Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who’s the most evil one of all?
Has anyone else tried to read The Religious Life of Richard III: Piety & Prayer in the North of England by Jonathan Hughes?
I knew going in that Hughes is openly anti-Richard; I didn’t know he’s anti-Richard with a vengeance. I’m reading the book for insights into Richard and his medieval Catholicism and how it affected his personality/life. But every evil thing laid at Richard’s feet…in his introduction Hughes insists that Richard did it. Everything. No exceptions. He killed Henry VI. He killed Edward, Prince of Wales after the Battle of Tewkesbury. He helped kill his brother, Clarence. He wanted to marry his niece and so he poisoned his wife. His problem was pride; it’s better that his brother was a glutton and lustful because gluttony and lust don’t lead to the same dastardly doings as does the sin of pride. On and on and on. Ad nauseum.
Hughes even posits that Richard knew ahead of time his brother the king, Edward IV, was going to die of gluttony. (Edward did? And Richard did? Where the heck is that proven?) Richard made plans accordingly while his brother was still alive. I’m surprised Richard’s crystal ball hasn’t been dug up yet at Middleham.
While reading the seemingly endless list of Evil!King Richard III accusations and mentally ticking off historically valid rebuttals (like the Juana of Portugal and Infanta of Spain marriage negotiations, which Hughes didn’t know about or ignored; and the unreliability of More and Vergil), it occurred to me that if Richard had done everything tradition says he did, he would have been a full-blown psychopath, even more manipulative and murderous than the character Shakespeare framed.
It also occurred to me that if Richard had been as manipulative, murderous, and sneaky-crafty at hiding his intentions for nigh on 12+ years and hiding out in Yorkshire while planning to satisfy his (always hidden) overweening ambition by snatching the throne when Edward IV obligingly died, then that Richard would never have lost the Battle of Bosworth. That Richard would have lost no time running away to fight another day. Because self-preservation? That’s been at the top of every known psychopath’s list of priorities.
And not only that: “All for one and more for me” would have been Richard’s obvious and consistent policy long before he took the throne. If that was the case, I doubt any Yorkshireman would have missed Richard after he died. Yet plenty did. A few years after Bosworth, the Earl of Northumberland lost his life at the hands of a Yorkshire mob because of his role in helping the man they thought of as their king to go missing.
How amazing is it that Richard as Duke of Gloucester didn’t arbitrarily go murdering children. Nor did he plot against and behead members of the gentry or the nobility during the 12 years he lived in the North — regardless he would have been within his rights legally to do so, if only because he was Constable of England.
How amazing is it that instead of hanging and beheading his way through Yorkshire, when the city of York wrote to say, “We’ve had this bloke in prison for some weeks because he badmouthed you, yer Grace. What should we do with him?”, Richard, Duke of Gloucester wrote back, “Release him.”
Maybe Richard’s reply was really code for, “Torture him until he’s very nearly dead, then lynch the bugger. While you’re at it, exile his wife and kiddies, yeah?”
Given the consistent way the Duke of Gloucester conducted his life while living in the North, and how he served as the equivalent of a circuit judge for so long (upholding the law village by town, and even taming those pesky border reivers), he’d have to have undergone a total personality transplant (or been infested with medieval demons) to do what tradition and Tudor propaganda says he did.
Maybe Richard fell off of his horse and received a great blow to the head a few days before he received word from Hastings that his brother the king had died. Maybe that’s the reason for the alleged change in his personality.
Now…admittedly Hughes wrote this book in mid-2000 and the historical analysis pendulum has swung a bit more to center in the past 14 years. I’ve read that current Richard III scholars no longer believe he did all the dastardly things he was convicted (in absentia and on hearsay — which isn’t admissible in a court of law) of doing 500+ years ago. But there’s Ross’s and Hicks’ biographies, and a handful of other books…”Selectively murderous” is what I remember from Ross, and I’ve been warned to avoid Hicks.
I know there’s Good King Richard? by Jeremy Potter, and the most excellent The Maligned King by Annette Carson (both foundationed in solid research), but I’m not seeing the centered pendulum of academia, so perhaps someone could provide a list of the more moderate scholars and their writings?
Hughes’ writing is broad-stroke, and his matter-of-fact insistence on “GUILTY!” for everything — with no more “proof” than hearsay writings decades past Bosworth — is wearying. He isn’t as bad in tone as Desmond what’s-his-name’s poison, but close.
I’m going to continue wading through this thing, looking for useful morsels of information on Richard and his medieval Catholicism, but it’s at a cost. I’m having to read the book in short spurts. After 30 minutes, I feel like I need a shower to wash off the bad feelings that come with this book. I’m not exaggerating about the shower.
I know Richard wasn’t all treacle and divinity, but eesh. When you lay out the catalog of terrible sins he’s supposed to have committed (and I hadn’t done this in awhile), it’s a list that is unbelievable. Not because a medieval warlord wouldn’t have done those things, but because if he had done all those things, a solid evidence trail would be there for at least some of them. The “proof” wouldn’t all be hearsay and deliberate Tudor smear campaign.
If you go researching Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476/77), you run into eyewitness accounts of his medieval warlord nastiness in great, violent, and bloody detail. You learn about his childhood, his training in cruelty from the Turks when he was held captive as a child, his political and personal reasons for acting so violently toward others when he ruled. You have no trouble placing him in context with his surroundings and culture. You don’t get, “It was rumored that he impaled his enemies on spikes,” or, “Some say he nailed the visiting diplomats’ turbans to their heads, but as yet I haven’t been able to ascertain why he did this.” You get stark information. (He nailed the turbans to the diplomats’ heads because said diplomats refused to remove their turbans in his presence. Obviously, the penalty for insulting the Voivode of Wallachia could be severe.)
You can stack up the 15th century historical record in the case of Vlad and know it supports your conclusion. You back away from the blood and mayhem and realize there’s no question about it: he was a ruthless medieval ruler and a great model for Dracula.
On the other hand, the trouble with researching Richard is that you have to dig through a lot of backstairs gossip and keep digging (as Annette Carson has) before you get to reliable contemporary details regarding him, his reign, or his life. Many writers — academic and fiction as well — seem unwilling to do this. Annette Carson is the only writer I know who has based her work on the events of Richard III’s reign as they actually happened, and based on reports in only the original sources — are there others?
I simply cannot understand why historians seem to lose all their power of discernment when they come to research and write about Richard III. Shakespeare wrote a powerful play, but it’s dramatic fiction, not history. Why does tradition treat a playwright and his 16th-century sources as reliable historical accounts of actual events when they’re not?
Does this happen with other historical figures, or only with Richard?
Oh. Wait. It happens with Rasputin as well. So there’s another “He was too evil!” example of someone who lost his reputation to his murderer.
I’m going to take that shower now.
PS. Someone has whispered to me that I’ll find more sympathetic and reasonable assessments of Richard’s piety from Sutton & Visser-Fuchs, & Pamela Tudor-Craig. Thank heaven for interlibrary loan….