23. Edward V, A.D. 1483
Edward IV. left several daughters and two sons—Edward, Prince of Wales, who was fourteen years old, and Richard, Duke of York, who was eleven. Edward was at Ludlow Castle—where the princes of Wales were always brought up—with his mother's brother, Lord Rivers; his half-brother, Richard Grey; and other gentlemen.
When the tidings came of his father's death, they set out to bring him to London to be crowned king.
But, in the meantime, the Duke of Gloucester and several of the noblemen, especially the Duke of Buckingham, agreed that it was unbearable that the queen and her brothers should go on having all the power, as they had done in Edward's time. Till the king was old enough to govern, his father's brother, the Duke of Gloucester, was the proper person to rule for him, and they would soon put an end to the Woodvilles. The long wars had made everybody cruel and regardless of the laws, so that no one made much objection when Gloucester and Buckingham met the king and took him from his uncle and half-brother, who were sent off to Pontefract Castle, and in a short time their heads were cut off there. Another of the late king's friends was Lord Hastings; and as he sat at the council table in the Tower of London, with the other lords, Richard came in, and showing his own lean, shrunken arm, declared that Lord Hastings had bewitched him, and made it so. The other lords began to say the _if_ he done so it was horrible. But Richard would listen to no _ifs_, and said he would not dine till Hasting's head was off. And his cruel word was done.
The queen saw that harm was intended, and went with all her other children to her former refuge in the sanctuary at Westminster; nor would she leave it when her son Edward rode in state into London and was taken to the Tower, which was then a palace as well as a prison.
The Duke of Gloucester and the Council said that this pretence at fear was very foolish, and that the little Duke of York ought to be with his brother; and they sent the Archbishop of Canterbury to desire her to give the boy up. He found the queen sitting desolate, with all her long light hair streaming about her, and her children round her; and he spoke kindly to her at first and tried to persuade her of what he really believed himself—that it was all her foolish fears and fancies that the Duke of Gloucester could mean any ill to his little nephew, and that the two brothers ought to be together in his keeping.
Elizabeth cried, and said that the boys were better apart, for they quarrelled when they were together, and that she could not give up little Richard. In truth, she guessed that their uncle wanted to get rid of them and to reign himself; and she knew that while she had Richard, Edward would be safe, since it would not make him king to destroy one without the other. Archbishop Morton, who believed Richard's smooth words, and was a very good, kind man, thought this all a woman's nonsense, and told her that if she would not give up the boy freely, he would be taken from her by force. If she had been really a wise, brave mother, she would have gone to the Tower with her boy, as queen and mother, and watched over her children herself. But she had always been a silly, selfish woman, and she was afraid for herself. So she let the archbishop lead her child away, and only sat crying in the sanctuary instead of keeping sight of him.
The next thing that happened was, that the Duke of Gloucester caused one Dr. Shaw to preach a sermon to the people of London in the open air, explaining that King Edward IV. had been a very bad man, and had never been properly married to Lady Grey, and so that she was no queen at all, and her children had no right to reign. The Londoners liked Gloucester and hated the Woodvilles, and all belonging to them, and after some sermons and speeches of this sort, there were so many people inclined to take as their king the man rather than the boy, that the Duke of Buckingham led a deputation to request Richard to accept the crown in his nephew's stead. He met it as if the whole notion was quite new to him, but, of course, accepted the crown, sent for his wife, Anne Nevil, and her son, and was soon crowned as King Richard III. of England.
As for the two boys, they were never seen out of the Tower again. They were sent into the prison part of it, and nobody exactly knows what became of them there; but there cannot be much doubt that they must have been murdered. Some years later, two men confessed that they had been employed to smother the two brothers with pillows, as they slept; and though they added some particulars to the story that can hardly be believed, it is most likely that this was true. Full two hundred years later, a chest was found under a staircase, in what is called the White Tower, containing bones that evidently had belonged to boys of about fourteen and eleven years old; and these were placed in a marble urn among the tombs of the kings in Westminster Abbey. But even to this day, there are some people who doubt whether Edward V. and Richard of York were really murdered, or if Richard were not a person who came back to England and tried to make himself king.