Richard III: The Self-Made King
By Michael Hicks
Yale University Press; hardcover, 388 pages; $35.00
The reign of Richard III, who was the last Yorkist king and the final monarch of the Plantagenet dynasty, produced a turning point in British history. Despite leaving a lasting legacy, he only was on the throne for the final two years of his life. While great attention has been paid to his short reign, the period before his usurpation and kingship are not as well known.
Michael Hicks, an Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at the University of Winchester who was called "the greatest living expert on Richard" by BBC History Magazine, has written a definitive history on what shaped him into this consequential ruler in the new book, Richard III: The Self-Made King.
Richard III's entire life is explored, and Hicks traces the unfolding of his character and career from his early years as the son of a duke, which gave him prominence, to his violent death at the Battle of Bosworth.
"It is half a millennium since Richard III (1483-5) was king," Hicks writes. "He is traditionally regarded as the last of England's medieval monarchs - 14th and last of the great house of Plantaganet (1154-1485) and third of the Yorkist kings (1461-85). He terminated both dynasties. He has been bracketed with King John as the worst of English medieval rulers. England's greatest playwright William Shakespeare depicted Richard III as an evil, power-crazed tyrant whose crimes fully justified the accession of the Tudors. Certainly Richard was one of the most disastrous monarchs ever to occupy the throne of England. Not only had he one of the shortest of reigns - a mere 26 months - but it terminated in complete defeat, with his deposition and death on the battlefield of Bosworth in 1485. Bosworth was long accepted as the decisive moment that divided English medieval history from the modern history presided over by the Tudors (1485-1603), the Stuarts (1603-1714), the Hanoverians (1714-1837), and our own house of Windsor. That chronology no longer works. Centuries have passed since this divide was first acknowledged. It is no longer easy to lump Tudor England together with our own post-industrial, post-colonial, democratic, and digital age. 1500 no longer appears modern."
Hicks examines how Richard was far more than the villain responsible for the imprisonment and subsequent deaths of Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower of London. He was an adroit administrator who developed his own projects. Despite being small and physically weak, which he refused to allow to ever restrict him, opponents generally submitted to his will.
Richard III was a complex and conflicted individual who had strategic foresight, sought to implement reforms, and was capable of winning a kingdom.