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Digital Subscriptions > BBC History Revealed > March 2019 > Princes in the Tower

Princes in the Tower

Two young princes – one of them the new king – vanished from the Tower of London, never to be seen again. Lauren Johnson picks through the clues of this most enduring of mysteries


Caught up in factional fighting, the princes may have died at the command of their uncle, Richard III

Building work was being carried out at the Tower of London on Friday 17 July 1674 when a grisly discovery was made. Among those present was John Knight, chief surgeon to King Charles II. While pulling down a ruined building beside the White Tower, the workmen digging down some stairs found a wooden chest containing the bodies of two children, estimated to be around 11 and 13 years old.

Knight, and other eyewitnesses who handled the broken bones, quickly came to the conclusion that these had to be none other than the remains of the long-lost Princes in the Tower. Finally after nearly 200 years, it seemed that an enigma at the heart of British history had been resolved.

By putting his son in the care of Anthony Woodville (kneeling, second from left), Edward IV thought his line was secure

Te two boys now remembered as the ‘Princes in the Tower’ were the sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: Edward V and Richard. A handsome and charismatic ruler, Edward IV of the House of York had seized the throne during the Wars of the Roses, but spent much of his 22-year reign struggling to establish his rule. Nonetheless, by the time he died on 9 April 1483, he appeared to have restored a measure of stability His eldest son and namesake had trained for his role as king for the past ten years in the marches of Ludlow while the nine-year-old Prince Richard was already a widower and preparing to be a mighty lord.

The young Edward V was at Ludlow Castle when he heard of his father’s death

But Edward IV’s death left their position vulnerable, as there was a worm gnawing at the heart of the body politic: factional fighting for power. Te heir was only 12 years old, and a child king was likely to be influenced heavily by those closest to him. Whoever controlled the king, controlled the kingdom, and in 1483, two rival factions vied for authority over the newly acclaimed Edward V One ‘Woodville’ clan was led by his mother Queen Elizabeth Woodville, while a more disparate collection of interests focused around Edward IV’s brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen



Te Woodvilles appeared to have the upper hand for not only did Queen Elizabeth have her younger son Richard in her care, but her brother Anthony Woodville had the new king Edward V in his keeping at Ludlow It is possible that in his dying days, Edward IV made efforts to balance the rivalries, perhaps even declaring that his son and heir should remain with Anthony Woodville, one of his uncles, while the Duke of Gloucester, another uncle, serve as Lord Protector until Edward V was old enough to rule for himself. Tat was not to be the case as Edward IV’s will went missing and exactly what form of government he had hoped to establish was soon overtaken by events.

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About BBC History Revealed

The mystery of the Princes in the Tower has haunted history for centuries. Did Richard III really steal the throne by murdering his nephews? Plus: We uncover the story of Rome’s first lady – Agrippina the Younger, the naval battle of Boston Harbor as well as the top 10 cats that made history.