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.

Book Review: “Edward VI: The Lost King of England” by Chris Skidmore

51uPYqC767L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_When we think of the Tudor rulers, we think of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I. However, there was another king who ruled for only five years and was Henry VIII’s only legitimate male heir, Edward VI. Most people think that Edward was a mere pawn of his government officials but is that accurate? Chris Skidmore tackles that question of who was the real Edward VI in his book “Edward VI: The Lost King of England”.

We all know the story of how Henry VIII wanted a male heir and how Henry dealt with his wives, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, when they couldn’t produce male heirs. It was Jane Seymour who was able to give birth to Henry’s heir Edward on October 12, 1537, although she died shortly after. From the beginning of his young life, Edward was coddled and his education was carefully considered. Edward was living a comfortable life of a prince, but that all changed when on January 28, 1547, Henry VIII died and at the tender age of nine. Chris Skidmore put this young king’s life into perspective:

The legacy of Edward’s reign is one of the most exciting political histories of the Tudor age, from which few appeared unscathed. His untimely death cut short a life that, forged in the remarkable political circumstance of his childhood, would have left us with a very different Tudor England than that fashioned under the female monarchies of Mary and Elizabeth (page 9)

Some of the few men who were in charge of Edward’s well-being while he was making the transition from boy to king were Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset, Edward’s maternal uncle, John Dudley Duke of Northumberland, and John Cheke, Edward’s tutor.  Edward Seymour was the Lord Protector and the older brother of the somewhat infamous Thomas Seymour. Edward Seymour and John Dudley would later come to hate each other and most of Edward’s short reign consisted of the two men fighting each other for the right to help Edward run the kingdom, as well as fight rebellions that would spring up to try and throw the country into chaos.

John Cheke, as Edward’s tutor, taught the young king about the Protestant faith that was mw00459making a foothold in England. Most people think that Henry VIII was the one who helped bring the Protestant faith to England when he broke away from Rome. Henry VIII might of helped get the reform started, but Edward VI was the one who took the Protestant movement and was willing to make it known throughout England, even if it meant facing against his most formidable foe, his half-sister Mary who was a devout Catholic.

This was the world that King Edward VI lived in until he died on July 6, 1553 at the age of fifteen. Even after he died, he threw chaos into the succession that his father planned out by placing his cousin Lady Jane Grey on the throne instead of Mary. It did not last long but the six day reign of Lady Jane Grey was Edward’s choice and his alone. By the end of his life, Edward was becoming his own man and no one would stand in his way.

In “Edward VI: The Lost King of England”, Chris Skidmore brings the reader into this complex world of this young king both inside his court and what the laws he enacted did to the common people. Skidmore illuminates this once forgotten king whose life was cut short by tuberculosis and shows us how much of a reformer king he truly was. Edward may have been young but he was an intellectual who made up his mind just like his father. This book gives us a different view of religion and politics during this time. Edward VI will never be lost or forgotten after this book.  

Book Review: “Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth and the Dark Scandal that Rocked the Throne” by Chris Skidmore

41sbrm3axHL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_On September 8, 1560, a young woman’s body is discovered at Cumnor Place alone at the bottom of the stairs with her neck broken with no other marks on her body. This would have been declared an accidental death by normal people, however the woman was anything but a normal woman; this was the wife of Robert Dudley, Amy Robsart. It was because of who she was and who her husband was that people speculated that foul play was afoot.

 

For centuries, the death of Amy Robsart has caught the imagination of many people, including Chris Skidmore. In his book “Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth and the Dark Scandal that Rocked the Throne”, Skidmore takes a deeper look into this mysterious death of Amy Robsart. If you have read Alison Weir’s “Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley”, you will enjoy the way that Skidmore writes this book because it is very similar. The quote that really summed up his researching approach towards this mystery is as follows: “ For the historian, the truth is neither impossible nor improbable: it can only be, quite simply, whatever remains.”

 

Skidmore starts off by explaining the relationship between Amy and Robert before Elizabeth became Queen. These were two people who were in love, but once Robert Amyrobsartbecame the Master of the Horse for Elizabeth, Robert changed. He was at home less and Amy had to take over the household affairs. It is through letters that Amy wrote that Skidmore is able to paint a picture for us about how their household worked. The day that Amy died was very peculiar in the fact that she wanted to be left alone; her husband was with the Queen miles away. The original jury found that this was a case of accidental death, however Skidmore decided to take a deeper look into the case. He decided to explore the possibility of accidental death by stairs, the possibility of a medical explanation on why Amy could have fallen down the stairs,  and he found the original coroner’s report, which portrays a different story. The amount of research Skidmore pours into this one accidental death is admirable. The one issue I have with the book is the fact that he describes the type of staircases and the details of the coroner’s report but he doesn’t show pictures of these things so it’s a bit hard to visualize what he is talking about.

 

The story about Amy’s death, however does not end with her death, in fact it only starts the rumor mill around Robert Dudley’s involvement. As Dudley gets closer to Elizabeth and has his affairs with Douglas Howard and Lettice Knollys (who would become his second wife), rumors fly and comparisons are made to Amy. People did not like the fact that Robert was so close to the Queen and was thinking about marrying Elizabeth. People started to believe that Robert killed his wife in order to marry the Queen and so slanderous writings about Dudley were being passed around, including the Leicester’s Commonwealth.

 

In this book, Chris Skidmore channels his inner history detective in order to discover the truth about the death of Amy Robsart. There is something so fascinating about the mystery of her death that has kept the interest in it alive for so long. Skidmore’s book is a fantastic introduction to the death of Amy and the effects that her death on those who she cared about, especially her husband Robert Dudley. If you enjoy Tudor mysteries, the relationship between Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth, or Amy Robsart, this is the book for you.