Despite five centuries of investigation by historians, the sinister deaths of the boy king Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, remain two of the most fascinating murder mysteries in English history. Did Richard III really kill “the Princes in the Tower,” as is commonly believed, or was the murderer someone else entirely? Carefully examining every shred of contemporary evidence as well as dozens of modern accounts, Alison Weir reconstructs the entire chain of events leading to the double murder. We are witnesses to the rivalry, ambition, intrigue, and struggle for power that culminated in the imprisonment of the princes and the hushed-up murders that secured Richard’s claim to the throne as Richard III. A masterpiece of historical research and a riveting story of conspiracy and deception, The Princes in the Tower at last provides a solution to this age-old puzzle.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.51(w) x 8.23(h) x 0.79(d)|
About the Author
Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, and several other historical biographies. She lives in Surrey with her husband and two children.
Read an Excerpt
Richard III and the Chroniclers
Modern writers on the subject of the Princes in the Tower have tended to fall into two categories: those who believe Richard III guilty of the murder of the Princes but are afraid to commit themselves to any confident conclusions, and those who would like to see Richard more or less canonised. It is time therefore for the evidence to be re-evaluated and the events surrounding the disappearance of the Princes in 1483 to be reconstructed with greater confidence, because there does exist a considerable amount of contemporary evidence for a solution to this mystery.
It has been said by several writers that both the traditionalist and revisionist views of Richard III fit the known facts, but this is not the case: there are many blind alleys in this mystery, and many authors who have made the mistake of wandering up them. There also exist a great number of misconceptions about Richard III and the Princes, and because the subject still provokes furious debate, one gains the impression that to venture a firm view on the matter is to step into a minefield. However, this book was not written with the intention of fuelling the controversy, but because there is a need for the subject to be dealt with from an objective viewpoint based on common sense and sound research.
The subject of the Princes in the Tower cannot be studied without first evaluating the reliability of the few surviving original sources – virtually all we have to rely on. The late fifteenth century is a poorly documented period of English history. Few contemporary chronicles survive and some official records still await examination. Thanks to a growing interest in the period, however, much research has been done over the last century and many excellent books have been published. Nevertheless, the second half of the fifteenth century remains in some respects very much a twilight world to the historian.
This book is mainly about the years 1483–5, the period spanning the reigns of Edward V and Richard III. Nearly all the narrative sources for this period have a partisan bias: most were written in the south of England and reflect anti-northern sentiment, for Richard III was identified very much with northern interests.
Few royal letters survive, and of the great collections of letters of the period – the Paston Letters, the Cely Letters and the Stonor Letters – fewer than ten refer to Richard III’s usurpation of the throne in 1483. Much of what we know about the period comes from later sources, because for the years 1483–5 there are very few reliable contemporary narrative sources, and only two major ones.
The first of these is Dominic Mancini’s account of the events leading up to July, 1483 – De Occupatione Regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium (The Occupation of the Throne of England by Richard III). Mancini was an Italian monk who lived in France and died after 1494. De Occupatione was his only prose work. Mancini came to England late in 1482 in the suite of the French ambassador. His brief was to report back to the Archbishop of Vienne on English affairs. He remained in London until July, 1483, leaving England the week after Richard III’s coronation.
Mancini’s book, which he completed on 1st December, 1483, at Beaugency, was an official report on recent events in England. His stated intention was ‘to put in writing by what machinations Richard III attained the high degree of kingship’, and he fulfilled this in the most vivid and objective manner. It is Mancini’s objectivity that makes his book an invaluable source; he had no reason to write anything hostile to Richard III. A man of integrity, he confined himself only to the facts, and avoided falling into the habit affected by so many contemporary writers, that of using historical facts to illustrate a lesson in morality. Furthermore, he avoided referring to Richard’s accession as a usurpation: ‘occupation’ is his preferred word.
Mancini’s credibility as an historian is further reaffirmed by independent corroboration of his account by other sources, notably the Croyland Chronicle and the later accounts of Polydore Vergil and Sir Thomas More, none of whom had access to Mancini’s book. Indeed, it was lost for centuries; no one knew of its existence until 1934, when it was discovered by Professor C.A.J. Armstrong in the archives of the Bibliothèque Municipale at Lille, and subsequently published.
Mancini was reluctant to name his sources, but his account suggests that he had contacts at court, some of whom were apparently hostile to Richard III. The only source mentioned by name is Dr John Argentine, physician to Edward V, who could speak Italian. Mancini could also have made use of Italians living in London, in particular Pietro Carmeliano, a court poet to both Edward IV and Henry VII.
There are flaws in Mancini’s book, of which he himself was aware, stating his reluctance to commit his account to paper as he did not know the names of some of those mentioned nor their motives. He admitted his account was incomplete in details. He lacked an understanding of English and a knowledge of English geography, and he paid little regard to chronology, although, in fairness to him, this was a period when recording dates was not considered of prime importance by historians. Nor is there in his book any physical description of Richard III – perhaps we should assume he never saw him. This, and the fact that the latter part of the account is less detailed, suggests that Mancini was no longer able to make use of some of his former court informants.
The second major source for the period 1483–5 is the Second Continuation of the Croyland Chronicle. The magnificent Abbey of Croyland (now spelt Crowland) in Lincolnshire was at this time the most important and wealthiest religious foundation in the east of England, and its mitred abbot ranked with the bishops. Royal visitors to the abbey in the late fifteenth century included Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III when he was Duke of Gloucester. Several chronicles detailing the history of England and of the abbey were written at Croyland. Those prior to 1117 are spurious, but the three anonymously written continuations, spanning the periods 1144–1469, 1459–86 and 1485–6, are genuine.
The author of the Second Continuation (1459–86) states that it was written in the ten days ending on 30th April, 1486. The last events he describes are the marriage of Henry VII and the northern uprising of that spring. His work is without doubt the best source for the period. Where verifiable, it is highly accurate, and its author was a man who could write authoritatively and from personal knowledge of many of the events he describes. It is clear too that he withheld information that was politically sensitive: his silence on certain subjects sometimes speaks volumes. Much of what he did write is substantiated by other writers, such as Mancini, Vergil and More, who never read his manuscript.
The author of the Croyland Chronicle did not approve of Richard III. As a churchman, he was shocked by Richard’s behaviour, denouncing him for sensuality, holding an execution on a Sunday, and overspending. However, he declared his intention of writing his history ‘in as unprejudiced a manner as we possibly can’, asserting that he was presenting the reader with ‘a truthful recital of the facts without hatred or favour’. And he was indeed a surprisingly objective, if ironic, observer for his time.
Who was he, this anonymous author to whom we shall refer merely as ‘Croyland’? He described himself as a doctor of canon law and a member of the royal Council. We know also, from the text, that he was a southerner who resented northern interlopers in the government. He was a cultivated man who was well acquainted with the workings of Council, Parliament, Convocation and Chancery. Thus there is every reason to identify him with John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln (1480–94), Keeper of the Privy Seal (1474–83), and Lord Chancellor of England under Richard III (1483–5), an erudite and wise man who earned the praise of Sir Thomas More. Croyland Abbey lay within Russell’s diocese, and the Third Continuation of its Chronicle records his month-long visit there in April, 1486, when the Second Continuation was written. The Bishop could well have dictated his history to a member of his retinue of twenty persons or to a monk living in the abbey. Most telling is the fact that the Bishop’s own involvement in the events described is never referred to.
Croyland’s manuscript was immediately suppressed when Henry VII, in the interests of dynastic security, ordered the destruction of all copies of the Act of Settlement known as ‘Titulus Regius’ (1484), which set forth Richard III’s title to the throne: the text of this was incorporated in Croyland. Several copies of the manuscript were destroyed. A few survived, being hidden, but Croyland was not used as a historical source until 1619. The earliest surviving copy is that in the Cottonian Library (British Library MS. Cotton Otho B. XIII), which was seriously damaged by fire in 1731. There is a seventeenth-century transcript in the Bodleian Library (Corpus Christi College MS. B. 208). The full Latin text was published by W. Fulman in 1684, and the standard translation remains that by H.T. Riley (1854).
Several Tudor sources provide accounts of the period 1483–5. The main problem facing any historian studying Richard III is how much to rely on these Tudor accounts, which are so rich in detail and so hostile to Richard, and which sometimes contradict each other. This problem may be solved by evaluating each on its own merits, taking into account the circumstances in which it was written and the sources used, if known. We must also consider the difficulties Tudor historians faced in gaining access to sources and information.
The earliest Tudor writer of note was John Rous (1411–91), an artistic Warwickshire chantry priest and antiquarian. He was clearly not an eyewitness to most of the events he describes, and not averse to recording gossip as fact. Rous’s writings show with striking clarity how the accession of Henry VII in 1485 affected the recording of contemporary history. Rous was first and foremost a chronicler of the Beauchamp and Neville families, earls of Warwick, to whom he was devoted. In 1483–5, he compiled the York Roll, an illustrated history in English of these families, which is now in the British Library. Richard III appears in this as the husband of Anne Neville, to whom the Roll was dedicated and given, and is referred to by Rous as ‘a mighty prince and especial good lord;… a most virtuous prince’.
What People are Saying About This
“The mystery of the princes in the Tower is a cause of outrage as well as a whodunit . . . a deeply researched appraisal.”
—Ruth Rendell, Daily Telegraph