The Princes in the Tower of London
The mystery of what happened to the two princes in the Tower of London has puzzled historians and the academic world for over five hundred years. The English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) created his ‘Richard III’ play in the early 1590’s portraying Richard III as a wicked hunchback king who killed the Princes in the Tower, but did Richard III murder these two children?

Sir Thomas More (7 February 1478- 6 July 1535) an English lawyer and councillor to Henry VII and Lord Chancellor from October 1529-16 May 1532, worked on a History of King Richard III, which he never finished and was published after his death had a similar opinion to Shakespeare, presenting Richard as, the shadowy King Richard an outstanding archetypal tyrant. A view supported by a contemporary of Thomas More, Polydore Vergil (1470- 18 April 1555) an Italian humanist scholar, historian and priest who was commissioned by Henry VII to write an "official" History of England in 1505.

The opinion of these three well-known persons is not accepted by all academics, historians, and those researching this period of the Dark Ages of English history. Through archaeology a different interpretation King Richard III as has come to light by the recent discovery of Leicester city’s King in the Car Park and the knowledge and understanding of deoxyribonucleic acid more commonly known as “DNA”

The ‘Princess in the Tower’ were the sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, Edward V and his younger brother. Elizabeth Woodville had sought sanctuary at Westminster Abby from the Lancastrians who deposed his father, the Yorkist King during the course of the War of the Roses. It was in the abbey that Edward V was born on 2nd November 1470. He was only 12 when his father died, on 9th April 1483. In his father’s will he appointed his son's uncle Richard the Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector of the young King Edward V. In his role as Protector to Edward V, it was claimed that the Duke of Buckingham met Richard at Northampton with an armed escort. Elizabeth’s brother Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, and others were accused of planning to assassinate Richard, they were arrested, and taken to Pontefract Castle where they were later executed without trial after appearing before a tribunal led by Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. Baron Hastings had advised Richard to arrange for Edward V to stay in the Kings quarters in the Tower of London, which he did. Edward’s younger brother the nine year old Richard, Duke of York was moved there as well, which his mother Elizabeth was reluctant to allow but the nine year old joined his brother in the Tower of London on 16th June 1483. The princes were not seen in public after August 1483, which resulted in accusations that the boys had been murdered giving rise to the legend of ‘The Princes in the Tower’.

King Edward IV was known to have a number of mistresses, included Elizabeth “Jane” Shore (1445-1527) whom Edward described as "the merriest, the wiliest, and the holiest harlots" in his realm. She also became a concubine to other noblemen, including Edward's stepson, Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset, and William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings, his close friend and adviser.

Also mistress was Elizabeth Lucy, which the 18th century antiquarian John Anstis in The Register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (London, 1724) identified her with "Elizabeth Wayte", the daughter of Thomas Wayte of Southampton, saying she was the mother of Arthur Plantagenet. Elizabeth Wayte, was the long-standing mistress of King Edward IV of England, and probable mother of several children by him, including Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle, (died 3 March 1542) was an illegitimate son of King Edward IV, half-brother of Queen Elizabeth of York, and thus an uncle of King Henry VIII, at whose court he was a prominent figure and by whom he was appointed Lord Deputy of Calais (1533–40).

Another one of Edward’s mistresses was the daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, Lady Eleanor Talbot (1436- 30 June 1468) also known by her married name ‘Eleanor Butler’. The 13-year-old Eleanor married Sir Thomas Butler (or Boteler), son of Ralph Butler, Lord Sudeley In 1449, Thomas died at an unknown date before Edward IV of England's overthrow of the House of Lancaster on 4 March 1461, According to the French chronicler Philippe de Commines, Richard the Lord Protector proclaimed that the two princes in the tower were illegitimate due to the declaration of Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells. Commines wrote, regarding Edward IV marriage to Lady Eleanor Talbot ‘The bishop discovered to the Duke of Gloucester that his brother king Edward had been formerly in love with a beautiful young lady and had promised her marriage upon condition that he might lie with her; the lady consented, and, as the bishop affirmed, he married them when nobody was present but they two and himself. His fortune depending on the court, he did not discover it, and persuaded the lady likewise to conceal it, which she did, and the matter remained a secret.’ The marriage was claimed to have taken place some years before Edward VI married Elizabeth Woodville, in 1464, as a result of which the two princes were illegitimate, Elizabeth Woodville’s sons had no rightful claim to his throne.

On 22 June 1483, a sermon was preached outside Old St. Paul's Cathedral declaring Edward's children bastards and Richard the rightful king. Shortly after, the citizens of London, both nobles and commons, convened and drew up a petition asking Richard to assume the throne. He accepted on 26 June and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 6 July 1483. His title to the throne was confirmed by Parliament in January 1484 by the document Titulus Regius.

In the summer of 1483 servents attending Edward V and his younger brother Richard were dismissed, the two boys were taken into the "inner apartments of the Tower" and then were seen less and less until they disappeared altogether. Dominic Mancini, an Italian friar who visited England in the 1480s and who was in London in the spring and summer of 1483, records that during this period Edward was regularly visited by a doctor, who reported that Edward, "like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him." Was the young Edward seemed to be in poor health, which is why he was regularly visited by a doctor? In which case he could well have been unwell as it was summer and London was not a healthy place to live at the time and he could have died.

Rumours began as to what happened to the two princes in the Tower after they was last seen playing in the grounds of the Tower of London in late June early July 1783. There has been speculation that a failed attempt was made to rescue the two princes from the Tower of London around 29th July 1783, which may have resulted in Richard being forced into taking certain actions.

There was a rumour that Edward V’s brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, was not murdered but escaped to Flanders and had been made to swear an oath to his rescuers not to reveal his true identity for "a certain number of years". He was recognized as Richard of Shrewsbury by Margaret of York, the sister of Edward IV and was raised by her, in the ways of the Yorkist court, living under the name of Perkin Warbeck.

After a few years he declared his was the younger prince in the Tower, who went claimed to be a pretender to the throne. His father, Jehan de Werbecque, he claimed was in truth Edward IV of England, and his mother, Katherine de Faro, was claimed to be Elizabeth Woodville.

On 3 July 1495, funded by Margaret of Burgundy, Warbeck landed at Deal in Kent, Warbeck's small army was routed and 150 of the pretender’s troops were killed without Warbeck even disembarking. He retreated to Ireland. and found support from Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Desmond, and laid siege to Waterford, but, meeting resistance, he fled to Scotland, and was well received by James IV of Scotland who realised that his presence gave him international leverage. Warbeck was permitted to marry James's distant cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon, a daughter of George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly. In September 1496, James IV prepared to invade England with Warbeck. A red, gold and silver banner was made for Warbeck as the Duke of York; James's armour was gilded and painted, and the royal artillery was prepared. John Ramsay of Balmain (who called himself Lord Bothwell) described the events for Henry VII. He saw Roderic de Lalanne, a Flemish knight, arrive with two little ships and 60 German soldiers and meet James IV and talk to Warbeck. In Edinburgh Castle Ramsay saw two great French guns called 'curtalds,' 10 falconets or little serpentines, and 30 iron breech loading 'cart guns' with 16 close-carts or wagons for the munitions. He estimated the invasion force would last only 4 to 5 days in England before it ran out of provisions. He suggested, from the safety of Berwick upon Tweed, that the Scots could be vanquished by a modest English force attacking from north and south in a pincer movement.

The Scottish host assembled near Edinburgh and James IV and Warbeck offered prayers at Holyrood Abbey on the 14 September and on the next day at St Triduana's Chapel and Our Lady Kirk of Restalrig. On 19 September the Scottish army was at Ellem and on 21 September 1496 they crossed the River Tweed at Coldstream. Miners set to work to demolish the tower of Hetoune (Castle Heaton) on 24 September, but the army quickly retreated when resources were expended, and hoped-for support for Perkin Warbeck in Northumberland failed to materialise. According to an English record, the Scots penetrated four miles into England with royal banner displayed, and destroyed 3 or 4 little towers (or Bastle houses). They left on 25 September 1496 when an English army commanded by Lord Neville approached from Newcastle. Later, wishing to be rid of Warbeck, James IV provided a ship called ‘the Cuckoo’, and a hired crew under a Breton captain which returned Perkin to Waterford in shame in July 1497. James IV made peace with England by signing the Treaty of Ayton at St Dionysius's Church in Ayton in Berwickshire. Once again Perkin attempted to lay siege to Waterford, but this time his effort lasted only eleven days before he was forced to flee Ireland, chased by four English ships. According to some sources, by this time he was left with only 120 men on two ships.

On 7 September 1497, Warbeck landed at Whitesand Bay, 2 miles north of Land's End, in Cornwall hoping to capitalise on the Cornish people's resentment in the aftermath of their uprising only three months earlier. Warbeck proclaimed that he could put a stop to extortionate taxes levied to help fight a war against Scotland and was warmly welcomed. He was declared "Richard IV" on Bodmin Moor and his Cornish army some 6000 strong entered Exeter before advancing on Taunton. Henry VII sent his chief general, Giles Daubeney, 1st Baron Daubeney, to attack the Cornish and when Warbeck heard that the King's scouts were at Glastonbury he panicked and deserted his army. Warbeck was captured at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire where he surrendered. Henry VII reached Taunton on 4 October 1497, where he received the surrender of the remaining Cornish army. The ringleaders were executed and others fined. Warbeck was imprisoned, first at Taunton, then at the Tower of London, where he was "paraded through the streets on horseback amid much hooting and derision of the citizens". Warbeck was initially treated well by Henry. As soon as he confessed to being an impostor, he was released from the Tower of London. He was, however, kept under guard and was not allowed to sleep with his wife, who was living under the protection of the queen. After eighteen months at court, Warbeck tried to escape. He was quickly recaptured. He was then held in the Tower, initially in solitary confinement, and later alongside Edward, Earl of Warwick; the two tried to escape in 1499. Captured once again, on 23 November 1499, Warbeck was drawn on a hurdle from the Tower to Tyburn, London, where he read out a confession and was hanged. (Extract taken from

Click here for “Richard Plantagenet” the Kentish myth?

The most popular version of the “Princes in the Tower” is told by William Shakespeare in his play, Richard III Act IV, scene 3.

Edward V. and his brother, the Duke of York, were smothered in the Tower of London on August 17, 1483, by order of their uncle, who succeeded to the throne as Richard III.

The tyrannous and bloody deed is done.
The most arch act of piteous massacre
That ever yet this land was guilty of.
Dighton and Forrest, whom I did suborn,
To do this ruthless piece of butchery
Although they were fleshed villains, bloody dogs
Melting with tenderness and kind compassion.
Wept like two children in their deaths’ sad stories.
‘Lo, thus,’ quoth Dighton, ‘lay those tender babes:’
‘Thus, thus,’ quoth Forrest, ‘girdling one another
Within their innocent alabaster arms:
Their lips were four red roses on a stalk,
Which in their summer beauty kissed each other.
A book of prayers on their pillow lay;
Which once,’ quoth Forrest, ‘almost changed my mind;
But O! the devil’—there the villain stopp’d;
Whilst Dighton thus told on: ‘We smothered
The most replenished sweet work of nature,
That from the prime creation e’er she framed.’
Thus both are gone with conscience and remorse;
They could not speak; and so I left them both,
To bring this tidings to the bloody king.
And here he comes.

William Shakespeare’s ‘Tyrrell’, is Sir James Tyrrell (1455 – 6 May 1502) James Tyrrell an English knight, a trusted servant of King Richard III of England fought on the Yorkist side at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471. James was the eldest son of William Tyrrell of Gipping, Suffolk, and Margaret Darcy, the daughter of Robert Darcy of Maldon, Essex. Tyrrell's father was beheaded on Tower Hill on 23 February 1462, together with Sir Thomas Tuddenham and John Montgomery. John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford, and his eldest son and heir, Aubrey, were beheaded on 26 February and 20 February, respectively, after the discovery of an alleged plot to murder Edward IV.

Sir Thomas More wrote, that Tyrrell was charged with treason, and that during his examination Tyrrell confessed to the murders of King Edward V of England and his brother Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York. According to More, he also implicated two other men but was unable to say where the bodies were, claiming that they had been moved. Tyrrell was tried and convicted of treason at the Guildhall in London on 2 May 1502 and executed four days later, on 6 May, together with one of his accomplices. On 21st March 2015, the historian David Starkey announced on a television programme his discovery in royal records that both Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth, the sister of Edward V and Richard Duke of York, were present throughout Tyrrell's trial. He claimed that it was extraordinary that the King should do this, but of even greater significance is the Queen's presence. Starkey presents this as validating More's account of Tyrrell's confession "99.9%". And argues that it finally confirms him as the man who oversaw the murder of the Queen's brothers, and that this, in turn, places the guilt for ordering their murder squarely at the feet of Richard III, Tyrrell's overlord. However, the programme ended without any other explanation or rebuttal being offered for Starkey's conclusion. Extract taken from

Another rumour was that the Princes were murdered by Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, The Most Noble Order of the Garter (4 September 1455 – 2 November 1483) Buckingham played a major role in King Richard III's rise and fall, and changed sides from the Yorkist to the Lancastrian, and took part in making Henry king.

Richard III is alleged to have consolidated his power by eliminating his brother's children, who could even after their bastardisation serve as figureheads or incentives to rebellions. However, there is some question about Buckingham's involvement in the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. If Richard was responsible for killing the Princes in the Tower, the murders may have caused Buckingham to change sides.

On the other hand, Buckingham himself had motives to kill the Princes, having a claim of his own to the throne stronger than that of Henry Tudor, depending on one's view of the legitimacy of the Beaufort line. According to a manuscript discovered in the early 1980s in the College of Arms collection, the Princes were murdered "be [by] the vise" of the Duke of Buckingham. There is some argument over whether "vise" means "advice" or "devise". According to this perspective, if Buckingham killed the Princes and blamed Richard, he could form a rebellion, putting the throne into play with only Henry Tudor as a rival. Indeed, he was one of the leaders of a rebellion, ostensibly in favour of Henry Tudor, in October 1483. However, the rebellion was quickly crushed and Buckingham executed. Henry Tudor would succeed in defeating Richard III two years later.
Extract taken from

In the reign of King Charles II, a discovery was made in 1674 by workmen rebuilding a stairway in the Tower of London of some bones said to belong to two children were discovered in 1674 by workmen rebuilding a stairway in the Tower. On the orders of King Charles II, these were subsequently placed in Westminster Abbey, in an urn bearing the names of Edward and Richard.

"Below here lie interred the remains of Edward V , King of England, and of Richard, Duke of York. Their uncle, Richard, who usurped the crown, imprisoned them in the Tower of London, smothered them with pillows, and ordered them to be dishonourably and secretly buried. Their long desired and much sought after bones were identified by most certain indications when, after an interval of over a hundred and ninety years, found deeply buried under the rubbish of the stairs that led up into the chapel of the White Tower, on the 17th July, 1674 A.D. Charles II, most merciful prince, having compassion on their unhappy fate, performed the funeral rites of these unfortunate princes among the tombs of their ancestors, A.D. 1678, the thirtieth year of his reign".

In 1933 the bones were re-examined, it was discovered that the skeletons were incomplete and had been interred with animal bones, it is possible that the bones did not belong to the princes and were buried before the reconstruction of that part of the Tower of London, Today with the advances in DNA a subsequent examination of the bones will establish if these bones are the remains are of Edward V and his brother Richard, but this request for another examination of the remains has been refused.

Edward VI and Elizabeth Woodville are buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, while workman were carrying out repairs in 1789, they accidently broke into the vault of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville and rediscovered adjoining this was another vault containing the coffins of two children. This tomb was inscribed with the names of two of Edward IV’s children: George, 1st Duke of Bedford, who had died at the age of two, and Mary of York who had died at the age of 14. Both had predeceased the King, however the remains of these two children were later found elsewhere in the chapel, leaving the occupants of these children’s coffins within the tomb unknown, could they be the Princes of the Tower of London?

In order to carryout DNA analysis on the children’s bones at Westminster Abbey or at St George’s Chapel will require Royal consent to open any royal tomb. In 2012 with the discovery of the remains of Richard III, prompted renewed interest in re-excavating the alleged remains of the “two princes”, but Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has not granted the approval required for any such testing of an interred royal. So this medieval mystery of what happened to the “Princes in the Tower” will remain unsolved.


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