The Family of Richard III by Michael Hicks

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The Family of Richard III by Michael Hicks

Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: New titles about the Yorkist dynasty, which ruled England for little more than two decades, continue to proliferate. Hicks, acknowledged as an expert on Richard III (if an unsympathetic one), has contributed an interesting account of the whole family, surveying the convoluted family tree from Edward II to the post-Bosworth era. Despite the author's distinguished academic background and bias against his subject, he is an entertaining, thoroughly readable writer and this is a useful, concise account.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Amberley
ISBN: 9781445660158

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New titles about the Yorkist dynasty, which ruled England for little more than two decades, continue to proliferate. Michael Hicks, acknowledged as one of the great – although never sympathetic – experts on Richard III, has contributed an interesting chronicle to the shelves.

Richard's immediate family was a very small one – a sickly wife and son, both of whom predeceased him – and a few disputed children outside wedlock. He was however the youngest of twelve children of Richard and Cecily, Duke and Duchess of York, and as such part of the vast family tree headed by Edward III. To give some idea of the proliferation, in 1907 it was calculated that there were 53,000 living or recently living descendants of Richard III's siblings Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence, and Anne Duchess of Exeter. Thousands of people living today, including Mr Hicks and yours truly, can claim a distant connection back to The Third Edward.

The Wars of the Roses, admittedly not named thus until many generations later, were a cautionary tale about what happens when family and power come together. The house of York was at the centre of a labyrinth of relations, of the ruing family whose mutual competition or fierce rivalry for the supreme prize, that of the governance of England, culminated in war. Cousins and brothers were pitted against each other in that unsentimental age.

Hicks traces a clear path through the absolute forest of family branches. As he does, he throws us a variety of interesting tidbits, such as the fact that there was no Salic Law in England such as existed in France, although Edward III evidently wished there was on the grounds that 'the ancient precedent of the Empress Matilda' two centuries earlier was evidence that women could not be relied on to rule, and ensured that the crown should pass to the male heirs of each of his sons. We are also reminded that the royal family had no surname until 1460 when the Duke of York – soon to be killed at the battle of Wakefield – invented the name of Plantagenet for the royal house. Until then, people had generally been known by their Christian name and place of birth, hence John of Gaunt (Ghent).

You will have gathered that the book is by no means a biography of the King (Hicks has done so already), although it is a more or less chronological account of the family, as a whole. The title of one later chapter, 'The self-destruction of the house of York', prepares us for the climax. Let me issue a warning to those who do not know; the author is well-known as being no defender of Richard, and is fearless in his statement, or one might say belief, that the then Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector seized the throne from the nephew whom he had sworn to protect, and had him and his little brother both executed. He ends his book with a discussion on Richard's heirs, posthumous reputation, and the apparent discovery and exhumation in 2012 of the bones, 'The King under the Car Lot' at Leicester, although he is sceptical that the skeleton John Ashdown-Hill and others found was actually that of the King.

Given the caveat that Hicks is not a 'Ricardian', this is a useful, soundly-argued book. Just when we think there is nothing new to be written or told about the Yorkists, along comes another book to prove us wrong. Despite his distinguished academic background, he is an entertaining, thoroughly readable writer, and while he belongs to the ranks of those who is perhaps a little too ready to believe the worst of Richard, this is a sound piece of work.

Nobody will want for further reading on the subject. Among those we can recommend are a detailed life of the final stages, The Last Days of Richard III by John Ashdown-Hill, the man who was largely responsible for the exhumation referred to above; Edward IV: Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James, an account of the life and times of his eldest brother; and one of the mystery which never ceases to enthral, The Princes In The Tower by Alison Weir.

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Buy The Family of Richard III by Michael Hicks at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Family of Richard III by Michael Hicks at


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