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.