In 1483, young Edward V should have been crowned King of England, but his uncle usurped the throne. Edward and his younger brother were sent to the Tower of London and soon disappeared. Their fate has been a mystery ever since.

Your task is to determine what happened to the Princes after their uncle, Richard III, became king. This WebQuest is an introduction to the mystery, the potential suspects and the most popular theories. Read the articles or websites linked in each section to learn more. At the end, you will be asked to give your opinion and explain your reasoning.

Scroll down to begin.

The Story

King Edward IV died in 1483 leaving his 12-year-old son, Edward V, to become king. Edward IV’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was to serve as the boy’s Protector to ensure he successfully took the throne. In the months leading to the coronation, tensions arose between the two sides of Edward V’s family. Each wanted more influence over the young king and his mother’s family did not want Richard gaining control of the kingdom. Richard escorted Edward V to London and moved him to royal apartments in the Tower of London to await his coronation. His younger brother, Richard, Duke of York, joined him there.

While the boys were in the Tower, their uncle Richard acted as ruler of England and began consolidating power. Although it at first appeared he was preparing Edward V to become king, he moved to have the young princes removed from the line of succession. He claimed their parents’ marriage had been invalid and that they could not inherit the throne. Parliament agreed with his claims and declared Edward V illegitimate. Richard was crowned King Richard III.

Edward V and Richard, Duke of York were reportedly seen in and outside of the Tower of London in the Spring and Summer of 1483, but by the end of the year, they had disappeared completely. Contemporary sources suggested they had died, but their ultimate fate was unknown.

In 1647, during renovations at the Tower, human remains were found under a staircase. It was believed at the time that the bodies of the Princes had been found and they were given a proper burial. An examination of the bones in 1933 concluded that they belonged to two young boys. No modern scientific analysis, such as DNA testing, has ever been performed on the remains. Although they remain interred at Westminster Abbey as Edward V, King of England and Richard, Duke of York, the bodies have never been definitively identified.

For centuries, people have believed that the boys were murdered in the Tower. Richard III has been considered the prime suspect, but others also had motive to eliminate the Princes. However, it is possible that one or both of the Princes survived, possibly by escaping to the European continent. Historical sources do not provide an answer and modern historians have made the case for several possible outcomes.


Learn More:
Edward V & Richard Duke of York at Westminster Abbey
“Cold Case Chronicles: The Unsolved Mystery of the Princes in the Tower,” Forensic Magazine

Suspects

If the Princes were murdered in the Tower of London, three men are generally considered the main suspects. Each had his own motive for eliminating the Princes from the line of succession.

Henry Stafford

Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham was a close ally of Richard III. He also had a tentative claim to the throne, which would be strengthened by the Princes’ death. A contemporary source noted that the Princes were “put to death in the tower of London by the vise of the Duke of Buckingham,” though historians debate the meaning of the word “vise.”

He may have had the boys killed to benefit Richard, but it is also possible he ordered the murder knowing Richard would be blamed, causing the country to turn against him. He eventually betrayed Richard and was executed.


Learn More:
Biography of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham

King Henry VII

In 1485, Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and became King Henry VII. He married the Princes’ sister and, in order to do so, had to reinstated their legitimacy. Because they were no longer illegitimate children in the eyes of the law, his claim to the throne could only be accepted if both Princes were dead. Henry was in exile at the time of the disappearance, but it is possible the brothers survived until 1485 and were then murdered.

Henry VII pardoned James Tyrrell, the confessed killer, for “unspecified crimes” in 1486. It is possible that he had ordered Tyrell to commit the murder and Tyrrell later blamed Richard to cover up what had really occurred.


Learn More:
“The Defence Case for Henry VII”
“The Princes in the Tower,” Historic UK

King Richard III

Richard, Duke of Gloucester was Edward V’s uncle and protector, but worked to have the Princes declared illegitimate. Although he succeeded in taking the crown for himself, he may have decided to murder the brothers to prevent them or their supporters from taking it back.

Years after the disappearance, James Tyrrell confessed to killing the boys on Richard’s orders. Sir Thomas More recounted the confession in his History of King Richard III and wrote that the Princes’ bodies were buried underneath a staircase. However, the confession was made under torture.

He has historically been blamed for their deaths. Though some believe he was unfairly maligned by his successors.


Learn More:
“The Princes in the Tower,” Britain Magazine
The Richard III Society 

Other Theories

It is possible that one or both of the Princes escaped from the Tower of London and survived. Richard III may have sent them to the European continent to keep them safe or to keep them from attempting to take the throne. Some historians have also suggested that Edward, who was suffering from a bone disease, may have died of natural causes in the Tower, while Richard survived.

At least two men claimed they were Prince Richard returned from exile. In both cases, the men garnered public support. Lambert Simnel was crowned King Edward VI in Ireland during the reign of Henry VII and a rebellion occurred. Henry ended the rebellion and Simnel was revealed to be an imposter. A man known as Perkin Warbeck was officially recognized as the Prince by an aunt and by royalty in Europe. At the time, Henry VII could not produce evidence that the Princes were dead, which would have proven Warbeck could not be Richard. He eventually confessed under torture to being an imposter and was executed.


Learn More:
“Were the Princes in the Tower Murdered?”
“Prince in the Tower ‘died a bricklayer'”

Your Verdict

What do you think happened to the princes? Were they murdered by one of the suspects described above? Did they escape and live their lives under new identities? Is there another possibility? Choose an option below and explain why. Include what you thought was the most persuasive evidence and any other details that swayed your opinion. If you choose “Survived” or “Other” be sure to include what you think ultimately happened to the Princes.

 

Evaluating the Results

The goal of this WebQuest is to generate opinions about the disappearance of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. Unlike traditional WebQuests, individual users will not be evaluated on their performance or outcomes. Instead, answers to the question “What happened to the Princes in the Tower?” will be collected. Responses will be analyzed using research methods, such as qualitative coding and affinity diagraming, to look for and categorize recurring themes and ideas.

There is no right or wrong answer and the Princes’ fates may never be known. At this time, there is no forensic analysis that can be performed and it is unlikely new evidence will be uncovered. However, by examining the known facts of this historical mystery and analyzing the possibilities with modern methods, we may able to get closer to the truth of what happened to the Princes in the Tower.

Links

Images

The Princes in the Tower, John Everett Millais

King Edward IV; King Edward V; King Richard III, artist unknown

The Murder of the Princes in the Tower, James Northcote

King Richard III, artist unknown

18th century image of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, William Sherlock

King Henry VII, artist unknown

The White Tower of the Tower of London, Bernard Gagnon

King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower of London, Edward Delaroche

The Princes Sleeping in the Tower, Augusta Freeman

The Princes in the Tower, Henrietta Ward

Sources

Rex Factor, whose episode on Edward V inspired this WebQuest

Smithsonian Channel’s Mystery Files: The Princes in the Tower

Westminster Abbey

The Richard III Society

“Cold Case Chronicles: The Unsolved Mystery of the Princes in the Tower,” Forensic Magazine

“Princes in the Tower,” Historic UK

“Princes in the Tower,” Britain Magazine

“Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham,” English Monarchs

“The Princes in the Tower: The Defence Case for Henry VII”

“Prince in the Tower ‘died a bricklayer'”

“Were the ‘Princes in the Tower’ murdered?”