In the summer of 2013 I, like the rest of the UK, was absorbed by the BBC’s White Queen. Like the rest of the UK, I fell in love with the brilliant acting, the dramatic story telling and the fact that for a precious few weeks, the things I loved were becoming main stream; people actually wanted to talk to me about the subjects I was usually told to shut up about! I even recall a fair few people at work gathering round as I drew a Plantagenet family tree on the white board!
Of course, those that made it to the end of the series (which presumably wasn’t quite so many given the BBC’s decision to axe it) were talking about one thing: who was responsible for the death of the White Queen’s sons, the legendary Princes in the Tower?
It was never something I had looked into but, based on the odd David Starkey documentary here and there, I had always thought that Richard III was the most likely candidate. But, after this documentary I realised there could be so many others; Margaret Beaufort, portrayed as such a fanatic throughout the series was most in the frame and even Anne Neville may have had blood on her hands. This was something I needed to research.
A friend recommended that I read Alison Weir’s ‘Richard III and the Princes in the Tower.’ I was so grateful he did. Because she set me straight immediately.
Not only is the book well researched, thoroughly readable and insightful, I would actually go as far to say that anyone reading it with an open mind, cannot walk away with the conclusion that anyone other than their infamous uncle, Richard III, was responsible for the death of the innocent Princes. I appreciate that’s a bold claim but, I challenge anyone (who has read it) to defy me!
The brilliance of Weir’s work is not in the unveiling of any new or profound revelation, but in its sheer simplicity. Many have said that too little is known of the late 1400s and that answers can never truly be reached. She disagrees. Instead of focusing on the absence of source material, she relentlessly peruses what is available to us today, orders it with logic and common sense and shows that the pattern of events and other contemporary comments point in one clear direction.
The book also provides a great window into the latter stages of the War of the Roses and brings to life a host of characters who each played their part in the dramatic events. Although this was actually written before the book ‘York vs Lancaster,’ I recommend reading the aforementioned first, in order to ensure you have the context front of mind.
In the opening of the book (first written in 1992), Weir remarks that when it comes to Richard III we are never likely to have more evidence at hand then we have today. Interestingly, we have of course since then made an epic discovery in the form of Richard’s remains. Every further nugget of information that has come to light since then, only backs up the author’s analysis.
No book is perfect. Every historian, however hard they try, brings some subconscious biases to the table. But having now read this book three times, and aspects of it far more, I can’t quite believe that there is even a single Ricardian left standing.
Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir was first published in 1992 with a revised edition published by Vintage in 2014. It is available for purchase from Amazon in ebook, paperpack and hardcover format