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What Happened to the Princes in the Tower, with Philippa Langley

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 225

The most unforgivable crime in Richard III has to be when the king orders the murder of his two young nephews, Edward and Richard. But what if Richard III was framed?

Philippa Langley is the amateur historian whose commitment to righting a historical wrong led to the discovery of Richard III’s remains a decade ago. Langley wasn’t a scholar—she was a screenwriter and a member of the Richard III Society. Langley convinced academic historians and archaeologists at the University of Leicester to excavate the parking lot where she believed Richard was buried. There, they found a body, and DNA analysis confirmed that the remains belonged to Richard III. The discovery led to further insights about the historical Richard. For example, the physical deformities of Shakespeare’s character were Tudor inventions. Far from being a “bunch-backed toad,” the real Richard III had nothing more than a case of scoliosis.

Since discovering the body in 2012, Langley and a team of collaborators have worked on cleaning up Richard’s reputation. Her new book, The Princes in the Tower, examines Richard’s most famous alleged crime: the murder of his two nephews, the sons of Edward IV. Investigating their disappearance as a 500-year-old cold case, Langley explores evidence that the princes survived Richard III’s reign… and points to another suspect for their eventual deaths. Langley talks with Barbara Bogaev about tracking down two of history’s most famous missing persons.

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Philippa Langley

Philippa Langley’s new book, The Princes in the Tower: Solving History’s Greatest Cold Case, is out now from Pegasus Books.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published December 19, 2023. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts. We had technical help from Voice Trax West in Studio City, California. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc.

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MICHAEL WITMORE: The most unforgivable crime in Richard III has to be when the king orders the murder of his two young nephews.

[CLIP from Richard III, Folder audio edition. Drew Cortese is Richard III.]

Shall I be plain? I wish the bastards dead,
And I would have it suddenly performed.

WITMORE: But what if Richard was framed?

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger Director.

Philippa Langley is the amateur historian whose commitment to righting a historical wrong led to the discovery of Richard III’s remains a decade ago. Langley wasn’t a scholar—she was a screenwriter and a member of the Richard III Society. But she had become certain that Richard was the victim of Tudor propaganda, and that Shakespeare’s play had a key role in the slander. Langley convinced academic historians and archaeologists at the University of Leicester to excavate the parking lot where she believed Richard was buried.

Those experts did find a body, and DNA analysis confirmed that the remains belonged to Richard III. That discovery led to further insights about the historical Richard. The physical deformities of Shakespeare’s character were Tudor inventions. Far from being a “bunch-backed toad,” the real Richard III had nothing more than a case of scoliosis.

Since discovering the body in 2012, Philippa Langley and a team of collaborators have worked on cleaning up Richard’s reputation. Her new book, The Princes in the Tower, examines Richard’s most famous alleged crime: the murder of his two nephews, the sons of Edward IV. Investigating their disappearance as a 500-year-old cold case, Langley uncovers evidence that the princes survived Richard III’s reign… and points to another suspect for their eventual deaths.

Here’s Philippa Langley in conversation with Barbara Bogaev.


BARBARA BOGAEV: This new investigation into the fate of the two nephews of Richard III grew out of your discovery of Richard III’s remains. And I understand the link is dental records. Tell us about that. How did the Lost King lead to the Missing Princes Project?

PHILIPPA LANGLEY: Right, yes. It was actually at the reburial of Richard III. This was in March 2015. This was sort of the end of the Looking for Richard Project. It was actually—the main catalyst was there was a full-page article in a newspaper here called the Daily Mail. It ran with the headline, “It’s Mad to Make This Child Killer a National Hero.”

I read the article, but the article cited no evidence for the story. I think this is when I started to think that we needed an evidence-based research project around this mystery: what had happened to the princes in the tower.

Because I’d done an evidence-based research project to search for the king—for the king’s lost grave. Because prior to Richard III being discovered in the car park in Leicester, the history books had said that he’d been thrown into the river Soar. Because this was a 17th century story that had been taken up as truth and fact by historians.

So, as I was leaving Leicester, after the reburial, this new research project was forming in my mind. This became the Missing Princes Project.

BOGAEV: Great. Now, I think most of us know Shakespeare’s play, but I think we should still go over what was the accepted story about the princes?

LANGLEY: Yeah, the accepted story that was made famous by Shakespeare, following the writings of Thomas More, was that Richard, as Duke of Gloucester and the brother of Edward IV—when Edward IV died, then Richard wanted the throne. In order to become king, he had to murder his nephews. So, this is what he did. Then, he was crowned King Richard III. That’s sort of the accepted version of history that we have been given.

BOGAEV: Right. This is what you start with in your cold case investigation. And that’s exactly what you call it. What does that mean? What course of action or course of study does a cold case dictate?

LANGLEY: This came from, you know, the police and investigative specialists and lawyers, advocates, judges who I was taking specialist advice from. They all sort of said the same thing. They said, “Without any identified bodies, then it has to be a missing persons investigation.”

That methodology is very clear, in that you have to go back to the time and place that they were last seen. Because you go back to the last known location as well and you work out from there, basically step by step. The police said, “Where possible, you know, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.” Above all, it has to be forensic. You have to look at anything. You can’t dismiss anything. You can’t assume that you know anything. Everything has to be on the table. Everything has to be investigated. Basically, intelligence gathering and data gathering.

BOGAEV: Okay, so this method involves clearly delving deeply into the two princes stories to create profiles of them. What facts do we know about the princes? Who were they? And why don’t we start with Edward?

LANGLEY: In terms of Edward, we know that he was 12 when he apparently disappeared from the Tower of London. He was the heir to Edward IV and he had been the heir of Edward all of his life. He wasn’t actually in London much of the time. Because as the Prince of Wales, that is, the heir to the throne, he lived and had his own household, his own court.

What we do know, at the age of 12, from the contemporary source materials, is that he seems to have had blonde hair and that he looked like his father.

BOGAEV: Do we know anything about his personality?

LANGLEY: In terms of his personality, we learnt later from an account from December 1483 that was written by an Italian monk who was in London—He tells us that Edward, as a 12 year old, was very interested in literature and poetry and he was very intelligent.

We know that Edward entered London and was welcomed by all of the leading nobles, the church, and the Commons. You know, was welcomed through the streets as he entered the city. He would have been well recognized as Edward IV’s son

BOGAEV: And Richard? Could you tell us just what did he look like and what do we know of his personality?

LANGLEY: Yeah, in terms of Richard, the younger one, he seems to have been a lot different to his elder brother. He seems to have been very interested in music and singing and dance, and also seems to have had a lot of energy, and was very good at sports and sticks. We’ve got a contemporary record that says that he was very good at playing with a two-handed sword.

He also was described as being very pretty and memorable. Once you saw this little boy, you remembered him. You didn’t forget him. One thing that I think we need to, sort of, add to that is that they would have been the celebrities of their day.

BOGAEV: Well, okay. Now we have more of a picture of the two boys. Why were the two princes sent to the tower in the first place after their father’s death?

LANGLEY: So, after their father’s death, the King’s Council—which was led by the King’s younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was named Protector of the Realm—it was decided that it was time to move the eldest boy out of his lodgings at the Bishop of London’s Palace. Probably because there wasn’t much room there.

There was a discussion in the King’s Council as to where they would go. It was the Duke of Buckingham said, “Well, he must go to the tower because that’s where all kings go before their coronation.” So Edward V and all of his attendants were sent to the Tower of London for Edward V to await coronation.

His younger brother then joined him on June the 16th. The coronation was to take place on June the 22nd.

BOGAEV: Okay, so far so good. What do we know about what their life was like in the tower?

LANGLEY: They were sent to the royal apartments and it was a very busy place in the Tower of London. It was like a small city. And it looks like it would have been, sort of life, as normal. All of Edward V’s attendants would have been around him and Richard, Duke of York. They would have had servants and guards and lived in the royal apartments.

BOGAEV: Okay, very good. I’m picturing the Brit Box version of this with all the comforts that you could possibly have in the Tower. What are your sources, though, about the—for the information about their time there?

LANGLEY: Yes, we have the chronicle of—the great chronicle of London, which we can get a lot of the information from. This chronicle tells us that they were in the royal apartments in the Tower of London and that they were seen on a number of occasions shooting arrows in the gardens of the Tower of London.

BOGAEV: Richard wasn’t king yet when they went into the tower. How did that happen—and explain the significance of it?

LANGLEY: Yeah, so what we can see with the timeline is that the younger prince joins his elder brother on the 16th of June. Then, by the 17th of June, somebody or some information has come forward and the king’s coronation—that is Edward V’s coronation—is postponed until November 1483.

This is a quite remarkable event to happen. I’ve never seen this in English history or British history where a coronation is postponed for this amount of time. But clearly something important happened.

It takes five days for something to be investigated. We don’t have the documents that we should have in order to investigate what the King’s Council was looking into and the information that had been given to them. Because it was pretty much destroyed by Henry VII, or Henry Tudor, when he became king after Richard III.

What we do know from the accession of Richard III is that the children of Edward IV were declared illegitimate by the three estates of the realm. So that’s the Lords, the Church, and the Commons. They were declared illegitimate by the 22nd of June, which was Edward V’s coronation day, and this was announced throughout the streets of London. Then Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as the next legitimate heir of the House of York was petitioned to become king, again by the three estates of the realm. This was done on the 25th of June. And on the 26th of June, Richard III accepted and was elected king.

BOGAEV: Why was Edward illegitimate?

LANGLEY: He was declared illegitimate because evidence had come forward to show that Edward IV had been married before he was married to Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of the princes in the Tower, so that marriage had been declared bigamous, and therefore all of the children of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were illegitimate.

BOGAEV: Huh. What role did Richard play in these maneuverings that you just described?

LANGLEY: We don’t know. All we know is that he was part of the King’s Council and he had been named Protector of the Realm in the will of Edward IV. Whatever happened in terms of the King’s Council, there were evidences presented, and there were a number of evidences presented.

But again, Henry VII had them all burnt, so we haven’t got these evidences now. So, we have no knowledge of who came forward, who gave Richard Duke of Gloucester and the King’s Council all of these evidences.

BOGAEV: I want to continue with the line of thought about the boys, the two princes. When and where were they last seen in the tower?

LANGLEY: It seems that they were last seen in the Tower of London in the summer of 1483, possibly also into the autumn of 1483.

This is what the initial investigation was looking into, because the last recorded sight we have of them, again, comes from the Great Chronicle of London. Saying that they were shooting at arrows in the gardens of the Tower of London up to the end of the mayoral year, which finished in October 1483. That’s the last known sighting of them.

We also have an account by an Italian cleric who was in London at the time and sent there by the French government. His name was Domenico Mancini. He was then writing in France by the 1st of December 1483, when he’d returned to France after there’d been an uprising in England against Richard III, who was now king. And the English rebels had left England and gone to the continent.

By this time, Domenico Mancini is saying that, “Look, I’ve been asked to write my account down. I don’t really want to write my account down because I can’t verify its information. But all I can say is that I don’t know what’s happened to the elder boy. I can’t verify where he is and what’s happened to him.”

But earlier on in his account, he says that it was said that death was facing him. But he doesn’t go into detail about what this death is and why it was facing him. And we don’t know where he got this information from.

BOGAEV: Is there any proof that the boys died?

LANGLEY: No, I think this is the thing that defied expectations, because I’ve analyzed all of the contemporary records—the available contemporary records from England, during Richard III’s reign and whenever the princes are spoken of—or written about, I should say—they are written about as though they are alive.

I think that that was one of the big changing moments in the research because we should have found contemporary materials where they were spoken about as though they had died. And we couldn’t find any bodies, any identified bodies, any burials, any requiem masses, and no pious prayers or observances for their souls. Nothing during the reign of Richard III.

BOGAEV: Well, if Richard’s successor, Henry Tudor, believed he killed these two princes, what did he do to investigate that?

LANGLEY: Yeah, I think once Richard dies, I think that’s another thing that defies expectation, because he died not long after, apparently, the princess disappeared within two years, so we should have had a whole raft of witnesses coming forward.

Because when Henry VII was the victor at the Battle of Bosworth, he had all kinds of prisoners at his disposal that he could interrogate. He had people from Richard’s court, from his government. He had men of the cloth. He had soldiers. He had everybody in the Tower of London.

It’s strange that if he thought the princes had been murdered, which we now know he did, that he didn’t do an investigation. He didn’t do a public inquiry. He did nothing.

Yes, there’s a complete lack of evidence for death or murder. I think one of the striking things that the project found was that the story for murder of the princes in the tower enters England just before the Battle of Bosworth. It comes with Henry Tudor and his French foreign invasion force. This is the first time we see it.

BOGAEV: Who is this who first claims that the princes were murdered?

LANGLEY: When Domenico Mancini had written his account on the 1st of December, 1483, in France and said that he couldn’t say what had happened to the elder boy. Two months later in France, another member of the French government says that the king, who is now on the throne of England—meaning Richard III—had murdered all of Edward IV’s children.

This was clearly an account in France that then took hold on the continent; that Richard III had murdered all of Edward IV’s children. But what you can see is by the time it gets into England, it’s become “Richard III had murdered the boys,” because Henry the Tudor, Henry VII, had sworn an oath to marry the prince’s sister. So, he knew that the prince’s sister was alive. So, you can see how the story begins to change as it develops through time.

Once Richard III was dead and Henry VII was on the throne, the story sort of grows in the telling. You know, how they were murdered, where they were murdered, who murdered them. Whether they were poisoned, or their throats were cut, or they were stifled between two mattresses, or they were smothered.

BOGAEV: Or they were starved or they were bled to death.


BOGAEV: I mean, it goes on and on.

LANGLEY: Yeah, it does become quite comical.

BOGAEV: This is the Tudor smear campaign, you’re saying.

LANGLEY: Yes, this is what we can see from the records that we have.

I think when you look at the materials, you can see that obviously Henry VII has got an incredibly poor claim to the throne. There’s 30 or more Plantagenet claimants who have a better claim to the throne than him.

I think in terms of allowing this story to gain traction, he’s got a motive to do that. Because if it’s believed the boys are dead and murdered by Richard III, then he looks like the better monarch, and that, you know, Richard III was a bad lot, and the reason he was a bad lot was he murdered these two boys.

BOGAEV: Spoilers: you and the Missing Princess Project have made two discoveries that support the theory that the princes survived. Explain, please.

LANGLEY: Yeah, for sure. There are two key ones, but I think what I would say is there are many, many evidences of survival. But you’re absolutely right.
There’s the Lille receipt for Edward V. This is an accounting record. It’s a receipt dated from the 16th of December, 1487, and it’s for King Maximilian. This clearly states that weapons that have been ordered and paid for by Maximilian and Madame the Dowager, who is the Duchess of Burgundy, who was the sister of Edward IV and Richard III.

That these weapons are for her nephew, who is the son of King Edward, meaning Edward IV, who was expelled from his dominion. There’re four pointers that tells us that these are weapons for Edward V in 1487. Firstly, he was the nephew of Margaret of Burgundy. He was the son of Edward IV. He was 16, so he was at just the right age to lead an army into battle and to fight. Also, that he had been expelled from his dominion.

The researchers of the Missing Princes Project have shown that Edward V, the elder prince, was sent to the Channel Islands some point before the Battle of Bosworth, so he had been expelled from his dominion. This is basically proof of life for Edward V.

BOGAEV: It’s important for a number of reasons that this is a receipt, right? This isn’t open to propaganda. This is just a record. Is it signed by people at court, as receipts often are?

LANGLEY: Yeah, it is. It’s signed not just by one leading member of the Burgundian court. It’s actually signed by three. It mentions 14 members of the Burgundian court basically saying that, “Yes, all of these details in this receipt are accurate and correct.”

It is, like you said, it literally is just an accounting receipt for the King. So, it’s not for public consumption and it has no reason to lie.

BOGAEV: So, if this is conclusive, how did he die?

LANGLEY: Do you know, we don’t know. It seems that he didn’t die at the Battle of Stoke. This took place in June, 1487. He was crowned in Ireland, in Dublin, in May, 1487. Invaded England in order to obtain his throne. Battle then took place with the forces of Henry Tudor at Stoke, and the Lille receipt, which is dated the 16th of December, 1487, so about six months after the battle.

Although it offers pious prayers and observances for the soul of Edward IV who had died in 1483, it doesn’t do the same for Edward V. So, as far as those writing the Lille receipt in Burgundy, for the sister of Edward IV and Richard III and King Maximilian, they still believe that Edward V was alive.

BOGAEV: You also found some compelling evidence of the survival of the younger brother, Richard. So this involves something called the Gelderland Manuscript. Explain to us what that is.

LANGLEY: Yeah, I think this one, I think I described as mind-blowing because you really don’t expect something like this to be found. It was found in the Gelderland archive in Arnhem, in Holland.

It’s a four-page semi-legal manuscript. It’s a witness statement from the younger prince and it’s written in the first person. It’s, “I, Richard.” It’s his story from leaving sanctuary in London in 1483 to join his brother in the Tower of London. And it’s a 10-year story, for when he then meets his aunt, Margaret of Burgundy, on the continent. It’s his 10-year story. I think what is really important about this is, again, something that the police and the investigative specialists tell me is that they look at witness statements all the time. And if somebody is lying, then they don’t go into detail and they fudge things and they say, “Well, I can’t remember this, and I don’t know what happened then.” But if somebody is telling the truth, they go into detail, after detail, after detail, after detail, which is exactly what this document does.

BOGAEV: You said it was mind-blowing. How did you find out about the manuscript then?

LANGLEY: Yeah, it was rediscovered.

BOGAEV: Goose bumps moment?

LANGLEY: Oh, it was. It was the 20th of November, 2020, and it was rediscovered by Natalie Neyman of the Dutch research group of the Missing Princess Project. Natalie was a former criminal lawyer and she rediscovered it amongst lots of papers in this Dutch archive.

And, yeah, I did. I mean, it took me about four days to read through all of the information because it just was quite remarkable. It was stunning because so many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle now fell into place. Again, we had to verify everything. But the jigsaw puzzle was now just going clunk, clunk, clunk.

BOGAEV: You also write about Richard’s fate under a different name, Perkin Warbeck.

LANGLEY: Yes, this was the name given to him by Henry VII. Once Henry VII had captured him, he’d done a pre-prepared confession for Richard to sign, which Richard then signed. Thereafter he was known as Perkin Warbeck.

But I think we’ve found a couple of interesting things here in terms of Richard’s story. Because he gave himself up to Henry VII, and this was in 1497, in the southwest of England after his third invasion of England had failed.

And, you know, if he was Perkin Warbeck, if this is who he really was, then this was this individual, who was apparently the son of a Tournai boatman, so he was a commoner. This was his moment to throw himself on his knees and beg forgiveness from Henry Tudor, Henry VII, because he’d be hung, drawn, and quartered.

But he doesn’t. What this individual does is he walks out as Prince Richard of England, the Yorkist son of Edward IV, wearing royal cloth of gold. He walks out to meet Henry VII as an equal.

What Dr. Anne Rowe has discovered is that, in the account books from Henry VII, when this individual is captured, he’s given expenses and he’s not called Perkin Warbeck. He’s called the Duke of York.

Because he wasn’t crowned, he wasn’t anointed. I think it’s probably highly likely that he was executed in 1499 in London at Tyburn, and that was him. If that was him, then his grave may currently be underneath a pavement next to the Dutch church in London. So that could be accessible for archaeological dig at some point.

But we have the DNA. We have the male DNA from Richard III and we have the female DNA from the opera singer Elizabeth Roberts, who’s related to Elizabeth, direct female descendant of Elizabeth Woodville. So, we can do DNA tests for the remains.

BOGAEV: So many leads. Where is the investigation right now? What’s ongoing and what’s the next phase?

LANGLEY: The next phase. We’re trying to fill in lots of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that we currently don’t have. Some of this includes where was Edward V during the reign of Richard III? We have some locations for where we now know he was.

But also, we want to know what happened to him in his later life. It seems that he died sometime after 1488. But we don’t know where he’s buried, so we’re now looking for that.

BOGAEV: If we could, going back to the beginning of the Lost King Project, how did you get fired up about Richard III in the first place?

LANGLEY: It originally got fired up by, I read a book. And it was about… it was by the American academic called Paul Murray Kendall. And it was a biography about Richard III.

What Kendall did was he went back to the contemporary source materials created during Richard’s lifetime as duke and king and wrote about the historical individual. Not Shakespeare’s version of Richard III.

I think this is what ignited my interest, because the actual individual from the historical record is a 180 from Shakespeare. I just thought, “Why don’t we know more about the historical individual? Why do we always reel out Shakespeare whenever we think of Richard III?”

That was important to me, because I think truth matters. You know, whether that’s today, tomorrow, or 500 years ago. You can see who this individual was from the contemporary sources from his own lifetime.

BOGAEV: So, we’re talking on a Shakespeare podcast. What, in your experience, has influenced in any way your feelings about Shakespeare and his portrayal of this king that you have thought so much about?

LANGLEY: Well, do you know what? I just wish he hadn’t been so good a playwright. Really. Because, you know, Richard III—

BOGAEV: No one has said that on this podcast, by the way.

LANGLEY: Oh, I’m sure. I’m sure I’m the first to say that one. But, you know, Richard III is such an amazing, dramatic narrative. I mean, it just absolutely captures you.

You know, he’s a playwright in London, trying to capture the attention of the Tudor court and Elizabeth I. You can understand that he’s not going to show Richard III in a good light, and he’s going to follow the Tudor narrative.

But yeah, I just think people have got to separate the historical individual from the contemporary sources from his own lifetime, from the dramatic individual who was written about a hundred years later during the reign of the Tudor dynasty when they had denigrated him. I think if people can separate the two, enjoy the play as a great play, but then also read about the historical individual. Then, if they can do that, my job’s done.

BARBARA: Great. Thank you so much.

LANGLEY: Thank you, Barbara. Thank you for having me.


WITMORE: That was Philippa Langley, interviewed by Barbara Bogaev. Her book The Princes in the Tower: Solving History’s Greatest Cold Case is out now from Pegasus Books.

This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer, with help from Leonor Fernandez. We had technical help from Voice Trax West in Studio City, California. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc.

If you’re a fan of Shakespeare Unlimited, please leave us a review on your podcast platform of choice, to help others find the show.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. Our building in Washington, D.C. has been under construction for the past three years. But we’re looking forward to fully reopening in 2024. You can find more about the Folger at our website,

Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.