Richard – The Young King To Be

   Posted by: Lynne Foley   in

Josephine Wilkinson, Richard –  The Young King To Be.   Amberley Press,  2009,  ISBN:  978-1-84868-513-0 (paperback)

This book is a paperback.  It contains colour and black-and-white photographs and illustrations; the print is quite small.

I have a problem with the content of the book.  Josephine Wilkinson begins with the statement that Rous presented astrological data on Richard, but she takes it to a whole new level of mind-numbing detail.   Apparently Richard’s physical strength is a result of his Martian descent and a square jaw, penetrating eyes and a quiet manner are classic features of Scorpio rising… no mention of the role of parental genes.

She states the obvious – that had Richard been born with teeth he would have been considered unusual, and then informs us why being born with teeth is considered unlucky.

We are treated to a list of the saints’ names given to Richard and his siblings, with alternatives in case the first choices are wrong.

What has any of this to do with Richard’s story?

In Chapter 2 we get some history.  Wilkinson, when quoting retains the flavour of the original by not rendering the words into modern English which is a point much in her favour.  She includes little-known letters or documents, such as one written by Richard, 3rd Duke of York, to King Henry VI and another from Cecily Neville to Queen Marguerite interceding on the Duke’s behalf.

There is a chapter on what Richard’s life would have been like as a page in the household of the Earl of Warwick; his duties and the skills he would be taught and expected to master.  This is well done.

There are a few purple passages such as on page 98, when she states that young Richard idolised his brother Edward, making the following statement:  “For him, Edward was the realisation of the angelic prophecy that foretold the return of the righteous, sacred king.”  Can we believe that Richard, devoted to his brother as he was, ever thought in such lofty terms, and if so, how can we know?

Despite attributing physical strength to Richard in Chapter 1, the book devotes several pages to the question of whether or not Richard was hunchbacked or deformed in any way, and decides that the Broken Sword portrait does show some abnormality of the left hand.  We are treated to a catalogue of illnesses and diseases such as Kyphoscoliosis, Sprengel’s deformity.  A protracted birth may have left him with Klumpke’s paralysis – or was it Erb-Duchenne Palsy after all? Enough…

As Ricardians, we would like to think Richard had a felicitous home life, but Wilkinson makes a case for considering that Richard’s match with Anne Neville may have been a business arrangement on both their parts. There is speculation about when Richard’s daughter Katherine may have been born, and Anne’s reaction to this event whether it occurred before or after the marriage.  This section of the book seems to impose our twenty-first century sensibilities onto life in medieval times.

The final chapter, ‘The Literature of Hate’, is also well done in showing how the accretion of writing after Bosworth has resulted in making Richard the wicked uncle of childhood nightmares and a synonym for villainy.

In conclusion the strength of the book is the breadth of resources studied.  But the shortcomings of he book discussed above – especially Chapter 1 – mean that it cannot be regarded as an essential addition to the Ricardian bookshelf.

As with all book reviews, this is only one person’s opinion and others are sure to have a different view.  For those who may be interested, Ms Wilkinson is writing a follow-up volume, Richard III, From Lord of the North to King of England, to be published this year.

Comment: As part of a discussion about this book, I would like to make a few comments.  I read the hardback edition a while ago, and while I agree with most of the points Lynne has made, my impression of the book as a whole was more positive than Lynne’s.

Josephine presents a lot of information, often less well-known information, which will give the interested reader the opportunity for further research.

I found her analysis of the marriage between Richard and Anne quite refreshing by not falling into either of the two extremes.  Here the marriage is not the biggest love story ever, as it is often portrayed in Ricardian fiction.  Nor is Anne the victim of Richard’s evil grab for land and influence, as she is often seen by those critical of Richard.  Instead Josephine makes it clear that Anne as a widow had a choice.  Therefore the marriage, though a business arrangement, is one between two equal partners.  It was advantageous to both and they seem to have made a go of it.  We have to remember, however, that it is always difficult to judge other people’s marriages, this is true among our friends, but how much more so when looking back 500 years to two people about whose relationship we have so little evidence.  It is impossible for us to have any idea what their feelings for each other were.

There are, however, some minor points I would like to make.  On page 171 of the hardback edition, Eleanor Butler is referred to as the daughter of Lord Ralph Butler, when she was in fact his widowed daughter-in-law (nee Talbot).

Another is a certain disregard for geography.  The German town Neuss is described as “a small but strongly defended city to the south of Cologne” (p. 267, hardback edition, italics mine), when it is actually to the north of Cologne.  Someone once explained to me that the difference between a town and a city is that a city has a cathedral.  If this is the case then Neuss does not qualify for that title, as it has always been part of the archiepiscopal see of Cologne.

The constant spelling of the River Rhine as ‘Rhien’ (pp, 267-269) irritated me particularly.  In none of the languages spoken along the course of the river (or any other I know of)  it is spelled that way (French ‘Rhin’, German ‘Rhein’, Dutch ‘Rijn’).  I can only assume that it was meant to be the German form, but that went disastrously wrong.  The German spelling ‘Rhein’ is pronounced the same way as the English ‘Rhine’.  The spelling ‘Rhien’, however, would be pronounced ‘Rheen’.  I guess this touched a raw nerve with me, as I get rather annoyed with people in English-speaking countries getting the sequence of the vowels in my surname wrong as well as pronouncing it incorrectly (in case you are interested, ‘Preis’ is pronounced the same way as the English word ‘price’ and also has the same meaning – and yes the sequence of the vowels does matter!) .

These might be minor points, but they made me suspect that there are other factual errors, which due to my ignorance I didn’t spot and therefore took at face value.   If nothing else they do seem to indicate a somewhat negligent attitude to details.  However, they might have been corrected in the later paperback edition, which I have not checked.   But on the whole I found it well worth reading, though it would suit someone with some knowledge of the era better than a novice.

Dorothea Preis