Having thus satisfied all the
conditions of a good tale, historians pass on to the second reign of king
Edward IV with all its intrigues without bothering to examine any further the
circumstances of the supposed murder. If a modern police force investigated a
suspicious death in this way, without properly looking into the motives of all
those involved in it, we would be calling for resignations, but some
historians, it seems, feel themselves free to jump to a hasty conclusion and "prove" it
by ignoring inconvenient facts and presenting contrived evidence to suit. The
chief suspect, king Edward IV, certainly had "previous" – as a warrior king he
consolidated his victory after Tewksbury by having those Lancastrian leaders he
caught summarily dispatched, and what is more, it was his brother, Richard of
Gloucester who presided at their hurried trials before ordering their deaths.
Do we have him “bang to rights?” It is rather like one of those old-fashioned
whodunnits where a clumsy police inspector promptly arrests the wrong man while
the private detective, with obvious logic, manages to turn up the real villain.
Let us look at the curious circumstances of the
death. The following day after the announcement of his death, king Henry’s body
is brought to St Paul’s in London to lie openly in his coffin in respectful state
so that the populace can see it is actually him. Henry had been king of England
from the age of eight months after the death of his father king Henry V in 1422
and he became king of France two months later upon the death of his grandfather
Charles VI. Deposed by Edward IV in 1461, he was placed on the throne again for
a few months in 1470 until Edward’s victory at Barnet in 1471 when he was
placed in the Tower of London. By this time he was 51 years of age, physically
and mentally sick and incapable of making his own decisions. When brought
through London, he was so ill and weak he had to be tied to his horse to
prevent him falling off.
The official version issued at the time tells us
that Henry died of grief when presented with the news of his lost cause, the
imprisonment of his queen and the death of his son. Having lain in state in St.
Pauls overnight, the chest containing Henry’s body was moved to convey it to
Blackfriars where it would lie for a further day. When the chest was moved,
however, fresh blood was discovered on the ground under it. Medieval
superstition supposed that a body, which had been murdered violently would
bleed afresh to betray the crime and here was the proof. It happened again the
next day when the body was moved to convey the king to his internment at
This should be enough to provoke a reasonable
suspicion that there was some sort of trickery at work. First we are asked to
believe Edward had Henry murdered, not quietly and discreetly, but violently
such that he would bleed profusely the following day, his blood soaking through
his funeral vestments, the lining of the coffin and then drip onto the floor
beneath. This after he had announced the cause of death as a seizure brought on
by grief. His assumed stupidity is compounded by his failure to clear the blood
away and then let it happen again the following day, though two days after
death when any blood in the body would have congealed. It is not difficult to
work out that the remaining Lancastrian faction in London, having been defeated
in battle, was now embarking on a scheme to blacken the character of king
Edward at the beginning of his reign. The king would have understood this very
well and his suspicions would have been provoked too. Let us look at another
scenario, the one that probably came into Edward’s mind when he heard of king
Henry’s death in the Tower.
King Henry died of a seizure, as stated above. This
should surprise nobody; a man in his condition, elderly and already in a
weakened state could hardly expect a new lease of life at the news of the
Lancastrian defeat, his queen's capture and his son’s death.
King Edward was at Westminster celebrating his victory at the battle of Tewkesbury
when the news of Henry’s death was brought to him.
Immediately he would have seen how a “death in custody” would reflect badly on
him, making it unlikely he would have contemplated the murder at that time. All
Edward had to do was to wait for Henry to die naturally; why blacken his own
name when there was no point in doing so? Edward had no compelling motive to kill
him, but others certainly did.
Edward would have no problem recognising the true
suspects in the case, the Lancastrians themselves. Henry, being already close
to death, was in no condition ever again to lead an army or produce an heir.
There was one last thing he could do for his cause though: he could die for it!
For the Lancastrians, disposing of Henry would clear
the way for a fresh claimant and if this could be accomplished while heaping
opprobrium upon Edward then so much the better. Realising this possibility, the
king did the natural thing. He sent Richard of Gloucester hotfoot to the Tower,
not to murder the old king, but to determine whether someone else had. Having
examined the body Gloucester returned to the king, after which the announcement
of Henry’s death was made. The Lancastrians now saw the opportunity to enmesh
Richard of Gloucester in the scheme too, and promptly look it. So we have the
seemingly damning evidence of Gloucester entering the Tower and the
announcement of Henry having died after he left. Though the Lancastrians had
the greatest motive for murder, historians habitually ignore them entirely,
being content to let stand the superficial and obviously contrived evidence against
Those who are determined, however, to insist
on Henry having been murdered violently, may still have their opinion confirmed
without placing the blame wrongly. The primary suspects must be the Lancastrians who,
in order to blacken the name of king Edward would indeed need to use visible violence.
Perhaps this is what Richard of Gloucester reported to the king after he examined the body.
King Edward would have seen immediately the danger to his reputation
and could have fabricated the idea of death by natural causes
rather than play into their hands by publicly displaying a bleeding corpse.
The probability is that Henry VI died as stated by
the Tower authorities at the time. There is no evidence of foul play at all.
The ridiculous blood-under-the-coffin trick tells us that the Lancastrians were
quick to take advantage of Henry’s death to discomfit their victorious enemy.
If anything, it disproves a violent death. Common sense should tell us
seeing as the king intended to announce Henry had died of natural causes then
put his body on public view, he was not likely to have him beaten about the
head with a club, stycked with a dagger or use any other visible means
when a simple suffocation of a sick old man would do the business. Of course,
king Edward might have done this, but the pantomime of the blood mitigates against
it and points the finger directly at the bitterly defeated Lancastrians.
Here is a link
to the Richard III Society Web Site.