To the Tower Born


The disappearance and alleged murder of Edward IV’s young sons in the Tower has fueled centuries of speculation, both in fiction and nonfiction. Shakespeare was one of the first dramatists to peg the crime on Richard III, in part because the playwright lived under Elizabeth I, a Tudor. The Tudors were invested in having history record Richard III as the perpetrator, seeing as Henry VII had killed Richard in battle, founding the Tudor line. Nevertheless, a staunch cadre of Richard III defenders believes he was not to blame. The princes themselves were never seen again. On this intriguing, if oft-explored, mystery does Robin Maxwell build her fourth novel, as told through Nell Caxton, daughter of an innovative English printer, and Princess Elizabeth (Bessie) of York, the doomed princes’ sister.

Maxwell has shown her skill in previous historicals, most notably her masterful The Wild Irish; here, she moves back in time to the tumultuous final days of Edward IV’s reign and Richard III’s usurpation of his nephew’s throne. The history itself offers a compelling storyline, with the added dimension of the entrepreneurial Caxton family, and we are quickly swept into the chaotic events leading to the princes’ disappearance. Maxwell conjures an intelligent, credible alternative to the Richard III theory, with Nell and, less plausibly, Bessie, unraveling the mystery. While Nell is an engaging lead, a commoner whose educational skills and familial connections allow her to penetrate the royal circle, Bessie suffers from romantic oversimplification, as does Richard himself. Fortunately, the tale is accessible even to English history novices. Maxwell’s scheming Buckingham, icy Elizabeth Woodville, and implacable Margaret Beaufort offer a realistic, complex glimpse into the often-lethal struggle for power at court.


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