Richard III - Did Richard Kill the Children?


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Did Richard III Kill the Children?

 

We really cannot know for certain. If there was a cover-up to protect the actual murderers, it was done exceedingly well and so thoroughly that we will never be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what really happened. In spite of what I see as very persuasive evidence that Richard did not kill the children, there are many very intelligent, highly successful, and unquestionably reputable historical scholars out there who believe that they have evidence that the king did commit the murders and that this evidence is equally as compelling as anything I believe.

 

But since you ask, let me give you my reasons. First, Richard did not have a strong enough need to kill the boys or enough of a reason. He seems to have successfully had them declared bastards legally--based on evidence of bigamy against his elder brother (their late father) Edward IV-- before he (Richard) ascended the throne. This action removed the boys from the line of succession to the throne of England. Killing them might thereby rid Richard of two people who later might try to prove their own right to inherit, but killing them also might alienate him from his own supporters as a murderer of his own family. This logic, however, does not save Richard from the charge of having had someone else--most commonly thought to be Buckingham--assassinate them secretly. I still do not feel this is likely, for reasons I will explain as I go. But Richard's successor, the usurper Henry Tudor, had all sorts of good reasons to kill off any Plantagenet heirs to the throne, the main one being that Henry was out to establish his own family--the Tudors--as the reigning dynasty. Henry celebrated his success in taking over the throne by hiring his own historian to write an account of how this all came about, and we are still relying on this account, even though we know that it is pro-Tudor propaganda.

 

Second, Richard's family is known to have been extremely close in their affections for each other. Richard's older brother, Edward IV, seems to have trusted Richard a great deal; when the younger sibling was a mere teenager, Edward had him commanding armies in the battles over the succession (a.k.a. The Wars of the Roses). When Edward made his will, he left Richard as Regent to protect the two sons--Edward, Prince of Wales and Richard of York--of the dying king and his wife Elizabeth.

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The Queen, by the by, seems not to have liked or trusted Richard, but that did not stop Edward from making his younger brother regent during the older boy's--Edward V's--minority. I find it unlikely that Richard would have killed his nephews after such an act of trust; however, I do not find it surprising, after studying the histories of previous boy-kings of England, that Richard would have the boys declared bastards and removed from the line of succession. Boy-kings are always a bad idea in the Middle Ages, as their reigns lead to factionalism and rivalry between the most powerful nobles. The reigns of Henry II, Richard II, Edward III (early years), and Henry VI are evidence enough of this. As a military leader himself and also as a nobleman aware of the incipient threat of Henry Tudor's desire for the throne, Richard III would have had good reason to fear the ascent of his nephew to the throne. By the way, Richard had every reason to legitimately believe, as far as I can tell, that his nephews really were bastards and to therefore block young Edward's rise to the throne.

 

Third, the mother of the two princes, Edward IV's queen Elizabeth, took her children into sanctuary with the Church when she saw that Richard was objecting to her own family's attempt to take possession physically of the child Edward as he travelled to London to be crowned king after his father's death. Richard managed to interrupt the attempt and had the major kidnappers executed quickly. Elizabeth thus had a good reason to seek sanctuary--her family was attempting to kidnap the new and uncrowned king, and she would have looked like a traitor trying to disrupt Richard's tenure as Regent. But when the new heir was settled in London, Elizabeth then agreed to release her second son, young Richard of York, from sanctuary. This is strange behavior for a woman who fears her brother-in-law's allegedly murderous intentions towards her children. Stranger still, after the boys were declared bastards and vanish from historical records--that is, after Richard was supposed to have had them killed--Elizabeth appears with her daughters at court functions and seems to have been actively seeking husbands for them. Would a mother whose sons had been killed by the king allow her daughters to be out in public at his functions?

 

Fourth, we have no bodies for the princes. A pair of skeletons found in the Tower of London early in this century and once believed to belong to the Princes now seem highly unlikely, based on forensic evidence from the bones, to belong to two boys of the Princes' ages. We do, however, have records of expenditures for gear for some one called "the Bastard" dwelling in Richard's castle at York after the date when the boys vanish into the Tower of London and out of the historical records. Was this one of the Princes? Who can tell? But without bodies, we have no case against anyone for the murder.

 

Fifth, we are talking about a murder here, so perhaps it is time to bring British law into the picture and ask if Richard could be convicted of murder by his own country's laws. Happily, someone actually has tried this; in 1984, a trial was held for Richard and it was televised on the BBC. I'll spare you the details, but the King was acquitted. This does not mean he was innocent, so much as it means that insufficient evidence was found to convict him, beyond a reasonable doubt, of murder. That's good enough for me.

 

Sixth, there a number of great books out there which have sold me on Richard's innocence, and they do a far better job of arguing his innocence than I am doing here. You can find a bibliography of them at the Home Page of the Richard III Society. My particular favorites are The Last Plantagenets by Thomas Costain and The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, but there are many more, including a book about the 1984 trial by Mark Redhead and Richard Drewett

 


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