Princes in the Tower (2005)




Director:     Justin Hardy.

Starring:     Mark Umbers (Perkin Warbeck),  John Castle (Dr. John Argentine),  Roger Hammond (Bishop De Cambrai),  Sally Edwards (Lady Margaret Beaufort),  Nicholas Rowe (Ambassador De Puebla),  Nadia Cameron-Blakey (Queen Elizabeth),  Paul Hilton (King Henry VII),  Richard Griffiths (Thomas More).

Made for TV movie. 

story of Perkin Warbeck who claimed to be the heir to the British throne during the reign of King Henry VII (ruled, 1485-1509), first monarch of the Tudor dynasty


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

1483. Once, a long time ago, Richard, had a brother who was going to be king. But Edward was never crowned. He disappeared and the bodies were never found. The people believe they are dead.

For 77 days England was ruled by the twelve year old Prince of York. Edward and his brother Richard were imprisoned in the tower of London. They were seen outside on a summer’s day playing together in 1483. And then they were never seen again. Unless you believe the story of a man who appeared eight years later.

This man says he is Richard, Duke of York. He came to claim his throne. Richard was royally received all over Europe. Ireland gave him men and Scotland gave him their king’s cousin as his bride. He landed on the shores of England with 8,000 men and was proclaimed King Richard IV.

The House of Lancaster now ruled England. Henry Tudor had beaten the Yorkists in battle to take the crown. And now he would finish his enemies once and for all. He sent his army west to crush the uprising and hang its leader. But he wanted Richard taken alive.

1498. Richard runs through the swamps, but is captured. He was dragged back to the place where the princes were held. Henry VII was very superstitious and would consult an astrologer before every major decision. And he felt he just couldn’t kill Richard right away because he had too many influential friends among the ambassadors of Europe.

Who was this man? Henry thought that in order to silence this man forever, he would need to extract a confession from him. The prisoner’s eventual fate is known but no records of his interrogation survive. This story is one of many different versions of the story of Richard IV.

Richard is taken for interrogation and is introduced to the Bishop of Cambrai, ambassador to the Duchess of Burgundy. His interrogator says he doesn’t believe his claim to be Richard. Edward and Richard were killed by their uncle, Richard III, while they were held in the Tower of London. Richard says he should call himself Richard Plantagenet the IV, of England.

He talks of his first wife Anne, Duchess of Mobray. Richard doesn’t remember exactly when she died because he was only nine years of age at the time. To the interrogator's surprise, Richard speaks perfect French without an accent.

Richard sees that someone else is watching the proceedings. It is Lady Margaret Beaufort, pious and pitiless. Of all the forces that guided King Henry VII, the most powerful is his mother. Because of her Lancastrian blood he was born sixth in line to the king.

The interrogator speaks with Lady Margaret. He says the Spanish ambassador is coming soon. Margaret says that the Spanish will never give them Catherine of Aragon for their grandson if they feel the Tudors are not secure on the English throne. And the one thing Margaret

 really wanted was a marriage uniting the Tudors with the Spanish throne. It would make England one of the great powers of Europe. The alliances of the pretender to the throne threatened the fulfillment of her dream. Therefore, she needed to get a confession from the man and quickly.

Richard tells the interrogator that he is not afraid of him and that before all this over, the interrogator will be kneeling before him, his rightful king, begging for mercy. The interrogator says on the night Edward died, what happened to Richard? Richard says he went with his mother to Westminster Abbey for sanctuary. His uncle took Edward to the Tower to prepare for his coronation. For a few weeks he stayed out of sight with his mother and sisters. One night Richard came for him and took him to the Tower.

They had attendants known to the boys. At times they could go outside to play. Then one day they took the attendants away and moved the boys somewhere deeper inside the tower. They were kept locked up at all times. Richard says that Edward was in severe pain because he suffered from a disease of the jaw. And he was convinced that they were going to be killed. There was also present a court doctor, an astrologer, an alchemist, one of his father’s closest advisers.

How did Richard escape? Two men came in and stood by Edward’s bed. He didn’t think anything of it since the guards often came in to check on them, so he fell back asleep. The next thing he knew he was in a boat. He asked where was his brother and they told him Edward was dead and that he should forget who he was.

The interrogator thinks it amazing that Richard slept through the murder of his own brother. "Yes. It seems I did," says Richard. And now Richard remembers the name of the doctor.  It was John Argentine. The interrogator says that it is very strange that Richard does not recognize him, for he is John Argentine. Richard gets up for a closer look. He says he doesn’t believe he is Argentine. Richard turns the tables on the man asking why is Argentine in this lofty position? Did he abandon the boys for this?  Insulted, Lady Margaret and Argentine both leave the room.

Lady Margaret calls for another witness: the Queen of England, sister to Edward and Richard. The Spanish ambassador arrives.  The ambassador to Burgundy probably told him the interrogation had not gone well for the Tudors.  Elizabeth of York, the Queen of England, does not like the idea of speaking with a pretender to the throne. Argentine says Her Majesty will know when Richard is telling the truth or not. The Spanish ambassador and the ambassador to Burgundy come in to listen to more of the testimony. The Spanish ambassador tells them that he did not come to discuss the matter of the imposter, but to negotiate a marriage. So the sooner this whole thing is over the better. The ambassador speaks with the bishop in Spanish, insulting the English. Richard understands the language and has a slight chuckle.

Richard starts telling memories from his childhood involving Edward and his sisters. He speaks to his sister asking if she remembers certain events. She does. She even cries as she tells of a particularly sad memory. She gets up and leaves saying she will return.

The Spanish ambassador talks with the bishop. He tells him that everyone knows that the bishop is in the pay of the Duchess of Burgundy, the last of the Yorkists, the pretender’s great mentor. The Duchess was the aunt of the princes in the Tower of London. And she had claimed openly that Richard the pretender was her true nephew. And now the Queen of England has been much affected by "Richard".

The Queen had been used as a political pawn ever since she was young. Her mother-in-law had chosen her to marry Henry Tudor to unite the once fighting houses of York and Lancaster and end the bloodshed of the War of the Roses.  The Queen asks about the wound on the prisoner’s neck. She insists the wound must be attended to. She asks Richard to tell her about the last days of the two boys in the tower. He talks about the day of the coronation. They got dressed and waited, but no one came.

The Queen says her brother had a birthmark on his back. Richard lets her examine his back.  She finds the marks and now she seems to be beginning to believe it. She even bows to him. Richard offers this as proof of his identity to the interrogator.

Lady Margaret has said she has sent for the king. Her plan seems to be falling through. The Spanish ambassador says to the bishop that he and the Duchess have trained the pretender well. After all, he did stay with them for quite a time.

We find out that the scribe in the room is Master Thomas Moore. In 1498 Thomas More was studying law in London and was already on intimate terms with the Tudors.

By 1499 His Majesty had been plagued by the pretender for many years. He gathered up as much information as he could on the pretender from European sources. Once again York and Lancasters would be involved in mortal combat.

Henry VII gives Argentine some new information. It was a trail of gun powder. But Henry wanted to keep it under wraps until it was exactly the right time to reveal it.

The royal Tudor princes, Arthur and Henry, are guarded day and night. Henry goes into speak with his wife. He says he is disappointed in her for the way she reacted to the pretender. He thought she was more loyal and reliable. She says about herself: "She surprises herself." And now she says that she herself married a pretender, for their alliance is made on a pretext. She says that Richard the pretender reminds her of her father.

Argentine tells Richard a different story about a little boy. It is set in a town known as Tournai in Flanders. A man comes to the house, talks to the mother and leads the little boy away. The boy’s name is Perkin Warbeck. Argentine shows Richard an intercepted letter going from England to Flanders. It is dated October 20, 1497, and written from a prison cell in Exeter. It says: "Mother, as humbly as I can, I commend myself to you and may it please you to know by fortune, as part of their scheme, certain Englishmen made me take it upon myself to that I was the son of King Edward of England. I now find myself in such trouble that if you are not at this hour a good mother to me I shall be in great danger."

They tried to bring his mother over to England but she died on the voyage. Perkin Warbeck’s father told them his son had a birth mark on his back and disappeared about the time that "Richard" appeared.

The Duchess of Burgundy embraced him not only as her nephew, but as her son. But Argentine says there is evidence to suggest that "Richard" is really her biological son. And who was the father? He says it is the bishop. The bishops says: "This is ridiculous!" (The narrator says that this claim has never been substantiated.)

Henry VII sits in the corner listening to the pretender. He gets really angry at one point and makes an appearance before the pretender. "Richard" really gets to the King when he tells him that because he did nothing to avenge the death of the boy prince, his rule has been cursed.

The Tower of London. 1498. Henry VII tells his mother that it is true that his rule is cursed. His mother reassures him that it is not true. She says the pretender is his "test". Later Henry tells his wife that if his brother were the legitimate king, then he would have to rid his kingdom of threats to it. And her boys would constitute such a threat. So he urges his wife to decide where her loyalties lay. She says he hasn’t mentioned her husband. He replies nor has she. The Queen says love was never part of the arrangement between the two of them. Henry gets offended and says perhaps never a part of her arrangement. He turns over and goes to sleep.

The king speaks with the pretender in front of the others. He says the man’s performance is too perfect. And the whole of Europe has played the game along with him. Anyone with a grievance against Henry had used "Richard" for their own selfish ends. Henry calls "Richard" a fake and a puppet. Richards strikes back with a number of insults directed at Henry. Henry gets so angry that he knocks "Richard" from his chair and onto the floor. "Richard" says go on and kill him because this won’t end here. He has a son of York and he will take his place.

The two ambassadors ask Henry to let them visit the actual rooms where the murders of the two boys happened. Mother tells Henry not to do it. Augustine says he wants to see the rooms also. Henry says he will take his own counsel.

The men wake up "Richard". He goes with the men to another part of the tower. After a certain point they let Richard lead the way. Richard chooses a room saying: "That one!" Inside Richard talks about the room and the boys’ experiences.

"Richard" suggests by implication that Edward was being poisoned. On that fateful night two men came in and started suffocating him with a pillow. He was so frightened that he hid his face. And then they came for him, says Richard. He says Uncle Richard was here standing in the doorway. He also claims that the real murderer was the one killing Edward slowly. It was one of the women who had access. He suggests it is the mother of King Henry. Henry asks Argentine about this but the interrogator does not wish to speak of it.

Alone Henry blames his mother for his troubles. He says he needs not fear his own people but rather the curses that his mother has brought down upon him and on everything that she has touched; perhaps even on his own children. . He says his mother was here but said she wasn’t. Her husband had a key to the tower. She always wanted to be the mother of the king and would stop at nothing to get that position. He adds that he has already lost his wife and now his mother.

Henry realized that his mother had the opportunity as well as the motive to do the children in. She spent a lot of time asking for forgiveness.

The pretender’s wife and son arrive. But another has also come to see the pretender. It is none other than Lady Margaret. She tells him: "I have to admire your achievement. I hadn’t realized just how clever you’d been. Your strategy has worked brilliantly. You are believed all over Europe. You’ve unsettled this country in a time of peace. You’ve turned my wife’s son against him. And the hardest part for me is that you made my son hate me." She then tells the pretender that she will take him to see his wife and children.

But first she shows the pretender Edward's two grandsons. She says that the pretender could kill them now. Everybody things his is locked up now. But the pretender has no interest. Then Henry’s mother shows him the true Edward and Richard, still chained in their cell. She tells the pretender that he is not Richard of York and these creatures are the proof. One of the boys had his tongue cut out and then cauterized. The other brother to prevent this from happening to him swallowed his own tongue. She says she found them after many years. The pretender says she should have killed them. She says that she thought they might be useful one day.

The pretender wonders how as a woman she can be so cruel.  She says she learned it from men.  She says: "Henry’s father raped me when I was twelve years old to secure my land. His birth ripped my thirteen year old body apart and left me barren. I’ve had four husbands and changed allegiances every time." She also tells the pretender: "You are too dangerous. With you gone Henry and his dynasty can survive and this country can be at peace."

Mother then takes him to see his son and wife, but from behind a screen. He starts to go in to see them, but she tells him if he goes in, she will bring "those creatures" into the light. If he leaves as a commoner, he can save his life. If he goes as a prince, his own son will be hunted down and killed.

Warbeck confesses. Copies of his confession were red aloud in churches all over England. His wife is to become a member of the royal household. The Queen of England is still upset with her husband. She comes in to ask him what he did to "Richard". Now, he refuses even to see her.

Two big men come into the pretender’s cell and beat him in the face and head. The two ambassadors come to see the pretender. They are shocked by the look of his face. The bishop cries at the young man’s fate.

Perkin Warbeck was hanged in public as a commoner on 21st November 1499.

The Bishop of Cambrai took a copy of the confession home to the Duchess of Burgundy who had to concede publicly that this finally was the extinction of the House of York. In private she maintained until the day she died that Perkin Warbeck was her nephew Richard.

Before he returned to Spain, ambassador de Puebla agreed to a contract of marriage between Prince Arthur of England and the Infanta, Catherine of Aragon.

Queen Elizabeth died not long afterward in childbirth.

The rest of Henry’s reign was a time of fear and darkness. He was never loved by the people.

Lady Catherine Gordon kept company with the king for the rest of his life.

Lady Margaret Beaufort’s lifelong dream of a Tudor dynasty came true, but it was not Arthur who became the next King of England. It was Henry, who, on his brother’s death, inherited a wife and a kingdom.


From the looks of the film cover with the two princes in the tower, I thought his was going to be a children's film.  But no, most kids wouldn't like the film.  It is more of a court drama than anything else.  And there are quite a few characters in the movie and would confuse kids.  The movie is not all that convincing in itself, because it chooses a different villain to be the murderer of the children in the tower, but even that is not convincing.  It seems the simplest explanation would be the best one and that would be that Richard III had the boys killed because he wanted them out of his way so he could be undisputed king.  Nevertheless, from the movie it is interesting learning about  the different families and their interactions.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.     


Historical Background:

1461-1470  -- reign of Edward IV of the House of York.  

1470 (November 4) – birth of future Edward V of England to Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

1470 (October 2) - 1471 (April 11) –  reign of Henry VI of the House of Lancaster (restored)

1471-1483 --  second part of the reign of Edward IV of House of York (restored)

1473 (August 17) – birth of the brother of Edward V, Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York.

c. 1474  --  birth of a Fleming in Tournai known as Perkin Warbeck.  

1483 (April 9 – June 25) – reign of Edward V.

1483 – both princes are declared illegitimate by an Act of Parliament known as Titulus Regius.

Their uncle, Richard III of England, placed them both in the Tower of London (then a royal residence as well as a prison).

1483-1485  --  rule of Richard III of England. 

1485-1509  --  reign of Henry VII.  Start of the reign of the House of Tudor (1485-1603)

1490  --  Warbeck first claimed the English throne at the court of Burgundy. 

1491  Warbeck landed in Ireland.  He hoped to get support for his claim to the English throne (as Lambert Simmel had done four year earlier).  He was not successful, however, was forced to return to the European mainland.

Warbeck was first received by France's Charles VIII.  He kicked him out later because he signed a treaty not to shelter any rebels.  .

Warbeck went to Burgundy where Margaret of Burgundy officially recognized Warbeck as Richard of Shrewsbury.  Margaret was the sister of Edward IV of England and the widow of Charles I, Duke of Burgundy.  Margaret tutored Warbeck him in the ways of the Yorkist court.

1493  --  Archduke Philip assumes control of Burgundy.  Henry VII complains to the Archduke about the harboring of Warbeck, but the Archduke ignored him.

Henry imposes a trade embargo on Burgundy. 

1493  --  Warbeck attends the funeral of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna.  There he was recognized as King Richard IV of England. 

1495 (July 3)  --  funded by Margaret of Burgundy, Warbeck lands at Deal in Kent.  Warbeck's army was routed and 150 of his troops were killed.  Warbeck has to retreat to Ireland. 

Warbeck is supported by the Earl of Desmond.  He lays siege to Waterford, but loses and flees to Scotland.

In Scotland James IV of Scotland let Warbeck marry his (James's) cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon.

1496  --  Scotland attacks England; they retreated because the support from Northumberland never came.  James IV signs the treaty of Ayton and expels Warbeck who has to return again to Waterford, Ireland. 

Warbeck tries to take Waterford again and fails again, forcing him to flee Ireland.

1497 (September &)  --  Warbeck lands at Whitesand Bay, near Land's End, in Cornwall, England.  He picked Cornwall because the Cornish people had recently risen up against England. Warbeck says he will stop the extortionate taxes levied to help fight a war against Scotland.  The local declared Warbeck ‘Richard IV’.

With a 6,000 man Cornish army Warbeck enters Exeter.  He then advances on Taunton.

Henry VII sends his chief general, Giles, Lord Daubeney, to attack the Cornish.  Warbeck panics and deserts his army.

Warbeck is captured at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire.  

1497 (October 4)  --  Henry VII receives the surrender at Taunton of the remaining Cornish army.  The ringleaders are executed and the others fined.

'Richard’ was imprisoned, first at Taunton, then at the Tower of London.  He was paraded through the streets on horseback, while on-lookers hooted and hallowed at him in derision. 

Warbeck and a genuine claimant to the throne, Edward, Earl of Warwick, try to escape.

1499 (Nov 23) – Warbeck captured again.

He is drawn on a hurdle (a moveable section of light fence) from the Tower to Tyburn, London. He reads aloud his "confession" and is hanged.

1674 – when the White Tower is being renovated, the skeletons of two children are discovered under the staircase leading to the chapel. Believing the remains were of the two princes, on the orders of Charles II, the remains were reburied in Westminster Abbey.

1933 – the grave of the children is exhumed and found to contain both human and animal bones.


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