Friday 23 March 2018

Author’s Inspiration ~ Matthew Lewis #history #Medieval #Plantagenet @MattLewisAuthor

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I welcome back historian, Matthew Lewis. Matthew is going to tell us all about his inspiration behind his Amazon bestselling book...

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower:
Murder, Mystery and Myth

By Matthew Lewis

The murder of the Princes in the Tower is the most famous cold case in British history. Traditionally considered victims of a ruthless uncle, there are other suspects too often and too easily discounted. There may be no definitive answer, but by delving into the context of their disappearance and the characters of the suspects Matthew Lewis examines the motives and opportunities afresh as well as asking a crucial but often overlooked question: what if there was no murder? What if Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York survived their uncle’s reign and even that of their brother-in-law Henry VII? There are glimpses of their possible survival and compelling evidence to give weight to those glimpses, which is considered alongside the possibility of their deaths to provide a rounded and complete assessment of the most fascinating mystery in history.

Author's Inspiration

The fate of the sons of King Edward IV, remembered as The Princes in the Tower, is one of the most enduring, fascinating and divisive mysteries in all of history. This book seeks to return to the original, contemporary source material, to try and strip away centuries of myth building and confusion. I was intrigued to find out how much of the story we think we know can be substantiated by contemporary evidence.

The book requires an open mind from the reader, not least because, as the title suggests, the real question I wanted to try and answer was whether we could be certain that there was any murder at all in 1483. Most people assume that there was two murders and the only real argument is over who ordered the boy’s deaths. For many, there is little need to look beyond their uncle, King Richard III. Others have identified potential culprits in Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, in Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother, a theory made popular by Philippa Gregory, or other contemporaries with something to gain.

Each of the candidates accused of the murders has always been problematical to me. The Wars of the Roses has always fascinated me and as a Ricardian, the latter stages hold a particular draw. Add in the mystery of the disappearance of two young princes and I’ve been hooked for years. The traditional story and its variants were never really satisfying. Take Richard III. If he killed his nephews, it was to prevent them from threatening him. In order to bring the threat to an end, everyone had to be made aware that they were dead. To kill them and keep it a secret served no purpose at all. He could have blamed someone else or even claimed they had died of natural causes. It wasn’t really important that everyone believed him, only that everyone knew the princes were dead and could no longer be a threat to him. If Buckingham did it, with or without Richard’s approval, Richard had the perfect opportunity to blame him in October when Buckingham was executed for rebelling. If Margaret Beaufort was behind the deaths, it seems unlikely her son would have been so threatened by pretenders during his reign.

Reading the original material, it very quickly becomes clear that any certainty about the fate of the Princes in the Tower is a much later development. No contemporary could explain definitively what had happened. There were rumours circulating, but they offered different stories of precisely how the boys were killed and by who. Most writers provided more than one potential fate, emphasising the uncertainty that held sway for decades afterwards. The story begins to take a firmer shape with Vergil and More, writing in the following century and both with agendas that impact the reliability of their testimony. After that, writers needed to add another twist or layer of menace to the story to keep it fresh for new readers. Edward Hall exaggerated More’s story went on to become a source for William Shakespeare’s final nail in Richard’s coffin.

What I found was incredibly surprising and made the project well worthwhile. There are snippets during Richard III’s reign that hint at the boys’ continued survival. It is perhaps unsurprising that real, firm evidence from Richard’s reign is lacking. Henry VII had been able to win the throne in no small part because of his promise to marry the princes’ sister Elizabeth. In order to do so, he had to undo the illegitimacy of all of Edward IV’s children which Richard III had enacted in Parliament. We know that Henry had that statute removed from the rolls unread, which in itself is odd. An act repealed by Parliament would usually be read in the House first, but Titulus Regius was not read and Henry ordered all copies returned and destroyed on pain of imprisonment. Given that Henry had, in legitimising his intended wife, he had also legitimised her brothers, their claim to the throne would have become far better, and far more popular, than Henry’s own. Any evidence that they had survived Richard’s reign would have been on Henry’s hitlist every bit as much as Titulus Regius.

I liken the fate of the Princes in the Tower to a black hole. There is no visible evidence of their fate but what we can look for is a gravitational effect on those around them. The two most famous pretenders who threatened Henry VII’s throne then take on a new level of interest. Lambert Simnel has long been believed to have impersonated Edward, Earl of Warwick, but this is far from certain. Why was Elizabeth Woodville stripped of her property and income at the time this threat emerged? Why was the princes’ half-brother Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset thrown into the Tower at the same time? What interest would they have in Warwick replacing Elizabeth of York on the throne? Why did Henry VII’s court poet, Prince Arthur’s tutor Bernard Andre write that the boy in Ireland claimed to be a son of Edward IV named Edward? That can only be Edward V. Perkin Warbeck provides similar intriguing questions. How did he speak perfect English if he was a Flemish lad forced to learn English in his late teens? Why did the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian and the Scottish King James IV never abandon Perkin, even when there was no political gain to continuing to offer him support?

The fate of the Princes in the Tower remains a mystery. The bones currently resting in an urn in Westminster Abbey are unlikely to be theirs, but like everything else about this story, nothing can be proven. Stripping away centuries of myth and received wisdom is an incredibly valuable and revealing exercise. Although this book can’t pretend to provide definitive answers to a mystery that had defied resolution for half a millennium, I think there is plenty for an open-minded reader to think about. Instead of trying to work out who murdered the Princes in the Tower in 1483, perhaps we should give more serious consideration to whether there was a murder at all.

Links for Purchase

Matthew Lewis
Matthew Lewis was born and grew up in the West Midlands. Having obtained a law degree, he currently lives in the beautiful Shropshire countryside with his wife and children. History and writing have always been a passion of Matthew's, with particular interest in the Wars of the Roses period. His first novel, Loyalty, was born of the joining of those passions.

Matthew loves to hear from readers, you can find him…


  1. The fate of the royal princes will always fascinate. Your book sounds amazing!

  2. What a fascinating piece, Matthew! I've had your book in my sights for a while. A good friend of mine read and loved it a couple of months ago and has been recommending it everywhere ever since.


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