Despite Richard III’s good governance and numerous accomplishments as Lord of the North for his brother, Edward IV’s proxy and as England’s king for just over two years (June 26, 1483 to August 22, 1485), Richard has come to us as the evil uncle who, to gain the crown, murdered his nephews and ruled with a tyrannical grip. While the fate of the princes remains a mystery to this day, the evidence of what manner of ruler and man he was belies this impression. For example, upon taking the crown, Richard reformed the laws to ensure the right to a qualified jury and right of the accused to bail writing, “The law shall cease to be an instrument of oppression and extortion.” And yet, his reputation seems to have been irrevocably stained by his supposed murder of his brother’s two boys, Edward V and Richard of York.
Most Ricardians, and I among them, would like to prove that Richard didn’t have the princes killed, or better still, that they weren’t killed. Unfortunately, any forensic evidence has long disappeared, so we must rely on contemporary reports, secondary sources, and logical deduction to come to some reasonable conclusions. Here’s my stab on why I think that Richard didn’t have the princes killed, and that they survived him.
Among other Ricardians, I maintain that if Richard had ordered that the boys be killed, he would have made their demise public. Keeping it secret would have done him no good. If the bodies were mutilated in some way that was obvious, I believe he would have accused whoever he had to of murder and had them quickly executed. That would have taken care of the "problem" for good. To me, the main reason that makes sense considering his silence and that the living royal bastards were not paraded around from time to time is that he secured them from potential harm and abduction and had to keep their whereabouts secret.
On August 9, 1483, Richard learned of a failed conspiracy to remove the princes from their apartments in the Tower by John Welles, Margaret Beaufort’s half brother (Margaret Beaufort was Henry Tudor’s mother and Lord Thomas Stanley’s wife.) Annette Carson points out in Richard III: The Maligned King that if Richard had already had the boys killed and had not as yet said anything about it, then this was a perfect opportunity to reveal the bodies, accuse, and then convict Welles of their murder. Since this didn’t transpire, I must conclude that Edward and Richard were alive and in London then.
Shortly after the failed plot to abduct the princes, I think Richard had them removed to separate and what he thought were safe places. I think Richard III assigned one of his trusted “sergeants”, possibly Tyrrell, to remove Edward V to Ireland and for another, likely Edward Brampton, to remove Richard to his home in Portugal. (More on Brampton later.)
Once the boys "disappeared" Richard risked the rumors that the boys had been murdered. In October of 1483, Richard defeated a rebellion whose initial purpose was to restore Edward V to the throne, but by mid-September, the rebels had switched their support to Henry Tudor when rumors spread that Edward V was dead. Around that time, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham gave his support to the rebellion and it’s sometimes referred to as Buckingham’s rebellion. When he became king, Richard had made Buckingham England’s Constable, and as late as August 27, 1483, Richard III signed the final warrant for Buckingham to enter his Bohun inheritance (that had been denied to him by Edward IV). There is some speculation that if the princes were killed, that Buckingham was involved. However, Richard had later learned of Buckingham’s treachery and had executed him for treason when he put down the rebellion, the princes were probably alive at that time because Richard could have easily pinned the murder on his former ally and constable.
One point that is often overlooked when discussing the mystery of Edward IV’s boys is that there was a third prince—George’s son Edward, Earl of Warwick whose fate is known. George, Duke of Clarence was married to Isabel Neville, sister to Anne, Richard’s wife. Isabel died just over a year before Clarence was executed for treason and their children were attainted. Edward was no longer eligible to inherit title. Without this impediment, the crown would have gone to Clarence’s son, not Richard since George, had he survived Edward IV, would have been next in line after Edward IV’s boys.* After Edward IV died, Richard took George’s children into his household and placed them at Sheriff Hutton where Edward of Warwick and his sister, Margaret lived with the other children. When Henry Tudor defeated Richard, he imprisoned Edward in the tower, and eventually had him (and Perkin Warbec) executed in 1499. Interestingly, if Warbec had in fact been Richard of York, then it was Henry VII and not Richard III who executed two of the three princes. On a side note, in 1541 Henry VII’s son, Henry VIII executed Edward of Warwick’s sister, Margaret Pole, who by then was nearly sixty-eight.
The Battle of Stoke, which is generally thought to have been the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, had an obvious impostor at its head in the form of a ten year-old boy who Henry VII placed in his kitchens and gave the name of Lambert Simnel. However, Margaret of Burgundy organized and funded the rebellion that failed at Stoke in 1487, which I doubt that she would have done for an impostor at its inception. I think that Edward V was still alive while Stoke was being planned but that he died too close to the battle for it to have been called off. Another possibility is that Edward V was killed in that battle and that Henry VII put Lambert Simnel in as an impostor. Later, Margaret supported the man who claimed to be Richard of York, who Henry VII executed as Perkin Warbec. Margaret of Burgundy was one of the nobles who believed he was Richard of York Would she have supported someone who she knew to be an impostor? Most accounts of Warbec indicated that he spoke perfect English and was knowledgeable of Edward IV’s court. While not absolute proof that he was Edward’s son as he claimed, it does add circumstantial evidence in his favor.
A factor that I think adds to the circumstantial evidence that at least Richard of York survived Richard III is Richard's generous rewards to Edward Brampton, a converted Jew who first entered into Edward IV's service and then Richard's. In addition to monetary rewards, Richard knighted Brampton, the first English monarch to knight a converso. I think Richard III had Brampton take Richard of York into his care and rewarded Brampton for his loyalty and support. (In his confession that he was not Richard of York, Warbec referred to the time he spent in Brampton’s household.)
Therefore, because of the circumstantial and documentary evidence, and by my application of Occam's razor, I think it likely that the princes survived Richard and he got them out of the country to safe places.
*By the 1484 Act of Parliament, Titulus Regius named Edward of Warwick ineligible: “...by an Acte made in the fame Parliament, George Duc of Clarence, Brother to the faid King Edward nowe deceffed, was convicted and atteinted of High Treafon; as in the fame Acte is conteigned more at large. Bicaufe and by reafon wherof, all the Iffue of the faid George, was and is difhabled and barred of all Right and Clayme, that in any wife they might have or chalenge by Enheritance, to the Crown and Dignite Roiall of this Reame, by the auncien Lawe and Cuftome of this fame Reame.”
1. Carson, Annette. Richard III: The Maligned King. Second Edition. The History Press. 2009.
2. Fields, Bertram. Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes. First Perennial Edition. New York. Regan Books, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. 2000
3. Kendall, Paul Murray. Richard the Third. Book of the Month Club Edition. New York. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1996.
4. Wroe, Ann. The Perfect Prince: the Mystery of Perkin Warbeck and his Quest for the Throne of England. New York. Random House. 2003.
5. Titulus Regius. From the 1484 Parliament of Richard III reproduced on The Richard III Society, American Branch website.