Like most people who know anything about Richard III, I got my first impression about him from Shakespeare. For me, he was the arch villain I loved to hate. And who could not love Laurence Olivier’s brilliant portrayal, or Ian McKellen’s controversial one. They both brought Shakespeare’s villain to life creating a man with whom the audience could even sympathize.
One day, about nine years ago, my mother asked me if I had ever read Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. I hadn’t, but since my mom has great taste in books (I agree with her choices), I went to the library the next day and borrowed this nearly thousand page historical fiction. I was spellbound from the start. Penman introduces us to a seven year-old boy, who eventually becomes the king of England—not through treachery and murder that Shakespeare would have you believe—but through unwavering loyalty to his brother, Edward IV and through a strange twist of fate. On his deathbed, Edward IV names his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, protector to his oldest son, Edward who was still a minor. Richard was not there when Edward IV died, but only learned of the events about a week after the fact. While serving as protector, Richard learns from the Bishop of Bath that Edward IV had been previously married before he had married the mother of his children, and that his first wife was still alive at the time of the bigamous marriage. All Edward’s children were legally declared bastards, thus unable to inherit title. Richard of Gloucester was next in line.
I was so blown over by these and other revelations in Sunne in Splendour, that I had to do my own research. I found Richard’s life so compelling that I found I wanted to have a chat with him. The only way I could think of doing that was to write him into the 21st-century. It started small, but grew to three novels, the first two of which are published and the third a work in progress.