Examining an alternative theory

For several centuries, some historians and other writers have connected Sir Thomas More’s narrative of the murder of Edward IV’s sons to the bones found in 1674 and declared them to prove his case, even to the point of deluding Tanner and Wright in 1933 into calling the bones “Edward” and “Richard” before they even started. This theory has required its adherents to believe that More, who was five in 1483, was telling the absolute truth at first but suddenly switches to falsehood when he tells of the bones being disinterred and reburied somewhere else. Now, of course, modern medical interpretations of Tanner and Wright’s results (Carson, pp.214-32) express doubts as to the age, gender and number of individuals buried there whilst Carson herself (http://www.annettecarson.co.uk/357052362 and in the same chapter) notes the extreme depth of the burial, implying that it considerably pre-dated 1480-90, together with the evidence that “Edward” was likely to be mortally ill. The entire theory is becoming a colander and the probability of a real scientific investigation increases.

The Cairo residents, however, seem not to have given up. “Those may not be the actual bones and More’s second half may be accurate”, they claim, pointing us towards two small coffins found in Edward IV’s Windsor tomb in 1789 (http://www.stgeorges-windsor.org/archives/blog/?p=837). At first these were thought to belong to Mary and George, Duke of Bedford, Edward IV’s other children by Lady Grey, his “widow”, but these have subsequently (1810) resurfaced and are no longer candidates for these identities. This theory too, has several holes, relating to the times that the tomb was sealed. Edward IV died on 9 April 1483 and Lady Grey on 8 June 1492. Both were buried relatively quickly and the tomb resealed until 1789.

Suppose we test the theory that Richard III killed them and they are buried there, by assuming it. If so, one of these scenarios must have happened:
1) Edward Prince of Wales and Richard Duke of York both predeceased their father and were buried with him. Any source that gives either or both as alive after April 1483 is mistaken or worse.
2) Richard hid the bodies and someone else he trusted moved them into this tomb in 1492 – someone like Brackenbury, Catesby, Lincoln, Lovell, Norfolk or Ratcliffe, except that they were all dead and Brampton and Tyrrell were abroad. Lady Grey had to die some time and there would be such an opportunity.
3) Richard climbed out of his Greyfriars tomb one morning and bought a day return to Windsor after Lady Grey died, placed the coffins in the tomb himself (as (2)) during the days that it was opened for her funeral before catching the trains back to Leicester before his bedtime.
4) Richard didn’t die in 1485 but someone else was buried in his place. After smuggling the corpses into Edward’s tomb, as (2/3) above, he eventually really died and was substituted for the decoy corpse in Greyfriars – because he knew how important his mitochondrial DNA was to be five hundred years later. Nobody in the days after Bosworth had noticed that the wrong body was being exposed.

None of these are remotely plausible. The two small coffins probably relate to two of Edward’s unknown other children, by Lady Grey or a different mistress, or perhaps two of their young servants who died just before 1483 or 1492.

Back to square one for the denialists as their second theory is also a Swiss cheese.

By super blue

Grandson of a Town player.


  1. Reblogged this on Giaconda's Blog and commented:

    I have always had several ‘bones to pick’ with Sir Thomas More’s account of the murder and disposal of the princes’ bodies. One point being practical considerations over how to transport and dispose of bodies in and around the Tower. If they were initially buried within a wooden chest – the two bodies found under the staircase were allegedly surrounded by velvet clothing or material and placed in a chest then how big was the hole dug out to receive them? Were the bodies dismembered as there was no sign of this on the skeletal remains? If they were buried together as fully articulated skeletons then the chest would have been quite substantial and difficult to lower 10 feet down into a hole dug for the purpose. Then there was the actual site of the burial – a staircase leading to the chapel in the Tower – where regular services and offices would have been conducted. How long would it take to dig out all the material and then fill it in? It doesn’t seem plausible if the burial was intended to be covert. Another issue I have is with the psychology of a murderer or several murderers. If you were going to order the secret murder of your royal nephews would you really trust that information to two men like those implicated by More? Any power-mad tyrant would surely have bumped off the hired killers almost immediately rather than leave them at large to blackmail you or spill the secret in a tavern after too many pints of ale or indeed take the information abroad to Henry Tudor. Richard would have removed the trail of evidence if he had been the evil mastermind of legend. Then there is Sir Robert Brackenbury who More suggests was revolted at the task of giving up the keys to their apartment for the night. At first he refuses and then he turns a blind eye but is clearly unwilling to be party to the deed. Again, if Richard was as ruthless as traditionalists would have us believe he would have punished Brackenbury for his failure to do his bidding. If Brackenbury was genuinely so unhappy with his master why did he follow him loyally to Bosworth and give his life in the last charge? None of it makes any sense at all. Then More’s account states that Richard decided to move the bodies to another location so the one place they wouldn’t be in where the remains were found in the Tower. I think the timing of their discovery may be much more significant. Charles II was not a king who sat comfortably on his throne. He also had an axe to grind about regicides and was descended through the Tudor/ Stuart line. The re-burial of the missing princes enabled him to put on a public show which emphasised the sanctity of royalty, emphasised that the true Yorkist line ran through Elizabeth of York into his Tudor ancestors and that regicides were to be despised forever and their crimes remembered before God and society.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. If Richard had been the evil mastermind of legend and wanted to off his nephews, he’d have Edward and Richard die of “natural causes” and then display their bodies and bury them publicly, with a proper display of grieving for the boys who were still his nephews, although illegitimate.

      Sending hired killers in the night in the Tower for a secret murder makes no sense if you are the king in power who has the opportunity to kill someone in a much smarter way, and to actually derive some benefits from it – like making everyone know the boys are dead, which is supposed to be the motive for murder in the first place, right?

      All existing theories about Richard III murdering his nephews have one big problem – they require Richard to have been a complete moron, but none of the people putting those theories forward think that he was a moron.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Re: the Windsor tomb skeletons- I do not think it is safe to assume that Edward’s burial vault could only have been opened in 1483 for Edward’s burial and then for Elizabeth Woodville’s burial in 1492. To make that assumption, one would have to make sure that there was no way the vault could have been opened in the meantime at all. As long as we do not know what kind of closing it up apparatus was used, such an assumption simply is not safe to make. In any case the vault would have been designed to make a reopening for the then dowager queen’s burial at her husband’s side possible. So we neither can know when those two “extra” bodies were put in there, nor can we tell their identities, or who put them there.


  3. The details of the reopening seemed rather unclear. As I understood it, the two mystery coffins were in a side vault attached to Edward’s crypt and had to be broken through to reach the main vault. If that’s correct, that implies the sub-vault might be later than the last opening. Of course there’s no measurement or any proper description of the coffins to give us more clues…for instance, if the coffins were both really small, would one of them fit a near 13 year old, as Edward V was, who might well have been tall like his father? There does seem to have been a lot of reordering in the chapel in later years which is presmably why Mary ended up rather far away from her parents (her burial was also mistaken for that of Elizabeth Woodville, which shows the standards of analysis at the time.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was thinking the same thing. If one of those coffins was small enough to be assumed to have been used for a child no older than 2, would the same coffin really be used for a child of almost 10? There’s a huge difference in height and size there.


    2. Further thoughts: I’m really confused as to how small these coffins were, and whether they were of similar size. I’m wondering what they were thinking when they thought a “small coffin” could have been used for the burial of a 14-year old girl. Most girls reach almost their full adult height around the age of 14 or 15, so unless Mary was a little person, and there’s no indication of that, why would anyone think that a small coffin was Mary’s?

      If those were indeed two small coffins, then it makes sense to assume they were both used for small children, not someone like Mary of York or Edward V.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The only coffins found in Edward IV’s tomb in 1789 were those of Edward himself & one belonging to (judging from clear indications of age on the skeleton), a mature female subsequently accepted as Elizabeth Woodville. The primary source accounts are readily available online (Vetusta Monumenta & newspaper reports).

    A coffin or coffins were found in 1810 in what is now the Albert Memorial Chapel, (substantially demolished & rebuilt in Henry VII’s time & the building that housed the Knights of the Garter before Edward IV built his chapel). These contained the remains of a woman in 50 folds of waxed cloth & a child in a high state of preservation in spirits. These were eventually accepted as the remains of Princess Mary & George, Duke of Bedford and were reburied under the slab that had been placed near Edward’s vault after it had been opened in 1789. No authoritative account of this discovery seems to have been made public, and the original accounts differ in the number of coffins & whether or not there were any inscriptions; articles that reported inscriptions also reported that they were illegible.

    There are no accounts of unidentified coffins associated with either of these discoveries.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. What doesn’t make sense is that someone trying to hastily dispose of dead bodies would be digging a hole as deep as 10 feet – much deeper than even a regular grave – at a place that’s pretty busy and full of people going around all day.

    Is it theoretically possible? Yes. But it’s not probable. Skeletons found at that depth are usually from much earlier historical periods, and were not originally buried that deep. But these skeletons were found at the depth of 10 feet in the 17th century, supposedly just two centuries after their burial, so if they really were buried there in late 15th century, they were buried at that depth.

    Using Occam’s Razor, it’s far more likely they were from an earlier era.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am pretty certain that medieval graves were relatively shallow, by modern standards, not deeper. But in any case, few people seem to have given much thought to the task involved in taking a staircase apart, digging down a long way, and then putting it all back together. It would be a major job, and this was a relatively busy part of the Tower. Doing it secretly would be all but impossible. If you think of a scenario where two royal boys have ‘vanished’ and every Tom, Dick and Harry knows that there was (at about the same time) a massive digging job done, then it doesn’t exactly need Sherlock Holmes to guess where the bodies might be, does it? The thing is, it just doesn’t make sense. They could simply have been dropped in the Thames, or merged with other, regular burials in the Tower chapel. Far less suspicious. Richard was not stupid. If he decided (for reasons of State) that he had to murder the two boys, I’m sure he would have found a much more efficient and secret way of doing it.

      Liked by 1 person

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