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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HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘ The Nevills of Middleham’ by K.L Clark

At a time when family name was everything, the Nevills were the most influential people in England. They saw the Wars of the Roses from both sides—Yorkist and Lancastrian—but mainly from their own. Their men lived and died violently, and the Nevill women married leading players on both sides. Their bitter and violent rivalry with the Percy family tumbled into the wider political unrest that resulted in the Wars of the Roses, the ongoing feud between York and Lancaster that deposed two kings. This is the first definitive history of a fascinating family, and is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the Wars of the Roses.

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Richard Neville was one of the famous descendants of the Beaufort dynasty, and by 1465, he was one of the most powerful men in England. He was the 16th Earl of Warwick and nicknamed the Kingmaker, with good cause. Married to the wealthy Anne Beauchamp, Neville was constantly at King Edward IV’s side. He was not the only powerful Neville – brother George Neville was Archbishop of York and John Neville, Marquess of Montagu, was a famed soldier. Sister Katherine had married into the powerful Hastings family, and Cecily was a duchess, Alice a Countess, just a sample of the all-powerful Neville empire.

While Richard Neville stood at the side of a York king, the Neville name harks back to Lancastrian kings, due to being linked by blood to Joan Beaufort in the late 1300’s. The Nevilles moved toward the York arm of the royal names before spending time in exile and rebellion, before Anne Neville took the throne at Richard III’s side. The Neville name then started to fade from the annuls of history.

This book takes on a complex family and helpfully provides a way through the many branches of the family tree. While the Kingmaker is the most studied Neville, there are many more to learn about and the author has encompassed them all.

Warwick the Kingmaker was a man like any other when in power; he was a selfish . He saw fit to execute many enemies, his own brother dispatched to take part on many killings. He was revered by the men he kept on his side and a villain to anyone be opposed. Like most in the War of the Roses, Richard Neville was neither hero or villain, he was both. I found this to be the most comprehensive book on this family.