I wanted to be home by lunchtime so we left the Chorley Premier Inn at 7.45am and amazingly got back to my house in 3 hours. I was very tired - it’s a long way to go for a one off gig and sadly I don’t sleep any better in hotels than I do in a house with two young kids in it, but I watched the Princes in the Tower documentary where Rob Rinder and Richard III discoverer Philippa Langley looked for evidence that the wicked hunchback king did not kill the princes in the tower like everyone thinks and that the pretenders to the throne that came along later claiming to be Edward and Richard IV (the rightful kings) were maybe not pretenders at all. I love pretenders to the throne, but I hate people who pretend to be pretenders.
To be fair I don’t think they were saying that Lambert Simnell was a false pretender, maybe just a smokescreen set up to hide the fact that the real Edward had been the one to invade, but they thought Perkin Warbeck (my number one historical character) might have been the young Prince Richard.
The programme itself was pretty long, given the small amount of evidence they had and had lots of scenes where the hosts recapped the story and reminded you who they were talking about. Philippa Langley is an amazing person and has had incredible success with finding Richard’s bones, but she is certainly very much on Richard III’s side and not dispassionate. So much so that when the bones of King Richard were shown to have a curvature of the spine, something that proved that she was probably right, she was actually disappointed and torn as she believed the hunchback thing was a myth created by Richard’s enemies.
But her research in that case proved to be spot on and there’s nothing wrong with history having passion and there’s also nothing wrong with challenging the established story - because of course history is written by nerds employed by the winners and it was normal for one king to discredit a rival. But there’s a danger in coming up with a conclusion and then trying to find the evidence to support it, as there is to basically being in love with an historical figure and not believing they can do any wrong. Richard III may have been tarnished by history, but he could still have been a cunt. As most of the kings were back in those days (not now obvs).
I was up for having history debunked though and maybe Philippa has some kind of ESP or something and can divine the truth. She’s definitely a little kooky and possibly got lucky the first time, but I still love her. And I hope someone in the future will dig up her bones to debunk anyone calling her a kook when she was alive, as they were clearly in the pay of academia to discredit her.
The evidence that they’d uncovered wasn’t terrible by any means, but I don’t think it was conclusive. There was a lot of speculation too - would mercenaries have been prepared to die to fight for a pretender? Sure, I don’t think they’d give a fuck. Was a hand-written personal account of Richard’s escape genuine - Philippa thought it had to be because it included specific details and a fraud wouldn’t do that. Well that’s bollocks, that’s exactly what a liar would do. They would make statements such as the fact that in a Catholic country people wouldn’t murder children, without any suggestion that medieval kings would do pretty much anything to ensure they kept power. Just look at Game of Thrones.
Some of the documents certainly suggested that people believed that they were fighting for the real princes, but that’s the point of a pretender. It’s only them who is pretending, not their followers. Some might know it’s a con, but most would have thought that they were real, or were just happy to take a wage for fighting for whoever was paying.
So there were a couple of interesting documents - one of which said that Richard had three physical signs that proved he was the real deal - but of course the fact that people were trying to prove it, also proves that people must have doubted it. And I’d say it was possible that the princes didn’t die in the tower (though we have some bones that could be DNA tested - though the Queen wouldn’t let them be - something to hide Lizzie?)
There wasn’t really much investigation of other avenues - I believe there is some evidence of Perkin Warbeck’s provenance - and whilst it’s weird that Perkin wasn’t immediately executed for his plotting and allowed some degree of freedom, there are also alternate explanations for that, including not pissing off foreign powers (or that Perkin might have been an illegitimate royal, hence his physical similarity to Richard). I’d love it if Philippa was right though, not because I love Richard III and want to marry him like she does, but because this kind of thing makes history fun. Janina Ramirez was on hand to offer some balance and didn’t dismiss the evidence, so it’s not all loopydoopkookypoop.
It felt more like entertainment than serious documentary though, with a degree of pretence in the set ups and reactions I felt (apt though, given the subject matter), but again, maybe that’s needed to bring some populism to history. Give it a watch, it’s a bit of fun and might have found the truth, but I am not as convinced as Rob Rinder. Though I do approve giving him the final say on all historical controversy from now on.