Posts Tagged ‘Books’



   Posted by: Julia Redlich    in Bookworm


Historical Novel Society of Australasia Conference in Sydney – A Review

The weekend of March 20-22 proved a rewarding one for writers of historical fiction, whether their work was already established or still in embryo. It took delegates to the Historical Novel Society of Australasia Conference far beyond the bodice-ripper image to valuable considerations of topics and treatments and through historical ages in war and peace from the Normans to Anzacs.

The opening on Friday evening at the State Library of New South Wales combined cocktails and conversation with reunions with old friends and new acquaintances to meet. The welcoming address was followed by the launch of Unholy Murder, the third book in Felicity Pulman’s Janna Chronicles set during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda. NSW Ricardians who attended the 2010 conference at Cammeray will remember Felicity’s skill at extensive research when she was a guest speaker – and later became a Friend of the Branch.

The evening concluded with a fascinating round table debate on “What can historical novelists and historians learn from each other?”

On Saturday and Sunday the venue was Balmain Town Hall and after a welcome from HNSA Patron Kate Forsyth, Colin Falconer (When We Were Gods, Silk Road, Stigmata) spoke succinctly and entertainingly on The Anzac tradition of inspiration: imagining the past, claiming the present. This was followed by Peter Corris and Sulari Gentil recounting how their careers have progressed, their inspirations and how they tackle their subjects (and for those of you who might consider Corris’s indefatigable PI Cliff Hardy as not anyone of historical interest, just reflect that he has been around for 40 years and his world has changed dramatically).

A varied and delicious morning tea break led to three historical novelists revealing how they select the age about which they are writing and the research needed to bring characters, plot and period to credible life. The novelists were Juliet Marillier, known for her splendid historical fantasies, New Zealander Craig Cliff (The Mannequin Makers) and Isolde Martyn, former chair of the NSW Branch of the Richard III Society and author of award winning novels including The Lady and the Unicorn, and recently Mistress to the Crown and The Golden Widows.

Further discussion followed until lunch time including a discussion as to whether historical novelists can capture young readers at a time when the films such as Hunger Games and vampires dominate. In the afternoon the tales of World Wars 1 and 2 were highlighted, showing characters conquering or succumbing to the dramas around them. This was followed by readings of one-page submissions and how they could attract – or not – a publisher’s attention.

Dinner was held at the nearby Royal Oak Hotel, where the occupants of all the tables seemed to have much to talk about, encouraged by the good food and wine and company that made a memorable evening.

Sunday’s opening feature was fascination: two authors describing how they changed their already successful careers to become historical novelists. Toni Jordan was a molecular biologist before turning to write great contemporary fiction and then changing again to historical fiction. Posie Graeme-Evans was an exceptionally successful television director, producer and executive (McLeods Daughters and more) before taking the leap into writing about the past, the people and time slips that link them.

The following discussion was one to intrigue all Ricardians, What is it about the Tudors? And why are publishers so fascinated by them and opt for these times above other periods? Tudorphilia prevails and the panel for this had much to say. When asked about their favourite Tudor personality, the majority opted for Elizabeth with Anne Boleyn a close second. NSW Ricardian and frequent contributor to our website, novelist Barbara Gaskell Denvil, pointed out that the Tudors all came with a tag attached such as “Six Wives”, “Bloody Mary”, “Virgin Queen”. (Later she and I lamented that no-one put in a word for our favourite Tudor Anne of Cleves, surely as much a victim of Tudor propaganda as King Richard III.)

(I would have loved to have heard the other talks, but had to leave early to catch the coach for my five-hour trip home.)

The rest of the discussions included novels of fantasy, mystery and time-slips; the possibilities and perils of independent publishing; and agents and publishing representatives telling what they look for. I am told that the day ended – as all occasions should – with In Bed with History: sexy, saucy and sizzling bedroom scenes read with glee and gusto by Colin Falconer and Kate Forsyth.

It was a rewarding and interesting time, well organised with worthwhile speakers who spoke with knowledge and humour. It was the first conference that the Historical Novels Society of Australasia had held. I doubt it will be the last.

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The King’s Dogge

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

The King's Dogge

Book Review:  The King’s Dogge

The following review is by Rob Smith of the New Zealand Branch and was first published in the August 2014 Ricardian Recorder. We thank Rob for his permission to post it here.

Nigel Green, The King’s Dogge: The Story of Francis Lovell, Troubador Publishing Ltd (2014) ISBN 9781783068425

This novel, written in the first person, portrays the life of the King’s Dogge, Francis Lovell up to Bosworth. A sequel is promised. A mixture of known historical facts and events coupled with the author’s vivid imagination results in, to my mind, a rather laborious narrative.

Lovell’s progression from his early days, to his service with Montague and Warwick and thence to their demise at Barnet is informative enough as is his consequent meeting with the Yorkist hierarchy and his entry into Richard’s service. Lovell’s service to Richard in Carlisle and the Border encounters with outlaws and the Scots are laid out but possibly over-emphasised. What I was to find throughout is the author’s tendency to concentrate on the minutia of lesser happenings while allowing other more significant events to be passed over lightly or ignored completely, perhaps relying on the reader’s knowledge to fill in the gaps. However, to be fair, this is a story about Lovell and if he was not involved in these events the author may consider it inappropriate to dwell on them.

What is interesting is Green’s portrayal of the various characters, not least Richard. The author’s Richard is a loyal brother but a vacillating, indecisive king and a pawn in the hands of a scheming Anne Neville who is determined to bring down the Woodville faction for what they did to her father, Warwick. She is shown as the power behind the throne. As Lovell rises to the top in Richard’s service he starts to question and has doubts about his King but remains steadfastly loyal to the end.

Buckingham, Hastings, the Stanleys, etc. are as we know them; Ratcliffe comes out OK but Catesby is shown as a fat, scheming, lawyer, self- serving from the outset as he climbs the ladder of influence, culminating in his engineering of the murder of the Princes (with Richard’s acceptance ), and his ultimate betrayal at Bosworth, being in league with the Stanleys and Northumberland conspiring beforehand in their treachery.

Incidentally, Tudor takes no part in the battle having been hidden away for his safety with decoys taking his place. Did Shakespeare get it right? …. “ I think there must be six Richmonds in the field/Five have I slain today instead of him” (Richard III Act V, Scene iv).

The King’s Dogge is an interesting portrayal of an important figure in Richard’s life but it lacks bite and requires patience and determination to reach the conclusion.

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Book Launch for Isolde Martyn’s latest book

   Posted by: Leslie McCawley    in Bookworm

frame_IsoldeMartyn_TheGoldenWidowsOn Thursday evening, 21 August 2014, Abbey’s Books in Sydney’s CBD hosted a launch for our member Isolde Martyn’s newest book, The Golden Widows. The publishers, Harlequin Mira, provided a lovely selection of wine and hors d’oeuvres for the after-work crowd, which included a good turnout of fellow Ricardians and Plantagenet Society members, many of whom queued to buy the book and have it signed by the author.

The official program began when the book’s editor spoke to those assembled and then introduced Isolde who gave a gracious talk thanking everyone involved with the publishing of this book. She explained that the story is that of Lancastrian widow, Elizabeth Woodville, who later married King Edward IV, and the Yorkist sister of Warwick the Kingmaker, Kate Neville, also newly widowed. Life in the 15th century was hard for all widowed women, even the young and beautiful – wherever their loyalties lay in the War of the Roses.

With her love and extensive knowledge of the late medieval era and armed with finely honed historical research skills, Isolde has produced a new book that promises to be as satisfying to her fans as have her previous works.

You can find out more about previous Isolde’s books by visiting her website.

The Golden Widows is available in Australia and New Zealand in print format or as an e-book through Amazon etc.

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The August NSW Branch Meeting

   Posted by: Leslie McCawley    in Branch News, Meetings, News

David MeeThe August meeting of the NSW Branch of the Richard III Society was held on Saturday, 9 August 2014, at the Sydney Mechanics’ Institute. Chair Judith welcomed all members and guests. Leslie introduced the guest speaker, David Mee, who presented a fascinating look at the years between 1485 and 1520 in order to put into cultural and historical context the development of the coinage of the day. David has been a serious coin collector for over 20 years, and has European coins from Ireland to the Latin East, as he called it, defined as ‘wherever the crusaders went’. His many slides showed the artistry of the coin makers, and reflected the changing styles over the decades from frontal images of the symbolic head of the monarch, to the classic profile first used by Henry VII and soon copied by other rulers, as well. The coins minted during the reign of Richard III had a mintmark of a boar, the Duke of Gloucester’s symbol. There was a lively question and answer following the talk, as David was able to shed light on the more arcane aspects of the topic.

There were no committee reports presented but one important item of business was the announcement that the membership fees would not be increased for the coming year, and that all renewals are due before the next meeting in October. Renewal forms will be posted soon and all cheques are to be sent to the Secretary. Please note that even if you are not renewing your membership it is requested that you inform the Secretary in writing as a courtesy, if possible.

Business also included the discussion of the re-interment of Richard at Leicester Cathedral in March 2015. The events will be spread over a week, 22 to 28 March. After three days of lying in state for the public to pay their respects, Richard will be reburied with a formal Church of England service on 26 March. A special service for Society members will be held at the Cathedral on Monday, 23 March (more information can be found on the website of the Richard III Society). It is expected that several of our members will attend the ceremonies.

The New Zealand Richard III Society will be holding the biennial Australasian Convention over their long weekend of 23 -25 October 2015, and organisers were hoping to get an idea of how many members and friends might be making the journey to join them from Australia but it was too soon to tell.

Our member Isolde Martyn is having a book launch of her latest production, The Golden Widows, about Elizabeth Woodville and Katherine Hastings, on 21 August at Abbeys Bookstore on York Street, Sydney, 6pm for 6:30pm speeches and formal program. All members are invited.

The not-to-be-missed St Ives Medieval Fair will be held over the weekend of 20 and 21 September 2014, with a great line-up of family-friendly activities and attractions, including world-class jousters from Europe competing against the Australian contenders.

The Bosworth Service scheduled for the 24 August 2014 will be held at St Mary’s Anglican Church on Birrell Street in Waverley at 10am, with lunch at Arthur’s Pizza in Bondi Junction for interested members and friends afterwards. St Mary’s is a fine old sandstone church with lovely stained glass windows and gardens, and the Minister Rev Peter Clark and his congregation have always been very welcoming.

The Bring and Buy Table was a success, with many interesting items contributed to the branch for fundraising, and many pleased buyers, as well. The raffle was also drawn, then all broke for afternoon tea. The NSW Branch Annual General Meeting will be held on Saturday, 11 October 2014, featuring this year’s ‘Scrabble Speakers’, members Dorothea, Maggie, and Rachel speaking on various gripping Ricardian topics

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Finding Richard III

   Posted by: Barbara Gaskell Denvil    in Bookworm

Book Review:  Finding Richard III – The Official Account

We thank Barbara for making her review of this book available to us.

Finding Richard III : The Official Account
of Research by the Retrieval & Reburial Project

Finding Richard IIIThe Looking for Richard Project team, specifically Philippa Langley (the inaugurator) , John Ashdown-Hill BA, MA, PhD, FSA, FRHistS, Annette Carson, David Johnson BA Hons, MA, PhD, and Wendy Johnson, set out to discover the burial place and human remains of Richard III himself, although these were long considered lost forever. This, the official account, is a clear, precise and riveting summary of facts, not of opinions. However, step by inspired step, we are led past the opinions of many as we follow the unique development of one of the most impressive and amazing archaeological discoveries ever achieved in England.

In early 2009, Philippa Langley launched the search for Richard III’s resting place. She and the team then worked together to meticulously discredit the long held rumour of the desecration of his grave and the tossing of his remains into the River Soar, even though this unsubstantiated rumour was frequently upheld by others, even historians. There have also been years of mistaken belief as to the site of the Greyfriars Priory, considered the probable place of original burial in 1485. Many historical errors and later misjudgements were now researched and carefully corrected by the team, all briefly summarised here. With lucid and detailed explanation, this books covers every aspect, matching medieval probabilities to modern specifics until gradually we feel we have travelled the same journey, walked those 15th century streets, peered into those shadowed mysteries and so can share the team’s inspirational optimism.

With enormous expertise and determination, the team persisted until 2012 when at last, with council permission obtained, funds raised (principally from the Richard III Society) and legal agreements made with the relevant authorities, ULAS (University of Leicester Archaeological Services), were contracted and paid in advance accordingly as demanded, to undertake the digging in the area specified by the Project. Indeed, ULAS had so little belief in the probability of discovering Richard III’s actual remains, that they accepted the commission only when the wording of the contract was amended to specify and limit the dig to the excavation of the Franciscan Priory Church. Philippa Langley then insisted that contractual obligations include provision for the possible exhumation of human remains. The Looking For Richard team’s accuracy was so impressive to seem virtually unbelievable, so even after the leg bones of an adult male were discovered in the designated area on the very first day of the dig, ULAS could not believe they had begun to uncover Richard III himself.

Included in the narrative are the surprising disappointments and the failures of some, in particular the areas where original contractual agreements have not been met by other parties. For instance, the shocking failure of the university to invite John Ashdown-Hill to the official announcement of Richard III’s DNA match, which identified his remains beyond reasonable doubt, even though it was Mr. Ashdown-Hill alone who traced the living descendent used to conclude that DNA match, and Ms. Langley was only invited to speak after the TV coverage had ended. It is also evidently of some concern and against the wording of the original contract, for the remains of this anointed monarch and ancestor of the queen to still be retained by the university instead of having been laid to rest in some prayerful and respectful place until the re-interment process can be conducted. Difficulties with the Cathedral administration are also recorded.

But there is no winter of discontent here, no list of complaints or failures. Indeed, the book is a celebration of a rare and glorious success, leading to a greater knowledge and understanding of this long misunderstood and maligned king, and eventually to a fitting reburial.

Written with impressive clarity and extensive footnotes, without unacademic or emotional emphasis, this short book explains exactly what happened from initiation to conclusion. It is the summary of the search itself, and includes a full list of those who donated to the costs and copies of all the contracts involved. The considerable respect and care shown by Ms. Langley for the legal drafting of the original contractual agreements is precise and impressive. Whether her wishes have been fully complied with since, is another matter.

Although such facts can, as would be expected, seem dry at times, there is not one moment when this book becomes heavy, or can be even momentarily discarded. It is both a fascinating and rewarding read from beginning to end. And FINDING RICHARD III: THE OFFICIAL ACCOUNT covers one more necessary task, that of explaining exactly how the search not only originated with the Finding Richard Project, but was successful owing to their incredible expertise and persistence. In the face of repeated claims and assumptions that Leicester University or ULAS discovered Richard III’s burial place and his remains, it was instead the studious research and ultimate success of The Finding Richard Project, who have now produced this official account to set the record straight.

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   Posted by: Barbara Gaskell Denvil    in Bookworm

A new novel by Barbara Gaskell Denvil, much appreciated member of the NSW Branch, has recently been published.  Barbara shares with us a blurb for her new book.  Having read and thoroughly enjoyed her previous novels Summerford’s Autumn and Satin Cinnabar, I can’t wait to spend some pleasant time in The King’s Shadow

(Page Admin)

King's ShadowBarbara Gaskell Denvil, The King’s Shadow.  Simon & Schuster Australia, 2014.  ISBN 9781925030068 (Trade Paperback and ebook)

Andrew Cobham is a man of unconventional behaviour, his home is unusually grand, and he answers no questions. But as he keeps his own secrets safe, so he works to uncover those of others.

It is 1483 and King Edward IV sits England’s throne, but no king rules unchallenged. Often it is those closest to him who prove the unexpected danger. When the king dies suddenly without clear cause, then rumour replaces fact – and Andrew Cobham is already working behind the scenes.

Tyballis, when orphaned young, was forced into marriage with her neighbour, a bully and simpleton. When she escapes his abuse, she meets Andrew Cobham, and gradually an uneasy alliance forms. This is a friendship which will take them in unusual directions as Tyballis becomes embroiled in Andrew’s work and the danger which surrounds him. Eventually it is a motley gathering of thieves, informers, prostitutes and children that joins the game, determined to help Andrew uncover treason. Abduction, murder, intrigue and political subterfuge come to a climax as the country is thrown onto the brink of war.

Richard of Gloucester is designated Protector of the Realm, and it is his responsibility to bring peace to England’s troubled land, and discover those who are determined to disturb the peace for their own ends. This book brings light to some of the more troublesome mysteries and the doubts surrounding his decisions, based firmly on what truths are at present known, and especially on those frequently overlooked.

This novel combines history and imagination, but in no place is wilful inaccuracy permitted. These are the facts both as they actually occurred, and as they probably occurred.

But it is also a book about the whole adventure of an uncommon life.

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Review of 12 April 2014 Meeting

   Posted by: Leslie McCawley    in Branch News, Meetings, News

meetingThe NSW Branch of the Richard III Society met on 12 April 2014 at the Sydney Mechanics Institute Building in the Sydney CBD. Branch Chairperson Judith welcomed all the regulars and several new members from Wagga Wagga who had made a special effort to attend the day’s meeting during their visit to Sydney.

The regular business of the branch was suspended due to time constraints, so there were no reports presented from the officers, nor review of previous minutes. However, this business had been taken care of during the Committee Meeting that preceded the General Meeting, and the Sales Officer, Treasurer, and Webmaster reports will be in the Minutes taken by the Branch Secretary.

The NSW Branch also wishes to extend their best wishes to a seriously ill member and wish her a speedy recovery

Our Guest Speaker, the Dean and CEO of the Sydney College of Divinity, Professor Diane Speed, was welcomed and introduced. Her presentation was a comprehensive and extremely interesting overview of the existing early medieval illuminated Bibles, Gospels and Psalters in the English Cathedral libraries and museums, illustrated with wonderfully detailed images painstakingly created by the monks throughout the centuries.

The next meeting will be on Saturday, 14 June 2014, when the speaker will be circus historian and author, Dr Mark St Leon, on Fairs and Circuses.

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Talking takes history to a wider audience

   Posted by: Julia Redlich    in Bookworm

Mistress to the CrownThis is how Isolde Martyn, author, past chairperson of the New South Wales Branch and welcome speaker at our meetings, spent Thursday, March 27th. A guest of the Port Stephens Libraries at Tomaree and Raymond Terrace, she spoke on her novel Mistress to the Crown, her absorbing and well researched story about Elizabeth Lambard (aka Jane Shore). Many NSW Branch members attended the launch of this book last year.

Isolde’s talk gave wonderful insight to Elizabeth the person, the problems and people she had to cope with, as well as a fascinating view of the London in which she lived, loved and – not so well known– ran a successful business. And, no, William Shore was not a goldsmith, and examples of early novels whose covers implied that Elizabeth was a goldsmith’s wife were amusing viewing if bodice-ripper style appealed.

It was, as is often the case, a shame that those attending were quality not quantity, but enthusiastic questions and opinions gave hope that a few more people now realise that history was alive and well long before the Tudors butted in! This will be helped by the sales of the book, as well as those of Isolde’s novel about Harry Buckingham The Devil in Ermine. Richard was mentioned of course, especially his “what fools these mortals be” style letter about Tom Lynom. Another attendee was thrilled to know she shared Richard’s birthday!

We can look forward to another of Isolde’s books titled The Golden Widows that will be published by Mira in August this year. And the identity of the widows? The book opens with this introduction:

It is estimated that between 1450 and 1500, during the struggle for the crown between the Houses of York and Lancaster, 62 of England’s lords and their heirs were slain. Of the 44 noble ladies who were left as widows, 21 remarried.

This is the story of two of those women, Kate and Elysabeth, whose husbands fought on opposing sides. Kate was the sister of the earl known in history as “Warwick the Kingmaker” and Elysabeth became very famous in her own right.

This will be another welcome addition to Isolde’s portraits of medieval England. Each is eminently readable as fiction, excellent for accurate research – andlet’s give a huge plus for the lists of the historically correct characters (a minimum of invented names for lesser ones) and a glossary of medieval terms.

Mistress to the Crown, published by Mira, rrp $25, ISBN 978 1743560211, soon available in a smaller paperback edition.

The Devil in Ermine, an e-book available for Kindle or from Amazon Print on Demand. ISBN: 0-9873 8469-0; ISBN-13: 978-098738460-0-7.

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26 MARCH 1484

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Events in History

Publication of William Caxton’s translation of Aesop’s Fables, printed at his workshop at Westminster.



Richard III by David Baldwin

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

Book Review:  RRichard III by David Baldwinichard III by David Baldwin

David Baldwin, Richard III.  Amberley Publishing, 2012.  ISBN 9781445601823

This review was presented at NSW Convention in Mittagong in May 2012.  We apologise for the delay in posting it.

Richard III by David Baldwin was published on 28 February 2012, so well before the remains of Richard III were found where they had been buried in the church of the Leicester Greyfriars.  However, it should not be forgotten that Baldwin had as early as 1986 published the hypothesis that his remains were still where they had originally been buried, [1] I had ordered the book as soon as it came out, expecting some new insights. Once I had received it and saw the endorsement by Philippa Gregory on the back, I started wondering though, whether I had not made a huge mistake.

The subtitle is “Ruthless hunchback or paragon of virtue, the true story of the last Plantagenet king”, which does reflect what Baldwin sets out to do.  As he explains in his Introduction “It seems improbable that any human being could be as evil – or alternatively as misunderstood – as Richard, and … somewhere behind all the conflicting argument stands a real man who had both qualities and failings.  Neither black or white, but – like all of us – somewhere in between”. [pp.10-11]  An admirable aim, but we’ll have to see whether he can achieve it.

Baldwin follows a chronological approach.  Starting with Richard’s birth and finishing after Bosworth with a chapter on “Legacy & Legend”.  On the whole he is reasonably fair, the chapter on Richard as Warwick’s heir in the North is a case in point.  Richard has often been blamed for being excessively aggressive in extending his interests during this period, but Baldwin puts this into its historical context and shows that Richard’s behaviour was just normal.  He was no worse than others, but as the king’s brother he had obviously more scope for extending his interests, though they were not necessarily to the detriment of others.  Baldwin also stresses that this was not only the normal behaviour for a medieval nobleman, but would also have been expected of him.

While I have some reservations about Baldwin’s analysis of how Richard III came to the throne, it has to be said that this is unquestionably a period on which views are at their most partisan.  I found his heavy reliance on Thomas More – strawberries and all – and Mancini somewhat limiting, especially – as we shall see later – considering Balwin’s view on the legends surrounding Richard.  He does, however, reject the notion that the crown was what Richard had always wanted, but rather that “he was seizing an opportunity rather than fulfilling an expectation”. [p.104]

On the question of the fate of the princes, Baldwin thinks that the elder, Edward, died of natural causes, while the younger, Richard, survived.  This comes as no surprise, considering that he wrote The Lost Prince five years previously, where he set out to show that the mysterious Richard of Eastwell was in reality the younger son of Edward IV.

Baldwin shows that Richard’s reign was always rather insecure, which was why a nobody like Henry Tudor could actually manage to overthrow him and stay in power.  He explains that Richard’s legacy are the progressive laws of his only parliament, which “affected the lives of Englishmen far into the future”. [p.216]  He concludes that “Richard’s achievements are arguably greater than those of some kings who reigned for longer, and there are indications that they would have been greater still if he had been allowed more time” [p.219]

As for the legends surrounding Richard I agree when he says that “It was perhaps inevitable that a king who both gained and lost his throne in such dramatic circumstances would be become the stuff of legend” [p.228], but that these do not tell us anything about him personally.

On the whole I think Baldwin does quite a good job at showing Richard as a “man who is … both principled and unprincipled, a flawed diamond” [p.228]  I don’t think that he offers much new for someone who knows the period reasonably well, but would be a good introduction.

It is a pity, however, that Baldwin occasionally adopts a fictional approach.  This begins in Richard’s childhood when we meet a boy at Fastolf Place, who “eagerly anticipated trips into the bustling city [ie. London] beyond the wall”.  [p.17]  Later, during the dramatic events of May/June 1483, we learn that “Richard … worried constantly about the future, searched his conscience many times over”. [p.99].  Obviously we have no idea how Richard felt and assumptions like these, which do nothing to explain the events, have no place in a work of non-fiction.

With some reservations I can recommend this new book on Richard, though I would not class it as “must read”.

[1] David Baldwin, ‘King Richard’s Grave in Leicester‘, Transactions of Leicester Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol. 60 (1986), pp.21-24

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