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 Book Review: Richard III, A Medieval Kingship edited by John Gillingham

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MAHibbard

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PostSubject: Book Review: Richard III, A Medieval Kingship edited by John Gillingham   Sun Apr 06, 2014 9:16 am

Dear Mods/Admins -- I hope I am putting this in its proper niche. This is a review I wrote for Richard III: A Medieval Kingship, edited by John Gillingham (St Martin’s Press, 1993). If anyone else has read it, what did you think? Here are my thoughts on the book.

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John Gillingham makes his negative view of Richard III known from the start. “Many thoughtful people will certainly regard my interpretation of Richard as just another hatchet job,” he writes in the Introduction, and for this reader, his assessment is spot on and sets the stage for seven essays by medieval scholars and historians who consider different aspects of the life and reign of Richard III. These essays not only range in topic, but in tone – from virulent anti-Ricardian to even-handed. Here are my thoughts on each of the chapters.

The first essay, “Richard, Duke of Gloucester: The Formative Years”, is by Michael Hicks. Having read two other books by Hicks, I was not surprised to find his portrayal of the young Richard to be that of an egotistical man who uses menace and threats to get what he wants.

If I thought Mr. Hicks’s essay negative in nature, then “1483: The Year of Decision (or Taking the Throne)” by Colin Richmond was downright toxic in its depiction of Richard. Now, I never thought Richard was a saint; far from it, he was a complex man who had his good points and, like so many of us, some bad ones, too. However, Richmond’s opinion of Richard III is that of a thoroughly rotten person with no redeeming qualities. By the time I finished reading this chapter, I felt that the only things missing from his portrait of Richard III was the hunchback and the withered arm.

This chapter was so negative, in fact, that I nearly set the book aside without finishing it. However, after a few days, I picked it up again and finished it up. After all, I couldn't see wasting my money on buying a book and then not at least reading it! Thankfully, the essays that followed, while not always favorable to Richard, were much more fair-minded in their appraisals.

“The Government of Richard III” by Rosemary Horrox, while not necessarily pro-Ricardian, avoids the pitfalls of passing moral judgment and presents us with a look at the politics of Richard’s reign, offering explanations as to why it ultimately failed.

Anne F. Sutton’s essay, “The Court and its Culture in the Reign of Richard III” discusses the finer things of life—culture, entertainment, education, reading and languages (among other things) that were expected from a person of the nobility. Also discussed is the influence the court of Burgundy had upon Richard’s own court.

“Richard III as a Soldier" (Michael K. Jones) looks at Richard’s military career, from his earliest engagements to his final battle at Bosworth.

In keeping with the military theme, the next essay by Alexander Grant, “Foreign Affairs under Richard III”, presents the case that Richard’s aggressive attitude toward Scotland and France ultimately led to the showdown at Bosworth, and puts forth the suggestion that this was, in fact, the final battle in the Hundred Years War.

The book concludes with an overview of “The Reputation of Richard III” by P. W. Hammond, which shows how Richard’s repute has evolved, and in some cases devolved, over the centuries.
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khafara

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PostSubject: Re: Book Review: Richard III, A Medieval Kingship edited by John Gillingham   Sun Apr 06, 2014 8:21 pm

Thanks, MA.

It never ceases to astonish me that Hicks is a member in good standing with the R3 Society. I keep wondering if he has some sort of blackmail-type hold on one or more of the key members.
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MAHibbard

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PostSubject: Re: Book Review: Richard III, A Medieval Kingship edited by John Gillingham   Sun Apr 06, 2014 9:00 pm

You're welcome.  Very Happy 

I have found Hicks making sweeping pronouncements about people (Anne Neville, R3, and others) not just in this book, but in his so- called biography of Anne Neville, without ever offering up a source upon which he bases what are little more than assumptions on his part.

I may not have a degree behind my name, but I have studied various periods of history, and am something of a local historian when it comes to the American Civil War and its impact on my hometown. If I have learned one thing over the years, it is that documentation to support one's position is vital. Without documentation, you're just blowing air.

That shows how I feel about some of what Hicks writes. And you say he is a member in good standing? Now that makes me raise an eyebrow!


Last edited by MAHibbard on Mon Apr 07, 2014 12:39 pm; edited 1 time in total
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phaecilia

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PostSubject: Re: Book Review: Richard III, A Medieval Kingship edited by John Gillingham   Mon Apr 07, 2014 12:24 pm

[quote="MAHibbard"]Dear Mods/Admins -- I hope I am putting this in its proper niche. This is a review I wrote for Richard III: A Medieval Kingship, edited by John Gillingham (St Martin’s Press, 1993). If anyone else has read it, what did you think?


I own a copy.  I've read all of it.  I've re-read the chapters by A. F. Sutton, M. K. Jones, and P. W. Hammond because new questions about them occured to me.  This review made me want to re-read Gillingham's introduction, and I'm glad I did.  I haven't thought about Sir John Fortescue in ages.  His comparisons of English and French government are worth reviewing, and taken with von Poppelau's comparisons of the English, Poles, Hungarians, and Lombards in chapter 8, remind me of the Flanders & Swann refrain:  "The English are noble, the English are nice/ And worth any others, at double the price."   jocolor  

Gillingham says he included 2 female authors in this collection because Audrey Williamson wrote:  "one occasionally has an odd feeling that male historians are not human beings at all but have drifted here from outer space."  That raises questions:  Don't R. Horrox and A. F. Sutton qualify for the collection in their own right?  Are they just there to balance the chapters by drifters from outer space?   Very Happy 

Gillingham's Further Reading List is still helpful.  His comments on the Richard III Society seem accurate and respectful to me.

I'd recommend Richard III: a medieval kingship to anyone who has read J. Potter's Good King Richard? and wants to see 20th century authors in action.  This collection offers its readers the worst, the best, and something in between.

But I'd encourage anyone who's short of time to read instead: Richard III; loyalty, lordship, and law (ed. by P.W. Hammond).  Four of the authors in Medieval Kingship also appear in Loyalty, Lordship, and Law, so readers won't miss the best from Gillingham's collection.   Norman MacDougall's essay, Richard III, James III, Contemporary Monarchs, Parallel Mythologies, should be essential reading for Ricardians.  It shows that the Scots rewrote their history as imaginatively as the Tudors wrote theirs.  It raises more questions:  How cautious does a 21st reader need to be about traditional histories?  Especially those of unfamiliar traditions?  If Shakespeare had followed up his hit, Richard III, with James III, would anyone be debating Richard's reputation now?

phaecilia
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MAHibbard

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PostSubject: Re: Book Review: Richard III, A Medieval Kingship edited by John Gillingham   Tue Apr 08, 2014 2:47 pm

Thanks for the recommendations, phaecilia. I wonder if I can get them for my Nook.

Yes, I found several of the essays very thought provoking. And I have a copy of Good King Richard?, but it's been quite a while since I read it. Think maybe it's time I pulled it out again.
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phaecilia

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PostSubject: Re: Book Review: Richard III, A Medieval Kingship edited by John Gillingham   Wed Apr 09, 2014 2:27 pm

MAHibbard wrote:
Thanks for the recommendations, phaecilia. I wonder if I can get them for my Nook.

Yes, I found several of the essays very thought provoking. And I have a copy of Good King Richard?, but it's been quite a while since I read it. Think maybe it's time I pulled it out again.


You're welcome!

I don't know if you can get them for your Nook.  I got my copy from the RIII Society sales catalog.  If you're a member, you might check to see if there are any copies left.

I hope you'll post your thoughts about Loyalty, Lordship, & Law when you get a chance.  And Good King Richard?, too, if you re-read it.  

phaecilia
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