Richard III has been written off in history as one of England’s evil kings. His usurpation of the throne from his nephew Edward V and then subsequent generations of pro-Tudor historians ensured his fame as the disfigured murderer portrayed by Shakespeare. In the twentieth century Richard found his apologists, those who saw him as more sinned against than sinning. This biography – by the leading expert on Richard – strips away the propaganda of the centuries to rescue Richard from his critics and supporters alike, providing a balanced and compelling portrait of this most infamous of Kings.
I will first of all start by saying that this book is the first I have ever read about Richard III, so I have nothing to compare it to. I have however read articles that were provided by my university lecturer during our class on Richard, all of which were much drier than this book by Michael Hicks. I would also like to mention that the lecturer in question who taught the module on Richard was none other than Michael Hicks himself, a great man with a brilliant sense of humour who seriously knows his stuff on Richard. I have fond memories of Michael’s lecturers and my time spent studying history although I wish I had read this book sooner as it would have certainly sparked more of an interest about Richard III.
I found this book exceptionally readable. The words seemed to just flow off the page and quite frankly made it a pleasure to read. The language used was not overly complicated, and Hicks often split large chunks of text up with interesting images although even without these images the book would have been just as interesting. I really enjoyed how Hicks set the book out, first of all with the story of the England that Richard lived in and the political backdrop of later medieval England, Richard’s time as Duke of Gloucester, Richard’s usurpation of the throne, Richard and Buckingham’s rebellion, Richard’s defeat and defamation and a great conclusion entitled “The Man Behind The Myth”.
All throughout the reader can just tell that Hicks feels a lot differently about Richard than many do, even today. Throughout the text Hicks presents a balanced argument so as to point out that Richard is not the evil man that history has made him out to be. Indeed far from it. He may have made the decision to usurp the throne from his young nephew, but Hicks shows us the arguments that this was for protection of his nephew. But at the same time we are shown the other side of the argument, why did Richard oh so suddenly turn from loyal subject of Edward V to usurper of the crown?
We are also shown that all of the bad press about Richard comes mainly from Tudor propagandists, namely More and Shakespeare. All of what they write was written after Richard’s lifetime, and some of the things we are told of Richard here are just daft. He was in his mother’s womb for two years, he was born with a full set of teeth, and he was a hunchback. Indeed, during the Tudor reign Richard’s portraits were changed to show him with a hunchback, their way of showing Richard was an evil man. In fact Richard was none of these things and he certainly was not in the womb for two years. The most famous incident of Richard’s short reign is the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, and rumours were abound that Richard killed them when in fact this was not the case. After 1484 the boys just disappeared, having been left in the care of the Duke of Buckingham, and Richard was blamed for the deaths. I certainly intend to do more reading in and around these two princes as Hicks does not really concentrate much on them in this book, but Hicks is certainly of the opinion that Richard III was not a child killer and I am inclined to side with him. It seems more to me that the boys were a victim of circumstance, left in the care of a man who had his own aspirations to the throne who may have thought little of getting rid of them to advance his own power.
Richard reigned for two years, just two years. This was after a successful military career (though some of it through what seems to be like bullying tactics). His kingship brought with it problems of rebellion from Buckingham and Richard also had issues with the Woodville family who were closely related to Edward V. In his short reign, Richard spent a lot of time dealing with dissenters. He was sure his own succession was in place, until the death of his son the Prince of Wales, and then he heard the news that Henry Tudor was on his way in 1485, and Henry Tudor had support.
The Battle of Bosworth is one of the most famous battles in English history, whereupon Henry Tudor became Henry VII and defeated Richard III. It was after this defeat that the Tudor propagandists really came into their own and began to seriously defame Richard. Henry VII refused to allow Richard a proper burial, showing disrespect to the corpse and showing it off. It was at this moment that Richard himself was forgotten and fiction soon weaved its way into fact.
Hicks does a wonderful job of showing the man behind the myth, indeed his conclusion is entitled the very same. He shows us both sides of the story and shows his readers that whilst Richard was not the evil king that Shakespeare and More made him out to be he still made mistakes and did things he should not have. In the end, Richard III was human and it was only the propaganda of the later Tudor historians that made him out to be quintessentially evil. But Richard was far from this, he was loyal and he was certainly a very religious man who created colleges and gave money to the church. This book does a wonderful job of breaking down fact from fiction and showing what Richard would have been like. I certainly recommend this to anyone who is interested in the Wars of the Roses and discovering the man behind the myth of Richard III.