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Carpe Librum

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Review: The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

The Princes in the Tower - Alison Weir

In the Author's Preface that introduces this book, Weir states, "We are dealing here with facts, not just speculation or theories, which I have tried very hard to avoid." This is quickly followed by the first sentence of the first chapter, which reads, "Modern writers on the subject of the Princes in the Tower have tended to fall into two categories: those who believe Richard III guilty of the murder of the Princes but are afraid to commit themselves to any confident conclusions, and those who would like to see Richard more or less canonised." It seems that what Weir meant by avoiding theories in favor of fact was that she would state each of her theories as fact.

I am not opposed to reading arguments that support Richard III as the murderer of the Princes. Though I tend to enjoy more favorable writings, I also understand that there is a good chance that he did kill his nephews. Before you take away my Richard III Society membership card, let me explain. It would be great to know what really happened. According to Weir, this 500 year old mystery is solved and we just don't want to admit it. Then why are so many people still disputing it? Apparently all these dissenters are just not open to the truth about St. Richard.

This book would have been more appropriately titled The Wicked Uncle, which is actually the name of one of the chapters in this supposedly balanced and unbiased work of nonfiction. Not until chapter 13 do we find anything about the princes, as Weir feels the need to establish Richard III as a blood-thirsty usurper whose loyalty was only skin-deep (for the past 30 years) before moving on to convict him of regicide.

Other theories are mentioned, sort of. They are brought up in a way I might say, "So & so believes this really stupid idea. Isn't that ridiculous?" Weir brings up many pieces of evidence and proceeds to discuss only how they support the conclusion she has already decided upon. For example, in her discussion of sources, she talks about Thomas More and the history that he had written but never finished. Though she admits that this source has errors and creates dialog, she continues to use it as her most frequently referenced evidence. She shrugs off the idea that More quite possibly got much of his information from John Morton, who was known to have a bad relationship with Richard long before Richard took the throne. She also doesn't mention that More was only 5 years old in 1483 and therefore could not have witnessed anything firsthand.

I could go on and on with examples of evidence that are presented in such a way that only one conclusion could possibly be reached. If I didn't have prior knowledge of the events and people Weir is writing about, I would be convinced. This probably would have been an interesting and compelling book to read if I were not troubled by the biased presentation and half-truths.

It may seem like a minor point to others, but I was especially bothered by the comments regarding Richard's personal faith and prayers. Based on a prayer that Richard had written in one of his personal prayer books where he had expressed gratitude for Christ redeeming him from eternal damnation, Weir assumes that he had committed a horrific sin (you know, like killing his nephews) that would deserve damnation. Any Christian reading the prayer would recognize it as a typical prayer of thanksgiving for Christ's sacrifice as "all fall short of the glory of God" and deserve eternal damnation. This was in no way a confession by Richard, at least not of what Weir implies he is confessing. Her faulty interpretation of it throws a shadow over other pieces of evidence that she claims could only mean one thing - the thing she is trying to say.

After the first quarter of this book (Oops, almost called it a novel. Nope, this is nonfiction, despite the fact that I have read more balanced arguments in historical fiction.), I began skimming. I came across too many phrases like "their intention was", "only plausible explanation", "they knew that", "wholeheartedly supported", and "no one now doubted" to take this book seriously. Weir makes a few too many claims to know the minds and hearts of people, insists too many times that there is only one interpretation of actions, and states too firmly "only one man could have been responsible for their deaths: Richard III."