The 2012 discovery of Richard III’s remains produced a flurry of accounts of the famous Shakespearean villain whose short reign ended in the battle that launched the Tudor dynasty. In this latest, British historian Jones (After Hitler: The Last Days of the Second World War in Europe, 2015, etc.) rocks no boats and agrees with most modern scholars that Richard (1452-1485) was not such a bad fellow.
Richard III lived during the War of the Roses, a highly unstable, violent period in British history. His father died in battle in 1460 after almost achieving the crown, which went to Richard’s brother, Edward IV, who reigned from 1461 to 1483. Richard served him more or less loyally until his death, when he revived an old accusation that Edward was illegitimate, making Richard himself the legitimate heir. Enjoying considerable support among the nobility and parliament, he was crowned three months later. Despite the absence of proof, most scholars believe Richard murdered Edward’s sons (“the princes in the Tower”), but killing rival claimants, even as children, was not unknown in that era. Another rival, Henry Tudor (later Henry VII), had only a distant claim; his bumbling invasion and shocking victory against superior forces continue to bewitch historians. Jones tries his hand, and the result depends heavily on speculation, hints from contemporary documents, and parallels with other medieval battles. This is unavoidable due to the dearth of evidence. The location of the battlefield itself remains controversial; new findings reveal that Richard was not severely hunchbacked but do not answer major questions. “It is a more untidy and unsettling reality than the caricature with which we are familiar,” writes the author.
An admirable, mildly revisionist update on a widely misunderstood king.