I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET :TANTE LE DESIREE:
Richard III fiction is ‘big business’ these days, after some years of stagnation in the 1990’s and first decade of this century. Many of the new novels, in order to keep their subject matter fresh, have added fantasy elements or alternative history, or have been written from the viewpoints of invented or minor characters.
The newest Ricardian novel to appear is ‘I, Richard Plantagenet’: Tante le Desiree by J.P. Reedman. This novel, part 1 of two ( the second, due out in March deals with Richard’s accession to the throne and all that comes with it) covers Richard’s years as Duke of Gloucester, from the Battle of Barnet in 1471 through to the end of the Scottish Campaigns in 1482. Several things make this offering slightly different from the more standard novels on Richard’s life.
One is that the story is told in first person—from Richard’s point of view. Very few authors have attempted to use this first person voice—Rhoda Edwards wrote a chapter or two from Richard’s POV in her excellent novel The Broken Sword, and one other alternative novel uses it as well. However, I, Richard Plantagenet is the first novel to use Richard himself as first person narrator in a complete, detailed account of his entire adult life.
A second difference is that the book uses humour. Now, it is not in any way, shape or form a comedy book, and the battles don’t pull any punches, but the medieval world was more ribald and bawdy than many believe—just look at Geoffrey Chaucer’s works! (Interestingly, Geoffrey is related to Richard by marriage.) Many of the Ricardian novels out there are so sad and mournful (and yes, of course it is a tragic tale and many of these are wonderful books that truly stir the emotions)…but didn’t the poor guy have any fun at any time in his short life? Richard had several illegitimate children, so he must have experienced young love or lust (presumably pleasurable for him!) and no doubt, he had amusing or even raucous times with the other young men who were his friends, such as Francis Lovell and Robert Percy. And doubtless he spent what were surely enjoyable times with his wife at Middleham and Barnard castles, as well as Christmas at the Lendal in York, and attending the York Corpus Christ celebrations (he and Anne were members of the Guild) where elaborate religious plays took place in huge carts that rolled about the city. These events have been fictionalised in I, Richard Plantagenet to show that there was more to his existence than high drama and war; a lighter view of Richard’s life, you might say. (And who could resist poking a bit of fun at Anthony Woodville’s poetry?)
The dialogue used also is of a more modern style than is usual in Ricardian novels, and even (gasp!) contains occasional usage of a well-known swear word…which may seem very modern to those used to reading ‘medieval speak’ in novels but was actually in use and gaining vogue in the 15th century… This hopefully gives a slightly more natural and less formal feel; although they were nobles, these were also young men who were soldiers. Soldiers swear. They just do.
Most important perhaps, is the fact that events in Richard’s life that are lesser known or often glossed over in fiction have been included and brought to some prominence. Richard and the Bastard of Fauconberg, a little known trip to Norwich in 1471, the reburial of the Duke of York, Richard’s visit with Louis the Universal Spider at Amiens, his attendance at Prince Richard’s wedding to Anne Mowbray (along with Buckingham), and the Scottish wars all are covered, several of these in depth. Memories of the death and then the subsequent exhumation and reburial of the Duke of York are a recurring theme throughout…and foreshadow the future events in the next book (and the momentous finding of Richard within our own century.)