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.