Book Review: “Richard III: Fact and Fiction” by Matthew Lewis

41093351When one looks at the study of history as a whole, the traditional way to look at a person as either good or bad through a combination of facts and fictional tales of their supposed exploits. None so much so as King Richard III, one of the most controversial English monarchs. Fictitious tales, like William Shakespeare’s play Richard III, have been accepted as fact throughout the centuries, but who was the real Richard III? Matthew Lewis, in his latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”, explores who Richard III really was by separating the facts from the fictional stories. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this insightful book. I enjoy books that explore both the facts and fictional stories of historical figures to find the truth about who they were and what they might have been like. 

In his introduction, Lewis explains the fascination of Richard III and his aim for this particular book.

The debate around Richard III and his reputation burns hotter today than ever before …Why is a man who was killed in battle over 500 years ago still attracting such passionate debate? How does a medieval king who reigned for only just over two years have a thriving fan club in the Richard III Society? Part of the reason lies in the mythologising of the facts about him, so many of which are open to the broadest interpretation so that both sides will claim them to make polar opposite points. The purpose of this book is to try and peel away some of the myths to reveal the bare, unadorned facts. Did Richard III invent bail? Did he murder a Lancastrian Prince of Wales, a king, his brother and his two nephews? Did he mean to marry his niece? Why did those previously loyal to the House of York abandon Richard III for an obscure Welshman in exile? (Lewis,1).

Lewis tackles some of the most notable and notorious myths about Richard III, most of which came from Shakespeare’s play. He explores myths from the “murder” of the Princes in the Tower and Henry VI, to if Richard wanted to marry Elizabeth of York and why he was so popular in the North and his death at Bosworth. Of course, there are also obscure and out-of-left-field myths, like Richard, killing Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset at the tender age of 2 and a half, and Richard inventing bail. Along with discussing the fictional stories and the veracity of the claims, Lewis includes some fun factoids and a glossary of terms that the readers might not know at the end of each segment.  

Although Lewis is a Ricardian, the way he presents his arguments against the fictitious tales does not push the Ricardian argument of Richard being a purely innocent individual. Instead, Lewis focuses on making Richard more human rather than either a vile villain or a knight in shining armor. This is what I appreciate about Lewis and his approach to Richard III. He makes the study of  Richard III approachable for those who want to study about the man, not the black or white myths. With this particular book, I couldn’t put it down. I found extremely enjoyable and overall fascinating. If you want a book that brings the fictional tales and examining the facts about Richard III, I highly recommend you read Matthew Lewis’ latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”. It is a re-evaluation of the facts that Richard III deserves.

Book Review: “Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me” by Matthew Lewis

51Y6-FH9JgL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_When we study history and look at certain people, we often have a tendency to treat them almost like fictional characters. They are either the hero, all good with no flaws, or villains, all bad where we only focus on their flaws. We don’t see the person as “human”, neither good nor bad, just someone who tried their lives to the best of their abilities. One such person who tends to get either the hero or the villain treatment is King Richard III of England. To some, he is “white knight”, a man who was wrongly accused and who was faultless. To others, he was a “black legend”, a dastardly villain who wanted power and did not care who he stepped on in order to achieve his goals. With these two different portrayals of Richard III, we often forget that he was just an ordinary man who became king. Matthew Lewis has decided to strip away both the white and black portrayals of Richard III and explore who Richard III the man was in his latest book, “Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me.”

Matthew Lewis explains exactly who Richard III was and why he wanted to explore him further:

Richard was a man. He made mistakes and misjudgements. He had his flaws, as we all do, but beneath the grime of centuries of slander and gossip, the facts can be uncovered and polished up to provide a far more rounded and interesting man, with novel ideas that seem ahead of his time. Undoubtedly he was willing to do that which was within his power to protect his position and that of his family. He was a fifteenth-century nobleman when they were a brutal and acquisitive breed. That does not mean that he was incapable of less selfish acts that many of his contemporaries, or of hankering for a bygone age in which men, at least in the stories he read, had been honourable and lived by codes. Any time a person from history is viewed as one-dimensional, as simply good or bad, that should be cause to look again and question more deeply, because they were people, just like you and I. They had hopes and fears, dreams and insecurities that fused together to make them. When Richard charged at the Battle of Bosworth, did he blindly believe he could kill Henry Tudor and that would be the end of it? Was he, perhaps, afflicted by the loss of his son and wife? Did he wonder what the purpose of carrying on might be? Did he hope that God would help him win the day and once more approve of him? We cannot know for certain. Arguably, what makes him unique amongst medieval monarchs and nobles was the antithesis of what history has remembered him for. He was no petty tyrant bent on murdering all in his way. He was a forward-thinking reformer who tried to tackle the real problems he saw in English medieval society, and paid the price for thinking he could resolve them. (Lewis, 391).

I have a deep fascination with the Wars of the Roses and how the people during this time are portrayed. Richard III has been one of those people that has caught my interest especially. I am always looking for a new perspective when it comes to controversial figures to find out what their lives were really like.

When it comes to biographies about Richard III, you will either get the white narrative or the black, and nothing in the middle. He is either a heartless villain or a saint of a man. Although Lewis is a Ricardian, he has decided in this biography to forego the traditional narratives and take a look at Richard’s life by what we know and not stipulations. This book was such an enlightening read. Richard III the man and his times was brought to light as all the controversies of his life were explored thoroughly. By looking at Richard as just a man and not a controversial figure, you get a real sense that his life was more complicated and almost relatable at points.

As Lewis said, Richard III was just a man, and it is through this biography that we truly get to meet the man. I have read quite a few biographies about Richard III, but this one is by far my favorite. I learned so much about Richard III, his life and times, and the different authors and sources against him, that I will never look at Richard III the same way again. If you are interested in Richard III and the times that he lived in, I highly recommend you read Matthew Lewis’s book, “Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me”. I believe that if we look at historical figures the way Matthew Lewis does with Richard III in this book, we might better understand the past and better appreciate those who came before us.

Book Review: “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth” by Matthew Lewis

35888548One of the greatest mysteries of all time is what happened to the young princes, the sons of Edward IV, who were held in the Tower of London. Many people believed that they were killed. There are some who believe that Richard III had them murdered and there are some who say that Henry VII ordered the deed to be done. But what if they were never killed? What if they survived? That is the premise of Matthew Lewis’s book “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth”.

I have always been one of those people who believed that the princes were indeed murdered and that the one who ordered their murders was Richard III. I have read the “sources” and I came to my own conclusions. A few months ago, I attended the Tudor Summit (for those of you who do not know what this, look it up it is a fantastic two- day summit with fellow Tudor nerds) and one of the speakers was Matthew Lewis. Normally I don’t pay attention to the Ricardian side of this debate, but his talk made me interested, so I decided to read his book.

I am really glad I decided to read this book. It gave me something new to think about when it comes to this mystery and it did it in such a constructive way that made sense. Lewis starts his book by exploring the facts and the different sources that made the case that the princes were murdered, and then he looks at why these sources have been misinterpreted and don’t tell the whole story. For example, the fact that More said that Edward IV died in his fifties when in fact he died when he was in his forties, which is a big age gap.  Lewis asks rather obvious questions about the anti- Ricardian argument like why did Elizabeth Woodville turn over to her sons if she believed that Richard III was truly evil. It was by going through these sources and these obvious questions that started to create a lot of doubt in my mind whether or not the side I was on in this debate was accurate.

Lewis then dives into the lives of those we call the “pretenders”, Lambert Simnel and image015Perkin Warbeck. These were the most famous pretenders and the ones who challenged Henry VII’s right to the throne. If they were really the princes in the tower, why were they defeated? Why were they considered pretenders? Lewis explores other people who could possibly be the princes, including a theory by amateur art historian Jack Leslau on “The Family of Sir Thomas More” by Hans Holbein the Younger.

The theory that Matthew Lewis presents in this book is very unique. In order to understand what he is trying to do, you have to be open to a different perspective on this quagmire of a topic: the princes in the tower. There are certain books that come along and totally shake what you believe in, but you should not be afraid to read these kinds of books. I did not know what to expect when I started this book, but Lewis presented an argument that made sense and made me question everything I thought I knew about this mystery. Now I want to reread the sources and try to understand them better. I would recommend this book for anyone who thinks Richard III is innocent, guilty, or you are unsure of your position in this debate. “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth” by Matthew Lewis breathes new life into this debate and begs the question: what if the princes in the tower lived?