Did Dr Argentine murder the boys in the Tower….?

John Castle as Dr Argentine

There are numerous theories about what happened to the boys in the Tower…and exactly who may have done it. Well, one points the finger at the omnipresent Dr Argentine, under whose dubious care no fewer than three royal patients passed away: the boys in the Tower, and after that Prince Arthur, the Tudor heir.

from Princes in the Tower, 2005

In 2005 there was an excellent TV drama—Princes in the Tower—in which Argentine was played by the superb John Castle, as you can see in the illustration above. There was something about the way the doctor was portrayed that made me dislike him completely. Castle really is an excellent actor, and managed to make the character he was playing seem very, very sly. His Argentine made my skin crawl. Not that at the time I was left thinking him guilty of anything beyond being a creepy enemy of Richard III.

Historian and crime writer M.J. Trow singles out Argentine as the murderer of the boys in the Tower, and to read about it go here. An excellent case is made against the respected doctor:

M.J. (Mei) Trow

“….Now an unlikely suspect has emerged from the shadows after 500 years: the royal physician. ‘The doctor did it,’ according to detective work by Mei Trow, an historian and crime writer.

“….He believes that Dr John Argentine murdered not only the young sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, who were just 12 and nine respectively when they disappeared in 1483, but Prince Arthur, heir apparent and brother of the future Henry VIII, who was just 15 at his death in 1502.

“….All three were patients of Dr Argentine….”

So, was Argentine a medieval Harold Shipman, as also suggested here? If we were able to go back through his records, would we find an alarming number of his patients died questionable deaths, even by medieval standards? Were the three known royal deaths the pinnacle of his achievements?

There is, of course, the old saying about being “bled to death”.

 

 

9 comments

  1. Viscountessw,

    Dr Argentyne would certainly be a plausible candidate, as would the use of common practice of bleeding a patient of his unhealthy humours. George Washington himself was quite literally killed from such action, there are only so many pints of blood that can be bled off! While GW was elderly (by any age’s standard) he was also an incredibly strong individual all of his life.
    He had been treated by his doctors for a cold (sore throat) after a day’s hard riding thru snow and hail inspecting his grounds at Mt Vernon (1799), even ate his supper in the same wet clothes he had been riding in (well, he was a life long soldier) and went back out the next day for more riding in that weather. Soon enough he was hoarse and unable to swallow. GW was also a enthusiast for bloodletting … however, in a few hours between all the various doctors called he they estimate half the blood had been drawn.

    Obviously that is far in excess of what Argentyne, if he planned similar and nefarious deeds, would have followed, but no one would have questioned his medical efforts. Here is a couple thoughts – for myself, I don’t believe he had reason to touch the younger of the two boys, as Shrewbury’s apparently natural lively disposition (and he was only 9 until August 1483) would have looked suspicious if Argentyne is bloodletting a quiet but happy child.

    And if he began bloodletting just the older brother, Edward, anyone who knows anything about the procedure knows it weakens the patient, the individual, it hardly smartens them up for a joyous sense of recovery! The Mancini accounts of Edward’s foreboding and melancholia likely had nothing to do with the idea that Richard was soon to put him to death! If I have some doctor siphoning off blood every day, or every couple days, with a dreary look on his face, and daily exclaiming the woes of my lady mother and sisters in cruel sanctuary, my uncle Rivers and half-brothers held in northern strongholds or ‘whereabouts unknown’ unless Richard had a spy in the chamber to learn what was being said to the boys then Argentyne had a double means of causing mischief, the physical bloodletting and causing mental anguish.

    Now, did Argentyne mean to reduce at least Edward to near death, maybe even death? On his own that is unlikely so the obvious question is who was he in league with, for who was this meant to profit? And, to damage. The various plots that fell came about in June and July 1483 to ‘rescue’ the boys (don’t believe any of that tripe) did alter whatever plans Richard had for them, and my own feeling is IF Argentyne intended to murder both boys he did not have enough time, Shrewsbury I still think, was sent off (prob with Tyrell’s men for likely the first of many ‘safe houses’ as we would call them today), as to Edward, he may have been so weakened by the good care of Argentyne that he could not be moved to Ireland or even north to Sheriff Hutton where Edward of Warwick would be ensconced with the earl of Lincoln and other assorted junior Yorkists. The easy solution would be Lovell’s Hall just outside of London in Oxfordshire which was one of Richard’s longer stops while on his Royal Progress. I could sa alot more but you get the idea.

    Enter Thomas More, who intrigues me no end, not so much for anything he wrote on Richard, that is all fits and fables, but that he 1) wrote anything and even more importantly, that 2) he simply abandoned the work … and never ever mentioned his scribbled but staggering proof of genius effort at History again to anyone! Were Tom More just any two bit hack lawyer desperate for work I would understand him putting aside the lame effort to compete with the chroniclers and professionals and chase after the real money: litigation! But we know he was not, and he also was fabulously vain about his writing, about his literacy, his accomplishments as an author of note. So why abandon a work that in the era of H7 and H8 would have been heralded as the most stunning achievement after the four Evangelists in the NT!???

    THAT is what gets me, he just dumped it aside and never discusses nor returns to it nor hands it off to someone in the family nor alludes to its existence again…. why? Was he embarrassed at his prose, his research? Did his sources strike him as inept, but would that even matter in the era of H8??? NO. And when it was finally dragged out of mothballs there was every reason to rehabilitate IT, because as a executed traitor, who’s head was left piked on the Bridge, IF you spice up that worthless tripe, perfect for a ‘dynasty’ incapable of begetting heirs (but very capable of terminating heirs from the maternal Yorkist side) then salvation for the memory of Thomas More loomed.

    sort of strayed again Viscountessw ….

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  2. Why would the ‘good’ doctor kill Arthur? Who would be paying him to do that? Surely if he was known by the Tudors to have anything to do with the Prince/Princes death, they would not let him anywhere near one of their own?

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  3. Maybe Argentine simply liked getting away with royal murder? Why did Shipman keep killing? It wasn’t always to benefit from wills. Who knows with Argentine? It’s only guesswork anyway.

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    1. There can be but one real culprit. One who would have moved heaven and hell to but her bastard born so on our English Throne . She had linked up with a man whom hated Richard for banquishing him for years in Italy . He was Bishop Morton and she Margaret Beaufort married newly to that basest wretch God ever made Stanley. Sir Tom More tells us he at table such over heard Morton tell another that the boys are buried under a stone stair in the old Royal apartment of the Tower under great pile of stone.As when Charles 11 demolished the lot he found the boys one of top of other in a chest under the back of stairway. Morton got it spot on. How did he know ? He had joined the killing team to ensure boys had last Rites before being smothered by the terrible two . Beaufort had cleared any danger of later claims to her sons throne and to smeered Richard with the crime was clever thinking as he would loose all support making it easy for her son to be crowned. Motive plan and reason all in one. No one else could have possibly done the deed. All they needed was Warden Hastings out of way so we know Stanley gave him night off.Hastings had fear of leaving the Princes but would not debate with such as Beaufort and Stanley. I have checked they were in London that event and Richard and Ann on progress in the Midlands . The tale of Will slaughter killing them for Richard is red herring Slaughter was a God fearing servant of the Tower Never met Richard i bet Set up for life another told of Richards order to kill the Princes but he retired rich and on a farm of his own in Ireland Princes had been bastardised by law to keep them safe Richard set guards on the tower to spy on anyone coming near. Stanley sorted that out I dare say

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  4. Dr. Argentine simply applied a medical procedure that was standard at the time, although, as we now know, counter-productive. I would call it unintentional homicide, not murder. If that was the cause of Edward’s death, why did King Richard not simply say so? No blame would have been attributed to either of them. “The operation was a success, but the patient died of a reaction.” If he sent the younger boy to ‘a series of safe houses,’ why not just say so? He didn’t have to say where. If Richard were innocent, he could say all of these things, and also if he were guilty.
    All Richard had to do was come up with some explanation – something that could be accepted if not necessarily believed. He did nothing. This, to my mind, suggests that he had no knowledge – guilty or othewise – of what had happened to the boys, though he might have had suspicions.
    As for Arthur, did Dr. Argentine travel with Arthur and Katherine to Wales on their honeymoon? in that case, he might have accidentally done the lad in, but more likely it was ‘the sweat.”

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    1. Halfwit, nothing was ‘normal’ or ‘as usual’ in the spring and summer of 1483 (or for that matter the whole of his reign) so as one historian has noted everything in those short two plus years have been put under a microscopic viewfinder. Anything Gloucester did, or didn’t do, after the untimely death of E4 (and it was, he sent by letter to Lord Howard to attend him – who arrived some days later, spending the weekend in London, and made it to Edward just before he died – clearly, when E4 sent that letter did not stress urgency!) so in such peculiar circumstances (probably the death of any king could be called peculiar) every situation and decision would have been fraught with meaning, speculation, innuendo and then the whisper campaigns unleashed by individuals he had no control over.
      We have no idea how either Gloucester or Percy actually conducted situations that arose in the North, where most of their adult careers in policy were spent – I suspect they handled it within their own affinities, and if we lack documentation for every eruption of conflict or evidence of his “good lordship” that is pretty much par for the course with Richard. And IF something did become an issue where E4 did have to intervene and we know because there at least we have a paper trail with Rchard’s involvement (ie. the Pilkington-Savile feud) it was because both parties were embarrassingly Yorkist adherents!
      For myself, the notion that the French (and counter-Yorkist elements, who had never rehabilitated to E4’s reign and certainly not to R3’s) were simply sitting over in Paris or Brittany or even Calais and too drowsy to take note that Edward had threatened to restart English aggression to avenge the breaking of the Picquigny Treaty (and the humiliation of Lady Elisabeth, his daughter) is untenable – Mancini may have been a low-rent bottom feeder for information but that doesn’t preclude all interested parties did not have proficient agents in the field, embedded for some time.
      Consider the entirety of Louis XI’s fascinating reign, his whole approach to power and kingship, in many ways he was the polar opposite to his nemesis Duke Charles the Rash, who could not bring himself to STAY OFF a battlefield, despite being a very poor strategist and worse commander! Without a campaign to plan, to equip with the latest gear, to to mount for the next season, Charles’ simply could not function. Louis, in contrast, had horror of confrontation: too expensive, too unreliable, short fighting season, the whim of weather and allies, utterly nightmarish scenario! Better to make treaties you intend to break (which he routinely did), to buy off annoying belligerents (with mixed success), or poison, capture, bribe said belligerents, and/or embed your spies in THEIR camps, courts, households, bedchambers; purchase letters from one ruler to another, then dangle those incriminating letters to one (and usually to both parties) and claim you are the virtuous one to these faithless allies, (both E4 and Brittany’s duke Francis were caught like this) and Louis, who learned much from his Milanese friends, would never ever have pulled a stunt like the one where he breaks the Picquigny Treaty, dumps the betrothal with Elisabeth, who is more than ready for matrimony, for a 2 year old archduchess, and then just lays back in his cushy bedchamber to have a good old laugh.
      He would want information, what was happening in London, what was being said in the streets, the taverns, on the docks, in the allies and parish churches? Were the people saying Edward was weak? That he was a fool, that their king looked the fool? Were they angry? Even a cleric like Mancini could pick up gossip like that, or anything else embedded agents were feeding the unhappy citizens of London, who, trust me, would not be too happy, remember, the North fleet had not been sent out for the wine, lol, no one making money, not the merchants who needed that fleet to sail, taking English good to France, picking up the wine, returing to London, Hull, Bristol, etc… E4 had not released it – even by April… people are not stupid, maybe Mancini didn’t know West Chepe from the Strand (and he didn’t) but people sensed something awry. Imagine the fertile ground any helpers Louis and his councilors sent found that winter-spring of 1483. As for Louis not caring anymore, he would die by August 1483, well, heck, LXI had been dying for over 2 years, maybe longer, he probably should have died five years earlier! His health was precarious at best, that is ONE big reason he did what he did with Picquigny, but that is another discussion!
      Anything Gloucester did would have been watched and weighed and found curious – not just because of the untimely events of Edward’s sudden death, but also because they so rarely saw Gloucester – as far as we know the few properties he held in London he never even stayed in – and to make things even more remote, I can find little to nothing as to when Anne Neville ever visited London! Perhaps she was there for the wedding of young Richard to Anne Mowbray, but I have not read that she was – then again, did Henry Percy and his wife Maud Herbert ever venture into London?
      As to explaining that the young bastard had died of being bled, and showing him to all, before his Progress, hmmm, no,ok, then when? Put off the Progress, show him and go when? still bad timing, and Richard, just my opinion here, really wanted that Coronation in York, I think for him THAT was the real coronation that meant something to both of them – so a delay would have been inconvenient but also just bad karma (in our lingo) – the nephew you put aside for his illegitimacy is led to death by his own doctor, you show him to the very unhappy populace and then you leave??? I’m no medieval PR whiz but that looks bad. So you get word that the kid is ailing, and you take both with you on Progress, maybe. Unless young Edward is already too weak to make such a journey, and no matter when he dies how do you stop certain elements from whispering that it was poison? The French themeslves said Edward IV was poisoned…
      Richard may have been following E4’s own unhappy policy with George – say nothing. I do not believe George’s body was ever shown to the public, and I may be wrong but I doubt his son, the truly sad case of Edward earl of Warwick, was ever shown to the public after that menace H7 had his head hacked off. (Ditto the sister, elderly Margaret countess Salisbury) – all of those were private executions, well, George’s was a private one, perhaps E4 did not see any reason to exhibit his brother despite his charge of treason and attainder? A more ghoulish spectacle of exhibiting the body of young Edward, to prove to the crowds (what? that he was dead?) I cannot imagine, at any time, and there were enough malignant people in any crowd to just say “poison” to undo any comments by a string of respected doctors that Richard could have provided. What is heard cannot be unheard.
      As to Argentyne, IF he did act with malignant intent, to undo the reign of Richard, since he may have felt the cause was lost for young Edward (too little support among the powerful freemen in London, too many already on board with Richard, an adult who had competent allies like Lord Howard – and too many who disliked the Woodvilles, etc – the discussion about Hastings is a long one, but a worthy one, just not here) he may have provided enough raw information to clerics like Mancini, as garbled as he understood it, knowing he himself would also disappear soon, (I do not think anyone knows just where Argentyne went after Richard accepted the Crown, speculation is he too bolted for France and the safety of Cato or Louis’s court, personally I would not be at all surprised if he left WITH Mancini and wrote the infamous Report using the notes Mancini had cobbled together so that it sounded like a field report – the whole thing was done by December then attached to the material given in a speech to the Estates General – in Latin – early in 1484, using very old propaganda from the 1450’s concerning the relentless butchery by the English on their monarchs, just to flesh out the report mind you).
      If Argentyne was working to undermine Richard’s reign, for whom would be working? we immediately assume that would be MB, but while we all think she is just desperate and conniving enough to do anything, buy off anyone, and she certainly had her own agents, informers, bought the mercenaries, ships, etc, all that is coming, in the late spring of 1483 I don’t know if she had Argentyne by the nose, but what of Buckingham?
      He had not only access to the Tower he would have been the one to permit Argentyne to administer care to one or both boys, at will, without question. Buckingham is also married to one of the Queen’s young sister’s and in 1483 she was expecting their fourth child (4 children in something like 6 years tells me he did NOT detest the woman, regardless what Mancini tells us; Louis d’ Orleans, married against his will, like Buckingham, but to LXI’s daughter Jeanne, did detest that wife, and had to be ordered, virtually under pain of death to even go near her) who knows what Buckingham was plotting? He surely saw himself as Crown worthy, IF by some chance the two boys did not survive the tender care of the good doctor he was next, surely that would be obvious to all – and the dowager Queen happy to have one of her daughters marry HIS HEIR.
      But not to be, other plotters were busy, some of them with MB, another group with Morton and Rotherham, and Richard left it all in Howard’s hands, off he went on Progress.
      There is SO much to do in ricardian research it is staggering, if I had Bill Gates’ money I would be handing out little piles of $$$ to people to get some of these endless questions resolved – I am convinced the questions we all have are out there, we just keep trying to answer or consider the questions from the same vantage points.
      Recently historian Donald Kagan passed away, his area was Ancient Greece (not quite my area) but I read some of his fellow professors and a few of his students’ eulogies with interest, one in particular struck me as timely for what ricardians deal with all the time – the “paucity” of evidence, “the flotsam of fragmentary information carried down the ages by time” – Kagan would implore his students to make “make sense of it all – there was rarely an obvious right or wrong, There were, instead, the plausible, the remotely possible, and the completely absurd…” ((Paul Rahe, New Criterion, Oct 2021)
      To my mind we ricardians too easily accept that its plausible Richard had to have killed his nephews, well, two of the many nephews he had had. Why do we knot consider it just as plausible that having the Three Estates deem Edward’s earlier marriage in secret, to Eleanor Talbot, an imminently qualified choice if he was interested in an English noblewoman from his own station, far more illustrious than anything the Woodvilles could produce in their genealogy, her father being Old Talbot, the famous general to his father the duke of York in France, as legitimate impediment to Edward and his siblings as a barrier to the throne? Edward’s marriage to Woodville was also conducted in secret, and kept secret for months, why is that not deemed conduct that is completely absurd for a king and immediately cause rational historians to question its legitimacy?
      Why do we ricardians too easily accept that its plausible Richard ordered two of his many nephews killed when it is just as plausible that he ordered them to be moved quietly to less insecure locations? Rivers, Grey and Vaughan were all moved North, and separated for further security, it is imminently plausible that neither would benefit by remaining in London and I doubt any historian would call Richard a careless or reckless man. Killing them when they are already deemed bastards strikes me as in the “completely absurd” category – THE threat of their being rescued, by plotters willing to burn down half of London (that sounds absurd) would have only hastened his intent to get them out of the hornets nest of London, where he would not be for some months.
      well, you can see where my argument is going, I just do not see Richard acting knee jerk in a panic, if he had shown this sort of disposition before, say at Edinburgh where in frustration with Albany and the Scots’ lords themselves, decided to just level the city or do as much damage to the castle and town, he did have his bombarde from LXI with him, well, that sort of fitful aggression, with 20K men behind him to loot and cause mayhem, that sort of behavior yes, that sort of person could indeed panic enough to then just tell some henchman to go off the nephews in their beds.
      But everything we know about him, from his methodical approach to tracking his properties bought and sold, to the extreme care in his choice of musical selections in church services (apparently he did alot of this himself!) to his minute concerns with legal and business matters (mercantile and his own; he released the northern fleet for the wine, as king, in August 1483, for quick example) not to mention his handwriting (look at any other nobleman/woman of his day or even after, it is astonishing, chancery scribes plod along, his is actually eye opening!) all speaks to a someone who doesn’t just pop off. Even that last charge bearing down on a wide open Harry of Richmond, knocking Cheney out of his way, with only feet between them, even that was not reckless. That would have been a win, but for one William Stanley, the bravest of the brave, striking down one’s ally, one’s king, from behind with your Welsh pikemen.

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  5. Viscountessw, lol, in a word: Prof.Kagan! I find his method very liberating! Without realizing it I think we have all been using that tripartite device for awhile without knowing it. How many times have we ricardians read something and just fumed, “this is pathetic”? I can remember my first such experience, everything I read was about two nephews, hmm, two? My math has never been great but if there was one thing Richard had it was a surplus of nephews, and if we want to discuss attainder as an obstacle, puleeze, he had been attainted, Edward attainted twice, good ole Harry of Richmond attainted, who hadn’t been attainted in the 15thc? It was as close to a CV requirement as having a de rigeur motto.
    Next time let’s discuss Lord Hastings!

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