Book Review: “Richard III: England’s Most Controversial King” by Chris Skidmore

517EnSUqESL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_When we often think about Richard III, we tend to focus on the princes in the tower, Bosworth Field where he died, and the discovery of his body in 2012. But he was a brother to a  king, a protector and he did rule as king of England. There should be more to his story than this. Chris Skidmore believed so and decided to write a modern biography on Richard called “Richard III: England’s Most Controversial King”.

There have been a lot of books written about Richard III, but Skidmore explains what separates his book from others:

This work has unapologetically been written as a narrative history of Richard’s life and reign; in doing so, attention has been paid mainly to the high courts politics of the age, and Richard’s role within this world. I have attempted to focus on how Richard constructed his own power base, for it was his northern affinity, constructed in his early years as duke, that would prove so crucial for him obtaining the throne…. Too much attention is traditionally paid to Richard’s individual role in his accession, when, like any political coronation, this was only possible with the support of certain  key members of the nobility, who backed regime change. Richard’s success depended as much upon their own individual grievances and ambitions as his own.(Skidmore, 11)

It was really these alliances that helped Richard III come onto the throne. Skidmore starts off his book with an interesting account of a Silesian knight named Niclas von Popplau and his encounter with Richard III’s court. It is not what those who have studied the “black legend” of Richard III would expect. Skidmore then dives into Richard’s childhood, the Wars of the Roses, the death of his father,  his brother Edward’s accession to king of England, and his brother George’s fall from grace and later execution.

These are such pivotal moments in Richard’s young life and they do shape what kind of king he would be, but it was his northern affinity and his relationship with men like the duke of Buckingham and Hastings that defined the motives that he would later take. For example, the murders of Lord Rivers and Lord Hastings seem like paranoia, but Skidmore sheds new light onto these murders. As to the most controversial moment of Richard III’s life, the disappearance of the princes in the tower, Skidmore does not spend a lot of time on the topic. As soon as Richard is crowned king, Skidmore talks about his policies as king and his relationships with foreign monarchies throughout Europe. Richard III’s reign was quite short; he only reigned for 788 days so it wasn’t a long time to establish the relationships he needed to with his European counterparts, like France and Scotland, which helped propel Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne of England.

In the last few chapters, Skidmore paints the scene for Bosworth Field, the battle between Richard III and Henry Tudor for the crown of England. He writes the actual battle in such a way that it makes you feel like you are witnessing the battle first hand, including the slaughter of Richard III and the way they discarded his body.

What I enjoy about Chris Skidmore is that he includes so much detail into his books and not the facts that those of us who are familiar with the topic necessarily are aware of. With this book, Skidmore shows his readers a different side of Richard III, one in which Richard III is king with powerful allies that helped him become king of England. Richard III may have been king for only 788 days, but his legacy has lasted for centuries and this book, “Richard III: England’s Most Controversial King” by Chris Skidmore, adds another perspective into his legacy. This book is very well written and is a fascinating read.

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