More on More

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”
(Marmion, Sir Walter Scott)

We all know that there was some deception in Thomas More‘s “History“, but how much? In Cairo, they think that the whole first half of his narrative is the gospel truth but the second half is an invention – because it conveniently fits with the discredited, soon to be disproved, theory of the “Princes”‘ burial.

Suppose More departed from the truth earlier than that. Successful deceit starts with some facts that the reader will know and continues with some that he or she can verify, before misleading them. In particular, when he accuses Sir Robert Brackenbury, Sir James Tyrrell, Miles Forrest and “Will Slaughter” (Slater?) of carrying out the killing of Edward IV’s illegitimate sons, is it not more likely that they transported them, probably separately, to safe locations? This would be far easier than digging a large hole, burying the “Princes”, filling it in and sending all the attendants away, even if we aren’t supposed to believe that a priest disinterred and reburied them – it doesn’t correspond with Charles II’s antics.

Forrest, by the way, was a Northerner who died by 1484 (1)(2a)(2b), Brackenbury at Bosworth and Tyrrell, who was abroad in 1485, was beheaded for a separate offence seventeen years later. Thomas Dighton, however, lived beyond 1502, as even More admitted.

Notes:
(1)   9 September 1484: “Grant for life to Joan Forest, widow, late wife to the King’s servant Miles Forest, and Edward her son of an annuity of 5 marks from the issues of the lordship of Bernard Castell.” (CPR, p. 473).
(2a) 12 September 1484: “Johanne Forest and Edward his (her) son an an annuytieof v markes during theire lyfes and of eithre of theim lenger lyving of thissues of the lordship of Barnardcastelle by the hands of the Receyvour etc.“(Harleian Manuscript 433, ed. Horrox and Hammond, vol.1, p.216).
(2b) 14 September 1484: “A warrant to the Receivor of the lordshippe of Bernard Castelle to content and pay unto johanne Forest widow late wyf to Miles Forest deceased the somme of five markes sterlinges due unto the said Miles at Michelmase now next commying for keping of the warderobe theire yeven etc at Notingham the xijth dat of September A* secundo 2*.” (Harleian Manuscript, op. cit. vol.2, p.160)

By super blue

Grandson of a Town player.

9 comments

  1. > is it not more likely that they transported them, probably separately, to safe locations?

    I genuinely don’t follow this line of thought. I’m all the more confused by it because I’ve seen Ricardians ask some version of this question many times before. How exactly is moving the boys (dead or alive) more likely or less risky or less likely to draw attention than burying them in the Tower?

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  2. When Ricardians make the claim that Richard removed the princes to a safe place or places, we are making a claim that, by its nature, cannot be proved or disproved. It is up to the ‘Ciarenes’ to prove that the bones found in the Tower are those of the boys – a positive. ID.
    I would think that, even if Richard or his minions did kill them, they could just as well have done it somewhere else, more convenient. The only reason for burying them in the Tower area is that if there were construction work already going on there, with an excavation ideally suited for the purpose, coincidentally. Was there such a project happening at that time? If not, when?

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    1. I don’t mean to deny that “they could just as well have done it somewhere else, more convenient.” It is entirely possible, of course. My issue was specifically with the line “is it not more likely,” which is a vague, leading leap of logic — and one that often seems to be made with regard to the princes’ final resting place.

      I feel that I must disclose that I am not a Ricardian, but I enjoy the mystery and the various analyses of the evidence. I often visit this site for the pieces it shares regarding late-medieval life, and for some well-written pieces on Richard’s life and the disappearance of the princes. Of course, I expect a certain amount of propaganda (especially against the Tudors!) on a Richard III site, but hazy speculation just muddies the waters.

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  3. Hi Michael,

    There are several issues with burying the boys in the Tower, namely the amount of time it would have taken to dig ten feet down under a stone staircase, the amount of noise digging up the stones would have made, and the fact that there would have been people coming and going all over the place while the digging was taking place (in fact, I believe there was actually a chapel right around the corner from where the staircase in question was located in the Tower).

    No matter what actually happened to the boys, there was definitely risk involved.

    Of all the possible explanations, however, burying them in the Tower makes the least amount of sense.

    If you have enough time to dig graves undetected at the foot of the staircase why wouldn’t you have enough time to simply smuggle out the bodies? Certainly this would be quieter and arouse less attention.

    Most literary scholars feel that More was writing a satire (and these are impartial academics, not Ricardians) with most of the barbs being directed at Polydore Vergil. The theory is that when More writes “Some wise men say…” etc. he’s actually referring sarcastically to Vergil. More’s quarrels with Vergil are documented in letters between Vergil and Erasmus that still survive today.

    The fact that some historians still take More’s account seriously today comes down two things:

    1) More’s reputation for integrity (earned by refusing to sacrifice his beliefs and bend to Henry VIII’s will….which got him executed).

    2) The fact that bones were found in the Tower under a staircase in 1674 and it suited Charles II’s political situation to proclaim that the bones belonged to the missing princes.

    Thus, More’s sense of humor/irony and the fact that he actually DIDN’T say that the princes were left buried under a staircase in the Tower are ignored in favor of what is a convenient explanation for a 500 year old mystery.

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    1. > Certainly this would be quieter and arouse less attention.

      See, I can entertain the possibility that it might have been done but I don’t see how it would “certainly” be quieter or draw less attention.

      We both seem to be starting from the position that the goal would be to dispose of the bodies quickly and with as few witnesses as possible. Thus, control of one’s environment is of utmost importance. The Tower was literally a fortress, and it’s comings and goings were controlled. The perpetrators could have been in a position to know exactly how many people were in the Tower, where those people were (or at least where they were supposed to be), and how long they were supposed to be there.

      Moving the bodies onto a boat or into a cart introduces the possibility of witnesses on the banks or on the street. If they were alive and the transport was meant to murder them elsewhere, they ran the risk of one or both of the boys escaping or calling out for help. If they were alive and moved for their own safekeeping, then why would someone not simply say “I’ve moved the boys to a safe location?”

      Could it have happened? Of course. I don’t think it can be easily argued, though.

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      1. Hi Michael,

        You make a good point about “control of the environment”. Any well thought out plan to either kill the boys or to move them in secret would require prior knowledge of who would be in the vicinity at the proposed time.

        Also, assuming that the murders would have to have been planned by someone with the authority to enter the Tower and move about freely, the same person(s) could presumably have people removed from the area where the boys were kept in order to create a clear path for themselves. I don’t think, however, that they could have completely cleared the Tower of people.

        So, even acknowledging those factors, we still come back to the amount of time it would take and the amount of noise it would cause to dig ten feet down under a stone staircase….noise that would echo off of stone walls in a castle that would still have people wondering around various other areas.

        It seems to me that if you’re going to commit a pre-planned murder in a time before CCTV and forensic testing that the main idea is going to be to get in and get out as quickly as possible without being caught. Why stick around and bury the bodies at the scene of the crime? Especially when it involves many hours of work and lots of noise.

        You’re right it is POSSIBLE that the boys were murdered and buried at the foot of a staircase in the Tower. I just don’t think it’s LIKELY. But it is fun debating it with you anyhow 🙂

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  4. Also, as a Yorkist with a claim through the Mortimer line, Richard would have been very aware of how Henry IV moved the Mortimer boys while they were in “lose custody” and he would have noted the shortcomings of all of his options, including this method. We should also keep in mind that at least one Mortimer boy grew up to be loyal to H-IV. Unless of course one buys into the idea that Richard just burst onto the scene and was madly thrashing about in a confused and panicked state.

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