Daughter of Time: Who (or What) Killed the Princes, Part I

The Princes in the Tower by Millais
Why did everybody want the princes dead?

The problem was the princes may or may not have been illegitimate. Richard III would want them to be illegitimate (and they were declared so while he was acting as regent) since that enabled Richard to become king, a healthier state of affairs, generally-speaking, than a regency (child kings cause lots of problems).

Since the illegitimacy was a matter of law, not absolute proof, the princes alive would still have found supporters among potential rebels. In fact, Anastasia-like claimants did crop up throughout Henry VII and Henry VIII's reigns. A fundamental attribute of the medieval English and British throne is that every politically-minded (i.e. crazy) person wanted it. Not only did Henry VII and VIII deal with Edward V wannabes, they also dealt with Richard de la Poole who made a claim for the throne based on a rather haphazard family line--though no more haphazard than Henry VII's really. Richard de la Poole's dad is circled on the family tree below. (I guess Game of Thrones is more accurate than anyone realizes!)

Henry VII would have wanted the princes dead since he repealed the act that made them illegitimate, so he could marry their sister, yet he certainly would not have wanted them around. Whether or not Henry VII believed the princes were dead in 1483 (when he began invasion proceedings), he would have (1) invaded anyway (oh come on, does anyone really believe otherwise?) and (2) never shared a throne, even as regent, with a dispossessed 13-year-old.

Tey argues that Henry VII had the stronger motive for wanting the princes out of the way, and she has a point, especially from a mystery point of view. Unfortunately, her argument doesn't take into account fear and self-protection. Richard III and his cohorts had good reason to be sick to the eyeteeth with the whole War of the Roses. If a couple of dead princes would help it end faster, well, okay then. (For problems with this argument, see My Theory below.)

The main problem with Henry VII as the guilty party is the time frame. The princes seem to disappear from the historical record in 1483. This means something but not much since historical records are not infallible. Richard III became king that summer. Henry VII began invasion proceedings . . . before that point really but actively in Christmas 1483. The invasion took place the summer of 1485. Henry VII was crowned in October 1485.

If the princes were still alive, surely someone would have removed them from the Tower as soon as Richard's death at Bosworth was reported! (The princes' maternal relations may have wanted Henry VII to save the princes; no one with half a brain would trust Henry VII with the princes.) I am aware that some romantics hope that this did, in fact, happen. My personal assessment is that there is simply not enough evidence to trek down that path.

Anastasia-like claimants of the time believed otherwise! Faced with impostors claiming to be Edward V, Henry VII did eventually argue that the princes were too murdered, so there, nah, nah, nah.

My Theory

It's boring but from an Occam's razor point of view, it makes a tremendous amount of sense:

The princes died in 1483 from illness. Richard covered it up. Henry VII lied his pants off.

The death of Eustace, heir
of King Stephen (above) at 23,
helped end years of civil war.
Infant and teen deaths happened all the time in the medieval era. Richard III lost his heir when the child was 6. Elizabeth of York lost two out of six children in infancy and died giving birth to another child, who also died. Henry VII's first heir, Prince Alfred, died at 15, leaving Alfred's wife Catherine a widow. Edward VI died at age 15. James I's heir, Prince Henry died at 18 and Henry's sister, Princess Elizabeth, at 16.

The list goes on.

Death by illness explains why both Richard III and Henry VII would pretend otherwise. From no sane political perspective could Richard III inform the entire world that his two nephews, both in his charge, were dead, not when France was making noises about invading. Henry VII, with French help, invaded anyway; the princes' officially proclaimed deaths would only have stirred the flames of possible rebellion among Richard's own people.

Death by illness would explain why Henry VII reacted as he did--he invaded on his own behalf and for Elizabeth, not the princes. He may have suspected the princes were dead; he had no way of really knowing until he arrived in London. If he arrived and found dead bodies with no obvious external cause (blow to the head, etc.), he would do . . . exactly what he did do: have Parliament repeal and censor Titulus Regius, the act that declared the princes illegitimate and made Richard III king.

If there had been an obvious cause of death, such as murder, Henry VII would have executed someone. That's the way his mind worked (Henry VII executed Tyrrell--the supposed murderer--for supporting one of the de la Pooles; Sir Thomas More made up the stuff about Tyrrell murdering the princes after Tyrrell was dead; as Tey points out, this doesn't really make sense, likely because the murder never happened at all!).

Faced with no way to make the princes' deaths helpful to himself, Henry VII swept everything under the rug. He not only didn't want the act, Titulus Regius, to exist; he didn't want any reminders of what the act said. He wanted the princes to disappear as if they had never been.

The princes dying by illness explains in addition why their mother rejoined the court under Richard III. She may have detested him, but her unmotherly behavior--so exclaimed at by Grant--would have been a non-issue if she had seen the dead bodies and/or had confirmation from their physician of their deaths. Even if she merely suspected what had happened and wanted confirmation, her worries wouldn't have stopped her from playing politics.

Blackadder is annoyed when the queen pardons people
he has already executed. Royalty has a tendency to
change its mind!
The princes dying from illness isn't a glamorous explanation. It wouldn't serve as fodder for a play. It doesn't satisfy either the Richardians or, oddly enough, the Henry VII-ists, who blame ANY defense of Richard on "amateurism" (patronizing dopes).

Nevertheless, it makes a great deal of sense. And it creates a true human tragedy. Imagine you're Richard--you've just become king, your kingdom is reasonably stable, you have enemies but you also have supporters, France is making threats but eh, when does it not?

In addition, you've got your biggest threat, two nephews, locked up in comfort. No one can accuse you of being a bad uncle; people have seen them playing on the Tower grounds.

And then they die. Overnight. Suddenly. You stand there in the tower looking at their dead bodies and you know if you aren't stupid (and Richard wasn't stupid), "It's all over. There's no way around this. It's the ultimate rallying cry. Even if I bury them literally and figuratively, their disappearance will make matters as they currently stand worse."

And doesn't this explanation also say something about the randomness of nature and the plans of powerful people? All the plans in the world . . . you can't stop Mount St. Helen's from erupting; the rats still arrive in Europe loaded with fleas, and somebody still burns London to the ground by accident.

"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
Part II will discuss Daughter of Time, the novel, overall.

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