An amazing lifelong interest in Richard III – Wendy Johnson


Wendy Johnson is our newest author, and yet her Richard III novel has been years in the making! Here’s an article she wrote for us about her question to uncover the history of Richard III and to turn it into a compelling but historically accurate novel. Her book, The Traitor’s Son, came out on 14 April to great acclaim and praise. Here’s Wendy’s article…

A long history, coloured by many different perspectives

Over five hundred years after his death at the Battle of Bosworth, Richard III remains a compelling and divisive figure, attracting interest worldwide. The Richard III Society, founded to promote research into his life and to secure a fair assessment of his role in history, celebrates its centenary in 2024, and he continues to be the subject of television documentaries and debate. But what, exactly, makes the king so fascinating? It could be argued that there are many historical personages whose reputations stir debate amongst admirers and detractors, and that Richard III is no different.

But he is.

What makes him different is the strength of conviction with which his admirers and detractors vindicate or defame him. It has long been my view that a person’s opinion of Richard III is largely dependent on how they first encounter him. Those who learn of him through Shakespeare’s play, or the writings of traditional historians, are likely to have opposing views to those who have learnt of the king through more revisionist means.

Richard’s reputation hangs on the mystery of the disappearance of his nephews – the ‘Princes in the Tower’ – and he is consistently judged on this one event. Those critical of the king argue that he is responsible, not only for their disappearance, but also for their murder – despite a complete lack of evidence. While these detractors tend to repeat the claims made by traditional historians, supporters pride themselves in returning to the contemporary sources from the king’s own lifetime. In recent years, much has come to light to challenge the traditional image the king, and it may be that in time the history books will have to be rewritten as more evidence is unearthed.

How did your fascination with Richard III begin – and why?

It all began at the age of eight, with a visit to Middleham Castle in North Yorkshire—Richard’s chief residence in the north, and, many would argue, his favourite. I had vaguely heard of Richard from children’s history books and encyclopaedias, but it wasn’t until I visited this particular northern stronghold, that a deep interest took hold. The idea of a king having lived just a few miles from my home town felt mind-blowing!

In 1976, BBC Television aired the mini-series, ‘Second Verdict’, starring Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor, who – appearing in their famous Z Cars personas, Barlow and Watt — investigated unsolved historical mysteries. The episode ‘Who Killed the Princes in the Tower?’ kindled my interest even further. How was it that Richard has come down to us as the murderous villain of Shakespeare, when the true facts seem to speak of a different kind of person entirely? As I grew, so did my fascination, and I devoured as many books about the king as I could lay my hands on – both fact and fiction – soon realising that I was far from alone, and that many people shared my intense fascination with a fifteenth century king. I joined the Richard III Society in 1986 and have remained a member ever since.

It is difficult to put one’s finger on what draws people to the subject of King Richard. For some, it has been the recent upsurge of interest following the discovery of his remains in 2012, for others it is the extent of the injustice to which his reputation has been subjected for over half a millennia.

In 1791, during a trial at the Old Bailey, the renowned barrister Sir William Garrow declared that a person should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Sadly, such legal precepts have rarely been applied to King Richard, as traditional historians continue to reiterate the same unproven—and often distorted—facts. However, the tide may be turning. We live in exciting times, and much has been presented in recent years which turns traditional history on its head.

What do you think will happen to the story of Richard III

My fervent hope is that the universally accepted story of Richard III will in time become his true story: the story of the real man – a man of integrity, generosity and compassion for the common people; a man who cared for his family, for justice, and who valued loyalty above all things. This is the man I have tried faithfully to depict within the pages of my debut novel, and whether readers are familiar with the details of Richard’s life, or a newcomer to his story, I hope they will enjoy the book and feel that I have respectfully interpreted his life upon the page.

The Traitor’s Son

ISBN: 978-84-125953-7-6

“Exquisitely written. An evocative and thoughtful retelling of the early life of Richard III.” Philippa Langley, MBE

Caught between a king and a kingmaker, young Richard Plantagenet knows he’ll have to choose…
1461: Richard Duke of York, King by Right, has been branded a traitor and slain by his Lancastrian foes. For his eight-year-old son—Richard Plantagenet—England has become a dangerous place.

As the boy grapples with grief and uncertainty, his elder brother, Edward, defeats the enemy and claims the throne. Dazzled by his glorious sibling, young Richard soon discovers that imperfections lurk beneath his brother’s majestic façade. Enter Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick—cousin, tutor, luminary—whose life has given him everything but that which he truly craves: a son. A filial bond forms between man and boy as they fill the void in each other’s lives. Yet, when treachery tears their world asunder, Richard faces an agonizing dilemma: pledge allegiance to Edward—his blood brother and king—or to Warwick, the father figure who has shaped his life and affections.

Painfully trapped between duty and devotion, Richard faces a grim reality: whatever he decides will mean a fight to the death.

In “The Traitor’s Son”, Wendy Johnson masterfully weaves a tapestry of loyalty, love, and sacrifice against the backdrop of England’s turbulent history. Through the eyes of a young Richard III, readers are transported into a world where every choice is fraught with peril, and the bonds of kinship are tested to their limits. As Richard Plantagenet navigates the explosive tensions within his own family, readers are swept along on a journey of intrigue and passion that will leave them spellbound until the final page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts