King Edward V was born on 2 November 1470 in Westminster Abbey where Queen Elizabeth Woodville, had taken refuge during the very brief period when the baby’s father, King Edward IV, had been dethroned and the crown returned to King Henry VI.
Edward’s birth must have been seen as an excellent sign for the Yorkists, because here was a much-desired male heir to prove that God favored King Edward IV. When the infant prince was just a few months old, the Wars of the Roses seemed to have been resolved by the deaths of King Henry VI and his only child, Edward, Prince of Wales. With the former king and prince gone, there were no serious challengers for King Edward IV’s throne, and in June of 1471 little Edward was created the Prince of Wales to signify his place in the succession.
In 1473 the prince left his nursery and was given his own establishment at Ludlow Castle. While the toddler was officially the president of the Council of Wales and the Marches, his only real tasks for the next few years were to learn and grow. He was placed under the care of his loving uncle, Anthony, Earl Rivers, and given a comprehensive education as well as being trained as a warrior.
Prince Edward, as well as being his father’s beloved heir, was also a crucial part of the English plans to try to take France once more. In 1480 King Edward IV and Francis II, Duke of Brittany, negotiated a betrothal between the 9 year old Prince Edward and the duke’s only child, Anne of Brittany. The duchy of Brittany was a large chunk of what is now Western France, and the perfect territory from which to launch a war for the French crown. In exchange for Anne’s hand in marriage, King Edward promised that Brittany would remain an independent duchy, given to the second child of the union between the Prince of Wales and Anne.
Alas, these plans came to nothing after King Edward IV died young on 9 April 1483. The pre-teen Prince Edward was declared King Edward V, as expected, but the he would would reign for less than 12 weeks.
(After the disappearance of King Edward V, Anne of Brittany would be forcibly married to King Charles VIII of France, and upon the death of her first husband, was again forced to wed, this time to King Louis XII of France.)
King Edward V set out from Ludlow toward London to be crowned at the end of April. He was accompanied by his uncles Anthony Woodville and Richard Grey, but he was met by a third uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, on the night 29 April in Buckinghamshire. His later actions would reveal that this uncle did not have the young king’s best interests at heart.
The first thing Richard did was arrest Woodville, Grey, and the king’s chamberlain, Thomas Vaughan. He sent them to be imprisoned in his stronghold in the north of England, and took charge of King Edward V. This could have understandably been a reasonably attempt to break some of the Woodville family’s hold over the new king, and was supported by members of the privy council when they were told of it. Richard’s pseudo-kidnapping of the king was especially defended by his loyal allies William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings, who had been King Edward IV’s Lord Chamberlain, and another of the king’s uncles, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham.
So far, nothing seemed too amiss. Yes, Richard was moving to disenfranchise the Woodvilles, but this was seen as a good thing by many peers. The boy king came into London on 19 May 1483 and took up a traditional residence in the Tower of London, where his little brother, Richard, Duke of York, joined him on 16 June in preparation for the coronation the following week. Richard, with the backing of Hastings and Buckingham and most of the nobility, was declared Lord Protector and made de facto ruler of Britain until King Edward came of age.
No one suspected Richard of any shenanigans at this point. Wasn’t he one of the the most honorable and just men in the kingdom? Hadn’t he always been loyal to his brother, King Edward IV?
But then the plot thickened. Richard began to quarrel with the privy council. He wanted Rivers and Grey executed, but the council did not. Unbeknownst to most of the privy council, Richard wrote to the City of York and other allies to send troops to him in London, supposedly because “the Queen, her blood adherents and affinity” were plotting his murder — not because he was going to usurp the crown or anything! Nevertheless, those loyal to Edward V, like Baron Hastings, were starting to give Richard the side-eye, and pushing to get Edward V crowned as soon as possible.
On 13 June 1483 the shit didst begin to hit the fan. At a council meeting, Richard “accused Hastings and two other council members of having committed treason by conspiring against his life with the Woodvilles, with Hastings’s mistress Jane Shore (formerly also mistress to Edward IV and possibly Dorset), acting as a go-between.” Richard was content to have the two less powerful ‘conspirators’ imprisoned, one of whom was John Morton, Bishop of Ely, who hated Richard ever after, but the wealthy and influential Baron Hastings was dragged out into the courtyard of the Tower and beheaded over a convenient log. Richard also sent orders northward that Anthony Woodville and Richard Grey needed to be a head shorter as well.
On the day King Edward V was supposed to have been crowned, June 22, Ralph Shaa preached a sermon outside Old St. Paul’s Cathedral declaring Edward V a bastard due to his father’s precontract with Lady Eleanor Butler. As a bastard, Edward had no right to succession. QED, Richard was 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.” Richard graciously accepted their petition on 26 June, and was crowned King Richard III on 6 July 1483.
King Edward V and his little brother disappeared shortly thereafter and were never seen again.
To this day, there are die-hard Richard III fans (Ricardians) who insist that Richard had nothing to do with the boys’ disappearance. The main defenses of Richard are 1) he was a good guy and good guys don’t murder their nephews, 2) you can’t prove he did it, and 3) most of the stuff said about him afterwards were lies so the accusation he killed his nephews is a big lie too.
Okay, I will not dispute that Richard was an able and just ruler of Northern England, or that he was renowned for being honorable. I totally get why Hastings initially wrote him a letter to urge him to come be the Lord Protector – he had a great reputation at that point and was expected to be the best possible guardian of the young king.
I will also not dispute that much of what was said about Richard after he was killed at Bosworth were slanders and exaggerations. A lot of these things came by way Richard’s implacable enemy, John Morton, Bishop of Ely, who trained Thomas More, and it was either Morton or More who wrote down most of the calumny we remember about Richard in the History of King Richard III.
What I dispute is the assertion that Richard III didn’t kill his nephews in spite of all the evidence pointing that way.
First, there is the very suspicious summoning of troops and execution of Baron Hastings. If there was really a conspiracy against Richard, why didn’t Richard provide the evidence and have Hastings attainted? Why send for troops first? Why kill Hastings so quickly and in such a dirty manner? Why let Bishop Morton survive if there was evidence against him?
Ricardians also argue that Richard never planned on taking the crown; he only did it because he really believed that the boys were illegitimate. Then WHY did he send for troops and kill Hastings instead of putting the purported precontract before the privy council to resolve? If he didn’t find out about supposed bastardy until after Hastings’ murder, why had the coronation of Edward V been put off again and again? Why did it take less the 48 hours to ‘prove’ King Edward V was a bastard? Why such a hurry with his own coronation, after delaying Edward V’s for weeks?
I am also skeptical that people proclaim Richard’s innocence through lack of concrete evidence 500 years later, as though the circumstantial evidence should be ignored. Let’s be honest; the circumstantial evidence is damning in the extreme. The boys disappeared while in their uncle’s custody and Richard was accused, but he doesn’t bother to trot them out to prove they are still alive and quell the rumors. He doesn’t give this most obvious refutation of the accusations even though there is an attempted rescue of the princes shortly after he is crowned and an outright rebellion against him in October 1483. He keeps the boys, who are supposedly alive, hidden so effectively that no one ever sees them in spite of the fact that allowing someone to see them would clear his name.
Richard was hemorrhaging allies everywhere but in northern England by 1484. Buckingham had turned against him for unknown reasons in the autumn of 1483, just around the same time anti-Ricardian plotters are convinced the princes are dead and turn to Henry Tudor as an alternative king. Yet Richard still doesn’t bother to prove the boys are alive?
Then there is the overkill of the Titulus Regius, passed by Richard’s parliament in January 1484. Not only does it declare Edward V a bastard and Richard the true king, it implies King Edward IV was possibly a bastard as well. The Titulus Regius says that Richard is the “undoubted son” of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York. Does mean that Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville, was unfaithful, and there was some doubt about the other boys? Why would he besmirch his own mother that way? By the time the Titulus Regius is passed the Princes in the Tower hadn’t been seen in months; was Cecily angry with Richard and curious as to the whereabouts of her grandsons? Was that why he threw her under the bus?
Then the Titulus Regius goes after King Edward IV as a person, making him out to be a skank who was led around via his schlong by Elizabeth Woodville thanks to his own “sensuality and concupiscence”. Meanwhile, Richard is lauded for his “great wit, prudence, justice, princely courage, and memorable and laudable acts in diverse battles.
Richard III is clearly making the case for his kingship after the insurrection of October 1483 in the Titulus Regius , but the most significant threat to his reign – the belief that he murdered the rightful king – isn’t expediently resolved by simply demonstrating that the missing King Edward V is still alive.
I think it is fairly obvious there were no living princes to be produced in Richard’s defense.
Nevertheless, some Ricardians insist that the boys were still alive (and playing the best game of hide and seek in a millennium) when Richard died at Bosworth on 22 August 1485. It was, according some Ricardians, actually King Henry VII or his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who killed the princes. This is the SODDI (some other dude did it) argument so adored by defense attorneys. How and when Henry or Margaret got to the boys, and how they managed to kill them without anyone else knowing they were still alive, takes some convoluted conspiracies to explain, but that is way more plausible to Ricardians than the idea that the man with means, motive, and opportunity for more the previous two years did it.
My favorite argument (and by favorite I mean the one that drives me the most insane) is that Richard had no reason to kill the boys, but that Henry VII did. As if the legitimacy of Richard’s crown was a settled issue, and that there were no plots to overthrow him brewing! A living King Edward V was an incredible threat to Richard’s crown. The whole reason Henry VII became king was because so many people had turned against Richard but no one thought there was still an Edward V to fight for any longer, so Henry Tudor was the only other horse in the race. If the boys were alive then both men would have needed to have killed them to secure the throne.
Other Ricardians deal with the likelihood that the princes were dead by 1484 by claiming that Buckingham killed them without Richard’s knowledge or permission. Okay, then WHY didn’t Richard claim that fact (with much woe and lamentation) when Buckingham rebelled? Why didn’t Richard claim the rebellion was a plot by Buckingham (who had a decent claim to the crown) to put himself on the throne? Why didn’t Richard make it known that Buckingham had killed the other potential claimants as part of his devious plan?
A great deal of the Ricardian defense also relies on the actions or inaction of his successor, Henry VII. They want to know why Henry didn’t try harder to find the princes, or why he didn’t go out of his way to give Richard a posthumous trial to prove the former king had done the dirty deed. Well … because everyone already assumed Richard had done it. A contemporary witness to Richard’s coup, Dominic Mancini, reported that the rumors Richard had murdered his nephews were rife.
These rumors weren’t just in Enghland either. Guillaume de Rochefort, Lord Chancellor of France, aired the rumor that Richard had “massacred” the princes before the Estates-General in January 1484. This was the justification the French court used to back Henry Tudor’s play for the crown. Why on earth should Henry Tudor go out of his way to prove a murder nearly everyone already believed that Richard had committed?
Ricardians are also believe it was suspicious that Henry VII commanded that all copies of the Titulus Regius and any papers related to it be destroyed without reading. Why? What was he afraid it revealed? Personally, I think the fact the documents declared his wife illegitimate were a good enough reason for him to throw them in the fire. Additionally, Henry’s claim to the throne was iffy enough that he was constantly having to fight for it; the last thing he needed was ‘proof’ that he – not Richard – was the real usurper and stealer of crowns.
Once King Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury were dead, Richard was beyond contestation the most lawful claimant to the throne and true king. That’s why I suspect he murdered his nephews; they were the only things truly between him and the crown. Henry VII was undoubtedly the usurper in 1485. That meant the first Tudor king had a very good motive to blacken Richard’s name and destroy the Titulus Regius.
That doesn’t mean Richard wasn’t the one who had killed the princes in the first place, though.
There are even some Ricardians so eager to absolved their hero of the charge of murder that they argue that Perkin Warbeck “was indeed Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York as he claimed, having escaped to Flanders after his uncle’s defeat at Bosworth to be raised with an aunt.” While I am sure Warbeck’s ‘confession’ was forces and not entirely accurate, his assertion that he “had been spared by his brother’s (unidentified) killers because of his age and “innocence” … [but] had been made to swear an oath not to reveal his true identity for “a certain number of years” beggars the imagination.
Occam’s razor states “that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected”, or the simplest explanation is usually accurate. The simplest explanation, the one that requires the least contorted logic and chain of evidence, is that King Richard III had King Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury killed in order to become monarch in their stead.