Edward V

Edward V lived only a short time as the King of England. His uncle, Richard III, deposed him and took the crown. This event brought on what is considered by some to be the last battle in the War of the Roses.

Edward V (1470–1483), king of England and lord of Ireland, the eldest son of Edward IV (1442–1483) and his queen, Elizabeth (c.1437–1492), was born in Westminster sanctuary on 2 November 1470, during his father's exile and the readeption of Henry VI.

Edward V at his coronation
Edward V at his coronation

He was baptized in the abbey, the abbot and prior of Westminster and Lady Scrope standing sponsor. After Edward IV had regained the kingdom, his son was created prince of Wales and earl of Chester on 26 June 1471, and on 3 July in the parliament chamber the lords spiritual and temporal took an oath of allegiance to him as heir to the throne. On 8 July the rule of his household and lands until he reached the age of fourteen was entrusted to a council headed by his mother, his paternal uncles the dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, and his maternal uncle Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers. He received grants of the principality of Wales, the counties of Chester and Flint, and the duchy of Cornwall on 17 July, but enjoyed none of the revenues until November 1472, when the issues of the principality and of Chester and Flint were assigned to him. On 20 February 1473 his council was enlarged and given full powers to act in the prince's name, and on 23 September ordinances were drawn up for the good rule of the prince and his household. On 10 November John Alcock, bishop of Rochester, was given responsibility for the prince's education and made president of his council, and Rivers was appointed his governor. The prince was named keeper of the realm on 20 June 1475, during the king's absence in France, and as a preliminary he was knighted on 18 April and made a knight of the Garter on 15 May, though a stall had been reserved for him since 1472.

From 1476 Edward's council, based at Ludlow, developed into the main agent of royal authority in Wales and the marches. At the same time the prince's territorial interests were gradually expanded to embrace the lands of the earldoms of March and Pembroke. The prince was not permanently based at Ludlow. In May 1481 he went with the king to Sandwich to review the fleet which John, Lord Howard, was leading against Scotland, and early in 1483 he was due to visit Canterbury with the queen, but an outbreak of measles in the city led to the cancellation of this visit. Various marriages were suggested for him. In 1476–7 a match with the Spanish infanta, Isabella, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, was under discussion, and other suggestions included the daughter of Galeazzo Sforza, duke of Milan, and the sister of Maximilian, archduke of Austria and duke of Burgundy. In 1480 negotiations began for his marriage to Anne, the heir of Brittany, and the marriage treaty was ratified by Edward IV and François, duke of Brittany, in 1481.

Edward was at Ludlow when his father died at Windsor on 9 April 1483. Edward IV had apparently intended his son to be crowned immediately, and the coronation was fixed for 4 May. There were, however, anxieties about the degree of influence likely to be wielded by the Woodville family, who were already influential within the territories of the prince and his brother. As it made its way towards London the prince's party was intercepted at Stony Stratford by Richard, duke of Gloucester, who took possession of the prince and arrested his leading companions, including the prince's uncle Rivers and half-brother Richard Grey, claiming that the queen's family were planning to seize power by force. When news of these events reached London, the queen took sanctuary with her younger son, Richard, duke of York, and her daughters.

Gloucester entered London with the prince on 4 May and was shortly afterwards named protector during the prince's minority—a move which seems to have met with general acceptance. For the next six weeks business continued smoothly, with preparations in train for the coronation (now postponed to 22 June) and for the meeting of parliament on 25 June. On 10 June, however, Gloucester wrote north for reinforcements, and on 13 May arrested a number of Edward IV's leading allies at a council meeting at the Tower of London, and executed one of them: the dead king's close friend William, Lord Hastings. With hindsight, this marked the beginning of Richard's moves to take the throne for himself, but at the time the possibility of such an unprecedented step seems not to have been generally believed. On 16 June Cardinal Bourchier was apparently acting in good faith when he persuaded Queen Elizabeth to surrender her second son, who joined his brother in the Tower. Later that day Gloucester sent letters postponing the coronation again to 9 November and cancelling the intended parliament. From this point government in Edward V's name began to wind down, as men awaited the beginning of a new regime. On 22 June Dr Ralph Shaw publicized Gloucester's claim to the throne in a sermon preached at Paul's Cross, and on 26 June the duke seated himself on king's bench in Westminster Hall and began his reign as Richard III.

a later painting depicting Edward V and his brother Richard of York
a later painting depicting Edward V and his brother Richard of York

The speed with which Gloucester acted precluded any expression of dissent until after his coronation on 6 July, but later that month a conspiracy to rescue the princes was uncovered. The men put on trial for their part in the plot were insignificant figures, although there were undoubtedly more important figures in the background who wished to see Edward V restored. By September, however, the rebels were promoting another candidate for the throne—Henry Tudor—which strongly suggests that the princes were by this stage believed to be dead. Dominic Mancini notes that fears for their safety were being expressed even before Richard's coronation, with men bursting into tears when they spoke of the young king. He also preserves the evidence of the princes' physician, John Argentine, that Edward V anticipated his death and prepared for it with daily confession and penance. The princes' fate continues to arouse controversy. Chronicle accounts of their murder at the hands of Sir James Tyrell are inevitably speculative, and little light has been shed on their death by analysis of the bones found in the Tower in 1674 and assumed to be those of the princes. The most plausible explanation for their undoubted disappearance is that they were murdered on the orders of Richard III, late in the summer of 1483, to try to pre-empt a rising in their favour.

Rosemary Horrox

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