For over half a millennium the mysterious disappearance of the Princes in the Tower - 12-year-old King Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, the Duke of York - was believed to have been a treacherous murder committed by their uncle, Richard III. When their father, Edward IV, died his young son became king. Yet, within a few short months, they had disappeared without a trace, never to be seen again, and Richard III claimed the crown in 1483. It was a short reign: Richard III died in 1485 fighting against Henry Tudor's forces in the culmination of the War of the Roses.
Almost 200 years later, in 1674, workmen dug up two juvenile skeletons at the foot of a staircase in the Tower of London. These skeletons were presumed to be the two young princes, and the remains were interred in Westminster Abbey to rest in peace, but this was not the end of the enduring mystery. New evidence has emerged that the remains found in the Tower of London may not be the princes, and Richard III's murderous reputation may in fact be undeserved, but it is not an easy case to unravel. It has been over 500 years since they disappeared, and yet still no one knows exactly what happened to the Princes in the Tower.
A Genetic Anomaly Might Clear Richard III Of The Murder
Little information is available on the princes' remains, but a dental record does exist from a 1933 inspection of the bones. Both skeletons show evidence of a rare genetic anomaly - hypodontia, or congenitally missing teeth. Experts had previously said the genetic anomaly was proof of their identity, as they supposedly inherited it from their grandmother, Cecily, Duchess of York.
Historian Dr. John Ashdown-Hill analyzed the princes' remains alongside the recently discovered remains of Richard III. He found Richard III did not possess this genetic anomaly. Given that Richard III was the son of Cecily, Duchess of York, and the uncle of the princes, it is curious that he does not share this trait with the remains.
Based on this genetic evidence, it is unlikely Richard III is related to the "princes in the Tower," or to whomever those bones might truly belong.
Richard III's Remains Could Solve The Mystery
The remains of Richard III may eventually unravel this 500-year-old mystery. After his body was discovered buried under a parking lot in 2012, new DNA evidence was suddenly available. King Richard III's DNA could conclusively prove the family connection, lending credence to the theory that he murdered his nephews. His DNA could also disprove that the remains are those of the princes, leading to many questions about what really happened to the missing princes.
If Richard III's skeleton could disprove the identity of the princes, he would be instrumental in clearing his own name centuries after his death.
The Skeletons Could Be Correctly Identified Through DNA Analysis
The last time the remains were examined was in 1933, at which point it was confirmed they indeed belonged to the princes, but forensic science has made huge advancements since then. The initial conjecture was based off of the presence of unfused bones, baby teeth, and the estimated ages of the remains, but not much else.
Modern scientists now say there is little that could be conclusively proved by simply looking at the bones. With juvenile skeletons, there is no way to conclusively prove the sex of the remains, meaning the skeletons are not necessarily male. DNA analysis could prove a family connection and the sex of the remains, while radiocarbon dating could be used to determine approximately when the children died, but just looking at the bones isn't enough to determine such things.
The Church Of England Has Refused To Allow The Bones To Be Examined
The mystery of the princes' remains could be solved quite easily with modern forensic technology, but the Church of England has repeatedly refused to allow this to happen.
The dean of Westminster denied requests to analyze the remains on the grounds it would lead to other royal exhumations. He also reasoned a scientific inquiry could not truly solve the mystery, as it could not identify the guilty party. If the remains were indeed proved to not be those of the princes, it would also leave the church the problem of what to do with the unidentified remains.
He stated, "There are others buried in the abbey whose identity is somewhat uncertain, including Richard II, and allowing these bones to be examined could well set a precedent for other requests. I do not believe we are in the business of satisfying curiosity, or of certifying that remains in the abbey tombs are what they are said to be."