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Edward V (The Princes In The Tower)

Tower Green, Tower of London

The story of Edward V is either a mysterious one, or one that has been made mysterious. Edward was twelve when his father Edward IV died on 9th April 1483. The young king then fell victim to a power struggle between the family of his mother, Elizabeth Wydeville, and his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. In May 1483 Edward, after being captured by Gloucester, was sent to the Tower of London. He was soon joined there by his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York. After July 1483 the two boys were never seen again. This story is famous, because of its dramatic nature, but also because of the doubt surrounding the princes' eventual fate. Historians seem to want the truth, but in fact the best things to write about are subjects where there is doubt. In Shakespeare's play Richard III there's a touching scene where the twelve year old King Edward V tries to distract himself from his fears on entering the Tower by asking the Dukes of Buckingham and Gloucester about the castle's history. The innocent boy king thinks that history should be passed down the generations: "Methinks the truth should live from age to age" (3.1.76). Gloucester thinks people this sensible won't live long. History rarely seems to be about passing the truth from age to age. The truth changes from age to age. Each age wants something different from its past. Historians themselves are always looking for a new angle. There is no mileage in saying what someone else has said. Often the job of a historian is to create doubt, to take a truth which has been living from age to age, and then annoy everyone by saying that it was all wrong. It is possible that a number of sources writing soon after the short reign of Edward V gave a fairly accurate account of events. Two historians, Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil, wrote accounts during the reign of Henry VII, with More writing from the evidence of eye witness reports. Naturally they wrote in a way not to upset their monarch and patron Henry VII, but both were respected historians, and More in particular, was a man of principle. In 1504 More risked the charge of treason when he opposed Henry VII in Parliament. He was no meek writer of propaganda. In addition there is an account written by Dominic Mancini, an Italian monk who came to England in late 1482 to report back to the Archbishop of Vienne on English affairs. He stayed in London until July 1483, leaving England the week after Richard III's coronation. His book The Occupation of the Throne by Richard III had no particular axe to grind, since Mancini was a foreign observer. He also did not try to make history tell moral lessons, a very common tendency in historical writing at the time. Mancini just reported the facts as he knew them. Mancini certainly made a few mistakes with his chronology, and as a foreigner his sense of English geography could be hazy, but there is no reason to believe he did not report the facts as he knew them. Finally there is a chronicle written at Croyland Abbey by an anonymous author which corresponds with other accounts in many details. Author Alison Weir claims that when all these sources are put together a fairly clear picture emerges of what happened to Edward V. Other authors, such as Richard III's biographer Michael Hicks are much more cautious. But perhaps historians prefer mystery.



Ightham Mote home of the Wydeville family

The future Edward V was born in 1470 into a turbulent world. His father Edward IV was engaged in a desperate struggle to hang on to the throne he had taken from Henry VI in 1461. Edward IV had become king with help from the Earl of Warwick. Warwick had lost enthusiasm for his former protege when King Edward secretly married Elizabeth Wydeville, of the up and coming Wydeville family. King Edward showed much favour to the Wydeville's which threatened the established order of power amongst the nobles. 1469 was to see Warwick turn his back on Edward, and start working for the deposed Henry VI. Warwick allied himself with Edward IV's treacherous and unpredictable brother, George, Duke of Clarence. Warwick and Clarence invaded from Calais, capturing King Edward at the battle of Edgecoat. Following the battle Warwick had Elizabeth Wydeville's father and brother beheaded. In 1470 Edward IV managed to escape custody and drive Warwick and Clarence out of the country. But this was only a temporary reprieve. On 13th September 1470 the rebel lords were back, and their forces entered London on 5th October. Queen Elizabeth Wydeville, was pregnant with the future Edward V. She left her apartment in the Tower of London crossed onto what was then the island of Westminster, and took refuge in the long established sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. The same day Warwick and Clarence restored Henry VI to the throne.




Westminster Abbey

Back at the Sanctuary of Westminster, the Abbot of Westminster put Queen Elizabeth up in his house. A London butcher John Gould is supposed to have donated half a beef and two muttons each week to feed the queen and her few companions. On 2nd November 1470 Elizabeth gave birth to her son Edward. Mother and son then remained in sanctuary in considerable danger for five months. It is remarkable that the symbolic and traditional power of the island of Westminster and its abbey managed to offer protection even in these extreme circumstances. Then in March 1471, Edward IV with financial help from Burgundy re-invaded England, and by April had reached London. Elizabeth and Prince Edward were able to leave sanctuary on 11th April. Clarence saw that resistance was hopeless and was reconciled with his brother. Warwick fought on, and was killed at the Battle of Barnet on Easter Sunday 1471. The remaining rebels tried to flee to Wales, but were intercepted by King Edward's forces at Tewkesbury on 4th May. Henry VI's son was killed and his army defeated. On 21st May Henry VI was murdered in the Tower of London, and Edward IV was once again King of England.

By 1473 young Edward had seemingley left behind the dangers of his babyhood in the Westminster Sanctuary. Now he was Prince of Wales, and had a household established at Ludlow Castle. Ordinances giving details of his daily routine and education survive, dated to 23rd September 1473. The boy was to be woken "at a convenient hour according to his age". He was to attend a religious service before breakfast, and then be instructed "in such virtuous learning as his age shall receive" (The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir P39). Horsemanship and sword fighting were to be taught in the afternoons. 1473 was also to see the birth of a second son for Elizabeth, Richard, Duke of York. Edward lived at Ludlow for ten years, with preparations in hand for his future as king. A dynastic marriage with Anne of Brittany was agreed upon. But then in Easter 1483 all these carefully laid plans began to unravel when King Edward became ill. He died on 9th April 1483, his young son technically becoming king the following day. By 26th June, Edward IV's brother Richard Duke of Gloucester, initially appointed protector, had taken the throne. What happened between these two dates is a complicated tangle of rumour, plot, counter plot and propaganda. Some writers, Michael Hicks for example, claim that it is now almost impossible to give a clear account of what happened. Others are more confident. The following story is one that Alison Weir derived from contemporary accounts, which at the very least gives a flavour of the times. Personally given the general tendency for historians to reject the writings of their predecessors in favour of their own, I think the original accounts probably have far more substance than has been usually allowed. Perhaps people have an in built tendency to try and rediscover what has been known all along.



Scaffold site on Tower Green

Edward V was in Ludlow when his father died. On 29th April the new king and Earl Rivers arrived in Northampton. Richard of Gloucester made clear that he wished to join the royal party at Northampton. But for some reason Rivers took the king to Stony Stratford, fourteen miles south, where traditionally the king's party is supposed to have stopped at the Rose and Crown Inn, which still exists. Rivers then rode back to Northampton to meet Richard. Perhaps by taking the king to Stony Stratford, Rivers was trying to keep Edward away from Richard. Richard was not pleased. Mancini reports that Gloucester and his friend the Duke of Buckingham entertained Lord Rivers at their inn, lulling him into a false sense of security. Rivers returned to his own inn, only to wake in the morning and find himself locked in. Richard rode south to Stony Stratford to take possession of young King Edward. Edward was then taken back to Northampton, where according to Mancini, Richard and his allies had a celebratory dinner. News of Duke Richard's move reached London on 30th April, just before midnight says Mancini. Queen Elizabeth knew that Richard hated her and the Wydeville family. She immediately packed up all the goods and money she could carry and fled to the Sanctuary at Westminster which had saved her before. On 4th May Gloucester entered London with Edward. The Duke made a show of humility, bending low in his saddle as he rode beside Edward, seemingly presenting Edward V to his public. Edward was given comfortable apartments at the Tower of London, and began carrying out routine government work. Some time during all of this Richard of Gloucester decided to try and seize the throne.





Bloody Tower

On 12th June Richard called a council meeting at the Tower. The meeting, according to More, began at 9am. Richard attended the meeting, appearing calm and cheerful. He then left, while the councillors discussed routine business. An hour or so later Richard returned, a different man. He threw around allegations of treachery, and inspite of a violent struggle the gathered nobles were arrested. Lord Hastings, an influential moderate, was dragged out onto Tower Green and immediately executed. Edward's apartments overlooked Tower Green, and he probably saw what happened. Life now changed for Edward. All of his attendants were forbidden from having any access to him. Mancini says that Edward's doctor "reported that the young king, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission for his sins by daily confessions and penance" (quoted by Alison Weir P108). Three days later Gloucester crossed the bridge onto the island of Westminster and surrounded the Sanctuary with troops. The Queen was told to hand over the Duke of York, Edward's younger brother. Initially Queen Elizabeth refused, but she soon realised that Richard had no respect for the traditional status of Westminster as sanctuary. The young Duke of York was taken by boat to the Tower to join his brother. Both boys were then removed from the royal apartments and placed in a more secure area. Traditionally the princes were held in what is now known as the Bloody Tower. In 1483 this small tower near the Thames wall was known as the Garden Tower, since it stood next to the garden of the Queen's House buildings. The princes were seen playing "in the garden of the Tower" which made some commentators think they were kept in the Garden Tower. In reality they were probably held on one of the upper floors of the vast central White Tower, where important prisoners had been kept since the twelfth century. This is probably what Mancini meant when he said the boys had been placed "in the Tower proper".





The White Tower

Between 17th and 21st June Gloucester postponed Edward's coronation indefinitely. On 22nd June, the day when Edward should have been crowned, a sermon was given at St Paul's Cross challenging Edward's claim to the throne. Three days later Earl Rivers, Lord Grey and Sir Thomas Vaughan were executed at Pontefract Castle. On the same day Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Wydeville was declared illegitimate. A gathering at Barnard Castle saw the Duke of Buckingham present a petition to Richard asking him to be king. After a show of reluctance the petition was accepted. The reign of Richard III is dated from 26th June 1483.The coronation took place on 6th July. After the coronation the two young princes in the Tower were never seen again. Mancini who left England a week after Richard's coronation said that before his departure the boys were no longer being seen by anyone. Croylands Chronicle claims the princes were still alive at this point. More, using his contacts at the Tower, wrote that the boys were kept in close confinement, and were only served by one man, named William Slaughter. Once again Edward's doctor is quoted, describing a boy now so depressed that he no longer dressed himself properly.






Chapel of St John the Evangelist. The skeletons of two boys were found in the foundations of a staircase leading up to this chapel

Richard's coronation was followed by a tour around England, which in August took him to Warwick Castle. Thomas More writes of Richard sending a man named John Green to the Tower to order the princes' deaths, a request that Sir Robert Brackenberry, constable of the Tower couldn't bring himself to obey. Green reported back to Richard at Warwick Castle, and at some point in late August or September a man called John Tyrell was sent to London and told to make it clear to Brackenberry that he had to cooperate. The Constable handed over the keys to Tyrell and walked away for the night. Thomas More gives a detailed description of the murder, by suffocation, followed by burial of the bodies in the foundations of a staircase. In 1674, workmen digging out foundations of a staircase leading up to the Chapel of St John the Evangelist, high in the White Tower, found a chest containing the skeletons of two boys. Tests carried out by medical experts in 1933 confirmed that the bones were those of two children of the ages of the princes in the Tower in September 1483.

The story of the princes in the Tower has been the subject of writing and speculation ever since the fifteenth century. It is apparently a great mystery. Perhaps it is a mystery and will continue as one. Perhaps, however, More, and Mancini told the story pretty much as it happened. Perhaps the truth of history cannot simply pass from age to age, as young King Edward wished. Different ages look for different things in the past. Historians need mystery. Some new angle is needed if history is not to settle into a lifeless unchanging, unexciting set of facts. This search for a new way of seeing can turn good kings, good times, good people, into bad ones, and vice versa. The search for what happened in the past has to face the difficulties of lack of evidence, and the fact that, in the final analysis, historians don't like a final version anyway.