HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me” by Matthew Lewis

King Richard III remains one of the most controversial figures in British history. Matthew Lewis’s new biography aims to become a definitive account by exploring what is known of his childhood and the impacts it had on his personality and view of the world. He would be cast into insecurity and exile only to become a royal prince before his tenth birthday.

As Richard spends his teenage years under the watchful gaze of his older brother, Edward IV, he is eventually placed in the household of their cousin, the Earl of Warwick, remembered as the Kingmaker; but as the relationship between a king and his most influential magnate breaks down, Richard is compelled to make a choice when the House of York fractures. After another period in exile, Richard returns to become the most powerful nobleman in England. The work he involves himself in during the years that follow demonstrates a drive and commitment but also a dangerous naïveté. 

When crisis hits in 1483, it is to Richard that his older brother turns on his death-bed. The events of 1483 remain contentious and hotly debated, but by understanding the Richard who began that year, it will become clearer what drove some of his actions and decisions. Returning to primary sources and considering the evidence available, this new life undoes the myths and presents a real man living in tumultuous times.

cover and blurb via Amberley Publishing

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I have to be honest, I am very much Ricardian. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Richard III get vilified by Shakespeare (well, by 21st century actors, anyway) and barely contain my rage.  I don’t think Richard is perfect, a completely impeachable hero (no one is), but I also don’t think him a child-killing villain. There are few like Richard, a man who had suffered a great deal in a short time before his fateful battle at Bosworth. And it takes an author as fine as Lewis to dig into the details of Richard’s life. Most books either love or hate Richard, whereas this writer doesn’t go down either road, and instead gives us an insight into the mind of a man who became king, lost his own family, and then was overthrown by a man with a flimsy claim. Richard was a king, now a legend, but he was also just a man, and here is a book where we finally get to meet Richard. I moved books around on my Richard shelves to make room for this biography before it even came out.

While many books write about 1483 onwards, so much happened in Richard’s life leading up to the crown. The first half of the book digs deep into Richard, those in his life, the battles he fought, his ideals in life and religion, all as he grew into the king people focus on now. Much happened to Richard in his short life – overcoming a spinal deformity would have shaped his thoughts. He grew up around powerful people, like the Nevilles, who would do anything for power. Richard was prepared to lay down his life for his brother Edward, and yet his brother George betrayed them both, harm which would cause a wound that could never truly heal. Edward was king on the back of Richard’s hard work, and Richard ran the north in England and kept an eye on Scotland for his sovereign, all before the age of thirty.

But when King Edward died in April 1483, all the moments in Richard’s life which shaped him would come in play. The next three months have been debated since the moment they happened, but this book gives a reader a more detailed insight into why Richard acted as he did, thought as he did. It seems Richard was neither a murderous villain desperate for power, or an innocent caught up in a disaster. The illegitimacy of the Princes in the Tower is well discussed too, whether Richard was fooled, or did he simply miss important details, or was he the master? I can’t tell you, because spoilers, but the murky situation and Richard’s handling is a reflection of many events long before the mess with the Princes. Another important detail in the events of 1483 is the death of Hastings, a particular favourite subject of mine. Again, in the interest of spoilers (as in the excellent research on Lewis’ part) I won’t share all that is written, but the whole situation felt fresh to me, a tough feat after 500 years and a whole lot of writing on the subject.

Richard’s life went from a powerful ruler in the north after years of fighting, to having brother George executed, to his brother Edward dead before his time, to being thrust onto the throne, to his nephews disappeared, to his precious wife and son dead from illness, to betrayal by men he trusted… how much can one man take in only a few years? By the time Richard faced Henry Tudor at Bosworth, Richard’s life was circling the drain, yet he remained confident of victory. This book talks of Richard in a positive way, without soundly like it is gushing with adoration; rather, it shows the whole life of an extraordinary man. England could have had a fine king, had Richard been given the chance.

This book is worthy of five stars. Matthew Lewis wrote The Survival of the Princes in the Tower not to long ago, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Loyalty Binds Me is an excellent addition to any library. Imagine saying you like Richard III but don’t have Lewis in your collection?

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This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 133 – 137: 1 – 28 February 1939

February 1

Prime Minister Negrín, holding a meeting at Figueres Castle, suggests a surrender to Franco, on one condition – those left living would be respected and they  could vote on how a new government would be formed. Franco does not accept this surrender.

February 2

The Nationalists who took Barcelona have made the 100 kilometres hike north and take Girona, which no longer has any Republican protection.

Nationalists take Girona

February 3

The Nationalist troops from Girona hike another 15 kilometres north, to catch up with any refugees still trying to escape to France. They are now only 50 kilometres from the border to France, and will close the border once they arrive. German planes are still bombing refugees from the air.

February 4 

After a month of fighting, the Valsequillo Offensive comes to end, as Nationalist forces around Peraleda del Zaucejo on the Extremadura/Andalucia border recapture all the area the Republicans had initially captured. At one stage, the Republicans had 500 square miles of land taken, though none had any strategic benefit, and the Nationalists have quickly taken it all back. The Republicans have suffered 6000 deaths and casualties, only 2000 for the Nationalists in an utterly pointless battle.

February 7

The island of Menorca, still held by the Republicans, is captured by the Nationalists by ship, with no resistance. Mallorca has been Nationalist-held for most of the war, and now the smaller island of Menorca is simply brought into the fold. Only one person is killed, but the Republicans start planning  a coup with Prime Minister Negrin.

February 8

All Republican troops are ordered to get to the border and are now also allowed to cross into France, along with the hundreds of thousands of refugees trying to reach the border. On foot, or on carts or trucks, Republican Spaniards are facing sleet and snow to try to reach France.

Refugees crossing at Le Perthus

February 9

The Nationalist troops finally reach the border into France. Between 400,000 to 500,000 Republican refugees have survived to get into France. The Republican president Manuel Azaña, Prime Minister Juan Negrín, Republican Army chief of staff Vicente Rojo, and Catalonian president Lluís Companys and his Catalan government have all made it over the border. Most people have crossed in the region have crossed at Le Perthus, but Prime Minister Negrín crosses back into Spain.

Refugees crossing at Le Perthus

February 10

The final Republican troops of General Modesto’s Army of the Ebro cross into France, just in time, as the border into France is totally sealed by Nationalist troops. Anyone still on the Spanish side has to side with the Nationalists, or would be killed or oppressed. With Catalonia totally in Nationalist hands, the Republicans have lost 200,000 troops and the entire Catalan war industry. But the Republicans still hold thirty percent of Spain, and their Prime Minister is back in the country and confident they can continue to resist.

Refugees heading for the brutal refugees camps in France
February 12

The 10.30am train arrives in Xàtiva Railway Station, sixty kilometres south from Valencia, carrying the 49th mixed brigade of the Republican army, to be transferred north. The station was also filled with family and friends of the troops when five Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bombers arrive from Mallorca and drop twenty 250kg bombs from 13,800 feet. The bombing makes a direct hit on the train, killing 129 people, 109  instantly. Most are troops, though 14 women and three children are also killed. A few surviving troops are still sent on to join other brigades, as the 49th was too decimated to continue with any plans. Another 200 people are injured in the brutal attack.

Bombing Xativa from the air

February 13

From Burgos, Franco publishes his Ley de Responsabilidades Políticas (Law of Political Responsibilities). The law states that anyone who opposed the Nationalist rebellion and coup in July 1936, and anyone a member of any Republican party from October 1934, is guilty of military rebellion (ironically). As the law is backdated to 1 October 1934, all Republican sympathisers and members can be prosecuted for aiding the Republican rebellion (again, how ironic).

The Ley de Responsabilidades Políticas punishes people with fines ranging from 1000 pesetas through to confiscations of all assets. Anyone prosecuted could also be punished with restriction of movement and activities, forced to live where appointed and possible loss of Spanish citizenship, depending on their level of Republican association. Anyone dead or disappeared (either as refugees in France or those killed and dumped in the war) will have their remaining family members prosecuted on their behalf.

Between 1939 and 1945, 500,000 people, dead or alive, will be prosecuted, some two percent of the population.

February 27

Both France and Great Britain  decide to end their role in the Non-Intervention agreement and recognise Franco and his Nationalist government in Burgos. With the threat of European war, and half a million Spanish refugees in the south, France has their border with Spain blocked, with Franco’s ally Germany also causing strife. France needs to focus on itself and endorses fascism in Spain, as Germany and Italy have done throughout the war.

Britain has less reason to endorse Franco. Labour leader Clement Attlee, Leader of the Opposition, is furious with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s decision. He stated, the first voice to do so, that Britain was hypocritical after almost three years of “non-intervention,” yet their lack of intervention is instead the thing that has helped fascism spread through Europe.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the month’s events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos and captions are auto-linked to source for credit, and to provide further information.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 132 – 133: 21 – 31 January 1939: 80 Years Since the Fall of Barcelona

Civilians line up for food in Barcelona in freezing weather

January 21

Today marks the first of four days of successive bombing in Barcelona by Nationalist aircraft, with ten flyovers bringing bombs into the streets. After almost three years of war, Barcelona is weary, despite being far from the front until now. The Nationalists are fast advancing through Catalonia, with little or no resistance.

January 22

The Nationalist counteroffensive in Valsequillo is five days old, and they have taken all 500 square kilometres the Republicans have taken over the month. The Nationalists take the strategic town of Peraleda del Zaucejo, on the Extremadura/Andalucia border.  The only other town the Republicans hold falls only three days later. The Republicans have lost almost 6,000 men by this time, for no gain at all.

General Solchaga and General Yagüe’s Nationalist troops reached the Llobregat river, just a few kilometres west of Barcelona,  Generals Muñoz Grandes and Garcia Valiño attacked Sabadell and Terrassa, and General Gambara advances to Badalona.  Barcelona is now surrounded by the Nationalists and the three lines of defense set up around Barcelona, composed of all men aged 18 -45, with all the city’s industry militarised, cannot save the city. Prime Minister Negrín gets a call from the head of the Republican Army, General Rojo, to tell him that the frontline around Barcelona has been completely shattered.

January 23

The Republican government decides to abandon Barcelona as the capital and heads for Figueres Castle, and most of Barcelona’s political prisoners are released. Much of the population of the city is now fleeing north towards France, and the men on the frontline have either been killed or have retreated from advancing Nationalists. The aircraft overhead are still bombing Barcelona ten times per day.

January 25

One day after General Garcia Valiño’s men capture Manresa, the Nationalist vanguard takes the town of Tibidabo, the highest mountain around Barcelona, which overlooks the entire city. The Nationalists are now on the outskirts of Barcelona and all the defensive lines are gone.

Sadly, some in Barcelona felt like fascism was liberation. Talk about messed up

January 26

Nationalist troops march through the streets of Barcelona, where General Yagüe’s  Regulares begin their execution spree. While Barcelona is ravaged, the Catalonia offensive is halted briefly, meaning many civilians who have fled north towards France have no advancing troops at their backs . But the German Condor Legion and and Italian Aviazione Legionaria  continue their campaign from the air, bombing towns and roads on the 160 kilometre hike to the French border.

Franco’s fascist troops enter Barcelona

January 28

The town of Granollers, thirty kilometres north of central Barcelona is captured by the Nationalists. Just eight kilometres north of Granollers, the town of La Garriga has 10,000 people, 7,000 of them Madrid and Basque refugees, and now has the remaining Republican troops under General Lister hiding with them. With the Nationalists in Granollers, the men have to leave, while the refugees have nowhere to go but towards France, if they dare.

Refugees head for the border

January 29

The Italians send ten bombers to La Garriaga, and bomb the town over two days, though Republican troops are gone, leaving 13 civilian casualties; one local, five refugees and seven children. Bombing La Garriga’s train station means getting north is much harder for Republicans.

January 31

The French government, who announced they opened the border on January 28, start receiving the first of 400,000 – 500,000 refugees into the country, those who are first to make the walk through the snow. Republican troops are not yet permitted to enter, yet the remaining men are flanking the refugees on their dangerous walk, while the German Condor Legion continues to bomb them from overhead. Once the Nationalists reach the frontier, they plan to close the border, meaning there is nothing but executions and oppression for all remaining Spaniards who opposed the rebel invasion. They have only ten more days to make the freezing, bomb-ridden march towards France, while starved and/or injured and all traumatised.

Republican men head for the border

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the month’s events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos and captions are auto-linked to source for credit, and to provide further information.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 129 – 131: 1 – 21 January 1939

Troops in Les Borges Blanques

January 3 

Nationalist occupations continue in Catalonia, with General Solchaga’s men taking Les Borges Blanques, General Valiño and General Grande’s troops take Artesa, and Yague and his Moroccan Legionnaires manage to cross the Ebro. General Moscardo starts an attack from a base in Lleida, while the Italian troops join General Solchaga’s troops in Les Borges Blanques to continue the offensive towards Barcelona.

Legionnaires cross the Ebro at last

January 5

As the Catalonia Offensive takes up all of the Nationalist attention, the far-west Extremadura Republicans plan the Battle of Valsequillo, also known as the Battle of Peñarroya, 75 kilometres north-west of Cordoba over the Andalucia border. The XXII Corps led by Colonel Juan Ibarrola (the 47th Division, 70th Division, and the 10th Divisions, joined by Major Nilamon Toral, and his 6th, 28th and 52nd divisions ), combine to attack the border and capture Hinojosa del Duque, creating an eight kilomotre break in the Nationalist frontline. Within a day, they make it through another frontline to capture Fuente Obejuna, and  take Los Blazquez and Peraleda del Zaucejo by January 7.

Troops in Extremadura

January 7

The weather has changed in Extremadura, and while the Republicans have 90,000 men, the poor weather means their 40 tanks cannot advance any further in thick mud. The offensive needs to halt, but they have taken 500 square kilometres, though the land has no strategic value.

January 9

General Moscardo’s Aragon Army Corps combine with General Gambara’s infantry at Mollerussa, and break through a Republican frontline. The Republicans have their V and XV Republic Corps in the region, but they are beaten back in heavy fighting and are forced to retreat.

Nationalists near Mollerussa

January 15

The Nationalist Aragon and Maestrazgo Corps combine and take the town of Cervera, forcing a rereat of any remaining Republicans in the area, who had been separated while fighting in Mollerusa. General Yague’s Moroccan Legionnaires march a full 50 kilometres in a single day, and occupy the hugely strategic town of Tarragona, only 100 kilometres from Barcelona. By this stage, 23,000 Republicans have been captured, another 5,000 soldiers are already dead.

Tarragona 15 January 1939

January 17

The Nationalists in Extremadura and Cordoba begin their counteroffensive, bringing together 80,000 men to retake control of the area around Valsequillo.  They bring seven divisions (10th, 40th, 74th, 81st, 60th, 112th and 122nd divisions) led by General Queipo de Llano and spread out, quickly recapturing the town of Peraleda del Zaucejo.

January 20

With the Nationalists moving through Catalonia at a huge speed, Franco has planned a huge bombing attack on the city of Barcelona, set to take place over January 21 -23, with 40 attacks, an in attempt to destroy all defenses the Republicans have put in place. The Nationalist men on the ground are fast making their way in Barcelona, and the people of the city need to decide if they will stay and fight or run for the French border some 150 kilometres away.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the month’s events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos and captions are auto-linked to source for credit, and to provide further information.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Weeks 125 – 128: 1 – 31 December 1938

Almost two and a half years since the start of the war, the Republican-controlled area of Spain has dwindled. The battle of the Ebro through the second half of 1938 has destroyed the Republicans, who have no hope of recovery, with low numbers of trained men still alive, no weapons, and no aid in sight. With the withdrawal of all International Brigades in October, the Republicans are left isolated. The Nationalists continue to receive weapons, aircraft and ammunition from Hitler. The Munich Agreement (the changes to the Non-Intervention Committee agreement of stopping Germany and Italy from aiding Franco) has not been enforced by any European country, so the fascists are free to finishing destroying Spain.

December 10

The Nationalists decide to keep up momentum after taking Aragon, and plan their final offensive, to take Catalonia and its capital of Barcelona. The Army of the North, led by General Dávila, is 340,000 strong, spread out along the Catalonia border from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean. The Segre River is controlled General Grande’s Army of Urgel, with General Valiño’s Army of Maestrazgo and Moscardo’s Aragon Army as back-up. The German Condor Legion provide air cover with 500 planes, on top of  support from the Italian Cuerpo Legionario (four divisions  of 55,000 men) and General Solchaga’s Army Corps from Navarra, plus General Yagüe’s Moroccan Corps fresh from the slaughter of the Ebro. Between these groups, they bring 1,400 cannons and 300 tanks.

The Republicans are seriously overwhelmed by this offensive. General Juan Hernandez Servia has his Oriental region Army Corps, joined by Colonel Perea’s East Army and Colonel Modesto’s Ebro Army. These groups combined make 300,000 men, but they have only 17,000 rifles between them. They combine their weapons and only come up with 250 cannons and 40 tanks (most too damaged to use). The Soviets have promised a shipment of weapons to aid Spain, promising 250 planes, 250 tanks and 650 cannons, but they cannot reach France before mid-January. On top of this problem, the borders cannot allow most of it into Spain.

People strip bark from trees to cook in Madrid

Another major issue facing Catalonia is lack of food. With no international aid, rations per day for each person is only 100 grams of lentils. Both troops and civilians just want the war over, no matter what happens, even though for many, the end will be death. The problem is far from isolated to Catalonia, as all areas are suffering from lack of food, particularly Madrid, still surrounded by the rebels, and haven’t received fresh food from Valencia since late 1937.

December 23

Lleida, 1938

The initial attack planned for December 10 has been changed to December 23, when the Italian and Navarre troops cross the Mequinenza river, through Republican frontlines and advance 16 kilometres near Lleida. They are only stopped on December 25 when they meet General Lister’s V and XV Republican Corps. At the same time, General Grande and General Valiño’s troops advance on Cervera and Artesa, but are stopped by the Republican 26th division. General Yague’s Moroccan troops are still at the Ebro due to winter flooding.

The first week of battle is held within the first 50 kilometres from the Catalonia border into the province, Cervera being 47 kilometres from the initial frontlines. Within the first week, the Republicans lose 40 planes in the fighting, the death toll on both sides not calculated as the battles are spread out along the province.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the month’s events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos and captions are auto-linked to source for credit, and to provide further information.