Mirror, mirror on the wall…our Richard is the fairest of them all…
Fairest as in being the most just…although, as always, he suffers at the hands of unjust historians.
I have been browsing through a book entitled A Short History of the English People by Cyril Ransome, published 1903. Richard gets a mixed review, even though he is accused (sometimes it is only implied) of all the usual crimes, including his definite intention to marry Elizabeth of York (and in spite of this shocking proposition, he apparently had Elizabeth Woodville’s favour!)
Of Richard, Ransome writes:
“ . . . His rule in the north had been good, and there he seems to have been deservedly popular. He was a man of great ability, but, like most of the men of his time, quite unscrupulous as to his means . . .”
“ . . . He then boldly claimed the crown on the absurd ground that Edward’s marriage with Elizabeth Woodville was illegal, because he had already been betrothed to another lady, and the right of Clarence’s children was barred by their father’s attainder. However, as in the case of Henry IV, only a pretext was wanted, and as Richard had already secured the power, he had little difficulty in getting the title, of king. Before the end of June, a body of lords and others took it upon themselves to offer the crown to Richard, which he accepted; at the same time Rivers and Grey were executed at Pontefract Castle, in Yorkshire . . .”
“ . . . He held a Parliament, in which he passed two very good laws, one forbidding the collection of benevolences, the other the keeping of retainers; but he did not live to see them enforced . . .”
“ . . . The armies which fought at Bosworth were very small, and very little interest seems to have been excited by the struggle. There was no question of principle between the parties, and Englishmen were as likely to get good government from one as from the other . . .”
“ . . . In after-times it was the fashion to charge Richard III with every species of crime. (As Ransome himself does!) This was probably unjust. He was an unscrupulous man, who slew men freely if they stood in his way, but not a tyrant; and when we think of the times in which he lived and the scenes he had witnessed, it could hardly be wonderful that his scruples were not so great as they might have been if his lot had been cast in times of greater quietness . . .”
Maybe it’s me, but Ransome seems to be giving with the right hand, then snatching it away again with the left. He feels obliged to take the usual hostile line about Richard, but at the same time is bound by conscience to offer praise. It smacks of someone who doesn’t really believe the sour things he’s writing, because the facts about Richard prove his opinion to be wrong.
Yes, I’m a confirmed Ricardian! In case anyone had doubts . . .