Part 3: King Richard III: Ruthless Ruler? Yes. Regicide? No.
It is time to conclude this mini-series on the cold case of the Princes in the Tower and whether their uncle, King Richard III, is justly accused of being their murderer. While I was pondering whether to discuss some more books that I read or, whether to actually not write this final part, a thought occurred to me. It isn’t the light bulb that you are hoping for so the historical mystery stands as is however, I wish to make one thing clear(er).
This is not an accusation and no, I cannot prove it at all. No, I have no insider information and no, you also cannot prove it could not have happened.
It is all about blood. Not blood shedding but producing blood e.g. giving birth to the successor and with that strengthening the family line and securing the throne for generations to come.
Henry VII did not have any offspring at the time the rumours went around that the Princes were gone. His best bet to secure the throne (his own claim was weaker than Richard’s) was to marry the oldest daughter of the last King who the people held for their legitimate ruler. In other words, Elizabeth of York who was the oldest daughter of King Edward IV. To make this happen, Henry VII repealed the Titulus Regius making Elizabeth a legitimate child again and of course, then he married her. But all that was in the future and did not mean that he had secured his throne when he needed it most. Repealing the act is one thing but he still needed to marry Elizabeth, she still needed to produce an heir and, that heir would still have to be strong enough to live. Remember that surviving infancy in medieval times was a real challenge, just look it up.
Richard III had his own worries. His wife Anne Neville had only been able to produce one son and sadly, he passed away. Then Anne passed away. Richard had illegitimate children but they could never succeed him on the throne.
Unlike Henry, Richard did have immediate options. Leave out Lincoln and Warwick for a moment. The Princes, both of the Plantagenet line, could succeed him at any time. Now, instead of a threat they would safeguard the throne for the next generations of Plantagenets. The princes would eventually marry and their offspring would secure the throne for the Plantagenet family for decades to come.
Of course, I can hear you say that Richard did not regard them as a safety net but as direct threats to his claim on the throne. Maybe he did, initially. However, maybe he never did. Every head of state worries about succession. You cannot convince me that succession was never an issue that Richard worried about.
Richard married Anne in 1472 and their only son Edward, was born a year later. But until King Edward IV died, no other offspring was born to Anne & Richard III. So Richard must have sensed that IF he were ever to take the throne, his succession would not be as safe as could be if he had more sons. Moreover, if anything would happen to his only son, his family might not be able to hold on to the throne. Richard’s son died in 1484, one year after King Edward IV passed away and left Richard the Protector of his sons and the realm. Despite being declared illegitimate, Richard may have considered them his only option to actually secure the throne for his family. And that would have been an enormous incentive to keep them away from harm and thus alive.
For Henry, the princes alive would mean a return of the crown to the Plantagenet family and thus that his own line would not endure. That could be a motive to make the princes disappear. I am not accusing him but merely explaining why to the one the princes posed a much bigger threat than to the other.
If this historical mystery interests you as well, there are some great works out there to read. The Richard III Society is planning a complete overhaul of their site to add more information. It is a wonderful resource for further reading and to get a take on the other suspects who have not been mentioned in my mini-series. Read about it and make up your own mind. Leave me your thoughts in the comment box below.
P.S.: If there ever is more news such as DNA testing regarding the princes, I will update these posts.