Stories From English History: II - Alfred J. Church

The Two Princes

The last chapter was a pleasant change from the tale of wars and, too often, of wicked deeds of which history is for the most part made up. In this I must go back to the old subject, for I have to tell a very shocking story indeed.

King Edward was dead, a young man, as we should now think him, for he was but forty-two; but he had wasted his strength in riotous living. He left two sons, Edward, Prince of Wales, who was thirteen years old, and Richard, Duke of York, who was nine, and five daughters. Of the eldest of these five, Elizabeth by name, we shall hear again. Kings as young as Edward, even younger, had come to the throne, and kept it, for a time at least, in peace. The third Henry was but nine; the second Richard eleven; the third Edward only fifteen. But there was trouble in store for the two boys, because their nearest kinsman, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the late King's brother, had begun to think that he might win the kingdom for himself. His way had been cleared by the death of the brother who stood next in age to King Edward—George, Duke of Clarence. Whether Richard had had anything to do with Clarence's death I cannot say. Clarence was a foolish, hot-headed man; he had quarrelled fiercely with the King, had been found guilty of treason, and had been condemned to death. How he died no one knows. A story has been told of how he was allowed to choose his manner of death, and that he chose to be drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. But this seems to have been made up long afterwards. That he was found dead in the Tower is certain. It is probable that the King knew how he came by his end, for no one was punished for it. There is nothing to prove that Richard was concerned in it. More we cannot say. That he had something to do with the death of his nephews cannot be doubted.

Richard III of England


When his father died young Edward was at Ludlow Castle, which was at that time the appointed dwelling of the Princes of Wales. In the course of a few days he set out for London, in charge of his uncle, Lord Rivers. Meanwhile the Duke of Gloucester, who was in the north at the time of his brother's death, hurried back. He overtook the young Prince at Stony Stratford on April 30, arrested Lord Rivers, Lord Richard Grey, a son of the Queen by her first marriage, and others, and carried his nephew up to London. For a time all seemed to go well. The Council acknowledged young Edward as King, and such of the chief men of the kingdom as happened to be in London took the oath of allegiance to him. Richard was named Protector to carry on affairs of State as long as the King was under age. The young King, who had been at first entertained in the Bishop of London's palace, was now lodged in the Tower, as being more convenient.

And now it would seem Richard, not content with the royal power, which he had as Protector, began to plot for getting the crown itself. He felt certain that the power would not long be his if the young King lived. In two or three years the boy would be old enough to act for himself, and then he would be certain to prefer to have his mother's kinsfolk about him as his advisers. Richard could count on a good deal of support. He was very popular in the city of London. Many of the old nobility, who hated the Queen's relatives as upstarts, were ready to help him. But one man, with whom he was on very friendly terms, and on whose aid he reckoned, refused to listen to his offers. This was William, Lord Hastings. Richard at once resolved to destroy him. The way he did it was very strange.

There was a meeting of the Council held in the Tower. Richard came late to it, asked pardon for being after his time, and talked about some trifling matters, asking the Bishop of Ely, who was there, to send for some strawberries out of the garden of his London palace, which was in a street out of Holborn, still called Ely Place. He then left the room, but returned before very long in great trouble as it seemed. "What, my lords," he cried, "think ye should be done to them who compass my death, seeing that I am near in blood to the King and in charge of this realm?" The other members of the Council were too much astonished to speak, but Lord Hastings said—"They deserve to die as traitors, whosoever they be." Richard then pulled up his sleeve and showed a withered arm, caused doubtless by an illness in his childhood. Very possibly it was not known to any but those who had waited upon him. Evidently it was hidden by his sleeve, and he seems to have had the use of both arms, for he was a skilful knight. "This," he cried, "has been done by my brother's wife and others who have worked with her. See how they have destroyed my body by their witchcraft." "If they have done any such thing," said Hastings, "they deserve to be sorely punished." "Answerest thou me with 'ifs' ?" cried Richard, furious with rage; "I tell thee they have done it, and thou hast joined with them, as I will prove upon thy body, thou traitor." As he spoke, he smote with his fist upon the Council table, and a body of armed men rushed in. He bade them seize Hastings, the Bishop of Ely, and others whom he knew to be opposed to his plans. Hastings was hurried out into one of the courts of the Tower and beheaded. The others were put in prison. About the same time Lord Rivers and some of his kinsfolk and friends were executed. But worse things than these remained to be done.

The Queen was in sanctuary at Westminster with her younger son, the Duke of York, and her five daughters. "Sanctuary" was a place, commonly in the neighbourhood of a church, to which persons guilty of offences against the law might fly. As long as they remained in it they could not be touched. She had fled thither as soon as she heard of Richard's coming to London, and of how he had seized her brother. Richard maintained that a child who had committed no crime was not a fit person to take sanctuary, and the Council agreed with him. Still he did not like to take away the boy by force, and thought it better, if he could, to persuade the Queen to give him up. He sent, therefore, the Archbishop of Canterbury to do this, and the Archbishop, who seems to have believed that Richard meant no harm to his nephew, argued the matter with the Queen. At first she refused. She said that the child was sick, and needed his mother's care. Then she hinted that the Duke had not much love for his nephew. When the Archbishop declared that the boy had no right in the Sanctuary, she replied that her lawyers had advised her otherwise, and said plainly that she did not think the Princes were safe in the hands of their uncle, seeing that he would be King if they were to die. The Archbishop declared that he would answer, with soul and body, for their safety. On this the Queen consented to give the young Duke up. She bade him good-bye in much grief and fear, saying as she kissed him, "God knoweth when we shall kiss together again." The boy, who cried much on leaving his mother and sisters, was taken by the Archbishop to Richard, who pretended that he was very glad to see him. Glad he was to have both him and his brother in his power, for to have one without the other would have been useless. The young Duke was then sent to be with his brother in the Tower.

This was on June 16. Six days afterwards a certain Dr. Shaw, who was Richard's chaplain, preached a sermon at Paul's Cross, which it was hoped would help his plans. The preacher declared that the late King had been married to a certain Eleanor Butler before he took Elizabeth Woodville to wife, and that the two Princes were not his lawful children. As for the son of the Duke of Clarence, he had lost his rights, because his father had been condemned for treason. It was hoped that the people on hearing this would cry out for King Richard; but they were too much surprised to say anything. Richard had to try another plan. He sent the Duke of Buckingham, who was himself a descendant of Edward III., to tell the Mayor and citizens of London the same story that Dr. Shaw had told in his sermon. At the end of his speech a few persons, who, it is likely, had been hired to do it, threw up their caps and shouted, "Long live King Richard III.!" The next day Parliament met. It had been called to witness the coronation of Edward, but it was terrified into acknowledging his usurping uncle. The Duke of Buckingham led a deputation of the two Houses to Richard. They begged him to take the crown. At first he refused. He would sooner, he said, act as Protector for his nephew till the boy should be of age to reign himself. "Nay," said Buckingham, "England will not obey a base-born boy." Then Richard pretended to yield. He said that he consented to be King of England and France. England he would rule, France he would conquer. He and his wife Anne, daughter of the King-maker, were crowned on July 5, nearly three months after the death of King Edward.

And what about the two young Princes, for whose safety the Archbishop had pledged his body and soul? No man knew for certain, but few doubted that Richard had ordered them to be put out of the way. They were never heard of again, though, as we shall soon see, some people believed, or at least pretended, that one of them escaped. Some years afterwards a confession was made by two of the persons concerned in the murder, and published by King Henry VII. There were some strange things in this story, and it was of course to Henry's interest to have it made quite certain that the Princes were dead. But on the whole we may be satisfied that the story was true. Richard, it seems, sent a certain Green to Sir Robert Brackenbury, who was Constable of the Tower, with a command that he was to put the Princes to death. Brackenbury refused to commit the crime. Then Richard gave a warrant to Brackenbury that he was to give up the keys of the Tower for one night to a Sir James Tyrrell. Tyrrell engaged the help of Miles Forest, one of the men that waited on the Princes, and of a groom of his own, Dighton by name. These two ruffians murdered the lads by smothering them with pillows, and when they had done the deed called Tyrrell to see the dead bodies. Nearly two hundred years afterwards some workmen found under a staircase a great chest in which was a quantity of bones. These were said by persons skilled in such matters to be the bones of boys who were of the same age as the Princes.