The Princes in the Tower

What became of the Princes in the Tower is perhaps the greatest mystery in English history. Prince Edward, later Edward V, and Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, were the only biological sons of Edward IV and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville.

Following Edward IV’s death on 9 April 1483, the ascension of Edward V should have been a formality. The prince was proclaimed King of England in London two days later, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the only surviving brother of the late king, was, according to most sources, named in Edward’s last will as Protector of the Realm, much to the dismay of the Woodville faction. The will of 1483 does not survive, but many contemporary sources attest the content.

Richard and Edward were set to meet for the first time since Edward IV’s death at Northampton on 29 April. However, during the day, the new king moved on to Stony Stratford, located fourteen miles south in Buckinghamshire. Richard, accompanied by his loyal supporter the Duke of Buckingham, learned of the change of plan from the new king’s uncle, Earl Rivers, and subsequently dined with him in Northampton. The following day, Richard arrested Edward V’s Woodville-dominant retinue at Stony Stratford. The arrest and later execution of Earl Rivers, brother of Elizabeth Woodville, and Sir Richard Grey, Edward V’s half-brother from Elizabeth Woodville’s first marriage, saw Elizabeth take her children into sanctuary. Richard and Edward entered London on 4 May and announced plans for the coronation for 24 June.

It is here things become misty. Edward’s incarceration since 19 May might seem strange to many, but the act was nothing out of the ordinary. Stranger still were Richard’s actions around 8 June, when plans for the coronation changed. It has been suggested that it was on this day that Richard learned for the first time, through Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, of the pre-contract agreement between Edward IV and one Dame Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot, before Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Most of the information here comes from the French chronicler Philippe de Commines, and is absent from all other chroniclers. On 9 June, a letter written by Simon Stallworth, servant of the Bishop of Lincoln, suggested business was taking place ‘against the coronation’. There is evidence at that time that dialogue between the council and Elizabeth Woodville, in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, had broken down, while the coronation was brought forward to 22 June.

Further letters over the next two days confirmed Richard’s problems with the Woodville faction, while a council was called for 13 June at the Tower. The council convened at 9 am, lasting some thirty minutes. When it reconvened at about 10:30 am, Richard’s mood had apparently changed somewhat, and he seemed convinced of a plot against him. Lord Hastings was probably executed that day, allegedly for his involvement in a conspiracy against Richard. Sometime between 16 and 21 June, Edward’s coronation was postponed, supposedly to November, almost certainly due to the events of three days earlier. By 21 June, Richard, 1st Duke of York, is recorded as having come out of the sanctuary and joined his brother at the Tower.