The Killer of the Princes in the Tower by MJ Trow

The fate of the Princes in the Tower – Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York – remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of all time. Reportedly last seen in the grounds of the Tower of London in the summer of 1483, the disappearance of the two boys has divided historians ever since. Their uncle, Richard III, is the man most often accused of being responsible for their deaths, while the names of Henry VII and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham have also been suggested as possible culprits. In all three cases there is a logical political motive: to remove rival claimants to the throne. But what if the murder (assuming that it was actually murder) was not politically motivated at all? What if the princes were killed for an entirely different reason, by someone completely unexpected?

MJ Trow’s new book, The Killer of the Princes in the Tower, is subtitled A New Suspect Revealed, and I have to admit, when I first started reading, I was very sceptical about this. The Wars of the Roses and Richard III’s reign in particular is a period of history I’m very interested in and I’ve read a lot of books over the years, both fiction and non-fiction, that deal with the subject of the Princes in the Tower. Could Trow really come up with a ‘new suspect’? Well, yes he does – or at least, one that I can’t remember being suggested in any of the other books I’ve read.

If you have any prior knowledge of the period and the controversy surrounding the princes, it will probably be helpful, but if not Trow does provide plenty of background information, describing the whole sequence of events following the death of the boys’ father, Edward IV, and explaining how Richard III came to take the throne before the young Edward V could be crowned. He spends some time discussing the idea that the princes could have been secretly released from the Tower and not murdered at all – a theory some people believe is supported by the appearance a few years later of a ‘pretender’, Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be the younger of the princes, Richard of York – but (sensibly, in my opinion), he doesn’t consider this as a serious possibility. He then looks at all of the potential suspects one by one, presenting the evidence for each one being the murderer and then dismissing it, until only one name is left…

Trow approaches the mystery like a modern day police investigation, believing that no stone should be left unturned and looking for motive, means and opportunity. Beginning with the three most obvious suspects, he moves on to consider their supporters, servants and family members; even Richard III’s wife, Anne Neville, and the princes’ own mother, Elizabeth Woodville, are discussed – because, as Trow says, they would certainly have been interviewed by the police if the boys had disappeared today. He also examines the reliability of the various sources and what we can learn from them.

The revelation of the new suspect did take me by surprise because it’s not someone who would ever have occurred to me. It’s true that this person certainly had the means and the opportunity, but I wasn’t at all convinced about the motive, even though Trow devotes a whole chapter to drawing comparisons with other people throughout history who have killed for similar reasons. Although what Trow suggests is not impossible, I don’t think it’s very likely either and as far as I’m concerned the mystery remains unsolved! Still, it’s good to read a theory that is neither pro-Ricardian nor anti-Ricardian and that looks at the whole subject from a very different angle. I found this book almost as gripping as fiction, so despite not agreeing with the conclusion I still really enjoyed reading it.

Thanks to Pen & Sword for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

18 thoughts on “The Killer of the Princes in the Tower by MJ Trow

  1. tbr313 says:

    The BBC history magazine recently had a short series of podcasts on this mystery. I enjoyed it very much, and now I’d be interested to read this book too.

    • Helen says:

      This mystery has fascinated me since we were taught about it at school. I’ve just checked and the podcasts are still available. Thanks for letting me know about them!

  2. setinthepast says:

    I’m convinced it was Richard whodunnit. If they’d still been alive by 1484, he’d have paraded them around to stop the rumours that he’d killed them. If anyone else had killed them in 1483 or early 1484, he would presumably have noticed they were missing (!!), and found the killer – and surely no-one would have been able to gain access to them without his authorisation. If it was someone who just wanted to kill because they were bloodthirsty, wouldn’t it have been easier just to grab some poor lad off the street, rather than murdering two princes in the Tower of London?

    • Helen says:

      Since reading books like The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman and The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, I’ve always sort of hoped that Richard didn’t do it. I have to admit, though, that the evidence does seem to point more strongly to him than to anyone else. I found MJ Trow’s theories in this book interesting but not at all convincing!

      • setinthepast says:

        Edward II, Richard II, and Tsar Peter III all conveniently “died” just after being deposed, but I suppose claiming that *two* boys had both got ill and died would have been straining anyone’s credulity, so I think he just got someone to bump them off and didn’t say anything, and … I don’t know, hoped no-one’d dare ask too much about where they were!

  3. Cyberkitten says:

    I think that their deaths were probably the result of Richard’s off-hand comment: Who will rid me of these troublesome Prince’s (or similar) so one of his minions ‘helped’ the situation. Richard may or may not have been shocked or appalled at the result but there was little he could’ve done after the fact. He was just stuck with it. As I was born in Lancashire (technically at least) I lean towards the House of Lancaster but I think Richard had a lot of bad press because he was, ultimately, on the losing side and we all know who writes history…….

    • Helen says:

      Well, that’s another possibility and actually, MJ Trow does discuss in this book whether he thought one of Richard’s men could be responsible. The reason I find this mystery so fascinating is that there are so many different theories and interpretations!

  4. Lark says:

    So many theories and guesses…I wonder if we’ll ever really know the truth. I think I’ll give this book a read just to find out who Trow suspects. ‘Cause now I’m curious. 🙂

  5. Susan R Suing says:

    Richard III has been disinterred and hasn’t his DNA been analyzed? I had once read that the skeletons of two small boys had been found in the Tower of London. Anything from those that could be analyzed, too, in order to prove if they were the small princes?

    • Helen says:

      Yes, Trow discusses the skeletons of the two boys in this book. Apparently there have been several requests over the years to do DNA tests, but so far the church and the current royal family haven’t given their permission.

  6. Lionesss says:

    Trow certainly read a lot of books before writing his own, but he has a lot of errors including the fact that his prime suspect had no access to the Princes by the time they were no longer seen in person. That is, they were still alive after he was gone.

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t really give any serious consideration to Trow’s theory as it seemed so unlikely. I thought the rest of the book was interesting but I couldn’t agree with his conclusion at all.

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