Monday, October 23, 2006

I cannot believe this

I just finished reading a book by Alison Weir called The Princes in the Tower which is about Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, and their murder, likely at the hands of their uncle Richard III. The whole point of the book is really that there isn't, or at least shouldn't be, any doubt that the murder was committed at the order of Richard III. I think the overall thesis is pretty solid, but the author was trying to pile up evidence upon evidence, and she took a serious mis-step at least once.

She quoted some fragments of a prayer handwritten in Richard III's Book of Hours
You have made me fron nothing, and have redeemed me by Thy most wonderful love and mercy from eternal dmanation to everlasting life. Because of this I ask You, O most gentle Jesus, to save me from all perils of body and soul and, after the course of this life, deign to bring me to You, the living and true God.

She then comments on this passage, "Richard praises Christ with heartfelt gratitude for having redeemed him from eternal damnation: what, one is tempted to wonder, had he done to merit such damnation?" One wouldn't be likely to wonder if one understoods the most basic elements of traditional Christianity. The passages she quotes from this prayer are not at all unusual in Christian prayer, especially for the time period. And yet she declares it to be "especially significant" and tries to use it to insinuate that Richard III must be guilty of something especially heinous.


  1. It seems like a pretty big blunder to not be familiar with Christianity and the Church if you're writing about that time period (or any time period in the last 2000 years in the western hemisphere).

  2. Exactly! Prayers similar to this one should be common in prayer books of this age. It shocks me that a historian would think that this statement was somehow unusual or incriminating.

  3. Have you read Josephine Tey's _The Daughter of Time_? She argues that Richard III didn't do it. The beginning's pretty hokey (she thinks that Richard III couldn't have done it because he doesn't look like a murderer in his picture), but it seemed convincing at the time--Richard III is the victim of a political smear job, etc.

    Regarding "the blunder" ... I almost wonder if the historian actually knows that such prayers are common, but has become too obsessed with substantiating the thesis. In making a historically grounded argument, there's a tendency to read everything the author wrote in light of that argument ... "This must be a secret allusion to the thing I'm studying!" you cry. "There must be a concrete referent for his damnation fears (i.e., killing kids) rather than just a general sense of sin!"


What do you think? Let me know.