Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
The Murder of the Little Princes in the Tower
By Raphael Holinshed (c. 15151573)
KING RICHARD after his coronation, taking his way to Gloucester to visit (in his new honour) the town of which he bare the name of his old, devised (as he rode) to fulfil the things which he before had intended. And forsomuch that his mind gave him, that his nephews living, men would not reckon that he could have right to the realm; he thought therefore without delay to rid them, as though the killing of his kinsmen could amend his cause and make him a kindly king. Whereupon he sent one Sir John Greene (whom he specially trusted) to Sir Robert Brackenbury, Constable of the Tower, with a letter and credence also, that the same Sir Robert should in any wise put the two children to death.
Sir John Greene did his errand unto Brackenbury, kneeling before our Lady in the Tower, who plainly answered that he would never put them to death to die therefore. With which answer John Greene returning, recounted the same to King Richard at Warwick yet in his way. Wherewith he took such displeasure and thought, that the same night he said unto a secret page of his: Ah, whom shall a man trust? Those that I have brought up myself, those that I had weened would most surely serve me, even those fail me, and at my commandment will do nothing for me.
Sir (said his page), there lieth one on your pallet without, that I dare well say, to do your Grace pleasure, the thing were right hard that he would refuse. Meaning this by Sir James Tirrell, which was a man of right goodly personage, and for natures gifts worthy to have served a much better prince, if he had well served God, and by grace obtained as much truth and goodwill as he had strength and wit.
The man had a high heart, and sore longed upwards, not rising yet so fast as he had hoped, being hindered and kept under by the means of Sir Richard Ratcliffe and Sir William Catesby, which longing for no more partners of the princes favour; and namely, not for him whose pride they wist would bear no peer, kept him by secret drifts out of all secret trust, which thing this page well had marked and known. Wherefore, this occasion offered of very special friendship, he took his time to put him forward, and by such wise do him good that all the enemies he had (except the devil) could never have done him so much hurt. For upon this pages words King Richard arose (for this communication had he sitting apart in his own chamber) and came out into the pallet chamber, on which he found in bed Sir James and Sir Thomas Tirrells, of person like, and brethren in blood, but nothing akin in conditions.
Then said the King merrily to them: What, Sirs, be ye in bed so soon? and, calling up Sir James, brake to him secretly his mind in this mischievous matter. In which he found him nothing strange. Wherefore on the morrow he sent him to Brackenbury with a letter, by which he was commanded to deliver Sir James all the keys of the Tower for one night, to the end he might there accomplish the kings pleasure in such things as he had given him commandment. After which letter delivered, and the keys received, Sir James appointed the night next ensuing to destroy them, devising before and preparing the means. The prince (as soon as the Protector left that name and took himself as King) had it showed unto him that he should not reign, but his uncle should have the crown. At which word the prince sore abashed began to sigh, and said: Alas, I would my uncle would let me have my life yet, though I lose my kingdom.
Then he that told him the tale, used him with good words, and put him in the best comfort he could. But forthwith was the prince and his brother both shut up, and all other removed from them, only one (called Black Will or William Slaughter) excepted, set to serve them and see them sure. After which time the prince never tied his points nor aught wrought of himself, but, with that young babe his brother, lingered with thought and heaviness, until this traitorous death delivered them of that wretchedness. For Sir James Tirrell devised that they should be murdered in their beds. To the execution whereof he appointed Miles Forrest, one of the four that kept them, a fellow fleshed in murder before time. To him he joined one John Dighton, his own horse-keeper, a big, broad, square, and strong knave.
Then all the other being removed from them, this Miles Forrest and John Dighton, about midnight (the seely children lying in their beds) came to the chamber, and suddenly lapping them up among the clothes, so too bewrapped them and entangled them, keeping down by force the feather bed and pillows hard unto their mouths, that within a while, smothered and stifled, their breath failing, they gave up 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 the struggling with the pains of death, and after long lying still to be thoroughly dead, they laid their bodies naked out upon the bed, and fetched Sir James to see them; which upon the sight of them caused those murderers to bury them at the stair-foot, meetly deep in the ground, under a great heap of stones.
Then rode Sir James in great haste to King Richard, and shewed him all the manner of the murder; who gave him great thanks and (as some say) there made him 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 kings sons. Lo, the honourable courage of a King! Whereupon they say that a priest of Sir Robert Brackenburys took up the bodies again and secretly enterred them in such place as, by the occasion of his death which only knew it, could never since come to light. Very truth is it and well known, that at such time as Sir James Tirrell was in the Tower for treason committed against the most famous prince King Henry the Seventh, both Dighton and he were examined and confessed the murder in manner above written, but whither the bodies were removed they could nothing tell.
And thus (as I have learned of them that must know 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, reign, and rule in the realm, by traitorous tyranny taken, deprived of their estate, shortly shut up in prison and privily slain and murdered, their bodies cast God wot where, by the cruel ambition of their unnatural uncle and his despiteous tormentors, which things on every part well pondered, God never gave this world a more notable example, neither in what unsurety standeth this worldly weal; or what mischief worketh the proud enterprise of an high heart; or finally what wretched end ensueth such despiteous cruelty.
For first, to begin with the ministers, Miles Forrest at St. Martins piece-meal rotted away. Dighton indeed yet walketh on alive, in good possibility to be hanged yet ere he die. But Sir James Tirrell died at the Tower Hill, beheaded for treason. King Richard himself, as ye shall hereafter hear, slain in the field, hacked and hewed of his enemies hands,1 harried on horseback dead, his hair in despite torn and tugged like a cur dog; and the mischief that he took within less than three years of the mischief that he did; and yet all (in the meantime) spent in much pain and trouble outward, much fear, anguish, and sorrow within . He never thought himself sure. Where he went abroad his eyes whirled about, his body privily fenced, his hand ever upon his dagger, his countenance and manner like one always ready to strike again, he took ill rest o nights, lay long waking and musing, sore wearied with care and watch, rather slumbered than slept, much troubled with fearful dreams, suddenly sometimes start up, leapt out of his bed and ran about the chamber; so was his restless heart continually tossed and tumbled with the tedious impression and stormy remembrance of his abominable deeds.