Sunday, August 25, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

E-mail article     Print

Will Dna Testing Clear Richard Iii? -- Historian, A Specialist On 16Th Century, Doubts Two Missing Princes Were Murdered

London Observer

LONDON - A solution to one of the greatest mysteries in English history - the fate of the little princes in the Tower - may soon be found through the latest DNA testing techniques.

The princes were not murdered by their wicked uncle, Richard III, as recorded by Shakespeare. They were smuggled out of the Tower and grew up in Tudor England under false identities.

That's the firm conclusion of amateur historian Jack Leslau, a jeweler who has devoted decades to studying the 16th century. He believes that the "little pretty ones" referred to in Shakespeare's "Richard III" became distinguished adults in Henry VIII's reign.

Leslau believes the elder of the two princes, Edward V, took the guise of Sir Edward Guildford, and was passed off as the eldest son of Sir Richard Guildford, comptroller to the royal household. He is convinced that the younger prince, Richard, Duke of York, reappeared as John Clement, who qualified as a doctor and became president of the Royal College of Physicians.

He says there is no conclusive evidence to show that the two princes - sons of Edward IV - were murdered when they disappeared from the Tower of London in 1483.

In 1674, 191 years after the princes disappeared, workmen found two skeletons in the Tower and the authorities, assuming they were the missing princes, had them removed and buried in Westminster Abbey. But there has never been proof of their identities.

Now Leslau's theories are to go under the microscope. He hopes to test the DNA of the remains of Dr. John Clement and Sir Edward Guildford to see if they were brothers. If they are, he says it will prove they are the missing princes.

Since retiring from his family jewelry business 10 years ago, Leslau has spent a fortune researching his ideas, going to the United States and Soviet Union to speak to historians, scientists, doctors and other specialists. He has studied both the positive evidence for what happened to the princes and what he calls "the negative evidence" - documents and portraits that should exist, but don't.

Like the author Josephine Tey, whose book "The Daughter of Time" tackled the subject, and like members of the Richard III Society, who believe their hero has been unfairly vilified, Leslau feels numerous clues show that the little princes were not murdered by Richard:

-- Their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, at no point referred to their death or disappearance and remained on good terms with Richard, her brother-in-law.

-- Historians base their assumptions about the murder chiefly on Sir Thomas More's book, "The History of King Richard the Third," written in 1513, 30 years after the supposed murders. But, as Tey pointed out, there were numerous reasons why More, as lord chancellor of England, might want to vilify Richard - not least because he was a Yorkist and Sir Thomas was serving a Tudor monarch descended from the Lancastrian strain.

"In order to prove my theory I had to find the two princes," said Leslau. "I researched all More's family and friends and came across a mystery man, Dr. John Clement, who was a member of his household.

"There was no indication of a place or date of birth for him, which was unusual because More wrote extensively about his family, friends and even his servants.

"Clement eventually became president of the Royal College of Physicians, without any family credentials at all.

"This position was in the gift of the king, and in the entire history of the Royal College, from the time the Letters Patent was granted in 1518 to the present day, Dr. Clement is the only president for whom no records, portraits or signature remain and about whose family nothing is known."

Clement's burial place also bears out Leslau's theory that he was of royal birth. He is buried by the High Altar in St. Rombaut's Cathedral, in Mecklen, Belgium, a place reserved at that time for scions of the house of Burgundy and the equivalent of Westminster Abbey.

Similarly, the tomb of Lady Jane Guildford, Sir Edward Guildford's daughter, bears out Leslau's belief that she was also of royal birth. The tomb, in Chelsea Old Church, London, states that she is a princess.

Above all, Leslau relies upon a portrait of the More family attributed to Hans Holbein, in which Clement is shown in the doorway. Leslau believes that Holbein knew Clement's identity and left dozens of clues in the picture to inform future generations.

He claims to have broken the painter's hidden code. The "clues" include Clement's position in the picture, which is higher than the others, the royal fleur-de-lis placed on the portico above his head and the words above him in Latin, saying: "John, the rightful heir."

"I was gobsmacked the first moment I cracked the code," says Leslau. "It is the best-fit hypothesis of what really happened to the princes because it takes into account every piece of known evidence, both positive and negative, from the period."

Leslau believes the princes' mother, Elizabeth Woodville, made a deal with Henry VII under which Henry would marry her daughter, Elizabeth of York, and the two boys would abandon their claim to the throne.

Because he is having difficulty in getting permission to open Clement's tomb in St. Rombaut's Cathedral, Leslau intends to start with one of Clement's daughters, who is buried in a small church in Louvain. Scientists at Louvain University have agreed to carry out the tests.

Similarly, no one is sure where Sir Edward is buried. So Leslau wants to start by testing hair or tissue from the tomb of Guildford's daughter, Lady Jane Guildford. He hopes to find that Sir Edward is also buried in the More Chapel in Chelsea Old Church.

The plan is to compare their DNA with that of King Edward IV, who he believes is their grandfather and whose tomb is at Windsor.

The DNA profiling technique can establish a related grandparent and grandchild.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


Get home delivery today!