Richard III Not Guilty of Murdering His Nephews, Researchers Conclude
Many historians have suspected the last British monarch from the House of York was responsible for the dastardly deed of having ordered the execution of his two young nephews in 1483, in an attempt to secure his hold on the throne of England. In fact, this is the theory immortalized by Shakespeare in his play Richard III. In fact, earlier this year a Huddersfield University professor claimed to have found evidence that clinched the case against Richard.
But now, a team of scholars that has been studying the case for the past four years has introduced new data that points in a different direction. Their research has exonerated the 15th century king of the murder charges, they claim, at least with respect to the 12-year-old Edward, one of the alleged victims who was supposed to ascend to the throne before Richard III took the kingship in his place)
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King Richard III has been portrayed as a cold-hearted killer. But was he really? (CC by SA 4.0)
Based on the information they’ve collected, researchers from the Missing Princes Project say the prospective Edward V, the son of the former King Edward IV, didn’t die at all. Instead, Richard III (then Duke of Gloucester) had him secretly smuggled off to the village of Coldridge in the county of Devon, where he then lived out his life under an assumed identity.
This outcome would have been the result of a secret agreement between the ambitious duke and Edward’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, which would have spared the life of one or both of her sons in return for her family’s pledge not to contest the duke’s claims to the British throne.
The fate of Edward’s nine-year-old brother Richard of Shrewsbury (the Duke of York) is still undetermined, according to the scholars. But if Edward was not murdered by his treacherous uncle’s henchmen, or by anyone else, its logical to conclude that Richard may not have been the victim of foul play, either.
16th century portrait of Richard III of England. Source: Public domain
The Missing Princes Project Seemingly Absolves Richard III
In the months after the death of their father the king, Edward and Richard had been kept in seclusion in the Tower of London (hence their famous historical nickname, the Princes in the Tower). Determined to become king, the Duke of Gloucester had used his influence to have the two boys declared illegitimate and therefore not eligible to assume the throne.
Young Edward and his brother eventually disappeared completely, which led to speculation that Richard III had arranged for their murder to make sure his claim to the throne was safe. But that’s not exactly what happened, the Missing Princes Project researchers say.
The story they tell is based on their study of medieval documents and physical artifacts found in the small remote village of Coldridge. It begins with a 1484 agreement between Elizabeth Woodville and Richard III, in which she and her surviving children (two daughters and a grown son, Thomas Grey) acknowledged the legitimacy of Richard’s kingship, in return for their full freedom and the new king’s protection.
What happened to the two princes? (Public Domain)
From that point on, no mention was made of the two missing boys, by their mother or by Richard III. However, shortly after his agreement with Elizabeth Woodville was announced, the king dispatched a trusted envoy named Robert Markenfield to Coldridge on some kind of mysterious mission. An individual identified as John Evans arrived in Coldridge soon after that, where he was anointed by the king as Lord of the Manor and also designated as the local deer parker, meaning he’d been given the responsibility of running a large royal deer park located right behind the local church.
“This man John Evans was given these prestigious titles despite apparently arriving out of the blue, which is odd to say the least,” Missing Princes Project researcher John Dike told The Telegraph. “It is possible that Edward was sent here to live in secrecy as part of the deal that we know was agreed [upon] between Richard and his mother.”
Was Edward V Living in Coldridge Under an Assumed Identity?
The idea that John Evans was really the 13-year-old Edward V might sound farfetched. But the researchers are basing their conclusion on several other interesting facts. In 1511, John Evans built his own chapel on the grounds of the local church in Coldridge. Its outstanding feature was a large stained-glass window that depicts the would-be king Edward V, who by this point had been missing and presumed dead for 26 years.
“Why is a royal portrait of Edward V in this rural church in the middle of nowhere?” John Dike asked rhetorically. “It simply doesn’t belong here. Evans appears to be sending a message.” But that’s not all. More images and symbols were left to reinforce that message, Dike and his colleagues assert.
For example, above Edward’s head the artist has drawn a large crown, which includes pictorial and symbolic motifs associated with Edward’s grandfather, the Duke of York. Many more House of York emblems and motifs were found embedded on the floor tiles and wooden roof, revealing an undeniable design theme.
The stained-glass window also features tiny pictures of deer, 41 in all. This is revealing because the 41 matches what would have been Edward’s age in 1511, when the chapel was constructed. “The 41 deer in the crown points to a link between John Evans the deer parker, and the King in the window,” Dike said, noting a quite obvious implication.
Could it really be true that clues to the whereabouts of Edward V are to be found in an unassuming church in Coldridge, Devon? (John Dike)
In the corner of the window, there is a small image of a man holding a royal crown in his hands. This individual has a small scar on his chin, which notably matches the scar on the face of a bust of John Evans that was also placed inside the chapel. Could this be meant to signal that John Evans had a rightful claim to the throne of England, one that he was never allowed to assert?
Curiously, on John Evans’ tomb his name is misspelled as “EVAS,” and it appears there was originally one more letter added at the end that had been broken off. The researchers speculate the EV could stand for “Edward V” (EV), while the “as” plus the broken letter could have been “asa”, which in Latin means “in sanctuary”. Adding more intrigue is a medieval scrawl written below this inscription, which appears to be the word “KING” written upside down.
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Is all of this enough to prove John Evans was really Edward V? At the very least, the Missing Princes Project researchers think they’ve constructed a convincing case. “The idea of a missing prince lying low in Devon might appear fanciful at first,” Dike said.
“With all the secret symbols and clues, it sounds somewhat like the Da Vinci Code. But the discoveries inside this church in the middle of nowhere are extraordinary,” highlighted Dike convincingly. “Once you take all the clues together,” Dike summarized. “it does appear that the story of the princes in the tower may need to be rewritten.”
Richard III and the Ghosts, by William Blake. Could it be that Richard III never actually had his two young nephews murdered? (Public domain)
Are Conspiracy Theories Bad for History? Not Necessarily
The theory developed by the Missing Princes Project scholars is complex and conspiratorial. In its details, it reads more like a work of popular fiction than real-life history, as researcher John Dike fully admits. But as fantastic as their hypothesis might seem, the facts they’ve collected are consistent with the assertion that at least one of the two young royals was still alive long after the two princes in the tower had disappeared from public view.
Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that this evidence is totally circumstantial, as is all the other evidence that suggests a particular fate for the princes in the tower. Historians and scholars who’ve studied this case have used selected samples of the available circumstantial evidence, mixed with a healthy amount of supposition, to create plausible storylines that they can then champion as their own personal hypotheses. None of these conspiracy theories is 100-percent provable or authoritative, and never can be since events that took place in the 15th century cannot be directly or comprehensively investigated.
Professional and amateur historians alike will continue to investigate this famous murder mystery and we can be sure that more theories about the true fate of the princes of the tower, and the part played by Richard III, will be forthcoming in the years ahead. While none of these investigations may solve the case once and for all, this research will undoubtedly produce more interesting facts, fascinating coincidences, and surprising details for historians, students, and other aficionados of history to ponder. That is what will make this research valuable, in contradiction to those who would claim that conspiracy theories are automatically bad for historical study.
Top image: The traditional belief is that the princes, Edward V and Prince Richard, were executed under orders from Richard III. (Public domain)
By Nathan Falde