The Goldsmith’s Wife

   Posted by: Babs Creamer   in

This review is by Babs Creamer from the Dorset Group of the Richard III Society and a good and  valued friend of our branch.

Jean Plaidy, The Goldsmith’s Wife. 1950

Until I read this novel in my teens there was no doubt in my mind that Richard the Third was an evil man who had murdered his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.  Apart from Shakespeare, children’s history books said so, often illustrated by the terrified princes by Millais, a visit to Madame Tussaud’s showed a waxwork tableau of the wicked deed and at the Tower of London the Beefeaters proclaimed it loud and clear.

As a teenager I really enjoyed Jean Plaidy’s novels and always felt I was back in the time she was writing about – good technicolour history not the dry-as-dust school efforts.  When I came to read “The Goldsmith’s Wife” I was surprised to meet a very different Richard.  A Richard that all these years later I still think she portrayed pretty well.  Not a particularly romantic character but certainly a noble one.  A decent human being.

Of course the story is Jane Shore’s but every once in a while we are privileged to glimpse Richard and Anne which is so worthwhile.  Just to pluck a few at random:  we first see 16 year old Anne in the cavalcade through London following the Battle of Barnet where, as a prisoner, she sits alongside Margaret of Anjou and is thinking of Richard who enjoys a place of honour alongside his victorious brother Edward.  Our first glimpse of Richard is sometime later at Court whom Jane sees as a pale slender young man.  When Jane visits Richard about Anne’s whereabouts “Richard was working and before him on the table lay a pile of documents.  He was conscientious and matters of state interested him far more than the pleasures in which his brothers indulged.  There were times when he would have liked to take over the burden of kingship – had he been king he would have spent less time feasting and would have enjoyed making laws rather than love – everything in life would be subordinated to the good of his country”.

When Richard goes to Anne, who had been hidden in a cookshop, “his features twisted oddly when he saw her “Anne” he cried!  Then he held out his arms and she ran into them.  They embaced – the man elegant in his fur embroidered garments, the girl in her filthy rags”.  Although in this novel Richard is not a romantic character is there a more romantic passage in any novel?

When Richard becomes Lord Protector following Edward’s death and Hastings’s conspiracy becomes known to him at the Council Meeting, Richard “with scorn watched the members of the Council … Hastings he had almost loved … Morton he had never liked nor trusted.  False friends were more to be feared than lifelong enemies … there should be no softness for Hastings”.

After Richard has been King for two years and lost his son and Anne, his niece Elizabeth is sent to Sheriff Hutton to stop rumours he wishes to marry her although rumours about the boys who are still in the Tower persist. “It was almost two years since he had taken the crown and there had scarcely been a happy moment in the whole of that time”.  Following the “Cat, Dog and Hog” rhyme at St. Paul’s “Hating violence, Richard had nevertheless been forced to resort to it.  Weakness was folly and he would never be accused of that. The writer of the lines was found and subjected to the horrible death accorded all traitors”.

When Richard faces Henry Tudor at Bosworth “Richard was exultant.  He had dreaded this so long and now it was upon him he had at least rid himself of the suspense.  He was a great statesman but perhaps a better soldier … of his own bravery, of his ability to look death unflinchingly in the face he was sure … the King, small and slender though he was looked mighty on his grey horse … his courage made of him a giant … how could brave Richard fear the cringing Tudor, the crafty schemer who had no military prowess and who, it was said, was not over-eager for the fight?”  As the battle goes against Richard “The day was all but lost but super-human courage might save it yet.   England’s King was super-human.  None could fight as he fought.  Henry Tudor was slipping behind his supporters, his little eyes wide with terror but Stanley the traitor … came galloping to the spot with 3000 men behind him … they were surrounding him now … he could see nothing for the blood in his eyes but went on fighting “Treason” he cried and so bravely died the last English King.

Having finished this with tears in my eyes I forgot about Richard for a quite a few years until someone lent me Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time which prompted me to join the RIII Society and the rest, as they say, is history.