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Introduction Thomas More wrote his unfinished History of King Richard the Third in two versions, English and Latin. Both open with the death of Richard’s brother Edward IV on April 9, 1483, and recount in some detail the events of the following three tumultuous months, which culminated in Richard’s coronation as king on July 6. At this point, the Latin version stops. The English one goes on to narrate the supposed murder, at Richard’s behest, of Edward’s sons (the rightful heirs to the throne), and then, a few pages into the next episode—which recounts the defection of the usurper’s principal ally, the duke of Buckingham—abruptly breaks off. Despite its unfinished state, the English version of the History has been a work of enormous reputation and influence. Unpublished before More’s execution (1535), it was, beginning in 1543, incorporated into a series of the popular, successively cannibalizing sixteenth-century chronicle histories, of which it quickly came to be regarded as the finest segment. (It was also published in More’s English Works, 1557.) In particular, the History, with its continuation in the chronicles, was read and admired by Shakespeare, whose own Richard III has More’s work as its principal source and historiographical model. Shakespeare’s Richard is essentially More’s, and between them, these two great writers established what still remains the popular view of Richard, as a man both physically and morally deformed, a consummate dissembler hell-bent on attaining the throne at whatever cost in human life. This view of Richard has, from the late sixteenth century, been subjected to many challenges by his defenders, who have proved to be a remarkably passionate and persistent group. They have centered their efforts on exposing errors and implausibilities in the History. Undeniably, as a characteristic product of the colorful, semi-fictional xvi Introduction historiography revived by Renaissance humanists from classical Greece and Rome, More’s book does not meet the critical standards of modern historical writing. By the late twentieth century, though, historical research had made it clear that the History accords by and large with the most reliable early accounts of Richard’s usurpation, and that it is, despite its inaccuracies, animus, and exaggerations, a valuable source for the events of 1483, about which More was evidently well-informed. The work is also recognized as a superb piece of literature. More’s most celebrated recent biographer, Richard Marius, calls the History “perhaps the finest thing he ever wrote.”1 This is saying a good deal, given that More’s writings also include one of the most intriguing and influential books of the modern world, Utopia. But More wrote Utopia exclusively in Latin, and though, like many other medieval and Renaissance writers, he had remarkable fluency in this second language (the lingua franca of European learned discourse), it was still not his native tongue. In the English version of the History, by contrast, More found unrestricted scope for the exercise of what Paul Murray Kendall (Richard’s most-read modern biographer) calls “the stunning vitality of . . . [his] literary talent.”2 Stunning vitality: the words convey precisely what makes reading the History such an exhilarating experience—similar, in fact, to that of Shakespeare’s play, with which More’s work offers a fascinating comparison. The full glory of the History, though, is easily obscured from a modern reader by the difficulties posed by its early-sixteenthcentury English and by unfamiliarity with both its historical milieu and the traditions of historical writing in which it participates. In this edition, I have attempted to minimize these difficulties by modernizing the spelling and punctuation of the text, by glossing its difficult words and its historical references (and errors), and, in the remainder of this introduction, by providing an overview of its contexts and wellsprings, in More’s life and career, in the accounts of Richard that were available to him, and in humanist historiography. I have also provided an outline account of the impact of the book on later literature and on the controversy over Richard III, as well as a guide to further reading on More, his book, and its subject. 1. Thomas More, p. 98. 2. Richard the Third, p. 423. xvii Introduction Thomas More More was born in London on February 7, 1478, or possibly 1477.3 His father, John More, a lawyer and judge, evidently hoped his eld­ est son would follow him into the legal profession. Thomas spent a few years at...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253111777
Related ISBN
9780253346575
MARC Record
OCLC
133163917
Pages
208
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-16
Language
English
Open Access
No
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