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The Princes in the Tower: Did Richard III Do It? You Decide His Innocence or His Guilt Based on the Facts

Updated on May 27, 2015

Richard of York and his brother Edward V

Richard III has his champions, Henry VII had his champions, let the truth be the champion of these little boys
Richard III has his champions, Henry VII had his champions, let the truth be the champion of these little boys | Source

Richard of Gloucester, Lord Protector

On a dark day in April, in the year 1483, a King of England, Edward IV, takes his final breath and goes to meet his Maker. He dies easier because he has been promised by his younger brother, Richard of Gloucester, that his two sons, Edward, the Prince of Wales, age twelve, and his brother, Richard, will be protected. Richard of Gloucester has sworn an oath to his brother, and to God, that he will be their Lord Protector.

Richard had always been Edward's favorite brother. Though born with a severe crooked back, and somewhat awkward as a boy, he has grown up as a healthy young man, despite his disability. Edward IV, when king, holds a special ceremony and honors his brother Richard, by knighting him. In the years to come, Richard will fight at his brother's side, in many battles. The bond created by two brothers while children, has strengthened as they grew to be men. Edward IV has no doubts that his younger brother, Richard of Gloucester, will honor his holy oath and protect his two small nephews, twelve year old Edward, Prince of Wales, and his younger brother, the ten year old Richard, Duke of York, in the trials and tribulations to come.

Richard harries to the North, where the small, twelve year old boy lives, with his uncle, Anthony, Lord Rivers. Lord Rivers, having received a message from his sister, Edward IV's widow, Elizabeth, stating that her husband had died, and that Anthony must escort little Edward V to London so he can be crowned King of England. The two separate parties meet. Everyone is cordial, and friendly. They share the evening meal in good spirits, and retire to their beds. The first indication of hostility happens while they sleep. Richard of Gloucester, in his role of Lord Protector, has the young king's uncle and brother arrested. Despite English law, the two young men are taken to Pontfract Castle, and beheaded. When the bodies are being looted by Richard's men, they discover that Anthony, Lord Rivers, was wearing a hair shirt beneath his clothes. At this point, Richard of Gloucester has sole custody of Prince Edward, and has him under his personal protection, as William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, had with King Henry III.

Cardinal Thomas Bourchier

Stained glass window depicting Cardinal Thomas Bourchier
Stained glass window depicting Cardinal Thomas Bourchier | Source

The Queen and Young Richard, Brother to Edward V, the King

Queen Elizabeth had taken her family into sanctuary. She had ten year old Richard, Duke of York, and his sisters in Westminister. Elizabeth hoped to keep her children safe there, at such an unsettling time. The handing over of power from one king to the next creates instability. It is why Elizabeth sought the protection of the Church, and why she has entrusted the duty of bringing her son Edward V, to London for his coronation, to someone she trusted implicitly, her brother, Anthony, and her own son, Richard Grey, half brother to the young king.

It is unlikely that the Queen knew that both her brother and her son had been arrested by her husband's brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, taken to Pontefract, and beheaded. Since she still had her youngest son with her, and would have to, willingly, allow her youngest son, the ten year old Richard of Shrewsbury to leave Sanctuary with his paternal uncle, Richard of Gloucester, the future Richard III of England.

Cardinal Bourchier Assures Richard of York's mother that the boy will be safe

Richard III has the elderly Cardinal Bourchier convince Richard of York's mother that her son will be safe with Richard III.
Richard III has the elderly Cardinal Bourchier convince Richard of York's mother that her son will be safe with Richard III. | Source

What Became of the Man Who Had the Only Key to the Tower Where the Two Princes Slept?

While there may be some doubt about who had the two, innocent Princes murdered, there is one thing we do know for a certainty; someone managed to get access to the rooms where the two young boys awaited their fate. The boys were left alone, without an adult. No Nanny, no tutors, no one to guard them besides the overseer of the Tower of London who had the only key.

Were the two boys afraid? Unfortunately, yes, they were preparing themselves for certain death according to a physician, assigned to visit them occasionally, perhaps, as a prelude to claiming they died of sickness. The eldest, Edward V, deposed by Richard III, the uncle who took an oath to protect them, is said to have prepared for death every day, by praying for remission of his sins.

The person who had the only key to the Tower of London rooms, where the two boys were imprisoned, was a man called Robert Brackenbury, a retainer of the new King, Richard III. Whatever happened to the man who held the key when the two boys disappeared? Richard III had already showed himself as a ruler who beheaded his friends and perceived enemies at a moments notice. Those accused of some charge were not allowed to speak to defend themselves, and no one was allowed to speak for them, or offer proof of their innocence. The man who held the key and allowed the two boys to 'disappear' must surely have incurred their uncle's wrath. After all, Richard III had taken an oath to protect them, and, as king, the ultimate responsibility for their deaths or perceived deaths, would rest at his feet.

Was Robert Brackenbury tortured, forced to admit what he knew about their disappearance? Was he beheaded, as Lord Hastings was when he honored his own oath to Edward IV, to be loyal to Edward's son, Edward V? No, neither happened. Brackenbury stayed in his position at the Tower of London. Robert Brackenbury died, two years later, at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 with his master, Richard III, King of England, the last Plantagenet king. Does that make him guilty of murdering his nephews? No, but it certainly makes people wonder why no one was held accountable for the disappearance.

Looking at the Evidence and Rounding Up the Usual Suspects

The evidence that points to the most probable suspect in the 'disappearance' of the two boys still exists. In the "Second Wars of the Roses" Part 1 and Part 2, we will look at the evidence, the known facts, and the one suspect no one ever looked at carefully.

Tower of London Staircase

Staircase in Tower of London where the bones of two children were found buried at the bottom of stairs, consistent with the Princes
Staircase in Tower of London where the bones of two children were found buried at the bottom of stairs, consistent with the Princes | Source

Tower of London Fortress

The Tower of London where two small boys could not feel safe.
The Tower of London where two small boys could not feel safe. | Source

The Helpless Princes in the Tower

Richard III Lord Protector

Richard III swore an oath to protect his nephews as Lord Protector: Rate his Job Performance

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The Princes in the Tower

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      Evie 14 months ago

      The tudors did it all . The princes were taken by their mother and other children put in their place. Why won't the queen allow DNA testing on the bones of the children in the tomb.

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