Guess who’s coming to dinner….?
An article about a dinner party in today’s Gloucester Citizen newspaper concerned an imaginary dinner party held at Sudeley Castle, by its present owner, Lady Ashcombe. She described her menu and six guests, all of whom had once owned the castle. It prompted me to ask others what party they would hold.
Here’s mine. Please note, more than a little fun is intended. And I know there’d be countless more reasons for my particular guests to start a ruck, but I’ve only picked out a few.
For me the small dinner party would comprise mostly Wars of the Roses guests, with two exceptions, and it would be held on a fine high-summer evening in a sumptuous little pavilion on top of Chosen Hill here in Gloucester. Because the view is so wonderful, Yorkist look-outs came to the hill before the Battle of Tewkesbury, to report on the progress of the Lancastrian army. My dinner guests would be able to see the Vale of the River Severn all the way from Bristol in the south, past the Forest of Dean due west, to the heights of the Malvern Hill further north. And beyond the Forest of Dean to the Black Mountains in Wales. To the east, behind the pavilion, is the escarpment of the Cotswold Hills. A perfect venue, IMHO.
I’d serve them a Severn salmon starter, followed by a Gloucester Old Spot pork roast, with local asparagus and other fresh summer vegetables. The dessert would be a deliciously light perry syllabub with wild strawberries, and finally a cheese board that includes Double Gloucester. All with white wine and liqueurs from local vineyards.
And which six guests would I invite? Well, first and foremost Richard III, of course, for he’s essential. He was known to be a good host, with, I’m sure, charm and a quick sense of humour. Just the sort of guest who can make a dinner party go well. And he’d have so much to reveal about what really went on in 1483, what truly happened to his nephews, whether he really did love his wife, what he actually thought of Elizabeth of York, and so on. His final opinion of his brother, Edward IV, might be worth hearing too, as would his view of Bosworth, the Stanleys, the French, the Scots and how any one man could reasonably be expected to keep everyone happy. He might also reveal whether, with hindsight, he wished he’d been more ruthless with Henry Tudor’s tricky mother. But he always found it hard to be really harsh with women, so maybe, even knowing what happened, he’d still have been lenient. A bit of a softie that way, I am afraid, as he’d be mocked in no uncertain terms by my next guest, said Henry Tudor.
Henry could also be amusing when he wanted to be. Which, admittedly, was not often. It would be a case of bringing him out of his carefully built shell bunker, and getting him to lighten up a little. His conversation with Richard would be both sharp, highly informative and entertaining. They might have more in common than they want to admit. Oh, and Henry might be persuaded to admit he was hag-ridden by his mother. Perhaps she frightened the heck out of him. She would me. And it would be intriguing to know if he really did love his wife, or whether he deserved the adjective ‘unuxorious’. But he’d be attacked on all sides at that dinner table because of his savage laws and horrific means of raising taxes. I wonder how he’d defend himself? Or if he’d even bother? Interesting to find out.
Thirdly, the first of my two non-WotR guests, Richard II, who also knew how to live and entertain well, and shared with our Richard the harrowing experience of being usurped and killed. He’d generally side with Richard, because the House of York would be more to his taste than anything even remotely to do with the House of Lancaster, which he despised. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? So he’d have no time for Henry or my two Lancastrian lady guests, and would say so. But he’d have to be persuaded to loosen up a little, because he’s too convinced of his own supremacy and would try to be king of the dinner party as well. Our Richard and Henry wouldn’t have any of that, and our Richard would be the one to coax him into some semblance of agreeability.
My first lady would be Margaret of Anjou, who wouldn’t like being anywhere near Richard III, and would be outspoken about it. She’d refer to the entire House of York as usurpers, but especially him, because he was on the winning side at Tewkesbury, where she lost her only son. She was a feisty, non-nonsense lady, who could talk battle with him and with Henry, on equal terms. A glass or two of wine might mellow her somewhat, at least, it’s to be hoped it wouldn’t make her more belligerent. Henry, smarting a little on account of my next lady guest’s revelations, might do his utmost to make Margaret confess who was her son’s sire, because it was most unlikely to have been her husband, Henry VI. She’d find it hard to maintain her hostility to our Richard, because he wouldn’t allow it. It’s difficult to argue with someone who is always reasonable, measured and charming in return. Richard III would never argue with a woman. So I think she’d have to come around a little . . . or stomp out of the pavilion.
After her? The other non-WofR guest, Henry’s grandmother, Catherine of Valois, because she might be able to make him squirm with the truth about who fathered his father. Oh yes, there’d be quite a few salacious brushed-under-the-royal-carpet rumours about parentage being served with the wine. She’d be generally on Henry’s side though, and a bit offish with our Richard for being her grandson’s foe. She was a flirtatious lady, from all accounts, and would play the coquette with all three men, making herself appear to be the only desirable woman present. Perhaps she wouldn’t be able to resist playing footsie with Richard II, just to see if he had any red-blooded male urges. Which I am sure he did. Somewhere. Or maybe he’d be giving Henry surreptitious winks, much to that king’s indignation. Who knows?
Finally, our Richard’s sister, Margaret of Burgundy, who’d have plenty to berate Henry about. She’d also have all the dirt on the princes, Lambert Simnel, Perkin Warwick and any other Yorkist threat to Henry’s peace of mind. She would, of course, side with her brother on absolutely everything, which would soon have her exchanging acid ‘pleasantries’ with the other Margaret. She’d also be cross with Richard II for mishandling his own reign to the extent that the House of Lancaster got a large flat foot in the throne-room door. So she’d be the first to slap down his airs and graces at the table. It might shock him so much he’d be rendered speechless until the main course. After that, there’d be no shutting him up. That Gloucester wine is good stuff.
As to which order I’d seat them . . . I have no idea. Maybe, to introduce a little informality to the proceedings (after all, it is in a pavilion), I’d let them choose for themselves. No sitting alone outside, though. No backs turned, noses raised or other unpleasantness. And definitely no sulking.
I hope that by the end of the meal they’d all be as close to amiability as such a gathering could be. With luck, anyway, because if there’s any fisticuffs and damage, I’d be very cross. The pavilion would have been hired at great expense and I’d draw the line at forking out any more because my royal guests became too rowdy.