CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST
FINDS KING RICHARD III “NOT GUILTY” OF
THE MURDER OF THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER
A three-judge panel chaired by the Honorable William H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States, today found King Richard III not guilty of the murder of his nephews, the famous “Princes in the Tower.”
“The Trial of Richard III” took place before an overflow crowd as part of the Chief Justice of the United States’ four-day visit to the Indiana University School of Law, Bloomington. The trial featured appellate-style briefs and arguments by students and graduates of the Law School.
The case for the prosecution was argued by prominent Washington attorney James F. Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick, a partner at Arnold & Porter and a graduate of the IU Law School, has represented many noteworthy clients including the chairs of the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce Committees, the Commissioner of Baseball, former Senator Robert Packwood, and former White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum. Fitzpatrick was joined by Paige Porter, a third-year law student and a member of last year’s winning student moot court team.
The prosecution argued that the evidence of contemporary writers, the accounts of Thomas More and Williams Shakespeare, the known facts concerning the character of Richard III, and forensic evidence concerning two sets of bones found in the Tower in the 20th century constituted, in the words of Fitzpatrick’s opening statement to the Court, the “pieces of a mosaic” which show that Richard III took the lives of his nephews in order to secure his hold on the crown.
Richard III was represented by John Walda, also a graduate of the Law School, a partner in the Fort Wayne, Indiana, law firm of Barrett & McNagny, and President of the Indiana University Board of Trustees. He was joined by Dennis Long, a third-year law student and a retired Colonel in the United States Army.
The defense sought to cast doubt on the prosecution’s evidence and to show that others, such as Henry VII who killed Richard III on Bosworth field, had a better motive and opportunity to commit the crime. Walda noted that the case took place in the eyes of “500 years of pretrial publicity” and he argued that “relying on William Shakespeare’s plays as to any element of the state’s case is a little like relying on Oliver Stone’s movie to prove the Kennedy assassination. At least Stone was there,” Walda said.
Delivering his opinion at the conclusion of the mock trial, Chief Justice William Rehnquist found that there was too much “ambiguity as to when the murders took place” to convict Richard III. “There is a sufficient lapse of time even considering the evidence most favorable to the State as to put it beyond the time when Richard III was in control of things and into the time when Henry VII was in control of things,” the Chief Justice said.
The Chief Justice also found that the “contemporary accounts,” which tend to incriminate Richard III, “are not worth much in a trial of this sort . . . because they are not made with first hand knowledge; they are kind of rumor on rumor . . . .”
The Chief Justice of the United States was joined in his opinion by Professor Susan Hoffman Williams, a member of the Law School’s faculty.
The Chief Justice and Justice Williams noted the high burden of proof the prosecution faced, under contemporary criminal law, of having to prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Even modifying that standard to “beyond a reasonable historical doubt,” however, the majority found that the prosecution had not proved its case.
“If you had to choose between Richard and 5Bthe Duke of=5D Buckingham, and Henry VII as potential culprits in the case we would pick Richard,” the Chief Justice said, “but,” he continued, “it is just not enough in a case like this to say that the person is more likely to have done it than two others . . . . That does not meet the A1beyond a reasonable doubt’ test. And so for that reason the Court by a majority vote finds for the respondent, Richard III.”
The Court’s decision was not unanimous. The third member of the three-judge panel, the Honorable Randall T. Shepard, Chief Justice of the State of Indiana, found that “as a matter of historical judgment,” many of the contemporary writers had “access to actual participants in the drama of the time.” Chief Justice Shepard also noted that “the defense has had 500 years to find evidence, actual evidence, as opposed to speculation, that somebody other than Richard III was responsible for these deaths and by and large there isn’t any.”
As a result, Chief Justice Shepard said, this “leads me to the conclusion that he is guilty, guilty, guilty.”
The debate over the fate of the young princes Edward and Richard, the so-called “Princes in the Tower,” has raged for more than five centuries. Prominent 16th century writers such as More and Shakespeare depicted Richard III as the murder of his nephews and the usurper of the British throne.
More recent historians, however, have questioned this version of the story. Richard III societies in the United States and in Great Britain celebrate their hero’s birthday each year, and have argued forcefully that Richard was innocent of his nephews’ disappearance.
Introducing the trial, Dean Alfred C. Aman, Jr., said that “The Law School is sponsoring this moot not only because of its historical significance, but also because of the lawyering skills that it demonstrates.”
“The attorneys have prepared substantial written briefs, which the judges have had an opportunity to review carefully. These briefs evidence exemplary legal analysis and writing. The arguments we are about to hear promise to demonstrate critical oral advocacy skills. Collectively, these skills are in the finest traditions of the legal profession, and they are an important part of what we seek to teach at the Law School,” according to Dean Aman.
Speaking at the conclusion of the trial, the Chief Justice of the United States said, “I speak for all of us when I say that we thought not only that the briefs were outstanding, but that the arguments were also outstanding.”
The close verdict suggests that “The Trial of Richard III” will not be the final chapter in the debate concerning the fate of the Princes in the Tower, as Professor Williams noted in her concurrence with the Chief Justice’s opinion. “For me,” Justice Williams said, “the most salient fact is not Richard’s guilt or innocence, but the sense that history is always in the making, that it is in fact a constant work in progress.”
The continuing interest in this enduring mystery was reflected in the considerable press attention given the moot court. “The Trial of Richard III” was carried live on public television station WTIU, and is being broadcast on C-SPAN.
THE TRIAL OF RICHARD III
More than 500 years ago, in April of 1483, King Edward IV died, leaving two sons, Princes Edward and Richard, aged 12 and 10 respectively. In his will, the King named his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, protector of his young nephew, Edward, and defender of the realm.
Just one day before the scheduled coronation of young Edward, however, Bishop Stillington of Bath and Wells announced that the children of King Edward and his Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, were illegitimate. Stillington charged that before Edward IV married Elizabeth he had entered into a precontract for marriage with another woman, which rendered the King’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid. Thus, Prince Edward would have been a bastard and ineligible to ascend to the throne.
Within days of Stillington’s announcement, Parliament presented a petition to Richard imploring him to take the throne. He accepted, and on July 6, 1483, he was crowned Richard III, King of England. [Ed Note: contrary to this press release, the petition was presented by representatives of the Three Estates, but Parliament was not convened until the following January.]
Meanwhile, the two princes remained in the royal apartments in the Tower of London. Sometime in late summer or early fall of 1483, the boys disappeared from view; there is no record of their having been seen again. At the time the Princes vanished, Richard and his new Queen were on “progress” in the north of England, hundreds of miles from London.
Rumors began circulating that Richard ordered the boys killed, that they were smothered in their beds and then buried beneath the stairs in the Tower. After Henry Tudor, later Henry VII, defeated Richard on Bosworth field, Tudor historians began to record those rumors as historical fact. A century later, William Shakespeare crafted those rumors into one of his most compelling and popular plays, depicting Richard as a deformed hunchback, the murderer of his own nephews, and a sinister, evil usurper.
The discovery in 1674 of the bodies of two small children buried in a chest about 10 feet beneath the Tower stairs only fueled speculation about the fate of the Princes in the Tower. The remains were assumed to be those of the two princes and were placed in urns and moved to Westminster Abbey. There they remained until 1933 when they were disinterred and examined by the then-President of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain, Professor W. Wright. Professor Wright asserted that the older child was 12 to 13 years old when he died, the younger 9 to 11, and that blood stains on the skull of one of the children indicated death by suffocation.
Other experts have since examined photographs of the remains taken by Professor Wright. The results of those examinations has failed to provide conclusive evidence of the identity, cause of death, or even the gender of the two children found buried beneath the stairs.
The debate over the Princes in the Tower continues to rage. A number of recent historians have found in Richard the loyal brother of King Edward IV, a devoted husband and father, and a diligent king. According to these scholars, history was slow in recognizing Richard’s qualities because the victors wrote the history that best served their purposes: Henry VII needed to justify his own seizure of the crown, and the men patronized by his 70-year Tudor dynasty — men such as More and Shakespeare — knew better than to offend a living monarch by telling the truth about a dead one.
But the theatrical image of Richard as the malevolent murderer of his young nephews remains powerful, and the mystery of the fate of the boy princes an enduring one. The Trial of Richard III examines not only King Richard’s culpa”bility for the death of his two nephew princes, but also the character and kingship of the man accused of their murder.
Press release courtesy of the Indiana University School of Law.