I have often wondered about Richard’s plans for the Yorkist “heirs” he sent for safety to Sheriff Hutton. We know Elizabeth of York was there, because Henry Tudor sent a very swift party to secure her person. She was then escorted regally to London, to be greeted at Lambeth by her husband-to-be. After he’d established himself as a conquering hero, of course, and dated his reign from the day before Bosworth. But that is not the point now. Warwick was also at Sheriff Hutton, and everyone there was under the protection of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. Were the boys from the Tower there too?
If things went against Richard, had he instructed Lincoln to take everyone out of England and across to Margaret of York in Burgundy? Let us imagine he did issue such an order. Where on the coast would Lincoln likely take them? Surely not somewhere to the south, like Harwich or Lowestoft, or too far to the north. Time would be of the essence if they were to be whisked away before Tudor got his claws into them.
Something went wrong, of course. Elizabeth of York did not leave, and was captured….er, rescued by her new swain. Or perhaps that was what she had wanted all along? Warwick became another prisoner, as did Lincoln himself. (Do we know how/when John de la Pole was apprehended?) And then there is the biggest mystery of all: if the boys from the Tower were there, what happened to them?
Let us go back to Sheriff Hutton. When the terrible news arrived from Bosworth, there would be panic as those who intended to escape made ready for flight—we’ll say that they would head for the nearest access to the sea. It seems logical. One thing about the Yorkshire coast applied then as it does now. Erosion. There were already a number of lost towns and villages down the stretch from Ravenspur in the north to Spurn Head in the south. But some that are lost now, were still there in 1485. Was one of them the intended destination? There was no need for a large port, or a harbour with quays, just somewhere from which a small boat could put out to a waiting vessel.
We will never know what happened, of course, but I for one can imagine the scene on that shore. Perhaps after dark, the sweating horses and fleeing Yorkists, the shouts from men waiting to push a large boat out into the waves. And off shore, the lights of a cog at anchor.
Maybe such a scene never happened, but if it did, maybe only the boys from the Tower were safely on board that cog. Safely? Well, maybe fate decreed they never reached Burgundy. Maybe a sudden storm sent the cog to the depths. Maybe that’s why no one knows what happened to the sons of Edward IV? Or, of course, they did reach their aunt’s protection, and one of them survived to grow up to challenge Henry Tudor as Perkin Warbeck. I hope so.