Tim Thornton, University of HuddersfieldIt is perhaps one of the greatest murder mystery stories in British history – a young king and his brother simply vanish. The boys, now dubbed “the Princes in the Tower”, were held in the Tower of London in 1483, but disappeared from public view, never to be seen again.
Richard III has long been held responsible for the murder of his nephews in a dispute about succession to the throne. But Richard’s defenders have pointed to a lack of hard evidence to connect the king to the disappearance of the princes – who were aged just 12 and nine when Richard took the throne in June 1483.
But I believe my recent research provides the most powerful evidence yet as to who the boys’ murderers were. And it connects the murderers directly to Richard III.
The first detailed account linking the deaths of the princes to Richard can be found in the History of King Richard III by Sir Thomas More, a public servant who from 1518 served on Henry VIII’s Privy Council and later became Lord Chancellor (Henry succeeded to the throne in 1509, after his father defeated Richard III in 1485). In his book, written about 30 years later, More names two men, Miles Forest and John Dighton, as the murderers. And says they were recruited by Sir James Tyrell, a servant of Richard III at his orders.
More claims that Richard felt he wouldn’t be fully accepted as king while the boys were still alive so he made a plan to get rid of them. He ordered the Constable of the Tower to give Tyrell the keys to the Tower for one night. Tyrell planned to murder the boys in their beds and chose Forest, one of their servants, and Dighton, who looked after his horses, to do the deed. All the other servants were ordered to leave so the murder could be carried out. Then Tyrell ordered the men to bury the boys at the foot of some stairs, deep in the ground.
Written over 30 years after the events, it is easy for Richard’s supporters to dismiss More’s version of events. Indeed, many people have questioned this story, seeing it as “Tudor propaganda”, designed to blacken the name of a dead king. It has even been suggested that the names of the alleged murderers were made up by More.
But I’ve discovered that the names More gives for the men who are alleged to have killed the princes (Forest and Dighton) are not imaginary, but real people.
Finding the clues
By the middle of the 1510s when More was working on his book, Edward Forest, son of suspect Miles Forest was a servant of Henry VIII’s chamber, and Miles, his brother, was employed by top adviser Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. In this way, the sons were living and working alongside More – meaning he would have been able to speak with them directly.
Both brothers were also the recipients of royal grants and leases of royal lands and offices. This shows how favoured they were by Henry VIII and builds on evidence I have discovered to suggest the brothers were at the heart of the Tudor regime.
I’ve also discovered that when More was composing his other great work, Utopia, in 1515 – and very likely thinking through the History of King Richard III – Miles Forest junior was a messenger between Henry VIII’s court in England and the embassy on which More served. This connects More’s world very directly to the story he is telling, and to the man he says is the leading murderer of the princes in the Tower.
This is a story that is not going away anytime soon. Indeed, the recent announcement of a new film about the rediscovery of Richard III, written by Steve Coogan and Stephen Frears, shows that interest in the controversial monarch is as strong as ever.
And while my latest evidence does not prove definitively that Richard III murdered his nephews, it is certainly clear proof that More wrote his history when he was in direct contact with the men who were closely associated with this most notorious of crimes.
England: Sir Thomas More Resigns His Office as Lord Chancellor of England
Sir Thomas More was born on the 7th February 1478. More’s political career began modestly enough, but rose through the ranks of power to become Lord Chancellor in 1529. However, he eventually ran into conflict with the king over the issue of papal authority versus that of the king. It was to be his undoing before Henry VIII, as he was unable to accept the Act of Supremacy.
On this day in 1532, Sir Thomas More resigned his office as Lord Chancellor of England, citing health issues. The true cause of his resignation was undoubtedly his position on the royal claim to supremacy in England.
Eventually his position led to his total fall from grace and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was then tried for treason and finally beheaded on the 6th July 1535.
More had been an aggressive and vocal opponent of the reformation within Henry VIII’s inner circle. He was a severe persecutor of the Protestants and the church, being a staunch Roman Catholic (recognized by Roman Catholicism as a saint) to the bitter end.
England: Thomas Blood Attempts to Steal the Crown Jewels
On this day in 1671, Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal the crown jewels of England in a daring robbery that went wrong very quickly. The attempted robbery took place in the Tower of London where the jewels were on public display.
The whole of Blood’s life is interesting, as he continually pops up in the chronology of England’s history during the period of his life (1618-1680). He plays a role in the civil war, was a major player during an Irish revolt against Charles II, was involved in an attempted assassination or two and his attempted theft of the crown jewels.
On this day in 1524, navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano, discovered New York Bay. Verrazzano was employed by the French king, Francis I, to find a sea route to the Pacific Ocean in order to reach China. After a failed first expedition, Verrazzano in the ‘La Dauphine,’ left France on the 17th January 1524 for the North American mainland. Once in American waters he explored the east coast of North America, including the area from North Carolina to New York. During his journey he came into contact with native American Indians and entered the Hudson River. The area explored by Verrazano was named ‘New France.’
Verrazzano is thought to have been born in 1485, south of Florence in Italy, though more recent research would suggest he was born in Lyon, France. Verrazzano died during a third trip to America, when he was killed and eaten by native Carib Indians on the island of Guadeloupe in 1528.
As with any other day, there was plenty more that happened on this day in history. Among the more important events on this day in the past were:
In 1492, Christopher Columbus signed a contract with Spain to find the Indies.
In 1521, Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1534, Sir Thomas Moore was confined in the Tower of London.