Prince Charles is the longest-serving heir to the throne in British history. The Prince of Wales will become King when his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, passes away – albeit she is still going strong at the age of 94. The two of them are said to differ on a number of things – but one key distinction between mother and son could potentially unravel a royal mystery that has frustrated historians for centuries. Regarding the Princes in the Tower, the Queen is said to take the view that it is best left alone – but Charles is reportedly far more keen to discover what really happened, meaning a conclusion could be found during his reign.
King Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, popularly known as the Princes in the Tower, were the only surviving sons of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville at the time of their father’s death in 1483.
Aged just 12 and 9, the brothers were lodged in the Tower of London by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, supposedly in preparation for Edward’s looming coronation.
But Edward and his brother were soon declared illegitimate and their uncle ascended the throne, becoming King Richard III.
Their fate remains a mystery to this day, as both boys vanished, but the prevailing theory is that they were both murdered almost 550 years ago.
Prince Charles could be poised to solve a 550-year-old royal mystery
Prince Charles could be a key player in the Princes in the Tower mystery
Debates continue over the possible culprit, with many blaming Richard for their death, but another mystery is their final resting place and there are two possible locations.
In 1674, workmen remodelling the Tower of London dug up a wooden box containing two small human skeletons, later claimed to be the boys.
On the orders of King Charles II, the bones were placed in an urn and interred at Westminster Abbey.
The remains were removed and examined in 1933 and, by measuring certain bones and teeth, archivist Lawrence Tanner concluded the bones belonged to two children around the correct ages for the princes.
Prince Charles and the Queen have very different personalities
However, the examination has been widely criticised and provides no conclusive proof.
In 1789, workmen carrying out repairs at Windsor’s St George’s Chapel accidentally broke into Edward IV’s vault, discovering a small adjoining vault in the process.
In this, they found two unidentified children but no inspection was carried out and the tomb was resealed.
In the late Nineties work began again near Edward IV’s tomb and a request was made to re-examine the vault but Queen Elizabeth II never granted her approval.
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Richard III is widely blamed for the boys’ death
Henry VII went on to marry Elizabeth of York and consolidate his rule
No such re-examination can ever take place without royal assent, so investigators seeking to solve the mystery hit a snag at the Queen’s apparent reluctance to delve deeper.
But hope could still be on the horizon, as Prince Charles is reportedly far more keen than his mother to finally settle the matter.
The debate about Richard III’s guilt will likely rumble on regardless of whether or not the boys’ remains can be identified, though.
Historical author Matthew Lewis argued in a 2014 History Extra debate: “The primary, and obvious, motive for Richard III to have murdered his 12 and nine-year-old nephews is frequently stated as being the securing of his throne.
“This seems a nonsense, given that Richard never publicised their deaths to prevent them from being a threat. Displaying their bodies and blaming natural causes or some traitor would have been a requirement of this plan.
“He also failed to kill any of the princes’ sisters – one of whom became central to the opposition to him. Nor did he remove the children of his other brother, George, who possessed a potentially better claim than Richard.
“No contemporary definitively blamed Richard, discussing only rumours that arose – plenty blamed others like [Henry, Duke of] Buckingham. Sir Thomas More, architect of Richard’s reputation, reported only rumour.
“Only Shakespeare made it fact for his work of fiction – a story that has become the history. The Bard invented facts as well as words.”
Royal Family tree
Richard was also securely in place as the ruling sovereign with the support of Parliament when the boys were in the Tower, putting doubt on any possible motive for him to order their murder.
On the other hand, Henry – who had an entirely tenuous claim and was in exile at this point – stood to gain most and did so, as his victory at Bosworth brought an end to the Wars of the Roses.
Mr Lewis added: “Any plot by Richard III to murder the princes to remove their threat rested upon publicising their deaths. That he allowed uncertainty strongly suggests this was not his plan.
“If they died, who really benefitted? Plenty won – but not Richard.
“Is it not fatuous to blame a man for a crime with no evidence even of a crime, let alone his guilt, because a playwright says so?”
Richard III’s body was discovered in a Leicester car park in 2012
However, as historical writer Leanda de Lisle pointed out in a 2014 Newsweek article, ruling out Richard’s guilt may not be quite that simple.
The most popular work to argue in favour of Richard’s innocence is Josephine Tey’s 1951 novel ‘The Daughter of Time’ – inspiring many to join the Richard III Society, the group that funded the 2012 discovery of his body in a Leicester car park.
Ms Tey suggests in the novel that the two boys might still have been alive in 1485, when Henry ascended the throne, going on to highlight how Henry’s claim was weak – hence his marriage to Elizabeth of York – so two living Plantagenet princes would be a threat.
She therefore suggests that Henry had the most obvious motive to kill them, as he could subsequently cast the blame on the now-dead Richard.
But as Ms de Lisle concludes, it is the disappearance of the princes that “lies at the heart of centuries of conspiracy theories” and inspired novel after novel, not least George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones.
She argues that Richard would have been fearful of the boys gaining cult-like status, given their obvious royal status combined with the innocence and purity of childhood.
So, according to Ms de Lisle, having the princes vanish suited Richard as no grave would mean no cult or relics.
She then argues the boys’ mother – Elizabeth Woodville – called for vengeance on hearing of their death and Henry Tudor’s mother – Margaret Beaufort – promised a marriage between her son and Elizabeth of York to unite the Yorkists and the Lancastrians after bringing Richard down.
Henry then emerged victorious at Bosworth and the character assassination of the defeated Richard truly began.