In 1483, twelve year old Edward V ascended the throne as King of England, following the sudden death of his father. Edward IV had reigned for twenty years, bringing England the stability and prosperity that had eluded it during the early years of those tumultuous times popularly known as the Wars of the Roses.
Although there were more periods of peace than the popular name would suggest, the Wars were the final dispute over succession by the colorful and dynamic Plantagenet dynasty, which had ruled England for three hundred years and whose history was marked by family conflict. The Wars of the Roses themselves were a struggle between the families of Lancaster and York, cousins descended from Edward III.
Under the leadership of Edward IV, York was victorious, but the legacy of the Plantagenets would not die. Edward had made a love match with Elizabeth Woodville, the daughter of English gentry, an ambitious woman with many relatives. This and other efforts by Edward to rule as a King on his own did not please his cousin and mentor, Richard Neville, nor his younger brothers, the treacherous George, Duke of Clarence and Richard, Duke of Gloucester. In time, Edward was forced to destroy his Neville cousin and to execute his brother George, who never ceased to conspire against him. For the remainder of Edward’s reign, Richard of Gloucester bided his time, eager for revenge against Edward’s queen and her family.
This was the history that young Edward V inherited in 1483, as the old wounds within the Yorkist family were reopened. He himself was too young to have experienced or participated in these conflicts, but it was he who suffered for them, ultimately losing his crown and his life in the power struggle between him and his Woodville kin and his uncle Richard of Gloucester.
My book centers upon Edward V as he is locked in bitter contest with his uncle to defend his friends and himself from the avalanche of events that will eventually end in death for him and his younger brother, the legendary “Princes in the Tower.” Responsible for their safety, if not for their murders, Richard assumes the crown as Richard III, loses the confidence of the Yorkist loyalists and likewise loses his life on Bosworth field. Thus, the Plantagenet dynasty is destroyed and, from it, the Tudor dynasty is born.
The struggle between Edward and Richard is a recounting of themes that occur time after time in literature and history. The royal youth is disinherited by an usurping uncle and must either regain his crown or lose his life. The Wheel of Fortune relentlessly turns, lifting some up and dashing others down, disregarding youth and innocence in its turning. In a world of men, power brings about corruption and destruction, and no one who seeks it is safe.
A Word from the Author
My interest in the Wars of the Roses began when I was 12 years old. I had been leafing through old encyclopedias looking for a timeframe in which to set the short story I was writing.
When I encountered 12-year old King Edward V, I felt an immediate affinity for him and his tragic story. He lost his father, his loved ones, his crown and his life, along with that of his little brother Richard, Duke of York, in the darkness of the Tower of London.
As the years went by, I continued my enthusiasm for the time period and for the strange landscape of late fifteenth-century England. I understood the complex politics that divided the royal Houses of York and Lancaster and the colorful individuals who participated in this struggle between cousins for the throne of England.
I came to respect and admire King Edward IV, who won his throne on the battlefield at the age of 18 and who went on to reign over an England that was once more made stable and prosperous.
What happened after his death at age 40 is a matter that continues to provoke controversy and passion.
“Brief Candles” is Edward V’s story. After the death of his father, power politics interfered with his peaceful succession. His uncle Richard of Gloucester moved ruthlessly to undercut and destroy his supporters, overthrowing the young king and taking his place as Richard III. The uncrowned Edward V and his brother Richard of York disappeared in the Tower of London.
This was a violent and controversial period of English history, and I have dedicated a great deal of my life trying to understand it. “Brief Candles” is a true story of youthful innocence exposed to the brutal realities of power-lust and party rivalry.
(Pamela Jean Horter-Moore, October 2017)