One of the issues I have thought both puzzling and key to the events surrounding Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s actions as Protector to Edward V on June 13, 1483 was his summary execution of William Hastings--an execution delivered without, it would seem, due process. From my point of view, this was uncharacteristic action by a man who was for most of his life, all about the rule of law. I struggled to tease apart this event in particular, and the subsequent actions taken by Richard that led him to be crowned king of England. Thus, it was with great anticipation that I opened this book that promised to offer a fresh and intriguing view of the possible motives and reasons that led to Hastings’ execution and Richard’s decision to go after the crown. Hancock did not disappoint.
First, I want comment on the style in which the book is written. It’s like Hancock is speaking with me. This book is highly readable and thoroughly engaging, and whether you agree or not with the theory, it is logically constructed. Hancock was careful to present primary and secondary sources that both substantiated and countered his theory. In the instances where the sources were contrary to his hypothesis, Hancock showed why he thought the interpretation was incorrect or didn’t hold up. He didn’t dismiss these arguments out-of-hand. In all but a small handful of instances, Hancock gives sources to substantiate his position. I will not quibble with a couple of un-sourced statements that were thrown in because they had no effect on the book’s premise.
The book set out to determine when did Richard first decide that he wanted to be King and not protector. The time span Hancock examines was from when Richard first learned his brother Edward IV had died to when Richard was made King on June 26, 1483. Although, Edward IV died April 9, 1483, Richard didn’t learn of it until about a week later. From the time Richard learned of Edward’s death to the council meeting on June 13th, Richard’s actions were consistent with his role as protector. There was no outward indication that he was aiming for anything else. Hancock posits that something happened during that council meeting that changed everything. Per Hancock, Richard learned about the precontracted marriage between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler from William Catesby during a break in the meeting. He also learned that Hastings knew about the precontract. Enraged by this betrayal, Richard returns to the council and accuses Hastings, among others, of treason. However, Hastings was executed that day and the only one to lose his head. Even though I don’t agree with the timing of the events for reasons I won’t go into here, I think the scenario Hancock painted holds together very well.
What I like best about this book is that it is thoughtful and pointed out possible scenarios that I had not considered. Whether or not you will agree with the thesis Hancock lays out in his book, I think it is well worth reading.
Richard III and the Murder in the Tower may be purchased at Amazon.com: