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A French Medieval Lenten Repast

the good man of ParisGood Friday falls today and in commemoration of the crucifixion of Christ we offer several meat free loosely-based receipts from the medieval manuscript Le Menagier de Paris or The Goodman of Paris.  First published anonymously in 1391, it is amusingly similar to Mrs. Beeton’s famous 19th century book of household tips covering diverse subjects such as food, medicine, herbs, gardening, marital accord and its corollary of good wifely behavior.

For those who follow food trends across the globe, it is always amazing and perhaps comforting to find that the French, whether living in medieval times or soaking up rays in Southern California, tend to stick to the tried and true products and gustatory formulas of their beloved patrie.  Looking through Raymond Oliver’s excellent history “The Gastronomy of France” one realizes that most medieval recipes can still be found in Jacques Pepin’s newest cookbook or on a menu at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire.

The following receipts are adapted from a menu in the 1540 Le Menagier de Paris:

First Dish and Plate

sorrel

Sorrel is an easily grown herb.  Its name simply means “sour” and it is often used in a cream-based soup.

 

Cress and Sorrel with Vinegar

1 bunch of Watercress, 1 bunch of Sorrel, several handfuls of peas and Arugula (Rocket).  Layer the ingredients on a large white plate or bowl.  Dress with:  Olive oil, Red Wine Vinegar, Dijon Mustard, Salt & Pepper.  If dressing is too bitter, a hint of sugar is appropriate.

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The French consider figs and bay leaves a match made in heaven in much the way we might pair chicken with tarragon, fish with fennel and seafood with bacon or ham.

 

bay

Fig Crostata with Bay

1 1/2 cups of flour (approx. 200 grams), 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 stick of cold butter (110 grams), ice cold water.   Dice cold butter.  In a food processor, pulse flour and salt.  Add the diced butter and mix until it has a mealy appearance.  Add small amounts of water until it binds.  Place dough on a cold surface and knead with a bit of flour until it forms a ball  – don’t over knead!  Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or overnight.  When ready to use, roll out to a nine inch circle.  Add:

Figs cut into quarters, several teaspoons of honey, lemon juice and a pinch of salt.  Mix and add to the crostata.  Place two bay leaves on top.  Fold over the edges of the crostata so that the pie mixture won’t spill out while baking.  Use an egg wash if you wish to have an attractive appearance.  Place in an oven heated to 375F (approx. 190 Celsius).  Bake for approximately 35 minutes.  While the bay leaves will perfume the crostata, they should be not be eaten.

Second Dish

Most of the French Lenten dishes that are included in medieval texts appear to be freshwater fish:  Trout, Eel, Perch, Pike, Carp with the occasional Cod, Sole or crustacean thrown in for variety sake.  But in looking for a dish that would satisfy a hungry penitent but not overtax one’s culinary ability, let’s turn to the New World for a receipt.   The classic “Charleston Receipts,” first published in 1950 by the Junior League, showcases the overlapping ethnic influences of anyone who ever passed through this romantic coastal city.  That would include the Creeks to the Spanish, French, British and Africans.  This receipt comes straight from Paris:

Fillet of Sole Marguery as submitted by Mrs. Robert Small

1 large sole or flounder, 2/3 cups of white wine, 1 tablespoon of flour, 2 cups of heavy cream, cooked shrimp, fresh sliced mushrooms, butter and salt.  Place filleted sole or flounder in a buttered pan and sprinkle with salt.  Pour a portion of white over the fish.  Bake twenty minutes, basting often.  Remove fillets to platter.  Thicken stock in which the fish has been baking with flour.  When well blended, add cream, shrimp, mushrooms (that have been sautéed in butter).  Now add remaining wine.  Pour this over fillets; garnish with parsley and serve piping hot.

fish

It would seem sinful to offer a dessert on Good Friday given that the recipes above feature wine, butter, heavy cream, honey and sugar.  So let’s wait until Sunday when the Easter Bunny will deliver his chocolate eggs and candy-laden baskets.

Notes:

Watercress, pea, sorrel salad by Darren Robertson and Mark Labrooy

Fig Crostata, Melissa Rubel Jacobson, Food and Wine Magazine

Sole Marguerey, Charleston Receipts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gourmet Magazine Does a Christmas Medieval Feast

gourmetLong before Gourmet Magazine went out of business in 2009, collapsed under too many overwrought articles on bovine emissions, it had been an intellectual colossus in the culinary world.  From the 1940s through the ’60s, it featured lush travel articles on world cuisine venturing into far-flung places such as Persia, Bhutan (“a taste of Shangri-La!”) and the Texas prairie.  Only Gourmet Magazine could print recipes from ordinary folks in the Midwest (“Nicoise Salad Abramowitz”) to the finger food of the Whirling Dervishes.  Its writing staff featured charmingly rococo names like Malabar Hornblower, Waverly Root, Doone Beal and Irene Corbally Kuhn all of whom had long literary and culinary careers.  Waverly Root wrote the classic Food of Italy and Hornblower did major historical work digging into the eating habits of the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts.  Gourmet took food and travel so seriously that articles were often published in two or three chapters over the course of several months no doubt incurring skyrocketing expenses that only post-war prosperity could support.  In its last years, it played more to the penurious and attention-deficit youth market:  store bought pizza dough recipes and textless photographs of Brooklyn mixologists.  Where oh where had the monthly columns “Specialites de la Maison New York” and “Paris Journal” – undoubtedly written by tubby gourmands with napkins askew – gone?

mario micossi

Mario Micossi’s etching for “A Medieval Feast”

Luckily, that’s where Ebay comes in.  For a pittance, one can buy ten old Gourmets and wile away a nostalgic hour or two remembering New York City or London restaurants one dined at in 1979.  Still, I was surprised to see Gourmet time travel.  While flipping through a 1976 edition, I came across an article called “A Medieval Feast” by the self-styled Pressure Cooker Queen Lorna J. Sass.  Written in the present tense, it captures something of the heated expectations of the barons seated in King Richard II’s Great Hall and the hysterical mood of the chief steward, pantler and butler.  Imagine two hundred cooks in the kitchen with slaughtered animals piled to the roof!  Here is a list of some of provisions she cites:

“14 oxen lying in salt, 2 freshly killed oxen, 120 sheepheads, 12 boars, 13 calves, 100 marrowbones, 50 swans, 210 geese, 200 rabbits, 1,200 pigeons, 144 partridges, 720 hens and 11,000 eggs”

While the kitchen is in tumult, minstrels play and jugglers and acrobats wander among the noble and refined diners.  “Like the Prioress in the Canterbury Tales, they are careful to leave no traces of grease on either their lips or their mazers (drinking bowls).”  How those merry Yorkists could rock it!

Here are two slightly adapted recipes from “A Medieval Feast” that reinforces how our western ancestors applied the modern notion that savory and sweet can be combined in a delicious and sophisticated manner.  Everything old is new again.

Try these during the Christmas season:

medieval-pie

Pork Pie with Herbs and Spices

Make two pie dough crusts and drape one round over the rolling pin and fit it into a pie pan.  Prick it with a fork and chill for 30 minutes.  Do a blind bake at 400 degrees F (200 C) for 10 minutes.

In a bowl combine 1 beaten egg, 1/4 cup each of minced pitted dates and raisins, 2 tablespoons of chicken broth, minced parsley and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, salt, sage, 1/2 teasoon of ground ginger and crushed saffron threads.  Add 3/4 pound of boneless pork loin cut into cubes and combined well.  Transfer to pie shell.

Place the second pie round over the rolling pin and unroll over the pie.  Trim and crimp and paint with either milk or beaten egg.  Prick the crust to allow steam to escape.  Bake the pie at 350 F (175C) in the lower third of the preheated oven for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes or until crust is golden.

Spiced Pear Puree

In a heavy saucepan combine 6 ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored and diced along with a cup of sherry.  Add several cinnamon sticks (to taste), 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of allspice, mace and pepper.  Bring to a boil and reduce until pears are soft.  Discard cinnamon sticks and puree the pears.  Return to fire and cook until slightly thickened.  Stir in homemade breadcrumbs or graham cracker/digestive biscuits crumbs and serve with sweetened whipped cream with a little nutmeg grated on top.

pears

And while you enjoy these dishes, give a nod to the Plantagenets and their Yorkist cohorts who brought such joy and abundance to the Christmas season and a doleful sigh to the Tudors who brought them low.

gourmet

 

father christmas

 

 

 

 

 

Rhoda Edwards, Author of Ricardian Books, Dies

rhoda edwardsThe Ricardian author of “Some Touch of Pity” died on November 27th, 2018 at the age of 78.  When researching this interesting woman, one finds only a solitary photograph of her which accompanied the book when it was published in 1976.  The photo here was taken by Stephen Lark of the Murrey and Blue blog from a Richard III Society Bulletin.  I could find no other photo on a search engine.  She was an elusive figure.

Details of her life are few although The London Times cobbled together bits and pieces which tell us she led an extraordinary life of research and archaeology as well as writing one of the best novels about Richard the Third.  Miss Edwards read History and English at Leicester University  before she was employed in the Archives Department at the London Borough of Lambeth where she became an expert on Doulton Pottery (Royal Doulton China).  In 1973, she published a 44-page monograph on it called “Lambeth Stoneware:  The Woolley Collection, including Doultonware and Products” which can still be found on Amazon.com.  She also worked on various archaeological digs including the famed discovery of Anne Mowbray in 1965.  Another non-fiction work of hers is “The Itinerary of King Richard III, 1483-1485” which follows the hectic schedule of a constantly touring monarch.  This important work is limited in edition and sells for a very high price online. An article on Richard’s original tomb appeared as early as 1975.

some touch of pityBut to most Ricardians around the world, her first novel on Richard the Third (called “The Broken Wheel” when published in America in 1976) secured her fame.  Told through the various people of his court, including his wife, we follow his brief years as king and experience all the hardship and trouble that accompanied his reign.

broken swordI read it when it was first published in America and have a distinct memory of enjoying it on my daily train commute into New York City.  Yes, it does have aspects of a romance novel but it is at such a high level of the genre that it seems somewhat mean-spirited to label it as such.  I still treasure the chapter called “Most Untrue Creature” which is told by Robert Bolman, Richard’s actual clerk in the Privy Seal Office.  This is where Miss Edwards shows off her her humor and, more importantly, her knowledge of the inner-workings of the medieval government of England.  In this chapter, we learn why the workaholic king was sometimes labeled by his exhausted and cranky staff as “Old Dick.”  As with the other chapters, it is filled with the kind of piquant details that are so necessary to historical fiction if it is to be believable and engrossing.  A kind of prequel followed in 1978 called “Fortune’s Wheel” which takes place before Richard Plantagenet became king.  While I don’t think it is quite as gripping as “Some Touch of Pity,” it certainly is well worth a read and is readily available on Amazon.

According to The Times, she was buried at Randalls Park, Leatherhead in Surrey.  It would be a real boon for Miss Edward’s legacy if we were to see a reissue of her books that features excellent cover art work as well as a knowledgeable introduction by a Ricardian scholar and historian.

 

 

 

I’ll Have What She’s Having: A Medieval Christmas Tasting Menu

beef

Spiced beef

“Let us consider some of our genuine English culinary assets.  Among the best of them are our cured and salted meats.  Hams, gammons, salt silversides…”

So begins one of Elizabeth David’s chapters in “Spices, Salts and Aromatics in The English Kitchen,” a charming book that takes us through centuries of English cookery with its yin and yang of salty and sweet, pungently bitter and honeyed agreeableness.  Her book is a lesson to those of us in the Americas and Europe who so disdain English food based on a bad meal in a chain restaurant or a hastily grabbed sandwich at Tesco Express.  David illuminates a vision of past glories and shows a way forward by trusting to an old cuisine based on freshness, seasonality and creativity.  With that in mind, here are some recipes that reach far back in time and yet are still appropriate on a modern table at the holidays:

Spiced Beef

While not quite medieval if The Forme of Cury (The Method of Cooking) is anything to go by, Spiced Beef has been a British and Irish Christmas season favorite since the Elizabethan era.  Given the luxurious amount of sweet and spicy elements that goes into the dish, and the availability of beef, it is hard to believe that it was completely unknown to someone of King Richard the III’s lifetime or status.  In any case, it is a delicious and interesting dish both for its unique flavor and unusual preserving technique that so intrigues the amateur chef:  the weighing down of a hunk of beef with a heavy plank and two large cans of refried beans.

harry and sally

Sally responds to a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli in NYC.

According to Elizabeth David, this dish is particularly popular in the counties of Yorkshire, Cumberland and Sussex.  “The Harrods Book of Traditional English Cookery” claims it as a specialty of Leicestershire and since a very popular version of it was (and may still be) sold in its grand food halls, who are we to argue?  In New York City, of course, it is known as pastrami and sold, hand cut and served on rye, at the popular Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side.  The word “pastrami” comes from the Turkish word “bastirma” meaning “pressed meat.”  In Pakistan, it is known as “Hunter’s Beef” which returns us to the thought of when this dish popped up in the West.   Could it or its preserving technique been brought back from the Middle East by the Crusaders?  It is certainly hard to believe that the Tudors had anything to teach us that wasn’t first known to generations of the Byzantine wars.

Here’s how to do it:  purchase four to six lbs of Silverside or the American cut called Bottom Round.  (Brisket is often used but it is very expensive and once cooked tends to shred like disintegrating rope.)  Rub it all over with soft brown sugar and place it in sterilized Tupperware and store in the crisper section of the refrigerator.  Do the same thing the next day  – you will see that water is drawn from the beef but that is how it should be.  On the third day, rub the meat with a substantial mix of crushed kosher or sea salt, juniper berries, allspice berries, black peppercorns, a pinch of clove and half a teaspoon of Prague Powder.  (Prague Powder will preserve the pink color of the meat and is available on Amazon.  It is optional.)  Continue to rub and turn the meat for the next 8-10 days.  Always return to the crisper or coldest part of the fridge.  After a few days, you will notice a very inviting smell.

On Day 8-10, take the roast out of the fridge and wipe clean.  Place in a tight-fitting dutch oven and pour in a cup or two of water so that it comes up half way up the roast.  Set the oven temperature between 250-290F/143C.  The water must simmer, never boil.  Roast it between 3-5 hours or until it registers 165F/74C on a meat thermometer.  Once cooked, let it cool in the pot and then wrap it in wax paper or tin foil.  Weigh it down with a cutting board and two large cans and place it overnight at the back of the fridge.  When ready to eat, bring it to room temperature and slice very thin.  Serve it with brown or rye bread and strong mustard or horseradish and some pickled vegetables or cole slaw.  It would be perfect the day after Christmas served as part of a cold collation.   As the week goes by, it will only improve in flavor.  Elizabeth David notes, “the beef will carve thinly and evenly, and has a rich, mellow, spicy flavor which does seem to convey to us some sort of idea of the food eaten by our forebears.”

Salat. XX.III.XVI

Take persel, sawge, garlect, chibolles, oynouns, leek, borage, myntes, porrectes, fell and ton tressis, rew, rosemarye, purslarye, laue and waische hem clene, pike hem, pluk hem small with thine hand and mix hem well with rawe oile, lay on vynegur and salt, and serve it forth.

This is a recipe directly from Richard the Second’s cookbook, The Forme of Cury.  While I would never contradict Clarissa Dickson Wright who has said that medieval salads were generally a vegetable mix and not greens, this clearly has much more in common with modern salads than Miss Dickson Wright would have us believe.  To my mind, this salad is definitely overkill but then again King Richard II was a kind of overkill guy.

Elizabeth David, in her cranky book “Christmas,” suggests salad as an appetizer but in European fashion, might well be served after the main course along with some nice cheese.  In her book “Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book,” Mrs. Grigson has an interesting chicory salad that she serves at Christmas.   Served with apples in a mayonnaise dressing, it suspiciously reminds one of a 20th century invention, the Waldorf Salad.

Chicory is a bitter green with a complicated history.  Medieval monks in Europe grew it but probably only used the tender leaves and blue flowers of the plant.  The most common form of it today, also known as endive to both the Americans and the French, is the forced white or yellowish chicon (bud/root) cultivated by the Belgians in the 1840s.  To the Italians, dressed in its pretty, ruffled red clothes, chicory is known as radicchio or treviso and is ludicrously expensive.   Because of its bitterness, it has been used as a coffee substitute seemingly throughout the world during hard times.  New Orleanians have made the coffee/chicory combination a classic at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter along with the famed “beignets”. Medieval people would have simply strewn their “salats” with this precious herb.

chicory

Chicory

 

Mrs. Grigson’s Christmas Salad:

Mix equal quantities of diced cold poultry or game bird and diced, unpeeled eating apples and sliced chicory.  Dress with vinaigrette alone for guinea fowl or pheasant.  Mayonnaise can be added for light poultry, together with some cubed Gruyere cheese. An alternative dish using chicory is to cook it in cream and butter as the French do with the summer herb, savory.

My Simple but Delicious Salad Fit for a Medieval King:

Mix crisp lettuce along with baby spinach, arugula (rocket) or watercress or any herb on hand.  Make a dressing of 1/4 cup of virgin olive oil, a splash of good vinegar, a dash of Dijon mustard and salt and pepper.  Mix well and dress salad at the last possible moment before serving.  If you must, you may add some red onion or sweet pepper or herbed croutons.

alice

Alice B. Toklas at tea

Queen Elizabeth I Apples

I found this odd recipe while perusing Alice B. Toklas’s classic cookbook which is infamous for the recipe of hashish cakes she naively included in her chapter called “Recipes from Friends.”  The rock-ribbed Republican and Catholic convert was chagrined to find that she had been transformed into an early hippie (or belated beatnik) and drug eater.

This simple receipt, however, was submitted by the English painter and baronet, Sir Francis Rose, and suggests an early English pickling method.  Again, we see the Tudors being given credit for a dish that is not only easy to make but contains ingredients that were well known to medieval cooks years before Henry VIII was a gleam in his father’s eye.  It should be started several months before the holiday season when apples are just starting to ripen and fall from the trees:

“Cook in sugar water whole unpeeled very fine apples until transparent.  Then put the apples into jars filled with hot vinegar that has been boiled with honey, allspice and fresh rosemary.  Place into hermetically sealed jars (sterilized) and the apples not served for several months.”  This would make a very nice addition to a ham or pork dish served at Christmas as they do in the southern United States.

Mince Pye

This evergreen-favorite is also associated with the Elizabethans but came into its own with the Victorians.  I suspect mincemeat is much older than the Tudor era because so many medieval receipts  for pottage or “tartlettes” mix pork and mutton with honey, lemon and oranges, spices such as saffron and cinnamon, almonds and dried fruit.  Again, it demonstrates a sophisticated palate in its use of salty, sweet and acidic developed once the spice trade routes were established.  Elizabeth David traces both plum pudding and mincemeat to the Mediterranean.  As examples, she cites a fruity Greek pudding with the unappetizing name of “strepte”  and an ancient Breton dish called “le far” that resembles a plum and raisin-filled clafouti. Of course, as time passed, the meat disappeared from mince pie and became much more sweet and one-dimensional.

As an experiment, I made two batches of the pies – one using beef suet (from Atora) and one using the truly medieval ingredient of marzipan (marchpane).  I was reluctant to use the suet because my husband is still recovering from a beef suet Spotted Dick served at Rules in London.  It gave new meaning to the term “stick to the ribs.”   Still,  I was invested in my menu and could not be stopped.

Serve these mini-pies between Christmas Day and Twelfth Night to ensure good luck:

mince pies

Mincemeat:

Add a good handful each of currents, raisins, yellow raisins (sultanas), dried cranberries (optional), brown sugar, salt, apple cider vinegar, lemon/orange candied peel*, grated lemon zest and two grated apples to a saucepan.  Sprinkle two tablespoons of mixed spice (pumpkin pie spice) over it and stir.  Cover with cider or unsweetened apple juice and bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover and cook it down until fruit is soft and sludgy. The salt and vinegar is unconventional but I prefer the chutney-like flavors which cut through all the sweetness.  Add a couple of tablespoons of brandy and spoon into sterilized jars.  Allow to cool.  These can now be stored in a dark, cool place until ready for use.

Pastry:

1 and 1/2 cups of flour, 1 stick/113 g diced cold unsalted butter, 1 t salt, 1/4 cup of cold water

In a food processor, pulse flour and salt.  Add butter and pulse until well-combined.  Add enough water until the dough comes together and tip out onto a well-chilled, floured board.  Bring it together until it forms a ball and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.  When ready to make the pies, roll it thin and cut circles that will fit small tart pans.  Place about a tablespoon of mincemeat, depending on the size of your tart pans, and the grated suet or marzipan and cover with a top crust.  Set the oven at 400F/200C  degrees and bake for approximately 20 minutes.

The freshness, bright flavor and lightness of these tarts bear no comparison to any store bought variety I have known.  The little pies using beef suet added a pleasing umami sensation – the “mouth feel” so prized by tv chefs and culinary instructors but can easily be omitted.  Just be sure not to use the nasty mixed peel that appears in supermarkets during the holiday season.  Amazon sells very good lemon and orange peel for minimum cost as well as crystallized ginger which would be a nice warm addition.

MEV-10200153 - © - Mary Evans Picture Li

No tasting menu for Christmas can exclude the ever-popular wassail and/or mulled wine that was once known as Lamb’s Wool when served during the harvest celebration of Lammas Day.  It is seemingly everywhere these days and even the tackiest grocery store or bodega knocks out a bag of tired spices for the holidays.  I picked up my assorted fresh spices at the gift shop at Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania and it certainly seems like something both the British and American armies would have enjoyed when heading into winter quarters.  Originally, mead was used in the preparation and then hard cider, generally using fermented apples or other fruits,  honey and spices such as ginger and cinnamon and whole cloves.   Now, more often than not, white or red wine is used.  I prepared it with a red wine “blend” following a easy recipe from the superb book “Fabulous Feasts Medieval Cookery and Ceremony” by Madeleine Pelner Cosman.  Interestingly, her menu offers mulled wine to be served directly after the starter which implies that it would work very well as an aperitif.

Simply pour the spices into a gallon of excellent wine or hard cider, add half a cup of sugar or honey, two quartered oranges and one lemon.  Bring it to a boil and then simmer for an hour or two.  Miss Cosman suggests a pinch of pepper or basil for a hit of sharpness.  Serve in mugs with a stick of cinnamon.  The result is a warming, spicy beverage perfect for a cold night before the wood fire.

You now have a starter, an entree, a side, a dessert and a beverage for your Christmas celebration.  Choosing to make one of them will bring you closer to understanding our medieval forefathers and their superb culture and enticing and exotic foods.  And God bless you and send you a happy New Year!

 

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Clarissa Dickson Wright and the Art of Medieval Food

 

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The late Clarissa Dickson Wright is known to the English-speaking countries of the world as one of The Two Fat Ladies – the middle-aged motorcycling cooks who zipped around the English, Welsh and Irish countryside, one at the wheel of a Triumph Thunderbird, the other stuffed into the sidecar wearing what appeared to be a Biggles pilot helmet.  Jennifer Paterson, the elder, learned to cook in Benghazi and London as a saucy au pair for the upper classes.  After she tired of minding the kiddies, she appeared as a regular on the British Candid Camera and as the cook for the Spectator Magazine’s weekly lunches.   She was fired from the Spectator when she chucked all the kitchen crockery out of an upper floor window because the accountants left dirty tea cups in the sink.  Her culinary talents must have been formidable because she was retained long after she had tickled Enoch Powell’s bald spot during one lunch while girlishly cooing “koochie koo!” at the thunderstruck MP.  Hospitalized in 1999 and told she had a month or so to live, she was asked if she wanted to speak with a social worker.  “No,” she boomed, “I’m watching a Fred Astaire film.”

Clarissa Dickson Wright, although as insouciant as her other half, was a different kettle of medieval fish.  Born to an Australian heiress and the Queen’s surgeon, Arthur Dickson Wright, she grew up in London amid the upper classes of Scotland, Ireland, England and Oz.  Both her parents were connoisseurs of fine food and drink and during a time of strict food rationing her father was importing pigeon from the Middle East and caviar from Iran.  In this lavish environment, Clarissa learned to appreciate beautifully prepared food and drink but choose the law as her profession.  At 21, she became the youngest person called to the bar, working as a barrister at the Inns of Court.  Those who have read her hilarious and chagrined autobiographies “Spilling the Beans” and “Riffling Through My Drawers,” know that upon her beloved mother’s death, she collapsed into a sybaritic existence that decimated the family fortune and landed her penniless and drunk in a London jail with only Saki’s short stories as company.  Once sober, she rebuilt her life around food and its preparation, employed as a cook in private homes and as manageress of the well-known shop in Portobello Road called “Books for Cooks.”  In 1996, she and Jennifer came under the eagle eye of a sharp-witted BBC producer who decided to pair the women in a television program centered around their many talents.  These included Paterson’s basso profundo singing style, cocktail-shaking and motorcycling skills.  Dickson Wright brought her sharp wit and extensive knowledge of the history of English food.  “Two Fat Ladies” became an instant hit that was sadly cut short after its fourth season when Jennifer was struck down by cancer.

Dickson Wright, happily, went on to a solo television career bringing her knowledge of not only food but of country life to the British Isles.  Unfortunately, the programs were not available to Americans until fans of Clarissa uploaded them onto You Tube.  Two wonderful shows – 2008’s “Clarissa Dickson Wright and the King’s Cookbook” and 2014’s “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” – are there for the viewing.  Both explore the long history of cooking in England and push back against notions of bland food prepared by a garlic-phobic nation.  She makes a grand case that English food during the 14th Century achieved an artistic level that could rival France.

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Dash Barber as the young King Richard II in “Clarissa and the King’s Cookbook”

“The King’s Cookbook” takes us into the world of Richard II (1367-1400) and his lavish lifestyle at table.  Deep within the British Library, we are shown the original Forme of Cury (translation:  Method of Cooking), Richard’s compilation of 196 recipes complete with food stains and marginalia.  We are shown directions for making blancmange (originally made with capon), salad (with nary a piece of lettuce in sight) and blubbery roasted porpoise.  We learn that he employed over 300 kitchen staff.  These included saucers, milkers, boners, choppers, spit boy, roasters and scribes who sat in a vestibule writing down “receipts.”  All of them (with the exception of the scribes) were half naked because of the intense heat.  They struggled mightily under the aegis of the Master Chef who sat upon a throne in the kitchen overseeing the work.  They were expected to maintain rigid sanitary conditions.  In an extension of these rules – which would benefit most Waffle Houses in the USA – he demanded his guests be provided with spoons and napkins and prohibited them from eating with fingers or belching, farting and fighting.    In an interesting aside, Clarissa notes that while medieval cooking compilations do not include vegetable recipes, they were always included in meals and feasts.  Herbs and vegetables were foraged in the wild and/or grown in private kitchen gardens.  They were simply picked daily without much thought to recording how they were used.  In the program “Lunch,” we see a lamb pottage (“in a pot”) being cooked over an open fire by docents and volunteers in medieval dress.  As they peer into the bubbling pot, Clarissa laments today’s lack of available mutton which was once so popular and has lost favor among modern people because of its gaminess.*  We are also disabused of that most pernicious notion of the medieval era that expensive and rare imported spices were used to cover up the smell and taste of rotten meat.  Nothing could be further from the truth as several historians interviewed note with vehemence.  Medieval cooks, like our modern chefs, knew how to use ingredients economically and intelligently.  As they point out, only chilies would have disguised the taste of bad meat and they had not yet been imported from the Americas.

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Clarissa Dickson Wright at the British Library with the original Forme of Cury


The louche King Richard continued his wanton ways, taxing and spending his country into anarchy all to please his exquisite palate and discriminating taste.  “I will not dismiss one scallion from my kitchen on the grounds that Parliament asked me to, ” he famously sneered, much like a medieval Richard Olney faced with a shipment of bad wine.  Of course, as is usually the case with tyrants and run-away budgets, the citizenry was soon fed up and hankering for a change.  In 1399, he was brought to heel by the usual aggressive and ambitious upstarts that tended to gather around the edges of powerful Yorkists.  In this case, it was Henry Bolingbroke, who after a false promise of freedom confined Richard to Pontefract Castle with neither a napkin nor spoon in sight.  He then proceeded to starve the king to death in an ironic execution that mirrored the death several decades later of alcoholic George, Duke of Clarence, who was supposedly drowned in a butt of Malmsey.  Mordant Lancastrian wit!

So ended the life of the first foodie king who, at least, never burned a cake unlike a certain predecessor.  Instead, he left us with one of the earliest English-language cookbooks in western history which is offered free-of-charge on Kindle.

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“I give this heavy weight off my head, and this unwieldly sceptre from my hand”

Two recipes are mentioned in “The King’s Cookbook” from The Forme of Cury.  One is Goose Madame or Goose in Sauce Madame.  The other is the simple and delicious:

Pears in Red Wine

2 Pears, 2 cups of good red wine, 1/2-1 cup of sugar depending on taste, orange zest, 1 cinnamon stick, star anise (optional).

Cut the bottoms off of peeled pears so that they stand up.  Place in a deep saucepan and pour in the red wine.  Add all other ingredients and simmer until pears are a deep jewel-like red and easily pierced with a knife.  Cool and serve on a white plate with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or sweetened ricotta.

pears

The website Coquinaria, devoted to medieval cuisine, has a recipe for Goose Madame in which it is advised that it be served at Christmastime.  We are now in the midst of high summer but perhaps it can be tucked away for later in the year or read for pure amazement at the list of ingredients that would delight Yotam Ottolenghi:

Stuff Goose Sauce Madame

1 large goose

For the stuffing: 2-4 tart apples, 2 pears, 2 Tbs. chopped parsley and 1 tsp. of sage and savory, 2 garlic cloves, chopped, 20-30 grapes, skinned.

For the sauce:  1 Tbsp of goose fat, 1 small onion, chopped, 1/2 liter (2 cups) of dark stock, 1/4 cup red wine, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, white breadcrumbs, galingale (or ginger), cinnamon mace, cloves, cubebs (a type of peppercorn), salt to taste, giblets.

Salt to taste

the neck and giblets of the goose

Stuffing prep:  Boil the unpeeled apples for an hour in water.  Drain and cool.  Peel pears, decore them.  Cut them in small pieces.  Mix in the chopped herbs, garlic and peeled grapes.

Put the stock in a boiling pan, add the giblets.  Bring to a boil, let simmer a couple of hours.  Strain through a fine sieve.

Sauce:  Heat some of the goose fat and fry the onion in it.  Add the strained stock and red wine and the bread crumbs.  Let this simmer a short while until thickened.  Now add the stuffing from the goose, spices and wine vinegar.  Bring to the boil once more.

Set the temperature at 180C or 350F.  Stuff the goose, secure the filling and place goose on a rack.  Baste regularly and after about two to three hours, take it out and let it rest for 10-15 minutes for the juices to redistribute.  This can be served whole or sliced with stuffing and sauce.

 

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Goose with Sauce Madame


*One of New York City’s oldest chop houses, Keen’s Steakhouse, no longer serves mutton although it is still advertised.  What you smell the minute you enter this wood-paneled old restaurant are giant lamb chops sizzling on the platter.

Both “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner” and “Clarissa and The King’s Cookbook” are available in sections on You Tube.

Recommended reading:  all are available on Amazon:

A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright

Clarissa’s England:  A Gamely Gallop through the English Counties

Feast Days: Recipes from “The Spectator” by Jennifer Paterson.  Miss Paterson follows the Catholic liturgical calendar with recipes and amusing comments on the more eccentric saints of the Church.

 

 

 

Joan of Arc and Les Soldats

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A doodle of Joan of Arc drawn by Clement de Fauquemberque of the Parliament of Paris.  The only contemporary drawing we have of her.

 

 

Today marks the 587th anniversary of the death of Joan of Arc, burned at the stake at Rouen, France.  As the flames engulfed her, she clutched a cross made of sticks to her bosom, fashioned by an ordinary English solder.  “Jesus!”  was her last word.  She was 19 years old.  In 1920, almost 500 years after her death, she was finally canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

Everyone in the West knows Joan’s story from the novels of Mark Twain to Thomas Keneally, from filmmakers Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson to Otto Preminger, from playwrights George Bernard Shaw to Jean Anouillh.  In recent years, she has been taken up by multiple video games based on the Hundred Years War.  One of her greatest biographers is undoubtedly the French medievalist Regine Pernoud who has written 3 highly readable, deeply researched books on the subject, relying on the Latin transcripts of her trial and rehabilitation trial of 1455-56 to bring Joan into 21th Century relief.

While everyone knows the story of the peasant girl called by Sts. Catherine, Margaret and Michael the Archangel to rid France of the English and their Burgundian enablers, and crown the dauphin Charles Valois king, not many people know her companions-in-arms.  The most famous captains of the French army during the latter part of the 100 Years War were Jean Dunois, The Bastard of Orleans, Etienne de Vignolles nicknamed “La Hire” (The Anger) and Gilles De Rais, the Marshal of France.  Along with several others, these are the men who rode into battle with her, camped with her and lifted the siege of the city of Orleans that led to Charles’ coronation.  These two events would lead to the end of one of the most brutal European civil wars.

JEAN DUNOIS

Jean Dunois called The Bastard was born in Paris in 1402.  He was the illegitimate son of Louis d’Orleans, Duke of Orleans and a long time supporter and campaigner for the House of Valois (the Armagnac Party) in the 100 Years War.  Prior to meeting Joan, he fought as a Captain with Etienne de Vignolles in various engagements at Le Mans, Baugé, Cravant, Verneuil and the Siege of Montargis.  Like most Armagnac commanders, he was captured by the Burgundians and held for 2 years (his own father being held for 25 years after Agincourt) before the actions at the Siege of Orleans.

Undoubtedly, his fame has been secured through his association with Joan, his public devotion to her and his steadfastness in warfare.  Using the sometimes limited man power and short bursts of violence that characterized this war, he engaged with some success the legendary English commanders of fact and fiction:  Sir William Glasdale (Classidas), Sir John Falstaff (Fastolf), Thomas, Lord Scales, William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk (Suffort) and Sir John Talbot.

 

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Jean Dunois the Bastard of Orleans

From the above portrait alone, it is easy to see why the Bastard has been presented in film and stagecraft as the silky, handsome negotiator between Joan and the dubious and profane officers of the French forces.  During the Christmas seasons, with his typical elan and ingrained sense of chivalry, he had his minstrels play for the English and on one occasion delivered fish to Talbot for his evening meal.  Some historians have argued that it was this lassitude on the part of the French aristocracy that prolonged the war against the despised “goddams”; nevertheless, Dunois was a brave and wily adversary against the English.

In March of 1429, the French army was encamped at Orleans along the south bank of the Loire River far from the English situated on the north by the gatehouse Les Tourelles.  The French commanders were expecting to meet a spiritual adviser* and instead were greeted by an impatient warrior who immediately tore up their battle plans, accusing them of  traitorous deception.  She demanded to know why the army was on the “wrong side” of the river and did not cross over and engage the enemy.  Gently remonstrating, Dunois suggested they wait for better weather and a more friendly wind direction.  Joan was having none of it:  “In God’s name, the counsel of the Lord your God is wise and safer than yours.  You thought to deceive me and it is yourself above all whom you deceive, for I bring you better succor than has reached you from any soldier or any city; it is succor from the King of Heaven.  (He) has taken pity on the town of Orleans, and will not suffer that the enemies have the bodies of the lord of Orleans and his town.”  At that moment, in one of many weird circumstances that would baffle Joan’s friends and enrage her enemies, the wind switched direction, allowing the French captains to raise sail and cross over into the city. Dunois later described his feelings:   “It seems to me, that Joan in battle and in warfare, was rather of God than of men.”  He became her fervent friend and defender.

In the days to come, Joan, protected by Dunois, attempted to speak to the English and warn them to retreat.  A message sent by arrow towards the fortified gatehouse predicted that William Glasdale, the commander of the remaining bridge over the Loire, would die a watery death if he did not decamp.  Instead, Glasdale rained down angry curses on her head, calling her “cowgirl,” “witch,” and “bitch.”    The Bastard relates:  The moment she was there the English trembled with terror; and the (French) King’s men regained their courage and began to climb, delivering their assault against the bulwark and not meeting with the least resistance.  Then that bulwark was taken, and the English who were in it had fled.  But they were all killed, among the rest Classidas and the other principal English captains of this bastille, who intended to retire into the bridge tower but fell in the river and were drowned.  This Classidas had been the man who had spoken most foully and in the basest and most infamous language against the Maid.

Glasdale’s body was not recovered.

It was recorded that Joan cried tears of rage and sorrow over the senseless loss of English lives that day.  She attempted to nurse the dying and had the last rites administered to many of the soldiers.  This sudden and unexpected loss led the English to completely abandon the Loire Valley although Joan and Dunois followed in hot pursuit.  They fought several more skirmishes before they escorted Charles VII to his coronation on July 17, 1429.

After her capture at Compiegne, Dunois led an unsuccessful bid to free her. Despite this failure, he continued to fight against the English for the remaining years of the war.  It is unclear if he was at her rehabilitation trial or wrote a lengthy document testifying to her saintliness and patriotism.  His testimony is well worth reading and is one of the few direct accounts we have the Siege of Orleans and Joan’s participation in it.

He married twice, was  honored in his own lifetime, and died in 1468 at the age of 66.

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Beautiful medieval image of the Siege of Orleans.  Les Tourelles (the gatehouse) is clearly shown.

 

ETIENNE DE VIGNOLLES (LA HIRE)

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Three fascinating presentations of La Hire from the medieval period to today – although he seems to be morphing into Falstaff!  (This last is from a video game where La Hire is a popular character.  There is no contemporary image of him.

Etienne de Vignolles was also known as “La Hire”.  There is controversy whether his nickname means  “The Anger” or “The Prickly One” or “The Hedgehog” but one thing is clear:  it was a byword for fear and terror not only to the English “goddams” but to the people of France as well.  La Hire brought Total War to the countryside long before William Tecumsah Sherman made the concept infamous.

In the wake of the Black Death, the 100 Years War was one of devastating consequence to the rural medieval society.   Unlike the War of the Roses in England, plundering, murder, rapine, torched homes, farms and cattle were considered justifiable acts to these French guerrilla forces.   Up until he met and was influenced by Joan of Arc, La Hire was very much a man of his time and place.  It is no wonder that he became a prime villain in violent 21st Century video games:  “War and Warriors:  Joan of Arc,” “Age of Empires 2:  The Age of Kings” and “Blade Storm:  the Hundred Years War.”  In the latter, he appears as an amusing Hulk-like ogre when, in fact, he may have been a much smaller man.   What history does relate is that he cursed so badly during military councils that a shocked Joan immediately set out to put a stop to it.  She forced him to the sacrament of Confession and encouraged him to replace foul language with prayer.  She banned excessive brutality and cracked down on camp followers who were purposefully ignored by military leaders.  She went so far as to smack her sword against a whore’s buttocks and chase her from the field.  La Hire supported her in these reforms.  He cursed out of earshot and long after The Maid’s death, he prayed before a battle, kneeling upon the ground and intoning a witty supplication:  May God do for La Hire what God would have La Hire do for Him if God were La Hire and La Hire were God.

Etienne de Vignolles was born in southern France in 1390 and was not of high birth.  He was apparently a lifelong soldier, who may have began his career at Agincourt.  He rose through the ranks to become commander of the French forces and was instrumental in lifting the Siege of Orleans.  As part of that campaign and prior to Joan’s arrival, La Hire was in charge of provisioning the army.  This led to the failed Battle of the Herrings in which he warred against Sir John Fastolf.

We do not know exactly why or when he converted  from reprobate and skeptic to true believer in the Maid.  All we do know, is that he eventually came to believe that she was a surprisingly good strategist and tactician in warfare and was open to all her advice.  (Joan, as always, maintained that any plans she put forward came directly from Michael the Archangel.)  After her capture, he attempted two separate rescue attempts at Rouen.  During the second, he too, was captured by Burgundians and imprisoned.  In typical fashion, he was back in action by 1432, several years after Joan’s death.  He died, perhaps killed by that most notorious illness of the soldier great or poor – dysentery – in southern France at the age of 53.  His image is said to be the Jack of Hearts figure on the French deck of cards.  In examining his signature, he appears to have been almost as illiterate as Joan:

la hire 3

 

 

jehanne

 

 

GILLES DE RAIS LAVAL


gilles de rais

An early 19th century depiction of Gilles de Rais.  There are no contemporary portraits.  Perhaps they were all destroyed.

 

Gilles de Rais Laval, Baron and Marshall of France, is probably the most famous (or infamous) of Joan’s companions.  He inspired the French fairy tale “Bluebeard” – the story of a man who dyed his beard blue and murdered his wives.  We do know that in reality Gilles de Rais did not murder his rich wife (he simply kidnapped her) instead concentrating on torturing and murdering over 100 children at his castles in Champtoché  and Machecoul over a period of 10 years.  For these crimes – as well as the crime of heresy – he was executed at Nantes in 1440.

This aristocratic and immensely wealthy Breton was born in either 1404 or 1405, the son of two rich clansmen, Guy de Laval and Marie de Craon.  Orphaned at about 10 years of age, he was nevertheless cocooned in excessive luxury and indolence by his maternal grandfather and swaddled in affection by his doting nurse.  His excellent private education was in military matters and Catholic morals.  The latter didn’t leave much of an impression but his training was such that in that era of indifferent cruelty he became a highly effective soldier.  He was considered a brilliant and handsome young man by most who knew him.  He spoke and wrote fluent Latin and was a patron of the arts.

By 1427, well into his military career, he had personally raised 5 companies of knights beautifully clad and richly paid to fight for the Armagnac Party.  He employed salaried spies to scour the countryside for information to be used against the English and Burgundian enemies.  His vast choir of young boys must have raised amused suspicion among the more cynical soldiers but it was reported to be the finest in all the kingdom.

According to British author, Jean Benedetti, who took much of his information from “The Chronicles of the Siege of Orleans” by the eminent 19th century French historian Jules Quicherat, Gilles was with Dunois and Vignolles at Orleans while waiting for the arrival of Joan in the spring of 1429.  At a hastily gathered council, it was decided that Gilles would travel to the town of Blois to meet with representatives of the King and raise further provisions for the army.  He, therefore, missed her magnificent entrance into the town on her white charger with her raised banner of fleurs de lis on one side and the Archangel Michael on the other.  When one of the many banners decorating the town accidentally caught fire and risked a chance of spreading, she gallantly rode forth and snuffed it out with her gauntlet.  The crowd went wild in jubilation.

Once he returned, Gilles twice rescued Joan from various sticky situations during the Siege and helped her to safety when she was struck with an arrow above her breast.  He offered a bit of necromancy in an attempt to heal her which she hastily declined.  From there, he accompanied her in all her campaigns as well as attending the Coronation.  He was with her again at the failed Siege of Paris when she was struck in the thigh by a bolt from a crossbow.  She was dragged screaming from the fight.  Exhausted by the war, and secretly plotting to buy peace at any cost, Charles VII declared the battle lost and entreated Joan to withdraw.  She would not return to battle until the following year when she rode to relieve to city of Compiegne.  Wearing a long tunic over her suit of white armor, a Burgundian soldier grabbed it and pulled her from her horse.  She was then sold to the English and imprisoned to await trial and execution on charges of heresy and witchcraft.

For all his help in securing the crown for Charles, Gilles de Rais was showered with many honors, including being created the Marshall of France.  Having secured his throne, Charles now retreated into safety and security leaving Joan abandoned to her many enemies and Gilles de Rais to his dark fate.  He retired from the army and returned to his many properties, beginning his descent into madness and vast criminality .

He indulged in wild extravagance – the building of homes and chapels (one ironically named The Chapel of the Holy Innocents), lavish theatrical events, experiments in alchemy and black magic, acquisition of fine clothing as well as furniture and paintings – all of which began to erode his vast fortune.  His family, the Montmorency-Lavals, were forced to appeal to the King and the Pope to put a stop to his expenditures; a royal edict was issued in which no one was allowed to enter into a contract with him.  Then the children of the towns of Champtoché and Machecoul and various other areas began disappearing.  Mothers, who had allowed their children to work in the kitchens on the estates of Gilles De Rais had suspicions but feared retribution from this most powerful prince.   Hungry, homeless children who wandered the landscape were particularly vulnerable to Gilles’ henchmen.  Kidnapped, they were taken into hidden rooms in the castles where they were subjected to beastly sexual torture before being killed by stabbing and beheading and their bodies thrown into fire.

In the late 1430s, the Bishop of Nantes Jean de Malestroit began to investigate the accusations against Gilles brought by both the nobility and commoners.  In July of 1440, the Bishop issued a summons against him and he was arrested at the castle at Machecoul and imprisoned at Nantes.  He was tried by both an ecclesiastical and secular court on charges of property theft, murder and heresy.  During the testimony, the flustered and horrified scribes switched from impersonal Latin to vernacular French to better describe his awful crimes.  Gilles, meanwhile, alternated between pitiable submission to the courts and loud arrogance and denunciation of the proceedings.  It was only when shown the instruments of torture that would be used to extract a confession, he realized the jig was up.  He swiftly admitted guilt and gave a long, grisly recitation of his crimes.  He endured excommunication and reconciliation with the Church and was condemned to die by hanging and fire.  He met his fate with notable calm.

From there, he would pass from mortal man to the Bluebeard of French children’s nightmares.

 

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*Joan was said to fulfill a prophecy that “France would be ruined through a woman and afterwards restored by a virgin.”  The woman in question has often been said to be the profligate and conniving mother of Charles VII, Isabeau of Bavaria.  Charles VII doubted his royal parentage because of his mother’s promiscuous behavior and her open questioning of his legitimacy.  It is said that the famous secret Joan revealed to him at Chinon was that she knew he prayed to God to reveal who his father was.  Joan assured him that he was the true son of the mad King Charles VI.  The dauphin cried at the revelation and allowed Joan to escort the army to Orleans.

Bibliography:

The Retrial of Joan of Arc, the Evidence for Her Vindication by Regine Pernoud

Joan of Arc by Herself and Her Witnesses by Regine Pernoud

Joan of Arc Her Story by Regine Pernoud and Marie-Veronique Clin

The Real Bluebeard The Life of Gilles de Rais by Jean Benedetti – an excellent and painful study of the Marshall of France.

The Maid and The Queen by Nancy Goldstone

Suggested reading:

All of the above.

Blood Red, Sister Rose by Thomas Keneally.  The great Australian novelist’s story of Joan’s military career.

Falstaff by Robert Nye.  The poet’s brilliant and libidinous novel of John Falstaff and his poignant and brief encounter with La Pucelle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jean dunois

 

 

Strange Times by Joan Szechtman

strange timesToday, we interview Joan Szechtman, an American writer who has just published her third time-travel novel about King Richard the Third.  Fans of Joan have read her books, THIS TIME, which was published in 2009 and LOYALTY BINDS ME which was published in 2011.  Her third Richard the Third novel, STRANGE TIMES, has just been published and is available on Amazon.

Joan, to begin with, what made you interested in Richard the Third?

In 2004 I read Sharon Kay Penman’s THE SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR. It turned my perception of Richard III from Shakespeare’s arch-villain I loved to hate to a sympathetic character I had to learn about. From Penman’s book I found RICHARD THE THIRD by Paul Murray Kendall.

Those are two great sources to use when researching Richard the Third.  Please tell us how you became involved with the Richard the Third Society? I believe you hold several key posts in the American branch.

As I continued my research, I realized I needed to find resources beyond my local library and found the UK and American Branch websites of the Richard III Society. In addition to joining the American Branch, I signed on to both branches email lists so that I could ask questions of other members who were far more knowledgeable than me.

At the time I joined the American Branch, the New England Chapter had just formed and they contacted me to see if I would be interested in participating. So, I joined them as well. A couple of years after joining the New England Chapter the first moderator resigned her position and I became the new moderator for the next two years.

In 2011, the American Branch needed a new editor and I was pressed into service. I’m still the branch’s editor. We have two semi-annual publications: The Ricardian Register and The Ricardian Chronicle. The Register is more academic oriented and features scholarly papers and book reviews and is published both in print and digital editions every March and September. The Chronicle is basically a newsletter, focusing on member events, Ricardian travels, and member interviews. It’s published digitally every June and December.

Amazing resources for the American students of Richard!  Your new book “Strange Times” is now available on Amazon. Can you tell us something about it?

This is the third book of the trilogy about Richard III in the 21st century. While each book follows Richard today chronologically, the books are written so there are no cliff hangers and can be read in any order, though it’s best to read them sequentially. The book does contain a brief “previously on” for those who haven’t read the first two books or need a refresher.

What fascinates me about Strange Times is that it attempts to cover the fate of my favorite person in all of Richard the Third’s life:  Viscount Francis Lovell, Richard’s closest friend.

STRANGE TIMES takes place in both the 15th and 21st century and investigates what might have happened to Francis Lovell, Richard’s loyal supporter. Currently, there is no definitive historical record of Lovell after the Battle of Stoke where Lovell fought on the losing side against Henry VII. Richard is haunted by one possible outcome that has Lovell starving to death locked in an underground chamber in Minster Lovell. The book follows Richard using the time travel device to “see” what happened to Lovell after Stoke. Then everything goes pear-shaped.

The trilogy is available on most online book sellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble for both print and digital editions, and digitally on iTunes, Kobo, Sony, etc.

I know you have a science background which has influenced your books, so can you give us some background information? And why combine that interest with Richard the Third and the time travel books?

While I do have an engineering background, having spent most of that career working on computer science and data communication, I believe my main reason stems from my love of science fiction and time travel stories. When I began my research on the real Richard III, I dreamt of having dinner with him. Since that was impossible, I decided to write him into the 21st century. I based his character on my research.

One of the things that nagged at me was Richard III was quite young when he died—32. I felt there was more to his story than his short life revealed. I wanted to examine his character in a modern setting, without imposing our modern sensibilities on his 15th century actions. By bringing him into the future, I could challenge him in ways that I couldn’t in his own time.

A primary goal in all my books about Richard III is to get the known history right. For that which is not known, I felt free to speculate as long as it was plausible. For example, there is no extant documentation as to what happened to Edward IV’s eldest sons—Edward, putative heir to the throne until parliament declared him illegitimate due to Edward IV’s bigamous marriage, and Richard of York, next in line until declared illegitimate. I developed a plausible theory that Richard hid them in other countries, such as Spain, and they survived Richard.

In STRANGE TIMES, I have Richard learn what happened to his nephews after he had “died” and solve the mystery surrounding Lovell after the Battle of Stoke.

Good for you!  It is so frustrating to try to make people understand that there is no evidence that Richard the Third murdered his nephews.  People have this need to cling to myths.

STRANGE TIMES came to my attention because you received a “Discovering Diamonds” review. Please tell me something about “Discovering Diamonds” and the review.

Rather than paraphrase what Helen Hollick’s blog is about, I will let “Discovering Diamonds” speak for itself:

“Our aim is to showcase well-written historical fiction for readers to enjoy. We welcome indie-published writers because indie writers do not have the marketing backup of the big publishing houses, but if traditionally published novels come our way we’ll be happy to read and review them! Our intention is to have a good mix of good historical fiction to share with you, a reader.

“However, we are fussy: we only publish reviews of the best books, so we also take note of correct presentation and formatting as well as the quality of writing – and when space and time are limited we may only select a few books a month to review. …”

Getting reviews is important for any author, and can be a struggle for indie authors, of which I am one. I am therefore pleased to share the link to my “Discovering Diamonds” review:

Fantastic review.

Thanks for talking to the Murrey & Blue blog.

discovering diamonds review

 

The Madness of King Richard III

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Playwright Alan Bennett

A while back, Sunday, December 3rd, 2017, to be exact,  I was looking through The New York Times Book Review section when I came across playwright Alan Bennett’s new book called “Keeping On Keeping On.”  It was a mildly interesting review of his diary (ODD SPOILER ALERT:  he once shared the same doctor as Sylvia Plath) until I got to this:  “He’s so upset at what the Richard III Society has done to an old church that he rips down their banner and ‘would have burned it, had I had a match.'”   Brow knitted, I wondered:  what have those wild-eyed, tweedy academic types been up to this time??

Well, a brief Google search provided a hint in yet another book review, this time from the London Review of Books.  In published excerpts from 2014, Bennett dismisses the significance of finding Richard the Third’s remains although admitting that the reconstructed head looks astonishingly like his famed portrait.  Comparing Ricardians to those who believe Edward DeVere was a genius while William Shakespeare nothing more than the dim-bulb son of a rural glove-maker, he goes on to say this:

“Just east of Leeds and not far from Towton and its bloody battlefield is Lead Church, a medieval cell of a chapel which possibly served as a refuge or a dressing station after the battle in 1461.  I have known the chapel since I was a boy when I used to go out there on my bike.  It stands in the middle of a field, the grass grazed by sheep right up to the south door and has latterly been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.  It was untouched as late as 2000 when it figured in an article I wrote for The World of Interiors.  However, calling there a few years ago we found that the grass outside the south door had been replaced or supplemented by a patio not even in York stone but in some fake composition.  Inside, draped in front of the altar was a gaudy banner advertising the Richard III Society.  This I rolled up and had I had the means would have destroyed.  I wrote to the CCT, who generally do a decent job but was told the patio had been there for many years.  It hadn’t and I suspect the culprits were the Richard III Society, who see the church as a Yorkist site…”

loyalty binds

Gaudy?

According to Mr. Bennett, not only have Ricardians managed to rehabilitate the name of the last Yorkist king but apparently have gone into the concrete, paving and masonry business! Of course, he offers no proof that the Society had anything to do with building a bad-taste deck on the back of a medieval church but when it comes to the world of denialists, I suppose any insult will do.*  Luckily for them, while we Ricardian hard hats may be expert at mixing concrete along with our metaphors, we no longer prepare “Chicago overcoats” or cement shoes for those who have differing opinions…

construction

A Ricardian on lunch break?  I think not!

 

 

*The website of St. Mary Lead reports only that it received a grant from The Richard the Third Society for renovations.  It says nothing about the Society directing or instructing or approving the work.

Witchcraft (4): Witchcraft American Style

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A typical afternoon in modern day Salem, Massachusetts

Why do the Salem Witch Trials continue to fascinate after three hundred and twenty five years?  Why do tourists and locals, wiccans, witches, warlocks and wizards continue to walk the crowded streets of this pretty little seaside city in Massachusetts in search of magic and mayhem?  What propels them to stroll the narrow streets, licking ice cream cones and crowding into The House of Seven Gables, the Witch House and Frankenstein’s Castle?  Why do so many people take the walking tours of a city that only boasts two buildings that existed in the 17th century and never claimed Dr. Frankenstein as a resident?

When I visited in 2016, I was stopped by a nice lady wiccan who after cooing over my dog, informed me that my wire-haired terrier was an old soul who may have been one of the first victims of judiciary malfeasance.  While this may explain Dingo’s behavior, it didn’t explain why this city continues to fascinate. After all, most of the historical action took place in the nearby town of Danvers, formerly known as Salem Village.  In this bucolic town you can search for the secret grave of witchcraft-trial victim, Rebecca Nurse, who bravely declared her innocence to the end.  She is buried somewhere on her graceful homestead which is maintained to this day by volunteers – her house a picturesque bright red colonial saltbox.  Or you can walk along the lonely remains of the parsonage of  the Reverend Samuel Parris and ponder how could so much suffering and horror emerge from such a tiny dot on the landscape of Massachusetts Bay Colony?*

Better to get back to Salem and join the pirates and ghouls – where terror and death are neatly packaged and sold as tourist trinkets!

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The Rebecca Nurse Homestead

salem village parsonage

The foundation of the parsonage of the Reverend Samuel Parris where the trouble began.

The founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England in the early 17th century brought enormous financial benefits to both the new world and the old world in industries such as shipbuilding, fur trading, fisheries and lumber.  As this colony developed, it also became a midway trading point from Europe to Africa and the Caribbean.  Goods from England, Portugal, France and Spain were used to purchase West African slaves to work in the sugarcane brakes and tobacco fields.   In turn, luxurious products such as  tobacco, sugar, molasses, indigo dye, rice, rum and cotton, produced by slaves and slave masters were exported back to Europe. This is the notorious “Triangle Trade” of molasses, rum and slaves.  But for the yeoman Puritans of New England, they could only scratch out a living on a hard and rocky soil, living on the edge of enormous dark forests while enduring brutal winters and terrifying Indian raids and massacres.  It is this harsh background, along with a religion obsessed with soul-crushing Original Sin, that many historians believe produced the unhinged behavior that would eventually lead to the gallows death of 19 innocent souls on a charge of witchcraft.**

In January of 1692, two children, Betty Parris and her cousin, Abigail Williams, fell ill in the household of the Reverend Samuel Parris.  Their illnesses were unusual in that they appeared to be violent fits rather than ordinary childhood indispositions.  According to “The Witches:  Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem” by historian Stacy Schiff, “they barked and yelped.  They fell dumb.  Their bodies shuddered and spun.  They went limp or spasmodically rigid…Abigail attempted to launch herself into the air, flinging her arms and making flying noises.”  Frightened, Rev. Parris was reluctant to turn to his congregation for help.  The villagers had gone through many ministers, all of whom failed to pass muster, including the hapless Parris.

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The Reverend Samuel Parris

Born in England and raised in Barbados by an English plantation owner, Samuel Parris arrived in Massachusetts from the Caribbean in approximately 1680 after failing as both a large-scale farmer and businessman.  It was there he may have acquired the slave Tituba who would play a leading role in the witchcraft drama.***  He enrolled at Harvard yet failed to acquire a degree.  In desperation, he turned to the ministry and eventually drifted to this flinty community by the sea.   He soon discovered that after chores, the villagers’ main hobbies included endless litigation over property rights, denying their pastoral leader much needed firewood and expressing displeasure at what they considered his high-handed demands****.  Nonetheless, he called in a Salem Village doctor, William Griggs, who took one look at the girls’ bizarre behavior and diagnosed “An Evil Hand” at work.  Reverend John Hale of nearby Beverly also confirmed the diagnosis of witchcraft.  Hearing that, the girls, along with a 12 year old afflicted neighbor, Ann Putnam, accused Tituba and two other women of tormenting them through supernatural means.  These women were Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne.  As is often the case with witchcraft accusations, both were considered ne’er do wells and shrews.  Goodwife Good was a near vagrant.

The phrase “all hell broke loose” has never been put to better effect.  Within a month, Ann Putnam’s father, Thomas, from a large,  litigious family and a militia sergeant during the brutal King Philip’s War, filed formal complaints against the women with local magistrates, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin.  As Mary Beth Norton notes “In the Devil’s Snare,” “the accusations moved from the religious to the legal realm” with devastating speed and ease.  So many people were accused by so many accusers that the judges were compelled to move the court from a tavern to the meetinghouse which had also served as Salem Village’s church.  When the head count exceeded thirty, Constable Joseph Herrick apparently moved the prisoners from his own home to the dank prisons of Salem Town and Boston.

salem meeting house

A reconstruction of the Salem meetinghouse which stands close to the parsonage and Rebecca Nurse’s farm.

The slave Tituba was one of the first called to testify and while refusing to call herself a witch, admitted to dabbling in witchcraft.  She testified to hellish culinary achievements such as baking a witchcake and suggested to the court she may have signed the Devil’s Book.  (Signing legal documents with Lucifer appears to have been a New England invention not an Old England one.)  She too implicated Good and Osborne and evoked fearsome images of the three of them riding broomsticks in the night as far as Boston.   Her confession was a shrewd move on her part because, invariably, those who quickly admitted their guilt escaped execution while those who did not invariably wound up on the gallows.  Both Good and Osborne denied being witches; Good was hanged and Goody Osborne died in a stinking prison awaiting execution.

Such unusual jurisprudence to our modern minds was nonetheless a consequence of colonial law which looked for guilt far more than innocence.  The highly imaginative accusations of very young girls  – demonstrated in histrionic fashion whenever court was in session – carried far more weight than the protestations of law-abiding and church-going adults.  People who quickly admitted to wrongdoing might escape with a prison sentence or be set free.  Admirably if tragically, very few of the accused admitted to consorting with the Devil.

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One of the victims testifies in typical fashion

In many ways, New England witchcraft accusations and trials mirrored the trials and convictions of Common Law England.  Witches were not burned at the stake in either country and torture was generally avoided.  In both countries, accusations of witchcraft frequently arose over unexplained losses or petty disputes.  According to David D. Hall, writing in 1985 in The New England Quarterly, “this conflict emerged whenever someone rejected a neighbor’s request for aid.  Hence…the sequence of rejection, anger, guilt and accusations of witchcraft.  Guilt turned into accusations of maleficium (sorcery) when and if misfortune followed, for misfortune lent itself to interpretation as revenge by the offended party.” Thomas Putnam, father of afflicted Ann, had recent unexplained losses of livestock – a horse and cow had dropped dead without explanation.  It was he who brought one hundred and twenty accusations of sorcery to the court.  That appears to have been one-third of all accusations.  He, himself, modestly testified against only seventeen of the accused.

Although the Salem Witch trials are remembered for the wild behavior and absurd accusations of the “victims” (memorably dramatized in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”) the colonial behavior also differed markedly from the Europeans.  Firstly, the head count of the executed were puny compared to Europe.  Approximately 80 people died during the century of witch-hunting in America.  According to David D. Hall “…in the same decades that saw some 300 English witches executed, the Scottish authorities put to death an estimated 1,300 persons out of a much smaller population.”  Secondly, American witches tended to lead far duller, more constrained lives – almost puritanical in their wizardry.  They flew on broomsticks from one hick burg to another or had dull legal conferences with the devil.  Occasionally they moved furniture around households in mischievous fashion or fiddled nastily with Saturday night’s baked beans.  It must be said, though, that at the Salem trials, the accusations of spectral violence – from biting throats to choking to pricking with hot pokers and pins – far exceeded the usual witchy claims and must, in some way reflect repressed fury and depression on the part of the young women.  On the other hand, as Stacy Schiff points out: “Continental witches had more fun.  They walked on their hands.  They made pregnancies last three years.  They turned their enemies’ faces upside down and backward.”  When European witches flew, they traveled to far more exotic places than hidebound Boston.  They had lascivious encounters with the devil and his minions while sexual affairs were strictly verboten among the Massachusetts Bay sorcerers.

By early autumn of 1692, nineteen people were led to the gallows, convicted of being witches.  (Several more died in prison.)  Some of their names come down to us in culture and history:  John Proctor, who maintained his innocence to the end became the hero of “The Crucible.”  Giles Corey, irascible and vitriolic towards the judges and accusers, was the only victim tortured to death:  pressed with larger and larger stones upon his naked body until he expired.  The seventy-one year old Rebecca Nurse was a paragon of virtue within the community until Thomas Putnam’s wife accused the old woman of engaging her in a spectral wrestling match.  Dragged in front of Judge Hathorne, she remained unruffled and quietly defiant.  Meanwhile, her large and worthy family took up her cause, bravely submitting petitions testifying to her good character.  They directly confronted the Putnam family and one sharp-eyed daughter witnessed one of Rebecca’s accusers, Goodwife Sarah Bibber, surreptitiously jabbing herself with pins to produce bloody pricks.  This was too much even for a Salem jury – Rebecca was acquitted.  At this good news, the judges flew into a fury and jurors was forced back into the jury room.  They deliberated twice more and emerged to unanimously convict her.  She, along with four other women, were sent to the gallows on July 19th, 1692.   While Rebecca Nurse maintained her dignity it is noteworthy to mention that Sarah Good did not.  Pulled and prodded up the stairs of the gibbet, she harangued her judges and added a final curse on Judge Nicholas Noyes:  “God will give you blood to drink!”  Many years later, he died during a hemorrhage, blood filling his throat.

tituba

An over-the-top depiction of Tituba bewitching the Parris household

By late autumn, the crisis had exhausted itself and accusations tapered off.  Increase Mather, a leading Puritan and president of Harvard, wrote a treatise condemning the use of spectral evidence at witchcraft trials. His writings on the subject happily influenced future judiciary proceedings.

Author Christopher Bigsby  evokes the bleak aftermath of the witch hunt: “depredations of the countryside:  unharvested crops, untended animals, houses in disrepair…the breaking of the social contract that binds a community together, as love and mutual respect binds individuals.”  Despite the cruel upheaval of the summer, life slowly resurrected itself.  Salem villagers returned to their neglected farms for harvest while others quietly buried their dead in unmarked graves.  Many of the children and teenage girls who made accusations left the village only to find they were not wanted in other villages. Several of them ended up accused of crimes such as adultery or had children out of wedlock or made abusive marriages.  Many of the them died young.  And yet one remained to tell a tale:

ann putnam

Notes:

*The parsonage was excavated in 1970 by local historian, Richard Trask.  He maintains that the town of Danvers was unhappy with the archaeological dig because it once again brought up the trial and its attendant horrors.  Mr. Trask is a descendant of John Proctor.

**According to historian David D. Hall, traditionalist Salem historian, Charles W. Upham, “insisted that Calvinism, or the Puritan version of it, perpetuated a literal belief in witchcraft that clergyman such as Cotton Mather put to devastating use.”  This has since been disputed although it is demonstrably true that the Puritan clergy of New England at this time had a very real belief in the supernatural and its attendant evils upon the populace.

***The origins of the slave Tituba have been disputed.  Many historians believe that she was a black slave from Barbados while others suspect she may have been a Native American because she was married to a man eponymously named John Indian.  All agree she was not native to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

****Parris irritated his congregants when he purchased gold candlesticks to replace the pewter ones used at the meeting house.  The candlesticks are used to comic effect in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”

Acknowledgements:

Witchcraft and the Limits of Interpretation by David D. Hall published in The New England quarterly, Vol. 58, No 2 (June., 1985), 253-281.

The Witches:  Suspicion, Betray and Hysteria in 1692 Salem by Stacy Schiff, published by Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2015.

In the Devil’s Snare by Mary Beth Norton, published by First Vintage Books, 2003.

The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion Starkey, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1949.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller, published by Penguin Books, 2003.

Annette Carson: in sympathy with King Richard

To the delight of travelers across the globe, tired of lugging all those hard-copy books on planes, trains and automobiles, Annette Carson’s Richard III The Maligned King has just been released in ebook form and can now be purchased on Amazon.com.  Along with John Ashdown-Hill, Carson is part of a new generation of historians who have pushed forward new-found information that has helped to rehabilitate Richard the Third’s reputation in the 21st century with an energy matched only by their scholarship and dogged research.

Originally published in 2008, Richard III The Maligned King is not a biography but an examination of what happened from the moment his brother, Edward IV, died to his own untimely death.  It relies almost solely on contemporary accounts and moves in a direct timeline that makes enthralling reading.  Carson displays a ready wit and is not afraid to take on the hoary myths that cling to traditional historians like Spanish moss on a crumbling hacienda.

Although busy with new projects, Carson was able to spend a few moments with The Murrey and Blue to share her thoughts on Richard the Third and her background which led her to write about the maligned king.

Can you give us a little information on your background, Annette?

Like many people of my generation (I was born in 1940 and grew up in a single-parent family) I couldn’t afford a university education.  Music ran in my family and I was guided towards the Royal College of Music but I soon knew it wasn’t for me.  I married an actor and joined the staff of RADA as Front of House Manager, and then spent the next twenty years working the entertainment industry, including spells at Equity and Thames TV.

By 1984, having been involved for ten years in the sport of aerobatics and produced a fair amount of aviation writing and journalism, I was invited to co-author a book on aerobatic technique which was well received.  I was then commissioned to write a world history of aerobatics, which kicked off my professional writing career.  I enjoy technical writing and the research that goes with it, which in this case entailed learning Russian and took me to four continents.  That book sold 14,000 copies and my next book, a biography of the rock guitarist, Jeff Beck, is still in print and has sold over 15,000.

As you can tell, I follow where my muse takes me…so when other authorial ideas didn’t take off (I was JUST beaten to the draw on a proposed biography of Alan Rickman!) it occurred to me to put my ideas about Richard III into a book.

I’d been fascinated by Richard since 1955 when I was taken to see Olivier’s film of Richard III on a school trip.  Already a great lover of Shakespeare, I had never thought to doubt his mesmerizing portrayal of villainy.  So it hit me like a thunderbolt when my teacher said that many people considered him to have been a very good king whose reputation was deliberately blackened.  I’m something of a campaigner at heart – I took a particular injustice as far as the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights – so from my schooldays onwards I read as much as possible to try to uncover the truth.

Can you tell us something about your research methods?

Obviously, the ideas in my book had been germinating throughout decades of reading, so I had a lot in place by the time of the first draft in about 2002.  Fortunately, many of the standard sources were in print long before the internet became the resource it is today and my research entailed mining the documents and articles referenced by writers from Paul Murray Kendall onwards.  That’s my advice to anyone wanting to delve into where our ideas about history stem from:  become a reader of footnotes!

Paul Murray Kendall’s footnotes alone are worth the price of the book and often overlooked when traditionalists criticize him.  You did not write a biography of Richard.  Why?

I specifically didn’t want to write a biography because I was interested only in certain aspects of the years 1483-1485.  I had formulated several original ideas I wanted to explore, starting with what was known of the bones discovered in the 17th century and thought to be Richard’s nephews.  A major item of interest was to visualize exactly where they were found and what the staircase was like and the terrain around that area.  For this I got plans from Historic Royal Palaces and called on expert help from a civil engineer in order to commission an illustration – the only image I know that accurately depicts the discovery site based on contemporary descriptions, aided by illustrations, surveys and plans of the Tower.  I also wanted to highlight the importance of the jaw disease of the elder skull, and how significant this would have been if it had belonged to the heir of the crown.

Another thing I was keen to research was witchcraft in England in the 15th century, something which, because it already interested me, I knew the usual run of historians got completely wrong and still do.  There were many other original ideas – too many to mention – but several have now entered the general Ricardian discourse:  e.g. my taking apart all the myth-making in Vergil like Henry Tudor’s supposed oath to marry Elizabeth and the story that her mother meekly gave him her hand thinking her sons were dead.  Until then it had always been recited as genuine ‘history’.  And then, of course, my introduction of Richard’s bride-to-be Princess Joanna of Portugal, complete with colour portrait, whose existence had been known to readers of scholarly works but only as a shadowy figure.  I still maintain (with support from Arthur Kincaid) that my reading of Elizabeth of York’s letter in the Portuguese context is the only one that satisfactorily explains what the young Elizabeth was referring to.

Joanna must be one of the most under-reported stories in the history of Richard III.  Do you consider yourself a Ricardian?

By the time I finished in 2005 I had already written 160,000 words, so you can imagine how long a biography would have been!  My overall concern was (and is) always to set 15th-century events firmly in the relevant 15th century context.

I like to call myself a Ricardian because I am in sympathy with King Richard but I have to be careful of the word these days because it’s beginning to be used to signify blinkered adulation.  As recently as last year the President of the Richard III Society used the term ‘Ricardian translation’ to mean a pro-Richard whitewash.  I have no problem with anyone who admires Richard or with novelists who fictionalize him but it’s worrying when the boundaries get blurred and even Ricardians sometimes fail to make a distinction.

Occasionally I have to check your book and other non-fiction to see whether ‘a fact’ I’m using in an argument is indeed true or was inserted in one of the many novels written about the king.  It gets confusing.

Let’s be clear that I’m all in favour of speculation, because it can open up startling new trains of thought – and the Ricardian ground is so well-trodden that any new way of looking at something can be good for broadening horizons!  It’s sad, actually, that so many readers want a book about history to be a history lesson, and so many historians want to give them precisely that, right down to psychological profiling.  Whereas my job as a non-fiction writer is to explain how few and tenuous are those things that could be deemed factual, and to offer alternative constructions to conjure with and ponder upon.  I say what I think, and what others think but I don’t tell you they are the only conclusions.

What are you working on now?

I’m afraid there won’t be any new work on Richard III.  Unfortunately, I’ve found the atmosphere around Ricardian studies growing distinctly uncongenial and egocentric, so I’ve returned to aviation.  I am presently researching a biography of a courageous young World War I pilot which I hope to be ready for his commemoration in 2018.

My last Ricardian outing is assisting Arthur Kincaid with his updated and revised edition of Sir George Buc’s History of Richard III, which involves many interesting discussions and much repeated proof-reading.  Interestingly, the reason for Dr. Kincaid’s departure from the Ricardian community thirty years ago resembles mine.  It took considerable encouragement and persuasion for him to return to Buc, and I promise that when it’s published it will contain a treasure-trove of accurate and illuminating footnote references to delve into.

So you haven’t completely moved on from the maligned king!  I look forward to being able to buy both of your new books.  Thank you so much for sharing your time with the Murrey & Blue and I hope everyone purchases this new electronic edition .

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