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Archive for the month “December, 2015”

Clearing up a French genealogical mystery

It can be said that every country that has ever had a monarch still has a hypothetical monarch, to whom the same selection rules apply, unless the whole family in question has been extirpated. The latter is almost impossible to achieve, as the cases of Russia and Ethiopia prove. There are probably collateral descendants of the first (Julio-Claudian) Roman Emperors alive today, although it must be exceedingly difficult to identify them.

France should provide us with a much easier case although it had three distinct monarchies during the nineteenth century before expiring in 1870. The House of Bourbon had ruled, interrupted only by the Revolution, from 1589 to 1830. The House of Orleans, a cadet branch, ruled until 1848 and the Bonapartist Emperors from 1800-15 and 1852-70. Succession in the first two cases was governed by the Salic Law, precluding the succession of female claimants or of a male claimant through the fame line. Descent of the Imperial title is governed by preferences expressed in the will of Napoleon I.

The male lines of Orleans and of Bonapartist have thrived and these two claimants can easily be identified. The difficulty lies with the Bourbon line in that the last three active Kings were all brothers. Of these, Louis XVI had two sons who both died in childhood, Louis XVIII had none and (d. 1836) Charles X’s elder son pre-deceased him, whilst his only legitimate male-line grandson Henri lived until 1883 and his other son Louis Antoine to 1844. Louis XIV’s male line descendants expired then as Henri died without issue and many of the Sun King’s other sons and grandsons died in infancy.

There is one loophole in that his grandson Phillip d’Anjou ascended the Spanish throne in 1700, as confirmed under the Treaty of Utrecht, by which he and his family renounced their rights to the French throne, a renunciation that Bourbon legitimists no longer recognise. However, the King of Spain and the hypothetical King of France are still not the same man because some of the former have disclaimed the French title. “Louis XX” is actually General Franco’s great-grandson.

The pedigreee is by “Bourbon-Wiki” by The original uploader was Muriel Gottrop at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by RandomStringOfCharacters using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bourbon-Wiki.png#/media/File:Bourbon-Wiki.png

FEAST OF THE INNOCENTS: Ricardian Christmas Fiction

December 28th was the Feast of the Innocents, commemorating the day in which Herod slaughtered  young male children in an attempt to kill the newborn Christ-child. In medieval England it was an important feast day and also part of the ‘Feast of Fools’. In many towns and cities over the festive season the church authority was supplanted by ‘Boy Bishops’ (there was traditionally one at Salisbury near my home) and the Feast of the Innocents was the last day in which the Boy Bishop held sway– on this day too, the words of children were to be heeded above those of adults.

In this short Christmas story, FEAST OF THE INNOCENTS, Richard III (here still Duke of Gloucester) is depicted with his son, Edward of Middleham, who died young in 1484. Edward gets very little ‘airtime’ in Ricardian fiction, other than to be born to great rejoicing, then to be sickly but much loved, then to tragically die. This is wholly understandable, as so little is known about him; even his birthdate is questionable, ranging between 1473 and 1476. He is almost always depicted as sickly, and he has some health issues in this short tale too, but there is no real proof that he was particularly ailing, although it may be suggestive that he was taken by chariot (carriage) to York for his investiture and did not seem to have been at his father’s coronation or to have travelled much outside Middleham. Of course if he was perhaps born in 1476 or even later, this might be more understandable.

In Feast of the Innocents Edward is given a ‘voice’ and a little adventure in a snowstorm that sweeps in over the Dales. All fantasy and speculation of course, but using the evocative and beautiful landscapes of Wensleydale and Coverdale,and real places that Richard (and young Edward) would have known in life. A Christmas feast is also described at Middleham castle, based on the actual procedures of table laying and manners known to have taken place in Richard’s era.

The title itself of course is slightly provocative because of Richard’s ‘reputation’ regarding the disappearance of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ and their presumed (and it is certainly unproven) murder ,with some traditionalists having drawn parallels with  King Herod killing boy babies that threatened his realm. In this story, it attempts to show what Shakespeare completely obliterated and many writers of the era ignored (save for the one mention that Richard and Anne were nearly mad with grief when Edward died); that Richard was a father, who undoubtably cared for his child and had the same feelings as emotions as anyone else. I think, in fact, one of the great disservices Shakespeare did to Richard (and there were many) was to make him childless, a barren unloved and unloving creature, completely inured to human kindness.

feast1-2

An event for March 2016

Torquay

The True History of King Richard III (Part 3)

The True History of King Richard III – Part 3

Interlude

It is now time for a little housekeeping and explanation. The political situation between 1455 and 1459 is too boring and complicated to go into here. Suffice it to say that sometimes the Duke of York was in power, and sometimes the Duke of Somerset and Queen Margaret were. Of course, this Somerset was not the one Richard had killed, but his son, who most confusingly had the same title. Similarly King Henry VI was sometimes insane, and sometimes what passed for ‘normal’ in the case of Henry VI. In other words, he wasn’t actually catatonic, and gave the impression that he was merely unworldly, and in fact quite holy. Had he been a friar, he’d quite possibly been made a saint while he still lived, but as a king he was more in the way of an inconvenience, often signing things he was not supposed to sign, and quite frequently granting the same thing to two different people.

Richard had a number of brothers and sisters alive at this time. The eldest was Anne, who was no longer at home being married to the Duke of Exeter. The idea of these arranged marriages was to build alliances with other noble houses, but unfortunately Exeter hated both Anne and her father, the Duke of York. (This is no reflection on Anne or York. as Exeter hated everyone except Lord Egremont, and was always going around annoying people and getting thrown into the Tower.)

The next eldest were Edward and Edmund. Everyone knows Edward, who was later to become King Edward IV. He was very tall and good looking, and all the ladies liked him, so he always got extra chips on his plate when he lined up for dinner. Eventually, as a direct result, he became rather fat. No one knows much about Edmund, though he was probably similar to Edward, but nicer. These two lived in their own establishment, which may have been at Ludlow, where they were mercilessly bullied by a boy named Croft. Or, as they called him, Bonzo. Later this same Croft became a faithful servant, which probably proves something about bullies.

Next was Elizabeth, who was married to the Duke of Suffolk. If you’d met Suffolk in the street, you’d have thought him a moderately prosperous turnip farmer with no more wits than he needed for the job. But he was in fact a duke, and Elizabeth must have loved him as they had lots of babies together.

Then there was Margaret, of whom little needs to be said except that she was exceptionally tall. Had the House of York put out a ladies’ football team, Margaret would have played centre half. Then there was George, who shouted a lot and tried to be a bully. Then Richard himself. These three were in the nominal care of their mother. However the Duchess Cecily was very devout. She spent most of her time kneeling in the chapel, praying for the souls of her deceased children and also praying that she would have no more, just in case it turned out to be a three year pregnancy.

They were not always at Fotheringhay. Sometimes they would move to Ludlow, or to Berkhampstead, or to Baynard’s Castle in London, which must not be confused with Barnard Castle, a place they did not own. Occasionally they even went to Sandal, which is in Yorkshire, although not very deep into the county. Although the Duke of York had ‘York’ in his title, he actually owned very little of Yorkshire. Indeed, much of the county belonged to Henry VI (in his role as Duke of Lancaster) or to various other nasty Lancastrian persons, like Lord Clifford for example. This had been set up just to confuse foreigners.

Of party food, comic films and the sinister reality behind them

It doesn’t have to have been in Spain but I expect that most of you will have been to a party at which tapas was served. One of the main components of this is a type of ham known as jamon iberico or serrano. Have you wondered why this is the principal meat in tapas?

Again, many of you will have watched Carry On Columbus, made for the quincentenary of the eponymous explorers 1492 expedition. Jim Dale played one of the Columbus brothers, Leslie Phillips and June Whitfield were Ferdinand and Isabella whilst Bernard Cribbins starred as Mordecai Mendoza, a map maker and converso, or Jewish-born Christian convert. Think of Duarte Brandao (Sir Edward Brampton), the real-life example who came from Portugal to be baptised by Edward IV before serving Richard III on several missions, being knighted by him and then … but I digress.

In one early scene, the Spanish Inquisition, which dates from 1478, suspects that Mendoza is still following Jewish practices, which would make him a heretic with a rather obvious, heavily implied, fate.  Two of the Inquisition’s representatives resort to their most fiendish torture – a plate of ham sandwiches. Mendoza’s arrest would be disastrous for the expedition, almost as much as for himself. He examines the sandwiches and declares that he cannot eat them. “Why not?” ask the Columbuses. “There’s no mustard on them”, declares Mendoza.

Now, thanks to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s excellent “Blood and Gold” history of Spain (BBC4), it is apparent that the real Inquisition, in their efforts to trace fake conversos, in the wake of the 1492 expulsion of the Jewish population, resorted to similar culinary tactics as the Carry On version. Montefiore explains, in the programme(1) and in an article(2) , that an ancestor and two of her siblings fell victim to them in this way, with fatal results. Bernard Cribbins Carry On Columbus (1992) SimonSebagMontefioretapas

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06s5x0t/blood-and-gold-the-making-of-spain-with-simon-sebag-montefiore-2-reconquest
(2) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3336389/Simon-Sebag-Montefiore-ancestors-BURNED-stake-Spanish-Inquisition.html

 

An Unbiased Review

I only recently found the attached review of the Channel 4 documantary ‘The Princes in the Tower’, which we all thought was awful! It seems this journalist agreed with us!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/tv-and-radio-reviews/11486107/Richard-III-the-Princes-in-the-Tower-Channel-4-review.htmlking-richard

The Round Church in Cambridge

I am always interested to find out about buildings which were extant in Richard III’s times. This one looks really interesting and I hadn’t heard of it before.

Original article click here: Cambridge Round Church 

Round Church, Cambridge

 

Image credit: Richard Banks Harraden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One book – two reviews

You may just have heard that David Horspool has a new Richard III biography out and it delivers a real insight into the reviewing process.

The first one is by Nigel Jones, in The Spectator, who has written about the Nazis on several occasions, although he obviously knows less about them than Laurence Rees. Such is his Third Reich fixation that he would probably compare Mother Theresa or Henry VI to a senior National Socialist:
http://new.spectator.co.uk/2015/12/richard-iii-a-bad-man-and-even-worse-king/
http://www.heraldscotland.com/arts_ents

This second review is by Barry Didcock in the Glasgow Herald, whose conclusions actually match Horspool’s. Horspool forgets, although his commenter Peeta Worcester reminds him, that Richard was petitioned by the Three Estates to become King in a process that Gairdner described as “almost a constitutional election”:
http://www.heraldscotland.com/arts_ents/14141156.Review__Richard_III__A_Ruler_And_His_Reputation_by_David_Horspool/

So, if you really want to know what Horspool thinks before borrowing or buying it, you know which review to read.

KING’S GAMES: A MEMOIR OF RICHARD III

A Verse Play in Two Acts with Commentaries

By Nance Crawford

The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”

(Hamlet)

To be honest, I am not much taken with modern Ricardian fiction. I think that in the last five centuries too much fiction and too little fact has  been written about king Richard III. It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I volunteered to review Nance Crawford’s book ‘King’s Games; a memoir of Richard III’. It is (to misquote a modern footballing cliché) a game of two parts. The first part is a play about king Richard written in verse; the second, comprises the authors commentaries on late medieval England and her account of how the play was conceived, written and ultimately produced for the stage.

 

I have always thought that plays are better performed than read and since I have not seen Kings Games performed I am at a disadvantage in forming a valid opinion of its merit. The absence of actors and a director to ‘suite the words to the action and the action to the words’ (Hamlet again!) is not just inconvenient; it is a substantial hindrance to a full appreciation of the author’s art as I have only my own imperfect imagination and understanding to rely on. Nonetheless, whilst I cannot vouchsafe an opinion about how well this play transfers from the page to the stage, I can say with some conviction that I enjoyed reading it.

 

King’s Games is a mixture of fact and fiction. The author has tried to ensure the historical accuracy; however, inevitably, she has had to fill the gaps in our knowledge with her imagination. Though only eight of the twenty-one scenes are based on verified historical facts all the scenes conform to the general Ricardian narrative of Richard’s life and times, partly taken from Paul Kendall’s 1955 biography. Naturally the dialogue is imaginary. Considering how influential Shakespeare’s melodrama has been in embedding the black legend of Richard in the public psyche it is not surprising that a modern Ricardian playwright would wish to portray him in a different light; though mercifully, not the pure white legend that some would have us believe but in shades of grey. This Richard is a decent man, but fallible.

 

Apart from the use of verse, this play bears no relationship to Shakespeare’s work; the characters are less melodramatic the action is more restrained. Neither does the author try to compete with Shakespearean verse. Her own distinctive mixture of colloquial Anglo-American English and Standard English is refreshingly modern and contributed greatly to my own appreciation of her efforts. The character of Cecily Neville provides two example of this; in the first, Cecily is comforting her dying son Edward:

 

“ Well tears are for Heaven, not this place,

No, not for partings short as this, I think,

And Heaven’s waiting for you, that we know —

Your Pa and Edmund, even Georgie,

With Isobel and both their unborn babes —

The Lord be willing to forgive our debts”

 

In the second example, Cecily is angry with Richard:

 

Cecily. But it’s not cruel to scar my name?

To slander at the Cross the womb that bore

And nurtured you, to live to this sad pass? (Turning to Richard)

Yes, slandered sir! Held up to ridicule!

With such a loathsome story as would make

A harlot blush!

Anne. He’d never do you harm!

Cecily. The serpents tooth has struck the very breast

That sheltered him, the womb that gave him life,

And God alone knows what price he’ll pay”

Anne. Please, no, you can’t blame Dickon.

Cecily.                                                      Can I not?”          

 

The first act opens in June 1487. Francis 1st viscount Lovell is a fugitive from the battle of Stoke where Henry Tudor crushed England’s the last hope for a Plantagenet king. Hot from the battle he takes refuge in his family seat at Minster Lovell. There, exhausted and encrusted with the mud and blood of battle he sits alone in a secret room to ponder his desperate future and the destruction of the House of York. It is through Lovell’s lonely and sometimes anguished reminiscences that — in the form of flashbacks — we witness Richard’s pathetic descent from the most powerful subject in the kingdom, to a lonely guilt-ridden king.

 

The brutal truth is that this Richard is not cut out to be a successful medieval king. He is brave, loyal and efficient but he lacks the judgment, arrogance, guile and ruthlessness necessary to survive for long in the vicious realpolitik of late medieval England. He is naïve even gullible in the trust he places in untrustworthy men. He is not selfish enough to do what he wants to do rather than what his advisors say he should do. Ultimately, he is too given to introspection.  On hearing  of Buckingham’s rebellion he confides to his friend Francis Lovell:

 

“ I contemplate my brother Edward’s flaws

And see myself a darker image there

In my soul’s mirror, for, except for you,

My friend, I’m proved a rotten jurist when

It comes to judging men. I have now learned.”

 

It is doubtful that he ever wanted to be a king.

 

“ Crowns, to me, were bitter, paper things

Cut out to top my brother Edmund’s brow,

To match that of my father’s sad display,

When both their heads had crowned the gates at York.

Ned could not know my cares, he was now king,

More tall and gold than any plated spire.

I asked him why he wanted to be king .

He said ‘it is the pleasure of a king

To find his pleasure at his own plaisir’

His instincts made him royal — but never mine”

 

Richard is also inhibited from freedom of action by his personal and unforgiving creed of loyalty. He could not  seize a  crown merely to take his pleasure at his pleasure. For him kingship is a solemn duty, a burden to be borne. He is unable to reconcile the conflict between his loyalty to those he loved and his broader regal responsibility to rule justly in the common interest. Inevitably,since he is a man of conscience, he is consumed with guilt about his inability to protect his wife, his son, his mother and his brothers’ children.

 

On the night before Bosworth, Anne visits him in a dream. Although she cannot offer him redemption for all his sins, her ghostly presence enables him.  to unburden his guilt and his grief for their lost son who died “all alone while his parents played at Crowns” and his lost love Anne, whom he abandoned in her hour of greatest need as she lay dying.  Anne’s love for Richard is unconditional and her forgiveness fortifies him; he is able to face his fate, whatever that may be.

 

In the morning his courage and resolve are unimpaired. He knows he cannot trust Stanley or Northumberland but he is confident of dispatching Henry Tudor if he can just get to within a sword’s length of him. He is also aware that whatever happens England has changed forever and if he survives he must change also. As he puts on his helm encircled with the English Crown he whispers silently to Anne’s spirit “Well Anna they will all know the king.” Indeed they will. Everybody knows how the last Plantagenet king met his end.

 

The second part of King’s Games is altogether different in kind and in form. Richard is no longer centre stage; the author and the play now occupy that space. The summary of the Wars of the Roses is neither scholarly nor measured. It is tolerably accurate without providing any new historical material or insight into those times: yet I found it gripping. What made it so, is the author’s colourful, informal writing style and her feisty opinions. Her history is frank and informative, her style is anything but pompous and she avoids the use of pseudo intellectual ‘babble’ (“Playwrights have no use for numbered footnotes”). Together, these qualities create a warm relationship between the author and the reader that is almost personal; it’s as though we are discussing history together, over coffee. It is the very antithesis of so many dry, intellectual and academic histories that I have read.

 

I also thought the author’s story of her play from its conception to the first night’s performance was enthralling. The gestation was a long one since originally she had intended to write a stage version of Josephine Tey’s ‘The Daughter of Time’. That proved to be impossible as the rights were not readily available and anyhow, she concluded, a play built around a policeman confined to his hospital bed lacked dramatic impact. It was the fortuitous discovery of a mystery surrounding the eventual fate of Francis Lovell that provided the mechanism to bring King’s games to the stage; he could become ‘Alan Grant’ for the purpose of guiding us through the action.

 

Ultimately King’s Games is a lively and entertaining example of Ricardian literature and a breath of fresh air.

Last minute Christmas shopping?

Dartboard

Your own Henry VII dartboard – manufactured in Wales but probably not designed there. The factory is now working on a wall of pikes to hide the Squinting Usurper (c) behind.

h/t Ian Churchward

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