The Lost Princes & Tyrion’s Escape from the Tower

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Tyrion’s flight from the tower faintly reinforces George RR Martin’s Princes in the Tower theme. Tyrion, as the son of the duke-like Tywin, could be considered a prince. When Tyrion escapes from the dungeon, it mirrors the hypothetical escape of the princes in the Tower of London. [This article is the latest installment of  the Princes in the Tower series. It picks up on a theme in an article Olga Hughes wrote that discusses how Martin plays with the idea of the princes’ missing bodies.]

Over the centuries, people have suggested many murderers of the Princes in the Tower, including Richard III, Margaret Beaufort, the Duke of Buckingham, and even Sir James Tyrrell, whom Henry VII executed for the crime in 1502. It isn’t clear, however, if the princes were actually murdered. In fact, some historians believed at least one of Edward IV’s sons escaped.

Although the Edward IV’s sons are immortalized in history as the murdered Princes in the Tower, they are actually the Lost Princes in the Tower: nobody knows what became of them to this day. Describing them as the murdered princes in the tower is a misnomer. While they are presumed murdered, the only fact that’s known about their fate is that history lost track of it.

This article looks at the theory the Princes in the Tower may have lived and the connection with Tyrion’s escape from the dungeons at King’s Landing.

The Princes May Not Have Been Murdered

In the turbulent days after Edward IV’s death, the future Richard III [hereafter Gloucester] seized custody of the rightful king Edward V, who was only still a boy. Meanwhile, the dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, learned Gloucester had arrested her brother Anthony and a son from her first marriage. Fearing for her life, she fled into sanctuary at Westminster with her children.

Determined to gain possession of the late Edward IV’s second heir –  Richard claimed the young prince Richard should be with his brother for his coronation. Richard surrounded Westminster with soldiers and pressured Elizabeth to give him her other son. Under pressure from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Elizabeth caved and surrendered Richard of Shrewsbury to Gloucester’s custody. Or, so people believed.

Richard_of_York_leaving_Elizabeth_Woodville_Sanctuary

Richard of Shrewsbury, in the Westminster sanctuary, leaving his mother, Elizabeth Woodville. Artist:  Giovanni Battista Ciaprini (1727–1785).

After Richard incarcerated both princes within the Tower, they vanished. This does not necessarily mean Richard – or anyone else — killed them. The only thing that’s known for certain about the younger prince Richard’s fate is that during the summer of 1483 contemporaries saw the princes on the Tower green shooting arrows at the butts. Soon thereafter the boys didn’t go outside anymore: although, they were seen behind a Tower window. By autumn 1483, the princes were seen no more.

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A recreation of the Tower of London that is close to how it would have looked in the Middle Ages. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Although its widely believed the princes were murdered, no bodies were found at the time. Some people believe that Elizabeth Woodville never turned her son Richard over to Gloucester – she substituted a common boy, a changeling. Incidentally, the “changeling” is  another of George RR Martin’s key themes.

 jon-watchers-wall gendry-face
Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie) are a couple of examples of “changelings,” boys potentially swapped at birth. Images: © HBO.

**

In one theory of events, after fleeing into sanctuary, a cautious Elizabeth Woodville sends her youngest son (Richard) to Flanders (in modern-day Belgium) and turns over a common boy to Richard III instead. Some people believe that the young Richard of Shrewsbury lived in secret in Flanders and possibly grew up to become the (alleged) pretender to the throne, “Perkin Warbeck.”

If Richard did escape from becoming imprisoned in the Tower (or even imprisonment in the Tower), like Tyrion, he may have escaped abroad in a ship.

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Varys watches as they load Tyrion, hidden in a crate, on to the ship destined for abroad. Image: © HBO

Perkin Warbeck: the Escaped Prince in the Tower?

In 1490, a man recorded in history as “Perkin Warbeck” arrived at the Burgundian court claiming to be Richard of Shrewsbury. He recounted that his brother Edward V had been murdered. The killers, however, spared “Perkin” due to his youth and “innocence” in exchange for an oath that he would not reveal his real identity for a specific period of time.

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Perkin Warbeck: the man who may have actually been Edward IV’s lost second son, Richard of Shrewsbury.

According to “Perkin,” from 1483-1490, he lived in Europe under the protection of Sir Edward Brampton, a fascinating Portuguese-English merchant and brilliant naval commander. Brampton was the first Jew ever knighted. He converted from Judaism, consequently became Edward IV’s godson, and appears to have been highly trusted by the king.1. As Perkin told the court, he was left to his own devices after Brampton returned to England.

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Similar to Richard of Shrewsbury’s hypothetical escape in which the knight Sir Edward Brampton may have helped the prince escape abroad, the knight Jaime helped Tyrion escape. © HBO.

It is worth noting that in a faint echo of the story that the knight Edward Brampton helped the young prince Richard escape Jaime, who is also a knight, helped Tyrion escape from the dungeon.

Motives for Claiming the Princes Were Dead

For centuries, rumors have circulated that Margaret Beaufort or one of her agents poisoned the princes, Richard III or one of his cronies smothered them in their beds, or Buckingham and his men did away with them. But the Princes – especially Edward V – may have died of illness or natural causes or didn’t die at all.

princes in the tower

The Princes in the Tower. Artist: Sir John Everett Millais, 1878.

The problem is that there has never been a body, time of death, credible confession or witness statement by “someone who was close enough to the court to possess reliable information and who was prepared to share his or her thoughts. Those who almost certainly did know, Richard, Henry, Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth of York etc., kept their knowledge strictly to themselves” as David Baldwin, author of The Lost Prince put it in his Nerdalicious interview.

Another possibility is that one or both of the princes escaped.

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Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII.

If the princes weren’t murdered, why did people believe they were? Richard’s dynastic opponents may have started the rumor the princes were dead to rally opposition against him. “As I say in my book,” says historian Josephine Wilkinson in her recent interview with Nerdalicious, “the rumour that Richard III murdered Edward V and Richard of York was spread by those involved in the summer and autumn rebellions against the king, specifically, Margaret Beaufort and John Morton.”

That is, as the mother of a rival contender to the throne (Richard’s usurper, the future Henry VII), Margaret Beaufort might have seen portraying Richard as a child murderer as a great tactic for smearing his name. It certainly didn’t hurt that rumors Richard killed the princes played right into popular beliefs.

Henry VII’s Suspicious Behavior

During Henry VII’s reign, some contemporaries believed (or worried) the princes were still alive. In fact, the idea might have been powerful enough for several foreign rulers to back alleged rival claimants to the English throne.

In 1497, Henry VII captured a man many believed to be Edward IV’s second son, Richard of Shrewsbury, who had landed on English shores with a small army. This alleged pretender was attempting to raise troops and overthrow Henry VII. When this man confessed (under duress) to being an impostor in 1497, he stated his name was Perkin Warbeck – or so goes the Tudor version of events.

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Henry VII

“Perkin Warbeck” closely resembled Edward IV in appearance. He had courtly manners. And, he had powerful backers like Richard of Shrewsbury’s aunt, Margaret of York. It is unclear if Margaret believed “Perkin” was her nephew. She may have funded his attempts to claim the throne to avenge her brother Richard’s death at Henry’s hands, or she may have genuinely believed Perkin’s story.

Whether due to authenticity or convenience, Perkin’s cause was so powerful that it cost Henry the staggering sum of £13,000 to defend against it. As Annette Carson told Nerdalicious, Perkin Warbeck threatened Henry’s rule to the extent that “in 1495 he beheaded Sir William Stanley [his step uncle] for conceding that ‘Perkin’ could have been the genuine article.”

In contrast with Stanley’s fate, after Henry’s men forced Perkin to confess, curiously, Henry VII let Perkin reside at court. This is an odd punishment for a traitor in an age when most traitors were drawn and quartered. That is, unless of course Perkin wasn’t actually an impostor but was the real prince from the Tower.

Margaret_of_York

Margaret of York, the sister of Edward IV, became the wife of the powerful Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold. She provided powerful backing for Perkin Warbeck.

When Queen Elizabeth of York saw Perkin Warbeck at court, which presumably she did, she might have been able to recognize whether Perkin was actually her brother. Even fourteen years later, Elizabeth might have been able to tell if Perkin wasn’t her brother. Her reaction to Perkin is unrecorded.

 

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Elizabeth of York, painted roughly three years after Perkin Warbeck lived at court.

If Elizabeth believed Perkin was her brother, presumably she wouldn’t tolerate him being incarcerated in the Tower. His invasion of England wouldn’t have been an illegal action:  Perkin would be the rightful king.

Was Perkin’s stay at court an arrangement between he and Henry VII?

Perhaps Henry agreed not to execute the man he suspected or knew was the queen’s brother on the condition that he live at court and didn’t cause trouble. It is also possible that if he or Elizabeth knew Perkin was really Richard of Shrewsbury that Henry could not execute Perkin without causing a huge rift with his wife. For whatever reasons, Henry let live at court in what appears to be the most elevated circumstances.

In contrast to the captured pretender Lambert Simnel, who worked as a cook in the Henry VII’s kitchens, Perkin lived quite comfortably at court. At Sheen palace, where the royal family held Christmas court in 1497, Perkin may have resided near the king’s chambers. Before a massive blaze destroyed much of wood buildings at Sheen on December 21, 1497, every night Perkin was locked in to the king’s royal wardrobe, which was stuffed with lavish tapestries, velvets, plate, robes, and furnishings.2 These cossetted quarters provided a luxurious way to stop the captive from liberating himself while everyone at court slept.

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A model of the rebuilt “Sheen” (or Richmond) palace. After the 1497 fire, Henry VII rebuild Sheen in stone and renamed it “Richmond.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The fire broke out intriguingly close to where Perkin slept. Did Perkin set the blaze to divert guards while he tried to escape attempt? Did a court faction start the fire as an attempt to assassinate Perkin and ensure stability in the realm (by removing a destabilizing pretender)? This is unclear.

Fires commonly broke out in palaces — and indeed everywhere in the Middle Ages — so the Yeomen made sweeps every few hours to check for “an adventure of fire.”3. If routine checks were part of their working procedures, could a carelessly placed candle or unextinguished torch have escaped their watchful eyes?

Henry VII emphasized the fire was an accident and not an attack. Still Henry was also a master of subterfuge and had one of the largest spy networks in Europe. His years in exile had taught him to be watchful, cautious, and guarded. Never one to reveal his hand, or willingly highlight his vulnerabilities, Henry VII repeatedly and casually brushed off the blaze.  ((Wroe p. 440)) He emphasized the blaze was not due to malice — and he would rebuild bigger and better than every, but this time in stone.

If Henry suspected Perkin himself of  igniting the blaze to escape, his treatment of Perkin after the fire reveals nothing.

Perkin moved in the circle of Henry’s intimates, so presumably Henry kept Perkin resplendently dressed. Curiously, Henry VII a notoriously precise bean counter paid for Perkin’s clothing himself. Given that clothing was always a huge expenditure for any courtier and even higher for ones physically close to the king — out of the king’s own purse and not out of his wardrobe expenses.

Interestingly, one condition of Perkin’s “court” arrest was that he was not allowed to have sex with his wife in case she became pregnant. But, why would Henry care so much that a grubby commoner from Flanders have off-spring? Didn’t Perkin’s confession sufficiently discredit him?

While Henry may have stipulated no babies simply because Perkin was such a credible threat, that same stipulation would have certainly existed if Perkin was the rightful king. In this case, Perkin’s offspring would have been a deadly threat to Henry’s four children.

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Lambert Simnel

It’s important to note that although backing may indicate some leaders believed the princes lived, many leaders simply sought a way to displace Henry VII. Yorkist opposition to Henry VII capitalized on supposed claimants, such as the 1487 pretender Lambert Simnel – who posed as Clarence’s son despite the fact the Earl of Warwick was alive and in Henry VII’s custody, as figureheads around which to rally rebellions.

It’s also worth pointing out that researchers have found evidence in Tournai archives that a person named Perkin Warbeck existed and that this person was born to the same man that Perkin/Richard named as his father in his confession.

Maybe Not Just a Conspiracy Theory

If theories about would-be-kings seem as implausible as an Elvis sighting, bear in mind that some well-placed contemporaries believed believed Richard of Shrewsbury might still be alive.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not — but for whatever reason, none of the major pretenders in Henry VII’s reign claimed to be Edward V. David Baldwin has commented that “It is as though there was a general acceptance that Edward V was dead, but a corresponding willingness to believe that Richard could still be alive4 .”

In 1484, Nicholas von Popplau, a famous Silesian knight who had met Richard that same year, wrote in his diary “that ‘many people believed’, and he agreed with them, that they were alive and hidden away5 .” Likewise, French chronicler Jean Molinet believed one brother lived but the other died. Bernard André, Henry VII’s official biographer, stated that widely reported the princes survived, “having been conveyed secretly away and obscurely concealed in some distant region6 .”

**

Ultimately, Henry executed Perkin in 1499 after he attempted to escape for the third time. And, in this respect, Perkin might have joined Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and possibly Edward IV’s sons as another prince who “escaped from the Tower” (so to speak).

The mystery of the Princes in the Tower and the possibility that one, such as perhaps Perkin Warbeck, might have escaped has intrigued writers for centuries.

In the eighteenth century, art historian and Whig politician Horatio Walpole claimed Warbeck actually was Richard of Shrewsbury. In 1830, Frankenstein author Mary Shelley wrote the historical novel, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck: A Romance, based around the idea Richard of Shrewsbury assumed a deceased man named Perkin Warbeck’s identity.

Historical novelist Philippa Gregory not only featured Perkin Warbeck prominently in her novel The White Princess, she also stated in the epilogue she believes Warbeck’s claim was real.  Given the fertile ground Richard/Warbeck’s tale created, would it be any surprise if Tyrion’s flight is an homage to the legend of the prince who escaped from the Tower?

  1. For brief comments on Brampton’s military career and knighthood, see Bertram Field’s Royal Blood p. 80. []
  2. Date from Ann Wroe The Perfect Prince. p. 440. []
  3. Wroe p. 440 []
  4. See Nerdalicious “History Salon: The Survival of the Princes in the Tower” June 27, 2014 []
  5. According to Annette Carson in her Nerdalicious interview. []
  6. In the later printed version of Vergil’s Anglica Historia, as quoted by Annette Carson in her Nerdalicious interview. []

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

10 Comments

  • Reply July 13, 2014

    Grant

    There is another character, not yet shown in the show (probably next season), who could qualify as a reference to the Lost Prince theory, though there’s an added twist that his own identity hasn’t been confirmed.

    As for Perkin, who knows? He may have been one of the princes. Besides being influenced by political science being strongest in my opinion at macro forces and generalized analysis, in history I have the most trust in general examinations of civilizations over a period because it’s harder to miss vital information. When you look at the personalities of a regime, you need to know a lot about those personalities. It’s easier to be sure of things like there being a migration of this group into the Levant based on pottery and burials than it is to be sure that a certain king was renowned for his wisdom.

    • Reply July 13, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Hey Grant,
      Oooh. I’m intrigued. I need to think about who that might be. 🙂
      Perkin Warbeck is a real conundrum. Years ago, many historians would laugh and scoff at the idea there could be any truth to the claims Perkin might have truly been Edward IV’s son. Then Anne Wroe released her book, The Perfect Prince. Ann Wroe is (or was?) a writer for the Economist and the book was the product of twenty years of research. I think when it was released some historians looked down on her book a little. I could be wrong, but the book seemed to get very little traction in the historical community.

      Over the last eighteen years, however, it seems like slowly but surely more writers are beginning to agree with her findings or have theories of their own. Personally, I think Henry VII’s behavior is awfully suspicious. Most leaders deemed traitors, like Roger Mortimer for example, were hung, drawn, and quartered. Yet a man who landed in England with soldiers, backed by foreign powers, becomes part of Henry’s intimate circle? Still you’re absolutely right, there are a million reasons we could attribute to this act by trying to draw discern Henry’s motives without having truly in-depth knowledge of his character.

      Your point about the difficult in attributing motive to historical figures is well taken. That’s crux of the issues with biographically driven history.

      To write history that sells (or that people want to read), generally, popular historians have to write biographies. Biographies, however, typically draw their conclusions based on the author’s analysis of the historical figure’s character. And, sadly, there’s that old truism about biographers falling in love with their subjects.

  • Reply July 13, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I think I know which possible changeling you mean, Grant, but I won’t say anything for fear of “spoiling”. GRRM has acknowledged that he enjoyed Maurice Druon’s “Accursed Kings” novels and drew partial inspiration for the ASOIAF books from them. I don’t want to spoil the “Accursed Kings” for anybody who might be reading or considering reading them but I will say that a changeling features in that story too. How closely Maurice Druon’s version of events compares with what really happened under the last Capetian kings of France, I cannot say, but I did enjoy the books when I read them many years ago (though the seventh one was written some years later than the rest as an afterthought and I’ve not read that one).

    I’ve said before in relation to the Princes in the Tower, my heart would like to believe they escaped, my head thinks they probably didn’t.

    It’s always interesting to read your “take” on the events in the various articles on this blog, Jaime. There have been so many theories and counter-theories over the years. Somebody wrote a book to the effect that one of the missing princes became an Essex bricklayer. It’s a while since I read it and I can’t find the link but if I remember I will give the reference.

    • Olga Hughes
      Reply July 14, 2014

      Olga Hughes

      That is David Baldwin’s Lost Prince book Watcher.

  • Reply July 13, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Here is a link to an article about the book suggesting one of the princes became a bricklayer http://www.docstoc.com/docs/146178583/Did-one-of-the-princes-in-the-Tower-survive-to-be-an-Essex-bricklayer I’ve a feeling there was an article about this in the British Daily mail newspaper at one time (not that it’s my newspaper of choice; a bit too right-wing for me).

  • Reply July 15, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Oh thanks for the name of the book, Olga. While I think of it the Druon books also covered somebody’s escape from the Tower of London – though it was only temporary. I won’t go into details because I don’t want to “spoil” anything for people who might read the Druon books. I don’t know what the Easter customs in other lands are but in the UK there is a type of Easter cake called “Simnel Cake” which was supposed to have been originated by Lambert Simnel (nice story but so many of the tales one learns in childhood turn out to be apocryphal so I don’t know whether to believe it or not). Somebody told me that in later life Lambert Simnel was released from work in the kitchen and became a falconer which the Wikipedia article seems to bear out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambert_Simnel At least Lambert Simnel escaped with his life unlike the other poor boy.

  • Reply July 15, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Addendum to previous post: Olga, I see now that the book (i.e. David Baldwin’s book) in question was referred to in Jaime’s article and there was a link to a feature about it on your blog. I had not realised it was the book with the “bricklayer” theory. One thing the “changeling” theories show (if they were true) is that the life of a “common” child was given little value – at a time when England was supposed to be Christian and allegedly everybody was equal under God! On the whole I never liked those stories where the “humble” heroine turns out to be posh really and to have been swapped at birth, though there are exceptions (I liked “Aucassin and Nicolette”). And I know the princess in the Princess and the Pea was never swapped at birth, but I found her tiresome in that her oh so delicate flesh could feel the pea through myriad mattresses. That’s getting off-topic though, just me having my mini-rant about it being alright for a child from the lower ranks being sacrificed to save a higher born one.

    • Olga Hughes
      Reply July 17, 2014

      Olga Hughes

      Well it’s only slightly off-topic, the notion of the ‘Lost Prince’ is a popular literary device and we have lost princes as old as Moses and, popular in the medieval court, King Arthur. It’s not coincidental people were willing to believe these stories even back then. Nowadays I suspect it has more to do with our lve of conspiracy theories.
      Yes Simnel became a falconer and lived well into Henry VIII’s reign. As for Richard of Eastwell, he is an interesting study even if you don’t buy into the theory. I really enjoy David Baldwin’s books so do pick it up some time.

  • […] consequently became Edward IV’s godson, and appears to have been highly trusted by the king.1. As Perkin told the court, he was left to his own devices after Brampton returned to […]

  • […] consequently became Edward IV’s godson, and appears to have been highly trusted by the king.1. As Perkin told the court, he was left to his own devices after Brampton returned to […]

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