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The Princes In The Tower by Alison Weir is an examination of the centuries old mystery of what happened to the 12 year old Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, when they disappeared in the Tower of London when Richard III usurped the throne in the 1480s.
Alison Weir is well-known for her books covering the Tudor period, the Wars of the Roses and some earlier periods as well. She is an authoritative writer, and one whom I respect as she writes clearly and in a very readable style, and when there is doubt over an event she lays out all the evidence before explaining the most likely conclusion.
In the case of the Princes in the Tower, no definitive answer has ever been reached as to their fate. There is evidence which points to one conclusion, which is the most likely, but it cannot be stated with finality that that is what happened. I was interested in reading more about this mystery which I had barely heard of until I read a novel by Philippa Gregory about that time, and I thought that Weir would be the best writer to read as she is good at examining all sides of the story.
The book is shorter than most of Weir's other books, as it only covers a short period of time, and focuses on the usurpation of the throne and the disappearance of the princes. She opens with details of the sources that she uses, which doesn't normally form part of the main text but is appropriate given that this is an investigation rather than simply a text about a period of time. She sets the scene by covering the background of the main "characters" and the lead up to the events which she will examine in more detail. Although I had read much of this introductory detail elsewhere, I felt it was necessary in order to refresh my memory and also to think of the lead up to Richard III and the disappearance with reference to those particular events, rather than in general terms.
Weir's investigation is very well done. She quotes all sources, telling all sides of the story, but when she believes that something is incorrect or exaggerated, she gives clear reasons for why this is. Some chroniclers held information back, while others were biased, and so their accounts are not always perfect.
The final chapter of the book is an interesting look at what happened after the death of Richard III. Henry VII tried to find the bodies but failed. They were found in the seventeenth century, declared to be those of the princes, and then buried in Westminster Abbey. They were re-examined in the 20th century, and although it was not completely conclusive, the scientists then agreed with the seventeenth century conclusion that these were the Princes in the Tower. This chapter serves to bring an end to the story, as Weir sums up in her closing paragraphs that which she has made clearer and clearer through the text - what she concludes happened to the boys.
However, it is clear more or less from the start of the book that Weir is setting out to prove what she already believes happened. She talks of the revisionists, those who try to change the bad reputation that Richard III has gained through history, in slightly indulgent tones, as you would those who are labouring under a misconception. While I believe that her conclusion of Richard III's guilt is accurate, it is clear all through the book that this is the conclusion she is working to prove.
I found The Princes In The Tower an enjoyable and fascinating read. It wasn't too long and stuck to the story at hand, with just enough background information to set the scene. Weir's style of writing is engaging, and her books are not "dry" history, but rather they bring it to life.
The Princes in the Tower is a non-fiction novel looking at the fate of the two princes in tower in the years 1483-1485 and looks at the culprit for their deaths.
The princes in the tower
The princes in question are the sons of Edward IV, Edward was the king of England after usurping the sitting monarch Henry VI in 1470. The movement of the crown from the Yorkist and Lancastrian claimants is usually labelled as the war of the roses. The wars are a bit of a misnomer as they covered around a century of turbulence but actual battles were sporadic at best. The wars came to a conclusion with the death of Richard III at Bosworth Field. Richard was Edwards's younger brother and when Edward died at a relatively young age of 40 in 1483 usurped the rightful claimant Edward V and placed Edward and his younger brother Richard in the Tower of London initially claiming he was only looking after them as a protective uncle until Edward reached 18 and took the throne.
Slowly over the period of 1483-1485 sightings of the Princes became sporadic and ceased in the summer of 1485 leading to a revolt against Richard under the flag of Henry Tudor which came to a conclusion at the Battle of Bosworth were Richard III was killed and Henry Tudor became Henry VII and the tudor reign began.
That's the historical context but who killed the two princes and why, Alison Weir successfully creates the times and passions in the years 1483 and 1485 and firmly places the responsibility on the shoulders of the Princes uncle Richard III.
The book is set in a linear manner, starting with the usurpation of the throne by Edward IV and the death of Henry VI in suspicious circumstances. Henry died during an epileptic fit or at least that's the official explanation given by Edward and his brother however its clear that the king died of a blow to the back of the head. Weir recreates the political tensions which led to the murder but also goes one step further and makes Richard the actual man who killed the king for his brother, the new king.
Once Edward dies, the book recreates the usurpation of the throne by Richard, the taking into protective custody of Edward and Richard by the older Richard and there internment in the Tower. The book then goes through the various citing and gives a last lament to the final sightings of the two boys. There is also the political turmoil elicited by the usurpation of Richard and the desires of the barons to remove the illegal claimant from the throne.
Through out there is a definite bias towards Richard, there are other candidates for the murders one being Henry VII and the others are some of the shady barons who might have wished for the death of the princes for their own desires.
This is though a first class piece of historical analysis on the short lived time of Richard III's kingship. The pressures which started almost a century earlier when Henry IV usurped Richard II finally come to a conclusion with the meeting of Richard III and the future Henry VII. There is an in depth analysis on the behaviour of important lords such as Warwick and Buckinghamshire who changed their allegiance on the battle field and the final act of the wars of the roses when Richard crashed through the guard protecting Henry killed his flag bearer but was driven back from Henry himself to be killed shortly afterwards.
There is as a said a bias against Richard but its not unkind in its description of a man who wanted to be king and would do anything to achieve his goals, Weir depicts a Richard far removed from the Shakespearean version and places him more as a Mafia godfather than a sadistic murderer.
This is for me Weirs best work, she has also written about other Tudor and pre-Tudor characters and has written some historical fiction but this is her best and most considered piece of work.
Although I'm obsessed with the Tudor period I have to admit I'm quite blissfully ignorant of other historical times. I had heard about the two Princes who were allegedly murdered in the Tower just as I had heard about Richard III who may or may not have had a hunchback and was defeated at Bosworth by Henry VII but my knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the two Princes was scant.
Alison Weir is a very well known historical author who writes factual books based on evidence from the time and evidence that has emerged since. In this book she presents the evidence about the Princes and tries to prove that Richard III was indeed responsible for their murder.
There is much debate about whether the Princes were actually murdered and if they were was it at the command of Richard III who needed them dead so he could claim the throne or Henry VII who also needed them dead as his claim to the throne was tenuous at best?
The book starts by describing the situation around the Princes. We begin when their father Edward IV is still alive and this is to introduce the characters pertinent to the story. The two Princes were of course Edward (Prince of Wales) who would have been Edward V if he'd made it to his coronation (he is still known as Edward V even though he didn't) and Richard (Duke of York) his younger brother who was second in line to the throne.
Most of the evidence is in the form of reports written at the time (1480s) by a variety of sources but the most detailed and accurate seems to have been written by Thomas More. Other evidence is gathered from the centuries after the event such as the discovery of two sets of bones buried at the foot of the steps in the Tower which are presumed to be the Princes.
Alison Weir's case against Richard III seems water-tight and I find it hard to believe that at the time nobody really questioned the disappearance and suspected death of the Princes who were in his care and they never actually dug where the bodies were supposed to be because of a rumour that they had been thrown into the sea! How easy it must have been to get away with murder, literally, if a well placed rumour is enough to get people off the scent!
There are other interesting little bits of information in this book and a few pictures. The case against Henry VII is disputed because at the time he was in exile in Brittany and even though he wouldn't have killed them himself he was thought of as a bit of a nobody at the time so he wouldn't have been able to get men to do the task for him.
Also one of the men who was given the job of actually carrying out the murder confessed he had done it on Richard III's instructions shortly before his execution and in those days they didn't try to save their mortal body by confessing they were trying to save their souls from hell so confessions prior to death were usually accurate and full.
There is also still debate about whether Richard III had a hunchback and a withered arm, we still don't really know this as there are portraits from his era that depict him with and without uneven shoulders and portraits from Tudor times with both as well.
I found this book very hard to follow to begin with, I'm not familiar with the people who would have been around at this point in time and I found the fact they have their real names and a title confusing to follow. One minute they are called by their real names and the next by their title and I had to keep flicking back to establish who the author was referring to. This is more about my lack of knowledge than a fault of the authors though, had the book been about Henry VIII I would have had no trouble staying with all the titles.
The book is very detailed and has alot of historical information as you'd expect from Alison Weir. It's not a thick book at only 250 pages long but because of the amount of detail it takes a few days to read it. In the back there is a family tree and the index lists pages where certain people are mentioned so if you wanted to go straight to a section about a particular person you could.
I enjoyed it once I got into it and figured out who was who. Although it didn't grab my interest quite like the Tudor period does it was informative to read about the circumstances of the Princes and get the background information on how Henry VII came to the throne.
For anyone interested in history this will make for a fascinating read. Amazon are currently selling this for £6.99 new and £3.71 from Amazon Marketplace. It has also been adapted into a DVD but I haven't seen this and can't comment.
I came to this book hoping to learn something new about Richard III and the controversy over the Princes....I'm afraid that I found myself very disappointed on that count. Weir simply peddles the old Shakesperian myth once again - or rather takes her "evidence" straight from Thomas More.
I realise that this is a 500 year old story but PLEASE can't someone come up with something new???
Despite the author's promise to do so, she doesn't deliver the goods
Whaddyareckon? Richard III had a big hump on his back and smothered his nephews high up in a damp, dank room in the Tower of London? Or is he the most wrongly maligned figure in English history, blackguarded by the upstart Tudors so that the English people would accept them as rulers? Ask any historian and they will tell you that their job is - for the most part - detection. History is all about finding clues. History is about piecing together tiny shreds of evidence. In this way, the historian hopes to interpret the past. We all like a good murder mystery, do we not? And so, what better subject for a writer of popular history than the most famous murder mystery of all; the story of the Princes in the Tower? This double murder has fascinated for over five hundred years. The disappearance ? and we assume, death ? of the erstwhile Prince of Wales and Duke of York has never, in the public imagination at least, been satisfactorily solved. Did the boys' uncle, Richard III really "do them in"? Or should we look elsewhere, to Henry VII perhaps, or perhaps even further afield? These are the questions Alison Weir hopes to answer in her book, The Princes in the Tower. Alison Weir writes "straight history". Although her subjects are usually the famous, romantic figures from history ? Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine and here, Richard III ? hers is not the sensationalist style of other current best-selling historians. She is not a Simon Schama or a David Starkey. Neither does she attempt a political or philosophical analysis of her subjects. You will not find Hobsbawm-style Marxist theory here. Rather, you will find a straightforward examination of the available sources and an
attempt to construct a plausible narrative. Weir writes a good story, too. Her style is sparse, direct and yet it is tremendously evocative. It is as readable as any novel. I find her characters are vivid in the same way that a good writer of historical fiction can breathe life into figures from the past. I am a great admirer of hers for she manages to produce intelligent, interesting books. They are accessible to the general reader with little background knowledge and yet they stand up perfectly well as basic academic works of use to student and historian alike. The Princes in the Tower takes all the evidence available ? from the writings of Sir Thomas More, and the Croyland Chronicles to the account of Dominic Mancini, and assesses it with shrewd and intelligent reasoning. There are two camps in the story of this murder: the pro-Tudor camp ? and you can include Shakespeare in this! ? which backs Richard III as prime suspect and the revisionist camp, which sprung up after the discovery of a copy of an act of parliament ? Titulus Regius - suppressed by Henry VII. Titulus Regius was the act of parliament disinheriting the two princes and elevating Richard to the throne. It casts doubt on the validity of the marriage of the princes' father, Edward IV, and declares the two boys illegitimate. Weir's interpretation is highly persuasive and indeed, is probably the most plausible explanation of events. However, I feel that some of her justifications on the veracity of Thomas More are perhaps more her judgement than weight of evidence. I also wonder about her speculation on Henry's ruthless suppression of Titulus Regius. But then, that's half the fun with a mystery, isn't it? It would be dull if I didn't put my own pinch of salt in somewhere!
The Princes in the Tower is more than just the story of the two little boys. It is the story of Richard III and Henry VII, it is also the story of the close of the Wars of the Roses ? that battle between York and Lancaster that had dominated the English political scene for almost a century. It is the story of the beginning of the reign of the Tudors. If those little boys had not died, it is possible that we would never have seen a King take six wives and found an established protestant faith in this country. It is possible that we would never have had a virgin queen. So much could perhaps have been so different. It is fascinating for this reason. But perhaps the real pull of this book is as contemporary as it is historical; perhaps it is timeless. The death of a child is such a sad thing. Life lost young diminishes us all for the young form our future. We need them. And I think we are never satisfied until we achieve closure on the deaths of children. We need, more than we need anything, to know why and how a child died. I doubt this story will ever go away. Weir's book is a rattling good read, perhaps appealing most to those who enjoy historical fiction but are looking to move on to something a little more authoritative but that is still engaging and interesting. It is not a heavy book either in style or in length. Just a little more than two hundred pages long, it's noted well with good acknowledgement to sources, yet it is never dry. My copy is a jolly posh Folio Society edition with a super foreword by Ruth Rendell, but you can buy it from Amazon, published by Pimlico, for the princely (groan) sum of seven English pounds and nineteen English pence. An excellent example of intelligent popular history. Recommended by me. To find out who Alison thinks
dunnit, you will have to read it. So there. ISBN: 0712673792