The much-maligned Richard III is the subject of Worth’s “Rose of York” trilogy (Love and War, Crown of Destiny and Fall from Grace). This final novel addresses Richard’s kingship, the harrowing years of an unsettled reign, the monarch followed by rumor and the constant threat of war from the usurper, Henry Tudor.
Upon the death of his beloved brother, Edward, Richard assumes the throne with his wife, Anne Neville by his side. Serious by nature, Richard is also quite sensitive to the good opinion of his subjects. When the young princes, Richard’s nephews, are taken from the tower and murdered, it is the king who is suspected of the infamous crime, whether or not historical fact bears this out. Either Richard is a consummate liar or genuinely devastated by the assumption that he would participate in such a heinous crime.
Yet rumor and innuendo prevail throughout Richard’s troubled reign, the king pained by the cruel gossip of his adversaries, the seditious question of his legitimacy and the constant scheming of Henry Tudor to usurp the crown with the aid of those loyal to Henry’s cause. Not a craven or self-serving man, more often than not Richard forgives those who challenge his rule. Perhaps too lenient, the king claims he cannot do otherwise: “My throne must rest on loyalty, not force.”
Many of Richard’s former adversaries and loved ones are deceased at the start of this novel, and he is left with little comfort from his advisors, save the constant and calming presence of Anne. Tortured by these constant aspersions on his character, Richard prevails nonetheless, meeting Tudor in battle when unavoidable and tending to the business of state.
The haunting memories of the past, especially the carefree camaraderie of earlier days, dominate Richard’s thoughts in his later years, ever aware of the loss of those he has loved, especially his brother, Edward, and Richard Neville, “the Kingmaker.” His mentors relegated to eternal life, Richard has no choice but to survive, comforted by his wife and young heir, Ned. When life deals its cruelest blow, Richard staggers, barely able to recover. Devastated, he rallies, defending his throne with honor and dignity to the end.
Historically, Richard III bears a heavy burden as a devious and ambitious ruler tainted by the fate of the princes in the tower. Worth takes exception to Richard’s tattered reputation, portraying him as a monarch whose concern for the rule of law laid the groundwork for our modern system of justice, the fair resolution of conflict and equality before the law, dealing with his subjects’ legal issues with a prescient sophistication.
Whether or not Worth changes the opinion of scholars, the author makes a strong case for a man who set the parameters of justice (innocent until proven guilty, equality before the law), a compassionate and tortured ruler, the last Plantagenet king, maligned by history as villain and murderer but made more human and accessible in this incarnation.