10 historic stairways in London – 9. ‘Two Princes Staircase’, Tower of London… 

The White Tower with external staircase – they’re not the stairs we’re talking about, a remnant of them is located in the niche you can see about half way up the external staircase. PICTURE: Amy-Leigh Barnard/Unsplash.

A truncated staircase – really just a few steps – located near the entrance to the White Tower is famous – or perhaps infamous is a better word – for its connection with the so-called ‘Princes in the Tower’ – the 12-year-old King Edward V and his nine-year-old brother, Richard, Duke of York, who disappeared after entering the Tower of London in the late 15th century.

While the princes are believed to have been held in the Bloody Tower, their connection with the staircase, which is located in a doorway niche halfway up the main outer stairway into the White Tower, dates to 1674.

King Charles II had ordered the demolition of what was left of the royal palace to the south of the White Tower and during those works a wooden chest containing two skeletons was discovered beneath the foundations of a staircase which had led up to St John’s Chapel.

Many have subsequently believed the skeletons to be those of the two princes.

A plaque located near the staircase remnant at the Tower of London. PICTURE: Ian McKellar (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The princes had been taken to the tower in April, 1483, following the death of their father, King Edward IV, on the 9th of that month. Their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (and the Lord Protector of his nephews), had done so, ostensibly for their protection, while Edward’s coronation was initially scheduled for June.

The last recorded reference to them being in the tower dates from 16th June when they were seen “shooting [arrows] and playing in the garden of the Tower sundry times”.

There has since been much debate over their fate with many believing Richard, who in July of that year was crowned King Richard III, had them murdered to ensure his own ascension to the throne.

The two skeletons found almost 200 years later were put on display for several years following their discovery before King Charles II ordered that they be placed in an urn and reburied in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey. In 1933, they were disinterred and forensically examined by LE Tannery and W Wright who concluded they were the skeletons of two boys, aged 10 and 13. They were subsequently reinterred and have remained buried since. They have never been tested for DNA.

Historic Royal Palaces Chief Curator Lucy Worsley and special guests will look at the question of whether the urn should be opened and the bones tested using modern forensic methods in an online event on 16th March at 7pm. Follow this link to register for this event.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm (last admission), Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm (last admission) Sunday to Monday; COST: £29.90 adults; £14.90 children 5 to 15; £24 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

Where’s London’s oldest…surviving building?

The oldest intact building in London is generally believed to be the White Tower, which stands in the heart of the Tower of London.

Construction on the White Tower (which stands to the right in the picture) was started on the orders of William the Conqueror some time prior to 1070 and was completed by 1100. The newly appointed Bishop of Rochester, Gundulf, was placed in charge of the project which used stone imported from Normandy (much of this was replaced in later centuries).

Built as a towering stronghold and fortress for the English kings, the walls of the tower at 15 feet (4.5 metres) thick and 90 feet (27 metres) high. It was later enclosed by a curtain wall and moat, taking the shape of the Tower of London as we now know it by about 1350.

The White Tower, also known as the Great Tower, has been the scene of many dramatic events in British history – from the deposition of Richard II in 1399 to the disappearance (and possible murder) or the Princes in the Tower – Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, around 1483 (two skeletons, which some believed to be theirs, were unearthed here in 1674).

The White Tower, which is now part of a World Heritage Site, contains the splendid 11th century Chapel of St John the Evangelist. While three of the turrets at the corners of the tower are square, the fourth – the north-east turret, is round and once contained the first royal observatory.

The onion-shaped domes and weathervanes on the turrets were added in the 1520s.

These days the tower contains an exhibition of royal armour – including that worn by King Henry VIII – as well as exhibits on the tower’s history.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest tube station is Tower Hill); WHEN: Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 4.30pm; Sunday to Monday 10pm to 4.30pm (closing times are 5.30pm between March and October); COST £18.70 an adult/£15.95 concessions/£10.45 a child (children under five free)/£51.70 for a family of two adults and up to six children; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/

PICTURE: Stephen Pond/Historic Royal Palaces