HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Richard, Duke of York’ by Matthew Lewis

Richard, 3rd Duke of York is frequently used to recall the colours of the rainbow with the mnemonic ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’, wrongly believed to be the Grand Old Duke of York who had 10,000 men, or mistaken for his youngest son, Richard III. The son of a traitor, he inherited a dukedom aged four, became the wealthiest man in England at thirteen and later rebelled against his king, and if he is remembered, it is as a man who ignited the Wars of the Roses. Further eclipsed by two of his sons, who would become the mighty warrior Edward IV and the recently rediscovered Richard III, he is an ancestor of the Tudor monarchs and fifteenth great-grandfather to Queen Elizabeth II, yet the man himself is obscured from view. Matthew Lewis pushes aside the veils of myth and legend to challenge the image of Richard as a man whose insatiable ambition dragged a nation into civil war, revealing a complex family man with unparalleled power and responsibilities. The first person ever recorded to use the Plantagenet name, he pushed the political establishment to its limits, dared to fight back and was forced to do the unimaginable.

cover and blurb via amazon

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I was looking forward to this book for a number of reasons – firstly, because it’s Matthew Lewis, and also because Richard, Duke of York, really was kinda sorta the right person to be king if you dig through the family tree. This book didn’t disappoint at all.

Henry VI was in power, a man who was king as an infant, and England first had to go through a period ruled by the Lord Protector, the Duke of Gloucester, before Henry VI, a meek boy and then weak man, took over. Henry VI got himself a bride who was smart, strong and up to something with the Duke of Somerset. French lands in English hands were lost before Henry VI had a chance to rule them, and England was going to hell. (No offence, H6, it wasn’t really your fault).

Richard Plantagenet was a descendant of Edward III, like pretty much everyone in the War of the Roses. Through his mother, Richard was related to Edward II’s son Lionel Duke of Clarence, and through his father, Richard was related to Edward III’s son Edmund Duke of York. Edward III had five sons and three daughters who survived to adulthood (eight sons, five daughters in total, yikes!), and Richard Plantagenet was a descendant of surviving sons number two and four. As King Richard II, son of Edward The Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III, died without children, Lionel’s descendants were supposed to inherit (Richard’s mother’s family line, the Mortimers).

But the Lancaster branch took over. Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt – the Lancaster line, usurped the throne from Richard II, led by Gaunt’s son Henry IV, leading to Henry V and Henry VI. But the Mortimer/York branches, now joined in marriage, thought they deserved the crown. And by right they did.

Richard Plantagenet sought to claim his right, resulting in the War of the Roses, killing off all the direct male descendants of Edward III, more or less. It was bloody, it was awful and needless and could be confusing if not for great books like this one. Richard had a solid claim to the throne, but Henry VI also had a claim, and was an anointed king. Richard Plantagenet is portrayed as a greedy, bloodthirsty man who tried to steal the throne, when it was essentially stolen from him by his own relatives years ago. Richard’s own father was beheaded for trying to assert the same right. Richard’s head too ended up on a spike, and his son Edmund was killed with him.

But two of Richards’ three remaining sons went on to be kings – Edward IV and Richard III (they killed their other brother, long story). Richard may have been killed in 1460, but his seven surviving children all continued to fight as Yorks against the Lancasters for the right to the throne, ending with Richard’s granddaughter Elizabeth, who married Lancastrian Henry VII and became queen, ending the wars for good.

A huge thanks to Matthew Lewis for this book, giving Richard Plantagenet a book of his own to show him as more than a usurper who got what he deserved. The Yorks had every right, just as Richard believed.

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HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘The Black Prince’ by Michael Jones

As a child he was given his own suit of armour; in 1346, at the age of 16, he helped defeat the French at Crécy; and in 1356 he captured the King of France at Poitiers. For the chronicler Jean Froissart, ‘He was the flower of all chivalry’; for the Chandos Herald, who fought with him, he was ‘the embodiment of all valour’. Edward of Woodstock, eldest son and heir of Edward III of England, better known as ‘the Black Prince’, was England’s pre-eminent military leader during the first phase of the Hundred Years War.

Michael Jones uses contemporary chronicles and documentary material, including the Prince’s own letters and those of his closest followers, to tell the tale of an authentic English hero and to paint a memorable portrait of warfare and society in the tumultuous fourteenth century.

cover and blurb via amazon

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My area is the 1400s and 1500s, so Edward, The Black Prince, hasn’t really been on my radar. So when I wanted to make a start on this legendary man, I came across this book, which stuck out. With my head already swimming with countless heavy academic books to read, it was a relief to find such an informative but easy to read book.

Edward of Woodstock (cool name) was born in 1330, was an earl while still in medieval nappies, and the first ever English duke, Duke of Cornwall, by age 7. King Edward III would have a slew of healthy sons, somethings all kings would dream of, but Edward was the first, the heir England needed. Young Edward was at his father’s side, and educated 1300s style – jousting, warfare and a touch of chivalry, which was on its way out. As a child, Edward had to attend council meetings and was Prince of Wales by age 13.

But it was the battlefield where Edward would reign, and get that nickname. The Crecy campaign of 1346 in France let Edward get taste for blood, winning the battle by his father’s side. The English had much of Normandy and had Calais, and then went to defend the sea between England and France from the Castilian soon after.

Battles in Aquitaine raged constantly and the Poitiers Campaign ravaged the French in 1356, and now the English had roughly a third of France in their control, making black-clad Edward a formidable soldier who could also be a great leader. Edward also sided with Pedro the Cruel in Spain to attempt victory in the Najera Campaign of 1366 which was a bad move, as Pedro more than lived up to his name, and Edward wasted his time in Aragon.

Edward’s name and reputation suggests a vicious man, cold and ready to use violence, but the author has shown a different man; a man loved by his countrymen, educated and cultured. Edward married his cousin Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, in 1361, and only just into his thirties, started to suffer an unknown affliction where he began to waste away, possibly of liver or kidney failure, or a number of infections picked up on numerous battlefields. Edward and Joan gained two precious sons, Edward and Richard, only to lose Edward at a young age, leaving waif-like Richard as the heir to the throne.

By 1371, Edward was again fighting to hold onto power in Aquitaine, but needed to return home with illness. He attempted one more battle into France with his father but had to return home again. He spent the remainder of his life suffering until an early death in 1376, aged only 45, his heir Richard only nine.

Edward was buried in Canterbury Cathedral, and wasn’t called The Black Prince until a century and a half later, a result of his black armour and his ability to kill French people in Aquitaine, winning two of three major campaigns England made into France (the other is Agincourt 14515 btw). Edward III would have been devastated at the death of his son, and Richard went on to be a useless king, which caused death and battles among Edward III’s remaining heirs, all of which might have been avoided.

The Black Prince is the king who never was, and I am so glad I chose this book to start with learning more about the royals of the 1300s. You don’t need to be an expert to read this fluid piece of work, well laid out, and solid on the details. Much credit to the author for this book; I am glad to have it in my collection.