King Edward V captured at Stony Stratford
Edward V of England

Edward V (2 November 1470 – 29 July 1483?) was 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, Duke of York, Edward was one of the Princes in the Tower, who disappeared after being sent (ostensibly for their own safety) to the Tower of London. Responsibility for their deaths is widely attributed to Richard III, but the actual events have remained controversial for centuries.

The mysterious disappearance of a boy claimant to the English throne, possibly at the hands of his uncle, mirrors the presumed death of Arthur, Duke of Brittany in 1203.

Along with Edward VIII, and the disputed Matilda and Jane, Edward V is one of only four English monarchs since the Norman Conquest never to have been crowned. If, as seems likely, he died before his fifteenth birthday, he is the shortest-lived monarch in English history (his great-nephew Edward VI died in his sixteenth year).

Early life

Edward was born in November 1470 in Westminster Abbey. His mother, Elizabeth Woodville, had sought sanctuary there from Lancastrians who had deposed his father, the Yorkist King Edward IV, during the course of the Wars of the Roses. Edward was created Prince of Wales in June 1471, following Edward IV's restoration to the throne, and in 1473 was established at Ludlow Castle on the Welsh Marches as nominal president of a newly-created Council of Wales and the Marches. Prince Edward was placed under the supervision of the queen's brother Anthony, Earl Rivers, a noted scholar, and in a letter to Rivers, Edward IV set down precise conditions for the upbringing of his son and the management of his household.[1] The prince was to "arise every morning at a convenient hour, according to his age". His day would begin with matins and then mass, which he was to receive uninterrupted. After breakfast, the business of educating the prince began with "virtuous learning". Dinner was served from ten in the morning, and then the prince was to be read "noble stories ... of virtue, honour, cunning, wisdom, and of deeds of worship" but "of nothing that should move or stir him to vice". Perhaps aware of his own vices, the king was keen to safeguard his son's morals, and instructed Rivers to ensure that no one in the prince's household was a habitual "swearer, brawler, backbiter, common hazarder, adulterer, [or user of] words of ribaldry". After further study, in the afternoon the prince was to engage in sporting activities suitable for his class, before evensong. Supper was served from four, and curtains were to be drawn at eight. Following this, the prince's attendants were to "enforce themselves to make him merry and joyous towards his bed". They would then watch over him as he slept.

King Edward's diligence appeared to bear fruit, as Dominic Mancini reported of the young Edward V:

In word and deed he gave so many proofs of his liberal education, of polite nay rather scholarly, attainments far beyond his age; ... his special knowledge of literature ... enabled him to discourse elegantly, to understand fully, and to declaim most excellently from any work whether in verse or prose that came into his hands, unless it were from the more abstruse authors. He had such dignity in his whole person, and in his face such charm, that however much they might gaze, he never wearied the eyes of beholders.[2]

As with several of his other children, Edward IV planned a prestigious European marriage for his eldest son, and in 1480 concluded an alliance with the Duke of Brittany, Francis II, whereby Prince Edward was betrothed to the duke's four-year-old heir, Anne. The two were to be married upon their majority, and 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.


It was at Ludlow that the 12-year-old prince received news of his father's sudden death on 9 April 1483. Edward IV's will, which has not survived, nominated his trusted brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as Protector during the minority of his son. Both the new king and his party from the west, and Richard from the north, set out for London, converging in Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire.[3] On the night of 29 April Richard met and dined with Earl Rivers and Edward's half-brother, Richard Grey, but the following morning Rivers and Grey, along with the king's chamberlain, Thomas Vaughan, were arrested and sent north.[4] They were all subsequently executed. Mancini reports that Edward protested, but the remainder of his entourage was dismissed and Richard escorted him to London, where the new king took up residence in the Tower of London. On 16 June he was joined by his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York.

Edward's coronation was repeatedly postponed and then, on 22 June, Ralph Shaa presented evidence in a sermon that Edward IV had already been contracted to marry Lady Eleanor Butler when he married Elizabeth Woodville, thereby rendering his marriage to Elizabeth invalid and their children together illegitimate. (Curiously enough, the crown of England was legally the property of the King of England, and could be willed by him to whoever he chose. This was an entitlement established by William I, who was himself illegitimate.) The children of Richard's older brother George, Duke of Clarence, were barred from the throne by their father's attainder, and therefore, on 25 June, an assembly of Lords and Commons declared Richard to be the legitimate king (this was later confirmed by the act of parliament Titulus Regius). The following day he acceded to the throne as King Richard III.


After Richard III's accession, the princes were gradually seen less and less within the Tower, and by the end of the summer of 1483 they had disappeared from public view altogether. Their fate remains unknown, but it is generally believed that they were murdered. The five principal suspects are King Richard, his erstwhile ally Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham; Richard's servant James Tyrrell, and Margaret Beaufort and her son Henry Tudor, who defeated Richard at Bosworth Field and took the throne as Henry VII. As king, Henry claimed that Richard was the murderer, and this became the official version of events.

Thomas More wrote that the princes were smothered to death with their pillows, and his account forms the basis of William Shakespeare's play Richard III, in which Tyrrell murders the princes on Richard's orders. Subsequent re-evaluations of Richard III have questioned his guilt, but in 1992 Alison Weir concluded that the ultimate responsibility could only lie with Richard, considering the time line of the events, and what Richard III had done, and more significantly what he had not done, to distance himself from the disappearance of the princes.[5]

Bones were discovered in 1674 by workmen rebuilding a stairway in the Tower, and these were subsequently placed in Westminster Abbey, in an urn bearing the names of Edward and Richard. However it has never been proven that the bones belonged to the princes. In 1789, workmen carrying out repairs in St George's Chapel, Windsor, rediscovered and accidentally broke into the vault of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Adjoining this was another vault, which was found to contain the coffins of two unidentified children. However no inspection or examination was conducted and the tomb was resealed.[6]

In 1486 Edward's sister, Elizabeth, married Henry VII, thereby uniting the Houses of York and Lancaster.