on 14 July 2010
At last, a book that doesn't just concentrate on Richard's years as King, but provides an insight into the remaining 30 years of his nearly 33 year lifespan. The book is put together very well, putting Richard firmly in the context of the times in which he lived, rather than looking back at a king using the Tudor chroniclers version of his reign. Sadly for Richard, history is always written by winners.
The latter years of the reign of King Henry VI and the protectorship of Richard's father must have been traumatic and frightening for a young boy, especially the barbarous treatment eventually suffered by his father and older brother Edmund and the flight from Ludlow to escape the Lancastrian threat. What happens to us in our childhood must have an effect on the adult we become, and Richard's childhood must have been pretty scary.
The book has a nice balance between the good part of Richard's character, but does not hesitate to point out his faults, especially in his desire to obtain lands belonging to others sometimes whatever the cost. It also shows him as a religious man, despite that fact that he fathered illegitimate children, and he was certainly a brave soldier and able administrator. He does not seem to me to be different from any other powerful mediaeval lord, and we must view his actions not by the standards of today, but by the standards of 15th century England. He is certainly no worse and in my opinion much better than the Tudors, who systematically disposed of every possible Yorkist contender for the throne, even to the appalling treatment on the scaffold of the Countess of Salisbury (who was a very old woman) by Henry VIII!
Loyalty was very important to Richard, and he certainly proved to be Edward IV's mainstay in the north, which certainly helped to keep England stable in the latter years of Edward's reign. Edward obviously valued his brother, and had no hesitation in appointing him Protector before he died. Mind you, this position could be said to be a very poisoned chalice, bearing in mind its pitfalls, the difficulty in reconciling disparate groups, and the fact that staying alive could also be a challenge, as his father and before that Humphrey of Gloucester found out to their cost.
I really enjoyed the book, and it is an excellent introduction to readers who perhaps have not read Shakespeare (which is definitely just a story and could never be described as "real" history)- it will give them a much more balanced view of Richard as a man before he became king.
on 14 December 2012
Along with other reviewers I was interested in a biography of Richard III that dealt with his early years in detail. Most biographies skim over these years, which really are the formative ones for any individual. In addition, in the case of Richard, during these years he was really of little importance on the political stage of fifteenth century England, being the youngest of the four sons of Richard Duke of York, then the youngest brother of Edward IV. So it was fascinating to read so much information the author had gathered from various sources.
I felt Wilkinson did seem to bend over backwards or over state the argument to paint a positive view of Richard in the face of her own 'evidence' which indicated a more negative opinion. And this comment is from someone who has been a Ricardian for over 40 years! There was too much supposition and too many instances of 'this was possible' for me to gve this 5 stars.
Also the typos & errors were distracting - one being that Anne Neville was born in 1452 not 1456 in the list of main characters at the beginning (corrected later in the text).
I tend to disagree with Wilkinson's conclusion that Richard's marriage was purely one of convenience and that he found emotional satisfaction elsewhere. Yes he, and Anne too, had much to gain materially by their marriage, but also a shared experience of family and the north must be factors too, although I am very suspicious of the more romantic stance of some Ricardian novelists. There is no evidence that his illegitimate children were conceived after his marriage, but there would have been ample opportunity for him as a young man to sow his wild oats beforehand. John of Pontefract was appointed Captain of Calais in 1485, significantly 2 years after Richard's accession (presumably John was too young in 1483 even if born before Richard's marriage). If we accept Wilkinson's conclusion that Richard married Anne in 1472, any bastard children born after that date would have been at most 13. For such an appointment, although still a minor ie not 21, John must have been of a suitable age in 1485 - perhaps 17/18, a little younger than Richard when he fought at Barnet. Even in the opinion of the day, the deaths post battle of 17 year old Edmund of Rutland and Edward of Wales were decried. Surely an appointment of a 13 year old John to a military post would not have been acceptable.
As well as the niggles mentioned, one main jarring aspect of the book was the last chapter, discussing the 'Hate Literature'. As many of the events mentioned in this chapter hadn't yet occured in the narrative, and presumably will be addressed in the sequel, I felt it was premature to introduce this element.
Overall a good read and enjoyable. What struck me most about this telling of Richard's early life was how young he was when he was caught up in major events, which really emphasises how able, courageous and loyal he was.
on 12 July 2011
An exhaustively detailed work that convinces the reader that Josephine Wilkinson knows her subject. Somewhat spoilt by some sloppy proof-reading (chaffed for chafed etc) and one reference to Canterbury University as a centre for Greek (a confusion somewhere between Cantab and Cantuar perhaps), and in places with an opinion that I personally disagree with, (I think that St. Margaret of Scotland rather than Margaret of Antioch was the origin of his sister's name, as she was not only a direct ancestress - great-grandmother to Henry II - but provided the all-important link to the Anglo-Saxon dynasty through her great-uncle Edward the Confessor), it remains a highly impressive and enjoyable work.
Volume II was originally for publication in 2010 - I hope it arrives soon!
on 9 March 2013
Overall, I enjoyed this book and felt it really padded out Richard III. It didn't go on about how ruthless/horrible/murderous he was, and it gave a good overall feel of what life was like in his era.
It was quite pro Richard, presenting an overall sympathetic view of him. While this is quite a refreshing change to the usual "Richard was an evil villain" mantra, it did make me think that the book is a little biased.
Some of the imagery used was quite romanticised- Richard, trotting back to Middleham after a hard days training, in his armour and looking forwards to a nice hot bath etc. And it being a shame he could not wear his fashionable pointy shoes- as Edward IV had banned them (which in itself could be seen to be a good thing).
After a while, I got to quite like the imagery the author conjours up. After all, despite all the "wicked uncle" portrayal, he would have had feelings, thoughts and desires just like anyone else. Previous books I have read on Richard III just concentrate on cold, hard facts, this book had a lot of facts, but sought to present Richard in a more human light.
Although the author presumes what Richard may have felt- it is a change to think of Richard III doing normal things, rather than just his usual one dimensional plotting and planning.
I also really liked the level of detail. There are chapters on Richard's dealing with the Countess of Oxford and her lands, and the Countess of Warwick. The author has really researched this and there is a lot of detail.
I also agree with another review on here, that the last chapter- the study on the literature of hate, was a bit out of place. Though interesting, it would be better at the end of the whole Richard III story.
All in all, I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading volume 2.
on 7 March 2009
This is an excellent book. It is well written, well researched and fair.
I liked the way the author explained symbolism and I especially liked the way the book began with a brief look at Richard's astrology. I would have liked a more in depth look at his birth chart as I have been studying it myself. There are a couple of things I felt rather spoiled the book, they are only minor ones. The first is that the type settng and proof reading were not good and there are many words omitted or the wrong word appears - e.g. certainly for certaintity, things like that which are niggling. Also and more important, the author includes a lot of long quotations from early chronicles and I feel the spelling should have been modernised. I am fairly familiar with middle English so it was not an obstacle for me but it would be a problem for readers who were not used to old spelling. Apart from that I feel the spirit of the times has been well captured and I can't think of any other book which has considered all the events from the perspective of Richard and treated him like a person and not a monster or saint as often happens. I sincerely hope she will finish the story very soon.
This is a well researched and well written biography of Richard 111 concentrating on his early life before he became King. It demonstrates well his ability as a soldier and his bravery and loyalty. I am pro Richard so was pleased to read of his good points for a change. I had a little difficulty at times to believe it was facts as too often the author seemed to rely on Richard's thoughts. How could she possibly know. I found too that it got a bit heavy at times and the mire of detail left me bewildered. Nevertheless I was glad to read of his early life as we too often forget just how he suffered and how young he was.
on 26 March 2009
This first volume of Josephine Wilkinson's life of Richard III is a joy to read. It is a meticulously researched biography, elegantly constructed and beautifully written. It is also a fascinating catalogue of late mediaeval intrigues - private intrigues, political intrigues, intrigues with courtly, continental, dynastic, military, even religious dimensions. There is never any doubt where WIlkinson's sympathies lie in wishing to rehabilitate Richard of York, but her analysis of the available material is always balanced and fair. Particularly compelling is her argument that Richard's enduring negative image owes little to historical fact, and much to the efforts of Tudor 'spin doctors' anxious to establish the credentials of their own regime, which was of dubious legitimacy and whose only right to rule stemmed from their marriage into the House of York.
Don't get me wrong, Elisabeth 1 was a brilliant queen, her father Henry V111 was as rotten as she was brilliant.
But this is about their cousin Richard Gloucester, who was very unlike his older brother Edward 1V, who was devious and a liar a bigamist and a murderer.
But Richard always seemed to me to have been the very opposite of him in every way and was also more importantly extremly popular in the country when he WAS king.
He was in do doubt vilified by Henry V11, made out to be deformed and evil, outright propoganda by the Tudor king, who had to justify taking the throne and murdering the anointed king, as well as marrying the bastard daughter of the previous one. Just like Midsomer murders !!!!!
Anyway this is a very interesting book, if you like Richard and want to know more of his early life, it is a very enlightening read.
on 13 October 2015
I bought this book at the Bosworth Battlefield Visitor Centre on a trip there this September, and very enjoyable it was too, even if it wasn't the actual place that battle occurred. Anyway, to this book: It paints a fascinating picture of Richard's early years, really filling in all the characters around him and the background to his story, it was really good to fill out his personality from the narrow years of his reign covered by most books. Edward IV is particularly well covered and if you want a book about these years that not only covers Richard but the Wars Of The Roses, this is the one for you. The style of writing is accessible and goes into sufficient depth for an enthusiast like me or would be penetrable for a novice to the WotR.
However, I would have given it 5 stars had it not been for the book being riddled with typos as some other reviewers have pointed out, not just dates, but spelling and grammatical. And, it was written before Richard was recently discovered in Leicester so there is a lengthy section speculating on his physical appearance and deformities. Interesting in its way, but seriously irrelevant now.
Like another reviewer I long for a sequel because it finishes at Edward IV's disastrous foray into France - there is much more worth telling.
on 27 March 2011
Most books on Richard tend to centre on his usurpation of his nephew Edward V's throne in 1483, his subsequent reign and his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry Tudor in 1485. Very welcome therefore is a book dedicated to Richard's life from birth to 1475, when Richard showed his opposition to England's treaty with France following a disappointing campaign; the first time Richard showed any sort of independence from his brother Edward IV. Josephine Wilkinson writes a very readable yet scholarly prequel before the sequel in fact, describing the events that would shape Richard in later life, whether or not Richard was central to the events of the War of The Roses.
It is obvious that Wilkinson wishes to paint Richard in a positive light but does not shy away from even-handedly describing his faults; the case involving the Countess Elizabeth of Oxford being a prime example.
Despite this, Wilkinson naively lays the blame of Henry VI's death, wthout doubt, on Edward IV purely because as King he would have been the only man with the authority to order the death, while Richard, as Constable of England, would only have had the authority to carry the order to the Constable of the Tower, Lord Derby. To suggest that no-one exceeded his authority is silly. However, it is probable that Edward IV was responsible just as in my opinion Richard was probably responsible for the deaths of his two nephews in 1483. To stay on or usurp the throne one had to get rid of the opposition irrespective of their saintliness or age.
Despite inaccurate proof reading and a tendency for Wilkinson to quote in original language and then explain what the quote meant, this book deserves to be part of the small collection of recommendable Ricardian literature.
I very much look forward to Wilkinson's sequel.