The redemption of King Richard III and a new lead on the ‘Princes in the tower’

For a few centuries, King Richard III has been largely denigrated as perhaps the monarch without any merit whatsoever, even more so than bad King John… and that is saying something.

He was ugly, he was deformed, he murdered his nephews. Even when we go to the toilet, some of us have a Richard III or turd. Who else suffers this indignity? Well perhaps our current Prime Minister whose surname if used in slang perfectly sums up what some think of him!

Ever since King Richard III was discovered underneath a carpark in Leicester, a whole lot of redemption has been coming his way and the team who put together the mystery of where he had lain for 500 or so years have since been working on one of the biggest historical ‘Whodunnits’ of all time. The Princes in the Tower, presumably murdered by their wretched uncle.

Richard III
Earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

Researchers claim to have found evidence that the older boy Edward may not have been murdered, but instead secretly allowed to live on his half-brother’s land under a false name.

They have followed a trail of medieval documents to a rural Devon village, where royal Yorkist symbols have been found carved in the local church. Inside, an effigy of a mysterious man named ‘John Evans’ gazes directly at a stained glass window revealed to depict Edward V, the missing prince himself. The research suggests that Edward V and John Evans were one and the same, and that he may have even left clues inside the church for future generations to find.

The four-year “cold case investigation” called The Missing Princes Project has more than 100 lines of inquiry including the possible fate of the younger brother, Richard of Shrewsbury. The story is like something out of the Da Vinci Code where hundreds of miles from London, a ancient church in rural Devon is layered in secret symbols and clues that if deductions are correct may entirely re-write history.

The new research suggests that Edward was sent to live out his days on his half-brother’s land as long as he kept quiet, as part of a deal reached between his mother and Richard III, and later with Henry Tudor.

King Edward V and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury were aged 12 and nine when they were lodged in the Tower, in preparation for Edward’s coronation after the death of his father Edward IV.

But before the young king could be crowned the brothers were declared illegitimate. According to the narrative handed down by Tudor authorities, and popularised by William Shakespeare, their evil uncle Richard then had his young nephews quietly murdered before taking the throne for himself.

The boys were last seen playing near the Tower in the summer of 1483, and scholars have argued about their fate ever since. No conclusive evidence has ever been found of their murder apart from a contested pile of bones discovered under a Tower staircase in 1674. These lie inside an urn in Westminster Abbey, but the Queen herself has reportedly refused three times to allow scientists to analyse the remains.

What is relatively well established however is that on 1st March 1484, the princes’ mother, Elizabeth Woodville, emerged from sanctuary at Westminster with her daughters after reaching a deal with Richard III, who was made king following the death of her husband.

She then wrote to her eldest son Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, a rebel who was in France with the pretender Henry Tudor, telling him to come home as Richard had agreed to pardon him as part of the agreement. Curiously no mention was made of the Marquis’ two young half-brothers or their whereabouts.

Just two days later on 3rd March 1484, royal documents reveal that Richard sent a trusted follower named Robert Markenfield on an unknown mission from Yorkshire to the remote Devon village of Coldridge, which lay within Thomas Grey’s seized lands.

At some point afterwards, a mysterious person called John Evans arrived in the same village and was granted the titles Lord of the Manor and ‘Parker’ of the deer park behind the church, where ran 140 “beasts of the chase”. The grant does not appear in any official chancery documents, and no record has been found of Evans’ life before his arrival in Devon.

Even in the long and sometimes weird twists, turns and co-incidences of British history it seems a little strange that this John Evans was given these prestigious titles despite apparently arriving out of the blue. Perhaps Edward was sent here to live in secrecy as part of the deal that we know was agreed between Richard and his mother.

If Edward was indeed John Evans, then he kept quiet for years until around 1511, when he built his own chantry at the local St Matthew’s church, which looks much the same today as it did 511 years ago. Laden with symbolism and hidden meaning, it is here that the researchers claim Evans left multiple clues to his true identity.

The chantry was usually intended for prayers to speed the donor’s soul through purgatory and onwards to heaven. But the Evans chantry is instead overlooked by a politically-charged stained glass window depicting a saint-like Edward V, the deposed boy king thought to have been murdered 26 years earlier.

Only two other glass portraits of Edward are thought to exist, including one in the royal window of Canterbury Cathedral. This raises the question why is there a royal portrait of Edward V in a parish church which in the bigger scheme of things is pretty much in the middle of nowhere? Could the mysterious John Evans be leaving us clues about his true heritage?

Above Edward’s head floats a large crown, with the Yorkist Falcon and Fetterlock motif carried by Edward’s grandfather, the Duke of York, at its centre. This large crown may have originally been over a royal coat of arms in the larger chancel window, researchers believe.

A closer look reveals that the ermine lining is dotted with pictures of 41 tiny deer. According to an inscription on the prayer desks, Evans built the chantry in 1511 when the real Edward V would have been 41 years old.

In the corner of the window a small second face appears, more tightly drawn, as if from life. The unknown man is holding a royal crown rather than wearing it, with a scar apparently drawn on his chin.

John Evans’ effigy, wearing chainmail and gazing with a tilted head directly at the window above, appears to bear the same scar.

Is this a second portrait on the same window of Edward V, but living in hiding as John Evans? Carrying the crown may symbolise that Edward was king, but only briefly. Was he the king crowned in Dublin two years after Richard’s death? We know that his real name was said to be John.

More possible clues can be found on the tomb itself. The name ‘John Evans’ is incorrectly spelt EVAS. Closer inspection reveals that a final letter was perhaps snapped off by vandals and that it may once have said EVASA with EV standing for ‘Edward V’ and AS perhaps referring to “asa”, the Latin for “in sanctuary”. It would seem strange for such a tomb not to have the residents name spelt correctly!

Below the inscription, a medieval scrawl appears to show the inverted word KING. Nine carved lines beneath may symbolise 1509, the year that Henry VII died and Edward V could have reclaimed the throne if matters had been resolved.

Symbols linking the church to the House of York have been found surrounding the tomb and throughout the building. Rose of York motifs have been discovered in the floor tiles, while Yorkist emblems known as the Sunne in Splendour have been repeatedly carved into the wooden roof, the symbol of Edward’s father, Edward IV. Other hidden symbols include an upside-down picture of a Tudor woman with a snake-like tongue, perhaps a slur on Henry Tudor’s powerful mother Margaret Beaufort.

All of this suggests that someone of significantly greater stature than might be expected for a remote and at the time inaccessible church was here, and almost as far away from the political manoeuvrings in London as would have been possible at the time.

Last year a woman with a familial link to the princes was identified through their maternal line. However, proving the Evans theory through DNA analysis may prove difficult because the tomb is empty! The best hopes are that he skeleton was reburied under the church floor.

The research is continuing but perhaps it is beginning to look like the most maligned king in history was perhaps the worst treated by those that wrote that history. It is said that history is written by the victors and one doesn’t lose more blatantly than being hurriedly buried by friends fleeing from a battle in defeat.

 

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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