Ok! Part Sixteen! If you missed the most recent post in our Richard III series, then you can catch up here. Today we’re going to discuss evidence that the “Princes in the Tower” may well have survived. I feel fairly confident that the evidence for why they didn’t has been well-covered, and frankly the most glaring piece of it is that they disappeared during Richard III’s reign, so…let’s just go ahead and wade into the murkier territory.
There are three primary reasons why I think the possibility the “Princes” survived can’t be dismissed. The first is Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters leaving sanctuary in March 1484 (see post linked above). The second is that Henry Tudor never definitively accused Richard of the crime after he ascended the throne (I mentioned this last time and we’re going to get into that further). And the third is that Richard never made clear that the boys were dead during his own reign.
Now, this last one is tricky. Obviously Richard couldn’t order their deaths and then display their bodies like trophies. I also don’t necessarily buy that he could have announced their deaths by natural causes too close to his coronation without everyone assuming he’s murdered them. The latter is the tactic taken by other “usurpers” (understanding that’s a controversial term to apply to Richard), but in those cases the deposed king was always an adult. But what he could have done is blame the Duke of Buckingham in the autumn of 1483, and he didn’t. Such would have been an elegant solution, essentially (and rather literally) killing two birds with one stone.
By never addressing the boys’ fate, Richard thus never really benefited from their deaths, and was in fact damaged by their disappearance. Granted, it can be argued the other way. If the boys were still alive, why he didn’t he bring them forward? That’s valid. I would counter it by saying that both boys, but especially Edward V, were such lightning rods for rebellion that it was considered too risky. With the exception of brief moments of confidence, mainly in Q4 of 1483 and Q1 of 1484, Richard was always facing the threat of invasion and publicly parading his dead brother’s sons was more trouble than it was worth. Yet another reason for potentially keeping them hidden is we have no idea if they were “friendly,” so to speak – we’re making hay of their youth for obvious reasons, but if, for example, Edward V resented Richard for his deposition, then keeping him guarded and out of sight was a necessity. Allowing one or both of them to become beloved public figures – in the way royal children do – was a liability.
Bear in mind, too, that Richard sat on the throne for just 26 months and we have no idea how this would have played out. It’s possible that once things settled down, Richard had every intention of rehabilitating his nephews back into his court as honored illegitimate relations. Or that once they grew into men, he would have been more severe and they would have ended up back in the Tower. Consider the comparison of the boys’ cousin, the Earl of Warwick (George of Clarence’s son), who was seen as a threat to Henry VII’s authority, duly locked up during childhood, and executed in adulthood on trumped up charges. As we well know, Richard didn’t shy away from executing adults – the only x-factor here is the boys’ ages.
Consider, too, that the same Warwick was a threat to Richard in his own right. As the son of Richard’s other elder brother, technically his claim was superior. Yes, his father had died a traitor, but Edward V and York were legally bastards, so that fact doesn’t inherently make him benign. And yet, Richard didn’t take any action against him. He lived more freely under Richard than he did under Henry Tudor.
Now, before we get into the thick of it, I want to call out that the #1 citation for this post is Matthew Lewis’s book, “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower,” which I discuss in the first post in this series and have referenced throughout. However, since it’s been so long since I started this little project, I think it bears repeating. Full citation at the end.
On that note, I’m also going to repeat a point that he calls out many times in his book, and one which we’ve only touched on here, which are the separate identifies of Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York – the “Princes in the Tower.” They tend to get lumped together, but the fact that they lived very different lives prior to 1483 becomes important when contemplating whether they survived their uncle’s reign.
So, Edward V was born in November 1470 (ironically while his mother was seeking sanctuary in Westminster), and was sent in 1473 to Ludlow Castle on the Welsh Marches. The location was fitting for his title, Prince of Wales, and was in fact where his father had spent his own youth as the Earl of March. He was entrusted in the care of his maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, the significance of which we have covered. As such, Edward’s contact with his family was limited. He certainly made trips back to court to see his family for special occasions, but he lived a very separate life from the rest of his family in preparation for his future as king. Indeed, his closest family members would have been (obviously) Anthony, and his elder half-brother, Richard Grey, who joined the Ludlow household later in the 1470s.
Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, on the other hand, spent his formative years safely ensconced in the royal nursery. He was born in August 1473 and grew up surrounded by his sisters. One younger brother – George, Duke of Bedford – was born in 1477, but he died in 1479. As such, he would have been much more familiar with his parents, his other half-brother, Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, and – most significantly – the London public, who would have seen him during certain formal occasions, and when the family was on the move. Worth underlining, of course, is that he specifically grew up alongside his eldest sister, Elizabeth of York.
Thus, when Edward V and York were brought together in the Tower in June 1483, they were essentially strangers. Perhaps friendly strangers, but strangers all the same given that they would have met on only a handful of occasions. This wasn’t abnormal for the time given their position – and they wouldn’t have found it strange – but it’s worth separating them out from one another as we delve into theories of their survival, because if they did, they were almost certainly separated once more.
We lose sight of the boys – aged 13 and 10 – in the summer of 1483, however there’s an important piece of logistical information to consider before we resign them to the Tower. En-route from Westminster sanctuary, York actually met with his uncle, Richard, and the Duke of Buckingham on June 16 in the Palace of Westminster. By this point, Richard hadn’t publicly claimed the throne or questioned Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage, but given that he issued writs postponing Edward V’s coronation that same day, it stands to reason he knew well that he was going to depose his nephew. If said deposition went hand-in-hand with the eventual murder of his nephews, why would Richard want to meet with York? We either accept Richard was a borderline sociopath, or we accept the possibility that Richard in fact hoped to impress upon his younger nephew that everything was okay, and reassure him that he wasn’t a figure to be feared.
This brings us back to Elizabeth Woodville and her emergence from sanctuary in March 1484. We discussed her potential motivation for this in the last post, but I’m of the belief that it’s a safe bet that she was given good reason to believe either Richard was innocent in their deaths or that they were still alive. If we follow the latter train of thought, then we are introduced to the figure of James Tyrell, who was executed in May 1502 after confessing to the Princes’ murder – supposedly. This confession is questioned even by those confident that Richard killed the Princes because it was gathered during torture, but we’ll get into that later.
Tyrell was a loyal servant to Richard – after Richard’s coronation, he became Master of the Horse and Master of the King’s Henchmen (an ironic title, granted), and it was he who captured the Duke of Buckingham and escorted him to Salisbury in November 1483 for his execution. There’s an old Tyrell family tale laid out by Kathleen Margaret Dowe in her book, “Mystery of the Princes,” and repeated by Lewis, that the Tyrell family home, Gipping Hall, was the site of a reunion between Elizabeth Woodville and her sons in 1484. If Elizabeth’s emergence was contingent on Richard’s assurances, then the chance to see her sons would have to qualify.
Before we move on, I want to quickly zoom out a bit to note the rest of the York family. Many posts back I made a point of underscoring that Richard primarily grew up with two siblings: George of Clarence (d. 1478) and Margaret of York, who married the Duke of Burgundy in 1468, and was thus living abroad in the 1480s. I also made a point of underscoring that Richard had two other sisters, who would have been remote figures to him in his youth. The eldest, Anne, was dead by the events of 1483. The second, Elizabeth, married John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk in the late 1450s, and her family lived relatively under the radar through the drama of Edward IV’s reign.
We don’t much about what personal relationship Richard and the de la Poles had, but based on later events, it stands to reason they trusted one another. At the very least, Elizabeth and John publicly supported Richard’s claim to the throne and were present at his court throughout his reign. They also had several children, including sons, the eldest of which – the Earl of Lincoln – was in his early 20s when Richard took the throne. In other words, Richard had other nephews and that point is important when considering the “Princes’” survival.
Now, to link these two seemingly disparate thoughts: The Tyrell family home of Gipping Hall was close to the Suffolk family seat, and Richard’s supporter, John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, was also powerful in the region. Thus, if Richard needed a secure, out-of-sight location for Elizabeth to meet her sons, Gipping Hall was about as good as it was going to get. It also provides a link between Tyrell and the Princes that may help explain why he ended up getting blamed for the crime in 1502. Even more, it raises the possibility that if Richard moved the boys out of the Tower at some point in 1483, one or the both of them resided in Tyrell’s discreet protection.
Richard’s motivation for keeping the boys’ location a secret isn’t hard to glean. They were figureheads for rebellions against him, and potentially targets for assassination, particularly if men like Buckingham and Tudor were vying for the throne. Less dramatically, they were also awkward. Deposed kings were always kept under lock and key – they were also always quietly murdered, which is definitely still a possibility, but given the Princes’ age and their kinship to Richard, this was a decidedly different situation to when Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI were cast aside. And, not for nothing, Edward IV let Henry VI live for six years in his custody before putting him to death.
Another key insight to the possibility of the boys’ survival is the establishment of a household in the North under the governance of Richard’s de la Pole nephew, the Earl of Lincoln. In July 1484, Richard set down ordinances for this household that clearly laid out guidelines for how its occupants took their meals. Specifically, Lincoln took his breakfast separately from the household’s “children.” Who were these children? Well, there are a number of possibilities. Elizabeth Woodville’s younger daughters were out of sanctuary, so it’s possible that some or all of them spent time there (Elizabeth of York certainly did). Richard and Anne also had custody of George of Clarence’s orphaned children – Margaret and Warwick – who also could have visited. But we can’t exclude the possibility that one or both of the Princes were within this household. Its location in the North under Lincoln’s protection prompts two points: 1) the “children” were related to the Royal Family, and 2) the North was a region wholly loyal to Richard. If he needed to keep something – or someone – safe and out of London’s sight, the North was the likeliest place.
This brings us back to the likelihood that Richard separated the boys sometime in 1484. Possibly he had done so earlier and they were simply brought together to meet their mother, but regardless they likely parted ways afterward. So, if we accept that one boy ended up north, then where to place the second? The answer came in the form of Richard’s other sister, Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy. We know that Richard and Margaret grew up in the same nursery, and we know that the two met on at least two occasions after her 1468 marriage. Once was in 1471 when Richard and Edward IV were in exile, and the second was in 1480 when she visited England. On the latter occasion, she would have had the opportunity to meet her nieces and nephews – certainly York, and possibly Edward V if he made the journey to London for the occasion.
Sending one or both of the boys to Burgundy was a logical conclusion for Richard to reach, his sister’s presence notwithstanding. Not only had it been the site of refuge for him and Edward IV in 1470/1471, but his own mother, Cecily Neville, had sent him and George there in 1461 when it was unclear how the first phase of the Wars of the Roses would pan out. James Tyrell’s potential involvement also once more comes into focus, since in January 1485 he was appointed commander of the Castle of Guisnes, a fortress protecting Calais, the last English stronghold in France. That same month, Richard sent him a significant amount of money, which Lewis notes is “believed to equate to the annual revenue of the crown at the time.” It’s possible this money was related to England’s bribery of Brittany’s Duke Francis to gain custody of Henry Tudor, but Lewis notes the sum would have been overkill, and we can’t dismiss the possibility that it’s related to the presence of one of the “Princes” abroad.
Likewise, in April 1484, a grant is recorded to Margaret of York’s chaplain, and another to a second man in December of that year. One of these men was cleared from being searched, indicating that whatever document he had in his possession was highly classified. At the very least, it’s clear from these records that Richard and Margaret were in secret communication.
As for the timing of all of this, we only have the above dates as reference points, but one possible timeline is: Elizabeth and all of her children lived for a time at Gipping Hall, some amalgam of them then went north to join Lincoln’s household, while one of the Princes went or returned to Burgundy with Margaret of York. That would make the April 1484 communication make sense – Richard was setting this arrangement up with Margaret. Her involvement lends more weight to her later fervent support of the “Pretenders” during Henry VII’s reign.
A notable factor in this landscape is the death of Richard’s only legitimate son in April 1484. His death made Richard more vulnerable and raised the question of who would succeed him. With his brothers dead, the obvious answer was a nephew, but which one? Edward V and York were legally bastards, so they are generally ruled out (also generally considered dead by this point). Next up was Warwick, but he was a tricky one given his technically superior claim and his father’s treason. Both reasons provided a good argument for Lincoln. (Anne and Margaret – Richard’s other siblings – died childless.)
Indeed, it’s usually taken for granted that Lincoln was Richard’s heir, but this was never made official, nor even alluded to beyond Lincoln being given increasing levels of responsibility as Richard’s reign went on. It raises the possibility that when Richard was secretly in communication with the Pope (mentioned last post), he was actually discussing pathways for Edward V’s restoration after his death. It’s odd, but not unheard of – it’s essentially the avenue by which the House of Plantagenet was founded in 1154 when King Stephen disinherited his son for the son of the woman from whom he’d stolen the throne (Henry II and Empress Matilda, respectively). In that case, there were no questions of legitimacy, but such is what would have necessitated the Pope’s involvement.
Whatever Richard’s plans for the boys were, they were rendered useless when he was killed during the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. Henry Tudor was declared the victor and immediately set off for London to proclaim himself king. One of his first acts was to arrest and meet with Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells – also known as the man briefly arrested with George of Clarence in 1477 and believed responsible for spilling the story of Edward IV’s pre-contract to Richard III. Finding out what he knew would have been more than a little relevant to Henry given that he was unofficially betrothed to Elizabeth of York. Sadly we have no idea what the specifics of their discussion were, but the result was that no further action was taken against Stillington and the Titulus Regius was not only revoked, but destroyed – literally every copy save one that managed to slip through the cracks in Crowland Abbey.
Notably, there is no record that Henry conducted searches of the Tower and other palaces in the first weeks of his reign. Personally, I think this can be read both ways – surely he would want to gain custody of them dead or alive, but certainly if he believed they were dead, then it would have made sense to display their bodies and accuse Richard. But, as noted above, Henry never accused Richard of the crime. Parliament made mention of the “shedding of infants blood” (“infants” wasn’t possessive in the document, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything given the inconsistency of Medieval spelling and grammar) by Richard’s hand, but the inclusion of that language is vague. If anything, it reads more as a nod to the existence of the rumor of their death and less direct knowledge of it.
Instead, the defining takeaway of the autumn of 1485 is one of silence – Henry’s silence, but also the silence of Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York. There was a notable delay in the marriage of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York – he was crowned solo that October, and they married in January 1486. Some of this was almost certainly that Henry purposefully forged his own claim to the throne distinct from that of his wife, but another possibility is that all parties were waiting to see if the “Princes” would emerge. Indeed, the silence of the Elizabeths in these years is deafening. Neither accused Richard, and neither made clear that the boys were alive.
The most likely conclusion is that as of August 1485, neither woman knew where they were or what happened to them. More specifically, whatever arrangements Richard put in place were known only to him and perhaps a handful of confidants, and when you consider that many of his closest adherents died at Bosworth, you’re left with a very uncertain landscape.
It’s also worth considering Henry’s insistence on a solo claim. You can argue ego – he didn’t want to rule through his wife’s Yorkist claim and he came from Lancastrian/Beaufort stock. Such a distinction would have been an important element to his authority, yes, but setting himself up as the “rightful” king and making clear his descent from the Lancastrian line also protected him from the possible re-emergence of Edward V or York. In his reign, they were legitimate, so he had a weaker argument for displacing them than Richard had. That he went about holding Henry VI up as some sort of martyr king (albeit one deposed by his dead father-in-law) indicates some level of insecurity, and of independence.
It’s at this point that the town of Colchester, in Essex, comes into view, courtesy of a theory put forth by Lewis. Two men who didn’t die at Bosworth were James Tyrell (who wasn’t present) and Francis Lovell (whose presence is uncertain). Lovell was a childhood friend of Richard who had known him since they both lived in the old Earl of Warwick’s household in the 1460s, and he remained fiercely loyal to Richard even after his death. The uncertainty around Lovell’s presence at Bosworth is significant – he was at first recorded as killed in action, which we know isn’t true. Then there is some indication that he was sent to Milford based on where Richard believed Henry was landing from France, but if this was true then he would have had time to reach Bosworth by the battle. And if he was indeed at Bosworth, then it’s remarkable that he wasn’t slain given the carnage among those closest to Richard.
Yet, four or five days after the battle, Lovell arrived in Colchester seeking sanctuary, about 130 miles from Bosworth, when there were any number of other spots to claim safety along the way. Even more notably, Colchester is only 30 miles from Gipping Hall. With Lovell were Sir Humphrey and Thomas Stafford, descended from a junior line of the Duke of Buckingham’s family. Concurrently, the lawyer William Catesby, one of Richard’s closest adherents, was arrested and executed. In his will he expressed the hope that, “My lord Lovell come to grace.”
The laws of sanctuary permitted its seekers 40 days, with larger outfits – like Westminster – equipped to provide longer. Colchester was no such place, but Lovell and the Staffords remained there for six months, during which time Henry became aware of their presence and made no move to remove them. Even more notably, Colchester was on the way from Bosworth to Flanders, where Margaret of York lived – if Lovell’s end game was saving himself, why even stop at Colchester? Why not take advantage of the turmoil in the battle’s aftermath and escape while Henry was more focused on securing London?
Unsaid, of course, is whether or not Lovell was waiting to meet up with one of the “Princes” and take him to Burgundy. Such would have made sense for an arrangement Richard put in place in the event he lost the battle, and such would explain why – if the boy was delayed – Lovell remained there so long, waiting. A perhaps unconsidered twist to the plan was that Lincoln was summoned south to London – if he was a part of this plan, responsible for ferrying the boy from the northern household to Colchester and/or Gipping Hall, then he would have been unable to complete the task. Instead, he, Elizabeth of York, and Warwick, were all summoned south and had little choice but to comply. Lincoln’s ability to even deputize one of his men with the task may have been compromised by the level scrutiny the new Tudor regime was leveling at what was left of the Yorkists. Another possibility is that Lincoln was blocked from participating in the plan by his father, the Duke of Suffolk, a man with a canny ability to survive the ever shifting regimes of the Wars of the Roses. Indeed, it’s possible that some contingent of these individuals would have needed to cross through Suffolk’s lands in order to reach safety (given Gipping Hall’s proximity to the de la Pole seat) – if he refused to facilitate, or even threatened to block them, they would have been in a distinct pinch.
Lewis notes in his book – citing work by James Gairdner – an anecdote in which Henry Tudor was told that Lovell was planning to leave Colchester and incite a rebellion against him. This would later prove true, but Henry refused to believe it, which is strange. Lewis takes this to mean some line of communication or negotiation had opened between Lovell and Henry’s government – I don’t have an opinion on the matter. In early 1486, around the time Henry and Elizabeth of York married, Lovell left Colchester for Yorkshire and the Staffords returned to Worcestershire. All three began plotting rebellion.
The Staffords’ plot failed – Humphrey was executed and Thomas disappeared. Lovell ostensibly hatched a plan to abduct Henry while he was making a northern progress, which is distinctly odd. But Lovell’s presence in the North may well have been because he knew or assumed that one of the “Princes” was hiding there. As Lewis notes, part of Henry’s insistence on taking a progress through Yorkshire in 1486 may well have been because he had also received intelligence one of the boys was there. Lewis argues:
“When Lovell was spotted around Yorkshire, Henry could hardly disclose the reason that they were both in the same place without endangering his own precarious hold on the crown, so the story of a kidnap plot might have been built around the kernel of truth that Lovell did rush north to take custody of someone. It just wasn’t Henry VII.”
Indeed, the fact that Lovell immediately departed Yorkshire for Flanders after this incident occurred lends credence to this theory. It certainly explains why Lovell went to Yorkshire at all instead of departing directly from Colchester.
Lewis further notes that Colchester became a strange focus point for Henry throughout his reign. A messenger of the Exchequer was dispatched there in the summer of 1486 with “secret letters” from the King’s Council. In April 1487, Henry visited during a progress through East Anglia. He visited again in March 1489. In February 1491, a pardon was issued to Eleanor Kechyn, provided that she find security not to go at large during the rest of her life, but remain in the custody of her parents or nearest kinfolks. The pardon is recorded in the Calendar of Patent Rolls, which is strange given that that records offenses against the King – in Eleanor’s case, the crime was purportedly that her late husband owed a local grocer money. The punishment is also harsh for the crime. This is notable, to be clear, because Eleanor lived in Colchester, begging the question of whether her “crime” was in fact related to the “Princes” which would explain Henry’s attention and the need for her to remain closely supervised for the rest of her life.
Henry visited again in the summer of 1497, around the time the Abbey’s Abbot died and was replaced by another – rather significant if said Abbot knew what Lovell’s mission had been in 1486. Another pardon was granted in 1512 – during the reign of Henry’s son, Henry VIII – to a “Richard Grey.” Grey is of course notable because it was Elizabeth Woodville’s surname from her first marriage – indeed “Elizabeth Grey” is how Elizabeth Woodville is officially referred to during Richard III’s Parliament. It would also have been the surname of the “Princes’” half-brothers, one of whom, the Marquess of Dorset, left behind a large family. Lady Jane Grey is one rather notable descendant.
All of this, of course, could be a coincidence, but Lewis puts forth the theory that both boys could have been in England at the time of Bosworth. That York, who is believed to have been the brother sent to Burgundy, could easily have made the odd trip back to England and met his mother at Gipping Hall, and that when Richard was defeated, he was able to get to Colchester, but Edward V was not. (N.B. Elizabeth Woodville’s whereabouts, and that of her younger daughters, is unknown in August 1485, so it’s not impossible.) Such would still explain Lovell’s long wait – Henry’s awareness of his presence there would have made it challenging to ferry York back to Burgundy. Such would also explain why Henry was skittish about forcibly removing Lovell from sanctuary in 1485 – possibly he was in negotiation for the boy’s hand over. Per Lewis:
“Lord Lovell may have been forced to leave himself to recover Prince Edward [Edward V] as the only leverage to keep Prince Richard [York] safe as the net tightened around them in sanctuary. If this was the case, Richard may have been left in Colchester in 1486 and could have remained there for some time. By the time of Richard Grey’s pardon in 1512, Prince Richard would have been thirty-eight. The other possibility is that the person in Colchester was a son of one of the Princes, born of a relationship with Eleanor Kechyn before 1491, placing him in his early twenties by 1512 and explaining not only the harsh terms of Eleanor’s incarceration but also the king’s visit to the town in July 1491, a date that might coincide with the birth of a baby conceived before 18 December 1490, the only cue to the time of the Eleanor’s otherwise unknown offence. The youngest, Richard, would have been 17 years old by this point, so both would have been capable of a lusty affair in their youth that produced a child.
“If neither Prince remained in Colchester at the time, and the timing is perhaps significant, then the presence of a baby boy born to one of them in the town was a threat, which the Tudor government would be hard pressed to deal with. Killing a baby risked losing the restraint that kept Eleanor Kechyn silent, not to mention tarnishing Henry’s regime with the same brush currently being used to dark Richard III’s reputation.”
In other words, Henry could have kept tabs on Colchester to ensure a bastard York child was kept unaware of his parentage and guarded. If true, then such a secret would have been shared between Henry VII and Henry VIII, hence the 1512 reference. Lewis further notes that Katherine of Aragon made a trip to Colchester in 1515 en-route to make a pilgrimage to the shrine at Walsingham (believed to help women conceive) – the stop to Colchester, if she was coming from London, would have been out of her way.
Obviously these are just theories based on evidence that could all be purely coincidental, but if we’re assuming for the sake of this post that “Princes” survived 1483, and indeed 1485, then we are left with the above possibilities that I’ll quickly summarize here:
- Lovell waited in Colchester to meet Edward V and take him to meet his aunt and brother in Burgundy, but Edward V was blocked in the North.
- Lincoln – and possibly Suffolk – were aware of this plan. Indeed, they may have been how Henry found out of Lovell’s location given they went to London.
- Lovell was possibly successfully met by York at Colchester after Bosworth and the boy stayed behind when Lovell left for Yorkshire.
- Lovell’s trip to Yorkshire during which he was accused of trying to abduct Henry was in fact a mad dash to secure Edward V and ferry him to Burgundy. Indeed, Lovell, at the very least, *did* escape to Burgundy.
- If York was still in Colchester, he may well have been stuck until 1490/1491, hence Henry’s repeated visits to the town.
- Royal attention to Eleanor Kechyn and Richard Grey, two otherwise random people in Colchester, may in some way be related to the “Princes.” Alternately, they could simply have had knowledge of what happened. Or, yes, it could be wildly unrelated.
What I haven’t addressed yet is why Henry, if he, for example, knew one of the boys was in Colchester, didn’t risk life and limb getting custody of them. After all, that’s the tack Richard took in securing them in 1483, regardless of their fate. The simple answer is that if the boys were alive, Henry was in a much more dangerous position than Richard ever was. Acknowledging that the boys were alive didn’t necessarily render his claim to the throne obsolete since he had staked his on the Lancastrian succession, but it would have almost certainly led to more war. Acceptance of Henry was largely premised on Lancastrian sympathy dormant during the Yorkist era, and Yorkists who had objected to Richard III deposing Edward V. There were still more who frankly though they’d all run out of options, and made do with Henry marrying Edward IV’s daughter.
Because of these various sects, the reality of Edward V or York being alive posed a very distinct threa. The “Tudor regime” of which I’ve referenced wasn’t monolith, and it’s highly possible it would have broken down in the face of a true Yorkist heir. Much like Richard couldn’t publicize the location or even existence of the “Princes” to his broader government, neither could Henry. If the above – or at least some portion of it – is taken at face value, Henry would have been managing that situation with only a handful of very trusted advisers, and Henry would have had few men he could trust in the direct aftermath of Bosworth.
That’s an explanation, but I’m not entirely sure it bears up. I find the arguments about Lovell’s movements compelling, but I find the argument about one of the boys living in Colchester for so many years harder to accept. Given that Warwick found himself in the Tower by then, for no real reason, it doesn’t make sense to me that Henry would leave York relatively free in Colchester. No, he couldn’t have called attention to York’s identity – and yes, there were plenty of people in the 1480s who would have recognized York – but was there no way to disguise him and ferry him somewhere remote (or even deep within the Tower) without detection?
Granted, keeping the boys in the countryside was the tactic Richard took when he was alive (assuming they lived), but the fact that Henry came down harshly on Warwick without much initial provocation makes this discrepancy harder for me to wrap my head around. If elements of the above are true, what makes sense in my mind is the Lovell portion, and that if we accept Henry’s attention to Colchester was special and not coincidental, it’s due to local knowledge that at least one of the “Princes” was alive in 1485. As for the continuation of attention into Henry VIII’s reign – well, “Grey” isn’t that unique of a surname, and for that matter, we don’t know that Katherine of Aragon was traveling to Walsingham from London. But I don’t know, and I’ll grant that the number of visits and mentions coming on the heels of Lovell’s unexplained long stint in the town are strange enough to require a closer look.
With that, we’re going to stop there. Next time we’ll take a look at the rebellion of 1487, including the traditional narrative, the possibility that one of the “Princes” was involved, and the possible participation of Elizabeth Woodville’s participation.
In the meantime, here is the full information for Lewis’s book, which I highly recommend:
Lewis, Matthew. The Survival of the Princes in the Tower. Gloucestershire, The History Press, 2017.