Sunday, June 30, 2013
Richard III & The Murder of the Princes in the Tower - Shakespeare & The Decay of Bodies
This is from Shakespeare and is Hamlet's unlovely way of telling King Claudius that he has killed his chief Minister, Polonius, and where he put the body.
Incidentally Claudius proceeds to keep the murder quiet and as a result Polonius' son Laertes leads a popular rebellion against him. Clearly kings who try to maintain the appearance of peace by hiding their enemies' activities run the risk of being blamed. Shakespeare's choice of the foot of the stairs as a burial site may well be coincidental. It was a common place in medieval times to bury waste since the area behind the bottom of stairs serves no other useful purpose.
This article is about Richard III and the murder of the Princes in the Tower.
In particular the discovery in 1674, of 2 bodies in a trunk in rubble at the foot of the stairs to the Royal Chapel in the Tower of London. In the 1920s a serious examination of the bodies was made and it and subsequent opinion based on the photographs taken at the time largely agree that it was 2 related bodies of the correct age group at the time the children were last seen. And that they show signs of being related to Anne Warwick whose corpse has also been examined. If all of that is correct the bodies can only be those of the Princes.
It also fits with Sir Thomas More's history of the period which says the bodies were buried at the foot of stairs.
But this leaves 2 problems.
That Henry VII is said to have initiated a search for the bodies and didn't find them - despite More's history being based on information from Henry's court, friends and indeed Henry himself. If the court knew that precisely where the bodies were they would have found them. Alternately if Henry was lying and he had the bodies already he could have had them buried there specifically to back up his story, but that works only if he already has the bodies elsewhere.
And the one raised by Shakespeare - that the presence of 2 bodies, buried indoors in the Tower would have been quite unmistakable for months and perhaps years.
Which means the bodies were planted there some considerable time after their deaths. That means in the reign of Henry VII (possibly at the time of the conviction and alleged confession of Sir James Tyler or later). There is no other actual evidence for the confession and Tyler was not executed for killing them but on an unrelated matter, let alone convicted. But from the ages of the bodies they were clearly killed in the time of Richard III. Incidentally Tyler had a remarkably as an ex-Yorkist, successful career working, outside the country, for Henry after he came to power (as well, less remarkably, for Richard before)..
Extraordinarily there is one suspect connected to both Richard and Henry whom both would have been embarrassed to be connected to.
The Duke of Buckingham.
Buckingham and Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, had been responsible for seizing the Princes from the Woodville family and Buckingham had been, at least publicly, the motivator of them then being declared illegitimate and Richard thus succeeding to the kingship. They were very much partners.
Then suddenly Buckingham rose in rebellion against him, publicly in favour of Henry Tudor. Why?
Buckingham was already the 2nd person in the kingdom - what could Henry possibly offer him that would be better than that? The reason often given by historians to say that Richard had reneged on a promise to give Buckingham the Bohun estate but records show that, until his rebellion, Richard was still going through the process of giving him the title right up until Buckingham publicly rebelled. In fact the only reason to suggest Richard was not giving him the estate is that Buckingham rebelled which appears to be reversing the normal laws of cause and effect.
Also Buckingham was listening to Henry's intelligence chief, Bishop Morton, who was his prisoner and to Margaret Beaufort who was Henry's mother, but Buckingham was no wind up doll for them to so easily reprogramme.
Here is my suggestion that seems to fit the facts better than assuming Richard did it (in which case the "buried" bodies would not have gone undetected, or that Henry did it after capturing the Tower (in which case the bodies would have been older than they were at death).
After Richard had been crowned Buckingham suggested to Richard that it was politically necessary to get rid of the princes. So long as they lived they would retain a claim to the throne. However they were Richard's half nephews (it is now as certain as can be that their father, Edward the IV was not his father's son but was still his mother's) and he may have balked at this. They were not Buckingham's close relation and he would have found it easier to recognise the necessity. So when Richard went on his tour of the country Buckingham arranged for Tyrel to enter the Tower. In theory he did not have this right but he was known to be both the king's right hand man and the 1st noble of the land so it need not have been a problem.
Buckingham might have killed them and removed the bodies, expecting Richard to accept it, even be grateful, for the fait accompli (in the way the killers of Thomas Beckett expected after hearing the king say "who will rid me of this turbulent priest, expected Henry II to be grateful without knowing in advance) or smuggled them out alive. Alive they could have been a figurehead for Buckingham's rebellion and he would have had total control of them, at least until they grew up making him de facto ruler.
Either way there was no way back for him. If Richard was upset at the killings there would be no way back for Buckingham. if brought out alive I have to assume they died subsequently - perhaps accidentally as they made their own escape bid or perhaps he made the mistake of leaving them in the same building with Bishop Morton or Margaret Beaufort and they took care of the matter, thereby disposing of people blocking Henry's path to the throne.
I am assuming that, alive or dead, they were removed from the Tower for the reasons Hamlet gives.
This largely explains the most surprising thing about the disappearances. That while there was no evidence of the Princes appearance after August 148- (and there were certainly rumours at the time of them being murdered which played a part in Richard's overthrow which he could have dispelled by producing them) Henry did not make any public attempt to cast the blame on Richard (though it was to his advantage to do so and not doing so cast suspicion on him). Even the word's of Tyler's alleged confession actively fail to mention who had hired him. Both of those who held legal responsibility for the safety of the occupants of the Tower (Richard until Bosworth, Henry afterwards) refused to blame anybody else. Buckingham, being the ally of both is the only one both might prefer not to implicate (although if Buckingham removed the children alive and they were killed by Henry's mother or Morton or only after Buckingham had raised the standard of rebellion in Henry's name, Henry has particular reason not to discuss the subject in his lifetime.
As with so many other political scandals including Polonius' murder, it is the cover up not the event that causes the problem for the leader. Even if he wasn't thinking of this case Shakespeare's understanding of the nature of politics stands out.