Lisa Ford

title.none: Hicks, Edward IV (Lisa Ford)

identifier.other: baj9928.0603.002 06.03.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Lisa Ford, Yale University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Hicks, Michael. Edward IV. Reputations. London: Arnold/Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. xiii, 273. $25.00 $25.00 0-340-76006-0. ISBN: 0-340-76006-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.03.02

Hicks, Michael. Edward IV. Reputations. London: Arnold/Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. xiii, 273. $25.00 $25.00 0-340-76006-0. ISBN: 0-340-76006-0.

Reviewed by:

Lisa Ford
Yale University

The stated purpose of this book, part of the Reputations series from Arnold Publishing, is to examine the person in question via a range of representations, some of striking incompatibility, in an attempt to give the reader a sumptuous feast of opinion on a particular notable person in history. This book succeeds admirably in that regard, and will serve a highly useful purpose in the libraries of late medieval scholars and students as both a handy reference to the works of historians and chroniclers of Edward IV, and a statement of the state of play in historical discourse on Edward at any point up to the start of the 21st century.

Hicks appears quite well-acquainted with the historiography he seeks to elucidate, displaying knowledge of the wide range of primary and secondary sources that provide varying perspectives of Edward IV, from such early manuscripts as the Somnium Vigilantis to Elizabethan verse tragedies to 1066 and All That . He canvasses the early providential themes of Edward IV's historiography, the first serious Yorkist biographies by Buck and Habington, the influences of the Enlightenment, Romantic, and constitutional scholars, and the later 20th century flurry of work on Edward IV, finishing with the most recent, and novel, approach by Jonathan Hughes. This project occupies the first five chapters; Hicks then shifts to an examination of various issues such as Edward's marriage, finances, wars, and relations with the nobility.

Hicks approaches his task in a scrupulously pro-con style, with chapters composed of sections in which the narrative necessary to set the scene is interspersed with, or followed by, Hicks presentation of the fors and againsts in regard to a particular issue. Indeed, Hicks frequently uses that exact language: in Chapter Three, sections are explicitly titled Against and For and pit the views of Philippe de Commynes, a Flemish-born councilor and servant of both Charles the Bold and Louis XI, against those of the Crowland chronicler. Equally scrupulously, throughout the book Hicks delivers cautions to the reader and historian regarding the biases of sources, the presence of equal, but conflicting, views which are a natural part of historical discourse, and the presence of partisanship taken to extremes from Edward's time period forward.

The chapters are rich in detail, and admirably canvass the chroniclers and historians who have contributed to Edward's reputation. Hicks intersperses candid comments on the shortcomings or prejudices that may prevail on behalf of ancient chroniclers, such as the pointed reminder that Commynes wrote his memoirs as a disappointed man, whose treachery had not borne the fruits in rank, power or length of service that had been hoped, a comment more relevant to Commynes judgment of Charles VIII, but still pertinent. Hicks is equally pungent about modern commentators, such as his comment after one quotation that anachronistic prejudice wars here with penetrating insights. Both the text and the footnotes give the interested reader treasure trove from which to follow up on comments or observations that intrigue, and enable one to quickly sort the standard bearers of the pro- and con-Edwardian theories and perspectives.

Hicks interlards his prose with modern colloquialisms, such as a reference to Yorkist spin doctors, or Henry VI's credit rating. He also provides some compelling turns of phrase, such as rebels being hanged by the purse or characterizing some of Edward's financial maneuvers as a consummately successful confidence trick. His style is fluid and highly readable, but there are points in which even the experienced scholar may experience momentary confusion, as it is not always immediately clear whether the commentary being made is ironic, part of a deliberately chosen modern or historical viewpoint, or a straightforward view of the author's. Hicks may launch into a section by matter-of-factly laying out views which one comes to realize, as one reads on, are deliberately negative or positive perspectives on the issue at hand, after which he slides almost seamlessly into the opposing views. Thus, a close and sustained reading of the text is essential in order not to miss the point, and the book is probably more easily ingested by a scholar already familiar with the subject, than by an undergraduate student coming to it cold.

Hicks' control of the authorial viewpoint is admirable. His prose conveys the gaze of an author standing back from the parade of history and historiography and describing the passage of events through the eyes of their commentators, even to the section in which Hicks comments upon his own work in the third person. He has definite opinions, which emerge either directly or indirectly, and to which he sticks, even while elucidating other points of view, but he gives each person's opinion its due. His genealogy of the scholarly House of McFarlane is as intriguing as his commentary on their work, and students attempting to get a handle on the arguments will find this section a ready guide as to where modern historians line up regarding Edward IV. Hicks critiques are politic, though he reiterates more than once the point that modern historians must work from a comprehension of the views expressed in the historical period under consideration, rather than override them with contemporary judgments. Hicks dismisses unequivocally the insertion of modern standards for medieval ones as anachronistic and disqualified as history.

The volume could have benefited from a final editorial pass to catch scattered small typos, but such is a minor point compared to the enjoyment and satisfaction of reading this book. With the current interest in personal myth, representation, and image as related to historical figures, which has generated such scholarly volumes as The Myth of Elizabeth , edited by Thomas S. Freeman and Susan Doran, or such popular websites as William Wallace: The Truth Behind the Man , this book should prove of great interest to those wanting a complete parsing of the contributions to Edward IV's historiography close at hand. It will make a profound contribution to the breaking of Yorkist myths related to Edward, both those generated by ancient commentators and those being created anew by modern historians. Nothing is sacred and if one is not content with the summations and opinions offered by Hicks, one knows exactly where to go to read up and make one's own assessments.