This likeness of Richard II is from the cover of the Penguin Monarchs edition on this fascinating king, written by Laura Ashe. (Penguin Monarchs: Richard II – A Brittle Glory by Laura Ashe. http://tinyurl.com/zbur7aw) The reviews and comments at Amazon are mixed – the commenters even have a little spat. I will purchase it because I am always eager to add more of Richard II to my personal library. He and Richard III vie for supremacy on that battle-shelf, I assure you.
My personal preference is for larger, more detailed biographies, which this book does not purport to be. One commenter at Amazon complains that it is very small, but it is intended to be a concise description of Richard’s life and reign.
Whatever the contents, the cover illustration is breathtakingly beautiful. They say Richard was indeed handsome to the point of beauty, as some of his portraiture hints. While I accept that this present picture is modern, it just goes to show how, with a little tweaking of the known facts, a talented artist can turn a suggestion of the possible Richard into something which may be very close indeed to the real man. Too romantic? No. If a man was described as handsome to the point of beauty, then he must have been quite something to see. I doubt if Richard II ever walked into a crowded room unnoticed! Even wearing an old cloak and no headgear.
Of the three Richards of England, I am drawn to the second and third, both of whom are monarchs I believe to have been maligned. Oh, ‘maligned’ is a word all too often applied to Richard III, but I think Richard II deserves it too. Yes, he was guilty of a great deal of which he is accused, but at the same time, he was beset by uncles and nobles from the moment he became a child-king. If he grew up as damaged goods, it’s hardly surprising.
Anyway, the strength of the cover art for this book arrested my attention, and it will soon be on my shelf. As an author myself, I know the value of a good cover. It is a fact that a lousy one can demolish the chances of an excellent book. With this, Laura Ashe must surely have a winner. I do hope so. When I have read it, I will report my findings!
The brilliant artwork is by ANNA+ELENA=BALBUSSO ART, http://www.balbusso.com/ and I have to say that I would LOVE to see Richard III given the Balbusso treatment!!!
PS: A week later. I have now received and read this book, and my first impression—literally—was that they’d skimped on the dust cover. It only encloses the bottom three-quarters of the white cloth book, leaving the top quarter without anything. White? Dirt? I can see future second-hand copies turning up with bikini lines. Commenters on Amazon have also complained about the book’s small size, both in inches and pages, and it is true. It is more like a school text book than one of the larger biographies to which I am partial, but at the same time it gets to the nitty-gritty of Richard’s character and the problems that resulted from it.
In Chapter One, I read “The book is arranged by four locations, each both real and imagined: parliament, battlefield, city, shrine.” The court is not included because it is considered in the context of these stated four locations. Richard’s story is revealed mostly through contemporary chronicles and eye-witness accounts.
He was undoubtedly convinced that he was monarch by divine right, and any insult was taken to heart…and remembered for a long time. He was a Plantagenet elephant, and thought ahead, being prepared to wait for his revenge. It was also his preference for peace over war, which didn’t go down well with his martially-minded aristocracy, with whom he clashed time and again. Fatally. His defiance took the form of extravagance of almost mythical proportions, favourites and caprice, and his word was worthless because he would never abide by it. In the end he was taken down, as modern parlance has it. Unfortunately, it was the House of Lancaster that did it.
His conduct, and the consequent usurpation of Henry IV, sowed the seeds of the Wars of the Roses, and although I will always find Richard II engrossing, I also want to shake him. But if I had laid a hand on the royal person, I’d have been for the chop, quick as a wink. It is a fact, though, that someone should have shaken him, (perhaps a holy hand reaching down from the heavens, for he would have understood that!) Richard was not a fool or a bad king, he simply rebelled against everything that happened to him in childhood and continued throughout his adult life. And when Richard II kicked up a storm, he did it in Cinemascope and Technicolor.
All in all, I think Laura Ashe has written a very informative, easy-to-read account of Richard II, the man and his reign. I am not at all sorry to have purchased it, and I recommend it to anyone who seeks to be introduced to this strangely enigmatic king. But I do wish the cover had enclosed the whole book! Are Allen Lane (subsidiary of Penguin) on an economy drive??? Messing with covers is an ominous sign, in my experience.
However, the cover art is every bit as gorgeous as I thought before buying, but why did they have to cut corners…er, tops?
Note: The Penguin Monarchs edition about Richard III (by Rosemary Horrox) will be published next year. No date as yet.