One of the most intriguing mysteries in royal history is what happened to the Princes in the Tower. The two boys were Edward and Richard, the only sons of King Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville. Edward, the elder of the two was the direct heir to throne, however his ease to gaining the throne was complicated owing to the ongoing Wars of the Roses. His family were on the Yorkist side while the Lancastrians were vying for power. Within the Yorkist side there were power struggles which added risk to young Prince Edward’s position.
King Edward IV dies on 9th April 1483 and the news reached his eldest son Edward five days later. Young Edward had been kept at Ludlow Castle under the charge of his maternal Uncle, Anthony Woodville. King Edward IV had stipulated clear instructions for his sons preparations to one day be king. At only 12-years-old young Edward was now King and his court set off for London. On-route Richard, Duke of Gloucester the younger brother of the former King, intercepted young Edward and had his retinue arrested including Anthony Woodville. Gloucester had been made Lord Protector by King Edward IV which gave him power over the new child king.
Gloucester postponed Edward’s coronation from 4th May to 25th June, and in this time sent the young king to the Tower of London along with his younger bother Richard. This was a normal practice ahead of coronations for the heir to stay at the Tower, however by late summer of 1483 they were not seen again. Prior to this, the two Princes’ had been deemed illegitimate and that Gloucester was the only true legitimate heir of the House of York. He was proclaimed King on 26th June and then crowned in Westminster Abbey on 6th July.
No evidence has been found to prove that the Princes’ were murdered but their disappearance would suggest this owing to their position and the fraught nature of the Wars of the Roses. A popular argument is that Gloucester had them killed to gain the throne, which did happen. However, they had been declared illegitimate prior to this, so for Richard to kill them can be perceived as unnecessary. Other rumours suggested Margaret Beaufort or Henry Tudor were involved in the disappearance but little evidence has been found to support this or opportunity for either to have done so. Bones belonging to children were discovered at the Tower of London during the reign of Charles II and were placed in Westminster Abbey. They were placed in an urn with the following inscription:
Here lie the relics of Edward V, King of England, and Richard, Duke of York. These brothers being confined in the Tower of London, and there stifled with pillows, were privately and meanly buried, by the order of their perfidious uncle Richard the Usurper; their bones, long enquired after and wished for, after 191 years in the rubbish of the stairs (those lately leading to the Chapel of the White Tower) were on the 17th day of July AD 1674 by undoubted proofs discovered, being buried deep in that place. Charles II, a most compassionate king, pitying their severe fate, ordered these unhappy princes to be laid amongst the monuments of their predecessors, AD 1678, in the 30th year of his reign.