The mystery of the Princes in the Tower is one of the most enduring scandals in England’s history. It occurred when two young princes (one who was to be made king) seemingly vanished while in their uncle’s care. That uncle just so happened to become King Richard III. No one living today knows exactly what happened to these two boys. However, the circumstances of their disappearance were very suspicious, indeed.
Prince Edward, or King Edward V, was the oldest son of King Edward IV and next in line to be King of England. His mother was the Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Edward was born in Westminster Abbey in 1470 and sent to Ludlow Castle to be educated.
Prince Richard, the 1st Duke of York, was Edward’s younger brother and the second son of Edward IV and his queen. Richard was married to five-year-old Anne Mawbry when he was just four-years-old.
The princes had a half-brother on their mother’s side, who also plays into the story of their disappearance. His name was Lord Richard Grey.
The Death of King Edward IV
King Edward IV died of natural causes on April 9, 1483. His son Edward was twelve at the time and Richard was ten. The death of his father made young Edward king. Because they were so young, their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester was named Lord Protector of King Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, upon the death of King Edward IV.
The coronation ceremony of Edward V was to be held on June 22, 1483. At the time of his father’s death, he was at Ludlow Castle. He left there for the Tower of London, where his coronation was to begin. He was accompanied by his half-brother and Lord William Hastings, among others.
The Interception of the Young King’s Entourage
The Duke of Gloucester and a group of his ‘co-conspirators’ intercepted the King Edward V’s entourage in Stony Stratford. This resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of Lord Richard Grey. Lord William Hastings was later beheaded when the duke accused him of conspiring to assassinate him.
King Edward V was taken from Stony Stratford to St. Paul unharmed and under the premise that he was still to be crowned king. His little brother, Richard was taken to Westminster Abbey with their mother. Edward was later brought to the Tower of London where he was supposed to be. Young Richard met him there on June 16, 1483.
The Legitimacy of the Princes Comes Into Question
It was alleged that King Edward IV was engaged to Lady Eleanor Talbot before he married Elizabeth Woodville. Though the couple apparently never married, this engagement would have made the king’s marriage illegal. Marriages that were illegal, or acts of bigamy, were considered null and void. If the marriage were illegal, the children of said marriage were illegitimate.
These accusations worked to the Duke of Gloucester’s advantage when, on June 25, 1483, Parliament concluded that the engagement had taken place. Therefore, the princes were not legitimate heirs to the throne. In light of this, Richard, Duke of Gloucester was made King Richard III. He went on to have a lover of his late brother, Jane Shore, imprisoned in the Tower of London. Apparently, he wasn’t happy with his brother’s love life.
At some point after both princes arrived at the Tower of London, they both vanished. They were certainly seen there as late as July. However, no one is exactly sure when they were last seen. It is widely believed that neither of them ever left the tower. There is no record of them doing so. In fact, there is no record of them at all past 1483.
So, what happened to the two princes? Is it possible that their names just slipped out of recorded history? This is not likely, as the public noted their absence at the time of their disappearance. Could they have been hidden away to avoid further conspiracy against them? This is possible, due to the fact that if they were able to prove they were legitimate, Edward would have been able to retake the crown. However, there is no record of this, either. Could they have been murdered by order of the new king? This is certainly possible. There are clues that seem to point to this very thing. However, King Richard III was killed in battle three years after taking the throne, making way for the Tudor dynasty. It is possible that not Richard, but one of the Tudors killed the princes in the Tower of London.
As stated above, it is not certain that the princes were murdered. Nonetheless, there were rumors, based on eyewitness claims, that King Richard III had them murdered. They were supposedly smothered with a pillow and then buried underneath a set of stairs. This matches up with evidence found in the Tower of London in 1674. That year, the skeletons of two children were found in a chest beneath the Chapel stairs in the tower. The remains were taken to Westminster Abbey and buried there, near some of the siblings of the princes.
In 1933, the bones were exhumed and examined. They were also photographed. The doctors who performed the examination concluded based on several clues that the bones could certainly belong to the princes. Unfortunately, authorities at Westminster Abbey have forbidden further examination of the bones, to date. Nonetheless, scientists have studied the photographs that were taken and have come to their own, varying, conclusions.
Aiuto, Russel, The Princes in the Tower, retrieved 4/10/2010, trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/famous/the_princes/8.htm
Edward V, retrieved 4/10/10, englishmonarchs.co.uk/plantagenet_13.htm
Princes in the Tower, retrieved 4/10/10, castles.me.uk/princes-in-the-tower.htm