As always, history is subject to revision, and revision to that revision, ad infinitum. With the 2012 discovery of his body in a Leicester car park, and the resulting tug-of-war between that city and York for the right to his body, the debates raged once again.
Shakespeare portrayed him in the light of Tudor propaganda: the hunch-backed murderer of the princes in the tower, Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York. The killer of his own nephews.
The arguments over the mysterious death of the two boys cause strong emotions even today and a coin coming up at auction on March 15 could reignite the controversy.
The rare gold Angel dates from the tragically brief reign of Edward V, the shortest-lived male monarch in English history, and is estimated at £12,000-15,000 in the Dix Noonan Webb sale in London.
It was found in a Dorset field by a metal detectorist, Bournemouth heating engineer Brian Biddle. The 64 year old at first thought that he had found a bottle top. But he quickly realised that he had come across a gold coin when he removed it from the soil at Tolpuddle, between Dorchester and Bournemouth, in August last year.
Research into the Angel – with its image of the Archangel Saint Michael slaying a dragon – has revealed that it was minted during the reign of the 12-year-old Edward who was king for just 86 days in 1483. Edward, one of only four English monarchs never to have been crowned, and his younger brother vanished into a dungeon in the Tower of London.
“This coin is important partly because it is extremely rare but also because it is a link to one of the greatest mysteries in English history,” says Peter Preston-Morley, a DNW coins expert.
Biddle, who has only been a detectorist for 18 months, was using his equipment with fellow club members in a field which had been searched several times in recent years with the permission of the farmer. He will split the proceeds of the sale equally with the farmer. Biddle registered the find at Dorchester Museum and the research began.
The Angel’s halved sun and rose mint mark, which indicates where and when it was made, and the legend EDWARD DI GRA, show that it was minted during the reign of the boy king who nominally ruled from April 9-June 25, 1483. It was probably struck on the orders of Lord Hastings, Chamberlain of the Royal Household, and this reduces the timeframe to June 13 when Hastings was executed. In reality, the coin is likely to have been minted in April or May 1483 as Edward and his brother were incarcerated in the Tower at the beginning of June.
Richard ordered their imprisonment and then seized the throne as Richard III on June 26, 1483. Shortly after that the dies used to mint coins were altered to read RICARD DI GRA and the mint mark was overstruck with Richard’s personal emblem, a boar’s head.
Two years later Richard himself was dead on the battlefield of Bosworth Field and the Tudor era began.
Questions of allegiance
So, was Richard guilty? As a born-and-bred Yorkie, my answer is obvious. History is never so simple, however. Although the city of York did support Richard III, for much of the Wars of the Roses – a dynastic and family struggle in essence - it actually backed the Lancastrian cause, as did the county of Yorkshire. The Yorkist power base was in largely the south of England and Wales.
York men marched out from the city to fight on the Lancastrian side at the Battle of Towton in 1461, the bloodiest battle ever fought in England.
But Richard III had close connections to York and Yorkshire and spent many of his younger years at Middleham Castle. The city raised troops to support his cause, including 80 sent to fight for him after Henry Tudor’s invasion.