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England's boy kings: Edward V

Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York.
Birmingham Art Gallery

Edward V of England never took possession of the throne. In fact, he was not crowned at all. Edward’s short “reign” was interrupted by his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and marked the beginning of the end for the House of York.

Edward was born to his father, Edward IV, and his mother, Elizabeth Woodville, in 1470, in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. After his father’s restoration as king, the young Edward was made Prince of Wales, and was subsequently sent to Ludlow as a young boy. Edward was educated under the supervision of his maternal uncle, Earl Rivers. Edward was described by contemporaries as a learned and kind boy, just as his father wanted.

In 1483, things changed suddenly for Edward. His father died, leaving the twelve-year-old Prince of Wales as the new king. Edward and his party started to ride from Ludlow to London; the new king’s appointed protector, his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, had other plans. Gloucester intercepted the young king with his army and dismissed the king’s own entourage, escorting Edward to the Tower of London for safekeeping. Edward’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, caught wind of Gloucester’s doings and sought sanctuary once again in Westminster Abbey, this time with her younger son, Richard, Duke of York. Gloucester persuaded the Dowager Queen to give up her younger son, and young Richard joined his older brother in the Tower.

Edward’s coronation continued to be postponed by Gloucester throughout the spring of 1483. However, this became clear when it was discovered that Edward IV had been previously betrothed before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, thus making the marriage invalid and the children illegitimate. Gloucester then took the throne for himself as Richard III. Parliament passed Titulus Regius, an act making Edward IV’s marriage officially invalid and declaring the Duke of Gloucester as the true Yorkist heir.

Edward and Richard continued to be held in the Tower after being illegitimized. They were seen less and less, and near the end of summer 1483, they were not seen at all. Many believe Richard III had his nephews killed to secure the throne, but is that what really happened? They were already illegitimized and confined with little hope of rescue. There is also another person who could have committed the murders: the first Tudor king, Henry VII. Henry defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, after his mother, Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of John of Gaunt, struck a deal with Elizabeth Woodville: Henry Tudor would marry Woodville’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, in exchange for aid to defeat Richard. After Henry’s ascension, he repealed Titulus Regius, relegitimizing his wife and her siblings...including her two brothers. What if the two princes were still alive and well in the Tower? Did Henry murder his wife’s brothers?

In 1633, two skeletons were found in the Tower during construction. Charles II declared them to be the princes and they were buried in Westminster Abbey. In 1933, the bones were examined by medical professionals, but could not be positively identified. The Royal Family does not wish to do any further investigation on the bones, including DNA testing. For the time being, the fate of Edward V and his brother the Duke of York remains a mystery.

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