…every facebook conversation on the Princes in the Tower… Ever!
As soon as I see the words ‘princes’ and ‘Tower’ in the same status, I draw in a deep breath, close my eyes and count to ten. This is the only preparation I can make for the upcoming twists of logic, the constant shifts in argument, the barrage of I believe and I read it somewhere but I can’t remember where and statements of opinion as if they were hard fact. Opinion is fine, we all have them. I can say ‘In my opinion, Edward V was a nice lad’ and, unless anyone has documentary evidence that proves otherwise, my opinion is as good as anyone else’s. What doesn’t work is if I say ‘In my opinion, the battle of St Albans was fought in Cumberland’. If you want to state something as fact, state it is fact. If you’ve made a mistake, someone will likely point you to another fact that contradicts, or reinterprets, your fact. But stating something as fact, having someone point you to another fact that contradicts, or reinterprets, it and wailing, ‘It’s my OPINION!’ isn’t going to win you any prizes. So, immediately, we have two sets of people in the conversation, those who rely on opinion and mistake it for fact; and those who are willing to state things as fact (and accept when they have it wrong). Which is a pretty big culture clash, right there, before we go any further.
The twists in logic – “If Richard had the boys murdered, why didn’t he display their bodies?” somehow morphs into “The boys died of natural causes and he didn’t display their bodies because he was afraid people would accuse him of murdering them”; and – “If Richard had the boys murdered, all the hundreds of people in the Tower would know and tell someone. He had them smuggled to Burgundy” morphs into “Well, the reason the hundreds of people in the Tower didn’t know Richard had them smuggled to Burgundy was because he did it in the middle of the night when no-one was around and swore them to secrecy anyway”. Does. My. Head. In.
What I really think is going on is this: Now, as in the 15th century, we have an inbuilt revulsion of the killing of children. Had the princes been, say, 18 and 22, we might not have that same feeling. Maybe we’d still think it was wrong to murder them – as it was wrong to murder the adult, deposed, Richard II and the adult, deposed, Edward II – but we might be able to process it a little more rationally. This natural revulsion leads to a couple of things. Firstly, for a lot of people it puts Richard in the ‘no redemption’ basket. For others, his innocence just has to be proved. (The small group of callous souls who say ‘If he murdered them, good on him! They were snivelling little brats and would have grown up to be fat man-whores like their father” are outside the scope of this discussion. They – really – should be outside the scope of any discussion.) The sensible discussion takes place in the middle ground, people who share that natural revulsion for child-murder yet somehow manage to discuss history in a calm and rational way. There’s a lot of that around the facebook history community, which is why it’s such a great place to be. Conversely, it’s why it’s such an uncomfortable place to be if you’re an extremist. There’s nothing an extremist likes less than being locked in a room with a bunch of rationalists.
QUICK DISCLAIMER: If history worked on what people would like to have happened, as opposed to what did happen, I’d rather like Richard not to have murdered the princes. I’d rather like that legendary lost document to turn up, the one that Explains Everything, so we can all go, “Oh, so that’s what happened to them? How sad/stupid/bizarre/horrible/wonderful!” But a pretty much lifelong soft spot for the York brothers isn’t going to influence anything they did or didn’t do. They did it (or didn’t) and that’s that. So, if the legendary document that Explains Everything does turn up and proves, unequivocally, that Richard did order the murder of the princes, I’d have to be equally prepared to accept that. Coz this is how history works.
What this post isn’t is an attempt to prove Richard III did away with his nephews. What it is is an expression of my utter bewilderment that so many people who claim to love and admire and support Richard are so very prepared to implicate him in worse and worse acts, to dig him a deeper and deeper hole, all in the name of proclaiming his innocence.
I’ve never much liked it when people suck others into an Unreality Bubble, convince them of the truth of something, discourage them from finding out for themselves and lull them into a false sense that they can go out and Promulgate the Word. Facebook is littered with the bodies. “The Princes were sent to Burgundy for their own safety!” is stated with such confidence it’s almost a pity to challenge it. But… the follow up questions – what happened to them after that? why the complete silence? and why did they never return to try and reclaim their father’s throne? – are never answered. Often there’s no attempt (beyond the occasional cry of ‘Perkin!’) to answer them. I suspect this is because one of the strongest supporters and promulgators of the ‘Burgundy’ option doesn’t even attempt to answer it herself. She waves an airy hand and says “That need not concern us”. But it does concern us and has to concern us. To simply shift the location of the disappearance in order to put Richard in the clear explains nothing. What it leads to are some pretty dark speculations: the princes were murdered in Burgundy, they were hidden away so deeply they never again saw the light of day, and – my particular favourite, from someone who seemed to truly believe this would vindicate Richard III – they were brainwashed and reprogrammed into believing they were someone else… two someone elses. (I’m not even going to touch the current ‘They lived on as several different people, in secret, well into the reign of Henry VIII”. I’m really, really not!) This is just one example of how people are hung out to dry, with no facts to back them up, by unscrupulous revisionists who fail, entirely, to give their readers something to actually be going on with. Faith can move mountains, but it doesn’t arm you well for a facebook history discussion.
Here’s another favourite: The princes died of natural causes. This isn’t outside the bounds of possibility. When asked: Why were the bodies not displayed? Why was there no funeral? Why wasn’t their mother told they were dead? We get answers like: “If Richard had displayed their bodies he’d have been accused of their murder!” Which ratchets up the cowardly and callous-ranking of ‘Good King Richard’ to a point where I’m surprised there aren’t thousands of brains leaving thousands of heads in protest. But here’s the thing: Had the princes died of natural causes, and had their bodies been displayed – with no signs of violence – Dr Argentine would have been on hand to tell people the story of their final illness and death. Dr Argentine wasn’t, so far as I’m aware, a particular partisan of Richard’s. While I’m sure there’d have been some grumbling, Dr Argentine’s words would have carried a lot of weight. Only he wasn’t around when they disappeared/died (which in itself is a tad worrying). And, oddly, when someone says “Richard murdered the princes” the question often shot straight back is “Why didn’t he display their bodies to prove they were dead?” That one’s straight out of the ‘we will use Argument A to strengthen our claims and we will use Argument A to weaken yours’. Clearly, there are many in the world who didn’t grow up in the kind of argumentative (but loving), disputative (but supportive), debating (but laughing) household I did. I wouldn’t have got away with that kind of Logic Twisting when I was five!
So, we have ‘Richard wasn’t stupid – if he murdered the boys, he’d have displayed their bodies to prove they were dead’ in the very same discussion as ‘Richard was in a difficult position, if the boys died of natural causes and he displayed their bodies, he’d have been accused of murdering them’. To which the only sensible response is huh?
Then there’s the ‘I read it somewhere’ argument, which is, I think, supposed to silence all questions. And ‘This isn’t a course in history, it’s facebook, you nasty know-it-all bullies!’ when someone asks ‘Where did you read it?” The question is asked so that other people can read it, too. Because that’s what a lot of us do – we read. We don’t just listen to someone’s stunted arguments and repeat them. We don’t venture out into the facebook jungle, armed only with second (or third, or fourth, or fifth…) hand revisionist arguments, having never read anything else (certainly not the ‘mainstream’ or ‘traditionalist’ view) only to get our arses kicked. I don’t blame them. They think they have all they need, after all, they’re repeating the arguments that convinced them. I blame the revisionists themselves, who write badly researched books then send their minions out to Proclaim the Word. And those minions get minced. So come out from behind your human shields, engage in the conversation, don’t flounce from forums when someone challenges you, don’t make a case for something unless you’re prepared to back it up in person. Please, stop sending out the cannon fodder. It might make people think you’re not a very nice person. Or a very brave one. Or even one who’s sure of their facts.
There are groups on facebook that could be good, vibrant, exciting places to discuss history, the Wars of the Roses and Richard III. Sadly, some of them never quite reach that potential and, even more sadly perhaps, there are others that started out that way but have now become closely guarded silos of pure revisionist thought. Where no actual history is ever discussed. And where anyone – anyone! – who dares to say ‘I’m not sure we can say that with any confidence. We kind of have to explore that possibility as much as any other’ is called a troll and a bully and hounded out. And, because a self-created belief exists that arguments, nasty comments, personal remarks and attacks are only ever made when trolls and bullies wander in to ‘stir up trouble’ it means a select few in those groups get to say whatever they like to whoever they like with absolute impunity. Because… and this is important… they wouldn’t be saying mean and nasty things to someone who wasn’t a troll. And ‘I’m only ever hostile to trolls. I’m hostile to you, ergo you are a troll’ sets up this vicious little feedback loop to the point where there are no checks (self or other) on what these people say or how they say it. And, in groups with a thick little climate of fear, that can lead to people who have been personally attacked, abused and insulted actually apologising for taking these words ‘the wrong way’.
I guess, to sum up my Summarising… Read stuff; read stuff that doesn’t support your own views as well as stuff that does; don’t listen to anyone spouting their pet ‘theories’ then march off confidently to repeat them elsewhere; remember (as I do all the time) there’s always someone out there who knows more than you, who’s read more than you; if a ‘fact’ or a fact is important enough for you to remember it, try and remember where you read it coz, someday, someone might ask you about it; listen to what others are saying, you don’t have to agree with them but listening can help you test your own ideas as well as argue sensibly against theirs; and don’t blame those who’ve squashed you like a bug because you’ve repeated unsubstantiated wishful thinking speculation as if it was fact – blame the people who fed you that ‘fact’.
 Except those in groups that simply will not tolerate any kind of dissent on the matter. In those groups the conversation goes something like this: >Richard was entirely innocent!< > I’m not sure we can say that with any confidence. We kind of have to explore that possibility as much as any other.< >No, we don’t! He’s innocent!< >Yeah, he smuggled them to Burgundy!< >Margaret Beaufort dunnit!< >Toss the troll out!< >THREAD CLOSED!<
 Though nothing like as soft as the spot I have for the Nevills.
 Here’s a beauty I came across last night. First, ‘I don’t believe Richard murdered the princes’. Then, a little way down the thread, ‘Maybe they were ill and that’s why he sent the doctor away’. Gob. Smacked. Deliberately withholding medical care from sick children isn’t, apparently, in any way similar to ‘murder’ – ergo! it proves Richard’s ‘innocence’. No, I can’t get my head around that, either.
 They’re not. They’re not even hypotheses. They might be speculation or wild guesses or reasoned interpretation or wishful thinking but the one thing they’re not is a theory.