Correspondence shows Church of England has repeatedly refused to allow forensic tests on bones in Westminster Abbey
It is one of the great mysteries of English history. Did Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets, really murder the princes in the Tower as his Tudor successors, including their greatest propagandist, William Shakespeare, always alleged?
Previously confidential correspondence reveals that the Church of England, with backing from the Queen and ministers, has repeatedly refused requests to carry out similar forensic tests to those used to identify the remains of Richard III this week to see if the bones buried in Westminster Abbey are those of Richard’s two nephews.
DNA testing was refused on the grounds that it could set a precedent for testing historical theories that would lead to multiple royal disinterments. The church was also uncertain what to do with the remains if the DNA tests were negative, potentially leaving the church with the dilemma of how to manage bogus bones. Authorities also resisted on the grounds the tests could not finally establish “if Richard III is to be let off the hook”.
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.