by Wednesday McKenna (writing as Merlyn MacLeod)
I just finished reading Stephen Lark’s The Battle of Bosworth & the Burial of King Richard III and found it a good read for anyone looking for a solid summary. Lark first summarizes the whole of Richard’s life, and then outlines the specific events leading up to his taking the throne in place of his nephew, Edward of York.
Lark’s analysis of the Battle of Bosworth is clear and precise. The book contains two illustrations to help the reader visualize the scene: the placement of the armies before engagement and at its climax. Since no reliable, detailed record of Bosworth exists, every author analyzing the battle is forced to decide what they believe happened and in what sequence it happened. Today, we’re more certain of where the battle took place than how. No one knows exactly how Richard drew up his three “battles”; we do know one was led by Richard himself; another by John Howard, Duke of Norfolk; and the third by Henry Percy, Duke of Northumberland. The author has consulted current archaeological data to frame his analysis, but that data is incomplete since archaeology on the newly discovered battlefield is able to continue only in fits and starts.
Lark’s book is most valuable for any student of history who wants or needs a quick overview of Richard’s life, the battle in which he died, and the events that followed, right up to the discovery of his grave and re-interment of his bones as matters stood in July 2013. But be warned: rather than offering an in-depth analysis, publisher Bretwalda Books specializes in short books that summarize the historical events under discussion. So engaging is Lark’s style, however, that I found myself wishing the author had gone his own way to write a much more detailed biography of King Richard III.
Since the author has been forced to leave out much of the tangled details behind the events of Richard’s life, what Lark doesn’t cover almost speaks more loudly than what he does cover. Definitive statements made by him led to my asking endless questions, such as:
“Before [Edward V] could be crowned it emerged that the marriage of his parents had been invalid under Church law, so he was illegitimate and unable to inherit the crown.” How could Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage have been invalid? And how did that bombshell emerge?
“That left the boy’s uncle, Richard, the only surviving male heir. He became king as King Richard III. However, some of Edward IV’s most loyal supporter suspected that Richard had fabricated the evidence against the marriage and, in due course, though he might have murdered Edward’s two sons. Unrest began to fester against the new king, especially among those nobles who found him to be just a bit too honest and diligent at rooting out corruption for their tastes.” Who suspected Richard had invented the evidence, and why? Did he murder his two nephews? If so, why? If not, why not? The Princes in the Tower disappeared; where did they go? How was Richard a bit too honest and diligent? And how could someone with a reputation for honesty and diligence be suspected of murdering his nephews?
“As yet Tudor had no chance of becoming king. But as unrest against Richard grew, Tudor decided his time had come.” How much unrest, and what sort? Who was involved and how did the unrest manifest itself?
I had many more questions as the book went on. This is not a shortcoming of the book; it’s due to the events being discussed and the page limitations set down by the publisher. And so, Lark was unable to explore anything in depth. But the answers underlying each question are part of the long journey that led to Bosworth, so I suspect that any serious readers of The Battle of Bosworth 1485 and the Burial of King Richard III will be inspired — or driven — to ferret out the answers for themselves, to understand who the players were in the battle and exactly why they were there.
The events of Richard III’s life create an intricate puzzle. When you learn one or two details of an event, you fit them into the puzzle and then find yourself chasing additional details because every detail interlocks with details in the lives of a score of other people. Even something that should have been simple, such as his burial after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, interlocks with matters in 2014 regarding his collateral descendants, a judicial review regarding where he is to be re-interred, ongoing DNA analysis after he’s been re-interred — and that’s only to name a few of the puzzle pieces up for discussion.
Stephen Lark has touched so briefly on the details of Richard’s life and death that the outcome for even the most casual reader is to realize that there is much more to Richard III’s story than the neat, clean legend of, “He killed the Princes in the Tower, usurped his nephew’s throne, died at Bosworth, and deserved what he got.” So after reading The Battle of Bosworth 1485 and the Burial of King Richard III, readers may find themselves pulled into in-depth research to find out what Lark didn’t have room to discuss.
Please be advised that the book contains no list of contemporary or modern historical sources; readers will need to seek their own sources if they want to know more about the events discussed. The book is available on Amazon in paperback (48 pages) and Kindle (58 pages).
Obligatory disclosure: Stephen Lark provided me with a reviewer’s copy of The Battle of Bosworth 1485 and the Burial of King Richard III. The opinions herein, however, are all mine.