Few men wielded as much influence over the young Henry VIII as Sir Thomas More his educator, confidante and friend. It was a relationship that developed over time benefitting both men with Sir Thomas rising in status from a practitioner of law to become a member of the King’s Privy Councillor and eventually Lord Chancellor. Henry meanwhile, basked in the reflected glory of a man renowned across Europe as an enlightened thinker, a social reformer, and the author of Utopia.
The fledgling Tudor Dynasty needed men like Thomas More to lend it legitimacy and he was happy to comply doing so unequivocally and with enthusiasm. In 1517 he began writing his History of King Richard III, the book upon which Shakespeare largely based his play of a similar name. In it Sir Thomas provides a detailed account of the fate that befell the sons of Edward VII that paved the way for Richard’s usurpation of the throne. Written just thirty years after the events he describes some of those named were still alive or had died only recently so he had an access to evidence denied us now, and he was known for being an honest man. Even so, his account has to be tempered by the fact the book is intended as a work of Tudor propaganda.
According to Sir Thomas it was King Richard himself who ordered that the Constable of the Tower of London hand over the keys to the chamber where the Princes were being held to Sir James Tyrell who would then settle the matter to his satisfaction.
Sir James Tyrell devised that they should be murdered in their beds. To the execution whereof, he appointed Myles Forest, one of the four that kept them, a fellow hardened in murder before that time. To him he joined one John Dighton, his own housekeeper, a big, broad, square strong knave. Then all the others being removed from them, this Myles Forest and John Dighton about midnight (the innocent children lying in their beds) came into the chamber and suddenly lapped them up among the bedclothes – so be-wrapped them and entangled them, keeping down by force the featherbed and pillows hard unto their mouths, that within a while, smothered and stifled, their breath failing, they gave to God their innocent souls into the joys of heaven, leaving to the tormentors their bodies dead in the bed.
Which after that the wretches perceived, first by struggling with the pains of death, and after long lying still, to be thoroughly dead, they lay their bodies naked out upon the bed, and fetched Sir James to see them. Who upon the sight of them caused those murderers to bury them at the stair foot, suitably deep in the ground, under a great heap of stones.
Then rode Sir James in great haste to King Richard and showed him all the manner of the murder, who gave them great thanks and, as some say, there made him a knight. But he allowed not, as I have heard, the burying in so vile a corner, saying that he would have them buried in a better place because they were a king’s sons. Lo, the honourable nature of a king! Whereupon they say that a priest of Sir Robert Brackenbury took up the bodies again and secretly buried them in a place that only he knew and that, by the occasion of his death, could never come to light.
Very truth it is , and well known, that at time such s Sir James Tyrell was in the Tower – for treason committed against the most famous prince, King Henry VII – both Dighton and he were examined and confessed the murder in the manner above written, but to where the bodies were removed, they could nothing tell. And thus, as I have learned of them that much knew and little cause had to lie, were these two noble princes – these innocent, tender children born of most royal blood, brought up in great wealth, likely long to live, to reign, and rule in the realm – by traitorous tyranny taken, deprived of their estate, swiftly shut up in prison, and privately slain and murdered, their bodies cast as God knows where by the cruel ambition of their unnatural uncle and his merciless tormentors.