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Richard III: England's Black Legend [Paperback]

Desmond Seward
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Dec 1997
This text argues that the traditional view of Richard III is very near the truth - Shakespeare's Richard is closer to reality than the image of a betrayed hero favoured by his modern defenders. The author believes the king to have been "the most terrifying man ever to occupy the English throne, not excepting his great nephew Henry VIII. His short life was filled with intrigue and slaughter, and he was the only king of England - other than Harold - to be defeated and killed in battle". In the author's opinion, Richard undoubtedly murdered his nephews, almost certainly his cousin Henry VI and, just possibly, Henry's son as well.

Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (4 Dec 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140266348
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140266344
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 801,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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First Sentence
Richard III was born on 2 October 1452 at Fotheringay in Northamptonshire, sixth and youngest son of the Duke and Duchess of York. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unimpressed 29 Dec 2012
I can't agree with the reviews that think this book is very well researched. I think it is ok but not without mistakes.

While most of the book is ok, Seward gets a few facts quite wrong in places and this weakens some of his arguments. He also appears to take some sources too much at face value and these invariably turn out to be those supporting the "black legend" as he terms it. I personally wouldn't use this book as a wholly reliable reference.

In a few places he also draws barely-supportable inferences with regard to Richard's character from minimal evidence, or at least drops dark hints. I don't think this does much for any claims that he might make to be a disinterested observer. Neither did he endear himself to me at the start by condescendingly suggesting that those who don't believe in the black legend, fail to do so because they simply can't cope with it or somehow can't bring themselves to believe the awful truth. I thought this was a touch melodramatic- I'm not personally related to Richard III as far as I know and I think I could take it without blubbing if he happened to be as black as sometimes painted.

Not the very best researched book on Richard in the whole world and in my humble opinion not particularly objective either. I'm afraid I gave away my copy to a 2nd hand shop.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Richard III, having been vilified for so long, probably did need to be rescued from his defenders when Desmond Seward wrote this book. Seward most certainly tries to do so, and in many respects he carries conviction - particularly since, as he points out, the relatively contemporary sources such as Dominic Mancini and the Croyland Chronicle are hostile as well as the Tudor tradition.
Occasionally, however, you do get the feeling that Seward is trying to validate the Tudor tradition more than trying to get to the truth of the matter. For instance, when talking about the death of Prince Edward of Lancaster, he tells us (in arguing for a serious suspicion that Richard was involved in helping to murder him, rather than having him dead in battle) that "it would be unwise to dismiss the great Victorian's [J.A. Gairdner's] intuition too easily"! He's also, to my mind, often much too inclined to rely on Thomas More's testimony. However, his portrait of Richard - as a ruthless man in a company of ruthless men - is a credible one. It should be remembered that the portrait of him as one of the most maligned English kings would make him one of the most exceptionally virtuous noblemen of the day! Well worth a read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars With it's limitations... 9 April 2014
This book is ok as far as it goes and is a reasonably good read but I do agree with the previous reviewer in that although much research has probably been done to write the book in the first place, Seward is very subjective in the veidence he produces , and accepts almost verbatim all that More reports .....in fact large parts of the book seem to be a re-telling of More's own account. Also Seward is a little cavaalier at times in his nomenaclature...Richard is either "Richard" or Gloucester in different apparently random sections ; similarly other dukes are variously called by their name or by their title. All in all not a bad read but falls way short of an accurate picture.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars This is a truly dreadful book! 29 Jan 2002
This book is described as a 'definitive picture of both the man and his age' when all it is is an apology for the discredited testimony of Thomas More. In roughly 150 pages More is referred (or deferred) to at least 79 times! Although the book boasts an extensive Bibliography, the sources actually quoted are almost exclusively those known to be hostile to Richard III. He acknowledges some of More's most obvious errors and states that his history 'portrays Queen Elizabeth Woodville as a spotless figure when in reality she was a grasping intriguer' and yet swallows some of his most vitriolic passages about Richard, whole...
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but not without faults 22 Sep 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I did enjoyed this book, Desmond Seward has a very easy writing style and it was very refreshing to read a book on Richard III that wasn't either gushing or endlessly defending him on every point to justify this historically "maligned" figure.

However I do have one or two issues which irritated me a little. Obviously the author is writing from a negative perspective, but as a result he sometimes comes across as patronising about Richard, northers and even short people, which although not a major issue annoyed me.

Secondly, using Sir (Saint) Thomas Moore as his primary source, the author constantly quoted him then suddenly became somewhat cautious of him entirely. This sometimes confused me.

Ironically, after reading this book I felt a little bit sorry for Richard, something I didn't expect (I personally believe he was responsible for the murder of his nephews and was generally a bit of a black sheep) I would recommend this book, but only as part of wider research.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Desmond Seward argues there are three theories of Richard III - the 'white legend', the 'grey legend' and the 'black legend' of Shakespeare. Richard's life and reign are so open to interpretation it is almost impossible to find a totally neutral account of his life. Mr Seward acknowledges this. His solution was to read the original sources. His account,is by his own admission personal, but in my opinion credible. Unlike the historians who promote the white legend, some of the more unpleasant incidents of Richard's reign and the way he rose to power are not glossed over, but examined in context.
However, Mr Seward however appears to make definite statements about Richard's chararacter to argue his case, when surely his character is a matter of interpretation. I could not agree with all of his conclusions, although they are well argued and valid. On the whole the biography is well written and researched. It is a highly enjoyable read. It is one of the best books I have read on the subject
Although it failed to convince me of the black legend, but I found it more persuasive than the white legend accounts. It has inspired to me to read the original sources.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars An author caught in two minds?
In rather self-defeating style, Desmond Seward writes indecisively, almost as if he himself cannot believe the certainty of `England's Black Legend,' even though here he... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Laurence Paul
5.0 out of 5 stars disappointed
I was extremely disappointed with this book I have read better books about Richard ,I think he is painted in this book as the black hearted villain that... Read more
Published 4 months ago by margaret fenton
5.0 out of 5 stars I Love it
factual interesting full of good content and even answers some questions you had in you mind, I recomend this as not only a good read but a realy good and useful book
Published 12 months ago by Rachel Davies
5.0 out of 5 stars A plausible account of a brief and troubled reign
It has become fashionable to try to resurrect Richard III's reputation as a maligned but unfortunate monarch in a time of civil war. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Fiction Fan
5.0 out of 5 stars Anti-Ricardian to the extreme!!!
In my opinion one should not mark down a book about Richard III if you disagree with the author's opinion of him. If it wasn't the case I would have given it 1 star! Read more
Published on 7 July 2012 by K. J. Greenland
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant
not really a review just to comment that as a 15thC historian this is prehaps the best referance book i have ever found!! Read more
Published on 9 July 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Accurate account of Richard's life by a life-long student
This book is valuable from the angle that the Author has experienced the story from both sides of the arguement, as a one-time believer in the "White Legend", the... Read more
Published on 26 Jun 2000
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