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An interesting read, but this book could have been so much better
on 8 December 2009
This book completely demolishes the contention that Richard III was a usurper, because (as Ashdown amply shows) the 'Princes in the Tower' were both illegitimate. Under medieval law, they could have no claim to the English Crown; and Richard was next in line.
The book is well produced and the many illustrations are gorgeously reproduced. Unfortunately, virtually none is adequately labelled. The reader is left wondering where they come from. In a few instances, the other question is rather, 'why is this relevant?'
The book's first 2/3 or so describe Eleanor's early life in stultifying detail. We simply do not know sufficient about Eleanor to warrant such excess. And this book would be slim indeed if an editor were to delete each and every paragraph that contains the doubt-inducing words 'possibly,' 'probably,' maybe,' 'likely,' and the many, many, many other permutations of uncertainty.
Of course Eleanor lived in the shadows of her men folk, because all medieval women did. That sociological fact is indisputable and unavoidable. But a skilful writer can always find ways of expressing himself without recourse to teeth-jarring repetition and (to be frank) clotted prose. At the end, the reader has overdosed on `possibly/probably' to the extent that, ultimately, it undermines any confidence in the author's conclusions.
In summary, a book with good content but badly let down in terms of its scholarship and writing style. While Ashdown rightly castigates Charles Rees' biography of Richard III for its occasional lapses in content, he could have learnt a great many lessons in terms of scholarship, style and the art of writing.