Could Elizabeth have saved her sons from Richard III?
When in April 1483 Edward IV suddenly died, he left the throne to his 12-year-old son, another Edward, who was being raised in Ludlow, Shropshire under the tutelage of Elizabeth’s talented brother Anthony Woodville. Elizabeth’s first instinct may have been conciliatory – one contemporary chronicler described how she “most beneficently tried to extinguish every spark of murmuring and disturbance” as the crown was passed to her son. But this wasn’t enough to allay the fears of some people – notably Richard of Gloucester – that the boy would grow up wholly under Woodville influence. When Richard intercepted Edward and Anthony Woodville on the journey to London, Elizabeth immediately fled with her other children and her belongings into the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey.
In June, Richard wrote to York for men to assist him “against the queen, her bloody adherents and affinity” who he claimed were trying to murder him. But he had not yet declared any intention of seizing the throne for himself; and it was on this basis that Elizabeth was persuaded – or coerced – into allowing her younger son, Richard, to be taken away from her to join his brother in the Tower of London.
Immediately afterwards, the elder Richard’s adherents started spreading stories that the marriage of Edward and Elizabeth was invalidated by the former king’s precontract to Eleanor Butler. Their sons were thus declared illegitimate, and as the summer wore on the boys disappeared from view, their fate one of the most debated mysteries of
A portrait of Edward IV. His sudden death in April 1483 would have lethal consequences for his young sons, and throw his kingdom into turmoil