A biography of Richard III provides fascinating insights into the life and death of England’s most enigmatic king. STEPHEN LEWIS reports.

YOU’VE got to hand it to those Richard III scholars. They work quickly. It is little more than a month since experts confirmed that the body found beneath a Leicester car park was that of England’s most notorious – or perhaps most misunderstood – king.

But already medieval historian David Baldwin has brought out a scholarly yet readable biography of Richard – one complete with a chapter on the ‘amazing discovery’ of the fallen monarch’s remains in Leicester.

Actually, Baldwin’s book was first published last year. And it has simply been updated with a new final chapter for the paperback edition covering the discovery in the car park.

If you are interested in the king and his life, however, this book is well worth checking out. Baldwin is a medieval historian who has taught at the universities of Leicester and Nottingham, but who nevertheless manages to write in a fluent, readable style.

According to the Leicester Mercury newspaper, Baldwin predicted 27 years ago almost exactly where Richard’s remains would be found, ‘in the northern part of the Grey Friars church’. His work was used by the University of Leicester archaeological team who found Richard when they began deciding where to dig trenches.

This is a clearly a man who knows his Richard. So where does he stand on the important questions regarding this most enigmatic of monarchs? Was Richard a monster, or simply misunderstood? Did he murder the Princes in the Tower? How did he die, and what happened to his body afterwards? And, now that he has been rediscovered, where should he be buried?

Baldwin addresses all of these questions, in what is effectively a brief, but vividly-written biography of the king.

On what kind of a king Richard was, Baldwin writes pithily in his introduction: “it seems improbable that any human being could be as evil – or alternatively as misunderstood – as Richard. My starting point is that somewhere behind all the conflicting arguments stands a real man who had both qualities and failings.”

The Tudors did their best to blacken the fallen king’s name, Baldwin writes. But even in the time of King Henry VIII, 40 years after Richard’s death, with the Tudor dynasty firmly established, the last Yorkist king was still so popular in London, of all places, that one of its citizens was willing to speak out publicly in his support: a dangerous thing to do.

Cardinal Wolsey had denounced Richard as a “usurper and murderer of his own nephews”, to which the unnamed citizen replied: “And it please your Grace, although he did evil, yet in his time were many good acts made”.

On the Princes in the Tower, Baldwin says there is no evidence the two boys were murdered. They simply disappeared, he says – and he believes it possible that Richard may simply have imprisoned them.

“It seems incredible that Richard ever supposed that killing his nephews would help to secure his position or make him more acceptable to his subjects, and while he could be ruthless no one has suggested that he was also stupid.”

No eye-witness account of the Battle of Bosworth has survived. But Baldwin quotes contemporary accounts of its aftermath – of Richard’s body being taken to Leicester, “naked of all clothing, and laid upon an horse back with the arms and legs hanging down on both sides”.

The corpse was put on display for two days, Baldwin notes – not because the new king, Henry VII, was particularly vindictive, but “because kings who had not died visibly enough had a nasty habit of returning to trouble their supplanters.”

So where does Baldwin stand on the thorny question of where Richard should be buried now his remains have been discovered?

The author lives in Leicester – so we might expect him to be biased. And indeed he does seem to come down on the side of Leicester – though only after considering all the other options. Chief among them, he accepts, is York Minster, but other candidates include Westminster Abbey, the church of St Mary and St Alkelda near Middleham castle, Barnard Castle in Durham, and Fotheringhay in Northhamptonshire.

Much of the debate could have been avoided, he points out, if it had been made clear from the beginning that formal permission to exhume the bones was given on the understanding that the University of Leicester, which carried out the dig, would decide where any remains were to be reburied.

Given that, there is only one real option, Baldwin concludes. “Unless there are any last-minute challenges or rethinks, Leicester it will be.”

Richard III, by David Baldwin, is published by Amberley, £9.99.