Book Review: The World of Richard III

The World of Richard III by Kristie Dean

world of richard iiiWith the recent re-internment and increased interest in Richard III, it is not surprising there would be a flurry of new publications related to the last Plantagenet king. While we all read at least a smattering of the Wars of the Roses (WoR), for many these studies belonged to bygone days, but the attention generated by these new books has brought the monarch to a wider audience. With The World of Richard III author Kristie Dean takes a new approach by bringing us to Richard. As closely as it is possible to do, she escorts us to and around the world he inhabited via the places he had visited, seeing or imagining what he observed and how he may have perceived it.

St. Mary's Church, Barnard Castle~A carving of Richard's emblem, the boar
St. Mary’s Church, Barnard Castle~A carving of Richard’s emblem, the boar

The work is a combination of travel information and history focused on places lived in or visited by Richard Plantagenet, from birth to his time as Gloucester, through his two years of kingship and finally, his death. Organized in seven major parts that span these courses of Richard’s life and in a loose chronological order, subsections then turn their attention to specific places associated with him on various occasions. As the author takes us from point to point there is some overlap, given that Richard visited certain locations several times, and Dean handles this seamlessly and without repetition. An extensive collection of beautiful photographs enables readers to follow along visually as they move forward.

Gatehouse at Middleham Castle~This is the entrance Richard would have used to reach the inner courtyard
Gatehouse at Middleham Castle~This is the entrance Richard would have used to reach the inner courtyard

The book is set up in a very practical manner, and the convenience will appeal to both armchair traveler as well as visitors to these amazing monuments. The table of contents lists the locations—including geographical—within each section in the event one wanted to access information about a specific site. While readers come in close contact throughout the book with the medieval practice of “recycling” names (first as well as surnames), Dean also provides a York family tree that sensibly and easily maps out the “who’s who,” helping to alleviate common confusions, for instance between Richard III (Gloucester) and his father, also called Richard (York). Years also are provided for clarification of events, such as the Duke of York and Salsbury’s flight to Ireland and Calais (1459), and their deaths in 1460, the latter of which is necessarily presented first.

A “how to” also briefly introduces the setup and points out helpful details such as contact information (phone as well as website), opening times, prices and postcode, which struck me not only as practical but also a blessing in disguise because many travelers—myself included—might get bogged down in their movements. In such instances it has happened that it doesn’t occur (to me and others) to check ahead about such additional details as cash machine availability, non-regular closures or waiting periods. Dean covers these and other crucial details and tips to contribute to a fascinating and rewarding journey.

The World of Richard III is presented in language that is a combination between necessarily practical and beautifully rhythmic, and Dean’s strength is being able to fuse the two in passages that complement each other. Ordinary words have the power to transfix, and the sense of peering through a veil is never far off. “But pause for a moment,” she advises at one point. “You are standing where he would have stood, with only the thin veil of time between you. It is a heady feeling.”

Church of St. Mary the Virgin and All Saints, Fotheringhay
Church of St. Mary the Virgin and All Saints, Fotheringhay

Dean speaks of Fotheringhay, Richard’s birthplace, in conjunction with how the “River Nene winds around the mound and disappears in the distance”; of the spires of St. Mary the Virgin and All Saints and a “sleepy river,” adding that “[d]uring Richard’s time, the river would have been humming with activity. On Richard and Edward’s visit in 1469 the view would have been one of constant commotion as people scurried about to meet the king.” As readers we are privileged to catch this glimpse of Richard re-visiting his roots and taking care of and pride in who he is.

Nottingham Castle~This was one of Richard's most visited castles, and where he and Anne learned the dreadful news of their son Edward's death.
Nottingham Castle~This was one of Richard’s most visited castles, and where he and Anne learned the dreadful news of their son Edward’s death.

The ideal of knowing who you are based on where you are is deeply embedded in the travelogue and Dean awards sense of place its rightful due by “illuminat[ing] his character through the places and events that shaped him into the man he became.” Indeed, many events prior to Richard contribute to place and shared history, and to this end the author also unpacks some of these events to give readers a greater sense of what it may have meant to Richard himself. She often invites readers to imagine Richard at a certain place, or to see something lovely or meaningful through his eyes, and it is not difficult to contemplate Richard as an individual rather than a noble, duke, monarch or distant historical figure. Speaking of the Painted Chamber, once the scene of a momentous occasion, Dean elaborates how

…the sun would cast a rosy glow through the four windows in the chamber, illuminating the decorative paintings that graced its interior. Even the arches over the windows were covered with paintings, mostly heraldic images. It is easy to imagine Richard pausing from his duties as king and admiring these magnificent works of art with their deep hues of vermillion, ochre, and verdigris.

Penrith Castle, Cumbria~Dean writes of the "sandstone glowing in the sun" and tells readers that "English Heritage credits him with adding large windows." It is easy to imagine how breathtaking the scenery would have been, from inside and out.
Penrith Castle, Cumbria~Dean writes of the “sandstone glowing in the sun” and tells readers
that “English Heritage credits him with adding large windows.” It is easy to
imagine how breathtaking the scenery would have been, from inside and out.

The author does not, however, romanticize Richard as someone he was not, and to that end she retains an extensive and admirable neutrality regarding his controversial life and opposing views as to what kind of person he was. Indeed more than once she references Lancastrians and Tudors within their humanity and expresses compassion regarding their losses. She does not seek to disparage and the questions raised about Richard pertaining to his nephews et al. are not addressed here.

For this reason, The World of Richard III is likely to appeal to admirers of any era, WoR, prior or subsequent to, as well as those unfamiliar with even key players or events of Richard’s time. Those mildly or deeply interested in the Middle Ages, castles, cathedrals, architecture, travel, monarchy, and where we come from all will find rewards within the pages of this book. It is a history and reads not unlike a story, accessible and fascinating, bringing to life not only details of past lives, but also portraits of individual people who lived and loved, and sometimes lost in a time they recorded, deliberately and not, in the places they lived. We are brought to these magnificent locations and shown their splendor within the framework of one life influenced by countless others. We follow the trail of Richard, whose memories might include much of what is presented here, and in so doing learn a great deal more about who we ourselves are.

Warwick Castle was an historic building even in Richard's day. Despite frequenting magnificent buildings, Dean writes, "Richard may still have been awed by the castle's grandeur."
Warwick Castle was an historic building even in Richard’s day. Despite frequenting magnificent buildings, Dean writes, “Richard may still have been awed by the castle’s grandeur.”

About the Author:
Kristie DeanKristie Dean has an MA in History and now enjoys teaching the subject, following a successful career in public relations. She has been published in several online magazines and local newspapers, and presented a paper at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. She lives in Tennessee, where she is currently working on her upcoming book, The World of the Yorks, which features locations associated with the York family.

You can find more about Dean and her work at her website, her Facebook page and that of The World of Richard III.

The World of Richard III by Kristie Dean is published by Amberley Publishing, 2015. It is available to buy at all good bookstores, as well as online at the Amberley website, Amazon, Amazon UK and the Book Depository.

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A copy of The World of Richard III was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review. All images courtesy Kristie Dean.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The World of Richard III

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: Kristie Dean: On the Trail of the Yorks – before the second sleep

  2. Pingback: My Tottering TBR: Currently on My Night Table | before the second sleep

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The World of Richard III | Tales from the notepad…

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