In 1789, work was carried out to the paving in St George’s Chapel. Workmen had noticed that it had sunk in the north quire aisle, and during repair work, they came upon the entrance to the burial vault of Edward IV. Within the vault, they found a lead coffin, with the remains of a wooden coffin on top – the coffins of Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville. They also found two further coffins which they believed to contain the bodies of George, Duke of Bedford, 3rd son of Edward IV who died aged around 2 in 1479, and Mary, 5th daughter of Edward IV, who died aged 14 in 1482. Both were known to have been buried in Windsor. The workmen did not investigate the vault further, and a slab marking the graves was put in the paving above the vault.
However, in 1810, two further coffins were found in what is now the Albert Memorial Chapel. One of these had the inscription “serenissimus princeps Georgius filius tercius Christianissimi principis Edvardi iiij” on suggesting that this was the coffin of George, not the one in the vault near Edward IV. In fact, when George was buried on 22 March 1479, St George’s Chapel was still under construction, so that although his body was taken to be buried at Windsor, it couldn’t have been interred in the Quire, and was instead laid to rest to the south of the high altar of the old chapel, the Albert Memorial Chapel. In the written account of Mary’s funeral, it states that she was “buried by my Lorde George, her brother”.
In 1813, both of these coffins were moved to the vault near Edward IV.
So who did the other two coffins belong to? They must have been important to have been buried in the place of honour near Edward IV – could they have been the bodies of Edward’s other sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the young Princes in the Tower? Their fate was never acknowledged, but it was believed that Richard III had had them murdered. Perhaps he had requested their burial near that of their father, his brother, to soothe a guilty conscience?
There is no evidence to suggest who the first two coffins belonged to, and there are many rumours and theories surrounding the Princes in the Tower. However, there are no known records that would prove this hypothesis and the fate of the two Princes is still unknown.
Eleanor Cracknell, Assistant Archivist