I’ve decided to have a little go at some YouTube stuff. My first foray is a breakdown of my Top 10 problems with Sir Thomas More’s story of Richard III. It’s so full of problems that I’m left dismayed that academic historians I speak to still insist on relying on More’s evidence even today. There is a lingering insistence that More was a contemporary source, or at least had the chance to speak to witnesses so that he’s as good as primary material.
In truth, More was 7 during the events of 1485 and wrote 30 years later. He can’t possibly have remembered the complex political events of 1483 with clarity, or have been witness to any of the moments he describes in excruciating detail. Anyone he spoke to in Henry VIII’s England had reason to distance themselves from Richard III and his reign. Richard was already the monster from which the Tudors had rescued England. Who would have been brave enough to offer a different narrative?
I also think More, like Shakespeare, was never writing history in the way that we would recognise it – as a literal, factual retelling of events. He wrote allegory, a humanist exercise in moral tales veiled behind a convenient trope. More wrote about murderous tyranny and the dangers it posed, both to the kingdom and the king who indulged in it. In the years just after Henry VIII’s accession, when he had executed Empson and Dudley for following his father’s instructions, who might More have been really writing about? He could hardly name the king and risk his wrath. Richard offered a convenient front for what More had to say. Like Shakespeare, it has been wrongly accepted as the truth.
What else is wrong with More’s Richard III? Plenty. My top 10 problems are outlined here.