Edward V and His Kid Brother Conveniently Go “Poof”

The lives of two young boys were sacrificed to serve the ambitions of the older generation.

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I’m twelve, but I look sixty. Photo by History Today

The War of the Roses between the House of York and the House of Lancaster over the English throne is no doubt one of the most notorious — and deadly — family feuds in human history. The participants were so self-serving and cold-hearted that the lives of two young boys were sacrificed to serve the ambitions of the older generation.

Edward V was born November 2, 1470, the elder son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. When his father, the King, died on April 9, 1483, the 12-year-old monarch departed from Ludlow Castle to make his way to London and his new life as King.

His paternal uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had other ideas.

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I didn't off those kids! Pinky swear! Photo by Britannia

Gloucester, who was chosen as Edward’s Guardian and Lord Protector by the late King, interrupted his progress while he was en route. Richard was accompanied by the Duke of Buckingham and a large group of armed men: The young King objected, but he knew he had little choice but to acquiesce.

When word reached London of these developments, panic began to spread. Richard astutely assured the English people his only goal was to keep those social climbing Woodvilles from staging a coup. This satisfied most, as the widowed Queen’s family was heartily disliked by the people of England.

King Edward was brought to the Tower of London, supposedly to await his coronation. Nothing seemed odd about this at the time, as the Tower was also a royal residence as well as a prison and place of execution.

Elizabeth Woodville was keeping her other son, the 10-year-old Richard, Duke of York, cooped up with her in Westminster Abbey, where she had sought sanctuary. Eventually, Gloucester managed to convince Elizabeth Woodville that she was being an overprotective drama Queen regarding Richard’s safety: after all, his big brother Edward would really enjoy their company. Elizabeth finally relented, and Richard had control of both the heir and the spare.

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Bastards. Painting by H.E. Marshall

Soon after, Gloucester had Lord Hastings by for a visit under the ruse of discussing the upcoming coronation. Hastings, who had been very close to the old King Edward IV, would never endorse the disinheriting of his kids, and Richard knew it. In the space of a day, Hastings was arrested for treason and executed without a trial.

Then the Duke of Buckingham resurrected an old claim that Edward IV was not a legitimate son of Richard, Duke of York. He also asserted that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville wasn’t valid as he was pre-contracted to someone else, obviously believing the theory that if you fling enough B.S., something is bound to stick.

Buckingham called upon The Duke of Gloucester to ascend the throne as the true heir of York and England’s rightful King. Richard, of course, appeared hesitant to do so (Oh noes! I could never usurp the throne from my sweet little nephew!) But before you could say “mission accomplished,” Gloucester was proclaiming himself Richard III (get the hell outta my way ya little twerp!)

The two young princes, who had been seen playing in the gardens of the Tower, were observed less and less frequently. By the summer of 1483, they were seen no more.

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“Dude — is Uncle Dick even more dickish than usual lately?” (Source: BBC)

The accepted story for the past five centuries has been the obvious one — the boys were murdered on the order of their evil uncle Richard. The Tudor humanist scholar Thomas More certainly believed this to be the case; he relates that both the boys were smothered with pillows and buried beneath a staircase in the Tower on King Richard’s orders.

Modern apologists for Richard say this is partisan Tudor propaganda, and Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, could have been responsible for the princes’ demise. It would certainly explain why he ordered his mother-in-law Elizabeth Woodville to a nunnery (he married the younger sister of the princes, another Elizabeth, uniting the houses of York and Lancaster.)

Some speculate Henry VII did this to ensure her silence because she discovered his secret. That's possible, but most still believe it was Good ol’ Uncle Richard who did the two young princes in.

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Photo by Englishmonarchs.co.uk

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Kathy Copeland Padden

Written by

is a political junkie and history buff randomly alternating between bouts of crankiness and amusement while bearing witness to the Apocalypse. Come along!

Exploring History

Exploring History is a publication about history. Instead of focusing on any particular time period of history, we explore anything about the past that helps our readers understand the world they live in today. We pay special attention to historiographical rigor and balance.

Kathy Copeland Padden

Written by

is a political junkie and history buff randomly alternating between bouts of crankiness and amusement while bearing witness to the Apocalypse. Come along!

Exploring History

Exploring History is a publication about history. Instead of focusing on any particular time period of history, we explore anything about the past that helps our readers understand the world they live in today. We pay special attention to historiographical rigor and balance.

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