Dismal Sewage

They say every writer should find a niche. Unfortunately, certain ‘popular historians’ seem to have leapt onto  ‘gimmicks’ than a niche and write all or most of their books in similar vein, often to the detriment of their work and a growing lack of credibility with each further tome.

A trend amongst several notable authors seems to be the cynical and sarcastic slagging off of the historical figures they write about, most likely to stir up controversy in the hopes of making sales—who knows? Any sense of being non-partisan or unbiased is thrown out the window pretty much on page 1.

 ‘Jack of All Trades’ history writer Desmond Seward (Demon Sewer? Dismal Sewage?) is a prime offender. Most of us will remember Demon’s jaw-dropping book on Richard III, titled, so menacingly…’The Black Legend’. (Oooh, shades of Sauron and Mordor!) Without tramping over old turf, this totally unbiased (choke) book contains such wonderful remarks as (paraphrasing here), ‘If he was two fingers shorter than Richard, Von Poppelau must have been a dwarf…’ In his updated version of the same tired tosh he chides Ricardians for seeking the truth about Richard because “…the White Legend continues to appeal to every Anglo-Saxon lover of a lost cause and, in particular, to lady novelists.” (Very odd application of ‘Anglo Saxon’ as well as showing an unpleasant Starkey-esque strain of sexism.) He also is a true believer in the words of the sainted Thomas More because he was, after all, a SAINT, so presumably infallible—yes, the ‘saint’ who burned people at the stake and poetically wrote long insulting tracts containing multiple references to faeces. True story. What a scholar. What a charmer.

Recently Sewer returned to the Wars of the Roses period with a new book, THE LAST WHITE ROSE, and continued in the same vein, with a combination of vitriol and errors. Edmund de la Pole was apparently haughty, pompous and unintelligent (the latter deduced apparently from his bad handwriting!) John, Duke of Suffolk was called a nonentity and given the wrong date of death. John of Lincoln was saupposedly devious, and even accused of abducting the young, hapless Lambert Simnel from his family! (Sewer appears to believe there really WAS a child ridiculously named after a cake, even although the surname is rarer than a blue moon and there is no record of any family by that name). Worst of all, however, is a supposed quote from Croyland about Elizabeth of Suffolk, complete with page number. It does not exist in Croyland, if anywhere at all, yet is masquerading as a quote from a primary source!!

I haven’t read all of Demon Sewer’s books, needless to say, but some of the customer reviews are noteworthy and often rather hilarious. Apparently any strong women in history are described as ‘viragos’ or worse. In his Eleanor of Aquitaine bio, not only does he seem to dislike Eleanor herself, he has a bit of a fixation with Richard the Lionheart’s homosexuality. Which is a bit odd, as there is no actual evidence that Lionheart WAS homosexual, and that theory of the mid-20th century is pretty much discredited today. In fact, there is some evidence that Lionheart, in his misspent youth, ravished his enemy’s wives and then gave them to his men!

Perhaps the funniest error Dismal made, though, was found in one of his other books, The King over the Water, which is about the Jacobites. Apparently, he wrote that  the maternal grandparents of Lord Derwentwater were Charles II and Moll Flanders. MOLL FLANDERS? She is a character in a novel by Daniel Defoe!

Maybe Dismal should write a book on Moll next. Non-fiction, of course.

A Demon Sewer and…Desmond Seward. Purportedly…but might not be….


  1. “the ‘saint’ who burned people at the stake and poetically wrote long insulting tracts containing multiple references to faeces” That’s actually something a saint would do, especially if we are talking about damned heretics.
    If that man does really think that saints are infallible, he has quite a serious problem. A saint is someone who is in Heaven (which is the case, for instance, of martyrs like St Thomas More), not someone who never err. I am really fond of St Andrew Wouters’s history. Anyway, why do you hate More so much? There were several theories, if I recall correctly, about his intend regarding his terrible depiction of Richard.


  2. I don’t hate him; he could only work with what he’d been told by Morton, and he may well have had a completely different meaning with his work–I think it quite telling he made an ‘error’ on page one by making Edward’s age at death the same as that of Henry Tudor. I believe that was deliberate.
    However, I do resent the More fans who think that because he was canonised he literally ‘could not tell a lie’, that his tracts were divinely inspired and given him by God and therefore must be completely true–believe it or not, I have encountered MANY of these admirers, and they are quite disbelieving of his less than savoury aspects. Many historians too, while not seeing him as so saintly, also DO take his work as 100% fact (Starkey does) despite the glaring errors and occasionally outright silliness.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sorry I have misunderstand you. As a Catholic with more of a 16th century mentality, I am really atonished that anybody would say that a saint (if he had just been beatified he would be Blessed Thomas More) could no say anything that was just wrong! Not even Ribadeneira did that!


    2. Hoodedman, if said author never bothered to finish what he wrote with ‘conviction’ and allegedly with pristine sources then I say, read with utter caution and only as a last resort, like you I would put More in a “get corroboration – but don’t expect it” category. His animus toward R is understandable considering the era in which he lived, he detested H7 as well, or at least the political adherents that ran amuck and plagued everyone from these informers – BUT for Seward to be as enthralled, by fear or hopes of advancement under these Tudors 500 years on, just makes him look silly. Dump the yoke Seward, stand up for yourself, THINK for yourself!


  3. I’ve always thought “Lambert Simnel” was a strange name; and apparently I’m not alone, because I’ve seen several places online where people have tried rearranging the letters to see if its some time of anagram but none of them were very successful unfortunately.

    Your post piqued my curiosity, is there a cake called a “lambert simnel” or is it just that the name of the cake sounds similar? Forgive me if this is a silly question, I’m American and I’ve never heard of it before. Am I just missing the joke, or does the cake exist?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Strangely enough the Simnel family did exist. They moved into a house in west Oxford in the late 1470s and paid rent to Oseney Abbey.
    The name is almost certainly nothing to do with the cake but a diminutive of Simon.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The connection (or lack thereof as it seems) with the name of the cake is an interesting anecdote. I looked up the story behind the name of the cake after super blue explained it to me in the previous comment and it seems no one is quite sure where the name came from or exactly when it came about. From what I read, it most likely doesn’t haven’t anything to do with the actual Lambert Simnel and possibly pre-dates his birth (apparently one theory of the origin of the name of the cake goes back to a folktale from a few centuries before Lambert Simnel and involves two children who were named Simon and Nell). The Lambert Simnel plot fascinates me though and I can’t help but feel that perhaps the “official” version of the story has been too readily accepted by history. I hope to see more posts about it in the future!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. In defense of Edmund de la Pole, erstwhile Yorkist claimant to “Henry’s” throne… in his youth he was the family scholar and much admired by his university tutors, unfortunately years of poverty while in exile, and then incarcerated in the Tower once he was essentially ‘sold’ to H7 led to what I would call a mental breakdown. His letters became scribbles, unrecognizable to his family, so perhaps torture as well as deprivation was also in play.

    To judge his handwriting at this juncture is ludicrous, at best, when other than trained scribes, in bubbles of protected environments such as a law court or the church, no one had the hand of legibility – look at samples of anyone you care to consider. Richard is a rare exception and lends credence to having been groomed for a career in the church – probably before the unexpected death of his older brother Edmund in 1460 – which would appear to have made that option no longer viable for the ‘family.’

    For a fuller treatment on the miserable lives Edmund and his younger brother (?) Richard led, mostly in desperate exile from H7 and H8, refer to W.E.Hampton’s 3 part series of articles in Ricardian online June, Sept, Dec 1987 – btw, Edmund did appear to abide with H7 for most of his adult life, not that doing everything a Tudor tells you to do got you anywhere, ie. Edward of Warwick.


  7. I can understand inverted commas around ‘Tudor,’ if you support the theory that Henry VII’s father was really a Beaufort. (and therefore he was more Plantagenet than the average Plantagenet) but why quotation marks around “Henry”? Was his given name actually something else?
    I haven’t spent most of my life locked up in the Tower of London (though it begins to seem like it after a few weeks of lockdown), but I would hate to have anyone judge me by my handwriting, which always has been lousy.
    And why scare quotes around ‘family,’ especially since it seems to refer to the Plantagenet family?
    Yeah, I know I’m being picky – or should I say ‘picky’?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear halfwit,

    note to self, punctuation is not amma’s ‘friend’ ! lol … You’re not being picky, picayune, prickly nor pertinacious in your observation. (Mom was an English teacher, still reads three books, at least, a week; I am routinely corrected as per grammar & spelling, thankfully she has never bothered with email – hallelujah).

    I actually do not subscribe to Edmund Tudor being anyone but Owen Tudor’s son, it’s a fun theory, that Henry was a double Beaufort, through both parents, but that’s all it is, a novelty theory.

    As to the children of George duke of Clarence, and the de la Pole’s I admit I am sensitive to how they likely saw Henry 7, his throne, did they see it as his throne, or theirs? From what little hard verifiable information that we have, about their marriages, their submission (aside from John earl of Lincoln, who only initially submitted), their apparent willingness to join the two families … what did it get them? Edmund in particular interests me, as his family does seem to have intended a scholar’s career for him, and John’s break with Henry ruined not only that but sent him into a long and tortured exile throughout Europe. It is almost as if he was forced into chasing Henry’s throne.

    His most devoted steward (Thomas Killingworth) spent years attending him (and his business matters) on these poverty stricken peregrinations wrote to Maximilian I after Edmund’s capture and imprisonment in the Tower, “…and for the service of my said Lord I have left my wife, friends, and goods, which, thought it be an unnatural thing, grieves me little, but the evil fortune of my said Lord Duke grieves me very much …”

    Killingworth continued to serve the next White Rose, so-called, and he apparently visited Richard de la Pole, probably in Hungary, trying to get him asylum in Austria. There are several of Killingworth’s letters in Gairdner’s volumes of Illustrative Letters etc (mostly in Latin, sadly for me).

    Richard, the youngest brother, I do subscribe to being not the brother but likely John’s son, enough has been written about him, his own documented actions, words, how he was received, certainly his manner, and it is a novelty theory I do ascribe to so there you are, a woman of two minds! As they say hereabouts, oy vey!


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