In my last post, I wrote about how reading Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time at an impressionable age left me convinced of Richard’s innocence etc. etc. I also mentioned that other people seemed to be of the opinion that it was more complicated than that. Anyway, I kept seeing a book on the shelves entitled just Richard III and eventually decided to read it for myself in a search for something a little more academic.
Paul Murray Kendall‘s Richard III is a biography first published in 1955 and a serious examination of the man and his life. I haven’t re-read it in over ten years, so my recollections are somewhat hazy and reliant on other internet sources, but I do remember that it was easy enough going to read on the train yet well argued and researched. The author is fascinated by the contrast between the contemporary accounts of Richard as a capable and popular leader and soldier, trusted younger brother and all-round good egg, and the monster of Tudor myth. The question summarised by presenter Simon Farnaby on the recent TV
debacle documentary The King in the Car Park as “What the hell happened?”
He deals with Richard’s early life and career in meticulous detail and builds up a vivid picture of the man behind the myth.
When it comes to the Princes in the Tower, Kendall is particularly careful to consider both sides of the argument and criticises traditionalists and revisionists alike. He has little time for the theory put forward in The Daughter of Time and considers all the possible culprits for the murders.
After reading all of that I ended up sitting on the fence. In my heart I wanted Richard to be innocent, but my head considered him quite likely guilty, whether directly or indirectly.
The next book I came to on the subject was Alison Weir‘s The Princes in the Tower (Pimlico, 1998), which annoyed me intensely. I can’t remember now why I took against it so much, or whether it was just that her prejudices clashed with mine. I remember thinking that if I could see the flaws in her reasoning with no more than A-level history, surely everyone else must too. Sadly, I don’t remember what they were! It does seem, however, that plenty of other people had a similar reaction to the book.
Whatever Weir’s intentions, her book had the effect of driving me back into the Ricardian camp again, mainly out of pique and more than a little confused.
So back to fiction then. After many rave reviews, I knew I had to read Sharon Kay Penman‘s The Sunne in Splendour (1982). Apparently it draws heavily on Kendall’s biography, and again draws a compelling picture of Richard as a man. Strangely, however, I found that for all its Ricardian sympathies and popularity with the pro-Dickon lobby, it did far more than anything else I’d read to help me see how a basically good person could take bad decisions under pressure. A sweeping and exhilerating read, I found it unsettling in a way I hadn’t expected.
And now, here I am, no longer a fully-fledged Ricardian (quite a relief given some of their recent antics) but still seeing Dicky 3 as a much-maligned man, victim of Tudor spin, whatever. There are plenty of instances of murders committed by the most unlikely people, and there’s plenty of room for ambiguity in anyone’s character. A good egg who lost the plot a bit? One bad decision leading to another until everything spirals out of control? Yeah, I can see that. Although mari still reckons that’s a bit generous.
But obviously part of the attraction of this is that we’ll never know. And as I said before, whatever your take on it, it’s a cracking good story. More on that another time maybe.