Kids love mysteries, especially about other kids, and history provides several. One of the most popular is the five-hundred-and thirty-year-old mystery of the two little Princes in the Tower. (At the end of this, admittedly lengthy, post kids have a chance to suggest a possible solution and win an e-copy of my middle-grade time-travel novel, The Disappearing Rose, which features this mystery.)
The older of the Tower princes was born in Westminster Sanctuary on November 2nd, 1470. There was no mystery about that. Two branches of the Plantagenet family (the House of York and the House of Lancaster) had been fighting over the English throne for fifteen years, with the outcome of various battles determining the occupant. The new baby was of the House of York, and at the time of his birth, Yorks were out, and Lancasters were in. His father, Edward IV, had recently been forced into exile and his mother, Elizabeth Woodville, had thought it prudent for her and their small daughters to claim Sanctuary at Westminster.
In the spring of 1471, Edward IV returned and wrested the crown back from the Lancastrian king, Henry VI. To ensure that he kept it, he let it be known that Henry had ‘succumbed to melancholy’ in the Tower of London upon learning that his heir had been killed in one of the battles. Edward was then free to admire his heir, who had been named after him.
For the next twelve years, life was good. Little Edward was a scholarly boy and lived in his own Household in Ludlow under the guardianship of his scholarly maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers. His younger brother Richard, Duke of York (born 1473), lived at Court, but they saw each other from time to time, and were reputedly close.
But on April 9, 1483, Edward IV died, and the country had a problem. Bitter experience had taught the Lords of the Realm that a boy king was something to be avoided, since various factions always tried to exert influence on him for their own gain. This one promised to be no exception. The queen and her family were not well-liked (mostly because she spent her time enriching and empowering them at the expense of the older nobility), and people just knew that they would do their level best to be the power behind the throne. Edward IV probably knew it too, which is why his will named his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as Lord Protector.
Anthony Woodville made haste to get his nephew to London and get him crowned before the Lord Protector could take up his post, but Gloucester was forewarned, and intercepted the young king’s entourage before he reached the capital. A panic-stricken Elizabeth Woodville quickly gathered up her other children and once again claimed Sanctuary at Westminster.
When the young king arrived in London with his uncle of Gloucester (the Woodville one having been arrested), he was lodged in the Tower of London, which was then a royal residence as well as a prison, to await his coronation. Upon mulling it over, however, the Lords of the Realm decided that, if this was any example of how things were going to go, it might be a good idea to rethink the boy-king thing. And when it came to light that Edward IV had been pre-contracted to another woman when he married Elizabeth Woodville, they had the perfect excuse to declare young Edward and his siblings illegitimate and offer crown to the unquestionably legitimate Duke of Gloucester. Which is exactly what they did.
The little Duke of York was extracted from Sanctuary and taken to join his brother in the Tower, where they were sometimes seen playing in the gardens. Gradually, however, they appeared less and less.
The new king, Richard III, lacked Edward IV’s charm and was not overly popular, which allowed Lancastrian supporters to forward the cause of their claimant, Henry Tudor. Tudor’s forces defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in August, 1485 and Tudor strengthened his otherwise thin claim to the throne by re-legitimizing and marrying Edward IV’s oldest daughter. Her young brothers did not attend the ceremony because, by then, they were nowhere to be found.
The most likely explanation for their disappearance was that they’d been murdered, but if so, who was responsible? Richard III, who might have felt they were a threat to him even if he did have the throne? Some other high-up noble, like the Duke of Buckingham, who might have had felt they were obstacles to his own designs on the throne? Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, who felt (no ‘might’ here) her boy, Henry Tudor, would make a better king than any Yorkist? Or Henry Tudor himself, who would have had a hard time justifying his right to wear the crown if two re-legitimized sons of Edward IV were around.
There are, however, other possibilities. It’s possible that, concerned about the Tudor threat, Richard III had them secretly removed from the Tower and taken to a safe haven from which they could one day return. (It’s a well-known fact that Henry VII’s reign was plagued by ‘feigned boys’ claiming to be one of them.) It’s also possible that the princes went into hiding of their own volition, preferring to live out their lives in obscurity.
Ask your kids what they think, and see if they have an opinion, or even another theory as to what might have happened to the little Princes in the Tower. And if they do, leave a comment, along with the first name and age of the child who came up with it. I’ll give an e-copy of my middle-grade time travel novel, The Disappearing Rose, to the one with the most interesting idea.
(This contest will close on November 15th.)
The Disappearing Rose is available as an e-book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and my publisher, MuseItUp Publishing.