What happened to the Princes in the Tower?
New research on one of the country’s most famous mysteries asks….did one of the Princes become a brickie?
25 May 2007
A University of Leicester historian has cast new light on a mystery that has preoccupied people with an amateur or professional interest in English history for centuries.
Their fate, the most intriguing and enduring of all historical mysteries, is unknown, but they are generally supposed to have been killed by their uncle, King Richard III, probably in the autumn of 1483.
In his new book, The Lost Prince. The Survival of Richard of York, David Baldwin maintains that such an awful betrayal of the confidence the boys’ father, Edward IV, had placed in Richard is not supported by the available evidence.
He believes that Edward V, the elder prince, died from natural causes (he was receiving regular visits from his doctor), but that Richard, his younger brother, was eventually reunited with his mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, and allowed to live with her under the supervision of two trusted courtiers, John Nesfield and James Tyrell.
The Prince was subsequently moved to Lutterworth in Leicestershire and taken to Bosworth Field the day before the battle. King Richard may have considered naming the boy his heir, but his defeat and death changed everything.
David Baldwin suggests that Prince Richard, was taken to St John’s Abbey at Colchester after the battle of Bosworth, and employed there as a bricklayer until the Dissolution of 1539.
Was he the ‘Richard Plantagenet’ who died at Eastwell, in Kent, in December 1550, and who, unusually for a bricklayer, could read Latin?
He told his new employer that he was a natural son of Richard III – but what if he was really the ‘Lost Prince’?
Most commentators assume that no-one knew what had become of the two young Princes, but Baldwin argues that many people – kings, royal confidants, the boys’ sisters and former household officers – did know but chose to say nothing about it.
He explained: “Dead princes were a potential embarrassment, but a live prince would have been a real danger and a closely guarded secret. Richard survived when others with a Yorkist claim to the throne perished because he was out of sight and perhaps, eventually, out of mind also.”
“Eastwell, where he died, is only 12 miles from Canterbury Cathedral where his portrait still adorns the ‘royal’ window of the Martyrdom Chapel. I wonder, did an elderly bricklayer ever pause to look into the face of his own image – an image from another life – on the occasions when he visited the greater church?”
David Baldwin is a medieval historian who specialises in the later fifteenth century and who has long been fascinated by the enigma of Richard III.
He has devised and taught courses for adults at the University of Leicester’s Vaughan College and Northampton Centre for more than twenty years, and he currently contributes to the part-time BA (Hons) in Humanities/World Humanities course at Vaughan College.
He is the author of Elizabeth Woodville, Mother of the Princes in the Tower (Sutton, 2002, paperback, 2004), and Stoke Field. The Last Battle of the Wars of the Roses (Pen & Sword Military, 2006).
A copy of The Lost Prince. The Survival of Richard of York (Sutton, 2007). £20, can be obtained from Rachel Board, Marketing Dept, Sutton Publishing/NPI Media, The Mill, Brimscombe, Stroud, Glos GL5 2QG, Tel: 01453 883300.