One of the more evocative episodes in English history is the story of the “Princes in the Tower,” that is, the two sons of King Edward IV (d. 1483). Edward V (aged 12) and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York (aged 9), took up residence in the Tower of London in May 1483, but they subsequently disappeared, and their uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, seized the throne as King Richard III. He may have enjoyed some initial support in this move (no one wanted a child monarch), but it didn’t go over well in the medieval equivalent of flyover country, giving Henry Tudor the opening he needed to get an invasion force together and defeat Richard at Bosworth in 1485.
But were they actually killed? Of course there would be rumors that the princes were still alive, and of course people would claim to be them, in the mode of the Duke and the Dauphin in Huckleberry Finn – thus Perkin Warbeck, a pretender who appeared during the reign of Henry VII. Workmen in the Tower uncovered a coffin containing two children’s skeletons in 1674; on the presumption that they were the remains of the Princes, Charles II had them buried in Westminster Abbey.
But their true fate remains a Mystery. Enter Philippa Langley, the finder of Richard III’s remains in 2012, who has embarked on a new quest to determine it. The Independent reports that she has:
“three key lines of investigation – two that have never been investigated before,” she said. “There are a couple of European lines of inquiry that are looking very interesting. We do know that [Richard III’s successor] Henry Tudor tried to destroy all copies of Richard’s legal right to the throne, the Titulus Regius. What we don’t know is how much of the other paperwork he destroyed quietly behind the scenes. So, we’re hoping that further [destruction] might not have taken place on the Continent. There might be more information available over there.”
Some British families with private archives dating to the Plantagenet and Tudor periods are also coming forward to open their doors to Ms Langley and her research team.
“We now have this incredible network of specialists around the world who are willing, ready and able to start new research into the princes. They just need to be told when, where and how and they’re ready to get on with it.
“This is a pure research project and it’s exciting in that we can go into it with a focus on this particular mystery.”
Ms Langley said she will be teaming up with professional cold case investigators, some of whom work with the police on unsolved murders.
“When you keep the paper historians out of it and ask those whose job it is to look into cold case histories, like the police, lawyers and private investigators they all say the same thing: that’s it’s very questionable whether there was a murder at all, considering what happened with all the pretenders that arrived under Henry Tudor’s reign; and second, that Richard III is not their prime suspect – because they go on motive, opportunity and proclivity.
“I’ll be using cold case history specialists because this project needs to go in places it has never gone before.”
My back gets up at her denigration of “paper historians” but hey, if she finds out what really happened, good for her. (But I guess that her attempt to discover Henry I didn’t pan out?)
UPDATE: From the article:
One area where no researcher will be allowed to investigate is the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey – where the bones said to belong to the princes were interred by Charles II four years after the discovery in 1674 of two children’s skeletons. The remains were found by workmen 10ft under the staircase leading to the chapel of the White Tower.
The Church of England, supported by the Queen, has repeatedly refused requests to exhume the remains so that forensic tests can be carried out.
The point of this is to make the Queen look obtuse, but the article does not mention that the bones were already exhumed in 1933, with a report published in Archaeologia in 1935. (I gleaned this information just now from Alison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower.) After examining the bones, Lawrence Tanner (archivist at Westminster Abbey) and William Wright (dental surgeon and president of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain) certainly came to believe that they were most likely the remains of the Princes. (Whether Richard III was directly responsible for their deaths is another question, of course, and perhaps the more contentious one: the Richard III Society has for years insisted that their namesake didn’t do it.)