It is an excellent, academic account of Richard III’s life. It is objectively written as it should be when a historian takes pen to paper. Anthony James Pollard is a British medieval historian and has written several books on the Wars of the Roses, and is considered a leading authority on the subject. He writes in an accessible way and makes even facts, one way or the other, into something thrilling, and leaves you with the option to make your own decisions.
Richard III has come down in history as a villain, and the man that killed his nephews to get hold of the crown of England. But the opinion of him has been divided since his own time. Others saw him as a victim of his time, a man that did his best for kingdom and family, a noble prince, always loyal to his brother Edward IV. Most of the history that has been “public knowledge” is based on the ill-wills of Henry VII, the victor of the Battle of Bosworth. He had to legalise his own claim to the throne, and a smearing campaign began. Maybe the person who did most to settle the reputation was Shakespeare, with his play Richard III.
Luckily we have historians who dig in archives, the ground and never give up to find out more about our past. In recent years the history of Richard III has been more biased. The work of Pollard explores the facts that we have about Richard III, and he discusses his life and reign, and one of the biggest mysteries in history; the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. Although this part of the history is in the title of the book, it takes up a small part of the overall work.
So, what did I learn from this book, that I did not know before. Here a few events that caught my attention.
I have always read that his marriage with Anne was a romantic one, they did love each other. They had known each other their whole lives, since Richard partly grew up in her family. This was most likely not so. The marriage was one of convenience and political reasons. That does not mean that there was no affection between them.
Being a younger son, he did not naturally have any land with his title. He was very close and loyal to his brother Edward, who used him as his right hand man to take care of things in the kingdom. He also allowed him to seize land in the north which he did. He slowly, slowly extended his power base, until he was one of the most powerful in the country. He was a biased person. He could be very ruthless when fighting for something he wanted to have. Once he had it, he ruled with care. Establishing rules and laws to help the people, to give the poor people possibilities to make their voice heard. In a way a sort of “democratic” intention. However, if someone or something went against him, he hit down hard, and the "democratic" intentions were forgotten.
It seems that Richard never had any wishes to claim the throne. The death of his brother came rather unexpected, when Richard was in the north of the country. He hurried back towards London. The Woodvilles got their power base through Edward IV who married their sister Elizabeth Woodville. Their power base crumbled when Edward IV died and they were quick to try to take control of things. Their best bet was his son Edward V. Richard intercepted and got hold of the prince. He had been named the Protector of the prince by his deceased brother. It seemed that it was his intention to take on this task, and hold the crown for Edward until he came of age. However, intrigues everywhere, forced him to act in different directions. One of Pollard’s theories is that, once the events where set in motion, you had to act at each level, and there was not much time to follow pre-made plans. Richard had to fight moves around him, and at one given time, there was no return. He was forced to go for the crown.
It seems that Richard had planned to re-marry, after his wife Anne died. The idea was even to marry Elizabeth Woodville, his brother’s widow. However, he realised that this would not be a popular move and abandoned the idea. There were plans to marry a foreign princess, but the battle of Bosworth came in between.
Then we come to the question with a big Q: the Princes in the Tower. The facts are brought out, but the question who killed the Princes, is not answered. It probably never will be. My own reflection after reading this work, is that there seem to be no-one else who could have done it. He surely did not do it himself, but there could possibly not be anyone else who would have given such orders without the knowledge of the king. The only other person their deaths would gain was Henry VII, and he would most likely not have access to them at the time. Although, there would be a possibility, him being the culprit, if the Princes had still been alive when he took power. It seems they were not. Even the actions of Elizabeth Woodville, when Richard was still in power, seem to indicate that she thought them to be dead.
This work is an excellent account on the life of Richard III. Highly recommended, well researched and lots of references to documents that verify the historical events and outcomes.
Thank you to Endeavour Press, who provided me with a review copy of this book. The views put forward above are my own personal ones.