A Biased Review of a Biased Book
I have just seen a review of Chris Skidmore’s biography of Richard III which has got me rather incensed. Now, I have to admit first of all that I haven’t read the book in question, because I have heard from several reliable sources that it is biased against Richard, despite claiming to be neutral, so I don’t want to a) waste my money or b) give custom to an anti-Ricardian. I did hear him speak at the 2017 AGM of the Richard III Society and wasn’t impressed at all. I’m surprised he was asked to speak, frankly.
Anyway, I am commenting on the review rather than the book itself. You may be able to see it here: Wall Street Journal link although you may be asked to subscribe. If you can’t see it, here is my comment where I have replied to someone who said it was a ‘great review’. I wrote all this, and then found there was a word limit so I had to edit it, but this is what I wanted to say, quoting the points I am replying to:
Not so great actually: –
1. ‘…Princes in the Tower, who had a better claim to the throne than he did’ – this is wrong – they were legally declared illegitimate by the Three Estates and confirmed as such by Parliament.
2. ‘since the king consistently went wildly beyond the norms of even what was considered politically acceptable at the time’ – he did everything legally at the time – it might not seem ethical to us but he did everything by the book of the age. His ‘coup’ was almost bloodless.
3. ‘Richard was charged with protecting the young Edward V’ – no he wasn’t – Protector of the Realm was his title, not Protector of the princes. It was the equivalent to Head of Homeland Security – it was not the same as regent either – the country would have been ruled by the Council with him as a member. He was there to put down rebellions from within and without the realm (which he did wrt the Woodvilles).
4. ‘he tried to argue that Edward V (who was never officially crowned) was illegitimate through his father’s supposed bigamy’ – he succeeded! The ‘princes’ were legally declared illegitimate and he was the next in line.
5. ‘Within a couple of months, he had sent Edward and his brother Richard (age 10) to the Tower’ – the Tower was the traditional place for the next king to reside before his coronation. It was also a place of safety.
6. ‘Does it matter that we don’t know the method of the princes’ murder, considering that their corpses were never found?’ – yes it matters because there is no evidence they were killed at all, by anyone.
7. ‘Richard worried that if he did faithfully undertake the role of Protector, he would be punished for the persecution of Queen Elizabeth’s Woodville relatives’ – well, unless Mr Skidmore is a time-travelling mind-reader, nobody knows what Richard thought or worried about.
8. ‘The coup itself was flawlessly executed, with soldiers brought down from York, Edward V’s coronation suddenly “postponed,” potential Woodville supporters eliminated, the young king moved to the Tower “for his own safety” and the nobility squared with threats and promises’ – if you read Annette Carson you will see that Richard acted completely properly wrt having Edward V crowned until the bigamy was revealed. He even had coins minted in Edward’s name – would he really have done this if he had planned to take the throne the minute his brother had died? He only had 300 soldiers with him when he met the royal party to escort the new king into London – it was only after a plot had occurred that he sent for more soldiers. He reacted to events rather than instigating them.
9. ‘Richard saw that he needed to undertake one more outrage to secure his throne, since no one seemed to accept the argument that the princes were illegitimate’ – nonsense – he was accepted as the anointed king and everyone believed the princes were illegitimate – even Elizabeth Woodville never claimed her marriage was legal – not even after Richard’s death.
10. ‘When it became clear that Richard had indeed killed the princes’ – Really? They disappeared and there were rumours here and there that they had been killed (not always saying it was at Richard’s hands), but there were also rumours they were still alive. The death rumours were suspiciously in areas where Bishop Morton/Margaret Beaufort had supporters or had themselves been.
11. ‘Elizabeth…entered into a secret alliance with the Tudor family’ – no evidence for this. She seemed to have kept her options open.
12. ‘this highly readable chronicle comprises vaulting ambition, familial betrayal, moral corruption, high politics, foul murder and a beautiful queen lusting for revenge. Shakespeare can hardly be blamed for a little exaggeration’ – sounds very dramatic – the truth would be much less saleable and salacious, wouldn’t it? I note the comment about the graphic detail of Richard’s death, which only serves to make me suspect that other events are equally exaggerated by Skidmore – horror and evil sells unfortunately.
Photo: Free public domain download by Vera Kratochvil at PublicDomainPictures.net