The Lost Plot (by the Guardian) and ‘The Lost King’ Exhibition

A number of film critics have now viewed the new Steve Coogan movie, THE LOST KING, about the finding of Richard III’s remains. Reviews have been mixed but generally quite positive; I imagine it might be one of those ‘marmite’ films, which viewers either love or loathe. A exhibition in The Wallace Collection had also been arranged to coincide with the upcoming general release of the film.

However, this review in The Guardian about The Wallace Collection’s display made me roll my eyes in utter frustration…

The reviewer, Jonathan Jones, seems weirdly obsessed with the maudlin Victorian painting of ‘The Princes in the Tower’ by Paul Delaroche (his comments on it form the bulk of the review) and thinks this is a good depiction of the reality in 1483. In the melodramatic painting, the boy are depicted sitting fearfully on a bed in a darkened room, clutching each other and staring, pale-faced around them. A dog is added for extra pathos; he looks at the door, no doubt hearing the heavy tread of ‘Black Will Slaughter’ and his not-so-merry troupe of killers. It is pure fantasy and conjecture and doesn’t even take into account (as few do!) that the two boys would not even be terribly familiar with each other, as they were living in separate households until that time. As for Mr Jones quoting Dr Argentine‘s supposed words about Edward V fearing death, this is hardly proof of anything. I am sure the young boys, Edmund and Roger Mortimer, the elder only aged 8, who were held captive by Henry IV owing to their better claim to the throne, must have felt much the same at times. The only difference is–we KNOW what happened to the Mortimer boys in the end. As for the reviewer referring to the princes being in a ‘cell’–pure fantasy.

The reviewer goes on to ask– ‘Were the two skeletons found at the tower in 1674 those of the princes? What is the evidence and what do historians – as opposed to the Richard III Society – really make of it all?’

Well, firstly, this is a massively insulting assumption on his part–that no one in the Society has any kind of academic accreditation whatsoever, another nonsensical statement. Secondly, from a purely archaeological perspective, the identification of the skeletons as the princes is extremely shaky. Remains found at that depth (10 feet) are more likely to be from an earlier period. They are also not the only skeletons found in the Tower grounds; there was a nearby Roman cemetery (there are loads of Roman grave goods displayed at the Church of All Hallows, just outside the Tower walls), an Iron Age child found in the 70’s, and some medieval burials unearthed in the last few years. The 1674 bones were last examined in the 1930’s and neither sex nor date has ever been verified- juveniles under 16 are difficult to sex without DNA even today, and pretty much impossible back then, and carbon-dating did not exist. The two doctors that examined the remains called them ‘Edward and Richard’ purely on an assumption.

So much about Richard’s reign and motives is built on assumption…and a certain play, of course. It is unfortunate that ‘the Princes’ have become the sole focus of anything to do with Richard–after all, look how many movies/TV series are made about Henry VIII, and I cannot remember a single reviewer moaning because he was portrayed as too much of a ‘nice guy,’ although most of these productions gloss over Henry’s tyranny and make him out to be just a ‘bit of a lad’ whose later actions took place only because he was desperate for a son (so that’s ok then, apparently.)

The Princes in the Tower by Paul Delaroche. Public domain, Wikimedia


  1. From what was found among the jumble of bones, before Charles II decided the matter, some of those remains could have been Henry Pole, young grandson of Margaret countess Salisbury. Her son Henry, like all the Poles, and herself, were targeted by Henry VIII, and those not outright executed were imprisoned in the Tower, like the boy, her grandson. He went into the Tower (age 10?12?) and never emerged, alive or dead.
    The earlier Henry IV you mentioned also held Edmund Mortimer’s wife (Catrin verch GlynDwr) and his daughters prisoner after the siege of Harlech, where Edmund died – Henry IV had GlynDwr’s wife, the daughter Catrin and her young children by Edmund all taken in captivity to London – apparently Catrin and her daughters died there, but were buried elsewhere? I’ve read that a statue to Catrin and her children was erected in London – in honor of all captives (hmm Tudor captives?) but I do not know where they were buried. I would not be surprised if the urn is opened and some of those bones prove to be female, much older than c late 15thc and also chronologically too young to be Edward IV’s sons, or too old.


  2. I have not seen Coogan’s film or read the review you complain of, so I cannot comment on them. Nevertheless, I share your frustration about the way R3 continues to be misrepresented in the popular press and by popular historians. I recently had the misfortune to watch Lucy Worsley’s TV investigation into the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower; to say it made my blood boil would be an understatement. There was so much wrong with it that I hardly know where to start. Even the appearance of Matthew Lewis could not save Lucy’s effort from the surrealism engender by an investigation based on Mancini, More, Tyrell’s non existent confession and an obscure letter that purports to validate the sainted More’s version of events. If I get the time I may submit a piece to M&B about it.


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