Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox






ONE of the most terrible mysteries of the Tower is the question how Richard III. disposed of his unfortunate nephews, after consigning them to that imprisonment, from which they never issued alive.

Taking the tradition as generally received, Richard, after giving all the necessary orders for the ceremony of his nephew's coronation (there is evidence that even his robes were prepared), somewhat suddenly declared his intention of seizing the crown, and caused the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Robert Brackenbury, to be sounded, as to whether he would undertake to make away with the young King and his brother. Brackenbury is said to have received Richard's message while kneeling at his devo-. tions in St. John's Chapel, in the White Tower, and to have rejected so dreadful a task. Richard, in consequence of his refusal, gave authority to James Tyrrell to receive from Brackenbury the temporary charge of the Tower and the prisoners within its walls. This being arranged, Tyrrell employed Dighton and Forest, two unscrupulous assassins, to take the lives of the royal children, which was accomplished by smothering them with the


pillows of their bed. Their bodies were then buried within the Tower, nor does it appear that Richard ever at any time alluded to them afterwards, or attempted to account for their disappearance. There was no announcement of their illness, or of their death from natural causes, no ceremony of a funeral, or any further public notice of the fate of the princes.

The appearance at the court of Burgundy, some years afterwards (1492), of the youth who assumed the name of the Duke of York, was the first we hear of the matter from the time of the supposed murder. But though there have been many details handed down by contemporaries and writers who lived no long time after these occurrences, history affords no circumstantial narrative or relation, to show by what means, or by whose assistance, the pretended Duke of York had avoided his brother's fate, and contrived to escape from the Tower and elude the vigilance of his uncle by flight beyond sea. Was Richard a man to neglect any act of caution, or to shrink from any violence in regard to the custody, or in respect to the escape of such a prisoner as the Duke of York? and could it be effected by a boy of such tender years without powerful aid, and the concurrence of a considerable number of influential persons ? But if the impostor really was the Duke, what had become of his elder brother? Did those who managed to save the younger make no attempt to rescue the elder and more important victim ? If Edward was not murdered, what became of him ? Had he died a natural death, would not Richard have given it every notoriety ? Would he not have exposed


the body to public view, as was done in the case of Henry VI. ? and would he not by a public funeral, and by other marks of respect, have tried to convince the world that there had been no foul play, or, at all events, that he had had no hand in the disappearance of Edward V. ?

Again, why is there no record of the existence of Edward V. as a prisoner in the Tower, from the momen when Richard usurped the crown? Up to that time we find his uncle's orders for his clothing and provisions on a scale to be expected for the maintenance of a Royal Personage. It has been asked, why should the Duchess of Burgundy, Edward IV.'s sister, have acknowledged Perkin Warbeck as her nephew, if she had any doubt of his identity ? Now, supposing her to have been really deceived by his plausible tale, how little opportunity could she have had, in those times, of a thorough scrutiny into events, which it was Richard's whole object to veil in mystery and darkness, and over which his assumption of the regal power gave him a control, amply sufficient to defeat any attempt of a foreign princess to investigate the facts. On the other hand, her personal aversion to Henry, the political state of Europe, and the scanty communication between Burgundy and England, would account for her more readily adopting the imposture, and doing all in her power to damage the character of the King, and his title to the crown.

As the murder of the Princes has been called in question, so the localities attributed to its perpetration have been disputed on various grounds. A small chamber in the Bloody Tower has, by long tradition, been assigned


as the spot where the barbarous deed was done; and notwithstanding the professed doubts of Bailey and other writers, no more probable or likely place has been named. We know that this chamber was closely adjoining to the Governor's house, where so many prisoners of rank have been confined, when security, rather than severity of imprisonment, was the object in view. Indeed, in the older accounts of the buildings within the fortress, we frequently find it called the Garden Tower, from its adjoining the Governor's private garden. It is remarkable that, in a complimentary oration in Latin (still in preservation), with which the authorities of the Tower received James I. at the gate, on his first visit to the fortress after his accession, express mention is made of the " Bloody Tower," as the scene of the Princes' murder.

Now this visit of James I. took place within 120 years of the usurpation of Richard; and there could be no necessity, or even plausible reason, for alluding to it in the Latin ' Oration' above mentioned, had it not been a matter of common belief and notoriety, that the Bloody Tower was the scene of the murder, and that a description of the principal features of the Tower by the orator, would have been incomplete without such notice of the fact.

It was always a sequel to the tradition of the murder of the Princes, that " the priest of the Tower " had buried their bodies in some concealed place (Shakespeare puts this fact in the mouth of Tyrrell); and surely it was not unreasonable to infer, when two children's bodies, corresponding in age, and period of decay, with the date of the


murder, were discovered in Charles II.'s time, by some workmen, at the foot of a staircase, about seventy yards distant from the Bloody Tower, that these were the bones of the Princes. There were two consecrated burial-grounds within the Tower, besides that of Barking Church on Tower Hill, close by; and what likelihood was there,


under those circumstances, of two boys being buried in this sequestered nook, under a staircase, unless with a view to secrecy and concealment ? Again, had the bones


been those of grown persons, it might be conjectured that two unfortunate prisoners had been quietly made away with in those disturbed times, and buried in secret, but there is no probable cause for this having occurred in respect to two boys, even if there were traces or records of any other youthful prisoners, except Edward V. and his brother, having been in the Tower at all.

Charles II. was by no means of a credulous nature; very much the reverse; and he had, moreover, a considerable turn for investigation, and took much interest in all matters of history. His adoption, therefore, of the tradition of the murder of the Princes, as commonly accepted at the time, must surely be regarded as a strong confirmation of the story.

Had not Charles been fully convinced that these bones were those of the princes, why should he have gone to the trouble and expense of transferring them, with all the respect paid to Royal remains, to the vaults of Westminster Abbey? There could be no political or public reason for his doing so; and we must in fairness, therefore, attribute it to his conviction, that he was paying the respect due to the remains of these victims of cruelty and ambition, by consigning their bodies to the resting-place of their royal ancestors.

It was by Charles II.'s orders, as the tradition went, that Sir Thomas Chicheley, his Master-General of the Ordnance, planted a mulberry-tree on the spot where the Princes' bodies were found; but with a vandalism to which the Tower has too often been subjected, a staircase was built up in 1674 against the wall, which caused the


rapid decay of the mulberry-tree. There was, however, in 1853, an old Warder who well recollected to have seen the stump still imbedded in the landing of the stairs. If the tale be true that Richard ordered their burial in consecrated ground, it accounts for their being laid here, because the stairs-leading up to St. John's Chapel would be considered as under the same consecration as the chapel itself.

Miss Strickland, with her usual research and accuracy, has traced out the very important details of the vast rewards bestowed by Richard on Tyrrell and his assistants in the murder. Tyrrell was made Captain or Governor of the town of Guisnes, near Calais, and further received three rich stewardships from Richard, in the Marches of Wales. Dighton was made Bailiff of the town of Ayton, with a pension. Green was named to the Receivership of the Isle of Wight. Forrest's widow had a pension given her on his death, shortly after the murder; and ample general pardons were granted to them, whatever villanies might be laid to their charge; all under the royal hand and seal, not naming for what offence, but covering any, and all. Sir James Tyrrell, according to Miss Strickland's investigation, actually confessed the murder, just before he was beheaded by order of Henry VII., in 1502, for favouring the escape of John de la Pole, on whom his uncle Richard had settled the succession to the crown. Dighton also confessed his part in the murder, when hanged at Calais, soon after Tyrrell's execution; and at the same time declared his knowledge of the old priest having buried the bodies, first under the Wakefield Tower, and a second time in some place of which he had no knowledge.