Edward in his Garter Robes
(from “The Black Book”
(Garter Register), Windsor)
His Birth in Sanctuary
Edward V was the fourth child and first-born son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. His father had come to the throne during the turbulent Wars of the Roses as the heir of York in 1461, having been helped by his cousin and mentor Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick (known as “the Kingmaker”). Edward’s mother was Elizabeth Woodville, the daughter of Richard Woodville, an English gentleman, and Jacquetta St. Pol, a member of the royal House of Luxembourg.
Edward’s elder sisters Elizabeth (born 1466), Mary (born 1467), and Cecily (born 1469) were born during the glory days of Edward IV’s first reign, but, with each year, relations between Edward IV and his mentor eroded. At the end of September 1470, Edward was forced into exile abroad, while his pregnant Queen and young daughters fled to the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey and Warwick reinstated the feeble Lancastrian Henry VI as King of England.
It was at this low point in his parents’ fortune that Edward V was born in the Sanctuary of Westminster Abbey on Friday, November 2, 1470. Although the abbots of Westminster were his godfathers, Edward’s christening was said to have been as meager as that of a poor man’s child.
Prince of Wales
All that changed on April 11, 1471, when Edward IV returned triumphantly to London to reclaim his throne. By the end of June, Edward IV was secure enough to consider the future of his infant son. Eight-month old Edward was made Prince of Wales, and all lords spiritual and temporal (including his paternal uncles George of Clarence and Richard of Gloucester) took oaths recognizing him as his father’s successor. A large team of administrators was appointed to look after his affairs, interests, and upbringing. His public duties began at the age of 1 1/2, when he was on hand to greet Louis de Gruthryse, the Governor of Holland, who had visited England to accept the thanks of the King whom he had hosted in exile only months before.
His Own Household at Three
At three years old, Edward was given his own household and established as the nominal head of an administrative center set up at Ludlow Castle to provide a royal presence in the west. His governor was his maternal uncle Anthony Woodville, the Earl Rivers, one of the most cultured men in the country. His half-brother Richard Grey was his treasurer, and Thomas Vaughan, a stalwart Yorkist knight, continued as Edward’s chamberlain. Robert Alcock, the Bishop of Worcester, was his tutor.
Edward IV was very active in the regimen established for his son’s education. Study, prayer, and exercise were the order of the day, interspersed with play and girded with requirements regarding the behavior of those surrounding him. It was Edward IV’s objective to raise a prince who was both virtuous and scholarly. This was to be the arrangement until Edward became 14 years old.
Keeper of the Realm at Four
Edward’s days at Ludlow were no doubt sheltered and pleasant ones, but his life in other respects was very public. On April 28, 1474, at the age of three, his first visit to Coventry was treated with a pageant presented by the city fathers. It is likely that the small child could hardly fathom the meaning of the grand speeches given in his honor. In 1475, his idyllic schooldays were interrupted when he had to return to London to serve as Keeper of the Realm while his father and other men of importance went to war against France.
In 1475, Edward was called to Westminster to serve as Regent while his father and many other men went to war in France. It was his mother who was the real power during the King’s absence. Edward IV returned without actually going to war, having made a treaty with the King of France instead. He had also secretly accepted a pension from Louis. (This would backfire in December 1482.)
All in the Family
On November 9, 1477, Edward was back at Westminster, hosting a banquet as Prince of Wales. This was another opportunity for the lords spiritual and temporal to pay homage to the seven-year old prince. In a contemporary portrait on or around November 18, 1477, Edward is pictured at the side of his parents, looking on as his maternal uncle Anthony and William Caxton presented the first book printed in England, The Dictes and Sayings of Philosophers, to the King. Caxton had printed the Sayings that the scholarly Rivers had translated. Others are also looking on, including, apparently, Edward’s youngest paternal uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, (the elder uncle George of Clarence languishing in the Tower of London) dressed in robes of estate, just as Edward and his parents are. (The portrait itself is crude, as most portraits of the period are. The English court had not yet found a Hans Holbein.)
On January 15, 1478, young Edward was at Westminster to attend the marriage of his 4-1/2 year old brother Richard, Duke of York, to 6-year old Anne Mowbray, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. It was a grand affair, followed by celebratory feasting and games. In 1481, the young bride died, but young Richard retained the title of Duke of Norfolk and offices attending that title. (George of Clarence was again not in attendance at the wedding. On February 18, 1478, he was very quietly executed for treason.)
In 1480, Edward’s aunt Margaret of York, the widowed Duchess of Burgundy, visited England for the first time since her marriage to Charles the Bold in 1467. It is likely that Edward met his aunt for the first time then. In May 1481, the 10-year old Prince of Wales accompanied his father the King on a trip to Sandwich, where he reviewed the royal fleet, and to Canterbury Cathedral. A large family portrait in glass is still extant in the Cathedral, although it has been battered by time and the ravages of war.
One portrait that apparently isn’t in the family group is that of Mary of York, Edward’s elder sister and Edward IV’s and Elizabeth Woodville’s second child. On May 23, 1482, the 14-year old princess died in Greenwich Palace near London. Edward, Prince of Wales, was the chief mourner at her funeral. Her grave and that of her baby brother 1-1/2 year old George of Bedford still can be seen at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, just yards away from the tomb of their parents. (The remains of the first of Edward IV’s and Elizabeth Woodville’s children to die, 6-month old Margaret, are buried in Westminster Abbey.) Cora Scofield, Edward IV’s biographer, writes: “Wrapped in cerecloth and enclosed in a leadedn coffin,her body was carried Windsor, where, under the pavement of St. George Chapel, she found her resting place close by that of her baby brother George of Windsor. Her oldest brother, the Prince of Wales, was the chief mourner at her funeral, as neither her father nor her mother was at Windsor on that day. But not many months were to pass before one of Mary’s parents joined her in the silence of the tomb, and even at that moment, as if some warning bell had sounded, a royal sepulchre, so ponderous that its weight broke the crane which attempted to lift it, was being set up in the church above her grave.”
Young Edward spent Christmas 1482 with his family at Westminster Palace. The festivities were particularly grand. Notably, his uncle Richard of Gloucester was also at court, basking in the praise surrounding his success against the Scots in the skirmishes along the border that year. Edward IV arrayed himself elegantly during the Christmas season, impressively tall, an attractive figure, even if he had put on too much weight during the prosperous years of his second reign. The Croyland Chronicler, an anonymous writer who claimed to be a member of the Edward’s court, described the atmosphere within the English court: “You might have seen, in those days, the royal court presenting no other appearance that such as fully befits a most mighty kingdom, filled with riches and with people of almost all nations…”
He continued with a description of Edward’s children: “…and (a point in which it excelled all others) boasting of those most sweet and beautiful children, the issue of his marriage…with Queen Elizabeth.”
On December 23, however, John Howard brought bad news from France; the treacherous King Louis XI had repudiated his treaty with Edward, had treated successfully with Edward’s ally Maximillian of Austria, and had exposed his secret pension to Edward. This was a political disaster for Edward, and he immediately began to prepare for war. For the remainder of his life, war was utmost in Edward’s mind, as he moved to punish France for this insult.
The Last Days of King Edward IV
On January 20, 1483, Edward opened his last Parliament. Preparation for war was the issue of the day. At the same time, Parliament formally recognized Richard of Gloucester’s success in his skirmishes against the Scots. Like many young men and women at 30 years old, he combined experience with youthful energy and ambition. In this regard, he stood in contrast with his brother the King, who was ten years older and past his prime, although a highly successful and very formidable monarch.
Edward IV continued to prepare for war. However, around March 30, 1483 (which was Easter Sunday), he took to his bed at Westminister Palace with an unexplained illness. There had been no prior sign of sickness or decline. He had shortly returned from a stay at Windsor, and had gone on a fishing expedition on the Thames with his courtiers. As April progressed, it became apparent that the King’s illness was fatal, to the point where his death was reported and mourned at Yorkminster even before it occurred. On April 7, the King raillied enough to impose deathbed requests, such as having his best friend William Hastings and stepson Thomas Grey, the Marquis of Dorset, reconcile their differences and make amends for the sake of his children.
God Save King Edward V
On April 9, the King died. Two days later, his elder son Edward was proclaimed King Edward V in London. While preparations were made for the King’s funeral, news of his death circulated England. In Ludlow, the Prince of Wales, now King of England, heard about his father’s death on April 14. John Rous, the Warwick antiquarian, remarked that his father’s friends “flocked to him.” Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan, the officers of his household, prepared for the journey to London, where Edward V would be crowned and assume his father’s place.
Much had to be done. In London, the widowed Queen and Dorset gained the upper hand in the King’s Council, but their desire to bring Edward into his capital at the had of a large escort met with fervent opposition from William Hastings and other moderates on the Council who feared a power play on the part of the Queen and the Woodville party. They convinced her to request that her brother Rivers limit the escort to 2,000 men. Hoping to enlist him as a counterweight to Woodville ambitions, Hastings wrote to Richard of Gloucester, asking him to come to London as soon as possible.
Richard Takes the Initiative
The King’s uncle Richard of Gloucester was at home in the north when King Edward IV died. Although he learned about Edward’s death in mid-April, he probably had an early warning because the King’s death had been erroneously reported earlier and mourned at Yorkminster Cathedral in York on April 6. Edward IV’s last will doesn’t exist today, but it is possible that Edward requested that Richard be made Protector of his young son because the contemporary sources seem to accept Richard’s protectorship as a matter of fact. In a ceremony in the city of York, the magnates took an oath of allegiance to the new monarch, and Richard was the first to swear. He then set out for London around April 21, taking with him several hundred men.
On April 24, Edward set out from Ludlow with his household officers Rivers, Grey and Vaughan, and an escort of 2,000 men. In the meantime, Richard had been contacted by Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, who was a royal-blooded descendant of Edward III who had been made to marry the Queen’s sister Katherine when he was a boy. Together they made arrangements with Rivers to meet him in Northampton so that they could accompany Edward on his progress to the capital.
Edward, Rivers, and the other paused at Stony Stratford on April 29. Rivers then broke with the company and backtracked fourteen miles to meet Richard and Buckingham at Northampton, as had been planned. They spent a pleasant and convivial evening over dinner, and then Rivers retired to his room for the night. When he awakened the next day, he was confronted by Richard and Buckingham and arrested.
Richard, Buckingham, and their troops then hurried to Stony Stratford and greeted the King with obeisance. They then arrested Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan and dismissed Edward’s escort. Edward vehemently protested his friends’ arrests, but in vain. Richard and Buckingham took control of him and watched him carefully to prevent his escape.
When the Queen heard of the arrest of her brother Rivers and son Richard Grey, and the capture of her son Edward V, she and her remaining children sought sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, as they had in 1470. Richard wrote a letter of explanation to the King’s Council, saying that he hadn’t captured the King, but had rescued him. Most of the Council members were pleased that the Queen’s party was crushed “without so much blood as from a cut finger.” Richard’s agents began to confiscate Woodville property, in utter disregard of due process.
On Sunday, May 4, Edward V, Richard of Gloucester, Buckingham, and their troops entered London. The lords and magnates paid homage to Edward as King and entertained him. His mother and siblings remained in sanctuary. Council confirmed Richard as Protector and gave him powers “like another King,” but balked at his request to execute the King’s friends Rivers, Grey and Vaughan.
Around mid-May, Edward was moved to the royal apartments of the Tower of London in preparation for his coronation. Richard’s men assumed control of the Tower and it is likely that Edward’s visitors were noted. Richard and the King’s Council tried unsuccessfully to coax the Queen and her children out of sanctuary. The King’s coronation was set for June 22.
Richard Makes His Move
On June 10, Richard sent some letters off to the north with his servant Richard Ratcliffe. The letters implored their recipients to raise men to assist Richard against “the Queen and her affinity.” On Friday, June 13, some of the members of the King’s Council were to attend a meeting at Westminster Palace facilitated by John Russell, while others were to meet at the Tower under Richard of Gloucester. During the Council meeting in the Tower, the attendees were ambushed by Richard’s men. William Hastings was summarily beheaded on the Tower Green. Thomas Rotherham, the Archbishop of York; John Morton, the Bishop of Ely; and Thomas, Lord Stanley, were arrested. Oliver King, John Forster and Jane Shore were also arrested. All were allies of the King. A contemporary author commented: “The three strongest supporters of the King (Hastings, Morton and Rotherham) thus being removed, henceforth the Dukes (of Gloucester and Buckingham) did as they pleased.”
On Monday, June 16, a delegation headed by the aged Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourchier, entered the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey to convince the Queen to release Edward IV’s second son, Richard, Duke of York and Norfolk. A force of armed men surrounded the Abbey. Coerced, the Queen relented, and the 9-year old Duke was received by Richard of Gloucester and taken to join his brother in the Tower. The next day, plans for the coronation and the opening of Edward V’s first Parliament were canceled, but the cancellation notices were sent too late for many, who had already set off for London to witness Edward’s coronation and the opening of his Parliament.
The last signature of Edward V as King of England was documented on June 17. The people of London were aware that Richard requested troops from the north. This and Hastings’ execution had a chilling effect on the populace. Numbers of troops expected in London were exaggerated up to 20,000.
On Sunday, June 22, “the lost coronation day of the lost little King,” several preachers throughout the city gave public orations saying that Edward IV’s children ought not to succeed to the throne because they were bastards. Some even went so far as to claim that Edward IV himself was illegitimate. They claimed that Edward IV had married another woman before Elizabeth Woodville, making their marriage bigamous.
Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan, the uncle, half-brother and chamberlain of Edward V, who had been arrested at Northampton and Stony Stratford, were told on Monday, June 23, that they would be executed. Rivers was brought up from Sheriff Hutton and Richard Grey was brought up from Middleham to join Thomas Vaughan at Pontefract Castle. There, on June 25, in front of the earl of Northumberland, Lord Neville, Richard Ratcliffe, and the troops raised by Richard of Gloucester’s June 10th letter, they were beheaded. A contemporary remarked that this was the “second innocent blood” that had been shed.
On the same day in London, the Duke of Buckingham made a public speech arguing that Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, should be King, and presented a petition urging Richard to take the throne. The next day, Richard began his reign as Richard III. He immediately began rewarding those who had helped him in his usurpation. The best rewards went to Buckingham and to John Howard, who had felt cheated when little Richard of York had retained the dukedom of Norfolk after the death of his child-bride and who now received that title.
The northern troops that Richard had requested on June 10 arrived outside London on July 1. They would be used as extra security during Richard’s coronation on Sunday, July 6. The coronation was extravagant and well attended, although 78-year old Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, had crowned Richard earlier, he did not attend the celebratory banquet afterward.
The Princes in the Tower
On July 13, the last of Edward V’s attendants were paid and dismissed. Among these was John Argentine, Edward V’s doctor, who reported that “the young king, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, made daily confession because he thought that death was facing him.” This is the last historical note on Edward V’s life that was ever recorded.