The Battle of Towton (Extract from ‘House of Beaufort’ Book)

The following is an edited extract from ‘House of Beaufort; the Bastard Line that Captured the Throne’ by Nathen Amin, released by Amberley in August 2017. You can order the book HERE

The Lancastrians had scouted an ideal location on an exposed plateau between the villages of Towton and Saxton, a few miles south of Tadcaster, and once it became clear the Yorkists were making their final advance, orders were given to assume battle formation. The duke of Somerset’s army was slightly uphill facing south, with a deep ravine to their right in which the swollen River Cock flowed before meandering behind their lines. To prevent an attack from the rear, the bridge crossing the Wharfe in Tadcaster was demolished, in theory safeguarding their position. As it transpired, this order merely hemmed Somerset’s men into a death trap.

Once the Yorkist army, fresh from the Ferrybridge engagement, had organised their lines, cries were heard from both sides in support of their respective kings. It had started to snow heavily, with swirling winds obscuring vision and leaving the ground icy white, hardly ideal conditions for a life or death confrontation. It was tacitly acknowledged by all this was to be a decisive battle, with any traditional rules of engagement suspended. Somerset himself probably recognised that should he be captured alive, it was unlikely he would survive the day if previous encounters were any indication. Of course, the same was true in reverse, and Henry Beaufort still retained hope of getting his hands on Warwick. Nervous tension must have pervaded through his body as he stared across the terrain, his battle standard of blue and white with the Beaufort Portcullis fluttering in the cold air.

 

The fighting commenced with the archers loosing their arrows into the cold sky, although unbeknownst to them, Lancastrian efforts fell woefully short, losing range in the tempestuous wind. The Yorkist archers simply gathered up the arrows and shot them straight back whence they came, finding their targets with devastating accuracy. Somerset had probably hoped to encourage the enemy to attack him uphill, where he could pick them off from his advantageous position, but the unforeseen slaughter of his own archers prompted the duke to order his infantry to advance. Leading by example, and protected by a full harness of armour with his Beaufort arms prominently sewn onto his tabard, Somerset charged into battle. Hours of claustrophobic, hand-to-hand combat followed, leaving hundreds of men dying by the hour amidst the incessant clanging of steel upon steel.

The fighting was furious, but generally even-handed, until the arrival of the duke of Norfolk’s forces in the early afternoon. Norfolk smashed into the Lancastrian left-flank, gradually causing Somerset’s men to pivot until, disastrously, they had their backs towards the ravine and the flooded Cock Beck. As Edward’s forces started to overwhelm Somerset’s, the Lancastrian line disintegrated, with soldiers choosing to flee for their lives rather than standing their ground. What followed was slaughter on an unfathomable scale, for the Lancastrians were, in George Neville, Bishop of Exeter’s words, ‘routed and broken in pieces’. The panicked soldiers generally headed in two directions; some fled down the ravine towards the Cock but, finding it tough to scramble back up the opposite bank in the icy conditions, were butchered en masse. Others headed north, but finding the bridge across the Wharfe destroyed by their own hand, drowned in considerable numbers attempting to cross the freezing water whilst evading their bloodthirsty pursuers.

No quarter was given and no mercy granted, prompting Bishop George Neville to report ‘so many dead bodies were seen as to cover an area six miles long by three broad and about four furlongs’. Thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, of Englishmen lay dead in blood-splattered snow, ‘a number unheard of in our realm for almost a thousand years’. Amongst those butchered at the hands of their fellow countrymen were Northumberland and Trollope, including forty-two knights executed after the battle on Edward’s orders. It is unsurprising the Milanese ambassador described the battle as ‘great and cruel’ on 18 April 1461, wryly adding ‘as happens when men fight for kingdom and life’.

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House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown was released in August 2017 and became an Amazon #1 Bestseller for Wars of the Roses. The Paperback edition was released in April 2018.

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St Denys Church, York – A History

York is a city resplendent with historical features, a destination regularly lauded for the heritage it possesses in unparalleled abundance. Particularly prominent throughout the city are sites of medieval provenance; York Minster, Barley Hall and the Merchant Adventurers Hall spring to mind. The rich and varied ecclesiastical history of York is still evident in the many churches that still litter the city centre. Although not as grand or as renowned as the Minster, each parish church has its own intriguing history waiting to be discovered. St Denys Church in Walmgate is one of these.

Located on an important thoroughfare between Walmgate Bar, an historic gateway to York, and the city centre, it is little surprise to note that this site has seen evidence of human use since the time of the Romans. Excavations in 1846 unearthed an altar dedicated to the Roman God Arciaco, thought to have been erected on the site by the Roman Centurion Maternius Vitalis. Furthermore additional excavations have revealed that some of the earliest foundations appear to be of Roman origin, subsequently built upon by later settlers.

The first Christian church built on this site was probably before the Norman Conquest, owing to two Anglo-Danish gravestones uncovered in the churchyard. These stones have been dated to the 10th or 11th century and are now housed in the Yorkshire Museum, remnants of the period before the Normans secured the north. It is certain that a Norman church was erected on the site before 1154, just under a century after the Norman invasion.

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It is possible it was at this juncture the site was dedicated to St Denys, alternatively known as Dennis or Dionysius. Denys was renowned as not only the patron saint of Paris but also of France, a Christian missionary who was beheaded by the Romans in 258AD. The location of his execution became known as Montmartre, or Martyr’s Hill, in present day Paris. It was said after his killing that his body miraculously arose from the dead and walked around, carrying his bloody severed head in his arms whilst preaching a sermon of repentance. The large gothic abbey the Basilica of Saint Denis church was erected upon the site of his alleged burial.

The church that remains standing today mainly dates from the 13th-15th centuries, with some earlier surviving features and some later embellishments. A prominent feature is the doorway which is a surviving part of the Norman church. This section of the Norman church was originally positioned in the nave, but was relocated to its present position during renovations in 1798. The doorway is typically arched and contains five semi-circular tiers adorned with various carvings, including those of raven heads and foliage.

The North Aisle was remodelled in around 1340, and is a section of the church that contains a significant amount of 14th century stained glass. The aisle was used as the personal chapel of the locally prominent Percy family, aristocrats who would rise to become Earls of Northumberland and play a major role in the governance of medieval England. The Percys owned a mansion close to the church and as such offered their patronage to their local holy building. It is in this aisle that lies the bodies of Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland, and his brother Richard, who were killed fighting for the House of Lancaster at the Battle of Towton in 1461. The brothers found themselves on the losing side in England’s bloodiest battle, a key clash in the Wars of the Roses, and were buried in an unmarked vault in St Denys. The blocked up doorway in the North Aisle has been suggested as a private entrance the Percys may have used from their nearby mansion. Presently situated within the North Aisle is a 15th century font along with an Elizabethan iron-bound wooden chest.

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The stained glass which exists in this aisle is to be noted as some of the oldest in York, particularly the two circular medallions in the first window, said to date from the 13th century. The window next to it contains an image of St John the Baptist and is 14th century. The middle window is also 14th century and contains images of the Crucifixion, St Margaret slaying the dragon and the Virgin and Child. Three kneeling figures evident in this window are those of the donor Robert de Skelton, his wife Joan and their son John. Another window depicts St Thomas and the risen Christ.

The South Aisle meanwhile was built during the 15th century, specifically from 1416-1460 and is known as the Chapel of St Catherine. Located above the arches high above the South Aisle and the Nave are four carvings of 12th century origin, reclaimed from the original Norman church much like the doorway. The Nave roof is also adorned with various painted shields of prominent Yorkshire noble families; featured are the Percy blue lion on gold, the diagonal gold stripes of the Scropes and the catching silver St Andrew’s cross of the Nevilles.

The large East Window is also 15th century and originally depicted a Jesus tree, highlighting his ancestry. Today the window is filled with a mosaic of original glass fragments. The altar, often the centre of attention in the church, is positioned infront of a large window dating from 1452-55. The window originally contained figures of the Percy family who were in the ascendancy during the period. Surviving panels depict St Leonard, the Virgin Mary, a scene of the crucifixion and saints Denys and John. A local religious connection was completed with the image of St William of York kneeling before the pope. This section of the church is further decorated with elaborate early Victorian tile work directly behind the altar.

The church’s unusual shape has emerged due to a series of incidents throughout its history. Indeed only the East End of the original church still remains. The central tower of the church originally possessed a large spire and stood a towering 116ft high, noticeable to the populace throughout the parish and beyond. The tower was damaged by cannon fire during the 1644 Civil War Siege whilst the spire was devastatingly struck by lightning in 1700. The damage was irreparable and the tower was eventually pulled down between 1846 and 1887, replaced by the tower that currently still stands. Furthermore the west wall collapsed in 1797 when workmen undertook digging work that was too close to the wall’s foundations. The church that has emerged from this series of mishaps is one of York’s most atmospheric holy sites, a hidden gem often overlooked by visitors to the city.

The Lancastrian Succession after 1471

A consequence of the first half of the Wars of the Roses, or Wars of the Cousins to give its contemporary term, is that Henry Tudor was recognised as an heir of the House of Lancaster after 1471 and was able to use such an acknowledgement to help propel himself onto the throne in 1485. It is often recorded that his hereditary claim was so weak that he astutely claimed his crown through an act of conquest, ensuring he was crowned in Westminster Abbey before parliament convened and before his marriage to Elizabeth of York who was considered to hold a greater claim on behalf of her father Edward IV. The process through which Henry Tudor attained this mantle of Lancastrian heir is fascinating particularly in light of other potential claimants during the late 15th century. It is commonly believed that Henry was the only viable alternative for those of a Lancastrian persuasion whom wished to see the House of York removed from the throne but is this truly the case? It is understood that when the Tudors came to the throne there were a legion of nobles whom were able to demonstrate a stronger general claim to the throne through blood but what about those specifically with Lancastrian blood?

The House of Lancaster was a cadet branch of the Royal House of Plantagenet, founded by King Edward III’s third son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. In 1399 John’s son Henry Bolingbroke usurped the crown of the controversial Richard II and elevated the Lancaster’s to the throne in the process becoming King Henry IV. His son and grandson became Henry’s V and VI respectively before this direct line died out in 1471 with the killing of Henry VI and his son Prince Edward during the aftermath of the Battle of Tewkesbury which confirmed the rival House of York on the throne, descendants of Edward III’s second and fourth sons. Henry V’s brothers Thomas, Duke of Clarence, John, Duke of Bedford and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester had no heirs whilst his sisters Blanche and Philippa also died childless. Henry VI meanwhile had been an only child who in turn only had one child. This line of Henry IV was thus considered literally to be a dead end. Supporters of the Lancastrians turned to other descendants of John of Gaunt in order to combat the Yorkists and it was thus that the previously unheralded fourteen year old Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, came to prominence. There were others with the blood of the Red Rose in their veins however, in spite of how unrealistic their intentions to seize the crown would have been in reality from 1471.

House of Aviz

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John of Gaunt’s first child by his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, from whom he initially derived his Lancaster title, was Philippa whom became Queen Consort of Portugal through her marriage to John of Portugal. This instilled the Lancastrian blood into the Royal family of Portugal and their descendants. Philippa’s eldest son and heir was Edward whom became King of Portugal between 1433-38 and was ostensibly named in honour of his great grandfather Edward III. Edward’s son was Afonso V who lived until 1481 and therefore could have been considered a Lancastrian heir during the 1470’s whilst his son John II was ruling at the time of Bosworth. King John of Portugal was thus a great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt. Another notable scion of the House of Aziz through which this Lancastrian blood passed to was the Tudors great rival and ally Maximilian, Holy Roman Emperor who was the grandson of King Edward through his mother Eleanor. Maxmilian was thus also a great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt. Another inheritor of the Portuguese-Lancastrian claim was Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, maternal nephew of King Edward of Portugal and thus great-grandson of John of Gaunt. Duke Charles was maritally tied to the House of York during the 1470’s through his marriage to Margaret of York, a woman whom would become a thorn in the side of Henry Tudor with her attempts to remove them from the throne in favour of any pretender willing to put themselves forward. He would marry his heir Mary to Emperor Maximilian thus merging their respective claims in the personage of later Tudor allies and rivals Phillip of Castile and his son Charles V. One final descendant of John of Gaunt through his daugher Philippa was Queen Isabella of Castile who was the daughter of Isabella of Portugal, who in turn was the daughter of a younger son of Philippa, Prince John.

House of Holland

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John of Gaunt’s second daughter with his first wife Blanche was Elizabeth of Lancaster who married three times and had seven children. Her eldest child with her second husband John Holland, Duke of Exeter, was Constance Holland. Constance married Sir John Grey and their eldest child was Edmund Grey who was thus a great-grandson of John of Gaunt. During the Wars of the Roses Grey turned on his Lancastrian cousin by switching allegiance to the Yorkists, rewarded for his treachery by briefly becoming Treasurer of England in 1463 and Earl of Kent in 1465. He carried a sword at the coronation of Richard III but became reconciled with Henry Tudor, dying in 1490. Elizabeth of Lancaster’s fourth survivng child with her husband the Duke of Exeter was their heir John Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter. John was a nephew of Henry IV and cousin to Henry V and although his father had been executed for treason John served the Lancastrians throughout his life, given precedence above all nobles in the kingdom with the exception of Richard, Duke of York. His only son was Henry Holland who suceeded him to the Dukedom of Exeter in 1447. Henry Holland would become an ardent Lancastrian during the conflict and as an English great-grandson of John of Gaunt and a prestigious noble had as strong a claim as any Lancastrian, not to mention he also enjoyed a seperate descent from Edward III through his maternal grandmother Anne of Gloucester. Holland was a key Lancastrian commander alongside Jasper Tudor and won great victories at St Albans and Wakefield although he suffered defeat at Towton in 1461 and was forced into exile. After the defeat of the Lancastrians in 1471 he apparently became reconciled with his Yorkist brother-in-law King Edward IV although he mysteriously drowned returning from an expedition to France with the King in 1475. It is a possibility he was killed at the King’s command due to his Lancastrian bloodline. Holland’s sister Anne had one child with her husband Sir John Neville who also inherited a claim, Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland. Neville’s father was slain fighting for the Lancastrians at Towton and it wasnt until 1472 that Ralph was able to inherit his lands from the Yorkists, eventually becoming Earl of Westmoreland under Richard III in 1484. He was a great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt.

House of Trastamara

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John of Gaunt also had one surviving daughter by his second wife, Constance of Castile. Catherine of Lancaster married King Henry III of Castile in 1393 and had three children, the first two of which died without issue. Their only son was John II of Castile who similarly seemed incapable of rule much like his cousin Henry VI of England. He was suceeded to the throne by his son Henry IV who ruled from 1454-74. Henry had no heirs and was suceeded by his half-sister Isabella of Castile. With Lancastrian blood through her Aviz ancestors, Isabella was thus great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt. It is stated that her daughter Catherine of Aragon, future Queen Consort of England, was named for Catherine of Lancaster.

House of Beaufort

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John of Gaunt’s long term mistress Katherine Swynford finally became his wife after the death of Constance of Castile and from this union was the Beauforts, an illegitimately born clan whom would play an integral part of the Wars of the Roses. Together they had four children, two of which, Cardinal Henry Beaufort and Thomas Beaufort of Exeter, died without issue. The eldest son John Beaufort was created Earl of Somerset and had six children who inherited his Lancastrian bloodline. After the death of his eldest son Henry, his second son and namesake John Beaufort inherited the Earldom which subsequently was raised into a Dukedom. John Beaufort had only one daughter, Margaret Beaufort who was born in 1443 and was therefore a great-grandaughter of John of Gaunt. She would marry Edmund Tudor and pass on her claim to her son Henry Tudor who realise this claim in 1485 with victory at Bosworth in lieu of his mother. The patriarch of the Beaufort family after the death of her father was her uncle Edmund Beaufort who became 2nd Duke of Somerset and was one of the principal characters of the Wars of the Roses as an ardent Lancastrian. His personal feud with the Duke of York helped fuel the descent into war and he was killed at St Albans in 1455. His heir Henry Beaufort was killed in 1464 after the battle of Hexham and his brothers Edmund and John Beaufort were killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. It was this battle, which saw the deaths of senior Lancastrian members Henry VI, Prince Edward and the Beaufort brothers which put the spotlight on their young cousin Henry Tudor. All three Beaufort brothers died childless. Their sister Margaret Beaufort married Henry Stafford, Earl of Stafford and their son was Henry, Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham enjoyed descent from Edward III through three of his four grandparents and this may have played a part in his allying with his cousin Henry Tudor in 1483 to attempt to overthrow Richard III. It would seem that Buckingham was attempting to put Henry on the throne but with such an illustrious pedigree it may be that he was using Tudor as a pawn to achieve his own ends.

House of Stewart

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John of Gaunt’s grandaughter Joan Beaufort became Queen Consort of Scotland in 1424 due to her marriage to King James I. Together they had eight children of which many had their own issue which would have held a Lancastrian-Beaufort claim during the later fifteenth century. Princess Isabella Stewart became Duchess of Brittany upon her marriage to Francis I, having two daughters Margaret and Marie of Brittany. Princess Joan Stewart’s son John Douglas was a great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt and would die at the Battle of Flodden fighting against the army of his distant cousin Henry VIII whilst Joan was also the mother of James II of Scotland and grandmother of James III. The Stewarts would later claim the throne of England through their Beaufort descent through the Tudors but they had their own claim through Joan Beaufort.

House of Neville

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The Neville’s are often considered to be loyal Yorkists after the role they played in defeating the Lancastrians during the first phase of the Wars of the Roses from 1455-1471 yet they were descended from John of Gaunt through his daughter Joan Beaufort who married Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland. Their first daughter Katherine Neville married into the Mowbray family and her grandson was John de Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, the great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt. The second daughter Eleanor Neville was married to the Percy Earl of Northumberland who curiously became involved in a deadly rivalry with the Neville’s during the Cousins’ War. Eleanor’s children were decimated during the war, with four of her sons dying during the various battles. Her brother Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and his son Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick were leaders of the Neville faction and were Yorkists crucial to the cause of Richard of York. Not for nothing was Warwick known as the Kingmaker. The Earl of Salisbury had many children to pass on his Lancastrian blood as well as Warwick, including John Neville, Marquess of Montagu and Montagu’s son George Neville, Duke of Bedford. Salisbury’s younger brother was Edward Neville, Baron Abergavenny, who, together with his son George Neville, fought for the Yorkists at Tewkesbury.

House of Stanley

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Eleanor Neville, daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, was a granddaughter of Joan Beaufort who was the first wife of Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby. Their sons, George Stanley and Edward Stanley, therefore inherited a Lancastrian claim as great-great-grandchildren of John of Gaunt. They would instead become stepbrothers to another Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor, after their father’s marriage to Margaret Beaufort.

House of York

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Perhaps the most surprising inheritor of the Lancastrian claim was the House of York itself, which had shunted aside the Lancastrians to snatch the throne. The claim came from Cicely Neville, daughter of Joan Beaufort and therefore grandaughter of John of Gaunt. Married to Richard, Duke of York, she therefore united her Lancastrian claim with his Yorkist and Mortimer claims which passed onto their children whom included Kings Edward IV and Richard III.

Conclusion

It’s just as well Henry Tudor won a great military victory at Bosworth!

The Princes in the Tower; The Defence Case for Henry VII

The Princes in the Tower is one of British history’s greatest tragedies and has long been a spectre looming large over the English Middle Ages in particular. Two young brothers, one 12-years-old and the other just 10, were forcibly removed from public view shortly after their father’s death and were never seen again. The reason this story has resonated through history is for the fact that these two children happened to be Royal Princes; in fact, in the case of the elder child, Edward, he was no longer a Prince but a King. As the only male children of King Edward IV, upon their father’s death at Westminster in 1483 they became the highest ranking nobles in the realm, Edward ascending to the throne as King Edward V whilst his brother becoming the Heir presumptive and maintaining his status as the dual Duke of York and Norfolk. Although still children, the foundations had been set for their dominance of the Kingdom’s governance for the foreseeable future and undoubtedly there were great hopes for these sons of York.

This golden future however would never materialise for the Princes. Shortly after young Edward’s ascension and traditional acknowledgement as King, he was imprisoned by his Uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester who surreptitiously seized the throne from his nephew. Richard alleged that the brother he had loyally served for the entirety of his reign was in fact illegitimate, thereby rendering his sons not of the true royal line. Further to that, Richard official allegation was that his brother Edward IV had been previously betrothed before his marriage to the Princes’ mother Elizabeth Woodville, thus ensuing any offspring betwixt the two were bastards by the law of the church. It was an act that would become known as Titulus Regius and ensured Richard himself was able to seize the crown as Richard III. It was a controversial move but as the Duke was in all probability the most powerful magnate in the realm and had support amongst other nobles who were in opposition to the detested Woodville faction that compromised the Princes maternal family, he was successful in his coup.

After their imprisonment in the Tower of London in the summer of 1483, although initially spotted playing in the grounds of the Royal fortress they were never seen again and their ultimate fate has endured as one of England’s great mysteries. As a royal murder intrigue, many have resolved to appropriate blame towards various persons of the period, most notably their Uncle Richard III and his successor Henry VII. Other suspects have included the Duke of Buckingham and a Yorkist Knight James Tyrell. Although the case will never be given a conclusive answer, I feel the recent rise in those finding Henry Tudor guilty in spite of the lack of compelling evidence needs to be addressed in a coherent manner. Guilt in a British court can only be ascertained if the defendant has been proved to have committed the crime and not on circumstantial evidence and as such it will be impossible to prove guilt in this case. That said, it is possible to argue the case for a not guilty plea.

Henry Tudor had never met the Princes in question as their paths had never had reason to cross. Henry came from a staunch Lancastrian family; His father Edmund Tudor and uncle Jasper Tudor were the half-brothers to King Henry VI and had therefore valiantly fought for the House of Lancaster until its eventual demise with Henry VI’s death in 1471, possibly at the behest of the aforementioned Richard of Gloucester.  As a result of the fall, Henry was exiled from the Kingdom the same year with his Uncle Jasper and spent his formative years in the Duchy of Brittany. He was 14 when he left and would not set foot in England until a few days prior to the Battle of Bosworth where he defeated Richard III. He was 28 by this point.
Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was weak to say the least. At time of his ascension there were an estimated 29 other nobles with a greater claim to the throne than his.  Henry’s claim came through his mother Margaret Beaufort who was the sole inheritor of the illegitimate Beaufort line, offspring of John of Gaunt at the end of the 15th century. Directly related from King Edward III through this line, it gave Henry Tudor a slight claim to the throne but due to the plethora of other, legitimate claimants ahead of him this claim remained insubstantial to covet the crown. That is, until Richard III seized the throne from his nephews and targeted any Yorkists who refused to transfer their allegiance from the young boys to him. The result was that Henry suddenly became the person that both exiled Lancastrians and disenfranchised Yorkists flocked towards in order to relieve them from the reign of Richard. The consequence was of course that Henry would mobilise this support and eventually claim the Crown of England through the right of conquest if not predominantly through right of bloodline.
Henry naturally would not have been able to become King of England if the two Princes were still alive, the same issue that Richard faced as King. If Richard was a usurper, then Henry was usurping the usurper and his position was even weaker. The accusation from Ricardian supporters is that once Henry was King, he killed the Princes in order to secure his throne and then married their sister who was now considered the true heir following their death. Henry was now King through right of conquest and through his wife’s legal claim to the crown. Supporters of Richard III thus consider Henry Tudor most likely to be the monster who committed the atrocity against the two Princes, pointing to the ruthlessness of the Tudor dynasty as a whole for supporting this act. But what of the evidence…well, quite simply, there isn’t any.

i) The two Princes were last seen in public around June 1483. They had been noted as playing in the grounds of the Tower of London shortly after imprisonment, presumably content and unaware of their impending fate. Their Uncle had been named their protector and it is probable they felt no harm came to them. With regards to Henry Tudor, without the possibility of a flying visit in 1471 as a teenage boy to visit his half-uncle King Henry VI during the short Readeption, Henry Tudor did not step foot into England until August 1485, two full years after the Princes were last seen. Henry had spent the entirety of their imprisonment as an exile in Brittany, spending his time as a virtual prisoner of the Duke of Brittany and evading capture by King Edward IV.  His influence in England was non-existent and in fact many were not even aware of him or his claim. The idea that Henry Tudor had arranged for the death of the Princes from his base in Brittany is absurd to say the least. No man within Richard’s retinue would seriously consider killing the Princes at the behest of some distant Welshman in a foreign land with no money and no apparent prospects.

ii) If Henry was unable to murder the children through orders from afar, then supporters of Richard III gleefully point out that he certainly could have killed them upon his ascension to the throne of England. As all-powerful King, the Tower of London would have come under his jurisdiction and all prisoners within the walls would fall within his remit. Henry would have jealously guarded his throne and it is an historical fact that both he and his son systematically wiped out the remaining Plantagenet claimants throughout their reigns. One only needs to consider the executions of Edward Plantagenet in 1499 and his sister Margaret Pole in 1541 for evidence of this. However, once again one must wonder why the Princes had not been released by those in the Tower after learning of Henry’s victory in the ensuing weeks before the victor’s arrival in London. Is it likely that the boys were still alive a full two years after their disappearance just for Henry Tudor to finally kill them? Surely someone, somewhere would have released details of this. Many consider Henry VII to be so powerful once he took over that he instantly began rewriting history and destroying the remnants of the Yorkist regime, yet is it not true that Henry faced almost continuous rebellions in his early reign from outcast Yorkists eager to recapture the throne? Surely someone would have made public that Henry was responsible for the deaths of the boys if that was the case. Their silence is in itself telling…the boys had been murdered under the previous Yorkist regime.

 

iii) If the children had not survived until 1485 when Henry Tudor took the throne and thus was able to have access to them, one wonders why had the previous King, Richard, failed to publically display the children in the aftermath of their disappearance two years earlier. Suffering damaging accusations from disenfranchised Yorkists and Lancastrians alike over his role in their disappearance and probable death, if this was not the case then surely it would have been easier to Richard to produce them publically to redeem his reputation somewhat, a reputation don’t forget that arguably cost him his life.

iv) Henry Tudor never sanctioned an official public version which some use against him as an admission of guilt. Of course, it was not in Henry’s interests to dwell on the murder of his brothers-in-law as it merely reminded the people that he had come to the throne because of their tragedy. Another idea that he never revealed their fate is because, as a stranger to the land, he simply did not know. Their fate was clearly a closely guarded secret and is possible that it was taken to the grave by the few who would have been involved in their disposable. If no one qualified their fate to the King, then it was not possible for him to reveal their whereabouts. In the Bill of Attainder that Henry brought against Richard III after the Battle of Bosworth, specific reference to the Princes was omitted although it did carry an obscure mention of Richard’s “shedding of infant’s blood”. This was the closest the Tudor regime officially came to accusing Richard of involvement in the deaths.

v) Although Henry Tudor had as much to gain as King Richard from the deaths of the children, in 1483 Henry was not necessarily a genuine contender to the throne. He was a partner in the so-called Buckingham conspiracy but his prospects as an alternative King to Richard were not particularly promising. Richard however had a great deal to gain in the short term from their deaths and in order for him to secure his crown he had to ensure the Princes could not be used against him. It follows that he was responsible, or at least knowledgeable, of their disappearance after 1483.

vi) James Tyrell was a York loyalist who once confessed to committing the murders on behalf of his patron, Richard III. His evidence is interesting in that he appears to be the only such person to have admitted to the crime although this confession did come under torture by the Tudor regime and therefore considered inadmissible. That said, it is the closest we have come to a confession of any kind and clearly exonerates Henry Tudor from wrongdoing. That is, if one believes Tyrell’s story.

vii) Various contemporary chronicles from the period refer to rumours about the disappearance and murder of the Princes, notably the Croyland Chronicle and the raconteurs Dominic Mancini ad Philippe de Commines who report on rumours of the Princes deaths as early as winter 1483, a date as stated above logistically near-impossible for Henry to have an involvement.  Chronicles were never consistent in their reporting and much of what has been said would be disproved by later antiquarians but nonetheless they remain important insights into the lives of the period they cover and the public feeling.

viii) One primary reason it is unlikely that Henry Tudor was involved in the slaying of the Princes is the very fact that not only did he marry the boy’s sister, but their mother was instrumental in the politicking that brought him to the crown. Elizabeth Woodville was drastically removed from power after the death of her husband and although expected to remain the premier female in the realm through her son, once he had been imprisoned by her brother-in-law Richard her very existence was under threat. By the end of 1483, often considered the period the Princes were done away with, Elizabeth Woodville began conspiring with Henry Tudor’s mother Margaret Beaufort to put Henry Tudor on the throne of England. The provision of this of course was that Henry would have to marry the Princes’ sister, Elizabeth of York, a concession that Henry was only too happy to agree too. The Yorkists loyal to the deceased Edward IV and by extension his sons Edward and Richard quickly defected to Henry Tudor’s cause, led by Elizabeth and the Woodville faction. It is almost impossible to believe that this family would agree to join the cause of Henry Tudor if he was responsible for the deaths of their beloved Princes, or equally if they believed them to still be alive. The Woodville faction allowed the Tudor claim to be realised through Elizabeth of York as they were certain that her brothers were dead and understood they would only remain a degree of power by inserting Elizabeth as Queen. This was duly done and the Woodville’s never regained the power they had enjoyed under Edward’s IV and V.

ix) Henry, as shown, may not have known the fate of the Princes as he had been exiled from the country at the time they disappeared from view. Throughout his early reign Henry was beset with uprisings and rebellions, none more so than the revolt that appeared under the leadership of Perkin Warbeck who claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, the younger Prince. Henry’s behaviour during this rebellion was certainly of a nervous nature, unsure who this man was and determined to investigate further. Henry’s alarm at the rising of this “Richard” certainly points to his innocence regarding the murder of the Princes. If he had committed or ordered the act himself, he had no need to become so worried over the rebellion for he would have known the Prince was dead. In reality, Henry was suitably worried enough to crush the uprising with full military strength.

With this in mind, Henry Tudor at best is a minor suspect in the case of the Princes deaths and not a serious one.  He was accepted as a family member by the Princes’ own sister and mother, was not in the country at the time of the death and won the loyalty of men who would never disassociated themselves with the Princes had they believed they still lived. As for the real culprit, the jury still remains undecided. From Richard III to the Duke of Buckingham, and from James Tyrell to perhaps another unidentified suspect, there remains a lack of prove to satisfactorily close the case. In my opinion ultimate responsibility would fall on the shoulders of Richard III. His dying brother’s wish was for his loyal and hardy younger Richard to be Protector of his young sons, both in official office and in a familial capacity. Whether Richard ordered the killing himself or not, the fact remained that the Princes did not receive the protection of his uncle and their tragic death by an unknown source remains something that ultimately he must be held accountable for. No amount of revisionism by the Richard III society will be able to undo this blemish against the character of Richard. Henry Tudor…we therefore find you Not Guilty.