Richard III: The Self-Made King, by Michael Hicks, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 2019, $35

For more than five centuries Richard III, despite his brief 26-month reign, has retained his dubious distinction as the most infamous of British monarchs. Granted, history is invariably written by the victors, and most of that history was written by Richard III’s usurping successors, the Tudors. It was no coincidence that Shakespeare’s namesake play about the last Yorkist king was written during the reign of Elizabeth I, granddaughter of Henry VII, the very man who seized Richard’s throne. In recent years “Ricardian” revisionist historians have attempted to rehabilitate Richard III, arguing that the monarch’s evil reputation was solely based on Tudor propaganda.

In this fascinating new biography British medieval historian Michael Hicks delves beneath the hyperbole, seeking to uncover the character of the real Richard and explain how he became the man he was. Born during the turbulent Wars of the Roses, Richard was the youngest surviving son of the Duke of York, a wealthy and powerful magnate who arguably had a better claim to the throne than reigning monarch Henry VI. Although Richard’s father and brother Edmund were killed, his 20-year-old eldest brother succeeded Henry VI as King Edward IV. Richard thus became, at age 8, a royal duke and third in the line of succession after brothers Edward IV and George, Duke of Clarence. He took it from there. But just how far did he go to secure his place in the monarchial succession? Richard III: The Self-Made King presents its protagonist as a product of both the feudal system into which he was born and the turbulent era of conspiracies and civil wars in which he lived.

—Robert Guttman

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