The menacing Richard III portrayed by artists and in literature may reflect more of Tudor political machinations than of the man who was Richard of Gloucester. Labeled villain by Shakespeare in “The Tragedy of Richard III, “an “elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog,” (Act 1.iii), many authors and historians since have built stories based on Richard’s guilt, his motives, means and fellow conspirators. This 15th century English king is chiefly remembered as the evil uncle who not only swiped the throne out from under his nephew Edward V, but also as the wicked monarch who had the “Little Princes” murdered in the Tower. Some accounts say he was humpbacked with a withered arm, though a few of his contemporaries called him a good ruler, noting only that he was a small man. In February of this year, the bones of Richard III, found beneath a Leicester parking lot near where he died in battle and conclusively identified, bear obvious witness to his painful scoliosis, but no other malformation. This unsolved historical puzzle makes great grist for the story mill.
Two well-known mystery writers grapple with Richard’s story in the context of modern life. In The Daughter of Time, published in 1951, by Josephine Tey, convalescing, bored detective Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard accepts a friendly challenge to solve the mystery of what happened to the Princes in the Tower: a fascinatingly cerebral and plausible story. Elizabeth George’s collection of short stories I, Richard explores the vagaries of human behavior and motivation. The title story is a modern mirror for medieval treachery and betrayal that’s loosely tied to solving the nephews in the Tower mystery.
Two historical novels portray the royal panoply of the Woodville/York/Lancaster families which surpasses the familial drama of Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Philippa Gregory’s series on the Wars of the Roses is a delightfully painless introduction to Richard III’s bloody background. The White Queen is a poignant narrative of the Princes’ mother, Elizabeth Woodville: her powerlessness against the forces of male domination and the inexorable march of Tudor power. Emma Darwin’s A Secret Alchemy a daring take on the mystery of what happened to the little princes, is told from the perspectives of Elizabeth and Anthony Woodville and by a historian in the present whose grief drives her desire to know more about Edward VI’s lovely widow and her brother, Anthony.
If you are interested in reading historical accounts of the Little Princes and their possibly treacherous, possibly honorable Uncle Richard, try The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir and Richard III, England’s Black Legend by Desmond Seward.