Murder in the Tower of London

“The Princes in the Tower” (1878), John Everett Millais. Source: Wikipedia

One of history’s greatest mysteries involves the death of two royal children in 1483, Edward and Richard, the sons of England’s Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, aged 13 and 10 respectively. Young Edward was brought to England to wear the crown, but within a few months he was declared a bastard by Parliament leaving the way to the throne clear for Richard of Gloucester, the boys’ uncle and Edward IV’s brother, who would rule as Richard III. The skulduggery leading to their disappearance and presumed murder is the subject of Phillippa Gregory’s latest novel, The Kingmaker’s Daughter (Touchstone, 2012).

Gregory’s fascination with the history of English monarchs has given us more than twenty well-crafted works of historical fiction. One of them, The Other Boleyn Girl (Touchstone, 2002), tapped into the fascination so many have with the randy court of Henry VIII and was made into a major motion picture. I don’t see motion picture quality in The Kingmaker’s Daughter, but it is quite a good read.

The protagonist-narrator here is Anne Neville, one of two daughters of Richard Neville, the Duke of Warwick, whose manipulations of those seeking the crown gained him the moniker which supplies the novel’s title. Two titled houses are tilting for power, the houses of Lancaster and York. Due to the long history of royal pairing for the purpose of political advantage, it is an internecine struggle, sometimes known as the “Cousins War,” but history remembers it best as the “War of the Roses” (so called because the emblem of the Yorks was a white rose, that of the Lancasters a red rose).

We meet Anne when she is a child of 8, a pawn of her father’s destined for his machinations, matchmaking, and kingmaking efforts. A short-lived marriage of convenience is followed by a love match with young Richard of Gloucester, one of the three sons of York and the one who will wear the crown after his brother Edward’s death.

This Richard is nothing like the misshapen and brooding man we meet in Shakespeare (remember, Shakespeare was pandering to the daughter of Henry VIII, whose father defeated Richard III ending the War of the Roses). He is a kind, gentle warrior who truly loves Anne, even though he has ambitions towards his brother’s crown.

Was he the kind of man who could have murdered, or ordered the murder of, two innocent young boys? History’s verdict has long been expressed in the affirmative, but the question remains open as far as Gregory is concerned. Indeed, she plans to give us her answer in her next novel.

One thing becomes clear: Anne Neville, who starts our story as a kind and innocent child, is a very different person after the years of intrigue and warfare. By the time Edward dies, she has become a woman who could do whatever was necessary, and the degree to which she may have encouraged the death of those children is deliciously suggested, though never confirmed. She is an older, more hardened woman by the time the novel nears it’s end, so who knows? She is quite clear concerning the threat to Richard, her husband, that the boys pose if they remain alive:

They will always be a danger to us. They will always be a focus of any discontent, for anyone who wants to question our rule.

It is now almost certain that the children were, in fact, murdered. A box containing the bones of two children was discovered buried in the Tower of London in 1674 during a renovation, and while conclusive scientific evidence is lacking the evidence that has been amassed is too striking to rule out the awful conclusion. But the question of who did it, thought closed by many, lends a eerie edge to Gregory’s novel that will leave you waiting for the next installment.

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