What Sayest Thou?
The disappearance of the young princes in the tower, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, is one of history’s great mysteries. Countless books, plays, articles and blogs have been written on the subject. But let’s state unequivocally upfront that no one truly knows for certain what happened to the Princes in the Tower.
Here are the facts we do know. In April of 1483, Edward VI dies unexpectedly, naming his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as Lord Protector over his young son, Edward V. As is the custom, in May of 1483, young Edward is sent to the Tower (which was a royal residence at the time) to prepare and await his coronation.
In June, his brother Richard joins him. Then Bishop Stillington steps forward with a claim that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville is invalid and their children illegitimate. The Duke of Gloucester was crowned King Richard III in July of 1483. Afterwards, the princes were seen less and less at the Tower and then never seen again after the summer of 1483.
Two children’s skeletons were found in 1674 buried beneath a staircase in the Tower. The bones were placed in an urn and interred at Westminster Abbey by Charles II and “identified” as the final remains of the young princes. However, the scientific evidence is equivocal and Westminster Abbey will not allow the bones to be tested for DNA. So the mystery continues.
If the princes were murdered (and they might have simply been sent abroad), there are three main suspects.
First is Richard III. He certainly had the most to gain, but Richard was known to be very loyal to his brother. Would he murder his own nephews? Even during his brief reign, rumors swirled as to what happened to the boys and was Richard responsible. Richard never produced the boys to show they were alive. After Richard lost his life and the crown at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Tudor chroniclers began writing the history of Richard. Sir Thomas More declared that Richard had ordered the boys murdered. William Shakespeare popularized that story in his play, Richard III, which has taken hold in popular culture.
But there was another claimant to the throne who also had a lot to gain by the disappearance and/or death of the princes. That was Henry Tudor. His mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, had continuously plotted and worked throughout her life to advance her son’s fortunes. How could Henry be crowned with two Yorkist heirs – the heir and the spare – standing in the way? How could he legitimize their older sister Elizabeth, and then marry her to bolster his own claim, if her two brothers might someday appear? And, if it wasn’t Margaret, perhaps it was Henry himself who ordered the murders.
The third suspect is the Duke of Buckingham, Henry Stafford. He too had a claim to the throne dating back to Edward III, a claim that was even stronger than Henry Tudor’s. Buckingham was not noted for his loyalty. First, he had supported Richard. Then he supported Henry Tudor. He may have killed the boys to solidify Henry’s position and discredit Richard. Buckingham rebelled against Richard in 1483 hoping to put Henry on the throne. Richard defeated this threat to his throne and Buckingham was beheaded. Henry Tudor did defeat Richard in 1485, claiming the throne.
All three suspects come wrapped in innuendo, gossip and theories … and very little proof. Could the boys have simply died of natural causes? Again, no concrete evidence exists to explain for sure why or how the princes disappeared.
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