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Richard II


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About the Author

Nigel Saul is reader in Medieval History at Royal Holloway College, University of London.


Saul (medieval history, Univ. of London) has written several books on the medieval period (e.g., England in Europe, St. Martin's, 1994). His latest work stays close to primary sources, which means it is a biography of the reign of Richard II but not necessarily a biography of the man. Saul does provide a chapter at the end on Richard as an individual, with supporting evidence for his theories. The author assumes some knowledge of the era but writes clearly except when, at times, he refers to an individual by a variety of names. Still, all audiences will be able to enjoy this work.‘Julie Still, Rutgers Univ., Camden, N.J.

In 1377, 10-year-old Richard ascended the throne of a country still recovering from the Black Death and in the middle of the Hundred Years' War. Things were bound to end badly. The first full-scale biography to appear in half a century puts an extensive survey of the primary and secondary sources together with a keen analysis of its narcissistic subject's character, making this a welcome addition to Yale's series on the English monarchs. Though Richard's reign began with much goodwill, and he was able to handle decisively the Great Rebellion in 1381, he was brought down by magnates who could not help but see his attempts to set up a more forceful and efficient monarchy as a threat. By the time Saul, a reader in Medieval history at the University of London, reaches Richard's flight and deposition in 1399 (he died a year later of starvation, but whether self-inflicted or not, Saul does not definitively say), it is clear that it was Richard himself who raised the crown up and who "created the conditions in which, `like glist'ring Phaethon,' he was brought down." While the narrative often bogs down in detail and in the exploration of alternative interpretations of the evidence, this is nonetheless an eloquent and scholarly analysis of Richard and his reign that captures both their excitement and their complexity. Illustrations not seen by PW. (June)

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