Richard III’s villainy owes much to Shakespeare. Modern histories are more understanding, and this includes this thoughtful biography by Times Literary Supplement history editor Horspool (Alfred the Great, 2014, etc.), who stresses that Richard (1452-1485) was a man of his times, although they were nasty times.
After decades of reign by the simple-minded Henry VI, England descended into civil war as aristocratic factions fought to rule in his name. In 1460, Richard’s father, the Duke of York, led the winners. Within months, he was killed, but his son, Richard’s eldest brother, was crowned Edward IV in 1461. Edward had two sons, so Richard was not the heir, but as he matured, the king granted him honors and powers suitable to his rank, and he served loyally until Edward’s death in 1483. Appointed protector of the 12-year-old Edward V, Richard postponed the boy’s coronation and persuaded parliament to declare Edward IV’s marriage invalid, making him the legal heir. Edward V and his brother vanished, presumably murdered by Richard, who reigned for only two years, suppressing one rebellion by Edward’s supporters before his defeat at the hands of Henry Tudor, who had a distant claim on the throne. The 2012 discovery of Richard’s bones revealed that he wasn’t as badly hunchbacked as claimed but otherwise produced little except a flurry of books. “The Richard effect may simply be a version of the British love affair with royalty,” writes the author. “He was king once, and that is all that counts.”
Among the better histories on this subject, this book rocks no boats while delivering a densely detailed account of a man who was no more villainous than the average 15th-century baron.