Now in 1483, it is difficult to be sure about Margaret’s attitude to Richard, but as I have said despite early negotiations with Richard, and his desire to keep Stanley on his side, I figure that Margaret’s distrust of Richard would have come early; certainly later on her view of the king would be extremely dusty. What is also difficult to know is what Margaret’s ambitions for her son were. A strong strand in Margaret’s reputation rests on 1483-4; the Antiquarian John Stow believed Margaret was at the centre of plots from almost immediately after Richard’s coronation; S B Chrimes the modern historian described her as the ‘Chief spinner of plots’. But what was her strategy? Was she simply unconvinced that Richard could be talked round as Edward IV had been, to consider the idea that Henry Tudor could be rehabilitated as Earl of Richmond? Or had she begun to consider the idea that with the Princes in the Tower taken out of the equation, by the petition announcing Edward IV’s illegitimacy, that the boy was as much of a contender as Rocky ever was?
The first sniff of rebellion comes very early, in July 1483; we don’t know much more other than that there was an owl in the fen. Essentially, Richard’s usurpation had been fast, effective, and the potential leaders to any resistance had been totalled very quickly and effectively – whether you are a Richard fan or Richard foe, you’ve got to admit that much. So the mid level Edwardian supporter, the Gentry, those who had done well by the household of Edward IV were miffed but leaderless.
But the antiquarian John Stow suggests that the owl in this particular fen had planned to set a fire in London, and while everyone was milling around yelling ‘fire’ and ‘has anyone checked the bakery in Pudding lane, the Princes would be sprung from the Tower. In this plot, Margaret was apparently complicit; and the follow up was to be that Jasper and Henry Tudor would ride into town, presumably on white chargers, and put Edward V back on the throne again. The plot was initiated by 4 relatively lowly members of the household, including the Pardoner, and his tale includes the dismemberment of the 4 for treason and a rising of 50 people.
I’m not going to lie to you; as far as I can see, the level of involvement of Margaret is a bit uncertain; John Stow doesn’t mention it. Jones and Tallis, Margaret’s most recent biographers, suggest Margaret was involved, but both reference only John Stow – who again doesn’t mention it, so I am left thinking that maybe this is supposition; based on the fact that the rebels wrote to Jasper and Henry, and I suppose that would strongly suggest Margaret’s involvement; it might be tricky to send a message addressed ‘Henry Tudor, somewhere under lock and key in Brittany’. Richard, however, clearly did not suspect Margaret of involvement – John Stow probably had access to an indictment which has been lost, and the indictment clearly doesn’t mention her.
So there are doubts it must be said, but if it IS true is says something rather interesting about Margaret. Since the plan was freeing the Princes and setting them up in opposition to Richard, it suggests that her first instinct was not necessarily one of ambition for her son; and would suggest no desire on her part to get rid of the princes. It suggests indeed a revulsion specifically for Richard III, and Margaret would not be alone in that. As a general observation, it seems very hard to attribute actions of characters in history to finer feelings or morality, we tend to look for practical reasons. But whereas some would have swallowed Richard’s protestations that his brother’s marriage was illegitimate many saw it for what it was.
If Margaret was involved in this plot to free the princes, it would also square with the accommodation she had made over many years with Edward IV, where her ambition was no more than to get her son back and into society as Earl of Richmond. It may well be not only did she feel repulsed by Richard’s murderous, illegal and ruthless seizure of power, but that she felt Edward V would be much better disposed towards Henry than Richard – though I don’t suppose she could have been sure, though time would tell that Richard would much prefer Salome to get involved in this, do a quick dance of multiple veils and pop Henry Tudor’s head out on a silver dish. And if she had helped free Edward V and pop him onto the throne, he’d surely have been grateful, right?
I may be building a house of cards on this one disputed report, but if it was true it also suggests that Margaret was rather wilder, more willing to take risks, and to be brutal, less bright and more impulsive than her reputation. Seriously, a plot by 4 relatively lowly household servants doesn’t sound like a banker to me, but I have the advantage of hindsight I guess.
Richard’s reaction was to pull the Princes completely out of the public eye; their personal servants were dismissed, and Dominic Mancini reported that the Princes were no more seen in the grounds, no more came to the mariner’s hollo. It began to be assumed that the Princes were dead.
Now, we have been through all this on the history of England. We even had a debate on Richard III. But I recognise that this is an emotional debate – who killed the two Cock Robins, Edward V and his younger bro?
For this podcast episode we have but one matter to consider; was or was not. Margaret Beaufort the murderer of small children? Because I am well aware that there is a strong following for the Margaret was a manipulative, unscrupulous murderer line of thought. The argument for Margaret’s conviction runs like this I think. First of all motive – can we think of any? Well, the argument goes that with the boys out of the way, the genetic pool was beginning to look awfully shallow Yorkist wise; it might well have occurred to Margaret that Henry was now third in line, and one of those, Anne and Richard little boy Edward was terribly young and we know how common infant death was back in the 15th century do we not? And it was rumoured and even assumed that Anne could have no further children. So, bit speculative maybe, but we do know Margaret was capable of taking risks. Also, it might also be that Margaret saw this as a great way of discrediting the regime; while we are not aware of any pop up displays outside the Beaufort gaffe saying ‘have you seen these boys with this man?’ or angry articles in the daily broadsheet from ‘MB’ demanding that Richard produce the boys unharmed, we do know that the grapevine was at work, and the Princes’ deaths were widely assumed before 1483. Margaret could possibly perhaps have been one of the whisperers, though we have no evidence. Before we get too hoity toity about have speculative all this is, we know for sure Margaret wanted rid of Richard – because she plots with Buckingham to dethrone him; and she does in the end help, and see Henry onto the throne – hope that’s not a plot spoiler.
OK, then, what about means? Well, Margaret and her husband were close to the centre of power, surely they could have organised access? No so, loser, it is argued; Richard didn’t trust Stanley as far as his could throw him, and Stanley was a man in love with the pies so that’s not far. And, and, Mancini tells us the boys had been incarcerated and were heavily defended. Well, this is all we actually know:
“all the attendants who had waited upon the King [Edward V] were debarred access to him. He and his brother were withdrawn into the inner departments of the Tower proper, and day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, till at length they ceased to appear altogether.”
That doesn’t mean the dungeon had slammed. Furthermore, the Tower was a busy, bustling, working royal palace, and it’s quite possible the Princes were relatively accessible to the right people, especially if we banish the idea of the evil Richard planning their murder. As to that Stanley point, well as we know, Stanley and Richard had form, but in this new world, Richard’s palms in fact became distinctly sweaty when he considered the possibility of Stanley deserting him, so he had consistently blandished since his coronation, blandished for England. So Stanley might well have had considerable latitude.
In terms of means; well, I think it’s super unlikely that Margaret slipped a dagger underneath her wimple, cut the Princes’ throats and dipped her hands in their bloody intestine while singing the Marseillaise, but it is entirely possible that she bribed a member of the royal household – the Stanleys had a bob or two after all.
OK how are we doing? Now Margaret’s biographers, unsurprisingly, have set their face firmly against the very idea. Nicola Tallis even lets a smidge of outrage slip out
The suggestion that Margaret was in any way involved in the murder of the princes is frankly ludicrous
My Dad used those words once – the only time a member of the Leicester branch of Crowthers has appeared in the press. When asked by the Leicester Mercury about the roadworks, he said ‘the situation is ludicrous’. Gosh we were so excited and proud! The Leicester Mercury for crying out loud! Dad treated his massive and immediate fame with quiet dignity and restraint it has to be said, keeping Rudyard’s words in mind
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
And so on, you know.
Why does Nicola Tallis take this view? Well firstly, she points out that no contemporary source accused her of complicity not even Dikon of York; the first accusations don’t appear until the 17th century. Also, as far as Tallis is concerned Margaret has just been involved in a plot to free the princes – seems illogical to then plot to kill them. She then makes the point that access to the Princes must have been heavily restricted – even if not planning to kill them, they were in a very sensitive position after Richard’s coronation, he would not have wanted them to escape, or become a focus of rebellion. And finally, Tallis appeals to Margaret’s character; she had surely shown no sign whatsoever of being the kind of person who could order the death of two small boys; she was a woman of great piety at the very least, and I have always believed God doesn’t approve of killing small boys. Jones and Underwood by the way, do not even deign to mention the possibility of Margaret’s involvement, so fatuous do they consider the idea.
There is of course the alternative possibility that Margaret killed the princes after Bosworth; I have never thought the idea of the Princes surviving that long, home or abroad, very likely; and the ‘escape and living happily on a sun lounger in Barbados’ theory I have always considered to fall into the mad conspiracy theory bag.
So look, you know my opinion; I, sadly, and despite being a life long Yorkist, am of the opinion that only one of the candidates undeniably had the opportunity, the motive and means, and for me the obvious answer is the right one – namely that Richard III was a nephew murderer. I appreciate there are problems with this analysis, but it is the best fit, under the theory beloved of Sci Fi writers, Occam’s Razor, Richard wins. But for a full and frank exchange of views please visit episodes 188 to 193, don’t have a go at me, but do please come to the Facebook site and state your opinion. But please, no mention of sun loungers.
However, there can be little doubt that Margaret was unhappy with Richard’s reign; whether she was thinking of her son as king, or just as the Earl of Richmond. And equally there is no doubt that for once, Margaret was in the mood for rebellion, and was at the centre of the web in plot spinning. She’d spotted Richard’s weak spot and it was in ego – not Richard’s ego but in the main stay of his regime – that of the Duke of Buckingham.
You might wonder why the Duke of Buckingham would be a good target for plotting; afterall, he’d been at Richard’s side from the off, plotting scheming and all that. And when Richard rolled the ball and got a strike, Buckingham was the one that picked up the chicken and chips from the counter at the alley, richly rewarded – he could not have been more powerful without actually being king.
And yet, and yet…Buckingham was being worked on. How and why, we’ll find out next week.