Richard II

Nigel Saul

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May 11, 1999
416 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
20 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300078756
Paper

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Cloth

Richard II is one of the most enigmatic of English kings. Shakespeare depicted him as a tragic figure, an irresponsible, cruel monarch who nevertheless rose in stature as the substance of power slipped from him. By later writers he has been variously portrayed as a half-crazed autocrat or a conventional ruler whose principal errors were the mismanagement of his nobility and disregard for the political conventions of his age. This book—the first full-length biography of Richard in more than fifty years—offers a radical reinterpretation of the king.

Nigel Saul paints a picture of Richard as a highly assertive and determined ruler, one whose key aim was to exalt and dignify the crown. In Richard's view, the crown was threatened by the factiousness of the nobility and the assertiveness of the common people. The king met these challenges by exacting obedience, encouraging lofty new forms of address, and constructing an elaborate system of rule by bonds and oaths. Saul traces the sources of Richard's political ideas and finds that he was influenced by a deeply felt orthodox piety and by the ideas of the civil lawyers. He shows that, although Richard's kingship resembled that of other rulers of the period, unlike theirs, his reign ended in failure because of tactical errors and contradictions in his policies. For all that he promoted the image of a distant, all-powerful monarch, Richard II's rule was in practice characterized by faction and feud. The king was obsessed by the search for personal security: in his subjects, however, he bred only insecurity and fear.

A revealing portrait of a complex and fascinating figure, the book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the politics and culture of the English middle ages.

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

A selection of the History Book Club

"All audiences will be able to enjoy this work."—Library Journal

"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. . . . An eloquent and scholarly analysis of Richard and his reign that captures both their excitement and their complexity."—Publishers Weekly

"I very much doubt whether the next fifty [years] will see it surpassed in scholarship, comprehensiveness, or in the biographer's insight into his subject's character. . . . Saul is an elegant and persuasive writer."—P. D. James, Sunday Times

"Saul has provided Yale with a book worth to stand with the best in the series. Academic yet also accessible (it is written throughout in clear, confident prose), firmly based on the contemporary sources yet also taking full account of the work of other historians, retelling the familiar story in compelling fashion yet also in places (most notably in its discussion of Richard's outlook) highly original, this is a magisterial biography."—D. A. Carpenter, Times Literary Supplement

"Based on exhaustive research of contemporary sources, Saul's Richard is likely to be the definitive version for years to come."— Edward Bryant, Teaching History

"All those who value good biographies and English history will be grateful to Yale for keeping the series alive."—Contemporary Review

"Completely superseding all others, Saul's biography is by far the most thorough study of Richard II. . . . The book's accessible style makes it suitable for advanced students, while its meticulous citation of much recent scholarship makes it a valuable bibliographical resource for scholars as well."—Choice

"This is a monumental work of over 500 pages with plates."—Nicholas Orme, The Spectator

"Saul's book . . . is an accessible but innovative addition to a genre in need of revitalisation. It is intended for, and deserves, a wide audience, who may be intrigued to learn that Shakespeare's Richard 'brings us remarkably close to the historical figure'."—David Horspool, The Guardian

"Dr. Saul's study of the King is revisionist history at its best: courteous to opposing interpretations, balanced in correctives, clear in exposition, and readable. It is also a useful guide to the nature of political society in the second half of the Middle Ages, so that the general reader, if he or she encountered no other work, would get a very good idea of what medieval government was like from this one alone."—Edward Norman, Church Times

"[This book] follows the familiar format of the English Monarchs series . . . in offering traditional life and times treatment, which allows Saul sufficient space to develop in some detail the political and strategic backdrop against which the drama of Richard's reign was played out. Saul handles this part of his task very well: careful in exposition and elaborately courteous in disagreement, he proves a reliable guide to the various cruces of Ricardian scholarship."—London Review of Books

"Saul's book is a model of historical biography, meticulously researched by someone with strong empathy with his subject. It is balanced in its views and thoroughly readable, as well as casting unexpected light on the eternal mechanics of power play."—Richard Arthur, Ham & High

"It command[s] great respect from the academics and delight[s] the general reader."—Philip Ziegler, The Daily Telegraph

"Saul's biography of Richard II has superseded all previous work and will stand as the definitive study of its subject."—George B. Stow, Speculum—A Journal of Medieval Studies

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