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Edward V & Richard Duke of York

Edward was born at Westminster on 4th November 1470, while his father Edward IV was in exile and his mother Elizabeth (Woodville) was taking Sanctuary within the Abbey precincts. Edward IV was restored to the throne soon after and died on 9th April 1483. Edward V was in Ludlow at the time of his father's death and on his way back to London he was met by his uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester and escorted to the Tower of London. The young king apparently never left the Tower. It was then alleged that his parents' marriage was not valid and Edward was declared to be deposed on 25th June 1483. His uncle succeeded him, proclaimed as Richard III.

Elizabeth had again taken refuge in the Abbey and from there she was persuaded to give up her second son Richard, Duke of York, who joined his brother in the Tower. The Princes were presumed to have been murdered there. Richard was born on 17th August 1473 and was married as a child on 15th January 1478 to Anne, daughter of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk but she died a few years later.

Coronation

Edward V was never crowned.

Burial

In 1674 some bones of children were found under a staircase in the White Tower in the Tower of London and assumed to be those of the two boys. The remains were brought to the Abbey by order of Charles II and first buried in the vault of General Monck. A white marble sarcophagus to house the bones was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and made by Joshua Marshall, the King's master mason, and the bones were then transferred to this. The warrant sent to Wren, dated 18th February 1675, reads

These are to signifie his Maiesties pleasure that you provide a white marble coffin for the supposed bodyes of ye two Princes lately found in ye Tower of London and that you cause the same to be intered in Henry ye 7th chappell in such convenient place as the Deane of Westminster shall appoynt...

The urn originally had two crowns and plumes on the top but these had gone by the early 1700s.

The urn is in the north aisle of Henry VII's chapel, near Elizabeth I's tomb. The Latin inscription (written in 1678) can be translated:

Here lie the relics of Edward V, King of England, and Richard, Duke of York. These brothers being confined in the Tower of London, and there stifled with pillows, were privately and meanly buried, by the order of their perfidious uncle Richard the Usurper; whose bones, long enquired after and wished for, after 191 years in the rubbish of the stairs (those lately leading to the Chapel of the White Tower) were on the 17th day of July 1674, by undoubted proofs discovered, being buried deep in that place. Charles II, a most compassionate prince, pitying their severe fate, ordered these unhappy Princes to be laid amongst the monuments of their predecessors, 1678, in the 30th year of his reign.

The urn was opened on 6th July 1933 to examine the bones to try to ascertain if they were human remains. Not all the bones were there as some had been lost or given away when they were found in 1674. The remaining bones were of two young children. The Lady Chapel was closed during the examination and on 11th July the bones were carefully wrapped up and replaced in the urn by the Dean with a parchment recording what had been done. He then read part of the burial service and the urn was re-sealed.

Further reading

Recent investigations regarding the fate of the Princes in the Tower by L.E.Tanner and William Wright, 1935

Recollections of a Westminster antiquary by L.E.Tanner, 1969

Genealogical history of the kings of England by Francis Sandford, 1677 (this has an engraving of the urn with the crowns)

The bones in the Abbey-are they the murdered Princes - review of the evidence by Nigel Bramwell in American Journal of Forensic Medicine...1989

Anne Mowbray and the Princes in the Tower - a study in identity by Theya Molleson in London Archaeologist 1987

Richard III by P.M.Kendall, 1955, Appendix 1

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

Born

4th November 1470

Buried

1678

Location

Lady Chapel

Memorial Type

Urn

Material Type

Marble

Edward V & Richard Duke of York
The Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1878 (oil on canvas), Millais, John Everett (1829-96)

Royal Holloway, University of London / Bridgeman Images

Edward V & Richard Duke of York
Urn containing the supposed bones of the Princes.

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

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The biggest challenge we face is actually time – getting all our work done alongside the daily routine of the Abbey as a working church, visitor attraction and home to 1,000 years of history.

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