Summarising…

Posted: February 21, 2015 in Uncategorised

…every facebook conversation on the Princes in the Tower… Ever![1]

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[2] 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[3].

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’[4] 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’.

[1] 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!<

[2] Though nothing like as soft as the spot I have for the Nevills.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

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Comments
  1. Jasmine says:

    Interesting summary. I do wonder, however, as you find such threads irritating and full of people who are unable to argue clearly in the way you would like, why you take the trouble both to read and contribute to the threads concerned, and then write a summary of it all to post on your own blog.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks Jasmine. I do contribute to such threads, partly as I’ve set up two Facebook groups about the WoR/Richard III and partly because I’m a member of several other history groups. And, unlike some groups, mine (ours – there are other admin involved) don’t have sets of rules banning this or that topic of discussion. So the answer to part of your question is easy – because it’s very much part of my facebook remit. But I’m not sure that quite does justice to your question, which seems to suggest I’m complaining about the calibre of contributor to these conversations. I’m really not.
      There are many people who are new to history, who have questions to ask, assumptions to make (often based on the fiction they’ve read) who are a joy to talk with. They want to know things and they ask questions and they take note of the responses. Most Facebook history groups are full of extremely knowledgeable people who are very happy to share what they know and learn more, who are welcoming and warm to ‘newcomers’, including making suggestions about what to read and pointing them to primary sources, where they can. I’m learning stuff all the time from these discussions, and the more sources people can point me to, the happier I am!
      Resisting all this, sadly (and sometimes resenting it) is a small (but growing) number who are doggedly set in their views. (The same things happens in groups dedicated to other periods of history.) These view are often first formed through fiction – which isn’t a problem, that was my starting point for my (now four decades long) interest in the WoR. (I mention the time not to claim some kind of seniority but to give an example (me) of the many people whose interest starts in childhood and continues, and grows, through their lives.) So, these views are often formed first through fiction. But fiction (even really good, well researched, accurately presented fiction) doesn’t present ‘history’, it presents a view of history, necessarily framed through a particular perspective or set of perspectives. Further reading, in order to get a broader view, will always (always!) result in that view being challenged, not because it’s wrong but because there are other views out there that have to, at least, sit alongside it. A novel about Richard III, eg, might well cast the Wydevilles into a bad light. Reading a balanced non-fiction account of their lives (such as Susan Higginbotham’s book) will challenge that. Most people are fine with this, they revel in it, they enjoy stretching their limbs and diving in.
      There are those, however, who aren’t comfortable with their initial view being challenged and they will *only* read non-fiction and ‘non-fiction’ that supports that view. So they don’t have a clue what’s being said, or written, more broadly and generally. Or (even worse) they’re encouraged to sneer at what’s being said or written more broadly and generally. So they stick to very friendly works about Richard III that stack up (often pretty shaky) arguments in his favour and dismiss (in a very superficial way) arguments not in his favour. Then they go out, into the wider history community, and try to argue their point of view. Or the point of view the extreme revisionist writers have presented to them, without any attempt at balance. And this trips people up, which is why I very clearly (twice) said I don’t blame them for the continual repetition of the same old things in the same old discussions – I very much hold responsible the writers who intellectually shortchange their readers and who *never* themselves stick their heads above the parapets.
      Does that clear things up?

  2. Jasmine says:

    Thank you for your detailed reply to my comment. I know what you mean about people with only a shaky view of history or a one-sided view taking to the internet. I am a member of a large number of history groups myself and come across this quite often. Unfortunately there is also a section of the history community on various groups who gives the appearance of bullying those who do not conform to a particular view, or, when they express something which is contrary to the prevailing attitude of the group concerned, the unsuspecting poster is often jumped on by other members of the group one after another, rather like a sequence of blows. This attitude exists in both the Richard is a Saint and Richard is a Sinner groups (and those in between) – I am afraid cyber bullying is not the province of one side or the other, but of both.

  3. karrrie49 says:

    Reblogged this on karenstoneblog and commented:
    Good debate on the weird and often worrying way people deal with The Princes …

  4. kbinldo says:

    I think it’s unfortunate that we’ll never know for certain what happened. What I find most puzzling about the whole incident is that everyone acted as though what happened to the Princes in the Tower was an embarassing secret & they were happy to foist off responsibility for it onto Richard, who happened to be dead. Most puzzling to me were the actions of their own mother. As far as we know, there were no requiems said for their souls, no statements or gestures from Elizabeth Woodville towards Henry VII expressing gratitude for him “avenging” her sons’ deaths. There’s simply nothing where there should be something. I don’t care for Elizabeth, but I don’t think she was so callous that she would not mourn her own sons.

    I still think the whole debacle came down to outside agitators causing problems between the Woodvilles & Richard. Prior to Edward IV’s death, there was no indication of problems between them &, no one was acting in any way other than what was expected of them after he died, until Buckingham shows up. With Richard behind Edward V (as everything up to Stony Stratford indicated), there was no way that kid was getting knocked off the throne.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Hi kbinldo. We can’t possibly know what Elizabeth Wydeville did or said in private to mourn her sons. As I doubt she ever knew officially they were dead – I don’t think anyone did – it would have been hard for her to make any public statements, including public mourning. That is possibly the cruellest aspect of the whole business – a mother not being able to bury her children and publicly grieve. The problems with the idea of ‘foisting off responsibility to Richard’ is that there were extant rumours of their deaths before Bosworth. I agree, though, that the key to the whole thing is somewhere in Stony Stratford. One of the things ‘everyone knows’ is that the Wydevilles were plotting to either set Richard aside or do away with him. This doesn’t have to have been the case at all for Richard to have *believed* that’s what they were doing, whether it was outside agitators or his own misinterpretation of events. It’s seems pretty clear that Rivers had no clue there was going to be trouble and expected to be part of the young king’s council, along with Richard. And that would probably have been an excellent start to Edward V’s reign. Rivers was likely as baffled as anyone by the turn of events. And once Rivers was arrested, Richard was on a path that he couldn’t leave. Events were set in motion that couldn’t be stopped. Either Richard had to back down and risk facing charges, or he had to do what he did. Just how the initial error of judgement (and I do think that’s what it was) came about might, also, never be known.

  5. Astrid Essed says:

    THE PRINCES OF THE TOWER/A TRAGEDY/MURDER OR DISSAPEARANCE
    SOME REFLECTIONS

    Dear Nevill Feast

    Thanks for your very interesting contribution.

    I agree with you, that it’s of importance to look to
    the unresolved tragedy of the ”Princes of the Tower rationally.
    First, there is no proof whatsoever, that they were really murdered.
    The only fact we have is, that after their arrival in the Tower
    [for the supposedly coronation of the oldest one to King Edward V],
    they were not seen in public after 1483.
    Fact is also, that their uncle Richard deposed Edward V, alleging,
    that the marriage of his brother King Edward IV with Elizabeth Woodville
    were illegitimate since Edwards supposedly earlier marriage to
    Eleanor Butler.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_III_of_England#Accession

    Be as it may, it suited Richard well, who obviously wanted to be King.

    But was he also a murderer?
    There is simply no proof for that.

    But apart from Richard, there were more people of highborn nobility
    with a motive, as Henry Stafford. 2nd Duke of Buckingham, right hand
    man of Richard III, who would in 1483 be executed after rising up against him.
    By his high function, he had the opportunity.
    His motive was a claim to the throne by his ancestor, John of Gaunt,
    1st Duke of Lancaster, who was the third son of King Edward III.

    The Yorks had a superior claim to the throne by Richard, late Duke
    of York, father of Edward and Richard [killed in the Battle of
    Wakefield in 1460], who descended from his mother’s
    side from the SECOND son of
    Edward III, Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence.

    But Buckingham tried it anyway and had interests by the deaths of
    the Princes.

    Henry Tudor

    In his interesting Youtube.com documentary, Mark Goacher presented
    the theory, that Henry Tudor was behind their death.
    They would still have lived after Henry Tudor [later Henry VII]
    was victorious in the Battle of Bosworth and had, of course, a great
    interest to get rid of those York boys with a strong claim.

    Tudor himself had a very weak one, descending from his mother”
    s side from the illegitimate Lancastrian line [the Beaufort Swynford line,
    descendants from John of Gaunt and his mistress Kathryn Swynford, who were
    born when John of Gaunt was still a married man and later legitimized]

    Another suspect that sometimes is mentioned is Henry Tudor’s mother,
    Margaret Beaufort, who understandably wanted to promote her son
    Henry through the throne and worked hard for it.
    Besides as a convinced Lancastrian, she wanted to depose the Yorks.

    But if she went so far for killing the boys, is the question.

    She had the opportunity under King Richard III, since her fourth husband.
    Thomas Stanley, 1st Duke of Derby [who eventually would betray
    Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth, choosing the side of
    Margaret’s son Henry Tudor], had a high function under
    Richard III, which would gave her or hired killers access to the Tower.

    But here again, no proof whatsoever.

    So we only can conclude that the Princes just disappeared in the Tower,
    with no proof of any murder.
    But arguably they were murdered.

    See also some comments I wrote about this on the Blog
    of Susan Higginbotham, ”History Refreshed”
    ”If Margaret, why not Cecily”

    I argued there, that it is, to me, highly unlikely,
    that Cecily Duchess of York, their grandmother,
    killed her own grandsons for promoting her son
    Richard III as a king.
    That woman had suffered so many personal
    and traumatic losses, three sons, her husband, her brother
    [one son, her husband and brother in the Battle of
    Wakefield, their heads displayed at Micklegate, which
    must have been traumatic to her], that she possibly
    could not have killerd the children of her dead son Edward IV

    See my comments

    ”THE WARS OF THE ROSES/THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER/
    SUSAN HIGGINBOTHAM/HISTORY REFRESHED/IF MARGARET,
    WHY NOT CECILY/SOME COMMENTS

    http://www.astridessed.nl/the-wars-of-the-rosesthe-princes-in-the-towersusan-higginbothamhistory-refreshedif-margaret-why-not-cecilysome-comments/

    Kind greetings

  6. Esther says:

    Great post. It would be nice if there could be some ground rules for argument that both sides should follow. (drives me crazy when someone says that “x couldn’t have snuck into the tower without anyone noticing”, when what is involved is who gave the order and I’ve always wondered why Margaret Beaufort’s piety is evidence of her innocence, but Richard’s piety … which Prof. Charles Ross says was genuine … is not evidence of his (I’m Jewish, so evidence of medieval piety is not something I perceive as inconsistent with murderous ruthlessness on the part of any one).

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks, Esther. When I put Margaret Beaufort through the ‘who benefits? means/motive/opportunity’ test, she simply doesn’t fit. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Her piety really has nothing to do with it. It would have taken a superhuman effort of foretelling the future – the others who needed to die, Richard not displaying the bodies or launching an investigation, public sentiment turning against Richard sufficiently to give heart to the ‘rebels’; a good part of the nobility turning away from him at best, joining Henry Tudor at worst, and the last minute decision by William Stanley (which may well have been influenced by the threat to the life of his nephew Lord Strange) for anyone to have thought: “Oh, I know! I’ll murder the princes, then I (or my son, or whoever) can be king!”
      The problem with ‘x couldn’t have snuck into the tower without anyone noticing’ is that it only works one way – ie, Richard couldn’t have ‘snuck in’ or sent anyone in in secret but, somehow, Margaret Beaufort (or whoever the alternate suspect is) could or (even more strangely) Richard could have for the purposes of smuggling them to Burgundy. And that’s kind of the crux of the whole thing – things that are impossible if they point towards Richard’s possible guilt are suddenly entirely possible if they point to someone else’s or his innocence.
      The ‘smuggled to Burgundy’ argument always makes me think of the ‘last-person-who-saw-the-victim-alive’ claiming ‘Oh, I dropped him off at the corner. Don’t know where he went after that!” as if that was enough to absolve them. It’s not. Until they’re found alive or, if dead, the evidence points away from the last person who saw them alive, they are going to be the prime suspect.
      And because there’s no sensible explanation as to where they went once they supposedly arrived in Burgundy, the suggestions just keep getting more and more bizarre and make Richard look like a perfect monster – locking them up in an oubliette or brainwashing them (not that such techniques were particularly common at the time). The idea that, of their own volition, they decided to turn their back on their heritage, their father’s throne and their chance to regain – without once letting anything slip to anyone, ever – is perhaps the most bizarre of them all. For the princes to have been taken to Burgundy, they have to be *found* in Burgundy, either somewhere in the record or in death. They’re not. So, the last place they were seen is all we have to go on, and that’s the Tower.

  7. Esther says:

    My entire point (and what I took your point to be also) is the “one-way” nature of some of the arguments, whether it is piety, sneaking into the tower without anyone noticing, past depositions of monarchs, or making accusations. (I recently heard an interview with someone citing Lady Margaret’s piety as evidence that Gregory got it wrong, which is why I used it). IMO, it is a legitimate line of argument to say (for example) that Richard had a motive and there is another explanation for his failure to display the bodies or hold a public funeral; it is, IMO, not a legitimate line of argument to say that Richard must be guilty because all prior deposed kings were murdered, when all prior cases involved public funerals and/or displays of the body. Similarly, I find it odd that Henry VII’s failure to clearly state that Richard is guilty until he was in a position of strength shows political smarts, but Richard’s failure to accuse the Duke of Buckingham immediately after his rebellion is somehow inconsistent with Buckingham’s guilt.

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