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Solving the mystery of the Princes in the Tower

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Following seven years of investigation and intelligence gathering, including archival searches around the world, Phase One of The Missing Princes Project is complete.

The evidence uncovered suggests that both sons of Edward IV survived to fight for the English throne against Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch. Henry attempted to cast the Yorkist Princes as imposters by giving them false names: Edward V became a 10 year old boy called ‘Lambert Simnel’, the son of a joiner, tailor, baker or shoemaker, and Richard of York became ‘Perkin Warbeck’, the son of a French boatman.

What was the influence and catalyst for The Missing Princes Project?

The project was influenced by the Looking for Richard Project (2005-2015) and the importance of evidenced-based research. The catalyst for this new project was a full-page article during reburial week. The headline read: ‘It’s mad to make this child killer a national hero’. It reiterated a lot of the traditional narrative which might, of course, have been true but it didn’t cite any evidence. As I headed home from Leicester after the reburial, it was clear I needed to undertake another evidence-based project.

What is the value of employing police investigative methodology?

It teaches us the importance of forensic techniques when studying history, to cross-reference and cross-check everything; to follow the money and the law to uncover the truth - the day-to-day administrative records not meant for public consumption; to search; to eliminate hindsight and conscious bias and to always work in the present (your subject’s present); to build extensive timelines and person of interest files, and to refrain from closing off, disregarding or ignoring any potential lines of investigation due to personal opinion or pre-judgement or because famous writers have done so in the past. Park all of that; start with a clean sheet, be your own boss and above all - question, question, question. To continually question is the biggest take away.

What did the project’s investigative specialists advise?

Firstly, ‘follow the money and the law’ and examine all day-to-day administrative records, this is where truth will be found. Secondly, look at everything; you can’t prejudge or cut off any lines of investigation. And thirdly, discard all traces of hindsight, begin with a clean sheet and live at all times in the present – their present, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Create timelines and person of interest files. Cross check and cross-reference everything.

What are the project’s four headline discoveries?

These are, firstly, the product of intelligence gathering and forensic investigation of contemporary records undertaken over a four year period to 2019. And secondly, archival evidence uncovered when the project was extended into the reign of Henry VII.

Discovery 1: Forensic investigation of all records dating to the reign of Richard III revealed no evidence of the death of Edward V or Richard, Duke of York. Both individuals are referenced as alive in all existing day-to-day accounting and legal records.

Discovery 2: Forensic investigation of all materials relating to the Battle of Bosworth (22 August 1485) revealed that the story of the murder of the Princes originated in England with the arrival of Henry Tudor and his French invasion force. Following the victory of Tudor’s forces (and death of King Richard in battle), and the interrogation of Yorkist/Ricardian prisoners, Henry delayed his march to London in order to conduct searches for the Princes in the north of England.

Discovery 3: Edward V: Proof of Life (aged 17). In May 2020, Albert Jan de Rooij of the Dutch Research Group discovered in the archive of Lille in France a receipt belonging to King Maximilian I dated 16 December 1487 and referencing Margaret of Burgundy (Edward’s aunt). The receipt is signed by three leading members of Maximilian’s court and records the king’s collection of, and payment for, 400 pikes (weapons for elite troops). The weapons had been collected by Maximilian in June of that year. The receipt states that the weapons were: ‘to serve her nephew – son of King Edward, late her brother (may God save his soul), [who was] expelled from his dominion.’ Four of the receipts details confirm the weapons were for Edward V. He was the nephew of Margaret of Burgundy, the son of King Edward (IV), the right age to lead an army and fight in battle (16), and had been ‘expelled from his dominion’ (to the Channel Islands). The Lille receipt also suggests that Edward V was alive, or thought to be alive, in December 1487 (age 17). This was after the Battle of Stoke on 16 June 1487.

Discovery 4: Richard, Duke of York: Proof of Life (aged 20), 1493. In November 2020, Nathalie Nijman-Bliekendaal of the Dutch Research Group rediscovered a four page, semi-legal manuscript in the Gelderland archive, in Arnhem in the Netherlands. It is a witness statement written in the first person and records Richard, Duke of York’s story from the point at which he left sanctuary in Westminster in London as a 9 year-old boy in 1483, to his arrival at the court of his aunt, Margaret of York, in Burgundy in 1493. The witness statement provides extensive detail.

How did you authenticate and interrogate these key discoveries – i.e., why are they proofs of life?

Each discovery was interrogated in three parts, providing three reasons for a firm attribution of authenticity:
First, these are archival discoveries so had been previously authenticated by the relevant archives.
Second, they were re-checked by the archive’s specialists when alerted to their potential importance. Third, they were checked once again by the documentary filmmakers (including a number of historians) who then engaged independent specialists to confirm their authenticity. These included Professor Henrike Lähnemann and Dr Janina Ramirez, and two leading international specialists for the Gelderland manuscript – one in Europe, and Dr Andrew Dunning, Curator of Medieval Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library.

Can this methodology change how we study and research history?

Yes, undoubtedly. If cold case methodology had been applied to this mystery through the centuries, there would have been no need for The Missing Princes Project.
With the totality of evidences presented and the mystery solved, a reassessment of two dynasties – York and Tudor – through the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, is an exciting next step. These new discoveries have changed what we know about both monarchs. We look forward to what the young historians of today will discover tomorrow.

Were there any key moments?

The publication of a new edition of Domenico Mancini in which the conscious bias of the original 1936 translation had been removed. For more on this important work see here. For anyone studying this period of history, this new translation is a must-read.

What next for The Missing Princes Project?

Although the completion of Phase One means that so many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle surrounding this centuries-old mystery are now in place, our work nevertheless continues to search archives around the world, to gather intelligence and, through evidence-based research, tell the remarkable stories of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. In the future we may be able to discover the final resting places of both Princes, thereby honouring them and their fight for the throne of England against the first Tudor monarch.

Finally, the debate about the fate of the Princes in the Tower is so embedded in peoples’ psyche that some may not believe or agree with the evidence laid out in the book and documentary – what would you say to those people?
I absolutely understand this view, change is difficult. Before Richard III was discovered, everyone thought his remains had been thrown into the river because of a later rumour, hearsay and gossip, but now we do not believe that story.
Evidence-based research enables people to hold an informed opinion, and if you have an opinion that contradicts the evidence, you have to ask yourself why.

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