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Being violently sick with a vicious cold, I decided to to binge-watch some British historical dramas, which led to a rewatch of The White Queen, an account of the Cousins' War based on Philippa Gregory's novels, which sort of nudged me into re-reading an old favourite, Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time. Which then started me off looking for other books - fictional or not - that dealt with the question of Richard III's claiming of his brother's throne and the fate of the young heirs, the Princes in the Tower.

I'm particularly fond of Tey's book partly because of the framing narrative she uses to explore the historical evidence pertinent to the matter of the deaths of the young Yorkist heirs in the tower - police detective with a broken leg going crazy from boredom takes on a historical mystery - and partly because her interpretation of the evidence cited supports my own totally unresearched belief that Richard III did not do the vile deed, or order it done. (By unresearched, I mean that I've read a number of books arguing the case this way or that but never sat down to look at all the existing evidence one way or the other and make an unbiased assessment for myself.)

Tey's theory settles on Henry Tudor, the victorious conqueror of Bosworth, as the author of the crime. Tey finds no credible evidence that Richard III had any need of killing the princes. They had been declared bastards once evidence of a pre-contract between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler, made prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, was made public. Henry, on the other hand, needed the York children to be legitimate so that his marriage to Elizabeth of York would strengthen his claim to the throne, but he could not claim the throne if the princes lived. Tey argues that the princes were not killed but simply kept closely in the Tower until Henry took power and had them killed.

It's a very enjoyable - and quick - read, and much to be recommended to anyone interested in the mystery of the princes in the Tower, though
I must say that I'm not convinced of the whole of her argument. I find the reasons for holding Richard III convincing, but doubt that the princes could have remained alive in the Tower for the two years of Richard's reign without some indication of their presence. Guards talk. Records have to account for food, clothes, linens. And so on.

Robin Maxwell's To the Tower Born is another enjoyable novel that presents a theory about the fate of the young princes. Maxwell chooses a minor, and mostly unknown, character - Nell Caxton, daughter of printer William Caxton, who was the recipient of royal patronage. Maxwell imagines a close friendship between Nell and the young Princess Elizabeth, which allows her to be present for many of the crucial events surrounding the death of Edward IV, the power struggle between Richard and the Woodville clan, and the time during which the princes are known to have been in the tower. Maxwell suggests that the culprit was the ambitious Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor's mother, with the aid of The Duke of Buckingham, her nephew and the Constable of England - and hence the master of the Tower.

This theory fits the timeline better, as it has the princes disappearing from the Tower early in Richard's reign - though, in order to give the story a happy ending, Maxwell has the young princes rescued from Margaret and sent abroad to live as ordinary men, lost to history.

Maxwell's novel is also interesting reading for its sympathetic portrayal of Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers, the older half-brother of the princes, and for its account of the impact of Caxton's press on English society.

While I started reading Vanora Bennett's Figures in Silk because of the Ricardian aspect of the plot, I actually found that part of the narrative rather thin compared to the rich and detailed story of life in the London silk trade which is the primary focus of the novel. Bennett's protagonist Isabel Claver is a young widow who becomes an apprentice to her successful mother-in-law Alice Claver, one of the foremost silk merchants in London. She learns the trade well and, in partnership with Claver and an Italian silk merchant, embarks on a crown-supported endeavour to bring the secrets of the Italian silk weavers to England.

Isabel's access to the court - and to royal patronage and significant commissions - is due to two things. First, her sister is Jane Shore, the mistress of Edward IV. Second, an accidental meeting with an intense young man in a church where both have gone to seek consolation turns ultimately into a secret royal liaison when Isabel discovers that the young man is Richard of Gloucester.

I have to admit that I didn't really buy Bennett's characterisation of Richard III, or the love affair between him and Isabel. Even Richard's contemporary enemies acknowledged that he seemed not only much attached to his wife, Anne Neville, at least up to the point where he became King, but also unusually faithful to her. The infrequent and furtive meetings between the two give us no sense of who Richard is as a man, and thus we have no background for the things that Richard does once his brother is dead.

Bennett presents Richard as laving been loyal to Edward until his death, but then forming an almost immediate plan to seize the throne from his nephew. She does not, however, go so far as to make him the murderer of the young princes. Rather, she has them spirited out of London at his design by the knight Tyrell - who in real life was later executed as the princes' killer - and raised in secret.

Because Isabel learns of most of the major events of the coup through rumour and the accounts of others, the story of Richard and the princes has no strong dramatic impact - we are caught up more in her confusion and growing shame at having taken as a lover a man who she comes to see as capable of disloyalty and cruelty.

While the greater political matters of the time are given a less than satisfactory treatment, it is as an account of life among the merchant class of London, and of the spirit and determination of a young woman to succeed in her craft despite many personal and professional setbacks that Bennett finds her voice and makes the book worth reading.

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Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey

Daughter of Time is a fascinating blend of genres, a historical whodunnit - a bored police inspector, injured on his most recent case, and confined to a hospital bed, decides to tackle one of the great mysteries in English history: who killed - or caused to be killed - the princes in the Tower?

For those who have forgotten, or never knew, the story, the princes were the two sons of King Edward IV, last seen alive in the Tower of London in the summer of 1483, shortly after their uncle, Richard III, became king. The accession of the oldest prince, who would have been Edward V, may have been put off because of some doubt as to whether the marriage of Edward IV and their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, was legitimate, as Edward was rumoured to have been contracted to marry another woman, Eleanor Butler, at the time of his secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. It's possible that, in light of this possible bastardy, and the availability of an experienced adult heir in Richard, that Richard was seen as the better choice at the time by all. Many historians have argued, however, that Richard had the princes killed to strengthen his hold on the throne.

However, by fall of 1485, Henry Tudor had invaded England and defeated Richard III in battle at Bosworth Field and claimed the throne of England by right of his descent from Edward III's son John of Gaunt and his mistress (later wife) Katherine Swynford and by right of his betrothal to Elizabeth of York - the older sister of the princes in the tower. If the princes were still alive at that time, by ensuring that Elizabeth was seen as legitimate, Henry also legitimated the two survivors of the Wars of the Roses with better claims to the throne than his - so, if they were alive, he had a powerful motive to have them killed as well.

James Tyrell, an English knight who served both Richard III and Henry VII, confessed to the murder of the princes under torture in 1501 after being arrested for treason in another matter altogether.

There is no consensus among historians as to who killed the princes - and some believe that they were not, in fact, killed at all, but either died of natural causes or were secretly removed from the Tower and sent somewhere far away.

In Daughter of Time, Tey argues persuasively - through the medium of Inspector Alan Grant and his examination of contemporary accounts and historical analyses from the perspective of an experienced homicide detective - that the evidence against Henry Tudor is much stronger than the evidence against Richard III. Whether you accept Tey's arguments or not, the novel is compelling reading both for those how enjoy historical accounts and those who enjoy a good mystery.

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