Edward of Middleham: the prince of Richard III
Edward of York, better known as Edward of Middleham, was the only legitimate son of King Richard III and his Queen, Anne Neville.
Edward was thought to have been born in Middleham Castle in December 1473, but this date is not certain. The historian Charles Ross wrote that this date “lacks authority” and was of the opinion that Edward was probably born in 1476. A document in which the Duke of Clarence thought that the marriage between his brother and Anne was invalid confirms that the child was not born at least until 1474. The Tewkesbury Chronicle estimates that he was born in 1476 so when he died he was probably 7 and not 10, as many think. No doubt he was already born on 10th April 1477 as priests of York Minster were asked to pray for King Edward’s family including his brother Richard and his family (wife and son).
For almost everyone he is Edward of Middleham, as he was probably born in the Nursery Tower of Middleham, today known as the Prince’s Tower in the west wing of the castle and it is thought he died there too. He grew up in Middleham with a wet nurse called Isabel Burgh and a governess, Anne Idley, married to one of Richard’s favourite courtiers.
During his short life, Edward was given several titles. On 15th February 1478 Earl of Salisbury, on 26th June 1483 Duke of Cornwall, on 19th July Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and above all on 24th August 1483 he was named Earl of Chester and Prince of Wales. He received this last title in York with his father himself performing the ritual. The solemn ceremony was held in the Archbishop’s Palace and was followed by four hours of banqueting. Edward walked along the streets of York to the delight of people.
It has always been said that Edward was not a healthy child. It seems that he was so sick that he went to York in a litter and not riding a horse as he was meant to do and he couldn’t even be present at his parents’ Coronation. Because of this, probably Richard decided to organise this solemn ceremony in York where the child was named Prince of Wales.
Edward was the only legitimate child of Richard but he had at least one half-brother and a half-sister. As it is likely that these two children grew up in Yorkshire, it is possible that Edward didn’t feel lonely as a child.
Unfortunately, we have no official portrait of Edward apart from a few drawings and stained glasses. The most famous is in St Mary and St Alkelda Church in Middleham, where he appears dressed as the Prince of Wales along with his father and mother. His physical appearance is not clear as he is different in the images we have of him. It is likely he was a fair haired child with blue eyes and a lean body shape.
As Prince of Wales, Edward was expected to be king after the death of his father but fate had decided otherwise for both of them. In April 1484, Richard and Anne were at the castle of Nottingham to enjoy a respite from their royal progress, when the news of Edward’s death arrived. The reactions of the poor parents is described in the Croyland Chronicles as they were almost bordering upon madness. This means that the death was sudden and unexpected and this explains the fact that they had left him in Middleham, as they didn’t suspect an imminent death.
The cause of death is not sure, it seems he suffered with tuberculosis but a sudden death is not typical of this illness. So possibly the cause was something completely different and it is very unlikely we will ever know.
A mystery surrounds the burial of Edward. Many think he was buried in Sheriff Hutton in a tomb of alabaster representing a child. Some investigations have proved the tomb is empty so there is a theory that the child was possibly buried somewhere in the church, along with the mortal remains of the Neville family’s members. Due to its age, it is not possible to see any inscriptions and it is very likely the tomb dates from much earlier than 1484. The theories around the actual location of Edward’s tomb are many and varied. Some people think it could be in Coverham, others in Jervaulx Abbey where, as a child, Edward rode horses with his father, others even it is in York. Some are of the opinion that any place he might be was a provisional resting place. At that time re-burials were very common so it was not impossible that Richard had in mind a different location but, as protecting his son’s body from being desecrated or displayed was apparently Richard’s desire, we can just hope nobody will ever disturb Edward’s eternal peace.