If you made the mistake of picking up this book thinking that Langley is an archeologist or historian, you are in good company because I did the same thing. Unfortunately, Langley is none of the above and is instead the secretary of the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society, which (after only a few pages in) makes you question whether she’s carrying out the search to validate her own beliefs or to accurately fill in the historical record.
This book represents Phillipa Langley’s one-woman crusade to find Richard’s remains under a parking lot in Leicester. Langley’s overly emotional chapters alternate with chapters by the pro-Ricardian historian Michael Jones, who paints a lopsided picture of the life and times of Richard III. At times, the book reads more like Langley’s diary than an account of the archeology dig. Langley, a journalist and screenwriter, has a clear agenda and provides a rather sensationalized account of the “Search for Richard”. Full of intuition, goosebumps, a white “R” to mark the spot, “tears of despair”, and feelings of “peace”, Langley’s tale is anything but objective and that is disappointing to those, like me, expecting a more scientific account of the dig. Researchers are often emotionally attached to their subjects but Langley is so over-the-top in her admiration of Richard that it caused me to discount most of what she said.
The lack of science is replaced by Langley’s attempt to burnish Richard’s tarnished reputation. The authors frequently mention how “maligned” Richard was by his Tudor successors, which is nothing new, however Langley never provides much beyond her own deep-seated feelings to correct the record. Langley also enjoys dropping names of all those she recruited to work on the project, perhaps to add legitimacy to her endeavor, and she provides overly detailed reports of her day to day actives, who donated what amounts of money, and which media outlets she courted to publicize the event. The beginning of the book reads more like a well thought out PR campaign rather than a search for historical truth.
To support their views, the authors make many, rather weak points. First, they claim that Richard was so disturbed by allegations that his late brother (Edward IV) was illegitimate that he felt it his moral duty to snatch the crown from his nephews after Edward’s death, despite the fact that Richard fought numerous times to help keep Edward on the throne during Edward’s lifetime. Richard had no problem supporting his brother’s reign while his brother was alive, so it seems suspicious that upon Edward’s death, Richard felt he had no other choice but to take the crown himself. Another allegation the authors make is that Richard fully believed Edward IV’s marriage to be invalid, thereby making his nephews bastards and leaving Richard no choice but to take the throne. Richard passed legislation saying his nephews were bastards and yet he never released them from imprisonment and most likely (even by Langley’s reckoning) had them killed – quite drastic steps if he really believed them to be illegitimate and therefore ineligible for the throne. And finally, the authors argue that Richard (who they refer to as a “courageous warrior king”) was terrified that Edward IV’s widow, Elizabeth, and her family were out to kill him by sorcery, prompting him to seize the throne to somehow protect himself from their spells.
I find the whole “Search for Richard” fascinating, and the debate over Richard’s true nature will probably never be put to rest. But I found this account of the dig to be an enormous let down, a product of Langley’s own propaganda. In writing this book, I think Langley actually did a disservice to Richard’s memory – a less emotional, more balanced and scientific approach would have done more to tell Richard’s tale than what was actually written in this book.