Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Princes In The Tower

I just finished this book The Princes In The Tower by Alison Weir. She is a popular author of mine, but some of her books are harder to read. They are usually written like a biography so there are no conversations in it; mostly facts, sources and interpretations of the facts. I like her books because they are well researched, and she arrives at a conclusion that seems favorable. Some of you may have heard of the death of the 2 princes in The Tower. What Alison Weir is trying to write about is who committed the murder, and when.

I was interested in reading this book because I've always wondered who did kill the two boys. I've read books about their mother, Queen Elizabeth Wydville. I've also read books from the point of view of King Henry VII, who came after the princes were dead. Most seem to favor that their uncle Richard III had them killed. I won't go into too many details, as this book was almost 300 pages of facts. I will try to summarize it and tell you what happened.

King Henry IV was of the Plantagenet line, also known was the Lancaster line. If you've heard of the War of the Roses, this would be that time period. Plantagenets had ruled England since 1154 and the succession had generally passed peacefully from father to son. Henry IV's claim to the throne was through his father-fourth son of Edward III. It was kind of a dubious hold onto the throne, but he was King. (The succession of Kings can become quite confusing I know). He started his reign even more tenuously because he announced that he had married Elizabeth Wydville months before, and she was just a commoner. She was a widow with two children and the people did not approve of her right away. The people were also angry because the King continued to elevate her family the Wydvilles over many who had higher titles.

She was said to be very beautiful, and she produced many daughters, and then two sons. Edward V and then his brother Richard the Duke of York. And then more daughters. King Henry IV had two brothers who proved to be a thorn in his side. Richard of Gloucester and Clarence often were jealous of their sister-in law the Queen and the way her family the Wydvilles were rising at Court. His brother Clarence was later accused of treason for plotting against his own brother the King, on many counts, and was drowned in some ale. It was his choice to die this way. With one brother out of the way, he later still had Richard to deal with.

The King passed away at a fairly young age, and left his will to his son Edward V in the care of the Queen his wife until he came of age. As soon as the King died, the plot to overthrow the young King was in action. Richard, his uncle, wanted to be named Protector of young Edward until he reached the age of 14. He connived his way into capturing the King, and then placed him in the Tower under his care. He worked with the Duke of Buckingham to became Protector. Meanwhile the Queen was working on her son's coronation, not realizing the sinister plans of her brother-in law Richard. He now had her son, and she didn't know how to get him back.

Richard gained the loyalty of the people from fear as he had a few councillors executed that were loyal to young Edward V and old King Henry IV. He ruthlessly and quickly gained his supporters and drove the Queen and most of her children into sanctuary. They feared for their lives and weren't sure what was going to happen. The Queen felt with herself in sanctuary, people would see how she feared Richard and they would not support his claims to the throne. Many people silently supported the will of their King Henry IV, but they also feared Richard. In time he was able to talk the Queen into surrendering up her other son, Richard the Duke of York. Richard said he was bored and needed a companion. Before she gave up her last son, she made him negotiate for some things.

In time Richard's views changed, and he decided to go for the Crown itself. He no longer wanted to be just the Protector, he wanted to be King. In order for that to happen, he had to be rid of the two princes in the Tower. While planning his own coronation, he also met with Sir James Tyrell. He ordered him to find a way to have the princes murdered. There are sources that claim they were stabbed, or starved to death, etc. But the likeliest sources show that they were most likely suffocated in their sleep. The exact date is not known, but they weren't seen ever again after Richard's coronation. They used to play in the yards, but they were seen less and less.

Richard was able to become King, because he told people that his brother King Henry IV had been a bastard, so therefore his children were not legitimate. He also tried claiming that King Henry IV had been pre-contracted to another woman before marrying Elizabeth Wydville. People could not really speak against him for fear, so he published this as the reasons why he should be King. Which is interesting, because he was basically calling his mother an adulterer. And he would later pursue his own niece. If this was true, he wouldn't have wanted to marry a bastard, right? The ways he connived his way to the throne, goodness.

When word spread of the prince's deaths, people began to hate and fear their new King Richard III. They believed he had killed them in order to have the throne. They couldn't believe a brother would do that to his nephews. King Richard was also known to have some good qualities. They say he managed things well, was fair, and he went on progresses to try and secure the support of the people. Since he was not able to deny the death of the Prince or produce their bodies, the people hated him more and more as time went on. Even the Duke of Buckingham, who had helped him in securing the throne, was now against him when he heard of the murders of the two princes. They were only 10 and 12 years old. The Duke of Buckingham was later beheaded for his treason against the King in trying to put the Tudor on the throne.

A plot began to take place, that of putting the Tudor Henry VII on the throne. His royal blood came from his mother, she was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, third son of Edward III. His mother Margaret Beaufort was working with the Dowager Queen Elizabeth Wydville to marry him to her eldest daughter Elizabeth. Women at that time could not claim the throne because of their sex. Buckingham and many others worked to place him on the throne. A few attempts failed because their ships were driven away with the storm. He patiently bided his time.

In the meantime, King Richard realized he needed a way to get the Queen and her children out of sanctuary. It reflected badly on him that they were still there. She demanded he swear publicly to protect her daughters, never imprison them in the Tower or anywhere else, and to marry them off to wealthy merchants. With this done, her children left sanctuary while she stayed their a while yet. Her daughter Elizabeth eventually went to live at Court. Rumors started to spread that her uncle the King, desired to marry her and thus secure his place as King. People were disgusted, especially because he still had a wife that was dying, Anne. Their son, their heir, had passed away not long before.

The poor Queen Anne began to feel a burden to her husband, that he was just waiting for her to die in order to marry his niece Elizabeth of York. She did die not long after and many accused the King of poisoning her in order to marry his niece. The King realized the people were so affected by this that he couldn't now marry his niece. It would just solidify in peoples' minds that he had poisoned his wife to be rid of her. Elizabeth of York was angry at him, because he proclaimed to people that he had never desired to marry her. She began plotting with her mother and Margaret Beaufort to put King Henry VII on the throne, and pledged she would marry him when he became King. What is disgusting to me is that Elizabeth had some sort of relationship with her uncle, knowing that he had killed her two brothers. I guess her ambition outweighed her morals and scruples. They may have been lovers, we don't know.

What became known as The Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August 1485, it was a most savage battle. Richard was deserted in battle, and when he realized this, he charged at Henry Tudor. King Richard was pierced with many mortal wounds and died that day on the battlefield. His body was treated badly and just slung on a horse, paraded around for the people to see. He was later buried in a non-descript grave with no ceremony or blessings. The new King Henry VII was now here, the first sovereign of the Tudor dynasty. With the death of Richard III, 331 years of Plantagenet rule had come to an end. When the news of Richard's death and Henry Tudor's accession reached Westminster, London burst into celebration.

The fall of the House of York and the Plantagenet dynasty can be blamed on Richard III's ambition; his usurpation of his nephew's throne, and the murder of his two nephews. People viewed Richard's death as the right punishment for his crimes. This did not mean King Henry VII had an easy reign. He was well liked, but there were several pretenders to the throne claiming to be the dead princes. He was able to squash each rumor and keep his throne. He did marry Elizabeth of York, joining the Lancastrians and Yorkists together. They were happy enough and later became parents to King Henry VIII, two daughters, and a son who died while a young King.

Do you want to know what was discovered of the princes? They later dug under a staircase, 10 feet under, and found a chest with two young skeletons in it. In 1933 they were able to be worked on in Westminster Abbey. The conclusion was that they were most likely the prince's skeletons. They were able to date them at about age 10 and 12, and said they bore the likeness of each other meaning they were related. People have tried since to gain permission to work on the skeletons more, but they have not been approved. Since there were no other two boys disappeared in the next 200 or so years, it is likely that they were the remains of the two princes. And the conclusion is that they were murdered on the orders of their uncle Richard III. Sir Thomas More and Shakespeare have been instrumental in their works and writings on the dead princes.

I found this book very entertaining because it was kind of like a mystery. I wanted to find out what happened to the poor princes. I felt so bad for their mother, for losing them like that. I could not believe how ambition leads men like Richard III to murder his way to the throne. Is it really worth it? It is said he spent the rest of his life in guilt and didn't sleep well. And did he poison his wife Anne? If you are into biographies, this is a good read. Obviously now you know what happened, but you can follow Alison Weir's research as she undoubtedly proves this to be correct.


  1. You write really really well. You should go back to school! :)

  2. Oh thank you! I will just have to write a book of my own one of these days lol.