HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘The Survival of the Princes of the Tower’ by Matthew Lewis

The murder of the Princes in the Tower is the most famous cold case in British history. Traditionally considered victims of a ruthless uncle, there are other suspects too often and too easily discounted. There may be no definitive answer, but by delving into the context of their disappearance and the characters of the suspects Matthew Lewis examines the motives and opportunities afresh as well as asking a crucial but often overlooked question: what if there was no murder? What if Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York survived their uncle’s reign and even that of their brother-in-law Henry VII? There are glimpses of their possible survival and compelling evidence to give weight to those glimpses, which is considered alongside the possibility of their deaths to provide a rounded and complete assessment of the most fascinating mystery in history.

cover and blurb via amazon

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Everyone knows the story of the Princes of the Tower, two royal brothers, one ready to be crowned, his brother the ‘spare heir,’ locked in the Tower of London by their uncle, who would instead crown himself King Richard III. The boys would then disappear from the planet completely soon after.

There is a list of suspects of who murdered Edward, aged 12, and Richard aged 9, at the time of their imprisonment. There is no proof the boys were even murdered, but their total disappearance, and Richard III’s short-lived reign a result of that disappearance, leaves little doubt.

King Richard III is the prime suspect – his brother Edward’s sons were to inherit the throne before him. But King Richard and deceased Edward had a brother – George (also deceased). George himself had a son and daughter, and the departed Edward had a slew of daughters with a claim to the crown. If Richard wanted to kill the boys in the Tower to take the throne, he would have had to eliminate all the children – and he harmed none.

Henry Tudor was in France, ready to invade and marry one of Edward’s daughters and claim the throne. This made the royal sisters of the Princes (and George’s children) threats. Yet King Richard never declared that young Edward and Richard had died in the Tower. They disappeared but were never announced as deceased. The fact they were not known as dead meant they remained a threat. They could have fallen ill; they could have been killed by another.

Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham made himself a suspect in the murder by his behaviour. He rebelled against King Richard, with a view to his own as claim, making him a candidate for needing the boys murdered. Buckingham was quashed by Richard’s forces and executed, and making him the ‘murderer’ would have been so easy. But King Richard never publicly blamed Buckingham for the deaths, when he easily could have used him as a scapegoat. It suggests neither killed the princes.

Some claim Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor’s mother, had the boys killed so her son could inherit the throne. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest this but the theory persists through fiction and Lewis’ book does discuss the possibility. Henry Tudor married the Princes’ oldest sister, so the odds of him murdering her brothers is slim.

King Richard III’s guilt seems to easy to accept, and the author brings up many details to help clear Richard’s name. The rumours of the Princes’ death are as strong as the survival of the boys. The Princes’ own mother never blamed Richard for the deaths. The books tell of Elizabeth Woodville and her son Thomas Grey under suspicion, a detail I didn’t know until reading this version of the affair. And then there is Perkin Warbeck, the Prince Richard pretender who haunted Henry VII.

Could Edward and Richard have survived? Was there ever a murder of the Princes in the Tower? Or is there are far more interesting version to be told? This book is fantastic and I would recommend it to Tudor fans and newbies alike. As an A+ fan of Richard III, I welcome any book looking to clear his darkened name. Thank you, Matthew Lewis.

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