It is one of the great mysteries of English history. Did Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets, really murder the Princes in the Tower as his Tudor successors, including their greatest propagandist, William Shakespeare, always alleged? Was he the cold and calculated killer that his enemies depicted him as, who even went as far as to suggest that he poisoned his wife and brother too? This ruthless depiction of Richard Plantagenet suggested that he was thirsty for power and would eliminate any obstacles in his way. Yet prior to the princes’ disappearance, he was seen as a religiously devout man, loyal to his kingdom and his people. So why was he given the blame? In a game of political intrigue, with each house (Lancaster, York and Tudor) fighting against each other, the loser of a battle would be slandered in history – as the winners would record their own versions of historical events.

There are several theories that speculate to the disappearance of the princes, including strangulation, poisoning and even her being smuggled away. With so many contradictions how can we fully determine who, if in fact anyone, killed the princes? But we know one thing for certain, with Tudor’s triumph at The Battle of Bosworth in 1485 he commissioned several writers (including Thomas More) to pen memoirs of Richard III and his definitive murder of the princes. Yet he did not know for certain if they were dead (or so he claimed), when a rebellion issued by the pretender Perkin Warbeck (1490) argued he was Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. With the emergence of Perkin, some began to question the Tudor’s assertion that Richard III his predecessor killed the princes.

New theories began to develop suggesting that whilst Edward had been killed in the tower, his younger brother Richard had been smuggled to Flanders. Instead another boy was put in his place, so that one day Elizabeth Woodville’s son Richard could claim his stolen throne. With this knowledge, Perkin’s claimant to the throne was extremely regarded. However upon duress, he allegedly confessed that he was born to a man called John Osbeck and Katherine de Faro of Flemish descent. Which brings us back to our initial argument; did Richard III kill the princes? If Henry VII momentarily believed Perkin Warbeck’s succession to the English throne, then surely he had no hand in their death. This points to only one other predominant suspect -Richard III.

The story of the princes’ demise began after the death of Edward IV of England on the 9 April 1483. At the time Edward’s son, the new King Edward V, was at Ludlow, and the dead king’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was at Middleham in Yorkshire. It is reported that he then went to York Minster to publicly “pledge his loyalty to his new king”. The Croyland Chronicle states that, before his death, Edward IV designated his brother Richard as Lord Protector although there is no documentation of the King’s actual wishes.  With this wish, Richard should have protected his nephews as future rulers of England; yet he claimed the throne for himself. Both princes were subsequently declared illegitimate by Parliament and this was confirmed in 1484 by an Act of Parliament known as Titulus Regius. The act stated that Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage was invalid because of Edward’s pre-contract of marriage with Lady Eleanor Butler. The Duke of Gloucester was crowned King Richard III of England on 3 July.

The declaration of the boys’ illegitimacy has been described by Rosemary Horrox as an ex post facto justification for Richard’s accession. By 1893, the princes had disappeared from the tower under Richard’s care and even today we do not know whether they were murdered or died of natural causes. Many historians believe they were murdered, some suggesting that the act may have happened towards the end of the summer, 1483. Maurice Keen argues that the rebellion against Richard in 1483 initially “aimed to rescue Edward V and his brother from the tower before it was too late”, but that, when the Duke of Buckingham became involved, it shifted to support of Henry Tudor because “Buckingham almost certainly knew that the princes were dead.

Other than their disappearance, there is no direct evidence that the princes were murdered, and “no reliable, well-informed, independent or impartial sources” for the associated events. Nevertheless, following their disappearance, rumours quickly spread that they had been murdered. Only one contemporary narrative account of the boys’ time in the tower exists: that of Dominic Mancini. Mancini’s account was not discovered until 1934 and accounts written after the accession of Henry Tudor are often claimed to be biased or influenced by Tudor propaganda.

Four unidentified bodies have been found which are possibly connected with the events of this period: two at the Tower of London and two in Saint George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Those found in the tower were buried within Westminster Abbey, although neither set of remains has been subjected to DNA analysis to positively identify them as the remains of the princes. Due to the wishes of the Church of England and the monarchy, a plea for testing to begin has been repealed. We may never know who killed the Princes in the Tower but it has become increasingly clear that Richard III might not be the culprit…

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