This Son of York

Written by Anne Easter Smith
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Murderer. Usurper. Hunchback.

Richard III is one of the most vilified monarchs in historical memory. Fourth in line for the York English throne, Richard had no real expectation that he one day would be king. Yet he rose to power after the deaths of his three older brothers and the declaration that his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, were bastards. He was responsible for instituting legal reforms that protected commoners, such as a court that adjudicates disputes involving the poor and bail to protect the property of suspected felons awaiting trial. Nevertheless, his story is one of villainy, told not by historians or scholars but by popular portrayal in William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Anne Easter Smith’s This Son of York is the result of her 50-year, as she puts it, obsession with trying to understand this divisive figure in English history. It begins in 1459 when Richard is labeled “runt” at age seven. It follows him through his teen years as he discovers and learns to hide severe scoliosis and adulthood as he sires his own bastards and later weds. It ends on Bosworth Field when he is felled by a blow to the base of the skull, his body stripped, tied to a horse, led to Grey Friars monastery, and buried in an unmarked shallow grave.

This Son of York is a comprehensive and poignant recollection of a complex, lonely and troubled man, abandoned in life by the deaths of wife and son and on the battlefield by nobles he thought he could trust. Noting the 2012 discovery of Richard’s remains, it mourns and offers an alternative to the biased narrative of the last Plantagenet king that has persisted for more than 500 years.