I have been in the middle of a mildly obsessive Wars of the Roses period for a few months now (slightly derailed by homework), so this is a personal boon. I’ve pondered on his guilt since first getting into the Cousin’s War after reading Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour over a decade ago.
Did he do it? Does it matter? Why do we care?
There are a lot of articles about these very questions (google it) and lots of theories. And an entire society dedicated to proving that he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Since, at least here, I don’t have to be academic or even terribly careful, here are my thoughts:
1. Did he do it? We will never know. It ain’t the worst thing that’s been done in the name of gaining the English crown. Okay, maybe it is. But sodomizing a king to death has to be up there (yes, I know, probably not true. But what a myth).
Point is, if he did it, he was probably acting more in the interest of the country (in line with his general character) than out of cold-hearted greed. After 30 years of on-again, off-again battle for the throne, he likely saw it as the most expedient way to secure the throne and thus the government. He was a decent king, other than that one (HUGE) black mark on his record (that he may or may not actually be guilty of).
There is also fairly strong theory that he and his brothers killed Henry VI (good guy, but, uh, not all there?) in order to stop the rebellions in his name. So maybe he was just acting on experience?
2. Does it matter? On the Scale of Importance with World Peace, Curing Terrible Diseases, and Ending Poverty on one end and Honey Boo Boo at the other, I would say it is closer to fluff. However, it does hopefully cause people to consider:
a. History is written by the victors. The Tudors won and, as new rulers with a somewhat fuzzy claim to the throne, they had to make sure that they looked like the good guys.
b. Shakespeare, as awesome as he his, was not writing history. He was writing plays to be performed in Tudor playhouses (see a).
c. When faced with killing your own nephews (effective but talk about bad PR) or working with a regency to allow said nephews to grow into adulthood (lots of work and you hate your sister-in-law, but good PR and good karma), you choose to keep them alive. Or suffer literally hundreds of years of hatred.
3. Lastly: Why do we care? Well, it is probably a matter of personal taste, but mostly:
a. The Princes in the Tower are an enduring mystery and any news on their “killer” is bound to grab our attention.
b. Because we can’t help but want him to be, in equal parts, the worst of Shakespeare’s villains and simply a misunderstood dude killed in a power play by a rival faction. Humans LOVE a good soap opera.
c. British Royalty (even the dead ones) are waaaaaay more interesting to us than what our government did today. Unless, they too, pulled off an ill-advised plot. Wait.
In sum, at the very least hopefully people will learn more about the way history works, the fascinating War of the Roses, and that nephew-cide/regicide doesn’t pay in the end.
And now back to my own Winter of Discontent (in the form of too much homework)…