How many of you have books on your shelves that you’ve had for years but have yet to read? I’m guilty of that, I fear. However, today I grabbed a book at random, to read while my car, name of Iggy, underwent his first MOT.
Oh dear. Well, I expected it to be pro-Bolingbroke and anti-Richard II (and it was!) but I at least expected accuracy. My heart sank a little when on page 37 (of my copy) I noticed the author had referred to the Holands as being Richard’s stepbrothers. They were his half-brothers, as is properly stated later. Black mark, Ms Bruce. Nor could the author resist the old tale of them (with others) having “fled” during the Peasants’ Revolt, when Richard went to Mile End to meet the rebels on 14th June 1381. All that’s known is that they left his party, but as neither of the Holands was cowardly, I find it very difficult indeed to believe they simply deserted their royal brother to save their own skins.
Perhaps Richard sent them back to the Tower because their/his mother, Joan of Kent was there and he wanted her guarded by those who loved her most? Perhaps there was something else urgent he wished them to do for him. Above all he could trust the half-brothers who were her sons as much as Richard was himself. No one thought the mob would attack the Tower, which was considered to be impregnable, but maybe someone had a late flash of sixth sense? Who knows.
Then, a few pages later (page 39), I read that while this was happening on the way to Mile End, back at the ranch (sorry, back at the Tower) Richard had actually deserted and “betrayed” those who’d stayed behind. But above all, and clearly with malice aforethought, he betrayed his first cousin, John of Gaunt’s son and heir, Henry of Bolingbroke, to the ravening mob. Clearly Richard could foresee what was going to happen in 1399!
Only a virtual miracle saved the Lancastrian heir, a boy of fifteen to Richard’s fourteen. He was helped by a man named John Ferrour of Southwark, who “stayed an assailant’s hand” and thus bequeathed to us all the first Lancastrian king of England. Thank you. As I have always understood it, Ferrour concealed Henry somewhere, which isn’t quite the same as staying someone’s hand. Not as dramatic, of course.
Henry’s thoughts were: “….When he [Bolingbroke] no longer expected it, he had escaped death by a hair’s breadth. But it was no thanks to his cousin [Richard]. Such would have been Henry’s indignant feeling. Richard had betrayed him, panicked and agreed to his death. Knowing that his [Richard’s] own life was sacrosanct….”
This spiteful, premeditated betrayal of trust, it is suggested, was what remained uppermost in Henry’s mind. I don’t think so, Ms Bruce – your Bolingbroke bias is getting the better of you. For Heaven’s sake, the last thing Richard would have done is sacrifice those left in the Tower, because they included Richard’s own mother, whom he adored! Or perhaps Ms Bruce thinks he didn’t give a monkey’s for Joan of Kent? I think those in the Tower were thought completely secure there, or were supposed to escape on the river, but perhaps the mob broke in before they could. Whatever, they were all still there. Richard certainly didn’t hold up a flashing neon sign that said: “Get Bolingbroke, he’s in the Tower!”
It’s all so like later Lancastrian propaganda that heaps calumny upon Richard III in order to justify that other usurping “Lancastrian”, Henry VII! I went no further with this book, because I simply could not believe what the author was writing. The back blurb actually states that the book was carefully researched. Really? By all means have criticism, but back it up with accuracy, please, not least the difference between a stepbrother and a half-brother. Claiming 14-year-old Richard II deliberately threw his mother and friends to the wolves just will not do!
So, Ms Bruce’s The Usurper King will go back on my shelf, there to collect dust. Saved only by the fact that I could never dispatch any book to the bin.
Oh, but something at least to smile about. Iggy passed his MOT!