The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

Historian Alison Weir has written many biographies of Medieval and Tudor era Royalty. Her books are eminently readable, and The Princes in the Tower is no different.  The disappearance of the Princes, Edward V and his brother, Richard, Duke of York, sons of Edward IV and nephews of Richard III, is one of the most enduring mysteries of our time.   The recent discovery of Richard III’s skeleton, lost for over 500 years, will doubtless generate much interest in this topic.

The Princes in the Tower is a fine introduction to the mystery of the Princes.  Weir provides detailed historical background, and then describes the untimely death of their father, Edward IV and the efforts of his unpopular Queen to hurriedly coronate her son and solidify the power of the Woodville faction.  Richard III soon disinherits his nephews and ascends to the throne.  The Princes subsequently vanish from history.  Richard’s controversial reign, his death and defeat at the hands of Henry Tudor, and subsequent rebellions by men pretending to be one of the Princes are also discussed in the book.

The major premise of The Princes in the Tower seems to be that not only was Richard III guilty of murdering the two Princes, but that this was a premeditated act and Richard plotted to usurp the throne from the moment of his brother’s death.   Weir apparently seeks to demonstrate that Richard III was fully the tyrant and cold-hearted monster that Shakespeare portrays.  Much evidence does point to Richard’s guilt.  Yet Weir seems to automatically dismiss any evidence to the contrary, which I find worrisome.  As someone sympathetic to Richard III yet realistic, I have no issue with ultimately laying the responsibility for the Princes’ deaths at his door.  After all, he was King.  But proving that he personally ordered or committed the murders is another matter, and we will probably never find a “smoking gun”.

Her attempts to show that Richard III deliberately intended to depose his nephews and seize the throne from the beginning are on even shakier ground.    Richard did not even know of his death until days afterwards, when Hastings informed him of the Woodville’s hurried attempts to shut him out and seize control of the government.  Weir is very selective in her use of sources, intimating that anything favorable to Richard was mere propaganda, while anything negative “must” be genuine.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend The Princes in the Tower for everyone interested in Richard III and the disappearance of the Princes.  I may not agree with all of Weir’s conclusions, but she is undoubtedly a fine writer and one of the key historians in this fascinating debate.

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