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Richard III: England's Black Legend by…

Richard III: England's Black Legend (1983)

by Desmond Seward

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The recent positive identification and internment of the actual remains of Richard III have reignited the debate about whether Richard III was a villain and the murderer of the princes in the Tower. Desmond Seward's book comes down squarely on the side of villain, with direct responsibility for the death of two kings: Henry VI and Edward V, and of course Edward's younger brother. A well written book, about the short and largely unhappy reign of the last York king. ( )
  dfeidner | Nov 29, 2015 |
Recently, scientists discovered Richard III's body. They still have not found his soul.

That is the only possible conclusion we can draw from the ongoing conflicts between anti-Richard and pro-Richard historians ("traditionalists" and "revisionists"). An honest historian has to confess that the data is conflicting. Yes, Richard certainly set aside his nephews on grounds that were flimsy (but at least arguably legal). Yes, they disappeared, and they almost certainly died during Richard's watch.

On the other hand, Richard seems to have tried harder than almost any other English monarch to be a good king -- certainly his reign was less oppressive than Henry Tudor's. He seems to have been genuinely religious. Other than the events of his usurpation, he appears to have been a genuinely good man.

So how should we judge Richard? Almost certainly, as in the Biblical example, he was a mix of iron and clay.

Desmond Seward won't even grant the clay, let alone the iron. His Richard seems to be comprised of the sweepings of dungheaps. Seward freely admits that his is the most extreme anti-Richard biography of recent decades. (At least until Alison Weir wrote her novel disguised as a history.) Seward has reached a conclusion, and he will always interpret the data to support that conclusion even when it doesn't.

This is not to say that scholars should not write traditionalist biographies. This is a genuine debate, and there is a real need for good traditionalist examinations of the case. Charles Ross's biography of Richard is a brilliant example. But Ross is fair. Seward is not.

That probably should be enough said. But there is one more thing to think about. The two most traditionalist biographies of the last half century are those by Seward and Weir. And both made their livings not as academic historians but as writers of popular histories. The kind of history, it appears, designed to appeal to those who want fireworks and certainty rather than caution and uncertainty. ( )
3 vote waltzmn | Nov 8, 2013 |
A biography which is actually a brief discourse on the tumultuous period in English history between the reigns of Henry VI and the end of the Wars of the Roses, which marked the commencement of the reign of Henry VII. While not particularly well-written when compared to this venerated author's other works, this book still provides an entertaining if discursive account of the period and many of its important figures. But, for anyone hoping to find an account of the military operations during the Wars of the Roses, this book will be a disappointment, as the key military events during the period are only superficially described. This book also suffers from an annoying lack of any map that makes following the movement of Richard and his opponents impossible without the use of other sources. Much of the story is dependent upon a weighing of accounts by various historians who have tackled the enigmatic character of Richard III and still worth a look for anyone interested in this fascinating period of history. ( )
  Richard7920 | Mar 18, 2012 |
4870 Richard III England's Black Legend, by Desmond Seward (read 11 Oct 2011) This is the 4th book by Seward I have read. He does a workmanlike job telling of the life of Richard III. He says Richard is surely guilty of having his nephews killed and I have come to believe that from other reading, including the novel-like The Sunne in Splendour. Maybe because I've read so much about Richard III this book did not excite me too much. ( )
  Schmerguls | Oct 11, 2011 |
Good northern lad, best king this country has ever had - a true king of the people, but a man of his time. So, he killed a few ...
  devilshorseman | Mar 4, 2007 |
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It is therefore convenient somewhat to show you ere we further go, what manner of man this was that could find in his heart so much mischief to conceive. Sir Thomas More, The History of King Richard the Third.
There is a kind of literary superstition, which men are apt to contract from habit, and which makes them look on any attempt towards shaking their belief in any established characters, no matter whether good or bad, as a sort of profanation. Horace Walpole, Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III.
For Reresby and Penelope Sitwell
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Richard casts a strange spell.
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The late King Richard lived,
Long ago with blood on his hands,
A man of his age.

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A biography of the controversial British monarch examines the evidence of his guilt in politically motivated murders and attempts to portray his complex personality.

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