Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: The King's Grave: The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones

Received ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.
Release date: October 29, 2013

I was eager to read this because the discovery of Richard’s grave was an incredible moment in history and I wanted to learn more about it and how it changes what we know of Richard.

The information about the dig was very interesting and exciting to read about. But Langley’s obvious bias was thick throughout much of the book. She accuses Vergil of having an “all too apparent bias”, which is not a completely unreasonable comment but in the past, the same thing was said of Rous’ comments about Richard’s “hunchback”, which turned out to be based in truth. I am aware that scoliosis is not what we now consider a true hunchback but in the Middle Ages, there would have been little to no distinction, they likely would have called any spinal deformity a "hunchback", particularly a "severe" case like Richard's. But this fact is totally overlooked in the book. Langley admits that when she first heard the word "hunchback" after finding the skeleton with the curved spine, she was devastated to think it would validate all the negative accounts of Richard. But the moment she finds out it was scoliosis instead of kyphosis, she dismisses any possibility that this should still throw other presumed “propaganda” into some question too. If the legend of his hunchback was based in fact, what else that she is dismissing as propaganda might actually have some truth to it?

Additionally, going back to Vergil, she later uses his more positive comments about Richard's sharp wit to show how intelligent Richard was. While I'm not denying that Richard was intelligent, it just seems to me that Langley is picking and choosing which Vergil comments are accurate and which aren't purely to suit her agenda.

Langley claims that she never wanted to paint Richard as a saint but she proves herself wrong on that account every step of the way. That said, it appears that co-author Michael Jones was brought in to attempt to counterbalance Langley's bias. When it comes down to it, the official line in the book regarding the fate of the princes in the tower following an attempt to break them free says:
"On the basis of all the material available we do not know what happened to the princes. (This is an issue where the co-authors disagree - for this, see the debate in Appendix 1.) But there is strong circumstantial evidence that Richard now ordered their murder, possibly on the advice or yielding to the persuasion of Buckingham - as most people thought at the time."
So in the end, I did feel that the book attempted to be objective and put forward more than one viewpoint, but Langley's bias still managed to shine through much of the book. Also disappointing is that while the book names several sources within the text, there are no citations throughout the book and so most of the historical accounts, particularly Langley’s take on the (non-medical) details of how Bosworth went down, are completely unsourced.

(For the record, I do think Richard is most likely suspect in the murder of his nephews but I don’t think that necessarily makes him evil and I do agree there was negative propaganda put out about him too).

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