“The Princes in the Tower” was the best of the series so far. I’m assuming it is as good as The White Queen will get. I am used to that on cable programming. The last episode of any season is usually not as good as the set-up the week before. It’s a shame it took this long to get here. What set “The Princes in the Tower” apart from other episodes is focus. All the chaff has been chafed and there’s nothing left but one story. A story that has baffled historians for years.
No one knows what actually happened to the Princes in the Tower, Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. They were 12 and 9 when they were locked up in the Tower of England in July 1483. Most people assume they were murdered but there is only circumstantial evidence. Though there were a lot of suspects, it remains a cold case. King Richard’s servant, James Tyrrell, confessed to the murders in 1501, during the reign of Henry VII. Richard made Tyrell the High Sheriff of Cornwall in 1484, which sounds like political payback to me.
Some people think that one of the brothers escaped. In 1487, a man named Lambert Simnel claimed that he was Richard. He later said that he was Edward. At a party in court he bragged that he was also the Earl of Sandwich and the greatest thing since sliced bread. In 1674, workers dug up a wooden box that had small human skeletons in it under a stairway in the Tower of London. It is assumed the skeletons were the princes, but it has never been proved. If The White Queen were produced by CBS, they’d have a royal Duke of CSI.
Richard (Aneurin Barnard) is king, rightfully, whether Parliament or the witch queen or anyone believes him or not. He really is keeping the kids in the tower for their own good. The streets of London aren’t safe and forget about the moors. The princes in the Tower are peas in a shell game of thrones and everybody’s a mark and everyone else is a shill. The problem is they don’t always know who they’re shilling for. They keep changing sides. Only the women have stability. Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) and Margaret (Amanda Hale) both want the same thing. They want it for different people, but their interests are aligned.
Margaret is tortured by her visions of god’s will because she has to personally give an order for slaughter. Her husband, Sir Henry Stafford (Michael Maloney), is playing both sides against the middle and he’s forcing her to take a hard line. Save or slaughter. Really it makes no difference to him either way. His brother’s fighting on the other side and whoever wins, it’s all good. But he can’t know how best to inveigle his way through the halls of intrigue until he’s given a specific order to leak. Watching Margaret burn her letters to the Duke of Buckingham, we see how the most important documents in history were wasted in fires. Today they are shredded. History is told by the whiners.
Queen Anne (Faye Marsay), isn’t so troubled, she tests the waters of feigning innocence but really, it’s not good for her complexion. Better the boys be slaughtered. All the players play for their life, especially since they live in a court where a bad haircut can get you beheaded. Just ask the Duke of Buckingham (Arthur Darvill). He parts his hair on the wrong side and they tell his barber to take a little off the top.
The storm of the castle, the saving of the princes from the dreaded Tower of London, is a shamble and a mystery. Someone tipped off somebody. We know that Sir Henry Stafford ratted his wife out to the king at every turn, but always just soon enough to cover his ass but just too late to do anything. The outcome is shrouded. The boys were moved to a deeper part of the Tower where they can’t be got at. Plots and counterplots mix menace with mystery until all we see is Edward (Sonny Ashbourne Serkis) gasping at someone he knows. No one knows who exactly killed the princes if they are even dead.
The two Elizabeths finally give us some proper magickal workings. First the matriarchal magicians upend a war with their sorcery. Henry Tudor (Michael Marcus) can’t sail to battle in the rain. Elizabeth York (Freya Mavor) incants “I wish that it would rain” and the noble necromancers conjure rain. Like it doesn’t rain a couple times a day in England already. It’s a wonder they get anything done at all. The former and future queens then put a curse on the killer of the princes, Elizabeth’s sons, the other Elizabeth’s brothers. King Richard warns them that they should lighten their magic or it will come back on someone they love in the future. Their magic lasts a long time. It’s still raining in England.
“The Princes in the Tower” was directed by Colin Teague and written by Emma Frost.