In “Traitors,” The White Princess fully revealed to us The Boy (Patrick Gibson), who The Duchess of Burgundy is putting up as being the escaped Prince Richard, Duke of York. The series connects the dots pretty clearly while still leaving doubts: we saw Richard escape the raid in the first episode, but did he survive? And if so, could this really be him? In the Boy’s conversations with Maggie (Rebecca Benson), it could go either way. He seems knowledgeable about events and cannot be caught out, but as her husband points out, his answers also could have been clever guesses. He is not just some peasant boy, though — he is clearly trained and very charming. So is he an imposter and a con man, or the real deal?
I was able to visit the set of The White Princess in Bristol, England last fall during filming, and asked the cast about their theories on the historical Princes in the Tower, whose truth remains a secret until this day. Gibson says that for him, he is Richard:
For me to play Richard with the conviction that I think he needs to have, I have to believe that it is Richard. But on the other side of it, I like to leave it open. I think there’s enough seeds of doubt there that maybe this guy has actually come out of obscurity and been trained. But for me, I’m Richard.
Jodie Comer, who has been exceptional in her role as Lizzie, talked about the first scene she shared with Gibson:
I just looked at him and I was like, “That’s her brother.” It was really weird, it was really weird. There’s a scene where they kind of parade him through the streets and he’s saying things to her that she’s like, “How would he know that?” so from the off I was like, “This is her brother, and she believes it’s her brother and she hides it very well.” But I think she also thinks he’s got an arrogance because he kind of comes into her home and he says to her, “I’m the king and I’m going to win” and to her it’s a bit like, “Hang on a second!”
Comer also spoke about how, in this adaptation (which gives Lizzie more agency than in Philippa Gregory‘s novel or probably she likely had in history — for the absolute betterment of the series) she has to help Henry, who “at this point is a huge mess of paranoia and insecurity, and she totally has to take control of everything, which is amazing.”
What’s incredibly compelling here is that Lizzie is being torn between her Yorkist family — her mother, her potential brother — and her husband and sons, the latter of whom are now the heirs to the throne. If her brother ascends to power, would they be allowed to live? And even so, what kind of lives? Throughout the seven-year gap where “Traitors” begins, we see that Lizzie and King Henry (Jacob Collins-Levy, who has really been outstanding) have come to love and trust each other. But the advent of The Boy threatens to tear that all asunder.
As for the scheming mothers, both Michelle Fairly (who plays the likely murderess of the boys, Margaret Beaufort) and Essie Davis (Elizabeth of York) agree that when it comes to the real truth off-screen, Gregory’s portrayal is the closest. “I think I tend to agree with Philippa [Gregory],” Fairley said. “Looking at the research she’s done and the people who have had motive, Margaret was definitely one of those.” Davis added,
I suspect that this [story] is the truth as well. I also think that the first thing I really know about this was Shakespeare’s Richard III, which he is this spiderous, nasty, monstrous villain. But that was written during Henry VIII’s reign by Shakespeare, and I’m pretty sure it was a propaganda piece for Henry to clean up his grandmother’s name. I think he wanted to say, actually, we were rightful heirs and those nasty bad people killed themselves off because we are pure and should have been on the throne. And I kinda love the fact that this once friendship and once kind of loyal servant and loyal spy and loyal confidant used her connection, and when Elizabeth made that bargain — your son can marry my daughter if you help me save my sons — she just totally took the opportunity to have them killed instead of rescuing them. I think that is a real possibility and a really great and horrible kind of truth.
It is showrunner Emma Frost, of course, who has the most detailed theory on the princes:
If you were an imposter, surely you’d claim to be Prince Edward. You’d claim to be the older one, the one who was actually the heir to throne. Perkin Warbeck said he was the second brother, he said he was Prince Richard. Now that for me is a really interesting detail, because you kind of go, “Alright, why wouldn’t you be the older one?” There’s no logic or reason to that. But at the time, all of Europe believed he was real. […] The only person who didn’t was the English, was Henry Tudor. So I would like to think it was really him, but it’s also a better story. But Philippa says that there’s something bring investigated or there’s some study being done. She’s quietly confident, she won’t share with us what it is yet. She thinks something is going to come out that will lend a lot of credibility to the fact that Perkin Warbeck was Prince Richard.
The White Princess airs Sunday nights on Starz.