The Princes: A Dolorous End

This document is linked to ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. Use this link to reach the project’s home page.


Jeremy Potter, Good King Richard?
© 1983, Jeremy Potter, used with permission

Chapter 13
The Princes: A Dolorous End

Thanks are due to the late Jeremy Potter for permission to reproduce this chapter in an html edition, and to Judie Gall for keyboarding and html markup.


The fate of Edward IV’s sons was a mystery at the time and has remained so ever since. They disappeared without explanation while under their uncle Richard’s protection and in his power. Most historians have therefore followed the lead of his enemies in convicting him of the crime of murdering them, and this conviction has served to establish his eligibility as the murderer of his wife, his brother and the last Lancastrian king and prince. Yet there i s no real evidence that the princes in the Tower were murdered by Richard or indeed by anyone else. To repeat Professor Jacob: ‘it is unlikely that the circumstances of their death will be known’.

According to The Great Chronicle of London (c.1512), they were seen shooting and playing in the garden of the Tower on various occasions during the mayoralty of Sir Edward (or Edmund) Shaw (or Shaa), which ran from 29 October 1482 to 28 October 1483. A quiet winter followed, but after Easter 1484 there was ‘much whispering among the people’ that the princes were dead and that Richard had poisoned his wife so that he could marry their sister, Elizabeth. New rumours came later that year. The princes were said to have been smothered, poisoned or drowned in malmsey wine. By whatever means, they were certainly dead, the chronicler believed, and either Sir James Tyrell or an old servant of King Richard (name left blank in the manuscript) was reported to have done the deed.

In his History of King Richard III (1513, possibly later) More confirms that differing versions of the manner of the princes’ death were circulating at the time. ‘I shall rehearse you the dolorous end of those babes, not after every way that I have heard, but after the way I have so heard by such men and by such means as methinks it were hard but it should be true.’

According to the version of the dolorous end favoured by More, Richard, on his way to Gloucester after his coronation, is overcome by misgiving about his nephews. ‘Whereupon he sent one John Green, whom he specially trusted, unto Sir Robert Brackenbury, Constable of the Tower, with a letter and credentials also that the same Sir Robert should in any wise put the two children to death. This John Green did his errand unto Brackenbury, kneeling before Our Lady in the Tower, who plainly answered that he would never put them to death, though he should die therefor; with which answer John Green returning, recounting the same to King Richard at Warwick, yet on his progress.’ Richard is displeased and muses: ‘Ah, whom shall a man trust?’ ‘Sir James Tyrell,’ replies the page on duty in the royal convenience: ‘for this communication had he sitting on the stool — a fitting carpet for such a counsel.’

Meanwhile, back at the Tower, the boys are shut up and deprived of servants except for the ominously named William Slaughter, also known as Black Will. At this the elder boy is so plunged into melancholy that he ‘never tied his laces nor in any way cared for himself … Sir James Tyrell devised that they should be murdered in their beds. To the execution whereof he appointed Miles Forest … a fellow fleshed in murder before time. To him he joined one John Dighton, his own horsekeeper, a big broad strong knave. Then all the others being removed from them, this Miles Forest and John Dighton about midnight (the innocent children lying in their beds) came into the chamber, and suddenly lapped them up among the bedclothes — so bewrapped them and entangled them, keeping down by force the featherbed and pillows hard unto their mouths, that within a while, smothered and stifled, their breath failing, they gave up to God their innocent souls into the joys of heaven, leaving to the tormentors their bodies dead in bed.

‘After the wretches perceived them — first by the struggling with the pains of death and after, long lying still — to be thoroughly dead, they laid the bodies naked out upon the bed and fetched Sir James to see them. Who, upon sight of them, caused those murderers to bury them at the stair-foot, meetly deep in the ground under a great heap of stones.’ Richard, however, is not lost to all sense of comme il faut and will not permit his nephews to be buried ‘in so vile a corner, saying that he would have them buried in a better place because they were a king’s sons’. This happily suits More’s penchant for sarcasm: ‘Lo, the honourable heart of a king!’

It also provides a convenient answer to a critical question. Why, after Bosworth, was Henry VII not able to trace the bodies and expose them to public view as undeniable proof of Richard’s guilt, thus strengthening his weak claim to the throne and ridding himself of the threat posed by a succession of pretenders claiming to be the younger prince? ‘Whereupon,’ More obligingly continues, ‘they say that a priest of Sir Robert Brackenbury took up the bodies again and secretly interred them in such as place as, by the occasion of his death — for he alone knew it — could never since come to light. Very truth it is and well known that at such time as Sir James Tyrell was in the Tower, for treason committed against the most famous prince, King Henry the Seventh, both Dighton and he were examined, and confessed the murder in manner above written, but whither the bodies were removed they could nothing tell.’

The alleged confession to this sequence of events is bolstered by a reference to disinterested, but unnamed, sources and by some ringing cadences in More’s most seductive prose: ‘And thus, as I have learned of them that much knew and little cause had to lie, were these two noble princes, these innocent tender children — born of most royal blood, brought up in great prosperity, likely long to live to reign and rule in the realm — by traitorous tyranny taken, deprived of their state, shortly shut up in prison, and privily slain and murdered, their bodies cast God knows where, by the cruel ambition of their unnatural uncle and his pitiless tormentors.’ But is ‘little cause had to lie’ yet another of More’s sly ironies?

In all morality tales the wicked have to suffer. Vengeful gods or goddesses like Jehovah or Nemesis, or their agents, such as Eumenides, strike them down in divine retribution. The archperpetrator of this atrocity, Richard, was ‘slain in the field, hacked and hewn by his enemies’ hands, haled on horseback dead, his hair contemptuously torn out and pulled like a cur dog’. ‘Sir James Tyrell died at Tower Hill, beheaded for treason.’ Miles Forest, less dramatically, ‘at St. Martin’s piecemeal rotted away’ — alongside the virtuous, one must presume, who also rot piecemeal in graveyards. Oddly then, it would seem that Forest was not convicted of any crime and died in his bed. And as for his fellow smotherer, ‘Dighton indeed yet walks alive’. This is so astonishing and lame a conclusion that More immediately adds: ‘in good possibility to be hanged ere he die’ (which, so far as is known, he never was).

If Dighton was not only living but a free man, as the phrase ‘walks alive’ implies, why did More not talk to him and obtain evidence first hand? He could then have clinched the authenticity of his story by naming him as a direct source. And what are we to make of a known assassin of a king walking free (‘set at liberty’, in Bacon’s phrase) thirty years after the murder? One report has Dighton given a pension and packed off to Calais. But even if he had turned king’s evidence, would he have escaped so comfortably, and would his story not have received such wide publicity as to put an end to all rumours and uncertainty? Those who cannot believe the Tudor kings would have granted a free pardon to a regicide (the murderer of Henry VII’s brothers-in-law and Henry VIII’s uncles) must presume that Dighton’s real role was to bear witness to a falsehood so transparent that it could not be safely publicised.

Brackenbury’s role in the alleged affair is almost as unlikely. According to More, he refused the king’s command to put the two children to death, ‘though he should die therefor’. But he did not demur at handing over the keys of the Tower to Tyrell for one night so that someone else could commit the crime. After this brief spell of compassionate absence without leave (which would surely have been noticed and set tongues wagging) he returned to resume his duties to the king whose command he had disobeyed on a matter of supreme importance, and the king retained such confidence in him that he remained in command at the Tower until, two years later, he led the London contingent to Bosworth where he was killed fighting for Richard.

What, too, of the central character in the drama? A close associate of Richard, Sir James Tyrell, survived Bosworth because he was abroad at the time, in command of one of the fortresses guarding Calais. Henry gave him two pardons, called him his ‘faithful councillor’ and left him as captain of Guisnes for a further seventeen years, employing him also on military and diplomatic missions in Europe.

In 1502, after an attempt to arrest him, Tyrell was lured aboard a man-of-war in Calais harbour on the king’s most solemn promise of a safe conduct, promptly clapped in irons, shipped to the Tower and beheaded for associating with the Yorkist pretender on the continent, the Earl of Suffolk (another of Richard’s nephews). The indictment contained no mention of the princes and, despite contemporary practice, there is no record of a speech from the scaffold. Only when Tyrell was safely executed for quite another reason was it announced that he had confessed to murdering the princes on Richard’s orders. Even had that been true, the thruthfulness of the confession might have been doubted. Tyrell’s purpose in making it would have been to save the life of his son, who had been arrested with him, and rescue his family from the penury which would follow an act of attainder. His son’s life was spared and there was no act of attainder, so it remains another mystery that no confession by Tyrell was ever published: perhaps because there were some still alive who would have known it to be untrue.

The time-lag is significant. Henry had been king and master of the Tower since 1485. It had taken him seventeen years to produce a story of any kind and even then it was one not backed by a shred of proper evidence. What caused him to rattle the undiscovered bones of the vanished princes in 1502 was probably the death of his eldest son and heir. Arthur died on 2 April and Tyrell was executed on 6 May. Edmund, the youngest prince, had not survived infancy, and Henry himself had been ill since the previous year. With a sick king, unpopular with his subjects, and only one remaining prince, the survival of the upstart Tudors was not highly rated in Europe, and it is likely that the King of Spain made the elucidation of the mystery surrounding Edward IV’s sons and confirmation of their death a condition of his consenting to the hand of his daughter being transferred from Arthur to the new heir. This would have accorded with the precedent of 1499 when two other ‘princes in the Tower’ (the Earl of Warwick, yet another nephew of Richard, and Perkin Warbeck, the soi-disant Duke of York) were judicially murdered by Henry VII to clear the way for the Spanish princess to marry Arthur. (Alternatively or additionally, Henry may have feared that Arthur’s death would cause a r esurgence of Yorkist activity, and this was a pre-emptive strike against a possible new wave of White Rose aspirants.)

If Henry was acting under diplomatic or political pressure, the need for haste might account for some lack of plausibility in his story as recounted by More. But the time may also have seemed propitious at last, for some eminent servants of the church and state who might have had an inkling of the truth and had recently died, including Archbishops Morton and Rotherham (Hastings’ fellow conspirators) and John Alcock, tutor to Edward V when Prince of Wales and successively Bishop of Rochester, Worcester and Ely. Most relevant may have been Thomas Langton, successively Provost of the Queen’s College, Oxford and Bishop of St. David’s, Salisbury and Winchester, who died of the plague in 1501 after his nomination to succeed Morton at Canterbury. Unlike the others, Langton, a northerner, had been in favour with Richard III and one of his immediate entourage. His was the effusive praise of Richard: ‘He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince, for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by him and his commands now in his progress. And in many great cities and towns were great sums of money given him which all he hath refused. On my truth I never liked the conditions of any prince so well as his.’ Langton must have trimmed his sails to Henry’s wind, but he had a Yorkist background, had not been guilty of treason, and might have proved a witness to the truth.

The likely untruth of the Henry/More story does not, of course, prove Richard’s innocence. One of his most stalwart defenders, Sir Clements Markham, proved this innocence to his own satisfaction by accepting the tale as substantially true, except in one important respect. The murder took place in 1486, not 1483, and the culprit was Henry, not Richard. Markham points out that Tyrell received his first general pardon from Henry on 16 June 1486 and his second on 16 July 1486: ‘This would be very singular under ordinary circumstances … But it is not so singular when we reflect on what probably took place in the interval.’ ‘Probably’ is certainly overstating the case, and Markham has been heavily condemned for defending one king against unproven accusations of infanticide by levelling a similar charge against another. Nevertheless, there is a suspicious parallel between antedating a murder so that one’s enemy becomes the murderer and antedating one’s reign so the one’s enemy becomes a traitor, as Henry attempted after Bosworth.

There is no evidence whatever that the princes were still alive at the time of Bosworth, but only rumours that they were dead. Markham discovered two references which he took as proof that Edward V had survived some of the rumours of his death, but these have since been discounted. If they did outlive Richard, the boys would probably have been in Yorkshire with their sisters and Clarence cousins and certainly prime targets for seizure by Henry after his victory. No doubt an escape plan would have been prepared, and this has suggested another possibility: a fatal shipwreck on the dangerous journey across the North Sea towards the haven of Burgundian territory, where their aunt, Margaret of York, was dowager duchess.

The behaviour of Elizabeth Woodville, mother of the princes, is often cited as suggesting that the princes may have fallen fatally into Henry’s grasp. In 1484 she became reconciled to Richard, putting herself and her daughters into his hands and writing to her son, the Marquess of Dorset, urging him to abandon the Tudor cause. Despite the quid pro quo of Richard’s oath to protect them, sworn in public, it is hard to believe this reconciliation was with someone who had recently murdered her sons, but much more plausible if she had evidence that they were alive (or knew them to be dead by accident or another hand). By contrast, shortly after her daughter had become Henry VII’s queen a violent and unexplained breach occurred between Henry and Elizabeth Woodville, after which she spent the rest of her life in Bermondsey abbey.

Yet with Henry, as with Richard, there is no real evidence and one must suspect that if he had killed the princes himself he would quickly have produced the corpses and an ingeniously appropriate story implicating Richard. His frantic search of the Tower where he had ‘all places open and digged’ may have been a deception, but his conduct suggests that he never discovered what happend to the princes. An uneasy belief that they might still be alive is apparent in his fear that Warbeck could indeed have been the younger prince, and it is a significant pointer in his favour that Warbeck and his backers never put forward the claim which should have suited them best: that Henry was responsible for the death of the elder boy.

Even if Henry is eliminated from the list of suspects, there remains a respectable case for a verdict of ‘not guilty’ against Richard and a cast-iron one of ‘non proven’. But since (in the comment of Sharon Turner) ‘almost all murders, from their privacy, are defective in direct evidence’, even some of those who believe that history is guilty of a serious misjudgment of this king accept the view that he may have had his nephews put to death. In their opinion this crime should be judged in the context of the morality of the time and the perspective of crimes committed by other rulers for reasons of state or ‘the good of the realm’. Attention has been focused on this particular accusation by Richard’s enemies for reasons which have little to do with a balanced historical judgment. In an age when a Duke of Burgundy ordered the assassination of a Duke of Orleans, and a Dauphin of France had a Duke of Burgundy murdered in his presence, there is no need to look beyond the Alps at the Borgias or the Pyrenees at Ferdinand of Aragon to gauge standards.

By this line of reasoning Richard’s possible guilt is regarded as a serious blemish on his career and one to be deeply deplored and condemned. But his virtues as a man of probity and courage, and the many benefits which he brought to those whom he ruled as viceroy and king, weigh the balance heavily in his favour notwithstanding. No ruler in any period of history can avoid acts which would be considered immoral in a private individual. Normally these are assessed in the light of his record as a whole; success, particularly success in battle, being a favoured criterion. Richard’s successes are to be found in the quality of his administration in the north before he became king, in his saving the country from another outburst of civil war after his brother’s untimely death, in his patronge of the church and of learning, and in the enlightened legislation of his reign. All these have been undervalued, unjustly overshadowed through his failure at Bosworth and by the suspicion that he committed one act of consummate wickedness.

Most Ricardians, however, argue fiercely against a natural presumption of Richard’s guilt. They contend that once the boys had ceased to be legitimate they no longer represented a threat to him — at the relevant time they were not the princes but the bastards in the Tower. But, while it is true that any incentive to have them put to death after their claim had been formally and constitutionally nullified would have been reduced, their bastardising, even if well founded, was a political act and readily reversible. And it was in fact reversed later, to bolster Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne through his marriage with the boys’ sister. To maintain that the boys no longer posed a danger to Richard’s cause is an exaggeration.

In Richard’s favour is the fact that he had another nephew in a not dissimilar position and there is no mystery about what happened to him. Clarence’s son would have had a better claim to the throne than Richard if his father’s attainder had not disqualified him, and in the fifteenth century this form of forfeiture of rights and estates was more often than not reversed with a change of regime or when the punishment had served its purpose. Although no longer of the blood royal and disabled from succeeding to his father’s dukedom and other titles, Clarence’s son had been allowed by Edward IV to use the title of the earldom of Warwick belonging to his mother, the Kingmaker’s elder daughter. The young Edward therefore might have become of greater importance in the power game than his cousins, degraded to Lord Bastards.

If the fate of this nephew provides a clue to the fate of the others the finger of suspicion points back to Henry. Edward, Earl of Warwick was well treated by Richard, who after the death of his own son even seems to have considered making him his heir. He and probably his sister and Edward IV’s daughters lived during Richard’s reign in a royal nursery at Sheriff Hutton, and one of Henry’s first acts after the battle of Bosworth was to secure the persons of these children. Edward, aged ten, was taken to the Tower of London, imprisoned there for the rest of his life for the crime of being Clarence’s son, and finally killed by Henry for political reasons.

Other arguments for exonerating Richard are neither conclusive nor negligible. In character he wss obsessively loyal, and faithful above all to his brother Edward, who bequeathed his sons to Richard’s care. Pious and puritan, fatally lacking the ruthlessness necessary to keep his crown, he lived in an age when men believed in an after-world of eternity in Heaven or Hell. After the general support for him at his coronation he may even have felt an interest in keeping the princes alive, since Henry Tudor’s claim was flawed with bastardies too and theirs was therefore still superior to his. By this consideration, killing his nephews would have been not only sinful and criminal but foolish as well.

Among contemporary writings hostile to him nothing is more noticable than the absence of any confirming evidence to substantiate the belief that Richard had the princes put to death. After Bosworth Henry failed to produce either bodies or evidence, when he badly needed both. On this subject his Act of Attainder directed against Richard is curiously reticent. Here one would have expected this terrible deed, pre-eminent among the catalogue of the dead and defenceless king’s alleged crimes, to have been spelled out with uncompromising clarity for universal condemnation. Yet there is no mention of it at all; only a general accusation such as lawyers resort to when they wish to make sure of excluding no possible charge. In a catch-all phrase Richard is arraigned for ‘the shedding of infants’ blood’.

It may be that the use of this phrase simply denotes uncertainty how to refer to Edward V, reflecting the view that his kingship was not to be acknowledged, his existence best forgotten, because Henry could in no way claim to be his heir. If so, it was an uncharacteristic miscalculation on Henry’s part. The vanishing act could not be concluded with a wave of his magic wand: dead or alive, the princes were not to be consigned to oblivion. Many people believed (or pretended to believe) that one at least of them had been smuggled abroad and that Perkin Warbeck was indeed Richard, Duke of York. Among them were Sir William Stanley (of Bosworth fame), executed for supporting Warbeck, and the King of Scotland, who gave Warbeck his cousin to marry. True or not, the claim proved convincing enough to be endorsed by Richard’s sister, Margaret of Burgundy, and accepted at other European courts.

The strange silence of the Archbishop of Canterbury also speaks in Richard’s favour. Descended, like the Duke of Buckingham, from Edward III’s youngest son, Cardinal Bourchier was Primate of All England for more than thirty years (1454-1487), during which time he served Lancastrians and Yorkists alike. About to crown Edward V, he found himself crowning Richard instead and, two years later, Henry Tudor. He had cried off Edward IV’s funeral, pleading old age and retiring to Knole, and according to Mancini crowned Richard unwillingly, not attending the banquet afterwards. It was he who negotiated with the boy’s mother the release of the younger prince from sanctuary at Westminster to join his brother in the state apartments in the Tower. He pledged his honour for he boy’s safety. If the boy had been harmed, would he not have spoken out? If he was too afraid while Richard lived, what would have stopped him after Richard was dead? His was precisely the voice whose public testimony Henry would have valued most and most demanded.

Despite the legend, Richard’s record does not reveal an unprincipled and blood-thirsty tyrant. He spared traitors like Morton and Stanley after a conspiracy which could have cost him his life. He even spared Stanley’s son, Lord Strange, a hostage for his father’s good behaviour, when Stanley betrayed him at Bosworth (the legend, of course, has Strange’s execution ordered but postponed). This does not suggest the kind of man who would kill the young sons of a brother to whom he had been so unswervingly loyal. It was Henry Tudor who spared no one. It is Henry’s record which suggests that he could have killed the princes without hesitation or compunction, as he killed their cousin Edward and as he and his son put others to death for the crime of being Plantagenets.

But if the princes were still alive when rumoured to be dead, why did Richard not choose to put the matter beyond doubt by allowing them to be seen in public? Why, if they were alive, did he consistently behave as though they were dead? These are the most pertinent questions addressed to revisionists, and no answer can be other than speculative.

Perhaps Richard was not worried by the rumours; perhaps he thought taking notice of them was beneath him or would be interpreted as a sign of weakness; perhaps he simply did not want to draw attention to Edward. Perhaps, knowing that he would be blamed if they died, he was too concerned for the safety of the boys on security grounds, for they stood in the path of Henry Tudor, who was supported by the French king, and there were important people at the English court in the pay of France — Hastings and Morton had been among them. If Vergil is to be believed, Richard actually encouraged the rumours, himself wishing to cast doubt on the princes’ fate and whereabouts. Uncertainty might have served his purpose in keeping the opposition factions — Lancastrians and Woodvilles, Edwardians and Buckinghamites — disunited. He ‘suffered the intelligence of their death to be published, that he might disconcert their plans and awaken the fears of his enemies’ (Lingard).

The boys may have been dead, but not killed. Edward V is thought to have suffered from a jaw infection and could have died of natural causes. Some support for this supposition is to be found in the curious fact that none of the pretenders who plagued Henry VII tried to pass themselves off as Edward. If the deposed king had died naturally while in the care or custody of the man who had taken the throne from him and there was no announcement because it would not have been believed, what then would have become of the younger boy? He might have lived to become Perkin Warbeck, or be hidden incognito behind monastery walls. Even Polydore Vergil reports the possibility of his being taken abroad.

Another possibility is an accident in a bungled attempt to smuggle them out of Richard’s control: a drowning in the Thames when their boat overturned or a shipwreck at sea on their way to the continent. That would at least explain one of the most puzzling aspects of the princes’ disappearance: that no one at all, however well placed, seems to have had certain knowledge of their end. The well-informed contemporary Croyland chronicler did not know, and even Richard’s own silence may be accounted for as ignorance.

Might the princes have been killed by someone acting without Richard’s knowledge, either misguidedly in his interests or in Henry Tudor’s or in some other? The problem of access narrows the field, and it is difficult to imagine who might qualify under the first heading. John Howard in gratitude for his dukedom of Norfolk? The faithful Brackenbury? Both might have had sufficient authority within the Tower, but they are unlikely to have been so rash and foolish. The names of Catesby and Ratcliffe have been proposed, but they were without the power to act on their own initiative.

Under the second heading Margaret Beaufort is the obvious candidate. A strong-minded conspirator, she was in London at the center of power as the wife of Lord Stanley (Steward of Richard’s household) despite her Lancastrian blood and Tudor son, and there seem to have been few scruples she would not have set aside to advance her son’s passage to the throne. The death of the princes was doubly beneficial to her cause as kingmaker: it removed rival claimants to the throne and, by throwing suspicion on Richard, weakened his position too.

But in the search for solutions the most favoured candidate for murderer after Richard himself is Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, acting in no one’s interest but his own. Buckingham was a descendent of Thomas of Woodstock, Edward III’s youngest son, as well as of John of Gaunt through the Beaufort line. He was the only living Plantagenet who could challenge Richard; the premier peer of England; an immensely wealthy and powerful aspirant to the crown, and a man of volatile and unstable character.

As Constable of England, Buckingham had the power to dispose of the princes if he could circumvent the royal will. In Richard’s absence on his royal progress through the country at the time of the princes’ disappearance he had the opportunity. It is doubtful whether anyone could have denied him access to the Tower. Fired with an ambition which was to lead him into armed revolt, he had a strong motive. The secret death of the princes was likely to help him as much as Henry Tudor, by removing competition for the crown and blackening Rihcard’s name.

A letter written by Richard from Minster Lovell during his progress, telling of a misdeed of great gravity perpetrated by person or persons unknown, might refer to Buckingham killing the princes. Richard’s reaction to his rebellion was unusually sharp and bitter. When it failed and Buckingham begged for a private audience with the king before his execution, Richard refused, describing him as ‘the most untrue creature who ever lived’. If Buckingham had intended to bargain for his life with a confession, the solution to the mystery died with him in the market square at Salisbury. Lack of proof and knowing that he himself would be blamed would explain why Richard never proclaimed Buckingham’s guilt.

An unauthorised act of murder by Buckingham would account for Elizabeth Woodville’s reconciliation with Richard. Most of what is regarded as evidence against Richard — the rumours and the bones in Westminster Abbey for instance — could be applied just as aptly to an indictment of Buckingham, the evil genius, whose name recurs in reports on the seizure of Rivers and the execution of Hastings as well as the death of the princes. A chronicle compiled by an unknown London citizen and discovered in the library of the College of Arms as recently as 1980 states that the princes were put to death on the advice of Buckingham, and other mentions of his involvement in their death occur in a manuscript dating from about 1490, owned by Humphrey Lloyd (d. 1568), and — for what they are worth — in Commynes and Molinet.

But casting Buckingham in the role of principal assassin does not necessarily lead to Richard’s acquittal. Historians are agreed that Buckingham would never have dared act without Richard’s complicity or, at least, connivance. To believe that he would have committed the crime without a direct command from the king is ‘little short of fantasy,’ declared Professor Ross sternly, citing the assassination of Becket as an isolated example of unsanctioned political murder. Modern near-fantasists, however, may find significance in identifying Buckingham — without whose intervention Richard of Gloucester might never have become king — as one of their number. He inhabited a borderland between reality and fantasy for six meteoric months, and they may find the example of Becket’s murder pertinent, noting More’s echo of Henry II’s ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’ with Richard’s ‘Ah, whom shall a man trust?’

‘The available evidence admits of no decisive solution,’ concludes Professor Kendall. ‘Richard may well have committed the crime, or been ultimately responsible for its commission. The Duke of Buckingham may well have committed the crime, or persuaded Richard to allow its commission. What is inaccurate, misleading and merely tiresome is for modern writers to declare flatly that Richard is guilty or to retail as fact the outworn tale of Thomas More.’

Good King Richard? An Account of Richard III and His Reputation was first published in Great Britain by Constable & Sons, Ltd. in 1983 and copyrighted to the author. It has since been reprinted in 1983 and 1985 and published in paperback in 1989. All rights reversed according to international copyright law.