Please suggest a dispassionate bio of Richard III

There seem to be two main camps when it comes to Richard III: the Josephine Tey/Richard III Society people who view him as a saint unfairly maligned by Thomas More and Shakespeare; and, opposing them, the folks who view him as a devil incarnate, the murderer of babes.

Can anyone recommend a biography of Richard that presents the story in an unbiased manner and reaches its conclusion based on evidence?

Allison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower is a good start. It makes a good case about Richard being behind it all; her discussion of the corpses found in the Tower – especially the evidence of their clothing – is especially convincing.

At the same time, she does flesh out Richard. While not making him a hero, she shows that he was impulsive and with a violent temper, and was in a position where killing the princes was the only way to eliminate his main opposition to the throne (which, BTW, was not Henry VII, who was not a credible threat when the princes were killed).

I don’t think there is such a thing as a dispassionate biography on Richard III. His life/situation seems to make people choose a side; every biographer leans to one side or the other. Some are better researched and written than others.

Alison Weir is far from dispassionate. For her, Richard is the villain of the piece. If you’re going to read her book, you might also want to read a lawyer’s rebuttal to that book – Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes, by Bertram Fields.

You’ll have to read a number of biographies, do your own research and thinking and make up your own mind. There simply are no easy answers where Richard is concerned; too much wasn’t documented, too many documents were destroyed (deliberately or not). Richard had to be made into a monster by the Tudors, or Henry VII had no right to take the throne, you see? There are too many holes, too many secondary resources that can’t be trusted for there to be definitive, final answers where Richard and his reign are concerned.

It’s been said, “Your telling me what you think of Richard III tells me more about you than it does about him.” I’ve found that’s true when it comes to biographers on him. That said, here are three recommendations based on the strength of the authors’ research:

Richard III: Maligned King (Annette Carson)
Richard III (Charles Ross)
Richard III (Paul Murray Kendall)

Kendall dates from the 1950s and is the oldest, but his research is still solid. Ross leans toward thinking Richard did it, but points out he was a man of his time. Carson is the most recent; her research is impeccable, her arguments solid. These will give you a good overview of the current positions and arguments. Beyond that, you’ll have to pick and choose according to your own position/feeling.

Also, there’s a Richard III Society discussion forum on Yahoogroups. The membership includes medieval scholars who can answer your questions by directing you to primary resources that prove or disprove what the biographers claim. Anyone can join. That forum is also one of the best resources if you’re trying to find your way through the maze of Ricardian studies.

I hope that helps.


Dear RealityChuck and Wednesday66,

Thank you both very much for your thoughtful and helpful replies. Just yesterday, I finished reading Weir’s TPITT. As you say, Chuck, she fleshes out RIII but, as you and Wednesday note, she makes him the villain of the piece.

Since I know that Weir has a lucrative sideline churning out bodice rippers, I’m not sure how much reliance one can place on the objectivity of her scholarship. I’ll say this for her, though: she’s very good on Clarence’s downfall. Most writers on the period paint him as a greedy buffoon, almost a Falstaffian figure, but she reveals the depth of his malice and menace to the monarchy.

Wednesday, thank you for the books you suggest. I’m off now to Alibris and Amazon to see if I can get them. And I will check out the discussion group. I love the observation “Your telling me what you think of Richard III tells me more about you than it does about him.”

T.D. :slight_smile:

Have you read the novel The Sunne In Splendour by Sharon Penman? It is historical fiction, but it is extremely well researched and has a generally favorable view of Richard without being hagiography.
Though we do know from the remains found in the car park that he was more visibly misshapen than in the novel. In recent years, many biographers believed that any deformity was solely the invention of his detractors, but apparently there was some basis for the depiction.

My head of department is considered a leading authority on R3, and in this biography he re-examines contemporary sources to get past both the adoration the Ricardians bestow on the king as well as the vilification.

One you definitely don’t want is Sir Clements Markham’s Richard III:His Life And Character which paints him as a ‘parfait gentil Knight’ who could do no wrong.

Those are going to be as rare as dispassionate biographies of Richard Nixon.

Sampiro, I am grateful for your suggestion. A good historical novel is indeed a pleasant way to acquaint oneself with history.

Ms Boods, thank you. I will order the Hicks. Sounds ideal and I envy you for knowing him.

MK VII, I appreciate your anti-recommendation. Though I’m still sorting out my opinion of R3, I’ve had quite enough Ricardianism via Tey, thank you very much.

Bosda, well said!

Thanks to you all.

Well, you can’t conclude he was responsible for the deaths without mailing him the villain. But categorizing Weir as making him the villain misrepresents what she says. Richard has his flaws - he was clearly impulsive and violent - but he was not the Shakespearian schemer as usually portrayed. Once he impulsively seized Edward, either he or Edward were going to die, and Richard knew this.

I actually like Richard as a historical figure, but it’s hard to see him as innocent of the Princes’ deaths. He had the strongest possible motive (it would both keep him in power and eliminate any threat to his power), and certainly the means and opportunity.

There are a number of scholars who argue that Henry VII actually offed the princes.

I think what the problem is with characters such as Richard (and I run into this with my own work on Nero), is certain historical people have morphed into folkloric characters – the tales and scandal woven about them over the centuries tends to supersede if not obfuscate the historical evidence.

The end result is academic work which tends to be overlooked in popular culture because it’s not as exciting or sensational. It’s nothing new; Tacitus was bitching about the same problem in the first century AD (in the introduction to the History).

Tante Dillie – Michael Hicks is awesome and one of the funniest people I know.

Ms Boods, it’s nice to know that a thorough familiarity with the period hasn’t robbed Mr Hicks of his sense of humor. Trying to come to terms with the ins and outs of the Wars of the Roses is making my poor head spin.

As Palmerston memorably said of the 19th-century Schleswig-Holstein question, “There have been three only persons who understood the matter; one is dead, one has been driven mad by it and I myself, the third, have forgotten all about it.” When it comes to the Roses, I feel like No 2, the one who went doolally.

I have ordered Mr Hicks’ book and can’t wait for it to arrive. I see from your posts that you are a historian. Dare one ask if your nom de Dope derives from “Boudicca?”

For a Renaissance prince, murdering off inconvenient relations was practically a job description. :smiley: Not sure why Richard’s disposal of these kids was so uniquely shocking - particularly for the Tudors.

Exactly - they were pretty much all assholes to one degree or another. It’s not even remotely implausible that Henry VII would have offed the kids given the opportunity. The only thing that makes it unlikely is that Occam’s Razor strongly suggests that Richard III got there first ;).

On a lighter note, have you seen “The Richard III Song” from Horrible Histories?
It’s pure Teyism, but amusingly done and Jim Howick is brilliant. Horrible Histories - Richard III Song - YouTube

Speaking of HH, does anyone have a comment on Howick’s HH co-star Simon Farnaby’s presence in The King in the Car Park? I like Farnaby very much as an actor, but who decided to thrust him into that peculiar little documentary? He’s not well-versed on the period, doesn’t add anything to the narrative and his role is to stand around saying “There, there” while patting that hyper-emotional Philippa creature awkwardly on the shoulder. - YouTube

From what Ms Boods has posted here about the witty and scholarly Michael Hicks, it sounds like he would have been a better choice than Farnaby.

The Boods was an awesome cat of mine, so no etymological relation to Boudicca, I’m afraid.

Prof Hicks (not Mr) admittedly was not amused by all the folderol associated with them digging Richard up out of that carpark, especially that ghastly fangirl – fine, her persistence paid off, but what a strange creature. Her assertion that Richard was too dishy to have been evil probably pretty much sums up how much respect one ought to allow her scholarship (Stalin was pretty dishy as a young man, too.)

It’s highly unlikely that MH would appear on something such as Horrible Histories, I’m afraid. Not really his thing.

I’m familiar with Palmerston’s quote, although at the time a colleague applied it to me trying to sort out the tangled relationship among Eldridge Johnson, Emile Berliner, and the UK’s Gramophone Company at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s apt in that situation, too.

It’s Shakespeare, yes, and not “history,” but for sheer gleefully-evil entertainment, you can’t go wrong with Ian McKellen’s British Fascist movie version of Richard III.

Also makes me wonder why there aren’t more befuddled “Johnians” running around. I mean nobody can prove John had Arthur of Brittany offed. Poor kid might have just gotten a nasty case of the flu, literally days before John was going to announce their peaceful division of the realm as co-kings :p.

Hi Ms B!

Yeah, I said Mr because here (where I live) in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts faculty members at the local unis are called Mr or Ms because it’s taken for granted that they have doctorates. Doctor is used for physicians, including (unlike in the UK) surgeons. Professor, although the title is awarded, isn’t used very much as a form of address because it smacks too much of low budget '50’s sci fi flicks. “Prof! Prof! The giant ants are attacking!” :slight_smile:

I realize that academic titles are employed differently in the UK and other countries. When my husband qualified for a grad degree in the late '70’s from a German uni, he had to petition the chancellor to be awarded the degree. I remember his letter (in German) which opened with the words, “If it please Your Magnificence, this humble petitioner beseeches …” I snickered at that, because I had called my university president, for whom I’d worked, not “Your Magnificence” but “Bill.” I still sometimes call Hubby “the humble petitioner.”

I love your reference to “the ghastly fangirl.” That sums her up! Oh, and I meant that MH would have been a better presenter for the documentary than Farnaby, not that he belonged on HH. Though now that you’ve elaborated on his reaction to the film, it sounds like it would taken all his self-retraint not to have strangled her. “Too dishy” indeed!

If MH is as funny as you say, maybe he could do an appearance on QI?

BTW, I think I may have heard of Emile Berliner but not the others you mention in connection with him. If you’d like to elaborate, I’m all ears.

All the best,

Professor is the equivalent of full professor in the US; in the UK, however, is it also distinct title. In the US, university lecturers with PhDs are addressed as Doctor or Professor (I was), but in the UK it is not the practice.

I went to UVa and they also had the ‘Mr’ and ‘Ms’ business but due to some tradition with Thos Jefferson. I never got into all that Wahoo stuff, but they did have quite a few traditions among the undergraduate culture. It certainly wasn’t because they presumed every member of the faculty had PhDs as some very fine instructors did not. I think that’s the case at many universities (that they have a number of excellent non-PhD’d faculty).

I think you’ve read a wee bit too much into my comment about Michael Hicks; he does have a sense of humour, but it wouldn’t lend itself at all to the sorts of schtick one finds on QI, etc. To the best of my knowledge, he leaves the occasional television appearance to the others of us in the department.