Book Review : Richard II: A Brittle Glory by Laura Ashe

Richard II: A Brittle GloryRichard II: A Brittle Glory by Laura Ashe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So far, I’ve read 4 other biographies in the Penguin Monarch series. This one was written rather differently to those. It’s presented not as a historical chronology of Richard IIs reign, but rather as a series of themes : Parliament; Battlefield; City and Shrine.

The other Penguin Monarch series biographies successfully gave me an overview of the monarch in question’s life along with interesting details and vignettes into their reign – This didn’t and so it left me dissapointed as it got bogged down with too many diversions into,interesting, but nevertheless tenuously related other topics (mainly literary appreciation).

The penguin monarch series are by design short overviews limiting themselves to anything between 75 to 150 pages so they have to be concise if you are going to cover a biography in that restricted space – when you arrange it thematically you make it even more restricting – end result an unsatisfying read.

Normally with a straight chronological presentation of a monarch’s reign you get a sense of the person, how they change, how they mature, how they react to events as they unfold, but when you present a life thematically you get a very narrow view on that one theme you are reading at that moment. You rob the the reader of some of the context to be able to understand the events unfolding because you are stuck restricted within that theme. In addition your contextual understanding is naturally reduced because you won’t have read later chapters yet in which they may have illuminated you on something or some event that has gone before and crucial to what you are reading right at that moment.

In of themselves the different themes are interesting but I felt they failed to illuminate me with any wider understanding of Richard or his reign.

For example quotes from Shakespeare, who was writing his plays nearly 200 years after the reign of Richard, is hardly germaine to understanding Richards reign but more to understanding how Shakespeare and his generation interpreted it – or maybe demonstrating the literary credentials of the author.

I found myself getting more and more irked as I read through this book as it failed to get to the point of discussing Richard and instead circumvented and circled around , interesting, but none the less esoteric discussions, for example several pages in one of the chapters veer off on a discussion of a British library manuscript on a 7th century Anglo Saxon bishop Erkenwald !
The justification as to why this was relevant was tenuous to say the least.

So on the whole I wasn’t really very impressed with the way it was written & the way it was presented. If you want a straightforward concise summary or analysis of the life of Richard II then this book is probably not for you.

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Book Synopsis

‘Official’ Book Description

Richard II (1377-99) came to the throne as a child, following the long, domineering, martial reign of his grandfather Edward III. He suffered from the disastrous combination of a most exalted sense of his own power and an inability to impress that power on those closest to the throne. Neither trusted nor feared, Richard battled with a whole series of failures and emergencies before finally succumbing to a coup, imprisonment and murder.

Laura Ashe’s brilliant account of his reign emphasizes the strange gap between Richard’s personal incapacity and the amazing cultural legacy of his reign – from the Wilton Diptych to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Piers Plowman and The Canterbury Tales.