The Princes in the Tower: history’s greatest cold case solved?

Philippa Langley, the amateur historian who discovered the remains of Richard III (1452-1485) beneath a Leicester car park in 2012, has uncovered new evidence that could potentially exonerate King Richard with the murder of his two nephews – the renowned Princes in the Tower.

Today, the belief that the princes’ uncle and would-be-king played a role in their deaths is well-entrenched in public opinion. Langley, a passionate advocate for Richard, aims to untangle the dead King from nearly-500 years of what she considers strategic “Tudor propaganda”.

Who were the Princes in the Tower?

Edward V and Richard, Duke of York were the sons of Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville. Both boys disappeared from the Tower of London sometime during 1483-4, where they had been installed in preparation for young Edward’s coronation.

While in the Tower, the soon-to-be crowned King and his younger brother were declared illegitimate by an act of Parliament, and were therefore ineligible to succeed to the throne. As next in line, their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was crowned King Richard III of England on 6 July 1483.

The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1483 by Sir John Everett Millais

Following Richard’s ascension to the throne, the boys mysteriously disappeared from the Tower, where they were last seen alive in the autumn of 1483. Rumours of their death began to spread – as did the enduring legend that they were murdered on Richard’s orders.

But in Langley’s newest book, the Princes in the Tower, the findings of a compelling new research initiative – “The Missing Princes Project” – may turn that idea on its head.

The Missing Princes Project

The findings of Philippa Langley’s “Missing Princes Project”, which involved a team 300-strong and spanned over a decade, has been described as:

… a Cold Case History investigation employing the same principles and practices as a modern police investigation, and this is what is new. It is not an academic study or exercise although it does naturally involve the examination of all contemporary and near contemporary source material, but it is in its intelligence gathering and modern investigative methodology that offers an exciting opportunity and a new 360-degree approach in terms of this abiding mystery.

Philippa Langley

The findings of the project indicate that Edward and Richard not only survived their uncle’s reign (1483-5) but lived to launch failed rebellions to depose the Tudors under the aliases Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck.

Employing cold-case investigative techniques, Langley scoured archives from Britain, America, and across the European continent to discover four ‘astonishing documents’ suggesting that the princes, aged 12 and nine when they mysteriously disappeared, were not murdered, but exiled.

Among these remarkable findings was a document discovered in an archive in Dresden, Germany, described as a pledge from Edward IV’s younger son, Richard of Shrewsbury, to pay 30,000 florins (equivalent to more than £2 million in today’s currency) to Albert of Saxony.

Another document, dated to 1493 and allegedly offering a firsthand account from Richard, was located by Langley’s team in Holland. If authentic, the find is nothing short of extraordinary.

Richard III (1452-1485)

In an interview with The Sun, Langley declared the case of the Princes in the Tower a “540-year-old mystery solved.” As for the skeletons of the two children discovered buried beneath the Tower and long purported to belong to the missing pair, Langley believes that they were likely ancient burials dating back to the Iron Age.

Too good to be true?

But not all interested in the mystery believe that it is, in fact, cracked.

Judge Rob Rinder, a criminal barrister with more than 20 years of legal experience, initially viewed the evidence as a “smoking gun”, and strongly considered the documents to be forgeries. Nathen Amin, a renowned historian and author specializing in the reign of Henry VII, took to Twitter to discuss potential gaps in the team’s discoveries (while also giving props to Langley’s remarkable finds).

However, Matthew Lewis, a medieval historian and chair of the Richard III Society, contends that there is now “documentary evidence” to indicate that the princely pair was not murdered by Richard III, but rather managed to survive. He calls Langley’s discovery “incredibly exciting.”

Philippa Langley and Judge Rob Rinder team up in Channel 4’s “Princes in the Tower”

Interested in learning more about the Missing Princes Project? Dive into Langley’s latest book or catch the recent Channel 4 “Princes in the Tower” documentary.

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