So it was with great trepidation that I started to read Paul Murray Kendall’s biography of Richard the Third. I absolutely loved his Louis XI, the Universal Spider book. But I had a sneaking suspicion Kendall was an apologist for old Richard III. Well, my suspicions were confirmed in the first chapter! About Richard III’s father, Richard Duke of York, Kendall says his “abilities were moderate” and “Excessive greed and ambition…seem to have been largely absent from his character”. Kendall goes on to say “It would require the unrelenting enmity of a queen (Margaret of Anjou) to remind him that he owned a better title to the throne than Henry the Sixth”. I thought, this is going to be good. But I decided to give Kendall a pass because the book was written in 1955 and a lot has changed since then.
Despite my reservations and all of its flaws, this is a fabulous book. Kendall resorts to purple prose but for the most part he relies on primary sources to tell Richard’s story. There are a few places where his bias is obvious. If the reader takes this in stride, Kendall reveals a lot of insight, not only into Richard himself but into life in fifteenth century England. He breaks down the intricate relationships between king and nobles during the conflict that came to be known as the Wars of the Roses.
He covers Richard’s life from birth until his death at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. He doesn’t mince any words about some of Richard’s actions as king. He says Richard did consider marrying his niece Elizabeth of York. He also asserts that the evidence supports the theory that the princes in The Tower died on his watch and that he was responsible even though it could not be proven in court. He devotes an entire appendix to examining the evidence about the princes. There is also another appendix where he gives his thoughts on Richard’s character. He feels Richard felt guilty about taking the throne and this colored his actions.
His comments on Richard’s condition of being a hunchback are way off base as we now know. He says the reason one shoulder was higher than the other was due his military training and using a heavy sword. He also states that Richard’s bones were thrown in a river as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII. We now know this is not true. Kendall is particularly harsh in his comments about Henry VII.
Despite all this, this book is a real page turner. It was hard for me to put it down and I was disappointed when I was finished. The chapter describing the Battle of Bosworth is masterful. I would recommend the reader read all the notes to the text in the back of the book as they are packed full of historical information. This book definitely clarifies the life of Richard III.
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