A king is still a king if he has not been crowned. Edward V is one of only four English monarchs since the Norman conquest not to have been crowned (the others being ‘Empress’ Matilda, Lady Jane Grey and Edward VIII). Although the date – and circumstances – of his death are uncertain, it is likely that he died before his 15th birthday, which would make him the shortest-lived monarch in English history.
Edward was the son of the Yorkist king Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. He was born in November 1470 in a sanctuary within Westminster Abbey, where his mother had sought refuge from the Lancastrians who had temporarily removed her husband from power during the Wars of the Roses. Upon his father’s restoration to the throne in 1471, Edward was created Prince of Wales and was formally recognised as the heir to the English crown a year later.
Edward IV died in April 1483, and his eldest son and namesake became king. Edward V’s uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was appointed protector during his minority. He wasted no time in escorting the young king to the Tower of London, where Edward was joined by his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York. Edward’s coronation was repeatedly postponed while his uncle plotted to seize the crown for himself.
Evidence was brought forward that Edward IV had been precontracted when he had married Elizabeth Woodville, thus rendering their union invalid and their offspring illegitimate. Richard of Gloucester was declared king on 25 June. What happened to Edward and his brother (known as the Princes in the Tower) has been the source of intense controversy ever since.
The Lancastrian Henry Tudor, who defeated Richard at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, portrayed Richard as a murderous usurper, so strengthening his own tenuous claim to the throne.
Henry’s successors took up the theme, notably Henry VIII, whose choice of name for his son was highly significant. By christening him Edward, he was reminding the people of the last king of that name, whose usurpation and murder the Tudors had avenged.
Answered by Tracy Borman, author of Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror (Jonathan Cape, 2011).
This Q&A was first published in BBC History Magazine in 2011