Another sad dose of misinterpretation for poor old Richard III….

In case you don’t know, there is a new book out by Thomas Penn – he of the excellent The Winter King, about Henry VII. His new book, The Brothers York, is about about the three sons of Richard, 3rd Duke of York: Edward IV, George of Clarence and Richard of Gloucester/Richard III, has been eagerly awaited. Oh, dear, not worth hanging around for if you believe Richard has always been failed by historians (most of whom insist on believing More and Shakespeare wrote the truth!) I fear Thomas Penn has joined the traditionalist ranks. What a terrible disappointment.

If you go to the Guardian you will find a detailed review of the book. It’s a review that agrees with Penn’s assessment of Richard. Here is a very brief extract: “Penn’s Richard is a serious thinker, a pious Catholic and a profoundly ambitious politician.” Well, while he was indeed a serious thinker and pious Christian, he certainly was not a profoundly ambitious politician!

Events in 1483, which are always cited as proof positive of Richard’s callous ruthfulness and overweening determination to steal the throne for himself, were in reality prompted by two very different matters.

  • The need to thwart the Wydevilles (who WERE profoundly ambitious politically) from taking over the new king and thus the entire realm.
  • The need to protect his own life and that of his son. The Wydevilles would have done away with him at the first opportunity, so he wasn’t going to roll over and let them proceed.

If this makes him a “profoundly ambitious politician” then I can’t help wondering what dictionary Penn uses.

If Edward IV had kept sensible control of the contents of his codpiece, instead of marrying bigamously and in secret, Richard would have been content to be Lord Protector and to oversee his nephew’s minority. But do the same for an illegitimate nephew? Why should he when he himself had a legitimate claim to the throne and also a son to come after him?

These historians who take the traditionalist view about Richard would, presumably, ignore their own claim to an inheritance, and the claims of their children? In a pig’s ear would they! So to blame Richard for doing what any just man would do makes them hypocrites of the highest order.

Thomas Penn has written more about his book here.


  1. It does actually make one wonder if Penn’s take on Henry Tudor can be relied on, being as he has taken the lazy approach to Richard? Shakespeare and More are so full of holes it makes me wonder how any serious historian can even consider them.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. To blancsanglier, I wasn’t aware than anyone does take More or Shakespeare seriously, as in the modern age.

    If they do then they’re just treading water, academically speaking. Mr. Penn may be an elegant apologist for H7 but that doesn’t make him or his ilk intellectually rigorous.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. From all the comments I’ve seen from people who have read or are reading this book, it looks as if this review is right on.

    Regarding King Richard, I’d like to suggest that another possible key to his actions is that he was neither the fairy-tale villain we’ve inherited from the Tudors, nor the self-interested man served up by modern historians. Although he may never have expected to be king, he had been bred to be a prince. This included certain ideals of behavior including qualities like magnanimity and love of justice. Having been made a knight at an impressionable age, I believe he also understood there were obligations that went along with the privileges. One of his proclamations describes him as–
    A goodwilled, diligent, and courageous prince [who] will put his most royal person to all the labour and pains necessary on this account for the resistance and subduing of his said enemies, rebels, and traitors for the greatest comfort, well-being, and safety of all his true and faithful liege men and subjects.

    Another states–
    His grace is utterly determined all this true subjects shall live in rest and quiet and peaceably enjoy their lands, livelihoods and goods according to the laws of this his land which they be naturally born to inherit.

    Finally, Richard’s entire life seems to show him dutifully doing what he was expected to do.

    Richard’s becoming king may indeed have had the effect of thwarting the Wydevilles & had some potential to protect his & his family’s lives. Were these concerns his primary motivations? We can’t know, of course, but I think not. I think he simply carried on, doing what he was expected to do, what his station in life dictated. Some of his actions suggest an awareness that he now had the biggest target of all on his back.

    A man as experienced in governing as was Richard, probably knew full well that this particular job came with a lot of headaches as well as some satisfaction if done well. If JAH was correct in detecting a delay of 3 days between the offer of the crown & Richard’s acceptance, that suggests to me that the decision was not made lightly.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Penn is far from an apologist for H7. “The Winter King” is highly critical of him and his government. He does, though, have some sympathy for Henry Tudor as a person. Think I will try to check his new book out of the library (not buy) and see for myself.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dear Halfwit, I was trying to be nice, or polite, to both Penn, and H7.

      I find it rather sad in a way, this attempt to rehabilitate someone like H7. For comparison, take out (while your at the library) Nathan Amin’s adoring (read slobbering adoration) biography of (angel trumpets please) The House of Beaufort.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nathan Amin is not that bad, compared with Terry Breverton. But if you want a fair, middle-of-the-road historian, I would recommend Matthew Lewis, who is an avowed Ricardian.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Halfwit, haven’t read Breverton, and if he is a step further afield from Amin then I may wait on him! (I’m not entirely antagonistic towards all things Beaufort/Lancastrian; indeed, for some weird reason I am rather sympathetic, even curious about H4. Probably the Ian Mortimer bio…)

      And I love love love love Matt Lewis! His footnotes (one of my favorite sources of information, all the best stuff is in there) are endearing, enlightening, informative, convivial and conversational depending on the detail being discussed. A rare but much appreciated talent that he possesses. His podcasts are also not to be missed.

      If you haven’t read Annette Carson take that one out of the library too (Maligned King), if nothing else she asks the questions, like Lewis, that should be asked and considered.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Amma, I have read and enjoyed Carson, as well as Matt Lewis. I just think it is a good idea sometimes to ‘know thine enemy.’ If nothing else, one can enjoy dissecting their arguments and demolishing them.
    OTOH, I sometimes feel that JA-H went too far in the opposite direction, making statements that can’t be proved (e.g. that George of Clarence was the shortest of the York brothers) just because he wants them to be true.
    We all have our prejudices, or POV, if you prefer. Lewis recognizes his, , which is why i trust him as an historian.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Breverton is one of those people who think Henry VII was magic just because he was “Welsh”. He also wrote a book about Glyndwr that I hurled at the wall as it was so – well, silly. And I really like Glyndwr. I’m sorry, but I can’t be doing with historians who are driven by blatant nationalism. They are like those Brits writing in the Edwardian Age who saw history as nothing more than a prelude to the “glory” of the British Empire. The laughable thing was Tudor was only marginally more Welsh than I am, and didn’t give a stuff about the country, which he didn’t even set foot in after 1485.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beverton is just silly. He’s not a historian and the way he presents his books is unprofessional, even childish. I loathe how he hoves in his nationalistic views and was even banging on at one point, with complete irrelevance to the subject matter, about Saxons and Britons. Not only was his opinion on that matter irrelevant to his book, it was horribly outdated, perhaps from the 1940’s, and doesn’t stand scrutiny with current archaeology and DNA testing.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. To Halfwit, Hoodedman and Sighthound6, I am at a disadvantage in that I haven’t read Breverton but so far nothing I’m hearing is enticing me to bother either! lol – I first came across Richard, outside of the usual Shakespeare route at school, with the mainstream historians, and I dread to say this, it was Desmond Seward’s Richard III England’s Black Legend… now, that was in 1983 I think, and I had already “tried” to slog through his (1978) The Hundred Years War, which at that time was more my interest (Jeanne d’Arc and all, la Pucelle, the Maid of Orleans!) … what I found was Seward had managed to make the Hundred Years War a chore to read about. I was umm, stunned and horrified and assumed it just wasn’t his ‘period,’ not really knowing anything about him.

    The Black Legend, however, confirmed that Seward is the low bar for ‘historian’ … anything I read after Seward can only be an improvement. I am a stickler for accuracy, and even as an amateur we are not incapable of cross referencing sources, I know how to track down the same materials that they use, and fill in the stuff they ‘neglect’ to mention in their own allegedly new take on the WoTR or Richard books. I can give you an easy example, Matt Lewis was the FIRST author I have come across – and I have stacks and stacks of books on Richard and the entire period, and he is the first one to mention that after Lord Hasting’s execution Richard not only wrote to Ralph Hastings, the younger brother still stationed at Guisnes (he was most often in collaboration with his older brother’s assignments at Calais), but Richard sent 4 men to explain, with proofs of ‘something’ important enough that within what, 2 weeks of the execution, Richard wanted the younger (and hotheaded) brother to understand … Lewis tells us that those proofs, like SO MANY other documents connected to Richard’s short life and reign, are ‘missing’ (read ‘destroyed) . Lewis doesn’t invent whole cloth ideas about what these 4 men were to tell Hastings, presumably more than ‘you’re being replaced’ – Hastings wasn’t taken into custody etc. No, but WHY doesn’t anyone else mention this nifty detail?

    Since I came across that I pursued WHO is Ralph Hastings, what happened to him with Richard? Well, oddly enough, he was a esquire and then knight of the body for Richard, retained important offices, was NOT part of Buckingham’s Rebellion, and while he missed the Coronation that is likely due to still being at Guisnes; the other Hastings brother, Richard, Lord Welles, DID attend the Coronation. A curious detail I came across is that the widow, Katherine Hastings, family of course to Richard (he was related to everyone), complained later about H7! She complained that she was treated BETTER by Richard than by H7.

    IF you like to cross reference details I have found many things are available ONLINE – the Calendar of Patent Rolls are (1477-1485) and the Common Pleas as well, I am slogging through both, amazing the little details that pop up.

    Another little example is the whole Richard (at 19-20) and the ‘poor pitiful aged’ Countess Oxford … I could explode with that one. Lewis does a good job fleshing it out and gave me a head start to pursue it further but once you do that the whole story is nothing like you read in Michael Hicks (shame on him!!!) or Rosemary Horrox (whose Studies in Service is like a Ricardian bible for me, but, sadly, she too, cannot get past her biases).

    sorry this went so long! I started Richard with all the accepted ‘traditional’ writers and it has only been in the last what dozen years that there IS another scholarly effort to discuss Richard, beyond what the Society has been publishing.

    PS Halfwit, you are quite right about some of J A-H’s conclusions, I read him with the same if not more critical eye, he has a habit of ‘padding’ his material as well. I keep thinking, he could have said this in two paragraphs, not a whole chapter. And be careful with his dates as per Richard, like many authors (and that includes a Dan Jones, Chris Skidmore, the Hicks, et al; but not Lewis, he’s not reckless), one of the maddening aspects to Ricardian research is piecing together where he was and when, whatever is ‘written’ so confidently – as in J A-H (or Horrox!) – may not be the case … cross-reference everything! lol

    Liked by 1 person

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