Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review of "Richard III: The Maligned King" by Annette Carson

If I had to summarize this book in one word, it would be provocative. From the opening chapter where Annette Carson analyzes Richard Collins’s theory that Edward IV may have died of poisoning, to the closing chapter depicting Richard’s personal tragedies--son dies suddenly and wife dies after a long illness--and how they affected his security, to his miscalculations of how to manage the powerful lords upon whose support he depended, we not only learn how history has maligned this medieval monarch, but also how certain key events have several valid interpretations.

The chapters are arranged chronologically, starting just before Edward IV’s death to Richard’s defeat and death on Bosworth Field--a period extending just under two and a half years--and of the Tudor aftermath where Richard’s good name was maligned. While Carson clearly sides with the “good king Richard” view, she does not ignore detracting theories for each point she examines. Throughout all the tumultuous events of this short historical span, Carson analyzes the primary (where available) and secondary sources--sometimes supporting and sometimes contradicting the conclusions that are drawn. Notably she doesn’t shirk from citing and examining controversial references such as that of Thomas More's History of King Richard III.

Carson’s work is well balanced, logical, and witty. I believe this text is readily understandable by someone just embarking on learning about this era as well as an important addition to the more knowledgeable reader. The selected bibliography lists over a hundred references that she cites throughout the text. Despite the weight of the research, the book is highly readable and accessible to the non-historian.

The one issue I had with this book has to do with its physical production and not the contents. For this, I lay the responsibility squarely on the publisher--The History Press. I found the tiny font size they chose for this book a real challenge for me to read. I measured it and the regular text is a six-point font size with quoted text even smaller. Admittedly, I am of an age where I need to use reading glasses for normal print size. Here, I often found myself using a magnifying glass in addition to the glasses. I implore The History Press to use at least a ten-point font size if they reprint this book. I’ll purchase another copy if they do.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the author and I traded books when we met for the first and only time last August. Neither of us had any expectations of receiving or giving a review. I am writing this review because I think this book is a valuable addition for anyone interested in Richard III and that period of history.

Richard III: the Maligned King may be purchased at


  1. Does the author mention which primary sources she used?

  2. Yes, for example (copied from the Selected Bibliography):

    --The Crowland Chronicle Continuations: 1459–1486, ed. N. Pronay and J. Cox (1986)
    --Mancini, Dominic, De Occupatione Regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium Libellus. ed.
    C.A.J. Armstrong (Oxford, 1969; repr. Gloucester, 1984)
    --Paston Letters & Papers of the Fifteenth Century, ed. N. Davis, 2 vols (Oxford, 1971,
    --Stonor Letters & Papers, 1290–1483, ed. C.L. Kingsford (1919)
    --Vergil, Polydore, The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, A.D. 1485–1537, ed. D. Hay

    IMO, the bibliography is worth the price of the book even though I place more value on Carson's interpretations, explanations, and questions.