Theodor Hildebrandt: The Murder of the Children of King Edward

The Murder of the Children of King Edward: Theodor Hildebrandt

The Murder of the Children of King Edward is an 1835 historical painting in the Romantic style, by German artist Theodor Hildebrandt. It is in the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, Germany

Analysis of Hildebrandt’s The Murder of the Children of King Edward

This picture shows the moment before the sleeping sons of Edward IV of England are murdered by the men peering over the bed. German painter Theodor Hildebrandt here, in Romantic style, elicits extreme emotion from the viewer. It was painted in 1835, some 350 years after Edward V and Richard disappeared, presumed killed by Richard III in the Tower of London in order to thwart any claim to the throne of England.

The Princes in the Tower

The event commonly referred to as The Murder of the Children of King Edward typically pertains to the notorious and tragic incident that occurred during the Wars of the Roses in 1471. This dark episode involves the deaths of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, who were the sons of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. The circumstances surrounding their deaths remain shrouded in mystery and have sparked historical debates and speculation.

The Wars of the Roses was a series of civil wars fought for control of the English throne between the rival houses of Lancaster and York. Edward IV, a member of the House of York, became king in 1461 after winning a decisive victory at the Battle of Towton. However, the political landscape remained tumultuous, marked by shifting allegiances and power struggles.

Edward IV’s reign was marked by internal strife, and his death in 1483 only intensified the chaos. His eldest son and heir, Edward of Westminster, was only 12 years old at the time. Edward IV’s younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was appointed as Lord Protector for the young king.

Following a series of political maneuvers and controversies, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, eventually seized the throne as Richard III. The circumstances surrounding the accession of Richard III and the subsequent disappearance of the young princes are subjects of historical mystery and intrigue.

Edward of Westminster and Richard of Shrewsbury, often referred to as “the Princes in the Tower,” were placed in the Tower of London, a customary residence for royal individuals. The Tower, however, transformed from a place of protection to a symbol of their tragic fate.

The young princes were last seen in public during the summer of 1483. After that, their whereabouts became uncertain. Many historical accounts suggest that they disappeared under mysterious circumstances while under the supposed protection of their uncle, Richard III. The exact nature of their fate remains one of the greatest mysteries in English history.

The disappearance of the princes gave rise to numerous conspiracy theories and accusations. One prevalent theory implicates Richard III in their murders, asserting that he eliminated them to secure his claim to the throne. However, Richard III’s culpability remains a subject of historical debate, and alternative theories propose that others may have played a role in the tragedy.

In 1674, during renovations to the Tower of London, workers uncovered a box containing the skeletal remains of two children. Many believe these to be the remains of the princes. The bones were interred in Westminster Abbey, and in 1933, they were examined, providing evidence that the skeletons were indeed those of two boys, likely around the ages of the young princes at the time of their disappearance.

The fate of the children of King Edward has left an enduring mark on English history and folklore. The tragedy of the Princes in the Tower has captured the imagination of writers, historians, and storytellers for centuries, spawning numerous works of fiction, plays, and scholarly investigations.

This event is covered widely in art history, with some notable examples being The Princes in the Tower by John Everett Millais from 1878 and King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower of London by Paul Delaroche from 1830.

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