The White Queen 1.9: The Princes in the Tower

BRACKENBURY: You are too tender-hearted then. Because boys become men. And even boys can be a cause that men will kill for.

The question posed by the penultimate episode in The White Queen miniseries: to save or slaughter? That the heirs of the dead King Edward II survive pose a threat to the aspirations of both Queen Anne and Lady Margaret Beaufort. They both have sons that might gain the throne. But is the death of innocent boys aged nine and twelve to high a cost to pay for personal gain? Is it really personal gain or are these children the solution these women see to the chaos in England? Again and again the security of the people are linked with the boys by Anne, Margaret, and the recently-widowed Elizabeth. But for Richard, now monarch, their mere existence has a power and mythos all their own:

ANNE: How does she still have men that she can command?
RICHARD: The boys command them by their very living.

For Anne and Margaret, their slaughter is a necessary means to a commonly desired end. Obviously for Elizabeth she would have her sons saved by whatever means necessary. Consider that both Anne and Margaret have expressed their disdain for the commoners as such, not to mention the barbary of killing children, their motives are suspect.

The prince and the doppelgänger of his brother are whisked away in the night. By whom we still do not know.

For the first time in this series that I can recall, Margaret is made to make a real choice that pits her aspirations against her conscience. Her marriage to Lord Stanley has seemed a match made in heaven in its pairing of equally vain and plotting minds together. Stanley in fact pushes Margaret to express her real desires, perhaps forcing her to say that the boys must be killed for the sake of her own son—although her previous actions lead us to believe that this is her will in her heart of hearts. It is the ultimate expression of Margaret’s hypocrisy: she is guarded from repudiation for her piety, and yet her religiosity is not in the service of a common good, but a personal good. When rains thwart her son’s arrival in England to take the throne, her husband rats on her to Richard and gives up his wife to house arrest in the country. Stanley, always playing both sides and having all been sure to never get emotionally tangled with his wife, still wins by demonstrating a heroic deal of loyalty and bringing his entire wife’s fortune under his own personal management. Her widower fortune is half of Margaret’s power (the other half being the mother to the Lancastrian heir), and this unexpected blow rings with a certain poetic justice her late husband Stafford seemed to have foreseen.

Lady Margaret meets an unforeseen challenge and choice.

Anne is equally distressed and made to bear the results of expressing a similar desire for the boys to be killed to Brackenbury, the constable of the Tower. If the boys were gone, her sons legitimacy to the throne of England would be unquestionable—or at least of equal weight as that of Henry Tudor. She has the ear of her husband without a doubt, but his virtue and chivalry keeps him from sacrificing his morality for gains in power:

RICHARD: London is against me still.
ANNE: They will come around. The north is loyal and soon the south with follow. And when the time is right, we will invest our boy as the Prince of Wales, and England will blossom in your York son again.

The toll of the boys’ death for Richard is complicated. For him, he has failed to keep his nephews save, demonstrate his ability to rule and maintain the loyalty of the men who serve him. This is destructive enough to render him unable to face Parliament and demonstrate the kind of leadership he hopes to produce for England. Anne feels that this is all her fault for intimating her desires to Brackenbury, although we may never know what happened to those two boys, or if the child bodies found in the tower some time ago were theres. Like Margaret she too goes to confession thinking the sin is hers, but neither are able to admit to their spouses their possible involvement. As a result, the most compelling romance of the series between Richard and Anne is fraying at an alarming rate.

The remaining Rivers women make their last stand.

While more have died this week, including perhaps a deserving Buckingham, the real victim here is Richard’s reputation. The show has received must negative criticism for its (lack of) historicity. The most revision has been in the character of Richard III. He is not the crippled villain of Shakespeare’s plays here, but rather an antiquated and emotive servant of the crown: “I will execute Buckingham for ruining my good name and my peace.” That Henry Tudor will take over seems inevitable as the last of the old guard of Edward’s reign pass into oblivion. The Rivers women make their last ecological stand by humming to the rivers for rain to impede his march. But as Elizabeth’s gifts fade and her daughter’s grow stronger, the Tudor alternative seems inevitable.


  • CITATION: “The Princes in the Tower.” The White Queen. Television. Directed by Colin Teague. Written by Emma Frost. 12 October 2013. London: BBC One, 2013. STARz cable channel.
  • Check out the BBC One promo video for this episode below:

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