In the past few posts we’ve seen that the childhood Margaret, though a wealthy heiress, was not deemed to be a candidate for the throne. However, as Lancaster was gradually depleted there were those who began to ponder whether her blood line could lead to a dynasty of Kings.
In truth, when we see Margaret or her young son portrayed as the ‘heirs to Lancaster’ in historical fiction books and TV dramas, their status has been somewhat inflated in order to give currency to their characters. Margaret Beaufort has even been described in one series as ‘the Red Queen’ – an attribute that should surely go to Margaret of Anjou if it’s going to go to anyone.
But I can’t forget that when trying to frame her sort-of father-in-law in 1450, Parliament accused him of having tried to marry his son to her because he believed her to be the heir to the throne. While he almost certainly hadn’t believed anything of the sort, those accusing him could not have done so if there was not a hint of credibility to the claims. But it probably was just a hint. Everyone thought the Duke of York was the heir; but perhaps when people discussed what would happen after Henry VI’s demise, Margaret occasionally got a mention.
Everything of course changed in 1470 when Lancaster had no option but to look for anyone with Royal blood and glanced briefly at Henry Tudor. Any claim he had came through Margaret – but no one thought she herself could be Queen. However, Henry’s chances only really picked up when people started rebelling against the tyranny of Richard III. At this stage, people primarily supported him because he pledged to marry Elizabeth of York – who did have a good claim.
As I said at the beginning, Margaret Beaufort is my Royal history heroine. Through arranging the engagement of her son to Elizabeth, and risking much to take part in rebellions, she can claim credit for the rise of the Tudors. But there’s no need to retrospectively raise her status to make her a compelling character to study. She has interest and appeal in bucket loads.
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.
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!
Welcome to RoyalHistoryGeeks.com, the home of a new blog that will launch in January 2016.
For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with the stories of the Kings and Queens that have shaped the United Kingdom. From the personal dramas that would seem far-fetched to a soap opera writer, to the dynamic political factions that competed for power, influence and dominance over the crowned heads of the Kingdom, the annuls of history have presented me with greater intellectual stimulation and enjoyment than any fiction writer could have hoped to.
Having spent many a late night debating on Royal forums, furiously correcting Wikipedia entries and trawling the internet for any trace of the subjects that fascinate me, I know that I am not alone.
It is my dream that this blog helps facilitate these conversations and becomes a centre for intelligent and well-written content on the Royal houses that have reigned over us and those that were intimately connected to them.
A blog, by its nature must be regularly updated and fast moving. This means that content won’t always be thoroughly researched, although sometimes a greater level of investigation will proceed posting.
Let me be clear on one thing. Blogging can never replace deeply researched scholarship; this blog will not even pretend to do so. Instead it will help people dip their toe in the water, give each of us a chance to contribute our thinking and frankly, help us enjoy sharing our super-cool but often misunderstood obsessions with those of a like mind.
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Thanks for considering joining me on this adventure. We have a Royal history that’s worth being geeky about.