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?

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Edward IV: Glorious Son of York’ by Jeffrey James

Few English monarchs had to fight harder for the right to rule than King Edward IV – Shakespeare’s glorious son of York. Cast in the true Plantagenet mould, over six feet tall, he was a naturally charismatic leader. Edward had the knack of seizing the initiative and winning battles and is free from the unflattering characterisations that plagued his brother, Richard III, having been portrayed as a good-looking and formidable military tactician. Described sometimes as reckless and profligate, all sources remark on his personal bravery. In the eleven years between 1460 and 1471 he fought five major battles in the Wars of the Roses. Three of them – Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury – rank among the most decisive of the medieval period. This book covers Edward’s family background, the Yorkist takeover and the drift to war. It charts the tensions created by the controversial Woodville marriage and Edward’s deposition by the Earl of Warwick and subsequent exile. The return of the king brought with it battles anew and Edward’s decisive campaigns against Warwick and Margaret of Anjou. Finally, Edward’s sudden death heralded the demise of the House of York and the triumph of the Tudors against Richard III. This is a history of Edward IV’s struggle to gain and retain the kingship of England during a period of sustained dynastic turmoil during the Wars of the Roses.

cover and blurb via amazon

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Edward IV had a great claim to be England’s king, sadly, he was not the only one. The author starts easily, giving us the background of Edward’s family claim to the throne. A monster of man in those days, at 6′ 4″, Edward took the throne in 1461, and reigned over nearly a decade which had some of the most bloody battles of the War of the Roses.

While Edward was in line to claim the throne, overthrowing a sitting monarch, betraying his greatest ally and marrying for love (lust?) instead of gain did Edward no favours. For a man with battlefield experience, and political knowledge, he made errors during these dangerous years, racking up local enemies like no one else.

Edward had no trouble winning battles; Towton, then Barnet and Tewkesbury are just some of the battles he needed to fight in order to hold the throne, and this book tells the tale more like a story rather than a military strategy. Included are illustrations of the locations pivotal in Edward’s life.

One of Edward’s largest mistakes was the marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. However, had Edward married as his allies wanted, things could have still fallen apart, but without the Woodville family, doubtless lives may have been saved.

The book flies though these troublesome years until Edward’s overthrow in 1470, only to win his crown back again in six months, shortly before the death of Henry VI in prison. While the second half of Edward’s reign was far quieter, having killed the vast majority of his enemies and relations, Edward still fought in France, killed one of his brothers and grew chubby and lazy. His death in 1483 was still a great loss; while the War of the Roses saw much blood under his rule, at least some peace had begun to settle in. It would be only two years before all Edward fought for would be erased, his two sons killed and his precious brother Richard deposed by the last remaining Lancastrian enemy, Henry Tudor. But not all was lost; Edward’s daughter Elizabeth became queen, there as peace reigned in England (mostly), and their children became king of England, queen of Scotland, and (briefly) queen of France.

What I like about this book is that, while accurate, it doesn’t flow like a non-fiction biography, rather more of a story of a man who thought he was the rightful king. Trouble was, everyone thought themselves the rightful king.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘The Survival of the Princes of the Tower’ by Matthew Lewis

The murder of the Princes in the Tower is the most famous cold case in British history. Traditionally considered victims of a ruthless uncle, there are other suspects too often and too easily discounted. There may be no definitive answer, but by delving into the context of their disappearance and the characters of the suspects Matthew Lewis examines the motives and opportunities afresh as well as asking a crucial but often overlooked question: what if there was no murder? What if Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York survived their uncle’s reign and even that of their brother-in-law Henry VII? There are glimpses of their possible survival and compelling evidence to give weight to those glimpses, which is considered alongside the possibility of their deaths to provide a rounded and complete assessment of the most fascinating mystery in history.

cover and blurb via amazon

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Everyone knows the story of the Princes of the Tower, two royal brothers, one ready to be crowned, his brother the ‘spare heir,’ locked in the Tower of London by their uncle, who would instead crown himself King Richard III. The boys would then disappear from the planet completely soon after.

There is a list of suspects of who murdered Edward, aged 12, and Richard aged 9, at the time of their imprisonment. There is no proof the boys were even murdered, but their total disappearance, and Richard III’s short-lived reign a result of that disappearance, leaves little doubt.

King Richard III is the prime suspect – his brother Edward’s sons were to inherit the throne before him. But King Richard and deceased Edward had a brother – George (also deceased). George himself had a son and daughter, and the departed Edward had a slew of daughters with a claim to the crown. If Richard wanted to kill the boys in the Tower to take the throne, he would have had to eliminate all the children – and he harmed none.

Henry Tudor was in France, ready to invade and marry one of Edward’s daughters and claim the throne. This made the royal sisters of the Princes (and George’s children) threats. Yet King Richard never declared that young Edward and Richard had died in the Tower. They disappeared but were never announced as deceased. The fact they were not known as dead meant they remained a threat. They could have fallen ill; they could have been killed by another.

Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham made himself a suspect in the murder by his behaviour. He rebelled against King Richard, with a view to his own as claim, making him a candidate for needing the boys murdered. Buckingham was quashed by Richard’s forces and executed, and making him the ‘murderer’ would have been so easy. But King Richard never publicly blamed Buckingham for the deaths, when he easily could have used him as a scapegoat. It suggests neither killed the princes.

Some claim Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor’s mother, had the boys killed so her son could inherit the throne. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest this but the theory persists through fiction and Lewis’ book does discuss the possibility. Henry Tudor married the Princes’ oldest sister, so the odds of him murdering her brothers is slim.

King Richard III’s guilt seems to easy to accept, and the author brings up many details to help clear Richard’s name. The rumours of the Princes’ death are as strong as the survival of the boys. The Princes’ own mother never blamed Richard for the deaths. The books tell of Elizabeth Woodville and her son Thomas Grey under suspicion, a detail I didn’t know until reading this version of the affair. And then there is Perkin Warbeck, the Prince Richard pretender who haunted Henry VII.

Could Edward and Richard have survived? Was there ever a murder of the Princes in the Tower? Or is there are far more interesting version to be told? This book is fantastic and I would recommend it to Tudor fans and newbies alike. As an A+ fan of Richard III, I welcome any book looking to clear his darkened name. Thank you, Matthew Lewis.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘The House of Beaufort’ by Nathen Amin

The Wars of the Roses were a tumultous period in English history, with family fighting family for the greatest prize in the kingdom – the throne of England. But what gave the eventual victor, Henry Tudor, the right to claim the throne? What made his mother the great heiress of medieval England? And how could an illegitimate line come to challenge the English monarchy? Whilst the Houses of York and Lancaster battled directly for the crown, other noble families of England also played integral roles in the war; grand and prestigious names like the Howards, Nevilles and Percys were intimately involved in the conflict but arguably none symbolised the volatile nature of the period quite like the House of Beaufort. The story of the Beauforts, with their rise, fall and rise again, is the story of England during the period, a dramatic century of war, intrigue and scandal. Many books have been written about individual members of the dynasty but never has the whole family been explored as one. This book will uncover the rise of the Beauforts from bastard stock of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, to respected companions of their cousin Henry V, celebrated victor of Agincourt. The Beauforts fell with the House of Lancaster during the 1460s and 1470s, and their hopes and fortunes came to rest upon the shoulders of a teenage widow named Margaret and her young son, Henry. From her would rise the House of Tudor, the most famous of all England’s royal houses and a dynasty who owed their crown to their forebears, the House of Beaufort. From bastards to princes, the Beauforts are medieval England’s most intriguing family.

cover and blurb via nathenamin.com

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One family which doesn’t get enough love are the Beauforts. Nathen Amin has done everyone a favour and produced this wonderful and descriptive book to shed more light on this remarkable line. The story of the Beauforts is one that can last forever. Many families such as the Lancasters, Yorks, Warwicks are often mentioned, when the Beauforts are most important and relevant from the late 1300’s right down to today’s noble families.

Joan Beaufort was the daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his then-mistress Katherine Swynford, remarkable people in their own right.  Joan was the only girl born to this first generation of Beauforts, named illegitimate offspring. Joan married very young and had two daughters, but by her mid-teens, her parents gained a legitimate marriage recognised by the Pope, and Joan herself was already a widow. Joan went on to marry into the Neville family, and produced 14 Beaufort-Neville babies to go with her previous two, and her husband’s eight from his first marriage. Eek!

Nathen Amin has drawn on a countless amount of resources in order to produce such an interesting level of detail, and I found I took so many notes that the whole book was in my notebook. Had the Beauforts not gone on to do so much more, the information on Joan Beaufort could be enough for a book on its own.

Joan’s children went to create the families which ruled England and fueled both sides of the War of the Roses. There was the famous Neville line, including a queen of England and multiple earldoms, including the powerful Warwick family. Joan’s blood flowed through the families of the Dukes of Westmoreland, Somerset and Exeter. Thanks to Joan’s eldest daughter they joined the Mowbray family; another daughter married into the powerful Percy lineage, another into the dynasty of the Staffords, the Dukes of Buckingham. More sons became barons, the family boasted archbishops, and the baby of the family was Cecily, married to the Duke of York, creating two kings, Edward IV and Richard III. That’s just a selection of their greatness!

But nothing destroys families like the quest for power. The 1400’s saw much wealth and success, but also death. By the time Margaret Beaufort (great niece of Joan), who married into the Tudor family, saw her son Henry defeat Richard III for the crown, the Beauforts’ power had spread out like a spiderweb of noble houses.

I am not new to the history of the Beauforts, nor their struggles to take the throne, but I found plenty to enjoy in Amin’s book. If you are new to the subject, this is the number one place to begin. The author has written a book without bias, simply presenting facts written to be entertaining, instead of heavy and academic.

Truth always beats fiction, and while I read this in ebook style, once my hardcover arrives, this book will now sit on my top shelf, where I keep all the books I go back to and reference while I work. History is filled with incredible tales, and Amin’s book brings together so many people that you too could be an expert in no time.