I’ve just received the following fantastic review of The Order of the White Boar from Wendy Johnson, member of the Looking for Richard Project team who were responsible for finding King Richard’s grave in 2012, and to whom the book is dedicated.
It’s about to be published in The Court Journal of the Scottish Branch of the Richard III Society Spring 2018. Many thanks to Wendy and the editor for allowing me to reproduce it here.
The Order of the White Boar: Alex Marchant
Book Review by Wendy Johnson
One of the aims of the Richard III Society is to educate and inform the younger generation, introducing them to the true story of King Richard’s life, which may not be a part of their school curriculum.
During the Middleham Festival Weekend last year, Philippa presented a talk to local schoolchildren, and along with Society members, Sharon Lock and Amanda Geary, distributed copies of Richard III by Stuart Hill; a book from the I Was There series of novels for young people, which sets out to tell Richard’s story in a sympathetic and engaging way. By all accounts, the children were delighted to meet Philippa and eager to read more about King Richard in the books they received.
It is important to encourage future generations to take an interest in King Richard and to engender in them the same mixture of curiosity and determination which eventually led to the discovery of the king’s remains in 2012. We also need future generations to question traditional academic views and feel inspired to pursue their own research into the fifteenth century. Many of those with a fascination for King Richard and his times admit that interest was fostered in their early years, kindled, more often than not, by their discovery of a particular book.
Alex Marchant’s recent publication The Order of the White Boar is just such a book. Written primarily for young people, this delightful story has the power to captivate readers of any age, as it draws them into the exciting world of protagonist Matthew Wansford who, at twelve years of age, enters the household at Middleham Castle in the auspicious year of 1482.
Matthew, son of a successful York merchant, has a precious talent: as a former pupil of the Minster School, he possesses an unparalleled singing voice. This soon brings him to the attention of Duke Richard of Gloucester, who is keen for Matthew to join his private chapel, as a chorister. Matthew, who has dreams of becoming a knight, quickly settles into the household, making friends with fellow page, Roger de Kynton, and Alys Langdown, a young girl in the service of the Duchess Anne.
But in addition to making friends, Matthew also encounters Hugh Soulsby, son of a disgraced Lancastrian, who soon becomes the boy’s nemesis. A dangerous enemy, Hugh sets out to make Matthew’s life a misery, missing no opportunity to humiliate him in the practice yard and to probe into Matthew’s troublesome past. Duke Richard, on the other hand, impressed by Matthew’s virtues of honesty and loyalty, allows the boy to draw close to his family, trusting him to act as companion to his young son, Edward.
Despite the malice of Hugh Soulsby, or perhaps because of it, Matthew, Roger, Alys and Edward forge bonds of loyalty and friendship which lead to the formation of their own private chivalric order: The Order of the White Boar.
The scene is then set for the young friends to embark upon a series of adventures, and for Matthew to prove his courage in the face of adversity as well as his loyalty to his master, Duke Richard of Gloucester.
Alex Marchant has woven an engaging and exciting story around the true events of 1482; creating a convincing and lovable hero, whilst also tracing a sympathetic portrayal of Duke Richard as a man who values, and inspires, loyalty. The book is extremely well researched and whilst some of the characters are imagined, the author proves her extensive knowledge of the period by the inclusion of a number of real characters beyond the obvious: Walter Kirkeby, for example, a member of the York Waits, referred to in the historical record of the York House Books as well as Frederick Wansford, Matthew’s brother, another real historical figure. The book’s descriptive passages are a pleasure to read; from the rolling hills and valleys of Wensleydale to the clanging bells and heaving streets of medieval London.
As the novel draws to a close, King Edward’s death casts an uneasy cloud over the household at Middleham and as Matthew Wansford rides south in the retinue of Duke Richard of Gloucester, we know that the road ahead will be fraught with danger for both of them.
How will Matthew fare as he comes face to face with those hostile to the duke? And will his path once more cross that of his arch enemy, the Lancastrian sympathiser, Hugh Soulsby?
I, for one, cannot wait to find out.
Wendy Johnson with fellow members of the Looking for Richard Project team, Dr David Johnson, Philippa Langley and Dr John Ashdown-Hill, at the Greyfriars dig site in 2012 (Photo (c) copyright Philippa Langley)