Now that we have the confirmation that the remains of the “king in the car park” are, as suspected, those of the last English king to be killed in battle, King Richard III, many of us rejoice. Perhaps at last justice will be done to this unfairly maligned noble king, a devout Catholic, as we take another look at the extremely shaky evidence for which his name has been famous these last 600 years – the double murder of his nephews.
Here is a good argument by an unnamed historian, on a question and answer forum, who has carried out a systematic analysis and examination of the known facts of Richard III, and which I reprint below.
- How could a man who seems to be so fiercely loyal to his brother, kill said brother’s children after his death? This is one of the questions that Josephine Tey takes up in her mystery novel, The Daughter of Time. By the end of the story, Tey concludes that the man who is looked at by over 600 years of history as a murderous villain, Richard III, did not kill his nephews. This paper, like Tey’s novel, is an attempt to clear Richard’s name, by citing various arguments for his innocence, or at least argue that there is not enough evidence, at least not beyond a reasonable doubt, to condemn a man of a murder that is very unlikely to benefit him.
First, there is his character: according to contemporary sources, Richard was “a man universally liked and admired (Tey 113). He was very loyal to his brother, King Edward VI. “Even [Richard's] worst detractors agree that he was loyal to Edward.” When George of Clarence, Richard and Edward’s brother conspired with the Lancastrians to overthrow Edward, Edward fled the country and Richard never left his side. The argument here is that there seems nothing personally ambitious about these actions, only a desire to serve his brother.
Moreover, Richard was loyal to his brother even after Edward’s death. Richard on his way to London “arranged for a requiem mass at York, to which all the nobility of the North…took an oath of loyalty to the young prince” (114). According to historian Oliphant, Richard was a loving parent who displayed “‘signs of desperate grief’” at the death of his son (139). It is very doubtful that a man who grieves so heavily at his own son’s death could ruthlessly kill his two nephews.
Even if Richard were capable of murder, it would not be wise for him to kill the princes. Richard had already discredited the legitimacy of Edward’s children, in his issuance of the Titulus Regius act, which, according to Tey, gave “Richard the title to the crown” (126). Having gone to such great lengths to discredit the princes, Richard had no reason to kill them. Furthermore, as their protector, Richard surely was aware he would be the first one fingered in their death. To kill them would be a foolish act. With his nephews declared illegitimate, the young princes were no longer an important factor.
A further argument for Richard’s innocence is there is no proof that those children were murdered. Certainly there would have been rumors. According to Tey, “there was no general rumour of disappearance or foul play where the boys were concerned” (161). Furthermore, the failure of Henry Tudor to bring up the murder of the princes as a crime in the act of attainder against Richard, wears all the appearance of their not having been murdered. Had they been murdered under the supervision of King Richard, the invading Lancastrians would have certainly “use[d] the murder of the children as a rallying cry” (140).
One cannot forget that after Henry Tudor was crowned, he immediately had the Titulus Regius act revoked. The reason behind it is that he wanted to legitimize his new wife, Elizabeth, the princes’ sister. That way he would at least be married to the legitimate heir. Had Richard really murdered the princes, the people would have been thrilled to have the murderer overthrown. The fact that Henry VII had to repeal the Titulus Regius act proves that the people were not happy with Richard being overthrown. Marrying the legitimate heir would have given him some legitimacy.
It could be argued that Richard had the motive. However, Henry Tudor had just as strong a motive, if not stronger. Henry Tudor could have had those boys killed after his usurpation of the crown. That way he could legitimize his wife without worrying about the princes. Henry Tudor had someone write an account of a confession by the boys’ allegedly hired killer Tyler in 1502. He than had Tyler secretly executed for another unknown crime. This sequence of facts must at least ring an alarm bell. If Tyler had really confessed, then he “would have been tried and executed for the boys’ murder…in 1485″ (171). Henry Tudor didn’t come up with the excuse until 1502, then he had Tyler executed to prevent him from defending himself.
There is a saying that goes “history is written by the victors.” In this case, the victors were Henry Tudor and his followers. Henry Tudor wanted the people of England to accept him as their king. He therefore wanted them to remember King Richard as a callous and wicked man. Having all the writers and historians in his pocket, he simply had them write what he wished. In fact, much of the blacking of Richard’s name seems to come after his death. Therefore, in conclusion, with all this evidence, King Richard III must be exonerated of the princes’ murder, or at least one must admit that there is plenty of reasonable doubt. We cannot condemn a person of a crime without proof, therefore barring a miraculous appearance of some piece of evidence; we will never truly know what happened to the two princes. Since sufficient evidence does not exist, Richard’s guilt does not exist. Therefore, he is innocent.