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The Princes in the Tower, Edward V of England (November 4, 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. They disappeared without a trace from the Tower of Londonmarker in 1483.Both princes were declared illegitimate by an Act of Parliament of 1483 known as Titulus Regius. Their uncle, Richard III of England, placed them both in the Tower of Londonmarker (then a royal residence as well as a prison) in 1483. There are reports of their early presence in the courtyards etc., but there are no records of them having been seen after the summer of 1483. Their fate remains unknown, and it is presumed that they either died or were killed there. 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 Towermarker. 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 Abbeymarker. In 1933, the grave was dug up and found to contain both human and animal bones; however precise identification of the age and gender was not then possible.


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 of England 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, notwithstanding Edward's having been acclaimed King, but could have been used by Richard's enemies as a pretext for rebellion. Rumours of their death were being circulated by Richard's enemies 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). Rather, 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 [10908], Michael Hicks and Alison Weir, regard him as the most likely culprit. However, Richard III was found not guilty in a mock trial presided over by three justices of the United States Supreme Court in 1997. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen G. Breyer, in a 3-0 decision, ruled that the prosecution had not met the burden of proof that "it was more likely than not" that the Princes in the Tower had been murdered; that the bones found in 1674 in the Tower were those of the princes; or that Richard III had ordered or was complicit in their deaths. The Bill of Attainder passed by Parliament, on orders from Henry VII in 1485, makes no mention whatsoever of the Princes.

James Tyrrell was an English knight who fought for the House of York on many occasions. Tyrrell was arrested by Henry VII's forces in 1501 for supporting yet another Yorkist claimant to the throne. Shortly before his execution, it is said that Tyrrell admitted, under torture, to having murdered the princes at the behest of Richard III.

Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham was Richard's right-hand man and sought personal advantage through the new king. Some, notably Paul Murray Kendall, regard Buckingham as the likeliest suspect: his execution, after he had rebelled against Richard in October 1483, might signify that he and the king had fallen out because Buckingham had taken it on himself for whatever reason to dispose of Richard's rival claimants; alternatively, he could have been acting on behalf of Henry Tudor (later to become King Henry VII). On the other hand, if Buckingham were guilty he could have been acting on Richard's orders as well, with his rebellion coming after he became dissatisfied with Richard's treatment of him. Buckingham was also a descendant of Edward III through John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster and may have hoped to ascend the throne himself. Buckingham's guilt depends on the princes having already been dead by October 1483, as Buckingham was executed the following month.

Henry VII of England (Henry Tudor) following his accession, proceeded to find a legal excuse to execute some of the rival claimants to the throne. He married the princes' eldest sister, Elizabeth of York, to reinforce his hold on the throne, but her right to inherit depended on both her brothers being already dead. Realistically, Henry's only opportunity to murder the princes would have been after his accession in 1485. This theory leaves open the question of why the princes were not seen after 1483 and why Richard did not produce them when he was suspected of their murder.

Evidence behind the rumours

The Croyland Chronicle, Dominic Mancini, and Philippe de Commines all state that the rumour of the princes' death was current in Englandmarker by the end of 1483. In his summary of the events of 1483, Commines says quite categorically that Richard was responsible for the murder of the princes, but of course he had been present at the meeting of the Estates-General of Francemarker in January 1484, when the statement was taken at face value. The other two sources do not suggest who was responsible. Only Mancini's account, written in 1483, is truly contemporary, the other two having been written three and seven years later, respectively. The Great Chronicle, compiled 30 years later from the contemporary London municipal records, says the rumour of the princes' death did not start circulating in London until after Easter of 1484. Historians have speculated, on the basis of these contemporary records, that the rumour that the princes had been murdered was deliberately created to be spread in England as an excuse for the October 1483 attempt of Henry Tudor and Buckingham to seize the throne . If the princes were not already dead by the end of 1483, this of course removes any possibility that Buckingham, who was executed on 2 November 1483, could have murdered them.

No discussion of this episode would be complete without mention of Sir James Tyrrell, the loyal servant of Richard III who is said to have confessed to the murder of the princes in 1502. Thomas More, a Tudor loyalist (and later Chancellor under Henry VIII), composed his History of King Richard III around the year 1513. He identified Tyrrell as the murderer, acting on Richard's orders, and told the story of Tyrrell's confession, which took place after he had been arrested for treason against Henry VII. The Great Chronicle of London, written around the year 1512, also identified Tyrrell. Polydore Vergil, in his Anglica Historia (circa 1513), specifies that Tyrrell was the murderer, stating that he "rode sorrowfully to London" and committed the deed with reluctance, upon Richard III's orders, and that Richard himself spread the rumors of the princes' death in the belief that it would discourage rebellion.

In his history of King Richard, More said that after the princes were smothered to death in their beds that they were buried "at the stayre foote, metely depe in the grounde vnder a great heape of stones", but that they were later disinterred and buried in a secret place. In 1674, some workmen remodelling the Tower of Londonmarker dug up a wooden box containing two small human skeletons. The bones were found at the foot of a staircase, consistent with More's description of the original burial place of the princes. They were found with "pieces of rag and velvet about them", the velvet indicating that the bodies were those of aristocrats. Eventually the bones were gathered up and put in an urn, which Charles II of England ordered interred in Westminster Abbeymarker. In 1933 the bones were taken out and examined and then replaced in the urn in the vault under the Abbey. Examination of photographs from this exhumation indicated that the elder child was 11–13 years old and the younger was 7–11 years old. No further scientific examination has been conducted on the bones, which remain in Westminster Abbey, and DNA analysis has not been attempted. It is not possible to say the sex of the skeletons. (One skeleton was larger than the other, but many of the bones were missing, including part of the smaller jawbone and all of the teeth from the larger one.)

Arguments in the controversy

Part of the controversy still surrounding Parliament's ruling, known as the Titulus Regius, that Edward (and his brother Richard) could not be rightful heirs to the throne arises from confusion about why Parliament ruled that their parents' marriage was invalid. The issue was further complicated by the fact that the Titulus Regius was subsequently overturned by Henry Tudor's government after the overthrow and death of Richard III, with the specific injunction that it be destroyed without being read into the record. As the Titulus also barred Henry's already tenuous claim to the throne, destroying it provided Henry with legitimacy, but would have given him a motive to kill the Princes, newly returned to the succession, ahead of Henry, if they were still alive in 1485.

As a matter of law, the marriage was, indeed, invalid if the story of the pre-contract between their father and Lady Eleanor Butler was true. Under both canon law and civil law, a "pre-contract of marriage" was a promise to marry, and it was enforceable in court as if the promised marriage had, in fact, taken place (the concept of a "pre-contract" still exists in law, but it usually arises today in the context of pre-contracting to make a contract for a business deal, like a sale of property or a corporate merger). A pre-contract with Eleanor Butler would have invalidated the king's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. This was the law in Englandmarker, and many other contemporary examples can be pointed to. The purpose of publishing the "banns of marriage", and then asking in the wedding ceremony if anyone knows of just cause why the marriage should not take place, was to prevent marriages that were invalid, because of a pre-contract or for any other reason. Marrying in "secret" (or "private", which usually meant "not in a church") without the calling of the banns, as Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville did, was considered a virtual admission that there was a legal impediment. If Parliament was presented with evidence of Edward's marriage to Eleanor Butler or his pre-contract to marry her, it was bound to rule that his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous, and therefore any children born to them would be considered bastards.

The fact that the princes were technically bastards (following his deposition from the throne, Edward V was referred to by his uncle's followers as the "Lord Bastard") did not necessarily mean they could never inherit—William the Conqueror was neither the first nor the last bastard to inherit lands and titles. "Bastardy," the legal term for illegitimacy, was a legal status that could be changed by fiat, ecclesiastical or civil, as shown by the number of times King Henry VIII changed the status of his children. Henry VII's own claim to royal status was based on the legitimisation of John of Gaunt's illegitimate Beaufort children. Parliament could have legitimized the princes and allowed Edward V to remain king, but it used that excuse for what it wanted to do for practical reasons. Boy kings (Henry III, Richard II, Henry VI) had always been disasters for England—and the Wars of the Roses had been halted by the accession of Edward IV as a capable adult. The Yorkists were in power, and Edward V's numerous Woodville relatives had always been Lancastrians at heart and had already made many enemies. Richard III, on the other hand, was considered the Yorkists' best all-round candidate for the job of king at the time.

There were subsequently a number of apparent Pretenders claiming to be Prince Richard, although there seem to have been none claiming to be Edward V. It has been suggested that this is because Edward V was well known and would have been difficult to impersonate; this would be equally true of his younger brother. The best-known Pretender was Perkin Warbeck. The fact that Henry VII did not provide an official public version of the fate of the Princes, despite Warbeck's activities, until the Tyrell confession, has been interpreted as meaning that he was either unaware of the true story or that publishing it would have not been in his interests.


Popular culture

  • The first season of the British sitcom Blackadder is set in a comic alternative history where the Princes In The Tower survived and grew to adulthood, Prince Richard assuming the throne as Richard IV upon Richard III's death at Bosworth Fieldmarker.
  • The secret was discovered in The Kingmaker, an audio drama based on Doctor Who, in which the princes were discovered to be princesses.
  • In "I, Richard" from the I, Richard short story collection by Elizabeth George, the protagonist murders a friend to obtain a letter they unknowingly possess that was written by Richard III proving the princes were still alive on the day of the Battle of Bosworthmarker. In the same story, George also concludes that Elizabeth of York murdered the two princes, handing them over to secure her own place as Queen.
  • Both Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time and Elizabeth Peters' The Murders of Richard III revolve around the debate on whether Richard III was guilty of these as well as other crimes.
  • Besides Tey, novelists such as Horace Walpole, Sharon Penman and Valerie Anand have defended King Richard III against the accusation that he murdered his nephews.
  • In 1984, Channel 4 broadcast a four-hour "trial" of Richard III on the charge of murdering the princes. The presiding judge was Lord Elwyn-Jones and the barristers were recruited from the Queen's Counsel, but had to remain anonymous. Expert witnesses included David Starkey. The jury was composed of ordinary citizens. The burden of proof was left to the prosecution. The jury found in favour of the defendant.
  • The Japanese anime series Kuroshitsuji details a possible scenario of what happened to the Princes in the Tower in Episode 16 ("His Butler: The Lone Castle"). Under orders from 'relatives' King Edward V and Richard were executed in Ludlow Castlemarker, and had their bodies disposed in the River Teme. This revelation allows their ghostly forms to ascend to heaven after 400 years of haunting the Tower of London.


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