The Princes in the Tower
by Alison Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A careful and thorough examination of the evidence related to the fate of the princes in the tower.
Weir does her best to be objective, beginning with a very thorough evaluation of the credibility of the major contemporary and near-contemporary sources. One of the things that this book makes clear is that the documentary evidence is scant enough, and some of the events just plain odd enough, that it's impossible not to bring some biases and assumptions to one's interpretations of events. Weir, at least, doesn't seem to have any preconceived bias either for or against Richard III. To the extent she makes assumptions, they're about how people would have responded to the political and psychological pressures of the situation. Her treatment of questions like, "How could Elizabeth Wydville be so easily reconciled with the man who murdered her two sons?" or "Why didn't Henry VII make more of a fuss about Richard's murder of the princes?" seems very plausible. (Her assertion that Elizabeth of York, the princes' sister and eventual wife of Henry VII, actually seems to have been passionately in love with Richard III for a time boggles the mind slightly, but Weir actually seems to have pretty good documentary evidence for that.)
Weir also gives a good overview of the forensic evidence related to a pair of adolescent skeletons found buried under a staircase in the Tower of London in 1674. It seems almost certain that these are the remains of the princes, although one can't help but wish that somebody would just go ahead and do the obvious DNA testing and settle the matter once and for all. (A google search turned up a 2007 news article about a Ph.D. student who was seeking to match mitochondrial DNA from the skeletons with that from the hair of the princes' niece, Mary Tudor. I haven't turned up any follow up: possible the project is still working through the necessary logistics and obtaining of permissions.)
Weir builds a case that, while it might not be enough to convict Richard III beyond a reasonable doubt, certainly places the balance of probabilities on his being ultimately responsible for the princes' death. In any case, the book is both informative and a pleasure to read. View all my reviews >>