The Broken Sword by Rhoda Edwards
Published 1976 by Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York
(UK title: Some Touch of Pity)
The Broken Sword: A Novel of the Reign of Richard III by Rhoda Edwards is among the best fictional accounts of the late maligned king that I have read. It covers the last two years of Richard’s life, from shortly before he discovered his brother, Edward IV, had died and named him protector of his son Edward V, to his tragic defeat two years later after having suffered the deaths of his only legitimate son and of his wife of twelve years. We get a real sense of his character and the difficulties he had to deal with during his rule.
Edwards shows us the king from the eyes of several people who were important to him in some way, from his own view point, and from Robert Bolman, the clerk Richard promoted based solely on merit—a truly unique act of those times. Even though this two year period was presented from multiple view points, Edwards gave each a unique voice.
I found the chapters told by Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, his close friend and ally, Francis Lovell, and his physician, Dr. William Hobbes especially poignant. In these chapters we see Richard at the height of his powers and personal happiness and at his most vulnerable and at the depths of his emotional agony.
One point that had puzzled me was why Richard rushed into that last fateful battle where he lost his life and subsequently, his reputation. Edwards shows us Richard was among other things, under fiscal pressure to not delay the battle. The treasury was still depleted and not unlike affairs today, he needed money to govern. Had he pushed the battle back to when he could have been assured of the necessary troops, he risked not having the capital to pay for them. One point Edwards developed that I particularly liked was how Richard had been aware of the Stanleys’ potential betrayal, but that he had approached their “fence sitting” pragmatically.
There were a few expository paragraphs, more so near the beginning of the book, interrupting the narrative flow that Edwards had otherwise so beautifully crafted. I would have preferred it if those parts had been handled through author’s notes at the end.
Ordinarily, I don’t recommend fiction as a reference for historical facts, since to get at what the author interprets as an emotional or larger truth, the writer might decide to “bend” a few facts. In this instance, I take exception. Not only did Edwards not take any license with the facts, but I feel she did find the larger truth. This book stands equally with the other oft touted Ricardian classics—Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey and Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman.
The Broken Sword is no longer in print. Used copies are available.