Actually, that's not quite right...

  • Edward IV was not "embattled by civil war", after his restoration in 1471 the remainder of his reign was comparatively uneventful and peaceful by the standards of the day. His brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester remained loyal to him throughout his reign which was why Edward IV appointed him Lord Protector; he never considered him an "enemy of the state" and he never behaved as such.
  • Henry Tudor was not exiled to Ireland, he was actually allowed to live quite peacefully under the care of William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke at Raglan Castle until he took the opportunity to escape into exile in Brittany in 1471. Edward IV never particularly regarded him as a serious threat and neither did anybody else before 1483.
  • Contrary to the assertion made, the 1933 forensic examination of the remains discovered in 1674 was not inconclusive; it reached some very definite conclusions which are referred to below.
  • James Tyrell's confession was not "used by the Tudors to kill him", he was arrested and convicted for treason in relation to an entirely different matter.
  • The Bishop of Bath and Wells did not "declare the marriage invalid", it was the Duke of Buckingham that made the allegation public; the involvement of the Bishop is referred to in a later French source which names him as the source of the allegation on which Richard based his claim.

Etc. I could go on, but let us rather find out what exactly happened.

It is curious that the deaths of the Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, the 'Princes in the Tower' have over the years excited so much interest. One historian, presumably exasperated at the attention paid to them at the expense of other, perhaps worthier but duller subjects was heard to say that "I just do not understand how people can become so upset over the fate of a couple of sniveling brats. After all, what impact did they have on the constitution?".

Be that as it may a proper consideration of the true fate of the princes is required and particularly of the man who is generally held responsible for their deaths, Richard Planatagenet, Duke of Gloucester and later king Richard III.

Now Richard III has received a bad press, for which I think we can largely blame William Shakespeare. After all he wasn't a hunchback and he didn't have a withered arm; he was a generous patron of the church, demonstrated a keen interest in heraldry, founded the College of Arms, was a popular figure in the north of England and on the basis of the evidence of his brief reign, might well have proved to have been a competent and successful king.

But he was also, and we should not forget this, a ruthless bastard quite prepared to kill people to get what he wanted.

The circumstances regarding Richard's seizure of the throne

In 1464 Edward IV secretly married Elizabeth Woodville without, as was customary, seeking the prior approval of his council. This marriage was opposed by almost everybody except Edward and Elizabeth themselves, on the grounds that Elizabeth was a commoner and had previously been married to a John Grey - who was a Lancastrian to boot, killed at the battle of Towton in 1461.

As a result of this marriage, Elizabeth's father Richard Woodville was ennobled as the Earl Rivers, her son by her first marriage Thomas Grey, became the Marquess of Dorset and many other members of the Woodville family were similarly rewarded - Elizabeth had fifteen siblings, so there were plenty of Woodvilles about.

The Woodvilles were never popular, their sudden rise to wealth and influence was resented and was what ultimately inspired the revolt of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick in the years 1469 to 1471 (which led to the brief 'interegnum' when Henry VI was restored to the throne), and later problems with George Plantagenet, the Duke of Clarence. The politics of the reign of Edward IV was therefore dominated by the divisions between the Woodville party and the anti-Woodville party.

When Edward IV died on the 9th April 1483 the result was a power struggle between the Woodvilles and Richard, Duke of Gloucester for the control of Edward V and therefore the government of the country. On his deathbed Edward IV appointed his brother as Lord Protector, and the anti-Woodville party therefore gathered around the figure of Richard. Both sides were convinced (and with good reason) that the other side would act against the other if they succeeded.

On the 29th April 1483 Richard executed what was essentially a coup, intercepting Edward V on his journey from Ludlow to London. At Stony Statford he seized hold of the young king together with the Earl Rivers (who had been Edward's guardian) and other members of his household and escorted Edward to the royal apartments at the Tower of London.

By means of this preemptive strike Richard and his allies, who included the Duke of Buckingham and the Lord Hastings as well as various members of the Howard family, effectively wiped out the Woodvilles as a political force. At that time no one knows if Richard had already decided to take the crown for himself; he may well have been purely motivated by a desire to exclude the Woodvilles from power.

Certainly by the 13th June 1483 Richard was clearly aiming for the throne when he had the Lord Hastings arrested and killed. Hastings despite his hatred of the Woodvilles was essentially a loyalist who was committed to seeing Edward V crowned in accordance with the wishes of his father Edward IV. And Hastings was therefore an obstacle that stood in Richard's way and needed to be removed.

On the 22nd June 1483 Richard effectively announced his claim to the throne by means of a sermon preached by Ralph Shaw at St. Paul's Cross. Three days later, on the 25th June 1483 the Earl Rivers, together with three other Woodville supporters were killed at Pontefract Castle; on the same day in London the Duke of Buckingham addressed a meeting of the Lords and Commons at Westminster and presented a petition for them to sign, which set out the claim that Edward's marriage to Elizabeth had been invalid, that their children were bastards and that therefore Richard was the legitimate heir.

Irrespective of the actual truth of this claim, and it does not appear that many believed it at the time, it was sufficient pretext to enable Richard to claim the throne; and as the contemporary record of Dominic Mancini explained, the assembly;

consulted their own safety, warned by the example of Hastings and perceiving the alliance of the two Dukes, whose power, supported by a multitude of troops, would be difficult and hazardous to resist; and therefore they determined to declare Richard their king and ask him to undertake the burden of office.

On the 26th June 1483 at Barnard's Castle the Duke of Buckingham formally presented this petition to Richard. It was accepted and therefore marked the day on which king Richard III was to date the beginning of his reign as king of England. Less than a fortnight later Richard III|Richard] was crowned king on the 6th July 1483

The fate of the Princes in the Tower

At the time of the death of Lord Hastings, Edward V's servants were dismissed, and access to the soon to be deposed king was restricted; later in June Edward was also joined by his brother Richard, Duke of York who was released by his mother Elizabeth Woodville after assurances given by Thomas Bourchier the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Son afterwards the two boys were moved from the royal apartments; they were probably not kept in that part of the Tower of London since known as the Bloody Tower, but most likely in the White Tower, in the secure chambers above the royal apartments where it was customary to lodge important prisoners of state.

And after that no more was heard of the two princes.

And after that rumours began to circulate that Richard III had killed them both.

In late 1483 the Dominic Mancini wrote that "I have seen many men burst forth into tears and lamentation" when they talked of the fate of young Edward.

In January 1484 Guillame de Rochefort, the Chancellor of France addressed the Estates General with the words;

Look I pray you at the events that have taken place in that country since the death of king Edward. Think of his children, already big and strong, murdered with impunity and the crown transferred to their murderer by the will of the people.

As the Great Chronicle recorded for the year 1484; but after Easter much whispering was among the people that the king had put the children of king Edward to death.

Later the Spanish envoy Diego de Valera was to write;

It is sufficiently well known to your majesties that this Richard killed two inncocent nephews of his, to whom the realm belonged after his brother's life

Or to put it another way; these were not just idle rumours. It was universally believed throughout Europe that Richard III had killed his nephews. What is interesting is that Richard III never once responded to these accusations; never protested his innocence of the crime, never took any steps to disprove the allegations, never publicly made any reference whatsoever to the princes.

The importance of the Princes in the Tower

It is precisely because people believed that Richard III had murdered his nephews that they turned against him, regarded him as tyrant, regarded him as king who should be deposed. As the Great Chronicle explained regarding people's attitude to Richard III;

the more in number grudged so sore against the king for the death of the inncocents that as gladly would they have been French as be under his subjection

(Note that it doesn't matter for these purposes whether Richard killed them or not, the fact that they believed that he had done so was sufficient.)

People were not indifferent to the fate of the two princes; even in an age when it was customary to execute you defeated enemies on the field of battle and where people scarcely blinked an eye when the deposed Henry VI was beaten to death, people still regarded the killing of two young boys who were not of age as a crime against nature which invited divine retribution.

Now other than the immediate members of his family, nobody took Henry Tudor seriously as a contender for the throne in Edward IV's reign. He was the "unknown Welshman" (as Richard himelf dubbed him) languishing in poverty and exile in Brittany; the king of Portugal had a better claim than he did. It was the belief that Richard III had killed his nephews and the widespread revulsion that crime invoked that inspired people to flock to Henry's banner and offer money and support. Since they believed the princes were both dead, Henry was the only available candidate that could rid the country ofRichard.

Their deaths were therefore not "unimportant to the future of the crown of England"; they were in fact of the greatest importance to the 'future of the crown of England'. They transformed Henry Tudor from a nobody into a serious challenger for the throne of England and ultimately made him king.

The controversy regarding Richard III and the Princes in the Tower

As we have noted above, the belief in Richard's guilt was fairly well established during his reign, a belief that continued under the rule of his Tudor successors. (Although it has to be said that Henry VII never went so far as to directly accuse Richard III of the crime, and generally speaking sought to smooth over the controversies of his predecessors.) It was not until the year 1611 and the rediscovery of the text of Titulus Regius that contained the claim regarding the illegitimacy of Edward V and his brother that the issue of Richard's guilt was reconsidered.

In 1617 William Cornwallis published his The Encomium of Richard III which sought to defend Richard against the charge of murdering the princes, which was followed in 1619 by The History of Richard III which again proclaimed Richard III's innocence. This latter volume was the work of one John Buck whose grandfather had been executed as supporter of Richard III,and was therefore particularly keen to 'restore' the former king's reputation.

Thereafter various individuals at various times have sought to demonstrate Richard III's innocence, often concocting the most bizarre theories in the process, but whose arguments generally boil down to the assertion that since there is no evidence directly linking Richard to the murder of the princes he cannot be said to have been responsible for their murder.

On the whole it would be best to summarise the position by stating that the majority of historians believe, with varying degrees of certainty, that Richard III did indeed kill the princes, and who are therefore known as the 'traditionalists'; then there are a number of 'revisionist' or 'Ricardian' enthusiasts that seek to in some way absolve Richard III or legitimise his actions.

There is no real 'mystery' as such, the evidence, such as it is and almost entirely circumstantial all points to the death of both princes sometime in late 1483 and that the culprit was the man that had them in custody at the time, Richard III.

The real mystery is why some people are so eager to 'defend' Richard III. After all the circumstances of the deaths of the two princes are strangely similar to that of a previous Plantagenet prince, Arthur of Brittany who arguably had a better claim to the throne than his uncle John; and John had Arthur imprisoned at Rouen in 1202, after which Arthur simply disappeared from view. No one seems to doubt that John had Arthur killed and there are no 'King John' societies that seek to redeem that kings' reputation.

The remains discovered in 1674

On the 17th July 1674 some workmen discovered a wooden chest buried beneath the foundations of a staircase in the White Tower at the Tower of London. Inside the chest were the bones of two young children; it was decided that these were the remains of the two young princes which were later translated to Westminster Abbey and laid to rest under a white marble coffin designed by Christopher Wren.

There they remained for some 250 years until George V, acting in response to public pressure authorised an opening of the tomb at Westminster and an examination of the remains.

The two 'forensic scientists' were examined the skeletons were in fact Dr Lawrence E Turner, Keeper of Monuments at Westminster Abbey and Profeesor W Wright President of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain. The Tanner and Wright report published in 1934 in th journal Archaelogica concluded that there were skeletons of two children.

They used dental evidence to determine the ages of the children and concluded that the eldest was between 12 and 13, the youngest between 9 and 11. In September 1483 Edward V was 2 months shy of his 13th birthday and his brother was 10 that month, therefore the ages of the skeletons found were a pretty close match. They also concluded from an examination of the remains that the two skeletons showed a distinct family resemblance and were therefore closely related.

For these and other reasons Tanner and Wright concluded that the two skeletons were indeed those of the two princes and stated "that the evidence that the bones in the urn are those of the Princes is as conclusive as could be desired".

Since that time there have been much discussion regarding Tanner and Wright's report, but nothing has come to light to demonstrate that they were incorrect in any respect.

Of course more modern scientific techniques such as DNA anlaysis, would be able to shed more light on the matter, but the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey have so far refused further access to the remains. As Westminster Abbey is a Royal Peculiar they are technically under the authority of the sovereign; whether the current monarch Elizabeth II has any view on the matter or whether she has simply deferred the matter to the officals at the Abbey is not known.

This only scratches the surface of the vast outpourings of text on the subject.

Further information can be found at the Richard III society American branch which has a The Richard III Society Online Library at that includes online versions of various source documents, as well as a great deal of other material. In particular there is a useful summary entitled Whodunit: The Suspects in the Case By Helen Maurer see (which concludes that Richard II did do it).

There is also the Richard III society at and a Richard III foundation at but the best summary of evidence is best found offline; The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir (Bodley Head, 1992).

The quotation at the beginning is attributed to Helen Maud Cam and quoted in Whodunit: The Suspects in the Case By Helen Maurer as noted above.