Princes in the Tower

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The Princes in the Tower, Edward V of England (2 November 1470 – 1483?) and his brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York (17 August 1473 – 1483?), were the only sons of Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville alive at the time of their father's death.

In May of 1483 Edward, arriving in London for his coronation, was accommodated in the Tower of London, then a royal residence. Richard at that point was with his mother in sanctuary, but joined his brother in the Tower in June. Both princes were declared illegitimate by an Act of Parliament of 1483 known as Titulus Regius, and their uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester was crowned as Richard III. There are reports of the two princes being seen playing in the Tower grounds shortly after Richard joined his brother, but there are no recorded sightings of either of them after the summer of 1483. Their fate remains disputed, and many historians presume that they either died or were killed in the Tower. There is no record of a funeral.

In 1674, the skeletons of two children were discovered under the staircase leading to the chapel, during the course of renovations to the White Tower. At that time, these were believed to have been the remains of the two princes. On the orders of Charles II the remains were reburied in Westminster Abbey. In 1933, the grave was opened to see if modern science could cast any light on the issues, but precise identification of the age and gender was not then possible.[1]

Contents

Suspects

If the boys were indeed murdered, there are several major suspects for the crime. The evidence is ambiguous, and has led people to various conflicting conclusions.

Richard III had eliminated the princes from the succession. However, his hold on the monarchy was not secure, and the existence of the princes remained a threat as long as they were alive. They themselves were ostensibly not a threat, not withstanding Edward's having been acclaimed King, but could have been used by Richard's enemies as a pretext for rebellion. Rumors of their death were in circulation by late 1483, but Richard never attempted to prove that they were alive by having them seen in public, which strongly suggests that they were dead by then (or at a minimum, not under his control—unlikely, since they would presumably still have been in the Tower). Instead, he remained completely silent on the matter. At the very least, it would have been in his political interest to order an investigation into the disappearance of the princes if they had simply vanished. As the brothers' protector (having obtained them as 'protectorate' from their mother), he appears to have failed to 'protect' them. Many modern historians, including David Starkey,[2] Michael Hicks[3] and Alison Weir,[4] regard him as the most likely culprit.

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