BY: SERENA YPELAAR
We’ve heard it said time and time again: history is written by the "victors". Those in power are at liberty to shape public perceptions and historical narratives. King Richard III of England's notoriously poor reputation is a prime example of the power of public memory. Richard III is infamous for the alleged murder of his young nephews in the Tower of London, and the unsolved mystery of their disappearance poses an interpretive challenge in the absence of hard evidence.
|Late 16th century portrait of King Richard III|
by an unknown artist, housed in the National
Portrait Gallery of London.
In 1485, only two years after his ascent to the throne, Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field, effectively ending the Wars of the Roses. Richard the Yorkist was succeeded by his Lancastrian enemy Henry Tudor (later crowned Henry VII) and was buried without ceremony.
To legitimize their claim to the throne, the Tudors engaged in a smear campaign against Richard III, and Tudor propaganda succeeded in tarnishing his character. Richard III’s reputation for unmatched tyranny has endured throughout the centuries, thanks in no small part to William Shakespeare’s ungenerous portrayal of the last Plantagenet king in his play Richard III.
While one Richard III mystery was solved in 2013 when the bones discovered under a Leicester car park were confirmed as Richard’s, another question still lingers: what really happened to his nephews, Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury?
|Paul Delaroche, The Death of the Sons of King Edward in the|
Tower (1830). This painting is currently at the Louvre in Paris.
Evidence against Richard III is circumstantial at best, and there is no proof that the boys were indeed murdered. The Church of England has not permitted DNA testing of the skeletons to concretely identify them as the sons of Edward IV (though this test would not prove cause of death). Historian Philippa Langley, who spearheaded the Looking For Richard project that resulted in the discovery of his remains in Leicester, hopes to solve the mystery of the princes with the help of cold case investigators. In this case, however, a concrete verdict may be unattainable. As Richard was away from court when the boys disappeared, confirming his involvement is extremely difficult. There is no evidence to prove that he ordered someone (such as courtier Sir James Tyrrell) to kill his nephews, though the possibility remains.
|When giving tours, Yeoman Warders draw upon their storytelling skills to share stories of the Tower|
of London's history. In the case of the Princes in the Tower, an age-old mystery, the details are murky. Source.
Without tangible evidence to prove whether Richard III murdered his nephews, interpreting the legend of the Princes in the Tower remains complex and limiting. Will we ever find out what really happened? Maybe. But ultimately, visitors continue to engage with the story partially because the truth is uncertain: the search for answers is often the most compelling part of the experience.