Dec 31, 2021 I Paul Seaburn

Shakespeare Wrong? New Evidence Shows Richard III May Not Have Killed the Princes in the Tower

If William Shakespeare were a modern screenwriter, the director of “Richard III” would be calling him in for a rewrite after hearing the news that the real Richard III didn’t declare his young nephews illegitimate (thus making them ineligible to succeed their father Edward IV), lock in the Tower of London and have them murdered so he could take the throne. Without that key plot twist, it’s not much of a story/play/movie, but that’s what a group called The Missing Princes Project has revealed after evidence collected during four years of research strongly suggests Richard III cut a deal with their mother Elizabeth Woodville to let them live as long as they did it in secrecy and never revealed their existence. THAT sounds like a much better plot anyway … but is it true?

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

For those unfamiliar with the story/play/movie, after Edward IV of England died in 1483, his brother Richard arranged for the brothers to be declared illegitimate and the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville invalid because of Edward's pre-contract of marriage with Lady Eleanor Butler. The young princes Edward and Richard, ages 12 and 9 respectively, were locked in the Tower and never seen again, leading many to believe Richard III had them murdered. While there were other theories, this one seemed to be supported by the discovery in 1674 of a wooden box containing two small human skeletons – while their identity has never been proven, they’re buried in Westminster Abbey.

STC 22314, title page

So, what did The Missing Princes Project find that everyone else missed? Philippa Langley, the historian who helped find the remains of Richard III under a Leicester car park in 2012, also leads The Missing Princes Project and she followed a lead – medieval documents, to be precise -- from the car park to Coldridge, where royal Yorkist symbols are carved in St Matthew's church. Langley says there are a number of clues at St. Matthew suggesting the boys were spared and Edward V lived in this area under the name 'John Evans'. Those clues include:

  • An effigy of John Evans with a scar on the chin, matching a similar image of a face that holds a crown in the stained glass window of Edward V.
  • A giant crown with 41 small deer inside, floating above a depiction of Edward V in stained glass. John Evans was ‘Parker’ of the deer estate in Coldridge.
  • On the empty tomb of John Evan’s there is a shield that includes the name John EVAS, which could be a clue to Edward V (EV) and asa (AS), Latin for in sanctuary.
  • A tiny symbol is carved in the ceiling of St Matthew's Church that depicts part of the Sunne in Splendour, a symbol of the House of York linked to the princes.
  • Three carvings showing a Tudor woman with a snake-like tongue, possibly depicting a slur against the mother of Henry Tudor.
  • (More clues and photos of them can be found here.)

Could John Evans be Edward V? There are documents from 1484 showing Richard III sent a follower from Yorkshire to Coldridge in Devon. Soon after, John Evans suddenly appeared in the village, and was given the title Lord of the Manor and later Parker of the deer park – despite having no history which shows why he qualified for such prestigious positions. Evans was rich enough to build a chantry (chapel) at St. Matthew which seems to honor him in a somewhat royal way. Perhaps the biggest clue is a stained-glass depiction of Edward V with a huge crown above his head decorated with pictures of 41 tiny deer -- Edward V would have been 41 years old when the chantry was built in 1511 and John Evans was the deer ‘Parker’.

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Does this let Richard III off the hook?

While the new life of Richard III and Edward V – which is still theoretical -- may make a good movie, the search for the truth also sounds like a familiar one, according to John Dike, lead researcher on the project.

“With all the secret symbols and clues, it sounds somewhat like the Da Vinci Code. But the discoveries inside this church in the middle of nowhere are extraordinary.”

Who would be the best choice to write the new script for “Richard III” – Will Shakespeare or Dan Brown?

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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