Warning: The following article contains spoilers for The White Princess finale, Episode 8 (“Old Curses”).
Towards the end of The White Princess finale, “The Boy” tells Lizzie “Don’t look away.” For this White Princess viewer, it was hard not to. The Starz miniseries ends on a wrenching note, rife with tragedy and inevitable reckoning. For eight episodes, The White Princess has seen Lizzie (Jodie Comer) go from a defiant York princess to a devoted mother and finally, dignified Tudor queen.
As the finale unfolds, it is hard to recall Lizzie as we once knew her. The feisty, yet sweet, York princess has disappeared, replaced by a desperate wife and mother willing to cross any line to ensure her family’s safety. Even if it means betraying the one she was born to.
In truth, The White Princess has been building to this hour throughout its entire run. Gone is the innocent hope that the Houses of York and Tudor could live side by side without more bloodshed. In fact, the synopsis for Episode 8 posted on Starz’s official site for the series, foretold it.
As The White Princess has neared its conclusion, that brutal reality has only increased. As the finale unfolds, it becomes clear that one side will have to be compromised for the other to continue. For those watching who know the real-life history behind The White Princess, you already knew which House that would be.
What you probably did not expect was who the architect behind the House of York’s final destruction would be, that in the end, their ultimate decimation would come at the hands of one their very own members. Not just any member either, the “White Princess” herself, Lizzie.
A bloody nightmare
When the finale begins, it is with a horrifying nightmare. Lizzie imagines walking in a puddle of blood. As she looks up, she sees a grizzly display, her dead sons, alongside their father Henry VII, while “The Boy” menacingly sits on the throne.
The White Princess is wise to take viewers into the mind of its protagonist. It is a tool the series effectively utilized in Episode 1 to help the audience forge an instant connection with Lizzie.
The mini starts off with a distraught Lizzie reflecting on her night of passion with Richard III on the battlefield of Bosworth. This opening scene worked to communicate to viewers, the depth of Lizzie’s feelings for her doomed paramour.
In the inner sanctum of her thoughts, The White Princess leaves no doubts. Lizzie believes that if “The Boy,” who she seems to strongly believe is, in fact, her long-lost brother Richard, lives, he will ascend to the throne and execute her sons and husband.
This is important because, without it, Lizzie’s motives for executing her brother could be heavily construed as an act of personal ambition in the finale. Is she executing her brother to protect her family, or to keep her and them in power?
As The White Princess winds down, it becomes clear she has a choice to make. She can either be the sister of the king, or his wife. There is no gray area.
If the Tudors fall, it is likely that Lizzie’s children, whether her brother agreed or not, would be seen as threats to the throne. The same way her cousin Teddy was. After Lizzie’s brother made the decision to stand by his claim in the penultimate episode, he signs his own death warrant.
Throughout The White Princess, it is clear that Lizzie does not believe her brother is capable of mercy. A mercy her husband has not shown Richard, his wife, or their son during their time at court.
However, Richard has been a man of his word. He has had every reason to renounce his claim and he has stuck by what he has said. Why would he lie about his nephews’ safety? For whatever reason, Lizzie refuses to trust him and it is not through any fault of his own.
Knowing how horribly Henry has treated Richard (Patrick Gibson), Lizzie might find it difficult to believe the York Prince would not crave even the slightest retribution. As The White Princess hurdled towards its finale, Henry (Jacob Collins-Levy) had set his family up to suffer for his sins.
But Richard has only ever responded with kindness, which makes Lizzie’s move all the more troubling. In her final move of the series, Lizzie condemns her cousin and her brother to be privately executed.
Is “The Boy” really Lizzie’s brother?
The White Princess has played with this story a great deal. Like Lizzie, the audience is left wondering for certain, though she does admit to “The Boy” that he reminds her of her father when he laughs. It is a fleeting moment from the finale that seems to further substantiate he is Richard.
Since there is no DNA test to prove his claim, either way, each viewer has to decide for themselves. For two episodes, Richard/Perkin Warbeck accepted every terrible torment, consistently reacting to them in a dignified manner that demonstrated great maturity.
In fact, his actions in the penultimate episode of The White Princess proved to be a baptism of fire, which further cemented his claim. At that point in the series, he had every reason to run, and he chose to stay.
For every assertion made by the Tudors regarding his behavior on the battlefield in private combat, he leaves no doubts. It is an act of courage that seems to shake Lizzie to her very core. While she continues refusing to say the words, every other part of her acknowledges her brother’s truth.
Richard’s final moments reveal the truth
If there were still any doubt, Richard’s behavior in the moments before his execution settles The White Princess mystery once and for all. Richard’s noble bearing and compassion for his cousin, Teddy, who Richard comforts as he is getting ready to be executed, are a sobering moment for Lizzie and the audience.
In those moments, he proves he is not an imposter. He is the missing Richard, the House of York’s rightful avenger, and the true heir to the English throne.
Lizzie can clearly sense it too. In their final moments together, it is obvious that Lizzie knows in her bones he has been telling the truth, and she is sickened by it. Still, the sword swings for what Richard notes is a “royal execution.”
Like The White Queen, its sequel series The White Princess ends on a far different note than it began.
When The White Princess began it would be hard to imagine it ending on this devastating of a note. What the miniseries deftly points out is that no one is left morally unscathed from the destruction the ambition for the throne breeds. Lizzie betrays her original family to keep her new one on the throne, more specifically her husband.
The Duchess of Burgundy (Joanne Whalley) incites her nephew to claim the throne, knowing it could cost him dearly. She encourages him at the expense of his own family and coldly reacts to speculation that Richard’s son has been murdered.
Throughout The White Princess, Richard himself loses his son, his wife, and then his own life in the pursuit of avenging a family that has long since moved on. None of Richard’s other sisters are heard offering an opinion regarding his claim.
If they care about the idea their brother is still alive, they do not express it. Their cousin Maggie seems to care. However, we also have to acknowledge she has something to gain from Richard’s truth – her own brother’s life.
In contrast to Lizzie, her cousin Maggie risks her relationship with her son and husband to save her brother. By the end of The White Princess, it is clear that one cousin will have to win and Maggie ends up losing.
The White Princess finale in summation
For those frustrated over Richard’s final choice, we have to remember that Richard denying his birthright means denying an invariable truth, an honor-bound man could not. Not to mention, it is a truth he has every right to pursue.
Earlier in the series, he was willing to put his claim aside to spare his wife and son, when the reality of his defeat became too great to ignore. The sign of a humble ruler capable of acknowledging defeat.
Not an arrogant one, who would make others suffer for his desires. The problem is no one believed he was lying when he claimed to be Perkin Warbeck.
Even so, he was shown no mercy by his sister or anyone else. Lizzie could have forced Spain to prove the rumor she had hung an imposter in Richard’s place. Why was she in such a hurry?
Especially when she had earlier believed her mother’s curse would result in the deaths of her sons. Since she believed Richard was who he said he was, she had to take a gamble the curse was a fallacy when she had him executed.
Margaret’s words to Lizzie earlier in The White Princess clearly gave Lizzie the permission she needed, and in the end, she did not kill her brother to spare her sons. She killed him to spare her husband, who she stood behind, despite his gory confession involving how Richard III really died.
Is this the family Richard III’s nephew had been fighting for? Were they worth it? By the end of The White Princess, the House of York has ended the way viewers found them on The White Queen, a family defeated from the inside. The difference is they will never recover from the events of the sequel.
[Featured Image by Starz]