The Princes in the Tower

Edward V (b. 2 November 1470) and Richard, Duke of York (b. 1473) were the sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. When their father died in 1483, they were still children, so their father’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, became Lord Protector, and quickly made himself king, as Richard III.  The boys were sent to live in the Tower of London, and their fate has never been known for sure. An urn in Westminster Abbey is said to contain their bones, but that is not known with any certainty.

However, in his last book, The Mythology of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, the late John Ashdown-Hill, who did so much work to help identify Richard III‘s bones in Leicester, revealed that he had found a living female-line (i.e., mother-to-mother) descendant of Jaquetta of Luxembourg, the mother of the princes’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville; she is English opera singer Elizabeth Roberts (for more details, see this article in The Independent). If so, then she should share the same mitochondrial DNA (mt-DNA) as the princes, and a comparative mitochondrial DNA test between her and the bones should go a long way towards saying whether or not they are those of the missing princes. An explanation of how DNA tests work is on my website, here.

I understand that the Westminster Abbey authorities are not planning to allow such a DNA test in the foreseeable future, which is a shame, because this miracle science of DNA had the ability to unlock so many secrets of the past – so why not use it in this case to further our knowledge of our ancestral past?

In July a petition was launched by the York Dungeon museum to have the urn opened and the bones tested. A report about this in On:Yorkshire Magazine included the following paragraph:

Anthony Adolph, who’s a direct descendent of Richard III’s brother George, Duke of Clarence, hugely supports the excavation: “As both a professional genealogist and also a descendant of the princes’s uncle, the Duke of Clarence, I agree strongly that, now that we have the technological ability to learn the truth, a DNA test on the bones in the Westminster Abbey urn would be of the greatest historical interest.”