Within the Hollow Crown by Margaret Campbell Barnes

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“A reluctant king, a desperate nation, and the most misunderstood reign in history.” So says the front cover! This book was written over 65 years ago and the style of writing does seem a little old-fashioned now, and some of it’s also rather simplistic, in the same way that some of Jean Plaidy’s writing is, but it’s a very good read for all that. The king in question is Richard II, whose reign, partly due to the fact that he was a “loser” and history’s written by the winners and partly due to the negative (and inaccurate) portrayal of him by Shakespeare, has gone down in history as one of misrule and tyranny. There’s also been a lot of debate about whether or not he suffered from personality disorders or other mental illness.

I’ve got two main images of Richard. One is of the teenage king going out to face the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt at Blackheath. The other, for some reason, is of someone wearing very impractical pointy shoes! Pointy shoes aren’t mentioned in this book, LOL, but Richard’s interest in clothes and his appearance certainly features – and those were traits which didn’t go down very well at a time when people expected kings to be off fighting the French. Had his time come 100 or 150 years later, his interest in clothes and the arts, and even his absolute style of monarchy, would have gone down much better.

The book’s portrayal of the early period of Richard’s reign – his bravery during the Peasants’ Revolt, and his happy marriage to Anne of Bohemia – was much better than its portrayal of his later years. The author was very sympathetic to Richard, and didn’t seem too keen on writing too much about the period usually referred to as his tyranny. That’s the trouble with writing about an individual – you tend to pick someone you like, and it can be hard to write about where they go wrong! Still, Richard’s had a raw deal from historians and he deserves a more sympathetic portrayal, whether it’s in historical fiction or in academic writings.

Was his the most misunderstood reign in (English?) history, as the front cover claims? Unless you’re an apologist for either Mary I or James II, which not too many people are, I think that, yes, it quite possibly was.

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