The case of the Princes in the Tower is one of the most intriguing unsolved cases in British history. It is believed that they were murdered, yet their bodies were never found.
Who were the Princes in the Tower?
The Princes in the Tower were the only sons of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV of England. The elder brother was Edward V, of England, and the younger was Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.
In 1483, King Edward IV passed away. At the time of his death, Edward was 12 years old and Richard was 9 years old. It was believed that Edward would be the heir to his father’s throne, but was too young at the time to rule. His brother and him were kept in the Tower of London in preparation for Edward’s future coronation as the King of England. However, both of the boys disappeared before the time for Edward’s coronation.
Nobody knows what exactly happened to the two brothers after they were locked in the tower. Their father’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, ascended the throne and the boys were never seen again. It is generally believed that it was Richard who disposed of the two children in order to gain the position as King of England.
Who really did it though?
The most popular theory is that Richard killed the two boys, however there are also suggestions that Henry Stafford, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, or Henry VII may have committed the murders.
Henry Stafford - Henry Stafford served as Richard’s right-hand man. He was a descendant of Edward III, and he may have been hoping to accede the throne himself. A Portuguese document suggests that Stafford was guilty, stating that “the young sons of the said king his brother… turned them to the Duke of Buckingham, under whose custody the said Princes were starved to death."
Henry VII - Also commonly known as Henry Tudor, Henry VII was out of the country between the princes’ disappearance and August 1845, suggesting that the only plausible time for him to murder them would have been in 1485, after his accession. A.J. Pollard suggests that Tudor is “the only plausible alternative to Richard III
However, there are also theories that either one or both of the sons managed to escape the Tower. In 1491, Perkin Warbeck claimed to be Richard, Duke of York. He stated that he had escaped to Flanders, and had his claim supported by many, including Margaret of York, the princes’ aunt.
Were the bodies of the Princes ever found?
This is probably the most puzzling part of this case as the bodies of the two sons were never found. It is a common theory that they are still hidden somewhere in the Tower, incentivizing many tales of the ghosts of the two boys haunting the place.
In 1674, the Tower of London was being remodeled and some workmen discovered a wooden box containing two small human skeletons. The bones were buried about 10 ft under a staircase. The bones of two children had also previously been found “in an old chamber that had been walled up.” DNA testing at the time did not prove that these were the bones of the Princes.
An “e-petition” was started on the British government’s website in an attempt to conduct a DNA analysis test on the bones, but the petition was closed prematurely. Had the petition received 100,000 signatures, the debate would have gone to Parliament.
Queen Elizabeth II has not given the required approval for any such testing of the bones, and neither has the Church of England. The supposed bones of the Princes are kept at Westminster Abbey.