Grant was not, as it happened, out of bed when Carradine came again, but he was sitting up.
‘You can’t imagine,’ he said to Brent, ‘how fascinating the opposite wall looks, after the ceiling. And how small and queer the world looks right way up.’
He was touched by Carradine’s obvious pleasure in this progress and it was some time before they got down to business. It was Grant who had to say: ‘Well, how did the York heirs make out under Henry VII?’
‘Oh, yes,’ said the boy, pulling out his usual wad of notes and drawing up a chair by hooking his right toe in the crossbar. He sat down on the chair. ‘Where shall I begin?’
‘Well, about Elizabeth we know. He married her, and she was Queen of England until she died and he made a bid for the mad Juana of Spain.’
‘Yes. She was married to Henry in the spring of 1486 — in January, rather; five months after Bosworth — and she died in the spring of 1503.’
‘Seventeen years. Poor Elizabeth. With Henry it must have seemed like seventy. He was what is euphemistically referred to as “unuxorious”. Let us go on down the family. Edward’s children, I mean. Fate of the two boys unknown. What happened to Cecily?’
‘She was married to his old uncle Lord Welles, and sent away to live in Lincolnshire. Anne and Katherine, who were children, were marked when they were old enough to good Lancastrians. Bridget, the youngest, became a nun at Dartford.’
‘Orthodox enough, so far. Who comes next? George’s boy.’
‘Yes. Young Warwick. Shut up for life in the Tower, and executed for allegedly planning to escape.’
‘So. And George’s daughter? Margaret.’
‘She became the Countess of Salisbury. Her execution by Henry VIII on a trumped-up charge is apparently the classic sample of judicial murder.’
‘Elizabeth’s son? The alternative heir?’
‘John de la Pole. He went to live with his aunt in Burgundy until —’
‘To live with Margaret, Richard’s sister.’
‘Yes. He died in the Simnel rising. But he had a younger brother that you didn’t put in that list. He was executed by Henry VIII. He had surrendered to Henry VII under a safe-conduct, so Henry, I suppose, thought that it might break his luck to ignore that. In any case he had about used up his quota. Henry VIII took no chances. He didn’t stop at de la Pole. There were four more that you missed out of that list. Exeter, Surrey, Buckingham, and Montague. He got rid of the lot.’
‘And Richard’s son? John? The bastard one.’
‘Henry VII granted him a pension of £20 a year, but he was the first of the lot to go.’
‘On what charge?’
‘On having been suspected of receiving an invitation to go to Ireland.’
‘I’m not. Ireland was the focus of loyalist rebellion. The York family were very popular in Ireland, and to get an invitation from that direction was as good as a death warrant in Henry’s eyes. Though I can’t think why even Henry would have bothered about young John. “An active, well-disposed boy”, he was, by the way, according to the “Foedera”.’
‘His claim was better than Henry’s.’ Grant said, very tart. ‘He was the illegitimate only son of a King. Henry was the great-grandson of an illegitimate son of a younger son of a King.’
There was silence for some time.
Then Carradine, out of the silence, said: ‘Yes.’
‘Yes to what?’
‘To what you are thinking.’
‘It does look like it, doesn’t it. They’re the only two who are missing from the list.’
There was another silence.
‘They were all judicial murders,’ Grant said presently. ‘Murders under the form of law. But you can’t bring a capital charge against a pair of children.’
‘No,’ agreed Carradine, and went on watching the sparrows. ‘No, it would have to be done some other way. After all, they were the important ones.’
‘The vital ones.’
‘How do we start?’
‘As we did with Richard’s succession. Find out where everyone was in the first months of Henry’s reign and what they were doing. Say the first year of his reign. There will be a break in the pattern somewhere, just as there was a break in the preparations for the boy’s coronation.’
Did you find out anything about Tyrrel? Who he was?’
‘Yes. He wasn’t at all what I had imagined. I’d imagined him as a sort of hanger-on; hadn’t you?’
‘Yes, I think I did. Wasn’t he?’
‘No. He was a person of importance. He was Sir James Tyrrel of Gipping. He had been on various — committees, I suppose you’d call them, for Edward IV. And he was created a Knight Banneret, whatever that is, at the siege of Berwick. And he did well for himself under Richard, though I can’t find that he was at the battle of Bosworth. A lot of people came too late for the battle — did you know? — so I don’t suppose that means anything particular. Anyhow, he wasn’t that lackey-on-the-make person that I’d always pictured.’
‘That’s interesting. How did he make out under Henry VII?’
‘Well, that’s the really interesting thing. For such a very good and successful servant of the York family, he seems to have fairly blossomed under Henry. Henry appointed him Constable of Guisnes. Then he was sent as ambassador to Rome. He was one of the Commissioners for negotiating the Treaty of Etaples. And Henry gave him a grant for life of the revenues of some lands in Wales, but made him exchange them for revenues of the county of Guisnes of equal value — I can’t think why.’
‘I can,’ said Grant.
‘Has it struck you that all his honours and his commissions are outside England? Even the reward of land revenues.’
‘Yes, so they are. What does that convey to you?’
‘Nothing at the moment. Perhaps he just found Guisnes better for his bronchial catarrh. It is possible to read too much into historical transactions. Like Shakespeare’s plays, they are capable of almost endless interpretations. How long did this honeymoon with Henry VII last?’
‘Oh, quite a long time. Everything was just grand until 1502.’
‘What happened in 1502?’
‘Henry heard that he had been ready to help one of the York crowd in the Tower to escape to Germany. He sent the whole garrison of Calais to besiege the castle at Guisnes. That wasn’t quick enough for him, so he sent his Lord Privy Seal — know what that is?’
‘Sent his Lord Privy Seal — what names you English have dreamed up for your Elks officials — to offer him safe conduct if he would come aboard a ship at Calais and confer with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.’
‘Don’t tell me.’
‘I don’t need to, do I? He finished up in a dungeon in the Tower. And was beheaded “in great haste and without trial” on May 6th 1503.’
‘And what about his confession?’
‘There wasn’t one.’
‘Don’t look at me like that. I’m not responsible.’
‘But I thought he confessed to the murder of the boys.’
‘Yes, according to various accounts. But they are accounts of a confession, not — not a transcript, if you see what I mean.’
‘You mean, Henry didn’t publish a confession?’
‘No. His paid historian, Polydore Virgil, gave an account of how the murder was done. After Tyrrel was dead.’
‘But if Tyrrel confessed that he murdered the boys at Richard’s instigation, why wasn’t he charged with the crime and publicly tried for it?’
‘I can’t imagine.’
‘Let me get this straight. Nothing was heard of Tyrrel’s confession until Tyrrel was dead.’
‘Tyrrel confesses that, way back in 1483, nearly twenty years ago, he pelted up to London from Warwick, got the keys of the Tower from the Constable — I forget his name —’
‘Brackenbury. Sir Robert Brackenbury.’
‘Yes. Got the keys of the Tower from Sir Robert Brackenbury for one night, murdered the boys, handed back the keys, and reported back to Richard. He confesses this, and so puts an end to what must have been a much canvassed mystery, and yet nothing public is done with him.’
‘Not a thing.’
‘I’d hate to go into court with a story like that.’
‘I wouldn’t even consider it, myself. It’s as phoney a tale as ever I heard.’
‘Didn’t they even bring Brackenbury in to affirm or deny the story of the keys being handed over?’
‘Brackenbury was killed at Bosworth.’
‘So he was conveniently dead too, was he.’ He lay and thought about it. ‘You know, if Brackenbury died at Bosworth, then we have one more small piece of evidence on our side.’
‘If that had really happened; I mean: if the keys were handed over for a night on Richard’s order, then a lot of junior officials at the Tower must have been aware of it. It is quite inconceivable that one or other of them wouldn’t be ready to tell the tale to Henry when he took over the Tower. Especially if the boys were missing. Brackenbury was dead. Richard was dead. The next in command at the Tower would be expected to produce the boys. When they weren’t producible, he must have said: “The Constable handed over the keys, one night, and since then the boys have not been seen.” There would have been the most ruthless hue and cry after the man who had been given the keys. He would have been Exhibit A in the case against Richard, and to produce him would have been a feather in Henry’s cap.’
‘Not only that, but Tyrrel was too well known to the people at the Tower to have passed unrecognised. In the small London of that day he must have been quite a well-known figure.’
‘Yes. If that story were true Tyrrel would have been tried and executed for the boys’ murder, openly, in 1485. He had no one to protect him.’ He reached for his cigarettes. ‘So what we’re left with is that Henry executed Tyrrel in 1502, and then announced by way of his tame historians that Tyrrel had confessed that twenty years before he had murdered the Princes.
‘And he didn’t offer, anywhere, at any time, any reason for not trying Tyrrel for this atrocious thing he had confessed.’
‘No. Not as far as I can make out. He was sideways as a crab, you know. He never went straight at anything, even murder. It had to be covered up to look like something else. He waited years to find some sort of legal excuse that would camouflage a murder. He had a mind like a corkscrew. Do you know what his first official action as Henry VII was?’
‘To execute some of the men fighting for Richard at Bosworth on a charge of treason. And do you know how he managed to make it legally treason? By dating his reign from the day before Bosworth. A mind that was capable of a piece of sharp practice of that calibre was capable of anything.’ He took the cigarette that Grant was offering him. ‘But he didn’t get away with it,’ he added, with sober joy. ‘Oh, no, he didn’t get away with it. The English, bless them, drew the line at that. They told him where he got off.’
‘They presented him, in that nice polite English way, with an Act of Parliament that said that no one serving the Sovereign Lord of the land for the time being should be convicted of treason or suffer either forfeiture or imprisonment, and they made him consent to it. That’s terribly English, that ruthless politeness. No yelling in the street or throwing stones because they didn’t like his little bit of cheating. Just a nice polite reasonable Act for him to swallow and like it. I bet he did a slow burn about that one. Well, I must be on my way. It’s sure nice to see you sitting up and taking notice. We’ll be having that trip to Greenwich in no time at all, I see. What’s at Greenwich?’
‘Some very fine architecture and a fine stretch of muddy river.’
‘And some good pubs.’
‘We’re going to Greenwich.’
When he had gone Grant slid down in bed and smoked one cigarette after another while he considered the tale of those heirs of York who had prospered under Richard III, and gone to their graves under Henry VII.
Some of them may have ‘asked for it’. Carradine’s report had, after all, been a précis; innocent of qualification, insusceptible to half-tones. But it was surely a thundering great coincidence that all the lives who stood between the Tudors and the throne had been cut short so conveniently.
He looked, with no great enthusiasm, at the book that young Carradine had brought him. It was called The Life and Reign of Richard III; by someone James Gairdner. Carradine had assured him that he would find Dr Gairdner well worth his while. Dr Gairdner was, according to Brent, ‘a yell’.
The book did not appear to Grant to be markedly hilarious, but anything about Richard was better than something about anyone else, so he began to glance through it, and presently he became aware just what Brent had meant by saying that the good doctor was a ‘yell’. Dr Gairdner obstinately believed Richard to be a murderer, but since he was a writer honest, learned, and according to his lights impartial, it was not in him to suppress facts. The spectacle of Dr Gairdner trying to make his facts fit his theory was the most entertaining thing in gymnastics that Grant had witnessed for some time.
Dr Gairdner acknowledged with no apparent sense of incongruity Richard’s great wisdom, his generosity, his courage, his ability, his charm, his popularity, and the trust that he inspired even in his beaten enemies; and in the same breath reported his vile slander of his mother and his slaughter of two helpless children. Tradition says, said the worthy Doctor; and solemnly reported the horrible tradition and subscribed to it. There was nothing mean or paltry in his character, according to the Doctor — but he was a murderer of innocent children. Even his enemies had confidence in his justice — but he murdered his own nephews. His integrity was remarkable — but he killed for gain.
As a contortionist Dr Gairdner was the original boneless wonder. More than ever Grant wondered with what part of their brains historians reasoned. It was certainly by no process of reasoning known to ordinary mortals that they arrived at their conclusions. Nowhere in the pages of fiction or fact, and certainly nowhere in life, had he met any human being remotely resembling either Dr Gairdner’s Richard or Oliphant’s Elizabeth Woodville.
Perhaps there was something in Laura’s theory that human nature found it difficult to give up preconceived beliefs. That there was some vague inward opposition to, and resentment of, a reversal of accepted fact. Certainly Dr Gairdner dragged like a frightened child on the hand that was pulling him towards the inevitable.
That charming men of great integrity had committed murder in their day Grant knew only too well. But not that kind of murder and not for that kind of reason. The kind of man whom Dr Gairdner had drawn in his Life and History of Richard III would commit murder only when his own personal life had been bouleversé by some earthquake. He would murder his wife for unfaithfulness suddenly discovered, perhaps. Or kill the partner whose secret speculation had ruined their firm and the future of his children. Whatever murder he committed would be the result of acute emotion, it would never be planned: and it would never be a base murder.
One could not say: Because Richard possessed this quality and that, therefore he was incapable of murder. But one could say: Because Richard possessed these qualities, therefore he is incapable of this murder.
It would have been a silly murder, that murder of the boy Princes; and Richard was a remarkably able man. It was base beyond description; and he was a man of great integrity. It was callous; and he was noted for his warm-heartedness.
One could go through the catalogue of his acknowledged virtues, and find that each of them, individually, made his part in the murder unlikely in the extreme. Taken together they amounted to a wall of impossibility that towered into fantasy.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14