The Princes in the Tower: The Unfinished Mystery

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The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir is, to put it bluntly, a terrible book.

The book is a nonfiction about one of the biggest mysteries in English history; what happened to the Princes Edward and Richard after their uncle Richard III had them locked away in the Tower never to be see again? Were they murdered? Probably. By who? No one wants to say. Weir writes that her book is meant “…to entertain, inform, and convince all those who read [the book]”. Unfortunately she fails on all counts.

Now, before I get into what was so terrible about this book and it’s author, I must come clean. i didn’t finish it. After 5 days i am only on page 70 out of 258, I tried so hard but I simply cannot get past the hatred i feel every time I read from this atrocity.

From page 1 I could tell I did not like Weirs writing style or her attitude. She comes off as quite full of herself. She is positive that her version of events is THE version of events, something that i only just read (in my last book on a related topic) is simply impossible. These events took place in the end of the 15th century, we simply do not have the evidence to give any kind of definitive “This is exactly how events unfolded and why”. Weir doesn’t seem to mind doing just that, she begins the book stating that

“…it is indeed possible to reconstruct the whole chain of events leading up to the murder of the Princes, and to show, within the constraints mentioned above, how, when, where, and by whose order, they died. The truth of the matter is there in the sources, for those who look carefully enough. We are dealing with facts, not just speculation or theories, which I have tried very hard to avoid.” (my bolded text)

She is pretty much saying that though historians from contemporaries in the 1400’s all the way up to 2011, when her book was published, have avoided giving any definitive answer, because of lack of evidence, the answer is quite clear to her and they simply didn’t look hard enough. She goes on to say she is dealing simply in facts and not speculation but it doesn’t stop her from misusing facts to lead the reader into the same bias that she holds against serveral of the characters involved.

History lesson (and links below): Jacquetta of Luxembourg was match for anyone in her time, she was a part of a family that owned a vast portion and ruled in English held France. She married a Duke and became Duchess of Bedford, a title she retained after his death shortly after. She then married a soldier named Woodville for love, a huge scandal, but kept her title, her ranking at court, and most of her vast properties inherited from the Duke. This soldier would, for his excellent service, go on to become Baron Rivers and the couple both would be powerful and high ranking at court, Jacquetta remaining the third most powerful woman at court behind the Queen and a new Duchess.

It is Jacquettas oldest child, her daughter Elizabeth Woodville, who would go on to marry this rival King Edward IV and birth the two little princes. This match, while a bit scandalous because Elizabeth is technically a “commoner” though royal and an great match through her mother, was not without benefits. It linked the Luxembourg family with this new royal family in England, and forced many who were loyal to the Woodvilles and\or Bedford to switch loyalties as well.

Once queen, Elizabeth tried to secure safety for her family marrying her siblings and sons from a previous marriage well. Some people find fault in this and claim that she was power hungry, that the whole family was. I think this is simply something people did, and still do. Through their mother these children had every right to the marriages they were making. This isn’t to say the Woodvilles were perfect, they did some shady shit but who hasn’t? History doesn’t have heroes and villains, as my history teacher liked to tell us; even Hitler loved puppies.

The author of this book, though, doesn’t seem to want to admit that the Woodvilles (she spells it Wydville, not incorrect but confusing as most spell it w-o-o-d-v-i-l-l-e in order to have some consistency) aren’t an evil power hungry faction set to destroy all who stand in their way. She takes most of her hatred out on Elizabeth, who she feels overstepped her bounds marrying a king (Weir isn’t shy to share all of the horrible rumors as to how this marriage came about, not mentioning that the two would have probably met a few times before any marriage took place). In a few places Weir will spend a few paragraphs talking about something, the glamor of the royal court for instance, and then out of nowhere have a sentence or two of disparaging, often misleading, information about the Queen only to then continue on with what she was talking about in the first place.

“Croyland tells us that the court presented ‘no other appearance than such as fully befits a most mighty kingdom filled with riches’. Court etiquette was very formal and a strict code of courtesy prevailed. Banquets could last three hours or more, and on one occasion the Queen kept her ladies on their knees throughout while she and her guests ate in silence. Even her own mother had to stand until the Queen had been served the first course…”

Then she goes on to explain court expenses and fails to mention that, though what she said was not incorrect it is misleading. The event was a churching ceremony for the Queen after one of her confinements (upper class ladies spent 6 weeks in confinement around the time of birth and then had ritual cleansing services to make them fit for real life) and these ceremonies and the celebrations that follow are HIGHLY ritualistic. Even the silence was purposeful and meaningful. It’s not as if the Queen simply got off on making her lessers kneel in the rushes.

I want, badly, to present every example of this and analyze it (like when the King dies and Weir spends a page talking about his health then begins a paragraph “The Queen was not at the Kings bedside when, on 9th April, 1483. . .” Maybe she was taking care of one of her 6 young children or doing Queen shit at the time?) but I won’t, I will move on to my next indiscretion and then wrap this up quickly.

I have mentioned before that Weir has chosen to spell the Queens family name W-y-d-v-i-l-l-e, this is not incorrect, while many modern readers will recognize it as w-o-o-d-v-i-l-l-e because it’s a good way to standardize the many spelling found of this family name. Weir, though, has a different (and self righteous) opinion on the topic “Their name is usually – and incorrectly – spelt Woodville, but that is a rare form in contemporary documents, in which it is almost always appears as Wydville, Wydeville, Wydvil, and Wydevile; on Elizabeth’s tomb it is spelt Widville.” She rubs me as a very special snowflake who needs to be different simply because she knows she isn’t technically wrong.

The same can be said for her repeatedly referring to Isabel Neville as Isabella. Every source I can find calls her Isabel (Philippa Gregorys site does state it’s sometimes written as Isabella) but it seems unlikely that her names was Isabella. Anyone who knows history can tell you that the English don’t really care for the Spanish so why would two English people give their English daughter a Spanish name like Isabella, instead of the English version, Isabel? Weir is doing exactly what she complained of modern writers of doing with the Woodville name, using a rare and unlikely form.

There is so much more I want to say. Every one of the 70 pages I have read has made me angry. Weir uses misleading information and shows a clear bias against the Woodville family. On top of that she kisses Richard III ass (possibly to make the Woodvilles seem terrible by comparison but according to other reviews she goes on to vilify him as well) and seems so full of herself that I cannot STAND to read her book. I have never in my life given up on a book because of this reason. I have hated books and pushed through, but I cannot here.

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Reading on the bus stop

Unfinished: The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

  • 1- Don’t Read
  • 2- It’s Good
  • 3- Read
  • 4- Highly Recommend
  • 5- Must Read

I apologize for the length and choppiness of this review, there is just too much to say bad about this book. I would not recommend this book to ANYONE, it is misleading and can be confusing simply because her writing style tends to jump around and it can be hard to keep track of who is who if the author isn’t careful. While reading this my roommate accused me of being “all over Elizabeth Woodvilles dick” but really she isn’t even close to my favorite person in this history I just can’t stand the way she is being made out to be a horrible person. Don’t read this book. Unless you hate the Woodvilles and think Richard III was the worst then by all means, enjoy your propaganda.

Isobel Neville

Elizabeth Woodville/Wydville

Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford

Plantagenet Family Tree

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