The Princes in the Tower, Josephine Wilkinson, Amberley.
Before I go on with this review, there are two quotes I think worthy of highlighting.
“When texts refuse to conform to the theory, it is time to change the theory, not the text.” (p112)
“The question, therefore, should not be ‘Who killed the Princes in the Tower?’, but ‘What happened to the Princes after they disappeared?” (p156)
The first is spot on and a good many writers and commentators on the life and times of Richard III could benefit from applying this principle. The second, I think, could do with a little tweaking. “The question, therefore, should not be ‘Who killed the Princes in the Tower?, but ‘What happened to the Princes… [to cause them to]… disappear?” With that one tiny adjustment, I’d be wholeheartedly agreeing with this as well.
The Princes in the Tower is a slim book, a collection of essays based on a reading, collating and analysis of available sources. Wilkinson gives a brief life of Edward V, up to the likely point of his disappearance, then deals with the usual suspects, one at a time. All, including Richard III himself, are declared innocent. On the available evidence, that’s a fairly sensible conclusion to reach. Or at least, the conclusion that it’s difficult to declare, beyond reasonable doubt, any of them actually guilty, is sensible. Oh, and she dismisses the current favourite suspect, Margaret Beaufort, in a few deft sentences.
The ultimate conclusion Wilkinson reaches is that no-one murdered the Princes, that they (or one of them, at least) was, by person or persons unknown, removed to Flanders where he lived in silence and obscurity until (possibly) he re-emerged as Perkin Warbeck. I’m not entirely convinced by this, as the living in silence and obscurity bit leaves way too many unanswered questions. While ‘he became Perkin Warbeck’ might answer the question ‘What happened to Richard duke of York?” it says nothing about his brother, Edward V. A thorough investigation, so far as possible, into Warbeck’s background and, as Wilkinson suggests, records in Flanders, would be welcome. It might go some way to confirming Warbeck’s royal pretensions, or it might put the story to bed, once and for all. Either way, it would add to the little we know.
As The Princes in the Tower is most decidedly not a book of speculation searching for an answer to the question quoted above, but an examination and interpretation of available sources, Wilkinson’s conclusions are, of necessity, going to reflect those interpretations. It raised more questions than it answered for me, but as some of those questions hadn’t occurred to me before, I see this as a very good thing.
All in all, this is a good book, clearly organised and written. While there may be alternative interpretations to some of the passages quoted, Wilkinson backs up her views and doesn’t, so far as I could see, resort to cherrypicking or convenient source-blindness. I’d recommend this book to anyone trying to make sense of some of the events of 1483 and 1484.