The Last Days Of Richard III, by John Ashdown-Hill
One of the more entertaining controversies about English history and its contemporary relevance is the fight that goes on over the life and behavior of Richard III. Some of the facts involved are easy to determine. Richard III took power after the death of his older brother Edward IV, he put the princes in the Tower of London where they were never seen again and soon were thought to have been killed, he was unable to secure the legitimacy of his line after the death of his wife and his only son, and he had to deal with frequent treachery until the time of his death at the Battle of Bosworth to a ragtag army. Writings about this context  tend to traffic in a set of legends that are popularly known as the white legend (which this book comes from the perspective of), the grey legend, and the black legend. Even if there have been few new facts, other than the fact that Richard III was found in the car park where this book believes him to have been buried, over the past few years, there has been a long-running battle going back to Tudor times about whether Richard III was really as evil as is supposed or not.
This short book of not even 150 pages of reading material looks at the last few months of the life of Richard III from the death of his son and then his wife to his death and then his historical memory. The book shows that Richard III was engaged in marriage negotiations with both the Kingdoms of Portugal and Castile for dynastic marriages that would help to connect branches of the Plantagenet family together and provide him with an heir to the throne to continue his dynasty. The author discusses the travels of Richard III, his love of hunting, and claims a political naivete in not killing the untrustworthy Stanleys who would later betray him at Bosworth by first remaining neutral and then attacking Richard III when his assault on Henry Tudor failed, and who were viewed as untrustworthy even before the battle. The author, overall, tries to present Richard III as someone who was deeply bound by ties of honor and a high degree of religious morality and fidelity to his wife, while sidestepping questions of what Richard III had done to reach the position he was in.
Overall, this book provides a plausible enough tale, but the scope of the work is something that is surely of interest. There are simply too few details known of the life of Richard III for such a book to be written without a lot of borrowing and suppositions. What is known is interesting, including sermon messages that delicately discussed the matter of the princes of the tower as well as a claim that Henry VII used Swiss-inspired tactics of massed pikemen to defeat the charge of Richard III, which would have meant that Richard III’s defeat was similar to those suffered by Charles the Rash of Burgundy against the Swiss during the same time period, a context that is not often appreciated. At any rate, this is a polished effort that gives Richard III every benefit of the doubt, even to the point of providing a relatively positive discussion of his funeral arrangements and the memorial provided by the victor of Bosworth some years later in Leicester. If you want the best possible interpretation of Richard III as a king as he approached his death, although he did not know it, this book is certainly one that provides such a perspective. Whether or not its point of view can be believed, those Ricardians who want to believe the best of the last of the Plantagenet rulers of England would do well to read this book.
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