Saturday, 28 March 2015

Who Murdered the Princes in the Tower?

The Return of the King

I couldn’t help being glued to the saga of the discovery of the bones of Richard III.  Philippa Langley’s Looking for Richard project demonstrated a tenacity and meticulousness that leaves me in utter admiration.
Philippa Bailey, 

The king in the car park

Channel 4’s documentary about the finding of the bones of Richard in the remains of the Greyfriars Priory was a riveting account, I thought, of English doggedness and sheer fluke.  The moments of revelation were handled well and the “host” Simon Farnaby delivered his dry and charming commentary with sensitivity and flashes of grim humour – “If that isn’t Richard III, that’s one unlucky monk!”
Jacqui Binns with her funeral pall

Shakespearean spin
As a lifelong Shakespeare devotee, should I be huffing and puffing like the pantomime historian, David Starkey, and trying to denigrate the Ricardians who were all anxious to give the bones a reinterment with honour and dignity?  Would any deviation from the Tudor view of the “poisonous bunchbacked toad” undermine Shakespeare’s brilliant creation?
Ian McKellen, Antony Sher, Simon Russell Beale, Jonjo O'Neill

Sharon Penman
Since reading Sharon Penman’s evocative fictionalised account of Richard’s life and seeing the Shakespeare Histories Octology staged in all its glory (five times now) I am an avid reader of Wars of the Roses material.  Growing up nearby – and regularly visiting – Sandal Castle in Wakefield also has something to do with my obsession with the Yorkist cause, I’m sure.
One of my favourite books

History is bunk – and marvellous at the same time
I wrote in an earlier blog (here) about my feelings about History.  No way can we ever truly know about the motivations and actions of anybody, let alone a long-dead historical figure.  Every bit of evidence will be tainted with bias.  Even recent figures (wholly alive) are elusive – and will remain so.  Who can prove with absolute certainty what motivated Tony Blair’s thoughts and actions during his time as Prime Minister?  There will be as many interpretations as there are commentators and even Tony B's own memory and brain will fashion and refashion what happened and how and why.  History is a narrative construct; all evidence is interpretative.

I find the Sharon Penman view of Richard III the most persuasive.  (Any work that explore four brothers is bound to get me – as I discovered when I read The Queen of Air and Darkness.)  Her sympathetic Richard, loyal to the north of England, and a loving brother, husband and father, is completely at odds with Shakespeare’s character of Richard III.  But Shakespeare’s “bottled spider” is a fictional villain, a study in tyranny and a theatrical tour de force.  I don’t watch Julius Caesar or Macbeth expecting a documentary study of those rulers.  Cleopatra in history, I’m 100% sure, was nothing like the Shakespearean character in Antony and Cleopatra.

So thank you to all those who contributed to the honour and dignity of bringing Richard’s bones to a more dignified resting place.  Of course I would have favoured a reinterment in York Minster – and I would have attended myself if it had been at Middleham Castle.  Where he belongs.  But I can accept him being in Leicester for all kinds of reason – I hope Richard’s presence there gives the city a boost.  That would chime with what I believe about Richard III’s sense of justice.  He knows Yorkshire loves him….  
Middleham Castle, a Ricardian paradise
Who murdered the Princes in the Tower?
Buckingham is a likely contender but my understanding of the time – and my reading of the evidence – points to the supporters of Henry VII.  Did they act on his orders?  Did Buckingham do the dirty on behalf of Henry VII?  Did the older boy die, and the younger boy survive to become Perkin Warbeck?  We will never know.  But we will never know, either, that Richard III definitively ordered their deaths.  Anyone expressing absolute certainty is simply giving an interpretation.  J’accuse Buckingam/Henry VII!  Final words to the brilliant Carol Ann Duffy:


My bones, scripted in light, upon cold soil,
a human braille. My skull, scarred by a crown,
emptied of history. Describe my soul
as incense, votive, vanishing; you own
the same. Grant me the carving of my name.

These relics, bless. Imagine you re-tie
a broken string and on it thread a cross,
the symbol severed from me when I died.
The end of time – an unknown, unfelt loss –
unless the Resurrection of the Dead …

or I once dreamed of this, your future breath
in prayer for me, lost long, forever found;
or sensed you from the backstage of my death,
as kings glimpse shadows on a battleground.

By Carol Ann Duffy