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Carpe Librum

Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.


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Historical Novel Society

Richard III (English Monarchs Series)

Richard III (English Monarchs Series) - Charles Ross Having read a fair amount of historical fiction about Richard III and his contemporaries, I recently began looking into some nonfiction sources to attempt to discover who Richard really was. Charles Ross promises a neutral look at historical sources in order to determine if Richard was the deformed villian of Shakespeare or the loyal but misunderstood hero put forth by Penman. I can summarize the results in three words: we don't know. Ross seems to lean more toward villian while calling it something more like being a man of his time. He does not give any credence to the idea that Richard may have secured the throne for himself because he found out that his nephews were bastards. There is no real discussion of the possibility that the princes were not murdered. I know that this is an unlikely event, but since people claiming to be the princes both made an attempt at the throne during Henry VII's reign, I would have thought that the possibility should have at least been addressed. Ross accepts as fact that Richard murdered his nephews and then states that this was the reason for the 1483 rebellion. Why would the people rebel on behalf of a deposed king if they believed him dead? To put his sister on the throne? That doesn't seem likely to me. (It certainly didn't work out for Matilda though she had a much stronger claim to the throne than Stephen.) I didn't feel like a good reason was suggested for people to support Henry of Richmond's weak claim. If it was just that they wanted him to marry the young Elizabeth, certainly Richard could have been advised to do the same once Anne died. If they felt Richard was too quick with the executioner's axe, they must have been sorely disappointed in their choice to replace him. Ross dismisses the idea that Woodvilles were at the heart of the rebellion, but then carries on to list how many Woodvilles and servents of Edward IV's household (therefore Queen Elizabeth Woodville's household) were involved. Could they have believed Edward V still alive or were they attempting to remove Richard to put themselves back in power? These questions were not addressed either. Ross does not seem to support the idea that many wanted the Woodville's removed from power though this has been a common theme in other books that I have read.

I do not doubt the accuracy or attempt at neutrality in this book. It is well written with excellent footnotes. I just feel that some natural bias must have crept in to keep him from asking some of the questions that I would have asked.

In the end, I just feel like so many of our questions about Richard III can not be answered this side of heaven. I know that the romanticized version of him is likely as incorrect as the villianous one, but where in the spectrum he truly belongs we may never know. Many authors have theorized, justified, and guessed at his motivations, but the truth seems to have been lost.