Richard III: The King In The Car Park
(Amberley, 2015) 316 pp. $9.99
In the introduction of this book the author, the author makes a strong claim that he began his research of Richard III with a strict sense of neutrality: “With further research, I wondered if the car park bones deserved such reverence, and began with a tabula rasa, a blank canvas upon which to spread contemporary evidence about Richard III. Most modern writers, especially those of fiction, have veered towards the notion that Richard Plantagenet was maligned by his Tudor successors as monarchs of England. There are facts, untruths and allegations running together throughout every nation’s history, so this author simply tried to extrapolate meaning from facts. This is why it is so important to compare Richard III’s career and reign to those of his successor. I find the evidence conclusive about the nature of Richard, and will be attacked by other writers. However, facts are facts and I began this research with no opinion as to whether Richard was a black, white or grey king (10-11).”
Whether this statement of innocence with regards to any intents to blacken the name and reputation of Richard III is taken at face value or with a grain of salt by the reader of the book, it represents the author’s claim to follow proper historical objectivity by letting the facts speak rather than any sort of untoward prejudice for or against the subject he is writing about. Richard III is an immensely controversial ruler, and he was within his lifetime, as he was the last of a long dynasty of notoriously ambitious rulers and defending his reign involves defending the legitimacy of his usurpation of rule from his young nephews as well as the legitimacy of the Tudor claim to the throne. Given the contentious nature of Tudor historiography, with which the author is familiar with as the author of Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker and numerous other books about the period, it is unlikely that the author was unfamiliar with the nature of the divisive arena into which he was entering with this book, but with his knowledge of and familiarity with a variety of texts, including hitherto often-ignored Welsh political poetry, it is likely that he saw himself as being able to enter into the debate about Richard III’s life and reign with a definitive fact-based historical account to dispel the somewhat romantic image about the king that has become increasingly popular in recent decades.
Using the following quote as his guideline, taken from John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding: “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts,” Breverton takes a critical look at the life and times of King Richard III, making an explicit comparison between his reign and behavior and that of his successor, Henry VII. First, he introduces the historical context, writing about the background of the Wars of the Roses, discusses the behavior of Richard as the Duke of Gloucester between 1452 and 1482, spends a great deal of time talking about his turbulent reign as Richard III, makes an aside to examine the path of Henry Tudor to the Battle of Bosworth in his early life as an exile and political hostage in Brittany. A great deal of time is spent discussing the Battle of Bosworth itself and Henry’s actions as king from 1485 to 1509 in explicit contrast to the behavior of Richard III, and then closes the book by addressing the situation of the King and the Prince in the Tower, the controversy over the bones in the car park found to have been those of Richard III through a variety of lines of evidence, and a closing summary of the evidence of the author’s saturnine view of Richard III’s reign, followed by a partial bibliography of sources that goes on for several pages to encourage further reading on the part of the reader.
With several lines of evidence, including the contemporary evidence of Welsh poetry and French and Breton diplomacy, as well as the marked neutrality or outright treachery of the English nobility during the Bosworth campaign, Breverton makes a strong case that Richard III was every bit as bad as Tudor historiography made him out to be. He pulls no punches in this, from the accuracy of the description of Richard’s slender build and problems with scoliosis to his detailed examination of Richard’s seeming or suspected involvement in nearly every high-profile murder of his time, including his inability to produce the princes in the Tower when repeatedly pressed by foreign diplomats who charged him with regicide in the matter, and the discussion of his notorious greed for land that included putting pressure on elderly widows in order to squeeze them for more estates. At the end of the book, in his conclusion expressing Richard III as a “black king,” the author helpfully provides a table of more than four pages of Richard’s involvement in various matters ranging from greed for more of other people’s property to various deaths, in which the author notes his brutal slayings of noble prisoners after battle, his likely role in inflaming difficulties between his two older brothers, and even the possibility that he killed his own ward who died mysteriously at 21, and whose lands were given to Richard III as a life estate.
Perhaps the strongest line of evidence, and the one that suggests a future direction of the author’s prolific writing, is the comparison between Richard III’s behavior and the vastly more restrained behavior of his successor, Henry VII. It is the author’s strong partisan support of Henry’s wise and restrained behavior that suggests that a desire to defend the often-maligned Tudor dynasty founder, rather than any inherent hostility to Richard III, is what drove the author to write this book. The book amounts to a work of historical criticism not only on the reign and early life of Richard III, as well as the behavior of various people and institutions after the rediscovery of his skeleton, but also of a contemporary historical trend that seeks to whitewash a wicked tyrant because of romantic considerations rather than a focus on historical evidence and fact as best as can be determined. This book may not win the author many fans among the Ricardian camp, but the fair-minded reader is likely to find a great deal of interest in this book and especially in the contemporary sources it discusses.