Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!
by Joanne R. Larner
In the time following the discovery, beneath a Leicester parking lot, of the remains of Richard III, the last English king to die in battle, the medieval monarch has indeed gained a wider audience as we learn more details of the find. For example, it was announced that he was not, after all, the scary neighborhood hunchback; rather, he suffered from scoliosis, which actually makes him more of a boss, given his accomplishments, as reported even by his enemies.
Much material continues to be released, and many people, even those not previously inclined toward history, have started seeking out all things Richard. Publishers give it to them too, though the nature of these offerings is sober; they tend to be serious reads of medical and martial material with, really, no happy ending—at least not for the Richard of 1485. Alas, Bosworth still is soaked in blood, and Richard still falls. In fairness, it’s not really a walk in the park to spin that into something cheerful.
Author Joanne Larner has long lamented the same, so she set out to shake up the playing field a bit with her debut novel, Richard Liveth Yet. A more lighthearted look into Richard’s era by way of time travel, she also brings Richard Plantaganet to modern England and we get a glimpse into his perceptions of us, rather than only the standard fare of vice versa. With her latest, Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, Larner takes time travel to a different level—dimension—by way of innovative software and science that teams up a subject’s DNA with technology to track voice vibrations, even those that occurred over 500 years ago.
Stepping back for a moment, it is worth giving attention to the book’s epigraph, song lines from “Sheriff Hutton” by the Legendary Ten Seconds: “Where distant echoes still resound/That which is lost may still be found.” Capturing the attention of readers of a genre whose very nature evokes images, events, perhaps even portions of collective memory, echoes from the past, it further stimulates the need to positively identify all this and wonder if we really could experience history and, amongst other events, hear the speaking voice of a medieval king.
Larner opens the novel with protaganist Eve experiencing the end of a romantic relationship and moves forward with her signature chapter titles named after songs. A medium that transcends time, music of some sort appeals to just about every human; it seems to be coded into our DNA to like it, nay, need it. For this I can’t help thinking Richard would have appreciated Larner’s creative idea; even if he didn’t always love some lyrics, he would recognize that most messages are those that touch someone, somewhere, and the relatable forms they take can promote unity.
It was with a similar unity that, even amongst differences and a mixture of complex personalities, Eve’s professional team moves forward with their project and echoes of the past filter into the modern lives of these Future Tech employees. Larner also puts a bit of a twist into the sessions in that not everyone experiences them the same way, which, in reality, makes great sense as individual perspective and changing variables play into it all.
Eve’s colleagues possess different levels of understanding when it comes to history, and Larner cleverly utilizes this to determine what and how much information is communicated between characters and, as a result, readers, many of whom might also maintain differing degrees of awareness. Of course, everyone, reader and fictional researcher alike, wants to know about the ultimate medieval mystery: What happened to the princes in the tower? It is with great dexterity that Larner manages the range of perspectives, historical knowledge and “eavesdropping” abilities of her cast as each individual keenly looks forward to the moment of truth. Amongst the chaos, intrigue and dangerous, unknown loyalties of 1485 and those which develop in Eve’s own time, will they find it?
One of the best elements of Larner’s latest novel relates to the manner in which the narrative moves forward. Alternately giving us glimpses into Eve’s private life, already wracked by the grief of losing an important relationship, we also witness her discovery into other areas of her life, how she copes with learning and what she does with her new understanding. This parallel plot does make for a more meaty tale, but it doesn’t just run alongside the first. Instead, it marinates, the two forming a richly satisfying whole impossible to forget.
Really quite innovative, Larner’s novel demonstrates her richly developed sense of Richard Plantagenet, and two thoughts come to mind: one, that hopefully this author’s amazing imagination continues to give us wonderful stories of the king and; two, that the science doesn’t actually exist shouldn’t preclude Distant Echoes! from gaining a wide (and wider) audience, as it doesn’t seem these days to surprise very many, though it does intrigue, when once-outlandish ideas are developed. Larner not only has her finger on this pulse, but also presents it in an accessible, smoothly flowing work, reminiscent of Daughter of Time, that allows historical players to tell their own tale.
About the Author
Joanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She had wanted to write a novel since the age of thirteen and finally managed it in 2015. She was helped by two things: National Novel Writing Month and Richard III. Richard was her inspiration and she became fascinated by him when she saw the Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park in February 2013. She researched his life and times and read countless novels, but became fed up because they all ended the same way – with his death at the Battle of Bosworth.
So she decided to write a different type of Richard story and added a time travel element. The rest is (literally) history. She found his character seemed to write itself and with NaNoWriMo giving her the impetus to actually DO it, she succeeded. After she began writing the story that was in her head, she found that there was far too much material for one book and, in fact, it finally turned into a trilogy consisting of Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present Day; Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change. Book II takes place mainly in Richard’s time and Joanne found that many actual historical elements seemed to match serendipitously with her requirements. For example, the characters who were contemporary to Richard, the date of Joana’s death, the fact that Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice, had twins that didn’t survive the birth, etc.
The idea for Distant Echoes began when Joanne listened to Sheriff Hutton by The Legendary Ten Seconds and it reminded her of a sci-fi novel she had read as a teenager, where friendly aliens could see the ‘echoes’ of events after they had occurred. She wanted to write about the real Richard III, telling of acts of his that, though documented fact, are not known by the average reader, his good laws and fair judgments being eclipsed by the presumed and unproven murder of his nephews. The idea lent itself to ‘eavesdropping’ on Richard, using his own words where possible, and Distant Echoes was born.
For more about the author and her books, sign up or follow her at Facebook, Twitter and her blog. Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, the books mentioned above and more are available at Amazon and Amazon UK.
Of course Shakespearean London is post Ricardian but most of the streets and buildings covered in this interesting article would have been there in Richard’s time.
For anyone visiting London, this article would be an excellent referral point especially for covering the lesser known parts. Starting at St Pauls station, via Bankside, a thoroughfare since the 13th century, ending back at St Pauls, the walk covers much including Borough Market, the church of St Magnus Martyr, where two stones from the original Medieval bridge are still in situ, Eastcheap, the London Stone, close to Cannon Street Station where once Warwick the Kingmaker’s London house, the Erber, stood and St Pauls, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the disastrous Fire of London 1666.
I’ve posted some photos here of places covered on the walk although I’m not sure these are in the book, see below, from which this article is an extract.
For those interested in such things, Macy’s online is offering a portrait of a ‘man in a decorative hat.’ Ideal for any room…especially your bathroom/washroom/toilet! (Just not the bedroom, please; those little mean eyes would doubtless follow you.)
The picture in question happens to be by Holbein…and wait, the ‘man’ depicted, hat or no hat, is none other than Henry VIII!
Clearly someone at Macy’s is not a history buff, or perhaps they just wanted to ignore the roly-poly tyrant and concentrate on his much more appealing titfer.
Whatever the case, if Henry were alive, I am sure he would see to it that this omission of his royal name would end with a great removal of hats…and heads with them.
“….The river (which we know as the Rother) made its way south east from Appledore across the marsh to an outfall into the sea at New Romney; by the 12th century this marsh river was converted into a canal 6 miles (9.7 km) long to Old Romney. The 13th century was remarkable for a series of storms accompanied possibly by a rise in sea level. The first was in 1236 followed in 1250 when the town and port of Old Winchelsea were overwhelmed; there was a temporary recovery until it finally succumbed in the storm of 1287 by which time the new town of Winchelsea on the hill of Iham was being colonised….”
And so Dymchurch Wall was built. Romney Marsh is generally below sea level, and has long been protected from inundation by the old wall, but today I learned that this ancient embankment was responsible for the expression ‘scot free’, which is so very widespread today.
“….During the 13th century storms, battered Dymchurch and the maintenance of the wall became the responsibility of The Corporation of Romney Marsh. In the 15th century, a “Scot* Tax” was levied on every landowner on Romney Marsh for continuing repair of the wall. If your property was above the sea level you got off “Scot Free”….”
*According to Merriam-Webster a scot is ‘an amount of money assessed or paid’.
For the purposes of the historical novel upon which I am at present working, I have recently been looking into the complicated business of medieval hunting. By which I mean the sort of hunting indulged in by royalty and the aristocracy. The poor man sneaking off with some midwinter game has been left well alone – and I hope he enjoyed every nourishing mouthful of his illicit stew!
I know nothing about modern day hunting, wherever in the world it takes place, nor do I wish to, but things were very different during medieval times. Then, hunting was much admired, and deemed to make men good and noble. I think my 21st-century attitude would soon lead to me being pursued to a very sticky end in the heart of some royal forest or other! That unlikely scenario aside, those long-gone huntsmen knew all the vast numbers of intricate rules and very precise words that can be quite mystifying to us today. Especially given the happy-go-lucky medieval spelling!
The hounds are still today described variously as lymers/limers, raches (running hounds), greyhounds, alaunts (large haunts), spaniels, mastiffs (called curs), terriers (small curs). And these are only some.
Lymers (scent hounds) appear to have played a very significant role, and I always thought (from the frequency with which they are mentioned) that they were numerous. But, in The Hound and the Hawk, by John Cummins, it is recorded that “…Richard III’s Master of the Hart-hounds received a feeding allowance for forty dogs and three lymers…” The king himself only had only three lymers with his hart-hounds? These must have been very valuable hounds indeed.
Cummins goes on “…The lymer (French limier, German leit-hund, Spanish can de traella) had a special role in detecting the whereabouts of the hart on the morning of the hunt, when the huntsman in charge of the lymer went out with it on a leash in order to report back to the assembly. It was vital to locate the hart as precisely as possible without disturbing it; the essential qualities of a lymer, therefore, were strong scenting abilities and silence. It was often housed apart from the other hounds, sometimes in the huntsman’s own accommodation….”
Valuable and pampered. I wonder if Richard knew these three lymers? He must have done. And their names, I imagine.
Cummins again: “…Under Richard III, the Master of the Hart-hounds was allowed 3s 3d a day ‘for the mete of forty dogs and twelve greyhounds, and threepence for three lymers’…” So, in England at least (it may have been different on the continent) lymers were a separate and larger breed of hound.
Looking at illustrations, it often seems that medieval lymers were an early type of bloodhound, and that as the years passed into the Renaissance period, they were more definitely bloodhounds as we know them today.
If you wish to know all the minutiae of high-class medieval hunting, then Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, wrote an excellent book that he presented to Henry V, when Prince of Wales. The book is called The Master of Game, and can be read in its entirety here. And if you want to see all the different types of dogs and hounds, then go to this article, which is packed full of colourful illustrations.
Reconstruction of a Medieval Painting from St Stephen’s Chapel. Possibly Queen Philippa with her daughter. Ernest William Tristram c.1927. Worked from original drawings made by the antiquarian Richard Smirke 1800-1811 before the fire of 1834. Society of Antiquities. Parliamentary Art Collection
St Stephen’s was the medieval royal chapel of the Kings and Queens of England and part of the old Palace of Westminster. What a jewel in England’s crown and what a loss. Destroyed by a fire in 1834 that also destroyed what was left of the old palace, which had already lost its royal apartments in a fire in the 1530s. King Stephen is said to have built the original chapel, first mentioned in the reign of King John 1199-1216, with Edward lst beginning a major refurbishment in 1292. The architect was Michael of Canterbury who also designed the beautiful Eleanor Crosses. On two levels the rebuild took over 70 years to complete which seems to have been because of the ebb and flow of the finances of the first three Edwards. The top level was for the use of the Royal Family and a door south of the altar lead to the royal apartments. It must have been a sight to behold…with it ceiling painted in azure and thousands of stars of gold. The lower chapel, darker because it was slightly below ground level, was known as St Mary Undercroft, and after being used for numerous purposes over the centuries , including some say Cromwell stabling his horses there, has managed to survive to this very day and back to its original use, that of a chapel.
Kings and queens who happened to die while residing in Westminster Palace were taken to the chapel to lie in repose. Among those to lie there before their burial, usually in the Abbey, was the ‘seemly, amiable and beauteous’ Queen Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker and consort to King Richard III (1). On a happier note St Stephen’s may also have been where their wedding took place. Several royal weddings did take place there for certain including that of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia and also Edward IV’s youngest son Richard of Shrewsbury and Anne Mowbray. Anne was only 4 years old at the time, the groom being even younger at 3, and Richard Duke of Gloucester led Anne by the hand into the chapel.
The chapel was dissolved at the Reformation in the time of Edward VI and thereafter it became the first permanent home of the House of Commons. Certain abuses of the Chapel begun from then on including the removal of the beautiful soaring upper celestery by Wren. The final fire took hold at around 6 pm. on the evening of 16th October 1834. The final destruction by fire begun with the burning of two cartloads of wooden tally ‘Exchequer’ sticks which caused a furnace to overheat. Warnings of the danger of fire had been ignored by a ‘senile housekeeper and a careless Clerk to the Works’ leading to the Prime Minister to declare the disaster was one of the ‘greatest instances of stupidity on record’. During the course of the conflagration medieval paintings and decorations that had been hidden over the centuries were once again revealed and gawping crowds flocked to see them.
Wooden tally or Exchequer sticks. The burning of two cartloads of these caused a chimney to overheat which led to the destruction of Westminster Palace including St Stephen’s hall.
We are very fortunate that 30 years prior to the disaster life sized copies were made of the most important medieval paintings, which would have been to the east of the chapel where the alter was, while the chapel was being renovated by an antiquarian Richard Smirke. The art historian and conservator, Ernest William Tristram (1881-1952) meticulously reconstructed Smirke’s drawing in a collection of 20 paintings. The British Museum now holds fragments from the paintings and decorations salvaged from the fire and from them can be gleaned an impression of the quality and beauty of the lost works.
The new building, now called St Stephen’s Hall, was rebuilt in Neo Gothic style on the footprint of the old Chapel carefully adhering to the same measurements, 95ft long and 30 ft wide. Brass studs now mark where the Speaker’s Chair which in turn would have marked the place where the high alter once stood.
King Edward’s Sons. Reconstruction of medieval wall painting St Stephen’s Chapel. Ernest William Tristram. Worked from the original drawings by Richard Smirke.
King Edward and St George. Ernest William Tristram. Reproduction of medieval wall painting from St Stephen’s Chapel. From the original drawing by Richard Smirke.
Some of the 17 fragments of wall paintings salvaged from the fire and now in the British Museum. All came from the east end of the north wall.
Upon Westminster Hall. George Scharf. The intrepid Mr Scharf made this painting over four days after climbing on to Westminster Hall’s roof for a better view of the destruction of the chapel and palace..
The smaller chapel on the lower level. Known as St Mary Undercroft. Survived the fire and is once again in use as a chapel. Watercolour by George Belton Moore.
Another watercolour by George Belton Moore picturing a demolition of a doorway next to St Stephens. Ive been unable to ascertain where this doorway was situated.
The Ruined St Stephen’s from the East prior to demolition. Parliamentary Art Collection.
I am indebted to Sir Roy Strong’s book Lost Treasures of Britain for some of the above information.
There is no disputing that fish was very important to the medieval diet. The Church ruled that not only was it required food on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but also for Advent and the forty days of Lent. And I’m sure there were other days when it was mandatory too, but the previous sentence covers the main diet.
If you go to this article you’ll find the story of how fish became part of the religious year. You’ll also find that “….after Henry [VIII] became smitten with Anne Boleyn, English fish-eating took a nosedive….” Henry’s son, Edward VI, took steps to rectify this awful situation!
The thought of fish for forty days is a little daunting, I have to say, but it’s what our medieval forebears observed seriously. And I’m sure may still observe this now. But today, of course, we have refrigerators and freezers to be sure of always having our fish fresh. But what about back then? In the middle of summer, many miles from the sea, how could they ensure their fish stayed edible? Well, they had it all worked out, I can assure you.
What follows now is mainly about knightly households and higher, because that is what I have been researching for my present novel. My source is The Great Household in Late Medieval Period by C.M. Woolgar, and I have by no means covered all the detail continued in this very informative book, which I thoroughly recommend.
Let’s start with sea fish. There wasn’t anywhere in England that was too far from the sea for people to have fresh sea fish, but such fish were also widely preserved—pickled in brine, smoked and dried (often accompanied by salting). This kept fish like herring, cod and other white-fleshed fish in good order for months, and was vital over the winter period.
Cod that was salted and pickled in brine was known as saltfish. If the cod was dried in the open air, it was known as stockfish. If certain fish were to be kept for a shorter period, but still longer than if they were fresh, they were “powdered” (lightly salted). But eels and oysters were kept in barrels, the salt water being regularly changed to keep it clear.
Both stockfish and saltfish were often imported from Scandinavia and the northern coast of Germany, but there was a large contribution from English waters as well. There is evidence in the Severn estuary of late-medieval fishtraps that would have caught sea-bream, salmon, mullet, plaice and so on.
Herring was a vital fish for the nation’s diet, and around it grew a considerable industry in the North Sea ports. It was seasonal, of course, being readily available in mid to late summer. White herring (salted and pickled) became available toward the end of the fresh-herring season, and red herring (smoked) were to be had later on. Joan de Valence, when at Goodrich, was supplied with preserved herring from Southampton, and she had dried, salted cod brought by sea from her Pembroke estates to Bristol, shipped across the Severn to Chepstow, and thence by conveyed by packhorse to Goodrich. A lengthy business, but no doubt the cod was thoroughly enjoyed.
Oysters were much consumed at Lent, either fresh in shell, or pickled, without shells, in barrels. Mussels and whelks were sometimes confined to Lent. Shellfish were gathered along the shore by women. Joan de Valence’s cook, Master Roger, was sent weekly from her residence at Hertingfordbury to purchase fish in London.
Fresh sea fish were usually carried by packhorses, and like stockfish and saltfish were put in baskets or wickerwork panniers. Fish pickled in brine were transported and stored in barrels. Sometimes they were stored in straw.
Now let me move to freshwater fish, which could be very expensive and were generally confined to consumption by the upper class and monasteries. There was some fishing in rivers, but the great majority of such fish were kept in ponds. Not natural ponds, but those that were specially constructed around castles, great manor houses and religious houses. The more modest of these ponds were small and rectangular; others were like lakes.
Households employed skilled fishermen to select and catch the denizens of these ponds. They went out in boats on the large pools, but the small ones required fishing from the banks.
John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, kept a record (partly in his own hand) of the stock in his ponds. This included carp, which were not widely recorded in England before the 1700s. Clearly he deemed them worthy of his own personal attention.
The fish in these ponds included pike, eels, lamperns, lamprey, bream, roach, chub and tench. Trout were fished from freshwater streams, and I have not found them mentioned as being kept in ponds.
Freshwater fish were usually eaten within hours of being caught, and thus ponds were sited close to residence. There fish were sometimes moved wrapped in wet straw or grass, or in barrels that were lined with canvas and filled with water. Storing live fish in water is something still done by many fishmongers, and I well remember back in 1962 selecting trout from a tank outside a hotel in Grundhof, near Echternach, Luxembourg. The trout came from the nearby River Sûre. I’d never seen such tanks in England, so it came as a great surprise. And that particular tank is still there!
So, thanks to C.M. Woolgar, I am now more knowledgeable about medieval man and his relationship with fish, but one thing does puzzle me. The small matter of pike. In a pond. With other fish.
Now, the pike is a predatory cannibal, and I can’t imagine it will sit on its fins and whistle a happy tune. No, it will be hellbent on consuming anything that moves in its vicinity. So, what did medieval man do to preserve all his freshwater fish? Building a separate pond for the pike would be very expensive indeed, and unlikely. So…what happened? How did they cope with a rapacious pike?
I can only hope Master Pike didn’t grow to the proportions of Jonah’s whale!
Entry from the York City House book…’King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason of the duc of Northefolk and many othre that turned ayenst hyme, with many othre lordes and nobilles of this north parties, was pitiously slain and murdred to the grey hevynesse of this citie’ (1)
“The memory of King Richard was so strong it laid like lees at the bottom of mens hearts and if the vessels were once stirred it would come up’…thus wrote Francis Bacon in his History Of Henry VII. He was writing about the North Of England, particularly Yorkshire and Durham but no doubt this could have applied in particular to the City of York and its stout citizens although of course, in many other places memories of the good and fair reign of King Richard still endured but lies unrecorded.
However York’s constancy to Richard’s memory has been well documented and snippets can be found in the surviving York House Books. In the aftermath of Bosworth it was recorded that “Tudor”‘s messenger , Sir Roger Cotam, was so in fear of his life to enter the city – despite the offer of a gift of ‘ii.gallons of wyne’ – that it was thought prudent that the ‘maire and his brethe shuld goo unto him’ instead. Which they did, meeting with the snivelling coward at the ‘sign of the boore’. Shame on you Sir Roger (2)
This affection and loyalty for Richard dates from the time he was Duke of Gloucester…
24 June 1482
John Davyson, a tailor, was sent to appear before the Mayor, Richerd Yorke. Davyson said he and others had heard Master William Melrig say that he, in turn, had heard Master Roger Brere say regarding ‘my lorde of Gloucestr’ ‘What myght he do for the city? Nothing bot grin for us’ (2). Oh dearie me, big mistake Master Roger! As Shakespeare was later to write “Give thy thoughts no tongue’ especially if they are daft. Melrig was sent for that very day and demands made as to what seditious words he had ‘at any time’ heard Master Roger utter against Gloucestr. Whether in truth or to pour oil on troubled waters Melrigh replied ‘noon’. The words ‘Nothing bot grin for us’ were repeated to him in an attempt to jog his memory. But Melrig stuck to his story…deftly batting the ball back into their court by assuring them he would not have stood for such words to be used unchallenged against the Duke. And that ended the matter. The truth is lost in time but begs the question did Master Roger utter those word or was a lie made up knowing that a very dim view would be taken over such utterances and would land him in deep and muddy waters?
Tellingly, years later, it was still remained hazardous to malign Richard, for on the 14 May 1491 an argument between a man called John Payntour and a schoolmaster William Burton (Burtan) was recorded in the Municipal Records. Payntour alleged he had heard the said Master Burton call Richard ‘an ypocryte’ and furthermore a ‘crochebake’ and who had ended up buried in a ditch ‘like a Dogge’. John Payntour, skilfully avoided getting into trouble with the new King (clearly it was not wise to be seen to stick up for Richard too stoutly) by adding that Burton had lied, obviously, because ‘the Kynges (Tudor) good grace had beried hym like a noble gentilman’! (3). Take it outta that Master William! I really, really like the sound of this man, Payntour, who earlier, in 1490, had to deny slandering the Earle of Northumberland by saying he was a traitor who had betrayed King Richard. . Kudos to you John Payntour and I hope, when you finally popped your clogs, you got to join good King Richard in Heaven…
The medieval Guild Hall in York where Richard and his consort Anne Neville were entertained at a great banquet in 1483.
Finally here are a selection of artworks, which I find preferable to photographs for catching the ethos of Old York from the time of King Richard, John Davyson, William Melrig, Roger Bere and the indomitable John Payntour. Their names live on…
Petergate, York. A painting by C Monkhouse 1849
Monk Bar. William Etty date unknown.
Bootham Bar..Anonymous c.1800
The Shambles Ernest Haslehurst 1920
Bootham Bar and the Minster c.1920 Noel Harry Leaver
The York House Books in two volumes. Editor Dr Lorraine C Atreed.
York House Books Vol.1. p368.9 Edited Lorraine C Atreed
Ibid Vol.2 p734
Ibid vol .2 p707
York Records: Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York 1843. R Davies.pp220.221