EDWARD V (1470–1483), king of England, eldest son of Edward IV by his queen, Elizabeth Woodville [q. v.], was born in the Sanctuary at Westminster on 2 or 3 Nov. 1470, at the time when his father was driven out of his kingdom (see Gentleman’s Magazine for January 1831, p. 24). He was baptised without ceremony in that place of refuge, the abbot and prior being his godfathers and Lady Scrope his godmother. On 26 June 1471 his father, having recovered the throne, created him Prince of Wales (Rolls of Parl. vi. 9), and on 3 July following compelled the lords in parliament to acknowledge him as undoubted heir of the kingdom, swearing that they would take him as king if he survived himself (Rymer, xi. 714). The slaughter of another Edward prince of Wales, the son of Henry VI, at Tewkesbury just two months before, had cleared the way for this creation. Five days later, on 8 July, King Edward appointed by patent a council for the young prince, consisting of his mother the queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, his two paternal uncles, the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, his maternal uncle, Earl Rivers, with certain bishops and others, to have the control of his education and the rule of his household and lands till he should reach the age of fourteen. On 17 July he received formal grants, which were afterwards confirmed by parliament, of the principality of Wales, the counties palatine of Chester and Flint, and the duchy of Cornwall (Rolls of Parl. vi. 9-16). Next year, at the creation of Louis Sieur de la Grutuyse, as Earl of Winchester, he was carried to Whitehall and thence to Westminster in the arms of Thomas Vaughan, who was afterwards appointed his chamberlain and made a knight (Archæologia, xxvi. 277). In 1473 several important documents occur relating to him. First, on 20 Feb. a business council was appointed for the affairs of the principality (Patent Roll, 12 Edw. IV, . pt. 2, m. 21). Then on 23 Sept. the king drew up a set of ordinances alike for the ‘virtuous guiding’ of the young child and for the good rule of his household, in which a more special charge was given to Earl Rivers and to John Alcock [q. v.] (who was now become bishop of Rochester) than in the appointment of 1471. (See these ordinances, printed in the Collection of Ordinances for the Household, published by the Society of Antiquaries 1790, pp. [*27] sq.) On 10 Nov. Bishop Alcock was appointed the young princes schoolmaster and president of his council, while Earl Rivers on the same day was appointed his governor (Patent Roll,) 13 Edw. IV, pt. 1, m. 3, and pt. 2, m. 15).
It is clear that as Prince of Wales, although only in his third year, he had already been sent down into that country to keep court there with his mother the queen; for on 2 April Sir John Paston writes to his brother: ‘Men say the queen with the prince shall come out of Wales and keep this Eaater with the king at Leicester’ — a report which he adds was disbelieved by others. On July 1474 a patent was granted to him enabling him to give liveries to his retainers (ib. 14 Edw. IV, pt. 1, m. 13). In 1475, when he was only in his fifth year, the king his father on 20 June, just before crossing the Channel to invade France, appointed him his lieutenant and guardian (custos) of the kingdom during his absence, with full powers under four different commissions to discharge the functions of royalty (Rymer, xii. 13, 14). That same day King Edward made his will at Sandwich, charging the property of his heir with various charitable bequests, and appoint ing marriage portions for his daughters on condition that they should be governed in their choice of husbands by Queen Elizabeth Woodville and her son the prince (Excerpta Historica, pp. 366-79).
On 2 Jan. 1476 he was appointed justiciar of Wales (Patent Roll, 15 Edw. IV, pt. 3, m. 4 in dorso), and on 29 Dec. power was given him (of course to be exercised by his council) to appoint other justices in the principality and the marches (ib, 10 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 22). On 1 Dec. 1477 he received a grant of the castles and lordships of Wigmore, Presteign, Narberth, Radnor, and a number of other places in Wales, to which was added a grant of the manor of Elvell on 9 March 1478, and of Uske and Caerleon on 26 Feb. 1483 (ib. 17 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 24, 18 Edw. IV, pt. 1, m. 18, and 22-23 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 11).
He was only in his thirteenth year when his father died, 9 April 1483, and he became king. His short troubled reign was merely a struggle for power between his maternal relations, the Woodvilles, and his uncle Richard, duke of Gloucester, to whom the care of his person and kingdom seems to have been bequeathed in the last will of his father. When his uncle Rivers and his half-brother. Lord Richard Grey, were conducting him up to London for his coronation, which his mother had persuaded the council to appoint for so early a date as 4 May, they were overtaken at Northampton by Gloucester and Buckingham, or rather, leaving the king at Stony Stratford, they rode back to Northampton to meet those two noblemen on 29 April, and found next morning that they were made prisoners. Probably there would have been a pitched battle, but that the council in London had strongly resisted a proposal of the queen dowager that the young king should come up with a very large escort. As it was, a good deal of armour was found in the baggage of the royal suite, which, taken in connection with some other things, did not speak well for the intentions of the Woodville party. At least popular feeling seems rather to have been with the Duke of Gloucester when he sent Rivers and Grey to prison at Pomfret, and conducted his young nephew to London with every demonstration ot loyal and submissive regard.
It was on 4 May — the very day fixed by the council for his coronation — that Edward thus entered the capital. His mother meanwhile had thrown herself into the Sanctuary at Westminster. It was determined that he himself should take up his abode in the Tower, and while the day ot his coronation was deferred at first only to 22 June, a parliament was summoned for the 26th of the same month, ostensibly with a view to continue his uncle Gloucester in the office of protector. But Gloucester’s real design was to dethrone him; and as he found that in this matter not even Hastings would support him, he caused that nobleman suddenly to be arrested at the council table and beheaded within the Tower on 13 June. A secret plot suddenly discovered was alleged to justify the act; terror reigned everywhere, and Westminster was full of armed men. On the 16th the protector induced a deputation of the council, headed by Cardinal Bourchier, to visit the queen in the Sanctuary and persuade her to give up her second son, the Duke of York, to keep company with his brother in the Tower. She yielded, apparently seeing that otherwise she would be compelled, for it had actually been decided to use force if necessary. The coronation was now again deferred till 2 Nov., as if nothing but unavoidable accidents had interfered with it. But on Sunday, 22 June, a sermon was preached at Paul’s Cross by one Dr. Shaw, brother of the lord mayor, on the text ‘Bastard slips shall not take deep root’ (Wisdom iv. 3), in which the validity of the late king’s marriage was impugned, and his children declared illegitimate, so that, as the preacher maintained, Richard, duke of Gloucester, was the rightful sovereign. The result, however, was only to fill the listeners with shame and indignation. A no less ineffectual appeal was made to the citizens the next Tuesday at the Guildhall, when Buckingham made an eloquent speech in support of Richard’s claim to the throne. But on the following day, 25 June, on which parliament had been summoned to meet, and when there actually did meet an assembly of lords and commons, though apparently not a true parliament, a roll was brought in setting forth the invalidity of Edward IV’s marriage with Elizabeth Woodville, the evils which had arisen from it, and the right of the Duke of Gloucester to the crown. A deputation of the lords and commons, joined by the mayor and chief citizens of London, then waited on Richard at Baynard’s Castle, and persuaded him with feigned reluctance to assume the royal dignity. The brief reign of Edward V was thus at an end, and it is tolerably certain that his life was cut short soon after. But the precise time that he and his brother were murdered is unknown. The fact was not divulged till a pretty widespread movement had been organised for their liberation from captivity. Then it transpired that they had been cut off by violence, and the world at large was horrorstruck, while some, half incredulous, suspected that they had been only sent abroad. But conviction deepened as time went on, and many years afterwards the details of the story were collected by Sir Thomas More from sources which he believed entirely credible.
From this account it would appear that Richard III, when shortly after his coronation he set out on a progress, despatched a messenger named John Green to Sir Robert Brackenbury, constable of the Tower, requiring him to put the two princes to death. Brackenbury refused, and Richard soon after sent Sir James Tyrell to London with a warrant to Brackenbury to deliver up the keys of the fortress to him for one night. Tyrell accordingly obtained possession of the place, and his groom, John Dighton, by the help of Miles Forest, one of four gaolers who had charge of the young princes, obtained entrance into their chamber while they were asleep. Forest and Dighton then smothered them under pillows, and, after calling Sir James to view the bodies, buried them at the foot of a staircase, from which place, as More supposed, they were afterwards secretly removed.
From the details given by More the murder could only have taken place, at the earliest, in the latter part of August, as Green found Richard at Warwick on returning to him with the news of Brackenbury’s refusal; but it may have been some weeks later. The doubts which Horace Walpole endeavoured to throw upon the fact have not been seriously entertained by any critic, and in the fuller light of more recent criticism are even less probable than before. Although it would be too much to say that the two bodies discovered in the Tower in the days of Charles II, and buried in Westminster Abbey, were unquestionably those of the two princes, there certainly is a strong probability in favour of their genuineness, not only from the apparent ages of the skeletons, but also from the position in which they were found—at the foot of a staircase in the White Tower—which seems to show that Sir Thomas More’s information was correct as to the sort of place where they were bestowed, though his surmise was wrong as to their subsequent removal.
Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 17
Edward V by James Gairdner