Edward V

Edward V

Edward V, 1470-83?, king of England (1483), elder son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. His father's death (1483) left the boy king the pawn of the conflicting ambitions of his paternal uncle, the duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) and his maternal uncle, Earl Rivers. Gloucester had Rivers arrested and confined the king and the king's younger brother, Richard, duke of York, to the Tower of London. The young princes were declared illegitimate, and Gloucester, with a show of reluctance, took the throne. The two children disappeared from the English scene, and it is likely that they were murdered. However, conclusive proof of their exact fate has never been found. One of the oldest and most prevalent theories—that they were smothered in their sleep by order of Richard III—was propagated or even invented by the victorious Tudors after 1485, and it has been suggested that Henry Stafford, 2d duke of Buckingham, or Henry VII, as well as Richard III, could have been responsible for the death of the princes. Skeletons, presumed to be those of the princes, were unearthed in the Tower in 1674. The skeletons were thought to be those of boys aged 12-13 and 10, the ages of the princes in 1483.

See P. Kendall, Richard the Third (1955).

Edward V (4 November 1470 – 1483?) was the King of England from 9 April 1483 until his deposition two months later. His reign was dominated by the influence of his uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who succeeded him as Richard III. Along with his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Edward was one of the Princes in the Tower, who were never seen alive after being sent (ostensibly for their own safety) to the Tower of London. Richard III has been widely blamed for their deaths, though it is not certain that he was responsible for them.

Along with Edward VIII, Empress Matilda and Lady Jane Grey, Edward V is one of only four post-1066 English monarchs never to have been crowned. If, as seems probable, he died before his 15th birthday, he is the shortest lived English or British monarch in history. (His great-nephew Edward VI died in his sixteenth year).

Early life

Edward was born in sanctuary within Westminster Abbey during a period when his mother, Elizabeth Woodville, was taking refuge from Lancastrians who had temporarily removed King Edward IV of England from power in the Wars of the Roses. Edward V was created Prince of Wales in June, 1471, following his father's restoration to the throne, and appeared with his parents on State occasions.

King Edward IV concluded an alliance in 1480 with the Duke of Brittany, Francis II, and both decided to betroth their heirs, Edward (10 years old) and Anne (4 years old), to each other, promising to marry them at their majority. The devolution of Brittany would have been given to the second child to be born, the first becoming prince of Wales. Those plans disappeared together with Edward V.


Edward IV, having established a Council of Wales and the Marches, sent his son to Ludlow Castle to be its nominal president. It was at Ludlow that the prince was staying when news came of his father's sudden death. Edward inherited the throne on 9 April 1483, at the age of twelve, but it took until 11 April for news of his accession to be made public in London. His father's brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was entrusted with the role of Protector to his young nephews, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. He intercepted Edward's entourage on its return journey from Wales and escorted the princes to London. Less than three months later, Richard took the throne himself. On 25 June Parliament declared his nephews illegitimate after clergyman Ralph Shaa presented evidence that Edward had contracted to marry Lady Eleanor Butler before he married Elizabeth Woodville; this would have made his marriage to Elizabeth invalid. Richard's other brothers, Edmund and George, Duke of Clarence, had both died before Edward, leaving Richard next in line for the throne.


After the two boys went into the Tower of London, they were never seen in public again. What happened to them is one of the great mysteries of history, and many books have been written on the subject. It is generally believed that they were killed, and the three principal suspects are their uncle, King Richard; Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham; and Henry Tudor, who defeated Richard and took the throne as Henry VII.


After the princes' disappearance, there was much uncertainty as to their fate. If they were killed, the secret was well kept; conversely, there was no evidence of their survival or of their having been shipped out of the country. When a pretender, Perkin Warbeck, turned up claiming to be Prince Richard, in 1495, William Stanley (younger brother of King Henry's stepfather, Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby), who, despite his Yorkist sympathies, had turned against Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and helped King Henry VII win it, said that, if the young man was really the prince, he would not fight against him, thus demonstrating that some Yorkists had not given up hope of the princes' survival.

In 1674, some workmen remodelling the Tower of London dug up a box containing two small human skeletons. They threw them on a rubbish heap, but some days or weeks later someone decided they might be the bones of the two princes, so they gathered them up and put some of them in an urn that Charles II of England ordered interred in Westminster Abbey. In 1933 the bones were taken out and examined and then replaced in the urn in the vault under the Abbey. The experts who examined them could not agree on what age the children would have been when they died or even whether they were boys or girls. (One skeleton was larger than the other, and many of the bones were missing, including part of the smaller jawbone and all of the teeth from the larger one.)


Portrayals in fiction

Edward is a character in the play Richard III by William Shakespeare. He has been played on film and television by:


  • Ashley, Mike (2002). British Kings & Queens. Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-7867-1104-3. pgs 217-219
  • Weir, Alison (1995). The Princes in the Tower. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-3453-9178-0.
  • Michael Hicks, Edward V: The Prince in the Tower (London, Tempus, 2003).

See also

External links


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