Gloucester: You may partake of any thing we say; We speak no treason, man; we say the King Is wise Shakespear: Richard III: Act I, Sc I. He was the youngest brother of the King of England. He was the Duke of Gloucester and the Lord of the North. He was respected by all as a moral man and a fair-handed judge, and later as a responsible king. He was Richard III — and millions know him as the most evil monarch in history. Thanks to Shakespeare and other Tudor propagandists, the picture of Richard III that has been passed down to us is anything but sympathetic.
But, as many historians and historical novelists are now pointing out, it is also far from the truth. One writer who has contradicted the traditional image of Richard III is Rosemary Hawley Jarman, whose novel We Speak No Treason is a masterful work of Ricardian fiction. Jarman tells Richard’s story in four parts, with the first three sections narrated by different characters, and the fourth narrated by the first character in the years after the events of the story have taken place. The first (and last) narrator is the Maiden, whose brief encounters with Duke Richard become the most mportant moments of her life. Even when rumors that Richard is evil swirl around her, she remains Patch, the second narrator, is a court jester of King Edward IV’s who is given to Richard as a wedding present. Though Patch resents having to leave London for northern England, he comes to appreciate Richard’s character and values. He realizes that even though Richard is not as fun-loving as his brother, Edward IV, his somber manner hides a man who is thoughtful and just. The third narrator is the man of keen sight, a man-at-arms who serves with Richard from his years as
Duke of Gloucester through his time as king of England. As is the case with the maiden, the man of keen sight’s encounters with Richard come to be the defining moments of his life. He forms an understanding of Richard’s character that is perhaps clearer than that of Richard’s lordly peers — through the man of keen sight, Rosemary Hawley Jarman paints a picture of Richard III’s personality in terms of his loyalty to others and his need for others to be loyal to him. By using multiple narrators, Jarman is able to tell Richard III’s story in all — or most — of its many imensions.
We Speak No Treason is a well-written novel that makes life in fifteenth century England seem far more inviting than it probably was. The first book I ever read about Richard III, Rosemary Hawley Jarman’s novel moved me to dig deeper into Richard’s life and the many controversies that surround it. (People who know me well might want to blame Jarman for this — I, on the other hand, am grateful. ) Perhaps better than any book of fact can do, We Speak No Treason reveals how rumors and propaganda can so easily obscure the truth of history.