How certain are we that Richard III murdered
the Princes in the Tower?
Introduction and Overview
Given that Richard III was my obsession forty years ago at university I’m surprised it’s taken so long to provide an activity on Richard on this site. One reason is that I suspect many people just can’t squeeze Richard III into the KS3 coverage – whether you’ve got 2 years or 3 to cover the history of almost everything it’s hard to argue a case for including Richard III instead of 1066, the Black Death, the Civil War etc. The other issue is the angle – a mystery activity ‘who killed the Princes?’ is likely to be more frustrating than fruitful because there’s little evidence pointing at anyone other than Richard.
That’s why for this activity I’ve gone for a different question – about how certain we can be about Richard’s responsibility. This takes us into the same ground of looking at evidence – both written sources and the actions of individuals – but gives Y7 students an opportunity to think about and get used to the idea that we aren’t always completely certain about what happened in the past and we have to use vocabulary that describes degrees of certainty.
In practice there are two activities here:
1. A story-telling activity to introduce the key people and how Richard came to be king. This is done by turning your room into a map of England and moving the key people around the map while you tell the story.
2. A ‘clue-based’ activity asking students to put each clue on a certainty-uncertainty continuum. The resulting pattern answers the question about ‘How certain …?’
One last thing by way of introduction – what’s my answer?
The basic problem is that there are no trustworthy sources telling us directly what happened to the Princes. However evidence doesn’t just exist in the form of statements written down at the time. What persuaded me that it’s highly likely Richard was responsible is a different kind of evidence - the actions of those who rebelled against Richard in autumn 1483. What’s significant is the identity of these rebels. The great majority had been loyal followers of Edward IV for the past 10 or 20 years. Therefore this was a Yorkist rebellion, aiming to put Edward V back on the throne until they changed their plan and decided to support Henry, earl of Richmond (Henry Tudor). This was a remarkable change. Hardly anyone knew Henry. He’d been in exile since 1471 when he was 14, had no training for kingship and only the remotest claim to the throne and that through the Lancastrian line. The only explanation for these Yorkists backing the Lancastrian heir is that they believed Edward V and his brother were dead and that Richard was responsible. They would not have turned to Henry if they’d believed the Princes were alive. That’s why, for me, these men’s actions provide the most compelling evidence that the princes were dead and that they believed Richard was responsible. But, having said that, many did stay loyal to Richard and there’s no reason to see them as any less moral than his opponents. So some doubt exists and I’m sure plenty of people disagree with that argument. That’s what makes this topic so fascinating.
This activity is intended to help students develop:
• an understanding of the events of 1483 leading to the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower
• the ability to discuss and develop ‘how far we can be certain’ in history and reach their own conclusions, using words such as ‘probable’ ‘highly likely’ ‘almost certain’ etc etc.
Activity 1: Telling the Story
The linked document describes how to tell the story of the events of April-July 1483 i.e. from the death of Edward IV to the coronation of Richard III. Central to this is using your room (or another room – the hall?) as a map so that everyone can get the sense of Richard moving down from the north and meeting Edward V and Rivers in the midlands before heading for London (see the layout).
As teacher your role is as narrator, telling the story with enthusiasm and drama and asking as many questions of pupils as you wish. Those questions will be along the lines of ‘what do you think happened next?’ ‘what do you think your character might have done next?’ to keep them thinking and concentrating. I’ve suggested some questions in the text but each class and occasion will be different.
What do you do with the class? Divide them into 8 groups, one for each key character in the story. One pupil in each group will play the role, the others in the group have to log what happens to their character and join in answering any questions to him/her.
For the 8 pupils taking the roles– it’s helpful if they each wear a tabard with their names on. Have a crown for the King – maybe one for the Queen too - and one larger chair as the royal throne.
Some medieval music playing quietly in the background is brilliant for atmosphere. Don’t need to be too pedantic – Tudor will do the trick! (Try CDs by the York Waits if you don’t know any.)
Other people (Dorset, Grey, Princess Elizabeth etc) could be added but for Y7 this cast-list is probably enough.
It’s very hard to predict how long this story-telling activity will last – it will vary from class to class – and lesson-lengths vary too so I’m not going to say ‘this is one lesson’. That’s for you to sort out. The product of the story should, however, be pupils wanting to know ‘what happened next?’ ‘what happened to the princes who’d been put in the Tower?’. That’s your cue to move on, whether it’s in the same or the following lesson.
The linked document contains a number of clues to the fate of the Princes. The task for pupils, working in groups or as a whole class, is to decide where to place each clue on the 4-part Certainty-Uncertainty’ continuum line (see the PowerPoint). You can make this more or less demanding and time-consuming by:
• giving each group all the clues
• dividing the clues so that each group only has 5 or 6 clues (but create overlaps so more than one group can comment on each clue)
• work as a class with each pair having one clue to report back on.
It’s likely that all the clues will be placed within the ‘Probably’ and ‘Possibly’ areas of the continuum (there’s scope for discussing which of the ‘Probably’ clues are most probable etc). You may wish to have a box for clues which seem irrelevant, unhelpful or students are unsure of.
When the Clues are all in position, move onto discussion:
a. What’s the overall pattern of clues? What does this tell us about how certain we are?
b. How would you answer the question ‘What happened to the Princes?’
c. Which clues are most helpful for (b)? Why is it important to use words such as ‘probably’?
d. Why might clues A and C be unreliable witnesses?
e. Why can’t we always be certain about what happened in the past?
f. Does this History different from other school subjects? [discuss similarities/differences with e.g. Maths and Science]
The Richard III Society website provides a great deal of information including links to portraits:
Music from the time of Richard III by The York Waits is available on Amazon HERE …