Book Review: WESTMINSTER BONES BY RICHARD UNWIN
WESTMINSTER BONES: The Real Mystery of the Princes in the Tower by Richard Unwin
Richard Unwin is an author who generally writes novels set during the Wars of the Roses era (The Lawrence the Armourer series), which contain a positive rather than traditional view of Richard III, as seen through the eyes of his followers rather than Richard himself. He has also written an interesting alternative history, The Doom Assigned, in which Richard wins Bosworth and continues on as King.
Here, however, in Westminster Bones, Unwin turns from fiction to non-fiction and presents a very different view of what could be the story behind those undated and unsexed bones that lie in an urn in Westminster, still celebrated by many as ‘the Princes in the Tower’.
Unwin believes the whole scenario of the discovery could have been an elaborate hoax of the 17th c. Others in the past have suggested that Charles II may have used the finding of the remains as propaganda (against the deposition of rightful kings) , but Richard Unwin goes a step beyond that: he believes not only were the bones used for propaganda by King Charles, but that they probably came from outside the tower, were relatively modern in date and had been brought there deliberately for the purpose of a deception.
Although this differs from my own thoughts (that the bones are ancient, potentially Iron Age or Roman) and their find coincidental (though not terribly surprising considering the long history of the Tower), I have myself wondered how much truth was attached to the original reports of the location in which they were found. Archaeology as a science did not exist in the 17th c, and we do not even have drawings of the remains in situ as proof that they were indeed below the tower stair, in that huge excavation going well into the prehistoric layer. I always wondered if the supposed find under the stairs in fact occurred elsewhere around the grounds and by the time someone began to realise the possible significance of the remains, the tale had ‘grown in the telling’ to match Thomas More’s fable (although in fact it does not, as More later claims the princes’ remains were moved.)
In Westminster Bones, Unwin informs us of the political situation of the day, and also of the burgeoning theatre in Restoration London (which plays a part in the mystery!) Once again Tanner and Wright’s 1930’s findings on the bones are re-analysed and taken to task, with some interesting extra details added, showing the unreliability of the initial analysis: the seeming lack of interest in the nails found near the skull, which were almost certainly the cause of the ‘red stain’ that the doctors tried unconvincingly and unscientifically to tie in with suffocation. Other interesting titbits are revealed regarding the so-called velvet scraps found with the bones, the condition and preservation of certain parts of the skeletons, and the state and substance of the wooden ‘box’ that the bones were supposed to have been found in.
All in all, a short but interesting read that adds yet another dimension to the mystery of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ and may be another nail in the coffin (pardon the bad pun!) of the old legends regarding their finding and identification.