Book Review: “Richard the Third” by Paul Murray Kendall


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.

Book Review: “Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings” by Amy License

Cecily Neville book cover

Just being truthfully honest, I avoid the War of the Roses like it was the plague! It’s my least favorite era of English history. Enormous egos, unlikeable characters, convoluted plotting, treachery, bloody battles and cousins killing cousins, all in an attempt to take the English throne. However, there are a few appealing women that are of interest such as Cecily’s contemporary Margaret Beaufort and her daughter Margaret of York who were vigorous and effective during the conflict and have great stories. This also includes Cecily Neville, “The Rose of Raby”, mother of King Edward IV and Richard III and great-grandmother of King Henry VIII.

Amy License gives us a very thorough look at the long and fruitful life of Cecily. She has gone over all the sources to glean as much information as possible about her. There are descriptions of ceremonies and castles giving us a taste for what Cecily’s life was like. Cecily was a valuable helpmate for her husband Richard, Duke of York who had vast and rich holdings all over the country. She managed the many properties effectively while producing many children and carrying out her pious observances in the tradition of a wealthy medieval woman.

In a biography like this, the workings of the politics and infighting of the men have a bearing on the woman’s life. License gives us succinct and understandable explanations of these circumstances, giving plausible scenarios for what was happening such as why her husband made a play for the throne of King Henry VI and the role her nephew, Richard, Earl of Warwick had in the conflict. One thing I found interesting was Cecily’s friendship with Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI. Even though their husbands were at odds, they managed to have a common bond.

License gives us an abundance of details about Cecily’s life. I enjoyed the list of bequests from Cecily to her family and servants. She also gives us history and background of Cecily’s children and grandchildren as well as some of her siblings and their descendants. There are some handy family trees in the book and some great pictures of locations and portraits of people relevant to the biography. Cecily lived a long, conflict filled life and this biography does her justice. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: “The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy 1491-1499” by Ian Arthurson

perkin warbeck book cover

In the course of doing some research on Lady Katherine Gordon, the Scottish noblewoman who married Perkin Warbeck, the pretender to the English throne, I came across a reference to “The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy 1491-1499” by Ian Arthurson. I was very lucky a book seller in close-by Colorado Springs had a used copy of the book and received it quickly in the mail. While I knew the basic story of Warbeck, I certainly wasn’t versed in all the details.

Arthurson has done considerable and impeccable research on this subject and written books and articles about it. The book begins with Warbeck’s confession which is certainly unsatisfactory but Arthurson says it appears to be sincere and shouldn’t be doubted. While it is far from the complete story of what occurred, it is very telling. Arthurson continues by filling in the gaps of the confession, beginning with Warbeck’s origins in the city of Tournai in what is now Belgium.

In the nineteenth century, James Gairdner found information in the Tournai archives about Warbeck, his parentage and his family. Warbeck clearly was not a Plantagenet. Arthurson includes the family tree of the Werbecques of Tournai. Perkin’s grandfather Diercq was a boat builder and Perkin’s father Jehan was a pilot. The family was entrepreneurs who held town offices and even higher posts; they associated with princely courts and were well educated. Perkin was not the son of a lowly boatman but from the governing classes of Tournai (guilds).

Warbeck left home when he was relatively young, becoming a merchants assistant. This allowed him to travel very far, associating with many people and princes. He spent a considerable amount of time at the court of the Portuguese king. Later, he was taken to Ireland by his Breton master Pregent Meno. This is where the origins of the pretender conspiracy begin.

The Irish has accepted an earlier pretender named Lambert Simnel in an attempt to dethrone the new Tudor (Lancaster) king of England, Henry VII. In 1487, Simnel had actually been crowned at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin as King Edward VI. So Ireland was ripe with conspiracies. While Warbeck was in Ireland, he was mistaken for the young Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence and brother of King Edward IV. Warbeck denied he was Warwick. Some people said Warbeck was an illegitimate son of King Richard III. Again Warbeck denied this. Eventually, it was decided Warbeck was Richard, Duke of York, second son of King Edward IV, who supposedly was murdered in the Tower of London. Warbeck denied this too but eventually was persuaded to go along. There was rebellion in Ireland in York’s name with Warbeck as the focus. Due to ineptitude and a lack of funds, it took some time to quell this rebellion but eventually it died down.

Warbeck made his way to France where he was in March 1492 when King Henry VII attacked France. Warbeck was forced to flee, going to the court of Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy. Margaret would have been Richard, Duke of York’s aunt. Margaret took up Warbeck’s cause and he was even accepted as the real Duke of York by Maximillian I, Holy Roman Emperor. All of this plays into the politics and diplomacy of the time. Arthurson goes on to explain the players in the Warbeck conspiracy, the battles, who funded him, who supported him, who raised troops and supplied ships, who was executed because of the rebellions and who was pardoned. Arthurson is fair and honest in his assessment of all the players from the kings and emperors all the way down to the lowliest conspirator.

Arthurson cites all the sources from the era, fiction and non-fiction. He is very convincing in his assessment of Perkin Warbeck as a supreme actor. He must have been to carry out this persona for eight years. Whether those who supported him believed him to be Richard, Duke of York is immaterial as the rebellions and conspiracies happened anyway. Warbeck was able to carry off his role of pretender with incomparable ability and ease. This book reads like a detective story and I enjoyed it very much. If you want to know the truth about Perkin Warbeck, this is the book.