In 1483, Edward and Richard of York--Edward, by law, already King of England--were placed, for their protection before Edward's coronation, in the Tower of London by their uncle Richard. Within months the boys disappeared without a trace, and for the next five hundred years the despised Richard III was suspected of their heartless murders.
In To the Tower Born, Robin Maxwell ingeniously imagines what might have happened to the missing princes. The great and terrible events that shaped a kingdom are viewed through the eyes of quick-witted Nell Caxton, only daughter of the first English printer, and her dearest friend, "Bessie," sister to the lost boys and ultimate founder of the Tudor dynasty. It is a thrilling story brimming with mystery, color, and historical lore. With great bravery and heart, two friends navigate a dark and treacherous medieval landscape rendered more perilous by the era's scheming, ambitious, even murderous men and women who will stop at nothing to possess the throne.
Anglophile Maxwell (The Wild Irish) fictionalizes another curious episode from English history with her spirited, colorful fifth novel, about the unexplained disappearance of princes Edward and Richard of York, who vanished without a trace from the Tower of London in 1483. The story unfolds from the point of view of Nell Caxton, the quick-witted, independent daughter of England's first printer and best friend to Princess Bessie (sister to the princes and daughter of Queen Elizabeth Woodville). With the sudden death of King Henry, the first in the Tudor line, and the ascension of his eldest son, 13-year-old Prince Edward, insidious power plays and conspiracies roil England. Before young Edward V can be crowned, Lord Hastings and Harry Buckingham lose their heads and the Duke of Gloucester connives to become Richard III. In the midst of the struggle, the two princes are abducted. Maxwell's solution to what happens next--events that have long been the subject of speculation--brims with page-turning drama. As always, she provides a lusty backdrop and makes the story accessible to readers who aren't versed in all the finer points of British history.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 02, 2006
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Excerpt from To the Tower Born by Robin Maxwell
The judge's expression was one of seething disapproval. "You are saying that you wish to retain your given name, that which was yours previous to this marriage?"
"I do, your lordship." "And what, for the record, is that name?"
"Elizabeth Caxton, though I've long been known in my trade as Nell, and would request -- "
The judge turned to the court scribe. "Record that on this day of Our Lord, twenty-three April, 1502, one Elizabeth Caxton, daughter of William Caxton, has been granted by the courts a divorce from the aforementioned Gerard Croppe, on the grounds of -- "
"Desertion," Nell finished for him in a firm but even tone.
"Silence, Mistress Caxton."
"And fornication many times over," she added, ignoring the judge, whose nose, crisscrossed with veins, had turned an alarming shade of purple.
Nell held the judge steadily in her gaze. He dislikes women, she silently observed. The entire species of them.
"If this display is any indication of your disobedience and rebellious nature," the judge said, "then I can only commend your husband for his desertion."
"And his adultery?" asked Nell, smiling mildly.
"Out of my court!" he shouted.
"With pleasure," she said, then turned from the bench, where a scraggly assortment of crooks, prostitutes, and battered housewives sat. There she found her friend Jan de Worde, looking the prosperous businessman he was, amongst the crowd of spectators. The native Dutchman had come to witness the dissolution of Nell's marriage to a man about whom Jan had stringently warned her after first meeting him. Knowing Jan, there would be no recriminations. He was the kindest person alive.
"I'm well rid of him," said Nell.
"Your father would have been pleased."
They walked out of the precinct hall into the spring morning. Nell was a free woman again. The sun on her face and a warm breeze delighted her senses, but all round her on the London streets were disturbing reminders that all was not well.
As they walked a brisk pace down Fleet Street, they were struck by the sight of every house and every shop swathed in black crepe. It was even draped cross the narrow roadways, strung from window to window, a grim reminder of a loss, at once public and, for Nell, personal.
Her godchild, Arthur, Prince of Wales, heir to the fledgling Tudor dynasty, lay dead, struck down suddenly at the age of sixteen, his shining future as King of England no more than a fading memory. The somber period of his mourning had, however, two weeks after his death, been rudely punctuated by a scandal of sorts. No, thought Nell, 'tis more like the ripping open of an old wound.
A man named James Tyrell had just died a brutal traitor's death at Tyburn for crimes against England and his king, Henry the Sev enth, and few had taken notice of his death. But yesterday all round London had been posted the man's confession -- not of the crimes for which he had been hanged, drawn, and quartered, and his head stuck on a pike on London Bridge. What James Tyrell had confessed to was a crime he said he'd committed eighteen years before -- the murder of the little princes Edward and Richard of York. He had named not only his accomplices in the crime -- the men who had actually suffocated the boys with their feather beds and buried their bodies under a stairwell in the Tower -- but his master at the time, and instigator of the foul killings.
He named the long-dead King of England, Richard the Third.
Jan de Worde, the most prominent printer and publisher in the country, heavily patronized by the present-day royal family, had, in fact, produced the broadsheets of the confession, hundreds of which were now nailed at every street corner, church, bath-, and public house in London.
Nell and Jan paused at the Hound and the Fox pub, where a group had gathered to read and argue the content and merit of the posting.
"Well, of course he did it, crook-backed, wither-armed old Richard!" cried a housewife, her market basket hiked on her hip. "I was but a girl back then -- "
"If you was a girl, I was the Archbishop of Canterbury," declared a man beside her.
The crowd, all neighbors, laughed and hooted at the gibe.
"You were thirty-five with seven brats in 1483."
"Whatever my age," said the housewife indignantly, "I remember it as if it were yesterday."
There was a general murmuring of agreement in the gathering.
"'Twas as sad a time as it be today," said another.
"Sadder," said a robed priest who stood at the back of the crowd. "Our beloved Prince Arthur was taken by God's will to his bosom. But those poor children were taken in a crime so unnatural, so wicked, that God and his angels cried in heaven."
"Aye, remember the great rains that followed?"
"The Lord and his minions weeping," the priest told his parishioners.
"Aye, aye," murmured the crowd.