Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review: Richard III by David Baldwin

Richard III by David Baldwin

King Richard III (1452-1485) is one of the most controversial kings of England. He was the last of the Plantagenet line and was replaced by Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII. Richard came to the throne through a mixture of circumstances and deliberate acts. His decision to take the crown may not have been the act of unbridled ambition it is often portrayed as. He lived a hard and unstable life, seeing many relatives die and many reversals of fortune as the Lancastrian Plantagenets fought with the Yorkist Plantagenets over the throne(i.e. the War of the Roses). His nephews (who were legitimate candidates for the throne) were taken into the Tower of London (which was both the royal castle and a prison), never to be heard from again. People assume he killed them or had them killed though there is no direct evidence. His efficiency at governing was at times ruthless and at other times completely just. He put in motion many reforms and established a courier system that eventually developed into the Royal Mail. His life is a lot more complicated than either Shakespeare or Thomas More make it out (though their writings have colored popular opinion).

David Baldwin's biography of Richard makes the effort to be objective, looking at the historical records and evidence. Baldwin does not want to paint Richard as a villain or as a saint, but to see him for he was. The story is complicated not only by the lack of records and the Tudor propaganda but also by the many overlapping names (the book starts with a list of 23 people who have similar names, including three Georges, three Margarets, and four other Richards besides Richard III!). These various challenges are well met in this book, which is readable and convincing. An extra chapter was added where Baldwin describes the discovery of Richard's remains in the Leicester car park.

The even-handed approach and clear writing make this an excellent look at the life of Richard III. I see the author has also written Robin Hood: The English Outlaw Unmasked. Based on the excellence of this biography, I am going to hunt down his Robin Hood book.

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