That troublesome king

Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England and great villain (or not) of English history, is still causing trouble.

The recent discovery of his remains under a car park in Leicester, made headlines around the English speaking world. Arrangements were duly made to inter him in a suitable tomb in the local cathedral. Enter Richard’s (collateral) descendants in the form of the Plantagenet Alliance, who pointed out that he had very little connection to Leicester and wanted him buried in York. Legal battles ensued which are yet to be settled.

cover of Richard  III the maligned kingArguments have raged around him before. For centuries most accepted Henry VII’s version of him, which depicted him as the deformed, ruthless murderer as portrayed in Shakespeare. He always had his supporters though and eventually doubts began to emerge, first among historians and eventually in popular culture. History had indeed been written by the victor.

Novels had an important role in convincing the rest of us that the princes in the tower story may not be true. The first one to come to my attention was The Daughter of Time (1951) by Josephine Tey in which a detective confined to bed investigates and concludes Richard is innocent. The second was  Elizabeth Peters mystery novel The Murders of Richard III published in 1974. Cynthia Harrod Eagles The Founding and A rose for the Crown by Anne Easter Smith also come to mind.

Richard has also been the subject of numerous other interesting fiction and non- fiction works including a recent one on the search for his remains.  The various stories are well worth exploring.

Do you have any favourite novels about historical figures that we really must read?

9 thoughts on “That troublesome king

  1. Laraine 7 December 2013 / 9:57 am

    Don’t forget We Speak No Treason by Rosemary Hawley Jarman (published 1971). This is the only book I’ve read that hinted Richard III might not be the villain history depicts. It’s a long time since I read it so I can’t make any comment as to how closely the story followed the facts. I do remember enjoying it very much and landing up convinced Shakespeare’s account was mostly wrong, possibly even all wrong.

  2. Shakesbear 7 December 2013 / 3:55 pm

    “For centuries most accepted Henry V’s version of him, which depicted him as the deformed, ruthless murderer as portrayed in Shakespeare.” ???

    Henry V 16 September 1386 – 31 August 1422
    Richard III 2 October 1452 – 22 August 1485

    Um . . . confusing statement as Henry V died thirty years (give or take a month or two) before Richard III was born.

    Laraine I would strongly recommend Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Excellent book, a true classic.

    • Donna 9 December 2013 / 8:45 am

      Thanks, amended now to Henry VII!

  3. Jenny 8 December 2013 / 11:10 am

    I think it’s a typo, but you have “Henry V’s version of him” in the third paragraph instead of, presumably, “Henry VII’s version”. Given that Henry V died in 1422, I doubt he had much opinion about Richard one way or the other. Sorry, couldn’t resist! 😀

    • Donna 9 December 2013 / 8:46 am

      You’re right! Thanks, amended now to Henry VII!

  4. katccl 8 December 2013 / 3:44 pm

    I recently finished The Sunne in Splendour by Shafron Penman which I really enjoyed – about Richard and Anne. Fave historical novel ever is Katherine by Anya Seton – just love it!

    • Donna 9 December 2013 / 8:44 am

      Yes yes! Bring on the Anya Seton revival.

  5. allisonsnotmyfirstname 9 December 2013 / 11:04 am

    The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman, about Richard III is one of my favourites of her works. Her ‘Here be Dragons’ trilogy about the Welsh are also pretty good. I found her earlier books to be better than her latest efforts.

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