Richard III - Jacob Abbott

The Fate Of The Princes

After the coronation, King Richard and Anne, the queen, went to Windsor, and took up their residence there, with the court, for a short time, in order that Richard might attend to the most important of the preliminary arrangements for the management of public affairs, which are always necessary at the commencement of a new reign. As soon as these things were settled, the king set out to make a grand progress through his dominions, for the purpose of receiving the congratulations of the people, and also of impressing them, as much as possible, with a sense of his grandeur and power by the magnificence of his retinue, and the great parades and celebrations by which his progress through the country was to be accompanied.

From Windsor Castle the king went first to Oxford, where he was received with distinguished honors by all the great dignitaries connected with the University. Hence he proceeded to Gloucester, and afterward to Worcester.

At all these places he was received with great parade and pageantry. Those who were disposed to espouse his cause, of course, endeavored to gain his favor by doing all in their power to give éclat to these celebrations. Those who were indifferent or in doubt, flocked, of course, to see the shows, and thus involuntarily contributed to the apparent popularity of the demonstrations; while, on the other hand, those who were opposed to him, and adhered still secretly to the cause of young King Edward, made no open opposition, but expressed their dissent, if they expressed it at all, in private conclaves of their own. They could not do otherwise than to allow Richard to have his own way during the hour of his triumph; their hour being not yet come.

At last, Richard, in his progress, reached Warwick Castle, and here he was joined by the queen and the young prince, who had remained at Windsor while the king was making his tour through the western towns, but who now came across the country with a grand retinue of her own, to join her husband at her own former home; for Warwick Castle was the chief stronghold and principal residence of the great Earl of Warwick, the queen's father. The king and queen remained for some time at Warwick Castle, and the king established his court here, and maintained it with great pomp and splendor. Here he received embassadors from Spain, France, and Burgundy, who had been sent by their several governments to congratulate him on his accession, and to pay him their homage. Each of these embassadors came in great state, and were accompanied by a grand retinue; and the ceremonies of receiving them, and the entertainments given to do them honor, were magnificent beyond description.

One of these embassadors, the one sent by the government of Spain, brought a formal proposal from Ferdinand and Isabella for a marriage between their daughter and Richard's little son. The little prince was at that time about seven years of age.

After remaining some time at Warwick Castle, the royal party proceeded northward, and, after passing through several large towns, they arrived finally at York, which was then, in some sense, the northern capital of the kingdom. Here there was another grand reception. All the nobility and gentry of the surrounding country came in to honor the king's arrival, and the ceremonies attending the entrance of the royal cortége were extremely magnificent.

While the court was at York, Richard repeated the ceremony of the coronation. On this occasion, his son, the little Prince Edward, was brought forward in a conspicuous manner. He was created Prince of Wales with great ceremony, and on the day of the coronation he had a little crown upon his head, and his mother led him by the hand in the procession to the altar.

The poor child did not live, however, to realize the grand destiny which his father thus marked out for him. He died a few months after this at Middleham Castle.

The coronation at York was attended and followed, as that at London had been, with banquets and public parades, and grand celebrations of all sorts, which continued for several successive days, and the hilarity and joy which these shows awakened among the crowds that assembled to witness them seemed to indicate a universal acquiescence on the part of the people of England in Richard's accession to the throne.

Still, although outwardly every thing looked fair, Richard's mind was not yet by any means at ease. From the very day of his accession, he knew well that, so long as the children of his brother Edward remained alive at the Tower, his seat on the throne could not be secure. There must necessarily be, he was well aware, a large party in the kingdom who were secretly in favor of Edward, and he knew that they would very soon begin to come to an understanding with each other, and to form plans for effecting a counter-revolution. The most certain means of preventing the formation of these plots, or of defeating them, if formed, would be to remove the children out of the way. He accordingly determined in his heart, before he left London, that this should be done.

He resolved to put them to death. The deed was to be performed during the course of his royal progress to the north, while the minds of the people of England were engrossed with the splendor of the pageantry with which his progress was accompanied. He intended, moreover, that the murder should be effected in a very secret manner, and that the death of the boys should be closely concealed until a time and occasion should arrive rendering it necessary that it should be made public.

Accordingly, soon after he left London, he sent back a confidential agent, named Green, to Sir Robert Brakenbury, the governor of the Tower, with a letter, in which Sir Robert was commanded to put the boys to death.

Green immediately repaired to London to execute the commission. Richard proceeded on his journey. When he arrived at Warwick, Green returned and joined him there, bringing back the report that Sir Robert refused to obey the order.

Richard was very angry when Green delivered this message. He turned to a page who was in waiting upon him in his chamber, and said, in a rage,

"Even these men that I have brought up and made, refuse to obey my commands."

The page replied,

"Please your majesty, there is a man here in the ante-chamber, that I know, who will obey your majesty's commands, whatever they may be."

Richard asked the page who it was that he meant, and he said Sir James Tyrrel. Sir James Tyrrel was a very talented and accomplished, but very unscrupulous man, and he was quite anxious to acquire the favor of the king. The page knew this, from conversation which Sir James had had with him, and he had been watching an opportunity to recommend Sir James to Richard's notice, according to an arrangement that Sir James had made with him.

So Richard ordered that Sir James should be sent in. When he came, Richard held a private conference with him, in which he communicated to him, by means of dark hints and insinuations, what he required. Tyrrel undertook to execute the deed. So Richard gave him a letter to Sir Robert Brakenbury, in which he ordered Sir Robert to deliver up the keys of the Tower to Sir James, "to the end," as the letter expressed it, "that he might there accomplish the king's pleasure in such a thing as he had given him commandment."

Sir James, having received this letter, proceeded to London, taking with him such persons as he thought he might require to aid him in his work. Among these was a man named John Dighton. John Dighton was Sir James's groom. He was "a big, broad, square, strong knave," and ready to commit any crime or deed of violence which his master might require.

On arriving at the Tower, Sir James delivered his letter to the governor, and the governor gave him up the keys. Sir James went to see the keepers of the prison in which the boys were confined. There were four of them. He selected from among these four, one, a man named Miles Forest, whom he concluded to employ, together with his groom, John Dighton, to kill the princes. He formed the plan, gave the men their instructions, and arranged it with them that they were to carry the deed into execution that night.

Accordingly, at midnight, when the princes were asleep, the two men stole softly into the room, and there wrapped the poor boys up suddenly in the bed-clothes, with pillows pressed down hard over their faces, so that they could not breathe. The boys, of course, were suddenly awakened, in terror, and struggled to get free; but the men held them down, and kept the pillows and bed-clothes pressed so closely over their faces that they could not breathe or utter any cry. They held them in this way until they were entirely suffocated.

When they found that their struggles had ceased, they slowly opened the bed-clothes and lifted up the pillows to see if their victims were really dead.

"Yes," said they to each other, "they are dead."

The murderers took off the clothes which the princes had on, and laid out the bodies upon the bed. They then went to call Sir James Tyrrel, who was all ready, in an apartment not far off, awaiting the summons. He came at once, and, when he saw that the boys were really dead, he gave orders that the men should take the bodies down into the court-yard to be buried.

The grave was dug immediately, just outside the door, at the foot of the stairs which led up to the turret in which the boys had been confined. When the bodies had been placed in the ground, the grave was filled up, and some stones were put upon the top of it.

Immediately after this work had been accomplished, Sir James delivered back the keys to the governor of the castle, and mounted his horse to return to the king. He traveled with all possible speed, and, on reaching the place where the king then was, he reported what he had done.

The king was extremely pleased, and he rewarded Sir James very liberally for his energy and zeal; he, however, expressed some dissatisfaction at the manner in which the bodies had been disposed of. "They should not have been buried," he said, "in so vile a corner."

So Richard sent word to the governor of the Tower, and the governor commissioned a priest to take up the bodies secretly, and inter them again in a more suitable manner. This priest soon afterward died, without revealing the place which he chose for the interment, and so it was never known where the bodies were finally laid.

Richard gave all the persons who had been concerned in this affair very strict instructions to keep the death of the princes a profound secret. He did not intend to make it known, unless he should perceive some indication of an attempt to restore Edward to the throne; and, had it not been for the occurrence of certain circumstances which will be related in the next chapter, the fate of the princes might, perhaps, have thus been kept secret for many years.