Grab the kleenex and get ready to overthink: The Princes in the Tower
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I’m obsessed with the Tudors
Since the news cycle has been a steady cycle of devastation and I have had a back pain flare up I have been on a Tudor kick. It’s my comfort food of reading. My gorey sexy comfort reading.
Who are the Princes in the Tower?
Remember the kleenex I suggested you get? Get it out now because it’s a really sad story that is fraught with conflicting info. You can’t understand the Princes without understanding what came before and after. They were Tudor relatives in that they were Henry VIII’s maternal uncles. I read the White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter and I haven’t seen all of the mini-series The White Queen or the The White Princess. Everyone loves those books and I think they are compelling. I’m not a huge fan of them, mainly because I feel they are more emotional than fact based. So the Wars of the Roses were a complicated awful time of near constant civil war and the political intrigue parts of Game of Thrones is loosely based on the happenings. To keep it short, the House of York ran the country for about 20 years. The king Edward IV was apparently totally hot, totally cocky, and kind of punk rock in that he did what he wanted and had no fear. He was super tall and had piercing blue eyes. He also married a commoner that he met on the side of the road who was five years older than him, had two kids, and was a widow. A true Cinderella story, the woman’s name was Elizabeth Woodville. They had a ton of kids and they had two little boys Edward V and Richard (the Duke of York). Unfortunately, Edward IV lived a little too hard and passed away young around age 40. There had been so much drama and hatred between his family and the Woodvilles that the Queen immediately went into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey with her children- except twelve year old Edward V who was in Wales being raised by her brother. The will stated that Edward’s surviving brother (the Duke of Gloucester) was going to be the guardian of the boy and raise him. The king passed away in April and between that time Gloucester took Edward V and his Woodville guardians hostage(he later killed them). The boy king was placed in the Tower of London for his safekeeping. Gloucester eventually got the Privy Council to make him king because child kings were famously manipulated by their parents and he declared them illegitimate because apparently Edward VI was married before he was with Elizabeth Woodville. People hated the Woodvilles and this was considered a safe course of action. Eventually, nine year old York was living in the Tower of London either for his protection or to keep his brother company. Gloucester (now known as Richard III) was crowned king in July with minimal bloodshed. After September, the boys were never seen again. They disappeared and Richard never talked about it. Richard was eventually defeated by Henry Tudor who literally had almost no claim to the throne (for real-it’s complicated but his grandfather was a Welsh commoner who married a really young widowed queen). Richard III had the misfortune of being written as a villainous archetype by Shakespeare. But all history is subjective? What really happened? No one will ever know, there have literally been dozens upon dozens of theories. I’ll go through a few theories from books I’ve read.
Here’s a good overview of the War of the Roses but it still doesn’t get all the details in it. I hope this explains the background well and it alludes to Game of Thrones.
The White Queen, Red Queen, and Kingmaker’s Daughter
Philippa Gregory posits that it came from the orders of Margaret Beaufort (Henry Tudor’s mother aka the Red Queen) who convinced Richard’s cousin Buckingham to do it and then betrayed him. Margaret Beaufort is portrayed as a woman who had almost nothing to live for except her faith and her son. She had him when she was all of 13. Her whole life was constantly overturned by the Wars of the Roses but she never gave up hope. Her son lived in exile in France being raised by his uncle Jasper Tudor. It’s alluded that Margaret and Jasper were involved but who knows. When literally every Lancaster Plantagenet was dead, she felt it was perfect for her son to take the throne. I honestly found her the most compelling of the three women profiled in the books. I can’t imagine the determination that woman had or how she did what she did. After Richard usurps the throne, she reaches out to disaffected nobles and plans to get her son over to lead an army. When her plan is found out, she is placed under house arrest. Her third husband Lord Stanley was instrumental in taking Richard down. Beaufort is portrayed as a fanatical zealot who is not sympathetic. I guess I related to the fact she had an interior life and did everything for the love of her son. Elizabeth Woodville is portrayed as someone who loved her family, was only slightly jealous of her husband’s affairs (I mean come on), and was magic. I’m not kidding. I think when the books were written publishers wanted a supernatural element. The story is fascinating enough without giving credence to witchcraft ideas. Lots of people thought she had bewitched Edward IV. She is portrayed as a woman without options. In the White Queen, she has another little boy pretend to be her son Richard. Fun fact, I thought that was on par with what Margaret Beaufort supposedly did. Phillppa Gregory believes that there is no way Elizabeth could have been convinced to give up her second son and believed that Richard (her son) escaped and lived in continental Europe in obscurity. Gregory makes no bones about the fact it’s her take on what happened.
The Sunne in Splendour
I love Sharon Kay Penman but heads up, she will break your heart. I am talking ripping your heart in two. Her Welsh princes trilogy- heart wrenching and devastating. My son is named Rhys because I loved that name from those books. Anyway, she is famous for writing The Sunne in Splendour which is one of the most intense, devastating books I have ever read. The book is wholly sympathetic to Richard and posits him as a modern man in medieval times. She has him as a man who struggled to remain loyal to his brother who was larger than life. In this book, she believes that Richard wanted to protect the boys from the Woodville influence. She describes Elizabeth Woodville as a woman who was so beautiful that she never really cared what other people thought. I kind of think of her like Kim Kardashian-like so pretty that she got everything she wanted and had no idea how that could isolate people. Richard puts the boys in the Tower for their own safety because the country was going to break out in civil war if he didn’t. He later finds out that the Duke of Buckingham betrays him with Margaret Beaufort. Basically, Buckingham believes that when they overthrow Richard III people will welcome him as regent because he is a true Plantagenet unlike an unknown Welshman (Tudor). He is ruthless and vain and he truly hates the Woodvilles. He hated his wife, who was Elizabeth Woodville’s sister Katherine. He had no love for the boys and he has them murdered. The way Penman has him tell his story is just so creepy. Like Richard finds out the boys are missing and he says “what about their dog? My nephew always has his dog with him. How come he didn’t protect them?” The Duke says “oh it’s so easy to poison a dog, just slip something in its food.” It’s so creepily written. Penman, my Facebook friend by the way ha!, believes that RIchard had absolutely nothing to gain by murdering his nephews. It would make people hate him more in a country teetering on Civil War. Gregory agrees with this theory as well. Richard had to know that people would assume that he was truly evil if he murdered his nephews.She believed it benefited Henry Tudor to have people believe Richard was evil. She feels all of the bad things we hear about Richard is Tudor propaganda. It’s an interesting theory.
The Princes in the Tower
This is a non-fiction book by Alison Weir where she weighs historical evidence to come to her conclusion using Richard’s contemporaries and books that were written by people who knew. She also uses forensic evidence. As a true crime fan and murderino, I devoured this book in two days. I literally fell asleep reading it last night. She writes that Richard was a usurper and an opportunist. She doesn’t think he was the most evil person ever- one of the people who wrote about him (John Rous) compared him to the Antichrist. She feels that he was a man of his time. She thinks he was probably a good king but he murdered two children and that negates all the good he did. He ordered Sir James Tyrell to do it and then gave him all kinds of land and titles. She feels that Richard’s behavior with his council (beheading a friend without a trial for treason), dragging people out of sanctuary at the Battle of Tewkesbury and condemning them, most likely being complicit in the murder of the Lancaster king after his brother had settled the war for York, among other things made him likely to do it. He didn’t let rules and traditions slow him down. She feels that a lot of the works that were written in his time as king didn’t mention it because to do so would be treasonous. OH BTW, the punishment for treason was being hanged, drawn, and quartered. But all the writers she read in that time were convinced Richard gave the order to murder the princes. She also feels people were so furious about it that Henry Tudor swept in and took over because of people’s dislike for Richard. She also puts some blame on Henry Tudor because he had a York cousin who was a child put in the Tower of London who was later put to death as an adult. She believes that Sir Thomas More’s account of what happened is closest to the truth and said exactly where the Princes were buried. More was friends with relatives of all the main people in the story and would have been in a place to hear the real hot gossip.
So will we ever know what happened?
I don’t think so. But it’s interesting that everyone has a theory but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it is an incredibly tragic story regardless. I’m leaning more towards Alison Weir’s theories which are compelling and kind of Occam’s Razorish. He had motive and the means. I loved the Sunne in Splendour and would still recommend it to anyone. It’s just a fascinating story and a mystery I hope we solve. Regardless of how you feel about Richard III, his ending was awful and tragic. He was the royal skeleton they found buried under a parking lot recently. But it’s such an incredibly fascinating time in history and one that you get really attached to. I read a lot of history books and I have never seen so many conspiracy theories and different ideas that could be plausible as this one. I hope you found this as interesting as I did. If you have a theory or a book about this time that I didn’t mention-please let me know! I love reading and I am curious to hear what other people think.