The Lost Prince

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in

David Baldwin, The Lost Prince. Sutton Publishing, 2007.  ISBN 978-0-7509-4335-2

Theories as to what happened to the two sons of Edward IV after their father’s death can be broadly divided into three groups:

  1. 1.  They were both killed at a young age: Opinions exactly when, where and by whom differ widely though.
  2. 2.  They survived and came back to haunt Henry VII: the elder son, Edward, as the protagonist of the “Simnel Rebellion” (Smith), while Perkin Warbeck was really the younger son, Richard.

3.  One or both survived and lived afterwards in obscurity. One example is Jack Leslau with his theory based on Holbein’s paintings. And now there is a new theory identifying Richard of York as Richard of Eastwell.

This theory is outlined in a new book by David Baldwin, The Lost Prince. Baldwin argues that the older boy, Edward, died of natural causes (Baldwin, p. 80), while the younger boy became the Richard, who died in 1550 in the village of Eastwell in Kent.

In 1542 or 1543 an elderly man, who gave his name as Richard, appeared in Eastwell looking for work as a bricklayer at the building of a new mansion for the local landowner, Sir Thomas Moyle.  Sir Thomas noticed that his bricklayer enjoyed reading books in Latin, which was highly unusual, as at that time literacy, and Latin at that, was mainly confined to the upper classes.  Sir Thomas became curious and questioned the man.  Richard apparently trusted his employer and told him that as a child, not knowing his parents, he had boarded with a schoolmaster.  A gentleman “came once in a quarter”, who paid for his board and everything else.  One day this gentleman took him to a great house, where a finely dressed man talked to him.  Afterwards he was returned to the teacher.  Some time later the gentleman took him to Bosworth Field where he was presented to King Richard III, who told him that he was his son.  If he won the battle he would acknowledge him.  If, however, he lost the boy should never tell anyone that the king was his father.  After the battle our Richard went to London, where he became a bricklayer’s apprentice and eventually ended up in Kent. He asked Sir Thomas for permission to build a small house for himself on his estate, which was granted, and Richard lived there until his death.  The parish register shows that on 22 December 1550 a Richard Plantagenet died in Eastwell.

We know that Richard III had two illegitimate children, both born before his marriage to Anne, whom he had openly acknowledged.  Therefore it is difficult to explain why he would not have acknowledged this boy as well. Another obstacle with the story is that the boy was presumably still quite young in 1485 and would hardly have been able to get to London on his own.  Surely King Richard would have arranged for his son to be escorted to safety should he loose the battle (Baldwin, pp. 19-38).

This story of Richard of Eastwell is not new, but so far it had always been assumed that either he had made the whole story up or that he was indeed another illegitimate son of Richard III.  Baldwin now argues that as we have no evidence for the existence of Richard of Eastwell before 1483 and we do not know what happened to Richard of York after 1483 both may be one and the same person.  This would explain why he was not acknowledged by King Richard and also why he would have chosen to live incognito, rather than pose a threat to the Tudor regime.

Richard of York would have been 12 years old, which would be approximately the age that can be assumed for the boy in Richard of Eastwell’s narrative.

Baldwin thinks that the unnamed gentleman, who escorted the boy, is Francis, Viscount Lovell, King Richard’s close friend.  After the Battle of Bosworth, Lovell as well as the Stafford brothers escaped to St John’s Abbey in Colchester.  The abbey was regarded by dissident Yorkists as a safe refuge.  The three did not really have a reason to go there given their subsequent moves, unless for some secret purpose.  Baldwin speculates that this purpose was to take the young Richard there.  At the abbey there would have been other boys and Richard would have blended in.

Baldwin thinks that Henry Tudor knew what was going on, but made an agreement with both Elizabeth Woodvilles, mother and daughter, that he would spare Richard, if he continued to live in obscurity.  There is evidence that Henry kept a watchful eye on Colchester in the first few years after coming to the throne.  Lovell as well as the Staffords remained at Colchester for approx, 6 months after Bosworth (far beyond the 40 days of sanctuary) without Henry trying to seize them or making life difficult for them.  In 1486, Philip Knighton one of four ‘messengers of the Exchequer’ was sent to Colchester with ‘secret letters from the King’s council’.  This was shortly after the collapse of uprisings led by Lovell and the Stafford brothers and the letters indicate that there was a secret matter concerning Colchester and the King, which might have been Richard.  Henry visited Colchester regularly during this time, but did not visit other comparable towns.

There is the interesting case of an Eleanor Kechyn, who in 1491 received a pardon for unspecified offences, on the condition that she would spend the rest of her live under house arrest.  At that time she apparently was a fairly young widow.  So Baldwin speculates that she had become involved with Richard, but Richard marrying and having children did obviously not fit into Henry’s plans and had to be stopped by all means (Baldwin, pp. 87-100).

At the abbey Richard trained as a bricklayer rather than a more educated role, because it would have served the purpose of hiding him in obscurity better.  Working with bricks was also a speciality in East Anglia (Baldwin, pp. 143-144).

Baldwin also thinks that Henry knowing of Richard’s life in Colchester is why he was not interested in witnesses to prove that Perkin Warbeck was an impostor, which were offered to him by Ferdinand and Isabella and others. It would also explain why he did not confront Warbeck with his ‘sisters’ and also why there is no sign that Queen Elizabeth turned against her husband after Warbeck’s execution.

Henry VII died on 21 April 1509.  Baldwin reasons that Richard might have felt less safe with the new King Henry VIII, whom he did not know.  He may have tried to protect himself by obtaining a pardon.  The records show that on 31 January 1512 a pardon was granted to a “Richard Grey of Colchester, alias of North Creke, Norf., yeoman or labourer”.  Obviously we cannot be sure that this was our Richard.  However, his mother had been referred to as ‘Dame Elizabeth Grey’ by Richard III, and after the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth was declared invalid, this would have been his name.  The terms ‘yeoman’ and ‘labourer’ referred to a skilled if unpretentious craftsman.  ‘North Creke, Norfolk’ would refer to Creake Abbey, where from the mid 1490s restoration work was being carried out.  A skilled bricklayer from Colchester might have been seconded to Creake Abbey to help with the repairs (Baldwin, pp. 101-119).

The dissolution of Colchester Abbey in 1538 (Baldwin, p. 135) made Richard, now in his mid-sixties, homeless and he would have to travel to earn his living.  In this way he ended up in Eastwell working for Sir Thomas Moyle four to five years later.  However, out of an instinct for self-preservation he invented the story about being a bastard son of Richard III. This would have allowed him the privileged upbringing to explain his knowledge of Latin, without any claims to the throne.  For the same reason he left out his association with Colchester and settled on the anonymity of London, as the curious Sir Thomas might have felt like probing further into the story (Baldwin, pp. 147-148).

Baldwin acknowledges that there is no proof, but that it could have happened like this.  As the whole arrangement had to be kept secret, documentary proof cannot be expected, and there is only circumstantial evidence:

  • Henry VII was unduly concerned with events in Colchester in the first half of his reign
  • Lovell’s and the Stafford brothers’ unnecessary journey to Colchester
  • Henry’s visits to Colchester
  • Philip Knighton’s secret mission
  • The strange restrictions placed on Eleanor Kechyn (Baldwin, pp. 146-147)

So far the theory outlined in Baldwin’s new book.  It is certainly an attractive theory and there are a number of points supporting it.  However, for me the main stumbling block is the complicity of both Henry VII and Henry VIII, who were not all that forgiving to anyone with possible Yorkist claims.  Would Henry VII really have left his brother-in-law in peace to please his wife?  Henry’s reluctance to confront Perkin Warbeck with his sisters or other possible witnesses supports more Perkin’s claim, who was widely seen to be the real article and Henry would surely have liked to have as many people as possible stating that he was indeed an impostor.

However, Baldwin’s book is an invaluable source of information and critical evaluation of the fate of the young princes.  It is well-written and the “Time Chart of the Principal Events of English History during the Period Covered by this Book” in the beginning will come in handy for anyone interested in the period.  I can only recommend the book.

Baldwin, D. (2007). The Lost Prince. Sutton Publishing.
Smith, G. (Vol.10, No. 135, December 1996). “Lambert Simnel and The King from Dublin”. The Ricardian.