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Richard III: England's Most Controversial King.

Richard III: England's Most Controversial King. By Chris Skidmore. (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 2017. Pp. xxii, 432. $29.99.)

From 2 June 1484, Silesian knight Niclas von Popplau was granted a series of meetings with King Richard III. His notes give a highly particularized account of the character and behavior of Richard and his court, by which we can visualize the exact expressions of Richard as if we were present. Such data allows Chris Skidmore to provide a fascinating narrative of Richard's behavior throughout his career, avoiding both the "black legend" (10) of the Tudor historians and modern vindications, strengthened since the recovery of his body in Leicester. The king's motives emerge so clearly that we understand the sequence of complex political events and why his most provocative actions occurred.

As the Duke of York's youngest son, with the deficient physique seen in his recovered skeleton, Richard was driven to military achievements which earned him the highest status. To secure that he also had to destroy his older brother Clarence, who sought to seize Richard's share of the inheritance of Warwick, the kingmaker, via the dowry of the younger of Warwick's daughters--both married to the Woodville brothers. Skidmore's insight into such situations clarifies startling elements in Shakespeare's play, such as Richard's seduction of Lady Anne after the Yorkist murder of her husband and her father-in-law. Skidmore observes that the widowed Anne "had no one to represent her own interests. Faced with being left in limbo, the only way that she would be able to secure her inheritance was through marriage.... She would need a husband powerful enough to face up to Clarence" (73).

The narrative shows Richard's later career to be governed by the challenge to the Yorkist family generated by King Edward IV's catastrophic marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, for her ambitious family sought hegemony after the premature death of the king. To preserve his own status as protector of the young heir Edward V, Richard produced brutal initiatives such as the murders of Rivers and Hastings, and possibly engineered the disappearance of Edward V and his brother. Even Richard's co-conspirator Buckingham fatally turned to the Woodvilles. Though his murder was then politically expedient, whoever was guilty of the princes' disappearance, its popular attribution to Richard invited the betrayals that lost him the battle of Bosworth Field. Yet Richard's last desperate charge there against Richmond came within feet of success.

Skidmore details these vicissitudes with a clarity, coherence, and precision, via contemporary factual accounts, which make his narrative as readable as an historical novel. Ironically the "real" Richard who emerges is neither so unrepresentative of his society nor so outrageously seductive as Shakespeare's Machiavel. He proves a man of his time, capable both of brutalities and gestures of conventional piety, and generosity to women and even foes, though always with an eye to expediency. This is as readable and convincing a history as one could wish.

University of California, Berkeley

Hugh Macrae Richmond

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Title Annotation:EUROPE
Author:Richmond, Hugh Macrae
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2018
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