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Edward V Born in Sanctuary: A Lowly Place for a King of England

Updated on November 2, 2013
Edward V portrait for his coronation
Edward V portrait for his coronation

Edward V’s birth should have been on of celebration. The whole of England should have been rejoicing at the fact that Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, finally had a son since their marriage around 1464. Up until then, they had had healthy daughters. However, that wasn’t the case. On November 2, 1470, the first son of the couple was finally born but it was in sanctuary. It definitely wasn't the place for the future King of England but this lowly birth seems to fit with the death and burial not fit for a king.

Edward IV Loses His Throne

Just before Edward V’s birth, his father, Edward IV, had temporarily lost his throne. This was during the Wars of the Roses and there was still the fight between the Yorkist king, Edward, and the Lancastrian king, Henry VI of England. Edward had deposed Henry just 10 years earlier with the help of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and now that help had changed sides.

Henry VI was restored to power on October 3, 1470; just a month before Edward’s son’s birth. As Edward and his brother, Richard, were forced into exile in the low countries, Elizabeth Woodville collected her belongings, grabbed her children and fled to Westminster Abbey, where she claimed sanctuary. At the time, this meant that she could come to no harm while she hid here but it wasn’t the place for an eight month pregnant woman, let alone the Queen Consort of England.

Elizabeth Woodville was in sanctuary for the birth of Edward V
Elizabeth Woodville was in sanctuary for the birth of Edward V

The Lowly Birth of Edward V

Instead of being the cause of celebrations, the English people didn’t get to know about the birth of Edward IV’s heir apparent. Even Edward IV wasn’t there to welcome his first born son into the world, like he should have been. The young boy was surrounded by family though—his three older sisters, mother and older step-brothers and eventually his maternal grandmother.

It didn’t take long for Edward IV to decide to do something about the throne that he had lost. He got an army together and attacked England. Eventually, Richard Neville and Edward of Westminster, Henry VI’s son, died on battlefields. Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s wife, was arrested, along with Anne Neville, and Henry VI was taken to the Tower of London. On April 11, 1471, Edward IV was back on the throne.

Richard III may have been responsible for the disappearance of Edward V and Richard, Duke of Shrewsbury
Richard III may have been responsible for the disappearance of Edward V and Richard, Duke of Shrewsbury

Edward V Becomes Prince of Wales

Shortly after his defeat, Henry VI died—presumably killed—in the Tower of London. There was no Lancastrian heir to the throne, except for Henry Tudor who has a weak claim and was in exile himself. Edward IV was more secure than ever before and was able to welcome his son into court. The English people had the chance to learn about the new heir to the throne.

Edward didn’t wait and made his son Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall in June 1471. Two years later, he was moved to Ludlow Castle to prepare to become the King of England. Elizabeth didn’t want this for her son but managed to persuade her husband to allow her brother to be his mentor and protector. Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, and Richard Grey, Elizabeth’s son from her first marriage, went to Ludlow Castle, where they remained for the next 10 years.

King Edward did want the best for his son, though. It would seem hypocrytical, considering Edward’s habits and mistresses, but he wanted Prince Edward to grow up with good morals. Anthony was instructed to only allow those who didn’t swear and brawl, weren’t adulterers or backbiters or were virtuous in other ways around the boy.

Edward had a strict routine every day to help him learn and grow up to be a healthy boy. It didn’t seem to do him any harm and it may have made him a good king. However, very little is known since he reigned for just 86 days—and all of that was behind the walls of the Tower of London.

Phillipa Gregory Talks About the Princes in the Tower

Betrothal of Edward V

Edward IV wanted the best wife for his son, too, despite marrying a commoner. He decided on a European match to Anne of Brittany. The betrothal was agreed upon by Francis II, Duke of Brittany in 1480 when Edward was nine and Anne was just four-years-old. There were some favourable terms for Edward V’s sons. While the first would become the heir apparent, the second would gain Brittany.

Unfortunately, the plans never happened and Edward and Anne never married. In 1483, Edward IV suddenly died, likely from pneumonia, and Edward V became king with his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as Lord Protector. From there, Edward was locked into the tower, later along with his own brother, Richard, and they were deemed illegitimate after the Duke of Gloucester deemed the marriage between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville invalid. Richard became Richard III and the two boys in the Tower went missing, presumed dead. They would forever become known as The Princes in the Tower. You can read more about the Princes in the Tower in Alison Weir's book The Princes in the Tower.

Edward V may have had a lowly birth but it didn’t stop Edward IV making up for that. He gave him the best education possible and tried to set him up to become the greatest king for the country. Unfortunately, we never got to know what he would turn out to be like. His birth and death were somewhat similar: definitely not fit for a king!


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