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Why the Princes in the Tower Are Staying Six Feet Under

6th February 2013

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Tudor and Stuart histories insist that the remains contained in an urn designed by Sir Christopher Wren are those of Edward V and Richard Duke of York who were “stifled with pillows … by the order of their perfidious uncle Richard the Usurper”, as the 17th-century inscription puts it. A concerted attempt to get the urn opened was made by the Richard III Society, the group behind this week’s confirmation of Richard III’s remains, together with the BBC in 1993 and again by Channel 4 in 1995. A Home Office file shows the then dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Michael Mayne, strongly resisted both requests despite being “pressed very hard to agree” to allow the bones to be submitted to carbon dating, to match their deaths to Richard III’s reign, and DNA testing to prove their identities.

Buckingham Palace and then home secretary, Michael Howard, were consulted and both the Queen and the minister were in “full agreement” with the church authorities that matter should not be reopened. The dean took advice from the historian Lord Blake and an Oxford archaeology professor, Edward Hall, who said carbon dating of a sample from the late 15th century would only establish the accuracy of the bones within plus or minus 50 years. Richard III occupied the throne for two years between 1483 and 1485 before his death in the battle of Bosworth Field. “It could not therefore differentiate between Richard III or Henry VII – or another – being the guilty party. Nor would the C/14 technique give any clue as to the age at death of the children,” the dean said.

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