By A.S. Hargreaves and R.I. MacLeod
Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Vol. 87 (1994)
Introduction: On the death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483, the 12-year-old Edward, Prince of Wales, left Ludlow where he had spent much of his childhood, to be proclaimed King in London. He reached the capital at the beginning of May, accompanied not by his own familiar Household officers with whom he had set out but by his paternal uncle and guardian, Richard of Gloucester. Initially lodged in the Palace of the Bishop of London, he was surrounded by his own small court, but still separated from his mother, brother and five sisters, while preparations continued for his coronation planned for 24 June. In mid-May, he transferred into the Royal Apartments at the Tower, a quite reasonable move since the traditional coronation procedure commenced with a ceremonial procession from the Tower to Westminster. His mother was eventually persuaded to release the nearly 10-year-old Prince Richard from sanctuary in the Abbot’s house in Westminster, even though (according to Sir Thomas More) he was still recovering from sickness, so that he might join his elder brother, who lacked a playfellow, ‘for their both disporte and recreacion’. The brothers were re-united in mid-June at the Tower, after which time they were seen shooting and playing in the garden there. However, after the execution of Hastings, the King and his brother
were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, till at length they ceased to appear altogether.
The rumours and contested succession that ensued have been followed by continued controversy amongst historians as to the reliability of contemporary accounts (particularly that by More, written some 30 years later), the manner of the presumed death of the princes in the Tower, and the degree of responsibility and involvement of Richard of Gloucester, Lord Protector, who had by then declared himself King. The dispute over the guilt of the latter shows little sign of ending.
Support for More’s account of the princes’ bodies being placed in a wooden chest and buried under a great heap of stones was strengthened by the discovery, in July 1674, of the skeletons of two children under the bottom stair of an external staircase that was being demolished in the White Tower. The workmen had initially thrown away the rubbish and some of the bones, being unaware of their possible import, but a number were recovered, although some had been damaged as a result of the labourers’ earlier violence. Sir Christopher Wren was subsequently commanded to:
provide a white Marble Coffin for the supposed bodyes of ye two Princes lately found in ye Tower of London.