The Princes in the Tower

The Princes in the Tower

by Alison Weir


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345391780
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/28/1995
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 198,083
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(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.

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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’.

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From the Publisher

“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

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Princes in the Tower 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Melissa_W More than 1 year ago
This book has a different tone than the other Weir histories/biographies I've read recently. She's not rehabilitating a historical figure or detailing the causes of a civil war; this time she's showing us the extant historical record and whether or not that historical record tells us what happened to Edward V and his brother, Richard. The story of the Princes doesn't flow quite like her other books because she has to back up a few times to go over the origins of historical documents and the accuracy of contemprorary sources (Sir Thomas More's biography of Richard III is considered a particularly accurate source because More had access to those close to Richard during his reign). In the end, Weir's interpretation of the historical evidence makes it clear that Richard III is implicated in the deaths of the Princes and that the children died before Henry VII invaded England. Whether Richard III ordered the childen's murder or they died through natural causes or mistreatment is unclear but it was widely believed that the Princes were dead by 1485 because Richard was unable to exhibit the children in public when it would have been politically advantageous to do so. If you are a Richard III revisionist, this book is not for you. If you like Shakespeare's play then you'll like this book because it gives dimension and context to one of Shakespeare's famous villains.
gaelforce More than 1 year ago
I have read many books on the subject & have always believed RichardIII murdered his nephews. Now there are many RichardIII associations who proclaim his innocence. I wanted a book that would give me all the answers like who,where when (I was pretty sure I knew why.) I had read other books by Alison Weir & had great respect for her research methods & balanced portrayals of people. She can also keep you entertained. It's not like reading a text book. You understand these people & care about them. I believe she started with an open mind and went where the evidence took her. You'll have to read it yourself to see where that it. If you are interested in this centuries old mystery,this is the book for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Weir writes an extremely interesting account of what happened to the legendary Princes in the the Tower. In forming her conclusions, Weir sets the turbulent stage of the War of the Roses and relies upon the historical records that survive from this period of time. The princes, the boys of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, were last seen alive in 1493, some 500+ years ago. Weir culls through the evidence and applying inferences drawn from that evidence and the social and political climate at the time the evidence was created, she draws the trap tighter around the prime suspect in the boys' deaths. Weir does not force the evidence to fit her conclusion, but lets it flow from logic and admits when her sources are lacking or conflicting. This is an excellent work of English history. Anyone who is interested in the Starz series The White Queen would enjoy this true depiction of some of those characters. I also highly recommend Weir's The Lady in the Tower, a historical account of the last months of Anne Bolyen's life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I agree with the other reviewer here: this book is so full of contradictions it's difficult to keep track. It's obvious that the author set out to discredit Richard, and when an argument seems to go against that she twists it to fit. For example, when Richard's wife (and childhood friend) dies, Richard cries at the funeral. Since Ms. Weir has already decided that Richard poisoned her, she claims he was putting on a show to prove his innocence. Why would that be necessary? At a time when men did not often cry, why would Richard-a man portrayed here as evil as they come, who probably kicked some puppies on his way to the funeral-go to that length? She tells us about numerous mistakes made by Sir Thomas More, but continues to take his word as gospel. For example, we know now that Richard was not 'Crouchbacked'. The author even admits this. More was one of the main purveyors of this myth, as others that Ms. Weir dismisses as fiction. So why, then, would you use the rest of his book as evidence? If I read a book claiming America had become independent in 1903, I wouldn't exactly consider the rest of that book to be factual. She also mixes up some dates and seems to forget what has been written before. She tells us that after Richard's coronation on July 5, 1483, 'the Princes in the Tower were never seen alive again'. Later in the book she mentions that one of her sources 'had cause to know' the Princes were alive in August, for he had seen them. That seems like a contradiction to me. Reporting rumor as fact (and dismissing rumors to the contrary of her opinions) does not a factual book make. It is also inconceivable to me that a girl who know her uncle has murdered her brothers would still want to marry him, no matter how ambitious she may be (and the only proof offered for Richard's plot to marry his cousin was a leter written by her saying that she loved him deeply-there is no evidence at all that Richard returned these feelings.) I read this book without a definite opinion of who killed the Princes. Now I have one-the opposite of what the author wanted. Nobody should be convicted on evidence this flimsy and full of contradiction.
Merrydaisy More than 1 year ago
A must read for history lovers. The wars of the roses culminated in King Richard lll taking the rightful heirs, his nephews, the princes of York, under his "protection" and holding them in the Tower of London. What happened to these young innocents of history is a mystery to this day. Author Alison Weir brings this story to life with engrossing detail and excellent research and presentation of facts.
mermaidchick More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book there was alot more information then expected. I felt so bad for there situation, they never got justice...I've ever known much information on these two princes until now and would highly recommend it to anyone else wanting to know more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very detailed and presented very interesting takes on the disappearance of the Princes of the Tower. I really enjoyed Weir's take on the legend and thought she backed it up with legitimate evidence.
juglicerr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As usual, Weir has written a lively, readable book, but I think it is a very poor history. Weir makes some insightful remarks when the facts suit her, but I would only recommend the book to readers who know enough about the subject to carefully weigh her claims. Others have talked about the reliability of Weir's sources, but I'll just stick to the problems that are internal to the book, even if the reader knows nothing else about the topic.Weir constantly contradicts herself and her logic is often bizarre. On a general level, she tries to argue that the facts surrounding the death of the princes were at one and the same time, a closely guarded secret and known to everyone in Europe, depending on which is most convenient to her at any given point. At a more detailed level:She spends several pages arguing that the story that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous is completely ludicrous and that no contemporary writer believed it. She then describes it as "well-conceived and plausible".Citing More, she claims that Margaret Beaufort was able to prove to Elizabeth Woodville that her sons (the princes in the tower) were dead. Later, Weir claims that Henry VII (Beaufort's son) didn't know whether or not they were dead. What happened to the evidence provided to Woodville?Weir claims that Louis XI knew that Richard III murdered the princes, in spite of the fact that she believes they were alive when Louis died.She claims that More got otherwise unknown information from knowledgeable people of his acquaintance. If it is obvious to Weir that these people might have known something, wouldn't it have been even more obvious to Henry VII and his advisors? Wouldn't he have questioned them? Would they have refused to answer the king and then babbled all they knew to More?She argues that no-one other than Richard III could have killed the princes during his reign, since no-one was tried for it. Then she claims that Henry VII knew who murdered the princes, at Richard's order, but never tried them because it would have raised embarrassing questions. Wouldn't it have been even more embarrassing for Richard to have tried someone during his reign? She also claims that Henry feared it might alienate other European rulers, in spite of her claim that those rulers already knew all about it while Richard was alive and continued to deal with him.She argues that More's friends read the manuscript and would have corrected any errors, in spite of the fact that (as she admits) it contains numerous errors as it is.There are more problems, but I can't sum them up in a few sentences.Since originally writing this review, I have looked into the issue of the textile evidence, i.e., Weir's claim that an unidentified person said that there were scraps of velvet in the coffin when it was opened; Weir does not bother to cite a source. I strongly fault her failure to provide documentation for this new and very interesting argument.She claims that an unnamed textile expert told her that velvet first came to England in 1400. She then argues that it was very expensive and custom limited its use to only "the very highest", so these bones must have been the princes. This contradicts her cherished quote from More that the princes were naked when they were strangled; I think it's unlikely that people committing murder in haste would dress the bodies before burial. Further, according to Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-1450 (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London) by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland, the first WRITTEN records of velvet imports were in the late 13th century. The wardrobe records of Edward IV, the princes' father, show that pieces of velvet were common gifts to his followers, and the wardrobe records of Sir John Fastolf (d.1459) show that he had several velvet garments. [Fastolf was an extremely wealthy man, so his wardrobe can't be taken as typical for all knights.] Fabric of all types was relatively much more expensive
exlibrisbitsy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book takes the debate, and approaches it in a very linear and logical fashion. The author lists all of the sources of reliable information and lists not only what she considers to be the best and worst sources, but why she considers them so.She then starts from fairly far back in history, with the crowning of the Princes' father, Henry IV and the story of the relationship he had with his brother Richard III. This turns out to be vital to understanding the psyche of Richard and helps the reader to understand decisions he made later in life.The author keeps the proceedings logical and explains away a lot of the "Richard is completely innocent" arguments about what must have happened at that time. By the same token she doesn't completely vilify the man, either.By the end of the book you realize that while some of this was the doing of a not necessarily evil man, it was also caused by feuds and bad circumstances. Richard was committing an act of self preservation against the Queen and the powerful Wydville influence.If you have an interest in England's history, or in the story of The Princes in the Tower, and if you are as detail oriented as I am, wanting the whole story, then by all means this is a book for you. If not then you probably won't like this book at all, and might even find it boring, hence the three stars.
mallinje on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had never read anything about Edward V or his brother before I read this book. I was a very good introduction. I have read reviews about Alison Weir where people complain about the amount of speculation in her books but there is so little information from this time period that people must speculate about some things. However, Alison Weir speculates but she also covers every possible angle. This can let you draw your own conclusion about this great mystery. Above all, a very detailed and researched work.
ladycato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am ashamed to say that I've owned this book for 12 years, since I was 15, prior to reading it over the past week and a half.This book is part of my unabated curiosity regarding the actions of Richard III, who I have been fascinated with since I found out he was my ancestor. I do favor the viewpoint that Alison Weir scoffs at as "revisionist" - those who favor the view that history is written by the victors and that Richard III was not as much of a villain as More and Shakespeare made him to be. I want to know all sides of this famous debate.Even though I don't agree with her conclusions, I found this to be a fascinating book and very well researched. (I must say, no matter how much I read about the War of the Roses, all the contorted marriages and similar names make my head spin). I was bothered by the points where Weir presumed to read Gloucester's thoughts; is this fiction or nonfiction? I don't mind if theories are proposed - after all, a complete answer about the princes will never be known - but please don't engage in mind-reading unless you actually have a journal or some first-person perspective into someone's head. Fortunately, she didn't delve into his inner thoughts too often.
marieburton2004 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great follow up to Weir's Wars of the Roses. Thorough and doesn't lose me when discussing this duke or that earl like the Wars did.I am halfway through it and it still hasn't gotten to the Princes "death" although Edward is in the tower right now.That's how thorough it is.
elsyd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I would consider this a text book. Really informative and obviously very well researched.
jcbrunner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Contrary to its title, this book focuses almost completely on Richard III not the life and death of the two princes. Correctly, I think, as the two princes were just innocent pawns in a murderous game about the English crown. Weir shows how the power struggle among the English nobles, an extended family feud, often ended with the losing side decapitated. It was a violent age of might made right. Richard III's main fault was his death in battle. Had he been victorious, his crimes would have been accepted, explained away as they are in the case of Henry VIII. The contrast in the public perception of Henry VIII and Richard III is astounding.As far as the murder of the two princes is concerned, I think we can never know with certainty how the crime happened. Weir's finger-pointing at James Tyrell looks fishy. Despite Henry VII's "looking forward, not backward" policy, a prosecution of Tyrell would have been in order if the case were as clear as presented by Weir. What is certain, however, is Richard III's control of the Tower and that he was the chief beneficiary of the princes' death ("cui bono"). The medieval acceptance of starving prisoners to death but horror from shedding blood is as strange as the current US practice of offering life-saving procedures to death row inmates in order to kill them properly. The poor princes were just some of the casualties of Richard III's murderous decent. He could only stay in power by eliminating more and more of his former allies - until not even a horse was left. The renaissance is full of those princes of darkness from Vlad Tepes to Charles the Bold and Henry VIII. In fairness to Richard III, one should not condemn him more than his peers. But do we have to be fair? No.
jshillingford on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This may well be my favorite book by Alison Weir. Here, she examines the 1483 disappearance of King Richard III's two young nephews. Richard came to the throne through violence, and his nephews were the rightful heirs; he was supposedly acting as their regent, until they went missing. Weir did meticulous research into the mystery, and makes a case for who was the culprit. Excellent!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ARbookbabe More than 1 year ago
I suggest for another point of view regarding Richard III, readers should read Sharon Kay Penman's book, The Sunne in Splendour, which is about the life of Richard and his brother Edward the father of the two princes in the Tower. She comes to the conclusion that Richard did not order the death of his nephews but, in fact, the Duke of Buckingham had much more to gain from the deaths of the princes and had the opportunity to order their deaths. Richard III had no motive to have them killed. There are some historians who believe Henry Tudor was the culprit, but she deduces that he had no opportunity to do so. I think this is a mystery which will never be solved to the satisfaction of everyone.
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