Exclusive: Richard III may not have killed young princes in the Tower of London, researchers say

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  • Princes in the Tower
    Sons of King Edward IV of England
  • Richard III of England
    English monarch
  • Edward V of England
    King of England (1470-1483)
  • Henry VII of England
    King of England, 1485–1509
The Princes in the Tower (Edward V and the Duke of York) by Paul Delaroche (1797–1856) - Ian Dagnall/Alamy
The Princes in the Tower (Edward V and the Duke of York) by Paul Delaroche (1797–1856) - Ian Dagnall/Alamy

More than five centuries have passed since two young royals infamously disappeared from the Tower of London, apparently murdered by their evil uncle.

Yet Richard III may have been innocent of killing the princes in the Tower, according to a team led by the woman who found the King’s remains lying under a car park.

Researchers claim to have found evidence that the older boy Edward may not have been murdered, but instead secretly allowed to live on his half-brother’s land under a false name.

They have followed a trail of medieval documents to a rural Devon village, where royal Yorkist symbols have been found carved in the local church. Inside, an effigy of a mysterious man named ‘John Evans’ gazes directly at a stained glass window revealed to depict Edward V, the missing prince himself. The research suggests that Edward V and John Evans were one and the same, and that he may have even left clues inside the church for future generations to find.

 ‘John Evans’ effigy - Dale Cherry
‘John Evans’ effigy - Dale Cherry

The four-year "cold case investigation" called The Missing Princes Project has more than 100 lines of inquiry including the possible fate of the younger brother, Richard of Shrewsbury. The team is led by Philippa Langley, who commissioned the dig that found the bones of Richard III under a Leicester car park in 2012.

“The idea of a missing prince lying low in Devon might appear fanciful at first,” lead researcher John Dike told the Telegraph. “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.

“The evidence suggests that Edward was sent to live out his days on his half-brother’s land as long as he kept quiet, as part of a deal reached between his mother and Richard III, and later with Henry Tudor.

“Once you take all the clues together, it does appear that the story of the princes in the Tower may need to be rewritten.”

King Edward V and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury were aged 12 and nine when they were lodged in the Tower, in preparation for Edward’s coronation after the death of his father Edward IV.

But before the young king could be crowned the brothers were declared illegitimate. According to the narrative handed down by Tudor authorities, and popularised by William Shakespeare, their evil uncle Richard then had his young nephews quietly murdered before taking the throne for himself.

The broken shield bears the name ‘JOHN EVAS’ - Dale Cherry
The broken shield bears the name ‘JOHN EVAS’ - Dale Cherry

The boys were last seen playing near the Tower in the summer of 1483, and scholars have argued about their fate ever since. No conclusive evidence has ever been found of their murder apart from a contested pile of bones discovered under a Tower staircase in 1674. These lie inside an urn in Westminster Abbey, but the Queen herself has reportedly refused three times to allow scientists to analyse the remains.

What is known is that on March 1 1484, the princes’ mother, Elizabeth Woodville, emerged from sanctuary at Westminster with her daughters after reaching a deal with Richard III, who was made king following the death of her husband.

She then wrote to her eldest son Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, a rebel who was in France with the pretender Henry Tudor, telling him to come home as Richard had agreed to pardon him as part of the agreement. Curiously no mention was made of the Marquis’ two young half-brothers or their whereabouts.

Fragment of stained glass showing a Yorkist Sunne in Splendour - Dale Cherry
Fragment of stained glass showing a Yorkist Sunne in Splendour - Dale Cherry

Two days later on March 3, royal documents reveal that Richard sent a trusted follower named Robert Markenfield on an unknown mission from Yorkshire to the remote Devon village of Coldridge, which lay within Thomas Grey’s seized lands.

At some point afterwards, a mysterious person called John Evans arrived in the same village and was granted the titles Lord of the Manor and ‘Parker’ of the deer park behind the church, where ran 140 “beasts of the chase”. The grant does not appear in any official chancery documents, and no record has been found of Evans’ life before his arrival in Devon.

“This man John Evans was given these prestigious titles despite apparently arriving out of the blue, which is odd to say the least. It is possible that Edward was sent here to live in secrecy as part of the deal that we know was agreed between Richard and his mother,” said John Dike.

If Edward was indeed John Evans, then he kept quiet for years until around 1511, when he built his own chantry at the local St Matthew’s church, which looks much the same today as it did 510 years ago. Laden with symbolism and hidden meaning, it is here that the researchers claim Evans left multiple clues to his true identity.

The chantry was usually intended for prayers to speed the donor’s soul through purgatory and onwards to heaven. But the Evans chantry is instead overlooked by a politically-charged stained glass window depicting a saint-like Edward V, the deposed boy king thought to have been murdered 26 years earlier.

Only two other glass portraits of Edward are thought to exist, including one in the royal window of Canterbury Cathedral.

“Why is a royal portrait of Edward V in this rural church in the middle of nowhere? It simply doesn’t belong here. Evans appears to be sending a message,” Mr Dike said.

Above Edward’s head floats a large crown, with the Yorkist Falcon and Fetterlock motif carried by Edward’s grandfather, the Duke of York, at its centre. This large crown may have originally been over a royal coat of arms in the larger chancel window, researchers believe.

A floating royal crown mysteriously decorated with 41 deer within the ermine - iDale Cherry
A floating royal crown mysteriously decorated with 41 deer within the ermine - iDale Cherry

A closer look reveals that the ermine lining is dotted with pictures of 41 tiny deer. According to an inscription on the prayer desks, Evans built the chantry in 1511 when the real Edward V would have been 41 years old.

A medieval prayer desk bearing the inscription ‘Pray for John Evans - Dale Cherry
A medieval prayer desk bearing the inscription ‘Pray for John Evans - Dale Cherry

“The 41 deer in the crown points to a link between John Evans the deer parker, and the King in the window,” Mr Dike said.

In the corner of the window a small second face appears, more tightly drawn, as if from life. The unknown man is holding a royal crown rather than wearing it, with a scar apparently drawn on his chin.

A face in the corner of the Edward V window - Dale Cherry
A face in the corner of the Edward V window - Dale Cherry

John Evans’ effigy, wearing chainmail and gazing with a tilted head directly at the window above, appears to bear the same scar.

“Is this a second portrait on the same window of Edward V, but living in hiding as John Evans? Carrying the crown may symbolise that Edward was king, but only briefly. Was he the king crowned in Dublin two years after Richard’s death? We know that his real name was said to be John,” Mr Dike said.

Medieval graffiti on John Evans’ tomb - Dale Cherry
Medieval graffiti on John Evans’ tomb - Dale Cherry

More possible clues can be found on the tomb itself. The name ‘John Evans’ is incorrectly spelt EVAS, with the last letter possibly broken off by vandals. Researchers believe that the name may hold a hidden significance, with EV standing for ‘Edward V’ and AS perhaps referring to "asa", the Latin for “in sanctuary”.

Below the inscription, a medieval scrawl appears to show the inverted word KING. Nine carved lines beneath may symbolise 1509, the year that Henry VII died and Edward V could have reclaimed the throne if matters had been resolved.

Tudor woman with a long snake-like tongue - Dale Cherry
Tudor woman with a long snake-like tongue - Dale Cherry

Symbols linking the church to the House of York have been found surrounding the tomb and throughout the building. Rose of York motifs have been discovered in the floor tiles, while Yorkist emblems known as the Sunne in Splendour have been repeatedly carved into the wooden roof, the symbol of Edward’s father, Edward IV. Other hidden symbols include an upside-down picture of a Tudor woman with a snake-like tongue, perhaps a slur on Henry Tudor’s powerful mother Margaret Beaufort.

A single small symbol carved in the church ceiling - Dale Cherry
A single small symbol carved in the church ceiling - Dale Cherry

“To have all these symbolic details in such a remote and inaccessible church, which in 1500 would have only been accessed by cart track, and is right in the centre of rural Devon, suggests the presence of a person of importance,” Mr Dike said.

“An ideal location for Thomas Grey, with the probable agreement of Richard III or later Henry VII, to place his half brother out of the political arena.”

Yorkist symbol in the tiled church floor - Dale Cherry
Yorkist symbol in the tiled church floor - Dale Cherry

Last year a woman with a familial link to the princes was identified through their maternal line. However, proving the Evans theory through DNA analysis may prove difficult because the tomb is empty.

“It’s possible that the bones lie under the church floor but we need more evidence, and we would welcome anything that can shed further light on this mystery,” Mr Dike said.

“But our findings already seem to point in one direction - that Richard III was innocent.”

Ms Langley said: “A number of the specialist police investigators working within The Missing Princes Project have told us to always investigate when a coincidence occurs – and here, intriguingly, there are quite a number of them.

“We look forward to John and the team discovering more as their research continues.

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