Why Margaret Beaufort could NOT have killed the Princes in the Tower

Picard - Beaufort - Princes

I’ve always known that a handful of people judge Margaret Beaufort guilty of the death of the Princes in the Tower.  But until I published my series on Richard III – and incurred the wrath of the Ricardians – I had no idea just how widespread the theory was.

Absolutely no contemporary source links Margaret to the crime.  An obscure 17th century biographer attempting to redeem Richard III links the deaths to a ‘certain Countess’ (presumably of Richmond) but offers nothing by way of evidence.   I can’t shake the feeling that this view is currently so popular because of the ‘White Queen’ TV series in 2013.

It is, I believe, credible to suggest that Margaret had a motive.  With the sons of Edward IV out the way, nothing would stand in the way of her son making an alliance with Elizabeth of York, uniting their claim to the throne and over throwing the tyrannical Richard. But a motive is not proof.  It isn’t even close.

At the heart of this debate, in my opinion, is a correct understanding of how closely guarded the Princes were. Mancini tells us that Richard dismissed the boys’ servants and drew them closer into the tower.  Only Richard’s loyalist men had access to them in the context of a high security prison.

How could Margaret possibly have gained access to the Princes, even if she had wanted to?  The usual arguments go like this:

She was a wealthy woman who could have bribed the guards – She was a woman of some means.  But what on earth could she have given Richard’s most trusted men that would trigger abandonment of their master.  Killing princes, even ones deem illegitimate, is a pretty risking business – one you would answer for with your head.  I just can’t believe that you would do it under the orders of anyone but the ruler of the day.

Her husband, Lord Stanley was a mover and shaker at court – Yes he was.  But it does not equate that he would have access to the Princes.  He was powerful; but he was not part of Richard’s inner circle.

I’m worried about the way some people are thinking about the Wars of the Roses at the moment.  I consider myself a feminist and I agree that for too long, historians neglected the powerful impact that women have made throughout the ages.  But we do no favours to anyone when we try and make the facts match our values.  Women were not the key players in the 15th century.  Perhaps they should have been.  But they weren’t.

When engaging with people on this debate, I keep hearing people argue Margaret’s guilt with lines such as ‘she was a powerful woman in a man’s world.’  Perhaps she was; but it’s disturbing that people are almost suggesting that the murder of two young boys is somehow a display of power that we feminists should be proud of.

There’s much we don’t know about Lady Margaret Beaufort.  But what we do know suggests she was a kind, generous, pious, if a little austere figure.  Child murder was not something that was likely to appeal to her and even if it had, she could not have had the means.

Only one man had access to the Princes – only one man can reasonably be assumed to have murdered them.

What do you think geeks?  Am I underestimating Margaret’s ambition?  Have I been naive to the means or access she might have had?  I want to know what YOU think!

Margaret Beaufort’s claim to the throne part 3: The better arguments

beaufort_margaret1-1

As we have shown in the previous post, most of the arguments that suggest Margaret was looked upon as a potential heir to the throne are not satisfactory.  Now it is time to examine the two stronger theories.

In part 2, I examined three of the most common reasons given for Margaret having a claim to England’s throne; but I also showed why they sadly don’t amount to much.

But there are two stronger – although I think ultimately unsatisfactory – reasons that are also given.

Parliament had acknowledged her claim in 1450

Maybe.  When she was the ward of the unpopular Duke of Suffolk, Parliament had accused him of trying to marry her to his son ‘pretending and believing her to be the heir to the throne.’

Essentially they had major beef with Suffolk, the King’s unpopular adviser and wanted him out.  They needed an excuse.  Margaret had been his ward for years and he had either married her or planned to marry her to his son.  Those that had it in for Suffolk concocted a story that he had ganged up with the French to try and do away with the King, and get his son to claim the throne by right of marriage to Margaret.

It does add weight to the claim that she was considered next in line, but…but, but, but: we have to remember that neither was Suffolk saying he thought she actually was (and indeed, he denied he thought she was) and nor did Parliament suggest that she actually was.  They were accusing Suffolk of pretending she was.

Nonetheless in order to Parliament’s framing of Suffolk to have been in any way credible, there must have been a certain sense that Margaret was not an outlandish candidate for succession.  It’s also very possible that anyone who was not keen on the idea of the Duke of York being next in line, may have considered Margaret a more viable option.

Her son had to flee to exile in 1470 – surely that means he was considered a rival to the Yorks?

This is a strong argument.  Why on earth did the future Henry VII have to flee the country when the Yorks were restored in 1470 if he was no threat?  Some must have thought him a claimant and that claim was transmitted from his mother.

However at this point, Lancaster had little choice.  In the 1450s, York was generally considered Henry VI’s heir: but this was hardly an option now.  And, after the battle of Tewksbury the house of Lancaster (including the Beauforts) had been eliminated in the male line.  Henry Richmond was ‘the closest Lancaster had to Royalty.’  Therefore at this point it does seem that opinions had shifted and Margaret’s Beaufort claim now had validity.  But we must be clear.  This was placed firmly on her son.  Nobody envisaged her making a bid for power herself.

So where does all this leave us?  Let’s hop on over to the conclusion to find out.

Margaret Beaufort’s claim to the throne Part 2: Some arguments that don’t stack up

by Unknown artist, oil on panel
by Unknown artist, oil on panel

Margaret Beaufort is the idol of many Royal history geeks.  But are the constant claims that she was once seen as a potential Queen of England really justifiable?

As I have said in the intro, I think it’s unlikely that anyone ever saw Margaret Beaufort as a potential Queen of England.  But there are four reasons historians sometimes give – and another one I have factored in – as to why I could be wrong.  We’re going to explore the first three, which I am confident don’t stack up, in this post before moving on to the two I have a little more time for in the next.

Hold on tight, here we go:

ARGUMENT 1: The reason Henry VI married her so young to his brother was to provide Lancaster with an heir and even to give his brother the chance of succeeding him (by right of marriage).  Therefore, she must have had a good claim.

Historians tell us that arranging the marriage of Edmund Tudor (his maternal half-brother who had no claim to the throne) to the semi-royal Margaret Beaufort was one of the few acts of Henry VI’s reign that was entirely determined by him rather than his wife or an advisor.  If this is true, it seems unlikely that he had the succession in mind.  He certainly did nothing to dispel the assumption that the Duke of York was next in line.  If this was his plan, then it was a demonstration of strategic thinking that he failed to exhibit at any other stage of his ill-fated career.

Instead it seems far more likely – and in keeping with his character – that he was keen to provide his brother with a wealth and security which had previously alluded him.  Margaret – whatever else she was or wasn’t – was one of the richest heiresses in England and the King wanting to put these resources the way of his brother seems much more in keeping with the naïve but kindly character of the Henry, who had poured affection and blessing on his siblings whenever he was able.

ARGUMENT 2: Edmund Tudor risked sexual relations with the young Margaret because he knew an heir was desperately needed

I’m afraid this argument doesn’t stack up.  True Margaret fell pregnant at 12 – something which was shocking even by the standards of the day and possibly a risk to Tudor’s reputation.  But – however much we might want to excuse him of it – this can’t be because he was desperate to provide an heir and stability for England.   By this point the King and Queen had been able to beget an heir themselves.  A spare might be handy, but disgraceful urgency was hardly needed.

The reasons that he, Edmund Richmond, rushed to impregnate his child bride were far less noble.  Margaret was rich.  If he fathered a child by her – regardless of what happened to the mother – he would gain a life interest in her estates.  It was a brutal act of avaricious.  Perhaps it’s not hard to see where Henry VII inherited his love of money…

ARGUMENT 3: Henry VII based his claim through his mother, so it must have been credible

I think there’s something in this argument, but we have to be careful.  Richard III had become unpopular.  There wasn’t many people left to challenge him.  Because the line of Henry IV and the male-line Beauforts had been eliminated at the Battle of Tewksbury, Henry of Richmond was the ‘closest thing Lancaster had to Royalty.’  In and of itself it wasn’t much of a claim, but with a pledge to marry Elizabeth of York, people started to flock to him.   Might, primarily, made right.

When examined closely, none of the above really point to Margaret having much of a claim to the throne.  But join us in part 3 for a couple of slightly stronger arguments.

Well geeks…over to you.  Have I misjudged these arguments?  Was Margaret given in marriage because of her Royal blood?  Have I devalued Henry VII’s claim?  Or am I spot on…?

Intro: Did Margaret Beaufort have a claim to the throne?

Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPG

The courage and determination of Lady Margaret Beaufort has inspired countless Royal history geeks throughout the generations.  But was she really, as so many writers have suggested, ever considered a contender for the crown?

For reasons I’ve never quite been able to fathom, Lady Margaret Beaufort is my Royal history heroine.  A lioness of the House of Tudor who never wore a crown herself but paved the way for her heirs to do so.  She successfully seated her dynasty on the throne of England and no force in history has been able to knock it off.

To some, her brutal determination derived from the fact that she, a descendant of the house of Lancaster was the true heir to England.  It was her duty to see that her claim was realised, even if in the form of her son.

And this was certainly part of the Tudor narrative.  To bolster his security on the throne, her son would surround himself with images of the Beaufort Portcullis to remind everyone that the blood of Edward III – however distantly – trickled through his veins.  But how much was this a retrospective realisation by Henry VII’s court?  Had anyone prior to 1485 really thought that Margaret of Richmond had any real claim to the crown of England.

I love Margaret Beaufort.  But at time of writing I don’t think that she was ever really considered a potential Queen of England by anybody.  In her childhood I just don’t believe anyone thought it credible.  When Lancaster was all but depleted people looked straight to her son – and even then only with the thinnest of hopes.  Henry VII’s claim was in truth based on conquest and marriage.

Examining this further certainly requires a mini-series.  First we will look at the reasons usually given for Margaret’s claim and see why they don’t stack up.  Then we will explore the best arguments in her favour before summing up in a conclusion.

Enjoy!  I did.

Richard III part 7: Conclusion

In the past six posts I have attempted to demonstrate why I believe the circumstantial evidence and other reliable sources point firmly to the blame of Richard III who usurped his throne and killed his nephews.  Now I will sum up my conclusions and look forward to the conversation that will follow. Continue reading

Richard III part 6: Two issues that made me think twice…

Early in my research, I started to form the view that Richard III was responsible for the death of his nephews.  However, during my journey I stumbled across a couple of road blocks that gave me more than a little pause for thought. Continue reading

Richard III part 5: MORE of less – can we trust Thomas More’s account?

The most detailed account of Richard III’s murder of the Princes in the Tower was penned by lawyer and philosopher Thomas More c. 1515.  But can his ‘History of Richard III’ be trusted and respected as a credible piece of historical research and writing? Continue reading

Richard III part 4: Alternative theories – who else could have been responsible for the death (or rescue) of the Princes in the Tower?

In the last blog post, I demonstrated that circumstantial evidence strongly points toward Richard’s guilt; who else could really have overcome his defences and murdered the closely guarded Princes?  Nonetheless the centuries that followed have spawned countless alternative theories, some of which are worthy of examination.

Continue reading

Richard III part 3 – a dispassionate examination of the facts

Both unnecessary emotion and an exaggerated sense of mystery surround the question of who killed the Princes in the Tower.  As such it is important to cast any misplaced sense of loyalty aside and ruthlessly examine the facts that we do know from 1483 to discover the most likely destiny of the boys – and the most probable orchestrator of it.

“No!  No,” cried Philippa Langely!

It was a moment of history.  The bones of Richard III were being unearthed before her very eyes.  And it was almost instantly clear that he was in possession of the very curved spine that Ricardians have long argued was a Tudor invention.

Langley is an active member of the Richard III society.  She is also my hero.  Thanks to her stoic efforts over many years, she paved the way to the greatest historical discovery of a generation, perhaps of a lifetime.

But in her loudly expressed disbelief at what she saw, she betrayed one of the fundamental problems in the debate around Richard III.  Too often people are on a quest not to unearth the truth, whatever it might be.  They search for facts that will validate their theories.

This is exactly what we need to counter.  This discussion throws up so much emotion, but there’s no reason it needs to.  Similarly it encourages talk of a dearth of historic records (which to an extent is true), creating an impression that we can never know the truth.

It’s time to clear the fog.  It’s time to leave tribalism and emotion at the door.  For a minute let’s stop focusing on what we can’t know and take a minute to review what we do know.

Two accounts of Richard’s reign are rich in detail about the events of 1483.  One (the Croyland Chronicle) was written by a member of his government and another (Dominic Mancini) was crafted by an Italian visitor who clearly had access to a source at court and a first-hand experience of the public reaction.  Neither of these had any reason to fabricate, and although they could never have seen each other’s work, they broadly corroborate.

And it is by studying these two accounts and ruthlessly examining the events of that fateful year that we see Richard’s guilt to leap out at us, even though neither directly accuse him of the Prince’s murder.

We can, with confidence, be sure of the following:

  • That as soon as Richard became aware of his brother’s death, he rode to intercept the young King Edward V and had him taken into his care.
  • Richard arrested Lord Rivers (the young King’s uncle), Richard Grey (the King’s half-brother) and Thomas Vaughan (a close servant).
  • Richard illegally arrested two of Edward IV’s former supporters the Bishop of Ely and the Bishop of Rotherham and had a third, Lord Hastings executed without any trial. It was widely known that Hastings was one of three loyalist supporters of the young Edward V.
  • Richard and the Duke of Buckingham (his loyal supporter) moved many armed men into London.
  • Richard gained possession of the King’s younger brother, also called Richard (and Duke of York) even though he had fled to sanctuary with his mother. Both Royal heirs were placed into the Tower of London.
  • With both brothers now in the Tower, Richard dismissed the entire young King’s servants, replaced them with his own men and gradually drew them further within the Tower so that they were seen less and less each day.
  • In the days that followed Richard and his party began circulating rumours that Edward IV was illegitimate because of his mother’s adultery and that his children were illegitimate because he had already been pledged in marriage to another before he wed Elizabeth Woodville. They also argued that the aforementioned marriage would have been invalid at any rate because of Eilzabeth’s status as a widow and the nature of their union.  Had any of these reasons been true, only one could have possibly come to Richard’s attention as a result of new information.
  • Richard is declared King as Richard III.
  • Anthony, Earl of Rivers and Richard Grey (powerful and influential uncle and half-brother to the deposed Princes) were illegally put to death without a trial. Commentators remarked that the three men who could have been the biggest support to Edward V were now dead (Hastings, Grey and Rivers),
  • Plots from men in the south and west began to form to liberate the princes from the Tower and to spirit their sisters to safety overseas.
  • The Princes were never seen again and rumours of their death began to circulate.
  • As Richard’s reign continued, rumours that he killed the Princes proved toxic to him; but he never produces the boys to counter them.

As such, we can be confident that at this stage the Princes were dead.  Rumours of their murder were proving disastrous for Richard and driving many into the sympathies of Henry of Richmond, the remote Lancastrian claimant exiled to Brittany.   To prevent this, the new King would have only needed to present his nephews for public viewing.  But he didn’t.

Some would argue, of course, that the fact they were dead does not make Richard responsible for it.  And it doesn’t.  But when you stand back and review the chronology that I have presented above, is there really any other alternative?

All of Richard’s actions are consistent with those of a man who had set out to seize the throne and he had acted swiftly and brutally to anyone who got in his way with expressions of tyranny.  He then obtained custody of both Princes and placed them entirely under his watch.  Rebellions in their favour would have convinced him that his attempts to bastardise them had failed.  He had the motive and means to eliminate them forever.

But surely this is all circumstantial?  Even if he had usurped the throne and taken them prisoner, couldn’t someone else have been responsible for this final, must outrageous of deeds?

No, not really.  Richard had his own, loyal men guarding his nephews.  Only someone acting under his orders could have had access to them.  And if for any reason someone else had managed to get their hands on them, he would have known about it almost straight away.  It is hardly conceivable that he would have had a good enough network of spies to detect rebellions against him across the country, but would have been blind to what was happening on his own watch.

However, as I’m sure my Ricardian friends would rush to remind me, this is just one of many theories.  But as we shall see in the next post, it is a theory that is far more compelling than any other on offer.

Okay geeks…over to you.  Am I being too judgmental toward Richard?  Are their facts from 1483 that I am failing to consider?  I would love to know what YOU think! 

Richard III part 2: A legitimate question – did Richard have the legal right to take the throne?

In 1483, having already been given temporary control of the government following the death of his brother Edward IV, The Duke of Gloucester was declared King as Richard III.  The argument was given that Edward’s children were the result of a bigamous marriage and therefore unable to claim the throne.  But when examined in the cold light of day, can these claims really be justified?

As June 1483 dawned, Richard had assumed control of the government and the person of the King as Lord Protector.  This was probably the most appropriate situation legally and – with the exception of the Woodvilles, the young King’s maternal family and their ardent supporters – most people thought it the right course of action.  But as far as the council, the magnates and the people were concerned this was a temporary measure that would last until the young King’s coronation and then, in a lesser form, until he came of age.  Supposedly, this too was Richard’s expectation.

But then there was a revelation; somehow Richard and his advisors stumbled across evidence that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been invalid.  Apparently – so the story goes – the late King had previously pledged to marry a woman called Eleanor Butler and consummated that betrothal.  Had this happened, it would have created a valid ‘pre-contract’ which was effectively the equivalent of marriage.  If true, Edward’s subsequent marriage would have been invalid and his children bastards.  Bastards could not – and indeed cannot today – inherit the crown.

It was a damning accusation.  Given Edward’s reputation as a womaniser it was certainly credible and helpfully for Richard, everyone involved with was now dead; it could never be disproved.

But we, removed from the situation and in the cold light of day, can be confident that it was a lie.

Firstly, the very convenience of it argues against its reliability.  Why had this been discovered just when Richard was worried about his grip on power?  Why had no one mentioned it in 1464 when Edward and Elizabeth married?  It is understandable to think that no one would have challenged Edward when at the height of his power.  But at the time of his controversial marriage there were many people – who were effectively just as powerful as him – who did not want it to happen.  They would have paid handsomely for any information that would have nullified this marriage – the fact that none came forward suggests none existed.

Similarly, as the contemporary writer Dominic Mancini makes clear, this was not even Richard’s plan A.  He and his supporters first put it about that Edward IV himself was illegitimate – the result of their mother’s adultery.  They also argued that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been invalid because of its secretive and lustful beginnings.  It was a case of throwing around a few stories and seeing what stuck.

And there are other reasons that give us near-certainty that Richard himself did not truly believe the story.  If he had, why on earth did he not pass it on to an ecclesiastical court who would have investigated the matter? They were the only ones that had the power to do so.  He certainly had the illegitimacy of the marriage proclaimed in Parliament; but Parliament had no jurisdiction on such matters.  Some have claimed that the fact Richard received universal support from the council is evidence that the tale was believed.  But, through the execution of Hastings (and later of Vaughn, Grey and Rivers) without trial, Richard had made it clear to everyone exactly what happened when he heard a hint of opposition.

One near-contemporary source states that this information came from Bishop Stilton, Bishop of Bath and Wells who had apparently been the sole witness of the pre-contract between Edward and Butler.  Ricardians have latched onto this to create a cunning and intelligent theory.  Two weeks after the execution of George, Duke of Clarence in 1474 (who was accused of plotting against his brother, Edward IV), the Bishop was arrested and imprisoned for ‘slander of the King’.  He was quickly pardoned and released.  Could he, the Ricardians suggestively ask, have been involved in George’s planned rebellion?  Could he have given George the information he really desired – that Edward’s marriage was invalid and that he, Clarence was heir to the throne.  Knowing as he did that Clarence was in possession of such information, it is claimed, was the real reason that Edward IV finally took action against his pesky brother.

It is possible that the Bishop was involved in the pre-contract story; it is equally possible that he was an ally of George of Clarence, although neither can be proved.  But, if it was Bishop Stilton that gave Richard the Butler story then we can have a high degree of certainty that it was a fabrication.

If Stilton had been the witness to the union, that is of course something that Edward IV would have remembered.  And he would have known that this was a man with dangerous information; the second the King had a sense that he was going to turn against him, it would have been curtains for the Bishop.  Edward may not have been blood-thirsty by nature – but he was every inch the medieval monarch.  In order to secure the succession for his children he had put an old man to death, dragged distant Lancastrians out of sanctuary to be beheaded and even executed his own brother (something that would always play on his conscience).  Is it really likely that he would let a man who had the potential to bring his dynasty tumbling down off with a just a warning, especially once he had demonstrated he was prepared to speak out?

As the validity of the pre-contract story crumbles around us, we have no option but to conclude that Richard seized the throne illegally.  This, of course, does not automatically make him a child killer.  However, every disposed monarch in history had later been murdered, meaning that many suspected the new King would soon orchestrate the death of the Princes.  And as we shall see in the next post, this is exactly what Richard proceeded to do.