Richard III: Fact and Fiction by Matthew Lewis

I find most periods of history interesting, but there are none that fascinate me quite as much as the Wars of the Roses, the name given to the conflict between two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet – York and Lancaster. This period included the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III and ended following Henry Tudor’s victory at the Battle of Bosworth. Matthew Lewis (not to be confused with the Gothic author of the same name!) has written several non-fiction books on this subject, as well as two novels; Richard III: Fact and Fiction, was published earlier this year by Pen and Sword and is the first of his books that I’ve read.

Richard III is surely one of England’s most controversial kings; no two historians seem to agree on any of the mysteries surrounding his life and reign, while fictional depictions range from the saintly to the wicked. As Lewis explains in his introduction:

Contradictory facts are launched from either side causing the deafening cacophony of explosive opinions that can make the real facts hard to discern and deter some from becoming embroiled in the debate.

Lewis then takes one question or supposed ‘fact’ about Richard at a time and attempts to separate the facts from the fiction. Some of these are very basic (such as “Was Richard III the Duke of York?”) and can be given simple, factual answers (No – that was his father’s title) but others give rise to longer, more involved discussions. The various crimes of which Richard is often accused – including the murders of Edward, Prince of Wales, and King Henry VI, and the alleged poisoning of Queen Anne, which would clear the way for Richard to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York – are all examined, setting out the evidence for and against Richard being responsible. The author manages to stay largely neutral and unbiased, which I’m sure is no easy feat when writing about Richard! I was a bit disappointed that the greatest mystery of them all – the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower – was covered relatively briefly, but I see Matthew Lewis has written another book devoted to that topic, so maybe didn’t see the need to explore it in depth here too.

Although I’ve already read a lot about Richard III, there was enough new information in this book to keep me interested; for example, I can’t remember having read anything before about Richard’s dispute with Thomas Stanley over the ownership of Hornby Castle, which could be one reason for Stanley’s treachery at Bosworth fifteen years later. However, I think this book would be a particularly good choice for someone who knew much less than me about Richard III and was looking for a place to start learning. The way the book is divided into short sections, with each question and answer followed by a ‘Little Known Fact’ and a brief Glossary picking out one or two words which might be unfamiliar to the reader, makes it easy to read and to digest what we are being told. There are also lots of pictures interspersed throughout the text, including some of the author’s own photographs of castles and monuments from his private collection, which I thought added a nice personal touch.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for providing a copy of this book for review.

If you’re interested in reading about Richard III and the Wars of the Roses, you can see a full list of all the fiction and non-fiction books I’ve read on the subject on my Wars of the Roses page.

12 thoughts on “Richard III: Fact and Fiction by Matthew Lewis

    • Helen says:

      I think this book would be ideal if you already have some knowledge of Richard III but need a refresher. It has a good mixture of basic facts and more obscure ones.

    • Helen says:

      Well, I would be interested to know how someone completely new to Richard III would get on with this book. I’m not sure I was really the target audience!

  1. says:

    Good to know about this new book (that is, new to me) because I am still trying to fill the details of the Wars of the Roses era. To that end, I’ve just begun rereading Philippa Gregory’s five-book fiction series, and Lewis Fact and Fiction of Richard III will be a good follow-up.

    • Helen says:

      The Wars of the Roses is fascinating, but very complex too. I enjoyed the Philippa Gregory series – The White Queen was the first book I ever read set in this period.

  2. Liz says:

    I wonder if it will ever be possible to solve the mystery of the young princes. Wouldn’t it be great if a letter or something turned up in an old trunk somewhere. Meanwhile, any favourably-reviewed R3 book by you must be worth a read – I have bookmarked this page for future reference! 😀

    • Sandra says:

      Maybe that letter might be buried in a casket under car park, Liz! Helen, you answered the question on my lips in your final paragraph: would this be a worthwhile book for those whose knowledge of the period and of Richard in particular is perfunctory at best. Like Liz, I’ll keep a note of this one.

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