Monday, October 19, 2015

The Betrayal of Richard III by V.B. Lamb, 2015

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In this classic work, the late V B Lamb and Peter Hammond survey the life and times of Richard III and examine the contemporary evidence for the events of his reign, tracing the origins of the traditional version of his career as a murderous tyrant and its development since his death. The evident grief of the citizens of York on hearing of the death of Richard III - recording in the Council Minutes that he had been 'piteously slane and murdered to the Grete hevynesses of this citie' - is hardly consistent with the view of the archetypal wicked uncle who murdered his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, and there is an extraordinary discrepancy between this monster and the man as he is revealed by contemporary records. An ideal introduction to one of the greatest mysteries of English history, this new edition is revised by Peter Hammond and includes an introduction and notes.
(160 pages)

My dad is really into history, and he recently discovered something that is mega-cool to me: I am, very very likely (barring some uncertainty in the immigration records of the 1600s) descended from British nobility. We're descended from King John - the one who signed the Magna Carta (or, for you non-history people, the "evil prince John" in Robin Hood). Pretty cool, huh? That means that all of the current monarchs are my distant (very, very, very distant) cousins, which I think is awesome. It totally gives me an excuse for being obsessed with British royal history, right? I wish I could say that's why I wrote an English capstone project arguing on behalf of Richard III's innocence, but sad to say that was before I even knew about the connection. Oh, well. I'm a geek - I don't think my sort-of-relation to anyone would hide that.

If you read my blog regularly, my interest (okay, possibly obsession) with Richard III is not new. At the end of the last school year, neck-deep in research, I wound up writing a few rambling book reviews tying everything back to Richard III (like this review of Margaret Peterson Haddix's Claim to Fame - it doesn't get much more random than that!).When I e-mailed my finished project to my ex-AP European History teacher, she recommended I read The Betrayal of Richard III. I just now got my hands on it, because my library was so slow about purchasing a copy.

I disagree with the author on a few matters of interpretation, but he did bring up some interesting ideas that I hadn't thought of before. He pooh-poohs away my pet theory (that Henry killed the boys shortly after taking the throne) with barely a pause, but I have a hard time following his own suggestion. Something about the boys escaping to France and trying to secretly gather forces? At times Lamb's arguments become a bit circular (like when he suggests that Richard was so loyal to his brother that he didn't even want to take the throne, and only did so to prevent Civil War - this optimistic view relies on Lamb's assumption that Richard was a good guy, but he's using it as evidence for why the reader should think Richard was good), but he still does a great job bringing up all of the primary source documents we have to paint the fullest picture possible of Richard's life and death.

What I really loved about The Betrayal of Richard III, actually, was the richness of details. The first half of the little book traces Richard's life, from his childhood under a troubled regime to his brother's stormy ascension to the throne, to the great military feats he achieved while still in his teens, to his (by all accounts) happy and devoted marriage, all the way through his famous death during the Battle of Bosworth Field. Every single other detail I had to hunt down and pin together myself from various sources while writing my own paper are brought together in one place in this book. Lamb's conclusions might sometimes be slightly different from my own, but he's got the groundwork all beautifully laid out for examining the entire situation. I think I would recommend it on the strength of this research alone.

The second half of the book examines the controversies around Richard, and the way his name was maligned after his death. I found it really fascinating to see the tactics that Henry and his men used to blemish Richard's previously clean name, and even though I already knew most of the things that Lamb describes I still got a much clearer picture of how everything worked together. This is the section that possibly provides the most compelling argument of all on Richard's behalf, because it presents such a clear and complete picture of a process that would take even the nicest man on Earth and turn him into something from a Brothers Grimm fairytale.

Do I agree with every single conclusion Lamb comes to? No. Do I think he is rather biased in parts? Absolutely! But part of my research into Richard III has taught me that every historian has his own strong biases; no matter what anyone says, there's no such thing as an entirely impartial history book. The Betrayal of Richard III has a lot fewer strange biases than some of the books I read last year, and it certainly works harder to back each and every one up with as much evidence as possible. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in studying the enigma of Richard III and his legacy.


  1. Nice review. One note, V.B. Lamb was a woman. And Margaret Peterson Haddix actually includes Richard III in her book Found!

    1. Thanks, Sheilah! Haha, I literally realized that V.B. Lamb was a woman five minutes after I posted my review. I suppose I should go through and change the pronouns . . . As for the Missing series, I really love Sent, which is the Margaret Peterson Haddix book with Richard III in it. The entire series is an awesome voyage through time for a history geek like me!

  2. Right! Sent! Found was the first in the series.

    1. Yep. It's funny, because I used the Richard III paper as an excuse to get Sent from the library (I was going to call it faux "research"), but then I was so busy doing actual research I never got around to re-reading it. Ah, well, add that to my impossibly large to-be-read list.


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