Fleshing out the Bones: The Brief Lives of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York

Article excerpt

This is not another look at the fate of the Princes in the Tower, nor another attempt to solve one of history's most baffling mysteries. Rather, my aim is to celebrate their lives, or, if 'celebrate' is too strong a word, to evaluate them in the context of their own times and in the light of modern psychology, to see if any meaning can be found to put some flesh on those poor bones. After all, they were only in the Tower of London for a few months: Edward was twelve and his brother a couple of years younger. Surely they deserve better than to be remembered as just 'The Princes in the Tower'. To paraphrase Shakespeare, there must be more to a man's life than the manner of his leaving it.

It is not possible to tell the whole story here; there are many other characters whose lives and personalities affected the Princes - their parents, sisters, grandmothers, uncles, step-brothers, guardians, teachers - an endless list with a wealth of detail. For now a fragment will suffice to make a point - they are interesting in their own right, not just as an unsolved mystery. I shall start when Edward was three and Richard not yet born, examine only the years in the Midlands and conclude before the tragic events in the final months.

In 1473 Edward IV sent his son, Edward, to live on the borders of Wales to help settle the unrest. He chose Ludlow Castle, on the borders of Shropshire and Hereford. The town of Ludlow was tinged by a thick wall with seven gates. There was an active commercial life and the House of York was well favoured; many citizens owed their success to its patronage. In Ludlow there was a strong Guild of Palmers and in 1461, 34 members of Edward IV's Household had been admitted as members. The year before the child's arrival, Richard Sherman, a mercer, was elected as Warden of the Guild, an office he was to hold for twenty years. It was definitely in the interests of such men to ensure the comfort and well-being of the tiny prince.

The castle itself stood on high ground overlooking the River Teme. It was large and spacious and new apartments were built for the prince. Sanitary arrangements were good - one tower had a privy on each floor. There was a Great Hall, two chapels, towers, battlements, kitchens and store rooms and there was a magnificent view in every direction. This became home for the three-year-old child.

It was dark inside those thick walls and once the light faded from the narrow windows only candles and flares could relieve the gloom. There was little furniture except trestle tables, benches and the occasional stool, huge beds with bunched up curtains and rushes on the floor, rooms leading into each other, separated only by hangings, screens and curtains blowing in the chill winds. Ludlow Castle seems spacious, but in the Middle Ages there was no privacy, people slept where they could - on the spiral staircases, on the hard floor, crouched in the window seats, snatching what rest they could between the cold and damp and the constant noise and smell. Ludlow was a hard, bleak place to be when the snow fell on the battlements and the Teme was frozen, when icy rain lashed against the stone wails and the wind howled wildly across the hills, or when thick, damp fog crept through the narrow windows. The Prince's mother, Elizabeth, stayed with him for some months. She then journeyed on to nearby Shrewsbury to await the birth of her baby. She already had several daughters and was to have more in the years to come.

The order of Dominican Friars, frequently referred to as Black Friars because of their robes, had first come into England in 1221. It was their custom to settle in towns and Shrewsbury was one of the first. Their original church stood near the Severn at the end of Marwell Street. The word Marwell was probably a corruption of Mary Well - a flowing spring with powers of healing, or so people believed for they also called it HolyWell. (The street where the Friars settled is now called St. …