WARNING: This post contains spoilers.
This was the first episode of “White Queen” that I turned off mid-show in disgust. I had to force myself to watch it in its entirety, so I could write about it. I now understand what all my friends have said, that they gave up on it after a certain point. This nearly was my point.
The main focuses of this episode are on the disappearance and death of the princes, and Buckingham’s rebellion. Some of it was done very well, specifically Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville working together through their physician, Dr. Lewis Caerleon. Some of it has been altered so far from what the sources say that it is nearly unidentifiable. Much of these alterations are due to changes from earlier episodes, but some are due either to bias towards or against a character, or for unknown reasons.
As the episode starts up, we learn that Elizabeth’s son Thomas Grey has delivered her son Richard, Duke of York, to Flanders, and she later gets a letter from him. Of course there is no documentary evidence of this. Thomas did not give support to Perkin Warbeck, which is further proof that he was not Richard of York, and that Richard did die in the Tower.
After the unsuccessful attempt at rescuing the princes from the tower, all of our main characters become involved in the plot. Anne Neville has already wished that the boys were dead, because only then could she and Richard be “safe” on the throne. Thomas Stanley has forced Margaret Beaufort to choose between “save and slaughter,” of which she chooses death, though at least she seems torn about it.
Here is the real history.
Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham had been one of Richard III’s best friends. He helped to put Richard on the throne, and had a healthy amount of anger at the Woodvilles, since he had been married to Elizabeth’s sister since childhood and resented it. At some point during 1483, Buckingham fights with Richard and leaves the court. It was then that he throws his support with his wife’s family and with Margaret. His motivation and personal objective in the rebellion are not known. He had a claim to the throne himself, and even though the show has him swearing fealty to Henry, we do not know if he intended to support Henry or if he was fighting for himself.
The rebellion was hashed out by the three we see in the show planning: Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Buckingham, but the actual events are out of time or are not based in historical evidence. By the time Buckingham left Richard’s court, the princes had already gone missing. Who killed them, or ordered their deaths, is still a mystery. According to Thomas More, who researched the case for Henry VII, Richard ordered their deaths and they were smothered with pillows as they slept. I personally believe that it was Buckingham, who either did it on Richard’s orders or because he thought it was what Richard wanted. For me, this also explains his removal from court. Some believe that the princes were still alive when Henry VII became king two years later, but I have a hard time believing that. If they were still alive and Richard had them, why didn’t he show them off to the public to prove his innocence? Naysayers claim that if he had killed the boys, Richard would have displayed their bodies, to prove that they were in fact dead and that he was the only remaining heir. I do not believe that he would have shown off their corpses because they were boys, which is not something the people would want to see. Margaret was not even a suspect until the misogynistic James I was on the throne, who disliked her Catholicism and her power, but there was no actual evidence that she was involved in any way.
Elizabeth involved herself in the rebellion because she believed her sons were already dead. Henry Tudor was officially betrothed to Princess Elizabeth, and the Woodvilles joined in the rebellion. Richard Grey and Anthony Woodville were killed for their participation in the rebellion. Elizabeth’s son Thomas and brother Edward ended up in Brittany with Henry Tudor after the failure, as did the other rebels. Many of the men who went to Henry were put into positions of importance once he became king, and they prospered into the reign of his son, Henry VIII.
The show has Buckingham waiting to meet Henry in Wales, so that their two armies could combine and then challenge Richard. This is not how the rebellion was planned to start. The Woodvilles and those loyal to Edward IV were to rise up at the same time as Buckingham so that there were multiple fronts for Richard to try to deal with at the same time. Henry was to land on the eastern coast of England to create another front. The hope was that as the armies fought Richard he would lose men, arms and support trying to fight them all, so once they were able to join together he would be done. The Woodvilles and rebel Yorkists did rise up, but Buckingham got stuck in the west due to the weather. They lost, and Buckingham was executed on November 2nd.
We see Henry in Brittany failing to depart because of the storm on the English Channel. The real Henry actually did sail, and the storm didn’t start until he was already at sea. Though he lost some of his ships and men due to the storm, his remaining boats made it to Plymouth Harbour. Henry was met by a group who told him to wait because Buckingham was coming to meet up with him soon, so he sent a group of Bretons to the beach to see what was happening. Once he received word that Buckingham had already been executed, Henry took off back across the Channel, leaving the Bretons to be taken prisoner by Richard. Because of the bad weather, Henry lost more ships and ended up in France. He had to wait for King Charles VIII to give him permission to cross back to Brittany by land, because Richard had sent ships into the Channel to hunt for him. That permission was granted, and Henry and Jasper went back to Brittany, sending a few boats out to serve as decoys.
There are several problems with the curse that Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York perform at the end. Richard, in a private visit to try to prove that he wasn’t the one who killed the boys, tells them that the curse may “turn on someone you love.” If Richard heard them talking about doing witchcraft, it would not have been taken lightly. Even though he refuses to pull them out of sanctuary when Anne demands it (as if she did not know it would be a mortal sin to do so), he would not be able to look the other way when they admit to him that they practice witchcraft.
The curse is supposed to kill the first-born son of the person who murdered the princes, and the first-born grandson, and so on. Additionally, they would be able to see who the guilty party was because of the curse acting through the generations. If we are considering that Margaret Beaufort and Henry Stafford are the ones who killed them, as the show says, why didn’t Henry VII die, or Stafford’s son Edward, being the eldest sons of the murderers? If we look at this curse in a literal way, the person who has a first-born son die right away is Richard III, whose son Edward died in 1484. We are being told that because Henry and Elizabeth of York’s son Arthur died at the age of 15 in 1502, and because Henry VIII’s son Henry by Katherine of Aragon died when he was a month old in 1511, those events prove that Margaret was guilty. But it doesn’t make much sense when you look at the scope of the suspects and how this curse should have punished them. Instead, we are told that the evidence that supports this theory is correct, but any contradictory evidence is not worthy of attention.
Elizabeth Woodville tells her daughter Elizabeth that she is still betrothed to Henry, but the princess refuses to accept it. She plays with a deck of cards, saying that fortune will give her another husband. She pulls a card, which shows a king, and places it down next to the card with a blond queen. Which king is this? We are told in the next episode, and I will wait until then to discuss it. Also in the next episode we will see the brief peace under Richard, Henry’s return, the Battle of Bosworth and his rise to become Henry VII.
Bank St. Irregular: “The Princes in the Tower and the King Under the Car Park”
Amy Licence for New Statesman: “New Evidence: Was Richard III Guilty of Murdering the Princes in the Tower?”
The Unromantic Richard III: “A Belated Buckingham Blog Post, With Help From the Bard”
Wars of the Roses: “Buckingham’s Revolt (1483)”