Edward V, King of England

Reigned 1483. Early Life

The eldest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, Edward V was born at Westminster Abbey on 2 November, 1470. Edward's mother had taken sanctuary at the abbey during the brief restoration of the Lancastrian king, Henry VI by the ambitious Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as 'Warwick the Kingmaker'. Yorkist fortunes were at a low ebb at the time of Edward's birth, the new born prince's father had been forced to flee the country with his brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester and his mother and sisters had taken sanctuary within the Abbey.

Edward V with his parebts Edward IV and Elizabeth WoodvilleEdward V

Henry VI, with characteristic kindness, would not countenance any violence toward the newborn child or his mother. The wheel of Fortune turned once more for the House of York on the return of King Edward IV to England, who decisively defeated the Lancastrians at the Battles of Barnet (14th April 1471) where Warwick was killed and Tewkesbury (4 May 1471), where the young Edward of Lancaster, Henry VI's only son, was slain, Henry VI was again deposed and met his end in mysterious circumstances in the Tower of London.

Ludlow CastleLudlow Castle

The young Edward was sent to Ludlow Castle, near the borders of Wales, for his education. Edward IV planned a prestigious European marriage for his heir, and in 1480 negotiated an alliance with Francis II, Duke of Brittany, by the terms of which Prince Edward was betrothed to the duke's four-year-old heiress, Anne.

The Usurpation of Richard of Gloucester

On the death of his father on 9 April 1483, the new King journeyed to his capital with his maternal uncle and governor, Anthony Woodville and his half-brother Sir Richard Grey along with a small retinue. Edward IV's will, nominated his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as Protector during the minority of his son. Edward's progress was interrupted at Stony Stratford by Richard, Duke of Gloucester and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Richard dined with Earl Rivers and Richard Grey that evening, but the following morning they, along with the king's chamberlain, Thomas Vaughan, were arrested and sent to Richard's power base in the north. Edward, who seems to have been a promising and intelligent youth, objected but was humiliatingly powerless. Anthony Woodville and Richard Grey, despite reassurances to the contrary, were later executed on Richard of Gloucester's orders.

Edward, now in the custody of his uncle Gloucester and Buckingham, continued on his progress to London. News of the dramatic occurrences at Stony Stratford raced ahead of them, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, in a state of agitation, fled to Westminster Abbey with her daughters and her younger son, Richard, Duke of York. Avaricious as ever, she did not fail to take all her possessions into the sanctuary with her.

Gloucester and Buckingham entered London with the young king and a large body of armed men from the north. Panic spread, most people had been taken by surprise and astonishment was rife at the speed of events. An unmistakable atmosphere of coup d'etat gripped the city. While the grasping Woodvilles had been unpopular, King Edward IV had been much loved by the people, and therefore most were loyal to his son. Richard of Gloucester eased apprehension by explaining he was only countering a Woodville conspiracy aimed at himself and "the old nobility of the realm". This explanation was generally accepted and the fears which had gripped London were calmed.

King Edward V was lodged in the Bloody Tower, then known as the Garden Tower, in the Tower of London, ostensibly awaiting his coronation. There was nothing sinister detected in this at the time when the Tower was a royal residence as well as a prison. On the pretext that his brother required his company and the Queen was being foolish, the ten-year-old Richard, Duke of York, was removed from the safety of sanctuary at Westminster and taken to join him in the Tower.

At a meeting of the council at the Tower on the thirteenth of June, arranged to discuss Edward V's coronation, Gloucester, the Lord Protector, had William, Lord Hastings suddenly and unexpectedly arrested on a charge of treason. Hastings, while he detested the Woodvilles, had been a close friend of Edward IV and would never have countenanced the disinheriting of his children. He was executed, without trial, the same day on a block of wood.

The legitimacy of the young Edward V then began to be actively questioned, and the old claim of Edward IV not being the true son of Richard, Duke of York was resurrected by Buckingham, who stated that the late King's true father had been an archer named Blaybourne, who was supposed to have had an adulterous affair with his mother Cecily, Duchess of York.

The theologian Ralph Shaa preached a sermon arguing that the late King Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid, due to Edward's previous troth plight to Lady Eleanor Butler, rendering both Princes and their sisters bastards. He then called on Richard to ascend the throne as the true heir of York, pointing out his resemblance to his father. After an initial feigned show of reluctance, Richard then accepted and was crowned in his nephew's place. Many saw through this dissembling, but since he was now all-powerful, none were in a position to oppose him directly.

Edward V and Richard, Duke of York in the Tower, by Sir John Everett Millais, 1878Princes in the Tower

The Murder of the Princes in the Tower

The two young princes had been seen playing in the Tower gardens at various times until then. Gradually, they began to appear less frequently. The last person to see them alive was Edward V's physician, Dr Argentine, who had attended him at the Tower and found him in a state of abject melancholy.

The Italian friar, Dominic Mancini, who left England in July 1483, informs us;-

'He and his brother were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, till at length they ceased to appear altogether. A Strasbourg doctor, the last of his attendants, whose services the King enjoyed, reported that the young King, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him. Already there was a suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether however, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not at all discovered.'

The Croyland Chronicle, written in the spring of 1486, confirms these rumours:-

'A rumour,' it states 'was spread that the sons of King Edward had died a violent death, but it was uncertain how.

Robert Ricart, Recorder of Bristol made an entry in his 'Calendar for the year ending September 1483:-

'In this year the two sons of King Edward were put to silence in the Tower of London.'

Historical notes compiled by a citizen of London before the end of 1488 for the year ending November 1483, record that: 'they were put to death in the Tower of London.'

The dispute has raged ever since concerning the fate of Edward V and his brother Richard. The traditionalists believe that they were killed on their uncle Richard's orders. While the revisionists argue that Richard was cast into the role of villain by Tudor propaganda and that his successor, Henry VII, or Buckingham, had equal cause to remove the two boys, as they stood as much in their path to the throne as they did in Richard's.The Duke of Buckingham also stood in the line of succession, he was descended from Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, the youngest son of Edward III.

Much evidence to support both claims has been raised. At a distance of more than five hundred years it is impossible to state with certainty who was responsible for ordering the murder of Edward V and his young brother, all that can be said with certainty is that rumour was rife at this time that they had been done away with and that they were never seen alive again.

The staircase in the White Tower, beneath which were foubd the bones assumed to be those of the Princes in the TowerThe staircase in the White Tower, beneath which were found the bones assumed to be those of the Princes in the Tower

The Tudor humanist scholar, Sir Thomas More, writing forty years later, provides an early account of the young Prince's fate. More himself was five at the time of Bosworth, he had, however, access to many people who were alive at the time and who participated in public affairs during Richard's reign. Although, admittedly, some of these and particularly Dr Morton would have been partisan.

More relates to us that the order was given by Richard, whilst on progress to Gloucester following his coronation, to one John Green, to carry a letter to Sir Robert Brackenbury, then Constable of the Tower, to kill his nephews, Brackenbury, however, refused to carry out the deed, although he did later fight by Richard's side at Bosworth.

The king then approached Sir James Tyrrell, who, being an ambitious man, wanted to rise in his service and was more receptive. Richard sent him to the Tower with an order that the keys be surrendered to him for one night. More further tells us he employed two men to carry out the murder, Miles Forest 'a Fellow fleshed in murder before time' and John Dighton 'a big broad square knave'. They, it is reported, smothered the boys under the feather bed and pillows.

The bodies were then reportedly buried 'at the stair foot meetly deep in the ground, under a great heap of stones.' A John Green of Warwickshire who received a general pardon from the crown in September 1483 has been traced. Forest has been discovered to be a Keeper of the Wardrobe at Barnard Castle, the home of Richard's mother, Cecily, Duchess of York. More reports that due to Richard's uneasy conscience, the children's bodies were later disinterred and buried elsewhere.

James Tyrrell was later appointed Master of the King's Henchmen. Tyrrell was supposed to have confessed to the murder before being hung for another offence, in 1502, during the reign of Henry VII. It is puzzling, however, that Henry VII did not publish this confession to clarify the matter and take advantage of the opportunity presented to blacken the reputation of his hated rival. To muddy the waters further, in the summer of 1486, only one year after Bosworth was fought, Henry VII himself issued two pardons in the name of James Tyrrell.

Revisionists point to the fact that Elizabeth Woodville would never have surrendered her daughters to Richard's keeping if he had murdered her sons, the Princes. It should be remembered that prior to this event he had already executed her other son, Sir Richard Grey.

The conduct of Henry VII toward Elizabeth Woodville, then his mother-in-law, adds to the enigma. For reasons which remain unclear, Henry quarrelled with the Dowager Queen and in 1487, forfeited all her possessions and had her removed to a nunnery. Speculation has been made that this may have been because she had discovered that he had murdered her sons and therefore had to be isolated to be kept quiet. It could equally have been because of her involvement in the pretenders plots.

King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower of London, by Paul DelarocheEdward V

The Bones in Westminster Abbey

In 1674, workmen employed in demolishing a staircase within the Tower of London, leading to the chapel of the White Tower, made the discovery of the bones of two children in an elm chest, at around a depth of ten feet. They were originally thrown aside with some rubble until their significance as the possible bones of the two princes was recognised. Several accounts survive relating to the discovery of these bones, the following account, written on evidence presented by John Knight, Chief Surgeon to Charles II, was published in 1677:-

"Upon Friday the ... day of July, An. 1674 ...in order to the rebuilding of the several Offices in the Tower, and to clear the White Tower of all contiguous buildings, digging down the stairs which led from the King's Lodgings to the chapel in the said Tower, about ten foot in the ground were found the bones of two striplings in (as it seemed) a wooden chest, which upon the survey were found proportionable to ages of those two brothers viz. about thirteen and eleven years. The skull of one bring entire, the other broken, as were indeed many of the other bones, also the chest, by the violence of the labourers, who....cast the rubbish and them away together, wherefore they were caused to sift the rubbish and by that means preserved all the bones. The circumstances of the story being considered and the same often discoursed with Sir Thomas Chichley, Master of the Ordinance, by whose industry the new buildings were then in carrying on, and by whom the matter was reported to the King.''

Charles II, then the reigning monarch, asked the architect, Sir Christopher Wren, to design a white marble container and they were reverently placed in the Henry VII chapel at Westminster Abbey, close to the tomb of the Prince's sister, Elizabeth of York.

Due to historical controversy which continued to surround the matter of the fate of the Princes in the Tower, George V gave permission for the exhumation of these bones in 1933. An examination was conducted on the bones by Lawrence Tanner MD, OBE, the Abbey archivist, Professor William Wright, President of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Dr George Northcroft, then president of the Dental Association.

The urn in Westminster Abbey containing the presumed bones of Edward V and his brotherEdward V

Professor Wright concluded that on the evidence of the ossification development of the bones of the vertebrae, he believed these were the bones of two children, the eldest aged twelve to thirteen and the younger nine to eleven. The heights of the two children were calculated to be four feet nine and a half inches and four feet six and a half inches respectively, somewhat taller than their age estimates suggested. (The prince's father, Edward IV, stood at six feet four inches tall). They further stated that a large red stain on the skull of the elder child reaching from below the orbits to the angles of the lower jaw was consistent with death by suffocation and that congenital missing teeth and certain bilateral Wormian bones (islands of bone) of unusual size and similar shape on both crania were evidence of consanguinity. The lacrimal bone, smallest and most fragile of the face, of one of the boys, was abnormal, which suggested, stated Wright, that he had ''cried his eyes out."

Dr Northcroft, after an examination of the teeth, (the most reliable method for determining age) agreed with Wright's findings. Both sides of the lower jaw of the elder child, presumed to be Edward V, exhibited extensive evidence of the bone disease, osteomyelitis, a chronic and in medieval times, incurable condition.

The Tanner and Wright report and accompanying photographs of the bones have been subject to expert scrutiny on many occasions since then. Modern conclusions vary. There is a consensus among modern experts that Wright's determination of the ages of the skeletons and the age differential between the two sets of bones is approximately correct, although great differences of age calculated by the development of bones and teeth have been observed in studies. Later reports claim to be unable to determine the sex of either skeleton. Determination of consanguinity by congenitally missing teeth or bilateral Wormian bones remains disputed although the skull of Anne Mowbray, the younger prince's child bride who died in 1481, a distant relative of the princes, also displayed similar congenital missing teeth. As regards the staining which is present on one of the skulls, without chemical testing it remains unproven that it is a bloodstain and modern experts deny it being proof of suffocation.

In the absence of modern carbon dating or DNA analysis on forensic evidence of the bones, it is still not possible to say that these are the bones of Edward V and his brother. The Abbey authorities have to date refused a second examination.

The Bones at St. George's Chapel, Windsor

In 1789, workmen carrying out repairs in St. George's Chapel, Windsor accidentally broke into the vault of Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville, discovered what appeared to be a small adjoining vault, which was found to contain the coffins of two unidentified children. No examination was carried out and the tomb was resealed. These coffins were assumed to be the bodies of George, Duke of Bedford, 3rd son of Edward IV who died aged around 2 in 1479, and Mary, the fifth daughter of Edward IV, who died aged 14 in 1482. Both were known to have been buried in Windsor. A slab commemorating George and Mary was put in the paving above the vault.

During the later excavation for the royal tomb house of King George III in 1810-13, two lead coffins were discovered which were clearly labelled as George Mary Plantagenet, these were moved into the adjoining vault of Edward IV, but no attempt was made to identify the two lead coffins already in the vault. In the written account of Mary's funeral, it states that she was "buried by my Lorde George, her brother". In the late 1990s, work was being carried out near and around Edward IV's tomb in St George's Chapel; the floor area was excavated to replace an old boiler and also to add a new repository for the remains of future Deans and Canons of Windsor. A request was put to the Dean and Canons of Windsor to consider a possible examination of the two vaults either by fibre-optic camera or, if possible, a reexamination of the two unidentified lead coffins in the tomb also housing the lead coffins of two of Edward IV's children that were discovered during the building of the Royal Tomb for King George III. Royal consent would be necessary to open any royal tomb. The 2012 Leicester archaeological dig has prompted renewed interest in re-excavating the skeletons of the "two princes", however, Queen Elizabeth II has not granted the approval required for any such testing. The mystery of who was buried in a place of honour beside Edward IV remains unsolved.