“ Print Length: 277 pages „
'The cat, the rat and Lovell, our dog
Rule all of England under the hog'
If you've been watching the news recently you'll be aware that a body has been dug up from beneath a Leicester car park and that it's believed to be that of King Richard III. It has since been confirmed that the skelton is almost certainly that of Richard. It was found roughly where his body was thought to be buried and has a severe head trauma and an iron arrowhead embedded in the spine, which corresponds to accounts of the injuries Richard sustained at the Battle of Bosworth. It also displays signs of spinal curvature, though nothing like the hunchback so beloved of Tudor apologists. If these tests prove conclusive, the remains will then be buried in Leicester Cathedral. Of course, Richard's burial won't put an end to the centuries-old speculation about the fate of the Princes in the Tower, a subject which divides historians to this day.
Although this book is a work of fiction, it comes from the pen of an historian and one with a particular interest in this period of history so the setting and characterisation can be expected to be pretty accurate. This is the first part of a two book series documenting Richard's life through the eyes of his lifelong friend, Francis Lovell, the 'dog' of the rhyming couplet at the beginning of this review. The 'hog' refers to Richard himself who took the boar as his personal emblem.
This book is only available in electronic format and is currently selling on Amazon for £3.20.
It's an indisputable fact that if Richard III was tried in a court of law for the deaths of his nephews, he would get off simply because there isn't a shred of evidence by which to convict him. The stories of his evil ways are all based on Tudor propaganda, most of it written after Richard's death. That isn't to say that he wasn't a man of his time and perfectly capable of killing his enemies when necessary and this book attempts to give us a picture of Richard, warts and all, told through the eyes of his closest friend, Francis, the Earl of Lovell.
I suppose it could be argued that this is a largely subjective view but the reign of Richard is such a divisive matter that whoever writes about this time is going to demonstrate some partiality and as someone who is no fan of the terrible Tudors, I loved this book. Whether the history is absolutely accurate or not, this is a first rate historical novel which is based on fact with possibly a little bit of conjecture added in for good measure.
The G of the title is Richard himself, and represents his title of Duke of Gloucester and is used in the story as the nickname by which Francis Lovell knows him. The novel begins at the beginning of Richard's friendship with Francis when they were both wards of the very powerful Earl of Warwick and living in Warwick's castle at Middleham in North Yorkshire. Once I got used to the slightly strange narrative which is mainly told in the present tense even though it's supposedly a reminiscence, I was hooked. The story drags the reader straight into the fifteenth century and details that life in all its gritty and often gory reality. This particular time was one of great upheaval with the Wars of the Roses in full swing and with the Yorkists having taken the throne from Henry VI. There was a great deal of fighting still between rival factions and plenty of political manoeuvring going on behind the scenes, most notably by Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor's mother.
The use of Francis Lovell as the narrator makes this story all the more engaging because there's no doubt of his friendship with Richard and his involvement in all that subsequently took place. He comes across as a good and loyal friend to Richard and from his perspective on the periphery of the Royal circle, he's able to give a view of the Woodvilles (spelled Wydeville in this book) who were every bit as power hungry as the Tudors.
The early years of Richard are dealt with fairly quickly and we're soon into the meat of the novel which involves the political machinations following the death of Edward IV. Most historical documents show evidence of Richard's love and loyalty towards his brother and indeed his motto was 'Loyalty binds me', used in the title of this novel. It's when Edward dies leaving Richard as Regent with care of the new young king that his problems truly begin, however. Edward was no fool and was well aware that his wife's family, the Wydevilles, were hungry for power which was why he granted the Regency to Richard, a man who had more than once proved his loyalty to his brother and now ruled the north on his behalf.
The story moves at a cracking pace and is a real page turner. Don't be put off by the fact that the book has a political base because fifteenth century politics was far more exciting than what we have to endure these days. There are dastardly plots aplenty and poor Richard is bang in the middle of them. He'd spent most of his boyhood and early manhood in the north where he was greatly loved and admired but he's not at his most comfortable when dealing with courtiers, especially when they're slippery southerners. It could almost be viewed as a tale of the old north-south divide.
The author, Christopher Rae, has produced an engrossing historical novel which takes the reader from Richard's boyhood up to the time of his accession to the throne but more importantly, he has created a fully rounded human being rather than Shakespeare's cardboard cut-out villain. Here Richard is a real person and the author has imbued him with all the complexities of personality and vulnerability that anyone possesses. It's a very believable portrait of a fifteenth century man of great power and one moreover who's supposed villainy has covered up much of the good that he did. Scattered throughout the text are snatches from documents of the time which certainly give the narrative authenticity as well as demonstrating that Richard was not only an honourable man but one who was making some important changes to English life.
I can't give this book anything less than 5 stars. It's that good. If you enjoy historical novels based on fact rather than being heavily romanticised, you'll enjoy this book enormously. It doesn't glamorise either the Yorkist or the Lancastrian factions but simply tells it as it was. It grabs the reader right from the start and I guarantee it will keep you turning the pages until the very end, after which you'll be off to order part two which continues the story of G to its bitter conclusion.