A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

A Dangerous Inheritance The disappearance of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ (twelve-year-old Edward V of England and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York) remains a mystery to this day. Some believe that they were murdered by their uncle, Richard III, some suspect Henry VII or the Duke of Buckingham, and others prefer to think that one or both of the Princes managed to escape. My fascination with this mystery leads me to want to read everything I can find about it, even books like this one, written by an author whose views on the subject are entirely different from mine.

Alison Weir is an author of both historical fiction and non-fiction and A Dangerous Inheritance is one of her works of fiction. I had enjoyed a previous novel of hers, Innocent Traitor, which told the story of Lady Jane Grey, so I thought I would try this one despite knowing that Weir does not like Richard III at all and I was unlikely to agree with any conclusions she might come to.

Actually, this novel is only partly about Richard and the Princes; at least half of the book is set eighty years later and follows the story of Katherine Grey, the younger sister of the ‘nine-day queen’, Lady Jane Grey. After Jane’s very brief reign as Queen of England comes to an end when she is deposed by Mary I and beheaded, Katherine herself moves one step closer to the throne. To her disappointment, Mary is followed by Elizabeth I, who refuses to acknowledge Katherine as her heir and treats her badly. When Katherine marries the man she loves against Elizabeth’s wishes, she finds herself imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Katherine Grey’s story alternates with the story of another Katherine – Katherine Plantagenet (referred to as Kate to avoid confusion), an illegitimate daughter of Richard III. Kate loves her father and refuses to believe that he had any involvement in the disappearance of the two young princes. After Richard is defeated at Bosworth in 1485 and Henry Tudor takes his place on the throne, Kate’s loyalty to her father and her determination to clear his name could be considered treason. Several generations later, Katherine Grey discovers some letters written by Kate, learns of Kate’s connection with the princes and decides to continue investigating the mystery from within the Tower.

On the subject of the princes, I do find it fascinating that different authors and historians can begin with the same facts and come to entirely different conclusions! As nothing has ever been proven either way regarding the disappearance of the princes and the other controversies surrounding Richard III, I’m happy for it to remain a mystery. Having read quite a lot on the subject over the last few years, I personally find the pro-Richard viewpoint much more convincing than the anti-Richard one, but I can accept that we’ll probably never know the truth and that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

For Alison Weir, although she states in her author’s note that she likes to keep an open mind, there is clearly no mystery: Richard was guilty of everything. As I was familiar with her views before beginning the book, I suppose I shouldn’t really complain! I was disappointed, though, that the main source Katherine uses in her investigations appears to be Thomas More (who was only seven years old at the time of Bosworth, is thought to have relied upon Richard’s enemy, Archbishop Morton, as his own primary source, and wrote his histories during the Tudor period, when it was obviously to his advantage to please the Tudor monarchs by discrediting their predecessors). However, as Weir explains in the author’s note, she could only use sources that would have been available to Katherine in the mid 16th century.

I did like the fact that this was a dual time period novel where both time periods were historical, rather than one being set in the present day, though I did sometimes feel that I was reading two separate stories that didn’t really belong in the same book. Apart from the fact that both main characters were Katherines and both suffered from being close to the throne, there was very little to link the two. It’s only in the final 100 pages of this 500-page book that Katherine Grey begins to investigate the mystery of the princes and parallels start to be drawn between the two storylines – some of them of a paranormal nature, which you may or may not appreciate!

Of the two, I enjoyed the Katherine Grey storyline the most. I found Katherine a much more engaging character, which is probably not surprising as she narrates in the first person while Kate doesn’t. Also, there is almost no historical information available on Kate Plantagenet, which meant that her sections of the book were largely fictional. I couldn’t help feeling that Katherine Grey’s life story would have been interesting enough to form the basis of a whole novel on its own without the addition of a second, imaginary storyline and without squeezing the Princes in the Tower into the same book as well.

Have you read anything about the Princes in the Tower? Who do you think was responsible for their disappearance?

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20 thoughts on “A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

  1. elainethomp says:

    I read/skimmed this book, and was rather disappointed, actually. I couldn’t believe the Kate sections, the villainy and political stupidity were too blatant.

    I’ve been interested in the Richard III/Princes question since grade school, when I did a book report on a juvenile historical novel featuring Richard & his wife – favorably. The Irish teacher made some comments about ‘but he poisoned his wife…” and I said ‘not according to this book…’. Anyway, after that I picked up more and more.

    I’ve come down to he’d have been an idiot to let the kids live openly, after taking the throne. And given that Edward hadn’t ensured that his sons would like and trust Richard as oppposed to the Woodvilles, and given the questions about the marriage (yes, I believe there were some legitimate questions.) Richard may have decided he had no choice. However it IS very odd indeed that Henry VII didn’t bring it up until many years later.

    • Helen says:

      I found the Kate sections unrealistic too. They really felt fictional, in contrast with the Katherine Grey sections which were based more closely on historical fact.

      I agree that Richard had good reason to want his nephews dead as they would almost certainly have become the focus of rebellions if they had lived. On the other hand, I have read convincing arguments for it being either Henry Tudor or the Duke of Buckingham as well. The only theory I’ve never been able to accept is that one or the other of the princes survived; it’s a nice idea but has always seemed too much like wishful thinking to me.

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I must admit to being a bit pro-Richard – he got such bad press! Have you read Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time”? I love it! But I would probably not want to read Weir’s book if it has such an obvious bias.

  3. piningforthewest says:

    I’ve always been pro-Richard and I enjoyed Tey’s The Daughter of Time too. I’ve always thought that as children in those days were apt to die from simple things like fevers which would be dealt with easily nowadays, the likelihood is that the princes just died of a common childhood illness.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, that’s a possibility – and Weir does touch on the fact that Edward V may have been suffering from a disease of the jaw while he was in the Tower.

  4. heavenali says:

    This is such a fascinating historical period I read innocent traitor a few years ago it was very engrossing. I have read other books about the Princes in the tower, and on balance I want to believe Richard was innocent however I think he was probably guilty. We will never really know.

  5. Margaret @ BooksPlease says:

    I’ve been fascinated by Richard III ever since school and several years ago I read Alison Weir’s book ‘The Princes in the Tower’, following that up with Josephine Tey’s ‘Daughter of Time’, leaving me still in two minds about what actually happened. Maybe there is less in ‘A Dangerous Inheritance’ because she’d already written the earlier book and didn’t want to repeat herself too much. In ‘The Princes in the Tower’ she also states she tried to approach the book with as an open a mind as possible and I do think she makes a good case against Richard. I still like to think he was innocent though.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, maybe she thought there was no point in just writing a fictional account of her Princes in the Tower book. I haven’t read ‘The Princes in the Tower’, though I’m not sure if I want to as the part of me that really wants Richard to be innocent finds it difficult to read Alison Weir’s views on the subject. I think I would probably find one of her other non-fiction books more enjoyable.

  6. Alex says:

    I haven’t read any of Weir’s fiction, in fact I don’t think I was aware that she wrote novels as well as her non-fiction work. I’m not sure that this is for me but coincidentally I’ve just come in from a seminar where amongst other things we were discussing the fact that every newspaper report about the discovery of Richard’s body has referenced Shakespeare’s play and whether or not there would be a reciprocal effect and new productions of the play would feel obliged to reference the discovery of the body, even if only in the publicity.

  7. Lark says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by the twin princes and their mysterious disappearance, too. It’s like the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Wondering what happened is almost more fun than really knowing.

    • Helen says:

      I don’t think we’ll ever know what really happened to the princes, but I agree that it’s more fun that way! I haven’t read much about Roanoke, but that seems like a fascinating mystery too.

  8. elainethomp says:

    The one fiction that had one of the princes surviving that I found plausible, had him winding up in a monastery, eventually becoming abbot. A vowed religious could be fairly well hidden, until he becomes the public face of the monastery, at least. But by the time he’s abbot, Henry VIII is king, and he’s dealing with the Dissolution of the Monasteries. That was by a fellow named Potter, and title (in the USA, at least) was TRAIL OF BLOOD.

  9. Jo says:

    I have had to go back and look at my review. I agree that there is a lot packed into this book, and I know from listening to the author talk that she had to cut some 100 pages out before it even got published.

    I found it confusing with the names and spent a lot of time making sure I understood who was who. However I did enjoy the book and it did lead me on to reading more about Richard III and the Princes in Tower. It is a mystery which I am sure will continue to be discussed for a long time.

    • Helen says:

      This is one of my favourite periods of English history to read about. I think reading historical fiction is a great way to learn about a time and place you’re not familiar with.

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