal College of Surgeons Library), etc.

page 10 note 2 De Ros, Tower of London, p. 45.

page 10 note 3 The stairs which led to it were removed some years ago and it can now only be reached by a ladder. I am much indebted to Lt.-Col. W. F. O. Faviell, D.S.O., the Major and Resident Governor of the Tower, who kindly gave every facility to Professor Wright and myself to examine the actual place. See fig. I, and illustration on p. 46 of De Ros, which shows the door and old stairway.

page 11 note 1 Sir Winston Churchill in Divi Britannici (1675) writes ‘within these very few weeks when some occasionally digging in the Tower … found the coffin, and in it the bones of both the Princes … which (I take it) are yet to be seen, or were very lately, in the custody of Sir Thomas Chicheley, the Master of the Ordnance ‘.

page 11 note 2 P.R.O., Lord Chamberlain's Warrants, 1674–761, L.C. 5. 141. Cf. Wren's Parentalia, p. 333.

page 11 note 3 John Dolben, dean of Westminster and bishop of Rochester.

page 11 note 4 Cf. Parentalia, p. 333. P.R.O,, Audit Accounts 2439/103–5.

page 12 note 1 Dart, Westminster Abbey, i, 167.

page 12 note 2 sic. The punctuation throughout is as it is on the Monument.

page 12 note 3 As designed by Wren the urn was surmounted by two palm leaves and a crown. The marks for these still remain.

page 12 note 4 De Ros, Tower of London, p. 44.

page 13 note 1 Nichols, Progresses of King James I, i, 326*.

page 13 note 2 Hardyng has another story, in his Chronicle: ‘The very trueth could never yet be very wel and perfectly knowen, for some say that Kyng Richard caused the priest to take them up and close them in lead, and to put them in a coffyne full of holes hoked at the endes, with ij hokes of yron, and so to cast them into a place called the Blacke depes at the Thames mouth so that they should never rise up nor be sene agayne.’ It shows at least the uncertainty and that several stories were current.

page 13 note 3 Mr. Armstrong, who is editing Mancini's Manuscript (the existence of which he made public in an article in The Times of May.26, 1934), has very kindly allowed me not only to see his transcript but to quote the relevant sentences which are as follows:— ‘Sed postquam Astinco amotus est; omnes familiares qui regulo inservierant ab eius accessu prohibiti sunt; Ipse cum fratre in penitiores ipsius turris edes reducti, rarius per cancellas et fenestras in dies conspici ceperunt; usque adoe ut penitus desierint apparere.’ The Great Chronicle of London also states that ‘afftyr this [the execution of Hastings] were the prince and the duke of York holdyn more streygth’ (f. ccvii).

There is apparently a slight confusion in dates. Hastings was executed on June 13, 1483, and it was not until June 16 that the duke of York joined his brother in the Tower. More, however, infers that the younger prince was already in the Tower at the time of Hastings’ execution.

page 14 note 1 If, as the Great Chronicle says, they were thus seen playing during the mayoralty of Sir Edmund Shaa (1482–3), the only possible dates are between June 16 and October 28, when his year of office came to an end. It may be remarked, too, that it would obviously be to Richard's advantage to allow them to be seen playing together and thus allay suspicion of his designs on the crown as long as he could.

page 14 note 2 It is most remarkable that on June 28 John, Lord Howard was actually created duke of York by Richard.

page 15 note 1 Others were probably given away by Sir Thomas Chicheley, for Hearne (Collections, x, 86, Oxford Hist. Soc.) has the following note under Jan. 10, 1728/9: ‘To enquire of Mr. Whiteside about some of the bones of Ed. V and of his brother Richard Duke of York, found in the Tower of London, temp. Car. II, part whereof were sent (as Dr. Plot in his MSS. memoirs says) by Mr. Ashmole to his Museum at Oxford’. The next day Hearne called at the Ashmolean ‘on purpose to see the bones of Edw. V and his brother Richard D. of York. Mr. Whiteside told me they had somewhere or other such bones very small, particularly the finger bones, and that Sandford had mentioned them as being there in his Gen. History, but Mr. Whiteside did not produce them.’ The present Keeper of the Ashmolean, Mr. E. T. Leeds, F.S.A., kindly made every effort to trace them for me, but like his predecessor, Mr. Whiteside, was unable to produce them when I called on purpose to see them!

page 18 note 1 Cases of absence of deciduous molars are recorded in Colyer and Sprawson's Dental Surgery and Pathology.

page 18 note 2 I endeavoured to obtain corroborative evidence of its nature by scraping the parts but failed to obtain more than a little powdered bone which, subjected to spectroscopic examination, gave no results.

page 20 note 1 I am indebted to Dr. Hopwood of the Natural History Museum for their identification.

page 23 note 1 Owing to fragmentation of Richard's atlas, only certain parts were available for comparison.

page 24 note 1 pp. 17–18.

page 24 note 2 p. 18.

page 24 note 3 There was nothing to suggest how the younger child met his death.

page 24 note 4 P.7.

page 24 note 5 PP. 15. 17.

page 25 note 1 p. 7.

page 25 note 2 p. 17.

page 25 note 3 p. 8.

page 25 note 4 p. 19.

page 26 note 1 In the possession of Miss Gwladys E. Daniel, who has kindly allowed me to examine it and have the entry photographed (pl. 1, fig. 2).