King Edward V

Born: November 2, 1470

Westminster, London, England

Reign: April 9, 1483 - June 22, 1483 (2 months, 13 days)

Died: 1483?

Tower Hamlets, London, England (Age c. 13)

Edward V in History

The short, sad life of King Edward V began and ended badly. He was born during the heart of the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses between the rival houses of Lancaster and York. When Edward was born (in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey), his father, Edward IV, was in exile after being deposed by the Earl of Warwick, a man who had been instrumental to putting him on the throne in the first place. In turn, King Henry VI, a Lancastrian, was placed back on the throne (though power was mainly held by Warwick and the Duke of Clarence, the deposed king's brother). Luckily, Henry VI's readaption would not last for long, and Edward IV returned to England in 1471 to reclaim his throne. He handed the Lancastrians two decisive victories at Barnet and Tewksbury, respectively, and took back the kingdom. After the battles, Warwick and Henry VI's son Prince Edward were dead, and Queen Margaret was captured. Henry VI was executed soon after, effectively wiping out the House of Lancaster in the male line.

For the next twelve years, Edward IV reigned in peace, and his young son's fortunes continuously rose. He was proclaimed Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester and, despite his youth, was given a large number of important offices and responsibilities. In 1475, he was created a Knight of the Garter and was made protector during his father's voyage to France. During his father's reign, young Edward continued to expand his territories of power and was influenced greatly by his maternal relatives, the Woodvilles, who had been asserting themselves in England's government ever since their kinswoman, Elizabeth, married Edward IV in 1464. This of course did not sit well with Edward's paternal uncles George, Duke of Clarence and Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Clarence was executed by Edward IV in 1478 (most likely with some cajoling by the Woodvilles), but Gloucester would figure in decisively with young Edward's fortunes.

In 1483, Edward IV suddenly passed away at the age of forty and left the kingdom to his now thirteen-year-old son, who succeeded him as Edward V. Although Edward IV's eldest son was the obvious heir to the throne, many contemporaries and historians have criticized the late king for not doing a good enough job of making peace between his brother Gloucester and the Woodvilles. Since Edward V was still under age, a council would need to be set up to rule during his minority. Gloucester was most sensible choice for protector of the realm, but the Woodvilles most certainly had other ideas. Unfortunately for them, Gloucester acted swiftly and seized his nephew from their custody. Shortly after, he imprisoned and executed several of his Woodville enemies, put the king in the tower and continuously postponed his coronation ceremony. Although at this point most people believed Gloucester's intentions to be good, things were about to become treacherous.

Gloucester persuaded Queen Elizabeth to release Edward V's younger brother, Richard, Duke of York, from sanctuary so he may join his brother in the tower. The next deceitful step for Gloucester was to spread rumors that his two nephews were illegitimate because Edward IV was already betrothed to another woman (which was as good as being married in those days) before he married Elizabeth. At this point, it was obvious that Gloucester intended to seize the throne for himself and, with his trusty friend the Duke of Buckingham (who would soon after rebel against him) at his side, Gloucester had himself crowned as Richard III on June 22, 1483. There were several attempts to rescue the young king and his brother from the tower, but without success. As time went by, the princes were seen less and less, until they were not seen at all, gaining them the appropriate name of the "princes in the tower." To this day, it is not known exactly what became of the two princes, but it is highly likely that they mere murdered under orders from Richard III himself so that no one could rebel in their names. In 1502, one James Tyrrell, a former follower of Richard III, confessed to the murders of the princes just before he was about to be executed for a separate crime. The confession, however, has always been taken with a grain of salt, given that it was likely obtained under torture. Certain historians will even claim that the Earl of Richmond, the future Henry VII, had the boys killed to secure his spot on England's throne, but this is much more unlikely. Still later, in 1674, two bodies were discovered under a staircase in the tower, widely believed to be those of the two princes. Unfortunately, analysis on the bones has so far been inconclusive, and the mystery of the sad demise of Edward V and his younger brother York continues on.

Edward V in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 3; Richard III

The future Edward V appears briefly as a new-born child in the final scene of 3 Henry VI where Edward IV is shown to have high hopes for his son. He then appears in a single scene of Richard III, as Edward V, just after the death of his father. The king's uncle Gloucester suggests that he and his younger brother should lodge in the tower until his coronation. Edward reluctantly agrees, believing his uncle's intentions to be pure. Shortly after, Gloucester spreads rumors of his nephews' illegitimacy and puts himself on the throne. At his coronation, he orders the Duke of Buckingham to murder his two nephews. When Buckingham in reluctant, he orders Sir James Tyrrell to commit the murders. He does so, but is disheartened immediately afterwards. In reality, Tyrrell was certainly the best suspect, but no proof has ever been found.


Horrox, Rosemary. ‘Edward V (1470–1483)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 4 Jan 2010]

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