Richard of Cornwall: The English King of Germany, by Darren Baker

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Richard was furious over the fiasco and denounced his stepfather for leading them into a trap. When Hugh just shrugged it off and blamed his wife, Richard removed his armour, picked up a staff, and made his way through the enemy line as a man of peace. The crusaders he saved in the Holy Land welcomed him with joy and respect and gladly conveyed him to the presence of their king. For Richard it had to be extremely humiliating. The last time he and Louis met, just two years earlier, he had been much feted and honoured. Now he was standing before him, a nervous and sweaty pilgrim humbly begging for a truce.

I was enthusiastically looking forward to this newly published book about Richard of Cornwall after very much enjoying The King of Almayne, by T.W.E. Roche; this is the thirteenth-century English prince, younger son of King John and brother of Henry III, who was elected “King of the Romans” (ie of Germany) and might have become Holy Roman Emperor, a fascinating case of England reaching into the politics of continental Europe with plenty of contemporary resonance.

Baker’s is the first biography of Richard since Roche’s, more than fifty years ago. It follows on from biographies he has previously written about Richard’s brother, Henry III; his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort; and their wives, Richard’s sister and sister-in-law, both called Eleanor. The preface to the book promises a new portrait of a man driven by ego and greed, and perpetually in the psychological shadow of his brother (who incidentally was not all that bad).

Unfortunately the book itself is not all that good. It is largely a dry recitation of where Richard happened to be travelling to throughout the years of his long life, stifling the more dramatic moments and leavening the dullness of the facts as presented with sweeping and unsupported statements about Richard’s psychological state, failing to really substantiate the points made in the preface.

I also felt that given that this is the author’s fourth book about a member of the dysfunctional ruling family of thirteenth-century England, he assumes that the reader has knowledge of the earlier three, or at least of their subject matter, and important events and background are skipped or over-summarised.

I was frankly disappointed with this book, but it motivated me to download a copy of Noel Denholm-Young’s 1947 biography which everyone speaks highly of, and I’ll get to that sooner or later. Meanwhile, you can get Baker’s book here.