Thursday, July 31, 2008

New Richard III Book

I gave into my irresistible impulse and bought Annette Carson's Richard the Third: The Maligned King, a nonfiction book. On skimming it, I can report that it's pretty much what I expected, which is not a Good Thing. First on the plate, of course, is the usual Woodville-bashing. Not only does Carson suggest that Elizabeth Woodville and/or Anthony Woodville poisoned Edward IV, she then goes on to insinuate that the Woodvilles might have had something to do with the 1483 deaths of the elderly Earl of Essex and George Neville, John Neville's son. (Carson is evidently unaware that at the time of the latter's death in May 1483, he was living at Middleham Castle in the care of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, which begs the question of why if the Woodvilles were able to jaunt over to Middleham to murder George Neville, they didn't also murder Gloucester's son, who was also living at Middleham at the time.)

Just on skimming, I spotted a number of irritating factual errors. Carson states, erroneously, that Katherine Woodville was 20 when she married the 11-year-old Buckingham (she was about 7, and he was 9 at the time of the marriage, which took place before Elizabeth Woodville's coronation). She also has Buckingham receiving the "solitary ceremonial honour of Knight of the Bath," though he was made a Knight of the Garter in 1474. Later, we're told that we owe the right "to be judged fairly by our peers" and "to enjoy bail" to Richard III's Parliament (p.232). Richard III's parliament did indeed enact bail and jury reforms, but Richard III hardly invented the concept of bail or jury trial. We're told that following her marriage to Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville managed "three dukedoms" for her relations, although only one of her sisters married a duke and none of her male relations was raised to that status.

As is often the case, Carson follows Mancini and Croyland when it's convenient for her argument and derides them when it's not. For instance, Mancini's claim that Buckingham scorned his wife's humble origins is taken at face value, despite the fact that Mancini in 1483 was not particularly well placed to know what was in young Buckingham's mind in the 1460's, but Mancini's eyewitness report that he saw men crying about the mention of the Princes is dismissed as the exaggeration of an overemotional Italian.

Language is often tortured to bring about the meaning that Carson wants. Just as Richard III's vague reference to the fact that he has experienced the deaths of "nigh kinsmen and great friends" is used to support Carson's claim that the Woodvilles poisoned Edward IV and that Elizabeth procured the execution of the Earl of Desmond, Croyland's imprecise statement that "In the meantime and while these things were happening, the two sons of King Edward remained in the Tower of London" is taken as a "clear indication" that the boys were still alive in the Tower in September 1483. In fact, the reference comes after two paragraphs that describe events from Richard's coronation in July onward, so it's hardly safe to say that the "in the meantime" language can be read to refer only to events in September.

Some of the writing here is plain sloppy. Carson states on p. 242 that Richard "made no move to find a safe husband for Elizabeth of York." On p. 259, however, she notes that Richard was negotiating a Portugese marriage for Elizabeth.

These comments are based just on a skim of the book, but so far I can recommend it only to those who require in their reading material that Richard III do no wrong.