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Book Review: Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!

Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!
by Joanne R. Larner

In the time following the discovery, beneath a Leicester parking lot, of the remains of Richard III, the last English king to die in battle, the medieval monarch has indeed gained a wider audience as we learn more details of the find. For example, it was announced that he was not, after all, the scary neighborhood hunchback; rather, he suffered from scoliosis, which actually makes him more of a boss, given his accomplishments, as reported even by his enemies.

Much material continues to be released, and many people, even those not previously inclined toward history, have started seeking out all things Richard. Publishers give it to them too, though the nature of these offerings is sober; they tend to be serious reads of medical and martial material with, really, no happy ending—at least not for the Richard of 1485. Alas, Bosworth still is soaked in blood, and Richard still falls. In fairness, it’s not really a walk in the park to spin that into something cheerful.

Author Joanne Larner has long lamented the same, so she set out to shake up the playing field a bit with her debut novel, Richard Liveth Yet. A more lighthearted look into Richard’s era by way of time travel, she also brings Richard Plantaganet to modern England and we get a glimpse into his perceptions of us, rather than only the standard fare of vice versa. With her latest, Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, Larner takes time travel to a different level—dimension—by way of innovative software and science that teams up a subject’s DNA with technology to track voice vibrations, even those that occurred over 500 years ago.

Stepping back for a moment, it is worth giving attention to the book’s epigraph, song lines from “Sheriff Hutton” by the Legendary Ten Seconds: “Where distant echoes still resound/That which is lost may still be found.” Capturing the attention of readers of a genre whose very nature evokes images, events, perhaps even portions of collective memory, echoes from the past, it further stimulates the need to positively identify all this and wonder if we really could experience history and, amongst other events, hear the speaking voice of a medieval king.

Larner opens the novel with protaganist Eve experiencing the end of a romantic relationship and moves forward with her signature chapter titles named after songs. A medium that transcends time, music of some sort appeals to just about every human; it seems to be coded into our DNA to like it, nay, need it. For this I can’t help thinking Richard would have appreciated Larner’s creative idea; even if he didn’t always love some lyrics, he would recognize that most messages are those that touch someone, somewhere, and the relatable forms they take can promote unity.

It was with a similar unity that, even amongst differences and a mixture of complex personalities, Eve’s professional team moves forward with their project and echoes of the past filter into the modern lives of these Future Tech employees. Larner also puts a bit of a twist into the sessions in that not everyone experiences them the same way, which, in reality, makes great sense as individual perspective and changing variables play into it all.

Eve’s colleagues possess different levels of understanding when it comes to history, and Larner cleverly utilizes this to determine what and how much information is communicated between characters and, as a result, readers, many of whom might also maintain differing degrees of awareness. Of course, everyone, reader and fictional researcher alike, wants to know about the ultimate medieval mystery: What happened to the princes in the tower? It is with great dexterity that Larner manages the range of perspectives, historical knowledge and “eavesdropping” abilities of her cast as each individual keenly looks forward to the moment of truth. Amongst the chaos, intrigue and dangerous, unknown loyalties of 1485 and those which develop in Eve’s own time, will they find it?

One of the best elements of Larner’s latest novel relates to the manner in which the narrative moves forward. Alternately giving us glimpses into Eve’s private life, already wracked by the grief of losing an important relationship, we also witness her discovery into other areas of her life, how she copes with learning and what she does with her new understanding. This parallel plot does make for a more meaty tale, but it doesn’t just run alongside the first. Instead, it marinates, the two forming a richly satisfying whole impossible to forget.

Really quite innovative, Larner’s novel demonstrates her richly developed sense of Richard Plantagenet, and two thoughts come to mind: one, that hopefully this author’s amazing imagination continues to give us wonderful stories of the king and; two, that the science doesn’t actually exist shouldn’t preclude Distant Echoes! from gaining a wide (and wider) audience, as it doesn’t seem these days to surprise very many, though it does intrigue, when once-outlandish ideas are developed. Larner not only has her finger on this pulse, but also presents it in an accessible, smoothly flowing work, reminiscent of Daughter of Time, that allows historical players to tell their own tale.

—Lisl P.

About the Author

Photo of author, Joanne Larner

Joanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She had wanted to write a novel since the age of thirteen and finally managed it in 2015. She was helped by two things: National Novel Writing Month and Richard III. Richard was her inspiration and she became fascinated by him when she saw the Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park in February 2013. She researched his life and times and read countless novels, but became fed up because they all ended the same way – with his death at the Battle of Bosworth.

So she decided to write a different type of Richard story and added a time travel element. The rest is (literally) history. She found his character seemed to write itself and with NaNoWriMo giving her the impetus to actually DO it, she succeeded. After she began writing the story that was in her head, she found that there was far too much material for one book and, in fact, it finally turned into a trilogy consisting of Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present Day; Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change. Book II takes place mainly in Richard’s time and Joanne found that many actual historical elements seemed to match serendipitously with her requirements. For example, the characters who were contemporary to Richard, the date of Joana’s death, the fact that Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice, had twins that didn’t survive the birth, etc.

The idea for Distant Echoes began when Joanne listened to Sheriff Hutton by The Legendary Ten Seconds and it reminded her of a sci-fi novel she had read as a teenager, where friendly aliens could see the ‘echoes’ of events after they had occurred. She wanted to write about the real Richard III, telling of acts of his that, though documented fact, are not known by the average reader, his good laws and fair judgments being eclipsed by the presumed and unproven murder of his nephews. The idea lent itself to ‘eavesdropping’ on Richard, using his own words where possible, and Distant Echoes was born.

For more about the author and her books, sign up or follow her at Facebook, Twitter and her blog. Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, the books mentioned above and more are available at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Coming Upon the King: My Accidental Path Toward Becoming a Ricardian

220px-King_Richard_III

Late 16th century painting of Richard III

I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I was never really that interested in Richard Plantagenet, later Richard III. In school I had avoided the Anglo-Saxons like the plague, and Richard, well, perhaps like a round of the flu. He wasn’t quite as intimidating, despite the double-murder allegation lodged, and I got away with not having to write about him once my father, who was big on essays, unearthed a book about the famous American swamp fox. Not that it was easy to outsmart my dad; there was just so much history to know and he loved imparting it. In fact, he adored learning of most kinds, and almost every time I saw him he had a book in one hand, cup of tea in the other. Every weekday morning before work he would sit at the dining room table for about two hours, enjoying his study in the quiet atmosphere between night and day. He read almost anything he could get his hands on, with the notable exception of Shakespeare, of whom he was not a huge fan, though he never said why.

By the time I reached university I’d managed to evade Richard a few more times (and those fearsome Anglo-Saxons!), despite his seeming determination to capture my attention. I had to capitulate a bit when Shakespeare (him again) showed up in his own required course. I quite liked his poetry and how he played with language, but frankly didn’t care about star-crossed lovers (everyone read that in high school), a brooding Danish prince (that one too) or evil kings who seemed to be a dime a dozen. And the evil king who repeatedly crossed my path was none other than – you guessed it, Richard III.

I had to read Richard III three times because the professor, who in my opinion was quite brilliant but mystifyingly static in his forward movement, could present it in his sleep. So we read it in two regular lit classes and then in Shakepeare, in which our fearless leader liked to occasionally take on the parts of people he was teaching about. He had a larger audience here, and the more sizable lecture area gave him the space to move around as he caricatured his way through Richard’s role and the frequent trivia he was fond of. At the end of the semester I was appalled to discover that not only did 75% of our grade rest on a ten-question quiz, but also the questions had little to do with, say, history, critical theory or literary devices. A representative sample’s answer was, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” I wasn’t a snobbish student, but did possess the expectation I be delivered the education I was paying for, not a bunch of trivia and phrases repeated so often, here and elsewhere, that they became cliché.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was in equal parts driven away from all talk of Richard III and hauled back to him by the frustration of knowing that even I considered the standard presentation tiresome. Students way more brilliant than myself repeated the stock phrases, though, and I felt like shaking them as I cried out, “Wake up, man! I want to read King Lear and Huntingdon won’t teach it!” My actual response consisted of acquiring a fish (the only pet I could get away with) and calling it Richard, as if that somehow revenged a king, allowing him to be something besides the pitiful stock bad man. I was irked, perhaps even irritated, but not yet inspired.

At the time I knew nothing of the Richard III Society and wouldn’t for some years, for after I graduated, my poor fish had been given last rites and I was just so relieved to have passed statistics and survived senior year burnout. But, as the universe seemed to want to have it, Richard came up in casual conversation, at this point two years before the discovery of his remains in a parking lot. I admitted I really knew very little of the man I’d previously complained kept coming, uninvited, into my life, and determined I’d remedy that. The universe, being as accommodating as it so often is, arranged for a car crash that left me immobile for an extended period, which in turn provided for quite a lot of reading time to fill.

Sir John Everett Millais’ The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1473 (1878). Privileged placement of the work on the cover of Alison Weir’s 1992 edition of The Princes in the Tower is utilized toward this author’s assertion regarding Richard: the “two pale, innocent, bewildered boys” of her blurb paired with existing stereotypes of medieval society, seek to convince viewers of Richard’s culpability. 

I started with Alison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower. It had a fairly beckoning cover and I really had no idea of any given book on this topic to another. Mainly I was looking for details. My intention was, quite simply: read one and be done with it. And so it began. Here was an account that claimed to have studied the case of the missing princes, one heir to the throne, both rumored to have been murdered by their “usurper” uncle, King Richard III, the bodies of the two “pale, innocent, bewildered boys” never found.

It didn’t initially strike me as odd that Weir would contradict herself—on the same page of her preface, no  less—with two opposing statements of direction: “The historian’s job is to weigh the evidence available, however slender and circumstantial” and “We are dealing here with facts, not just speculation or theories.” In all honesty, I was unaccustomed to reading like an historian; instead I read for elements such as repetition, privileged position, arcs and development. Still, my literary training had served me well—even including the aforementioned professor, who really did have good reason to be on staff; the pince-nez and dressing gown during office hours was an added bonus—and I began to wonder that perhaps historical writing really does have much in common with literary.

For example, Weir’s placement of Image 15 of the insert photos: One of, if not the most biased image in the insert collection, is a picture of two child-sized skeletons, discovered nearly two centuries after the princes’ disappearance. It is cleverly shadowed with near-opposing black and white shading that easily grabs the eye. Set in the page’s upper left corner, its positioning exploits our societal left-to-right reading direction as well as the “above-the-fold” tendency book browsers often engage when skimming though potential purchases. Its caption reads: “The remains found in 1674: ‘They were small bones of lads in their teens, fully recognised to be the bones of those two Princes’ (Eye-witness report, 1674; Archaeologia).”

Should the casual observer take the time to scan the rest of the page, the two remaining images—one of the urn in which the skeletal bones now rest, another of the exhumed skull of the princes’ eight-year-old relative Anne Mowbray—each play their role in telling the story the author wants readers to believe. Anne’s stark and startling skull, shown in a fairly large photo at bottom, plays on reader emotion with the mouth in its characteristic gaping position, not unlike a scream. It is included, positioned and designed to evoke pity, for both the untimely death of this little girl as well as the boys she was once close to. Of this Weir writes: “The skull of Anne Mowbray: York’s [the younger prince, Richard, Duke of York] child-bride and the Princes’ cousin, exhumed in 1964. Dental evidence indicates a familial relationship between her bones and those in the urn.”

The urn image is somewhat sympathetic, but rather generic and positioned to the right, closer to the book’s binding. Still, it has its role in this page-long tale, with its insinuation of finality. These bones are those of the boys, Anne’s remains prove it, end of story. Three statements, three images, we’re done here. A would-be consumer who saw even only the most privileged photo (the skeletons) before placing the book back on the shelf stands a high chance of walking away believing these were indeed the missing princes—a question not even entertained on the page discussed—and with Weir’s use of the word “murder” and the accusation against Richard in the jacket blurb, we’re a handshake away. Actually reading the story within all three captions and the deal is sealed. I am inclined to believe that readers have been lazy in every age, but also know that Weir and her publishers are very aware of how the demand for instant gratification and disintegration of critical reading skills in our era has further influenced the formation of opinions.

A quick disclaimer here: I personally don’t begrudge Weir her manipulation of privileged position or other literary techniques; these are what make books appealing, literature fascinating and history come alive. Human forms in photos engage our minds in a way an inanimate object doesn’t. We don’t relate to an urn, especially if we don’t know this is what that image is, but we do relate to images of people who were once alive, especially if they are children. However, I do take issue with the dishonest verbiage she carefully chooses to create the impression discussed above. For instance, the caption below Image 15 doesn’t say what year the princes died, presumed to have died, or disappeared (c. 1483). Yet an “Eye-witness report” from 1674 “recognised” the bones to be those of the missing princes? Did this eyewitness dabble in alchemy in his 200 + year lifespan? And where did he obtain his forensic expertise, with which he surely would be able to differentiate this set of remains from the twelve-year-old sons of Henry VIII’s cousins, whose families ended up in the Tower of London, where the Plantagenet brothers were last seen? Are there any signs of cause of death? The name dropping of Archaeologia lends some needed credibility, as does the dental evidence that “indicates” a familial relationship amongst all three deceased. These are only some of the questions Weir understands all too many consumers won’t ask; they’ll just take her word for it because they are in a hurry, don’t care enough or it doesn’t occur to them. There probably are other reasons as well, but the end result is that many will accept the information at face value.

Still, this was an awareness I came to later in my reading of The Princes in the Tower, or actually, even after I had finished and contemplated what I’d read. I had a niggling feeling about the perceptions I’d experienced. As I moved deeper into the book, Weir seemed to become more aggressive in her voice, and in previous remembrances I thought I even recalled a bit of name calling, which might have been the initial turnoff. (I could be wrong; stay tuned for another entry addressing this.)

The White Tower, Tower of London. Romanticized with its modern artificial lighting, we must imagine it in the days when the complete darkness of night, the likes of which many of us have never experienced, shrouded much in and around it.

As I sat with my casted leg propped up one evening, I realized with a grunt of dissatisfaction that I could not let it go until I read some more. My back was healing, but at this point pained easily after short periods, and my best friend was dispatched to collect a book or two from the university library. She returned with about fifteen, one of which was, by chance, Josephine Wilkinson’s Richard: The Young King to Be. She ignored my pointed stare.

It wasn’t long before I recognized a quote in Wilkinson’s book that Weir had utilized—in part. I suppose it was my naiveté with regard to historical reading that surprised me a little as I realized Weir had cherry picked what supported her agenda and left the rest. (Here also, stay tuned for more specifics.) At this point it really began to annoy me, and I was flummoxed as to how so many people could have gushed about what a fabulous book this was when I so easily picked out inconsistencies. Actually, I’ll have to revise that a bit: I read several reviews in which the authors did criticize Weir, but dismissed her liberties because “there’s no real way to tell” or “he probably did it anyway.” I’m pretty sure none of these people or any of us would want that standard upheld at our own trials.

Unknown to me, at roughly this time, the now-late historian John Ashdown-Hill published Eleanor: The Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. An analysis of the life of Eleanor Talbot, the woman said to have been married to Edward IV, Richard’s elder brother, before making Elizabeth Wydville his queen, the work follows a number of pathways, including those secreted in forensic dentistry. Ashdown-Hill discusses Anne Mowbray’s line of descent, an important angle given Weir’s assertion regarding the similarities between the teeth of the young bride and those of the bodies discovered in 1674, and a condition of congenitally absent teeth. The author notes that Anne Mowbray was related to the princes via a number of lines of descent, some more distant than others.

If those who have claimed that Anne Mowbray’s congenitally missing teeth prove that she was related to TLand 2 (and that therefore these were Edward V and Richard, Duke of York [the princes]), are correct, Anne’s dental anomaly must almost certainly have descended to her via her Neville ancestry (184-5).

Ashdown-Hill goes on to relate information about the battlefield identification of Anne’s grandfather, John Talbot, in connection to an absent left molar. This provides some evidence of the congenital condition being a Talbot trait, further leading to the speculation that if Anne did indeed inherit her dentition from her grandfather, “then those same missing teeth cannot very well be cited as evidence that TLand TLare Edward V and his brother, since the relationship of these latter to [Anne’s grandfather] was extremely remote.” Of course, it is possible John Talbot lost the tooth in some other manner and Ashdown-Hill further advises that Talbot’s remains had been disturbed several times, thus making elucidation on this point difficult (184-5).

Weir, in contrast, utilizes very little more than coincidence and contradictory information when aiming to prove that the bodies discovered in 1674 are Richard’s nephews, including the discovery to begin with. This position continues with her insistence that, apparently, only Plantagenet royalty could possibly have worn velvet, a type of material present with the bones and, given its availability timeframe, unlikely to indicate the remains were Roman, as had been suggested. She even goes on quite at length about all the experts and authors who examined the 1933 reports of Wright and Tanner, who themselves examined only an urn full of bones picked apart from those of animals (!) centuries after their initial discovery and under questionable chain of custody. Nevertheless, on all of this Weir categorically pushes the conclusion that “the evidence that the bones in the urn are those of the Princes is as conclusive as could be desired” (by whom?)(255-6).

Historian John Ashdown-Hill’s analysis of Eleanor Talbot’s life includes a far deeper discussion of the dental angle as glossed over by Weir, despite the absolute nature of her accusation against the king. (Click image for more information.)

It is easy to deduce there is much more to what I have summarized here, let alone the captions under three pictures in the middle of a book on the Bestsellers! table. As mentioned earlier, this dental information I didn’t know about when I first read Weir’s book – and she counts on that as well as the likelihood that few readers will check up on her words. The truth is, she’s right: few do follow up. For how long had my professor posited the claim that Richard III died shouting the line about the horse? How many from my class still believe this today? And this is counting just the influence of one person. Multiplied by how many readers Weir (and others) has persuaded, most of whom have very little time and/or inclination to look into what she says—some of whom, frankly, are as willing to manipulate the truth—it’s no wonder there is such widespread belief that Richard did the deed.

Of course, many people simply don’t care. At one point I was one of them. I liked history but wanted it on my own lazy terms, not having to deal with dates or the same few recycled names. Others view eras such as the Middle Ages with an attitude of “life is cheap,” which perhaps explains their willingness to allow an anointed king to be so maligned, and when looking back I found it curious that it stirred something within my being. I am, after all, an American with not a single drop of royalist blood running through my veins.

This, however, may be the because rather than the despite, thanks to our Magna Carta-inspired Constitution, the law of the land guaranteeing our rights, including those of the accused, a topic on which Richard III also had something to say. The widespread reliance upon and acceptance of misinformation to convict someone from the past bothers me for the same reason similar attitudes light a fire in me today. It doesn’t matter if someone dislikes or even hates Richard or any other political figure: Anyone who claims to value justice should be alarmed when someone is prosecuted and convicted under such inconclusive evidence, especially for the sake of bragging rights to having solved a centuries-old puzzle. This king may have lived and died over 500 years ago, but thirst for power and willingness to tyrannize others to achieve it is alive and well. Why would any tyrant stop with politicians? As we have seen throughout history, they don’t.

I had the great benefit of a father who taught me how to look a bit deeper, and though I don’t have quite the historian’s mind he did, I believed fiercely in justice. I also loved a good yarn, so followed with rapture as my father related to me tales from a variety of eras.

I only vaguely recall him telling me of Richard’s ability to fight, even something favorable about Henry VII (I used to refer to him as “the Henry after Richard the last”). His narratives often changed direction and he occasionally refused to answer questions, and at some point I understood he was teaching me to think. This surely colored my perception of Weir’s ridiculous portrayal of modern writers of Richard III as those who (a) believe the monarch guilty but too timid to admit it or (b) believe he is basically a saint (1). I also question the word “revisionist” as applied to Ricardians. It seems to me the revisionism began full force August 22, 1485, with the backdating of Henry Tudor’s reign to the 21.

I also grew up with a Scottish mother who never let me forget the Stuarts; at some points my eyes simply glazed over, and it all probably contributed to my lazy childhood approach toward history, despite my love of its people. This laissez-faire attitude extended to Richard, and for most of my life I didn’t care enough about him to have an opinion on his culpability. Interestingly, it was his detractors who chipped away at this armor as they repeated ad nauseum their claims, much of which was rank hypocrisy or projection. This entry has focused on one who chose as her work’s epigraph a Shakespeare quote that illustrates both, which reads in part: “Insulting tyranny begins to jet” (Richard III, Act II, Scene IV). Here Elizabeth Wydville wigs out over fears for her family, Shakespeare conveniently ignoring her role in all of this, as does Weir. (Talk about revisionism!)

There have since been others, but Alison Weir ended up accomplishing, in my case, the opposite of her intention in that I found her scholarship to be suspect, so I looked into it; what I came to believe through further reading and discussion was that Richard III, while certainly no saint, cannot justly be convicted of a double murder on the evidence she presents. That she has to go into stealth mode and employ manipulation, insults and overreach says much more about her than it ever could about King Richard III.

Despite Weir’s preface statement that “it is unlikely the truth of the matter will ever be confirmed by better evidence than we already have,” since the 2012 discovery of the king’s remains in a parking lot, more of consequence has been learned. For example, the Shakespearean depiction of Richard as a hunchback is in fact the propaganda it has long been characterized as. Rather, the king suffered from scoliosis, resulting in a sideways, spiraling twist to his spine, as discussed in a 2014 press release from the University of Leicester, a deformity not immediately visible to those encountering him. The hunchback myth traces back to Thomas More, on information from John Morton, Bishop of Ely, instrumental in Henry Tudor’s seizure of the throne. (This alone makes their party line suspect.) Owing to this accomplishment, Tudor historians, and not Plantagenet, were the ones relating the history. As my father drilled into my mind many times, and we have all heard in history class, the winner writes the story.

Shakespeare strove to be part of that winning group, though doing it for Elizabeth I, Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, over one hundred years after the fact, illustrating the reality that low-information readers (playgoers) existed long before the rampant misinformation pushers of our own time. Granted, we are often over-saturated with details, but this also gives us advantage in having the ability to track down more than ever before, even from places far removed from a small corner of England, within which one king and his men fought within the loyalty to which they were bound, and so became we.

—Lisl P.

Sources

Ashdown-Hill, John. Eleanor, the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Stroud: History Press, 2010.

Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower. United States: Ballantine, 1992.

Images

All images courtesy Wikimedia unless otherwise noted. Click any image for more details and, if any, annotations.

Music Review: Richard III

Richard III by Ian Churchward and The Legendary Ten Seconds

Track Titles

Sheriff Hutton
Richard Liveth Yet
Written At Rising
Act III, Scene IV
The Year of Three Kings
Hollow Crown
Remember My Name
Lord Lovell’s Lullaby
Requiem
Royal Title
Ambion Hill
Additional narrative notes are also provided (see below).

r3-3rd-album-front_med_hrHaving read the Legendary Ten Seconds characterized as a folk band, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I received their third CD to review, though I was intrigued with the concept album format whereby all the songs map out historical events. More precisely, they detail a specific series of events pertaining to a key figure: Richard III. This release, aptly titled Richard III, highlights instrumental periods in the monarch’s life, through melodic tunes reminiscent of medieval music itself. Listeners will recognize certain moments in which the band pays homage to their medieval forebears, with particular use of mandola notes, bells, organs and other instruments. However, there is balance with a modern sensibility, so while the music is identifiable as medieval-inspired folk, this is neither the monophonically-textured sound we tend to associate with the Middle Ages, nor stereotypical folk often heard mainly at summer forest fairs. What it does present is much of the heritage—our own—that we are taught about as children and will recognize in themes of truth and loyalty, pastoral poetry and the timeless desire to be remembered. It is all presented here so engagingly that even those who might tend toward reluctance will find themselves drawn in, for the music as well as the history it recounts.

“Sheriff Hutton,” the album’s first song, opens with an immediate sense of storytelling, as if the music itself is performing the gesticulations of one about to move forward into a verbal narrative. It is the perfect song to open the collection owing to this musical smoothing out of one’s apparel as well as the lyrics themselves, which tell of discovery as the speaker describes what he experiences upon visiting three sites: Sheriff Hutton, where as Duke of Gloucester Richard stayed, given its proximity to the north; Middleham Castle, the setting of his formative years and where his beloved son, Edward, was born and tragically dies too young; and Bosworth Field, site of the battle where Richard loses his life and the Plantagenet dynasty comes to an end. The song itself encapsulates the story of Richard’s later life as the singer takes us forward in time to “one fateful day,” having already experienced the sense of loneliness and brokenness that permeate the sites, and mindful of Richard’s own experiences when he himself stayed there.

fotheringhaycastle

Fotheringhay Castle (click image)

There is a newness to this start of the CD, yet also a wistfulness, perhaps undetectable to some unfamiliar with the life and times of Richard III. However, the musical arrangement is such that it acts also like a sort of foreshadowing, for once familiarized, these listeners will be able to detect the melancholy, recognizing it the way readers realize they do clues in a story, leading them to the often typical train of thought that commences with, “What if…?” This is paired with opening to the aftereffects of a tragedy as the album then takes listeners back in time to “see” the events that lead to this moment.

With the singer, or storyteller, we embark on a journey from a time when the infant Richard is noted in the “Clare Roll,” a poem documenting the armorial history of the prominent Clare family, the earls of whom Richard, Duke of York is descended; the second song’s title is drawn from his son’s mention within.

The youngest son of the Duke of York

Born in the castle of Fotheringhay

October 1452

Was the sun shining on that autumn day

Richard liveth yet

Richard liveth yet

Richard liveth yet

Born at the castle on the rise of the River Nene

Noting Shakespearean word order within one line, the song also foreshadows the playwright’s role in Richard’s posthumous reputation, and another depicts a scene from Shakespeare’s Richard III, with several vocalists taking up the roles of different characters as they discuss Edward V’s coronation date. While it may seem a curious choice to base a Ricardian song upon, it sets the stage for Richard’s coming rule while also highlighting a central Shakespearean reconstruction re: the alleged withered arm. While we now know that Richard III suffered from scoliosis, the useless arm is a fabrication.

Male and female vocalists appear on the various tracks and they are used to great effect—to play different roles, for example, as mentioned above; in duets, sometimes partner, others as counterpoint; and perhaps to change up the sound “appearance,” though this is carefully considered as their voices and particular and varying uses of them match the individual pieces of narrative so well one might be forgiven for believing each track was written specifically for those particular voices.

Richard III (click image)

Richard III (click image)

In linear fashion the CD progresses through eras in Richard’s life, including leadership roles in which he must manage shortage and adversity, through to the “year of three kings”—1483—which sees the death of Edward IV, Richard’s brother and monarch, to be succeeded by his son, Edward V. As Edward IV’s heir is too young to assume full duties, Richard is named protector and becomes king, followed by the disappearance and presumed deaths of Edward and his younger brother, also called Richard. Marking a turning point in the album as well as Richard’s life, events in “The Hollow Crown” are depicted from Richard’s point of view, and he discloses that in addition to the grief he feels at his own son’s passing, he knows full well what people are saying about his reign, and the darkness that threatens to overtake him:

This hollow crown upon my head

They say Queen Anne will soon be dead

The sky is dark though it is day

With my book of hours I do pray

Following is a transitional tune, one that could be told from Richard’s perspective, that of a soldier, or even both, in parts. Sung with alternating solos and Dylanesque duets (think “Mozambique” or the even smoother “One More Cup of Coffee”), it is a brilliant approach to take given there, of course, would be many expressing the sentiments within, but also to magnify the reality that Richard himself may have struggled with his decision to go to war. There are plenty of pros and cons, and the loneliness of the tune is mindful of what the monarch may feel in these moments, lost as Edward and, now, Queen Anne are to him. Still, he retains his book of hours and it could be he finds solace in prayer, remaining in low spirits but not remotely near to, as some have suggested, a death wish. The tune ends with a rather rapid fadeout, akin to a musical ellipses, mirroring acknowledgment of the terrible realities of war and remembrance.

From this point on the lyrics reflect thoughts and emotions of others, for the king is dead and can no longer speak. The singer channels these figures, such as Margaret, mourning her brother, killed so viciously, and references antiquarian Sir George Buck’s The History of King Richard III. In the end a ghostly apparition beckons to our storyteller, who acknowledges that some may or may not believe all he has laid out. Important to note, however, is that despite many circumstantial attempts to destroy Richard’s reputation and legacy, evidence exists to prove previous claims false or perverted—evidence available in the Titulus Regius, for example, discovered by Sir George, evidence that, like Richard himself, long lay buried and perhaps some still does—that despite all this, “the truth, it has survived.”

This is a wonderfully evocative account of the life of Richard III, one that will draw listeners again and again.

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The Legendary Ten Seconds was originally a solo music project of Ian Churchward who has played guitar in various bands after starting to play the guitar in 1979. Ian’s first band was called Chapter 29 and after this band split up in 1986 he started a new indie pop band called The Morrisons later that year. This band released a flexi disc which was played on the John Peel show on BBC Radio One in 1987. From the late 1990’s until about 2007 Ian also played in a Ceilidh band called Storm Force Ten which then became a new band called Phoenix.

Richard III is the third album from The Legendary Ten Seconds. You can learn more about Ian Churchward and The Legendary Ten Seconds and their music at Facebook, CD Baby, a blog dedicated to The Richard 3rd Projects and Twitter.

Appearance Information:

The Legendary Ten Seconds will be appearing at Stony Stratford in February~

poster for stratford gig

 

Narrative Notes:

On Tant le desiree the narratives are written and read by author Sandra Heath Wilson. They are fictional and read from the point of view of Richard III’s mother, Cecily Neville.

On Richard III the narratives are historical and factual. These Richard III narratives are written, read and recorded by Matthew Lewis and provide information about Richard III.

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The reviewer was provided with a copy of Richard III in order to provide an honest review.

This review previously appeared at Before the Second Sleep.

Richard and Anne: Painting and Passion by Karen King

Chatting with California artist Karen King (2013)

Rather by accident the work of California artist Karen King came to my attention via her magnificent painting, Richard and Anne. Inspired by a passage from The Sunne in Splendour, Sharon Kay Penman’s epic novel of Richard III, it depicts the then Duke of Gloucester and his future queen, Anne, in a private moment as they attempt to forge their future. This is complicated by Anne’s previous tortured relationship with Edouard, her late husband and son of Richard’s enemy, Margaret of Anjou. They make their way outside, where Richard had

found for them a secluded retreat within a wall of willow and whitethorn; the sky was darkening into a delicately tinted violet and a crescent moon silvered the circling clouds over their heads. It was very quiet. She heard only the soft trilling of the night birds, was becoming aware of the heavy honeysuckle scents of spring. She should have been able to draw comfort from such surroundings; somehow, it didn’t help at all.

Anne begins to speak of Eduoard and just as quickly attempts to banish him and any reminders from their lives. “[S]he felt [Richard’s] fingers on her throat, caressing, tilting her face up to his. She let him kiss her, and rather timidly, put her arms around him as he drew her into a closer embrace.” It is this moment King captures on canvas, interpreting through her imagination the image she sees and all its vibrancy, including that felt by all the senses. Her Richard and Anne stand on a precipice, between the thick tension and surging relief of the moments that follow; not only can this be seen in the figures’ postures, but also felt. The lock of Anne’s hair falling over her cheek mirrors the ease and cascading looseness of her gown, yet the viewer can sense her stiffness and anguish as she leans into Richard. He, only somewhat relaxed, holds her in a comforting embrace, yet his eyes above her head, viewers can imagine, roam their surroundings, as if seeking elusive relief for the suffering she has endured.

richard-and-anne

 Richard and Anne

I had the opportunity to chat with Karen, who so graciously shared with us some of her techniques, inspirations, personal favorites and passages as an artist.

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I would like to thank Lisl for giving me the opportunity to have a chat about the painting of Richard and Anne. While I was preparing for this interview I found just by chance a notebook where I had jotted down some notes regarding research for the painting. Chance? I think not. The first page was titled: “Understanding Richard III for a Portrait/Painting.” I had just finished reading Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour and was so heartsick at the travesty that Shakespeare foisted upon the world regarding Richard Plantagenet that I wanted to read more. The first book referenced under the heading was Paul Murray Kendall’s Richard III. I wrote down one of his quotes, in which Kendall references Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Richard III: What a tribute this is to art; what a misfortune it is to history. I’d hope that my painting would be seen not so much as a tribute to art, but surely a tribute to the true Richard III.

Could you give us the basic technical information of the painting and tell us how you chose the materials for this particular piece?

The painting is done in acrylics. My pallet colors are Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red, Raw Sienna and White. I don’t use pre-mixed colors such as green, orange, purple etc. because I like to create my own. I also never use black. If you’re wondering about Richard’s hair, well I made my own black. I prefer acrylics to oil because I’m not fond of using toxic products such as turpentine, which is needed to thin down the oils. The only down side to using acrylics is that they dry quickly. I keep a spray bottle of water handy to keep my pallet from drying out. I have a mixture of nice brushes (red sable) and cheap ones, which tend to lose bristles. I use the good ones for detail work and the cheap ones when I need to cover a lot of the canvas. When you have a 48 x 35 canvas, as is the case with Richard and Anne, there’s a lot of canvas to cover! I use masking tape to help me keep a straight edge. Really don’t know what I would have done without it on this painting.

I had wondered about the edges and other difficult parts away from them. I’d just assumed it was a dilemma only a non-artist such as myself would think to have.

I’m being constantly challenged by difficulties presented when painting something new. There are instructors that teach technique, but my main teacher thought it best to learn by trial and error. That way I’d know what to do the next time I was presented with the same problem. She also encouraged me to develop my own style rather than create paintings that are carbon copies of the instructor’s style, e.g. Bob Ross. I understand the principal of that philosophy but sometimes I think that I would have benefited by being an apprentice to a master painter and learned to paint the way one was taught during the Renaissance. I really don’t even know if they teach that way any longer. I probably would have been very impatient though. I remember when I first started painting I was given the assignment to pick a very simple object, divide the canvas into six equal parts, then paint the object in different ways in the six “panes.” Well I picked a light bulb. It was very challenging to make a cohesive painting using a light bulb for inspiration. Well after I completed that painting, the next assignment was to paint three more paintings using the six-paneled grid painting as their theme. So I had to paint three more light bulb paintings before I could paint something that I actually wanted to paint! Let me tell you I have not painted anything resembling a light bulb since!

This painting is inspired by a scene from Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour in which Richard and Anne find a private space, away from the pressures bearing down on both of them, and work through some troubling history. What were some of the thoughts or feelings you had when reading the passage that eventually led to the painting?

What could be more peaceful and private than a priory garden for two soul mates to comfort one another? I was anticipating beautiful moments of shared love and intimacy, but it soon became apparent that as much as Anne wanted to give herself to Richard, she was incapable of doing so because of her horrific relationship with Edouard. My heart bled for Richard as he came to the realization that he and Anne had a long road ahead them. Unable to vent his anger against Anne’s tormenter, all he could do was be patient, and hope that his steadfast love would eventually heal her emotional wounds. Anne felt awful as well because although she loved Richard with all her heart she felt emotionally handicapped. The bittersweet scene touched me deeply. I truly felt their frustration and anguish.

How long did it take to complete?

To tell you the truth I don’t remember. At the time I was taking a painting class once a week for three hours. At that rate I believe it probably took me at least three months.

Is this the first scene to have moved you in such a way? Were there any others (in Sunne or elsewhere) you have brought or would like to bring to canvas?

That is an excellent question! There are quite a few scenes from other books that I wanted to paint, however whenever I really thought about actually doing them, I’d get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the endeavor. I really wanted to paint Ranulf’s marriage proposal scene from Sharon’s When Christ and His Saints Slept. It takes place in a lantern lit barn. Ranulf and Rhiannan are sitting on a bale of hay. She with a kitten curled up in her lap and he with his hand gently tilting up her chin to kiss her. It was such a moving scene but there was no way I could pull it off. Where would I find anything remotely resembling a medieval barn, and even if I could there’s no way that I’d be able to find two willing subjects to pose for me! I thought about finding pictures to use as references, but with such specific requirements they’re very difficult to find even with the Internet at your fingertips. All that being said, I did paint a scene from an Edith Pargeter novel, Afterglow and Nightfall. Here’s the scene (I apologize for its length, but it’s one of the most moving passages that I’ve ever read. Just retyping it almost made me cry):

Lying as it does in a cleft of the northern hills, with the great mountain mass of Penmaenmawr to the east, Moel Wninon to the west and Foel-Fras to the south, the morning sun never enters Aber. But to look out at dawn to the north over the narrow salt marshes to Lavan sands and the sea, that is wonderful. The deepening light first tinted like feathers of doves, then flushing into rose, then glowing like amber, comes sweeping westward from Conway over the sea, to strike in a glitter of foam and sand on the distant coast of Anglesey across the strait from us, as if a golden tide had surged across the sea green tide, and flooded the visible world with light. That was such a morning. The only time that Eleanor’s eyes left Llwelyn’s face was to gaze at the morsel of sky seen through the open doorway, and he divined the last thirst that troubled her, she who loved the sun. If he could not take her where it would shine upon her, at least she might still look upon its beauty from the shadows. He sat down beside her on the edge of the brychan, and lifted her against his shoulder, and carefully gathering the blankets of the bed about her, took her up in his arms. She made no sign of pain, but only a soft sigh and with his cheek pressed steadyingly against her hair he carried her out on to the guard-walk, and the few yards round the stony bulk of the tower to the northern parapet, and stood cradling her as the sun rose, their faces turned towards the sea. There in the open the air was sweet and cool, and below us, beyond the shore road, the reeds and grasses of the marsh stood erect like small, bright lances, every one separate, going down in lush, tufted waves to where the sands began, with a great exultation of sea birds filling the air above. The level sunrays made all the surface of the strait a dance of darker blue in the centre, and the shallows where the sand showed through were the colour of ripening wheat. Along the horizon ran the purple line of the coast of Anglesey, and in the centre of that distant shore was the Franciscan friary of Llanfaes, the burying place of the princesses of Gwynedd. In the morning light it appeared as the distant harbour of desire, absolute in beauty and peace. She lay content in his arms and on his heart, her cheek against his cheek, and her eyes drew light from the picture on which she gazed, and grew so wide and wise in their hazel gold that there was a moment when I believed he had won the battle. He knew better. Very still he stood, not to jar or hurt her and softly still he spoke, of Wales, that she had taken to her heart and that loved her in return and of a future when there would be no need of war, when this land would be free and united and honourable among the countries of Christendom, and kings and princes would pledge peace and keep it, and her child’s children, the descendants of Earl Simon, would walk at large as heroes among their own people, and equals among the monarchs of the world. Her lips moved, soundlessly, saying: “Yes!” It was right that she should take her leave of the world, as she had greeted it in passing, with a cry of affirmation. The sun was just clear of the horizon, and the sky to eastward the colour of primroses, and to westward of cornflowers, when the faintest of tremors passed through her body, and her head turned slightly upon his shoulder, her lips straining to his cheek. One word she said, and this time not silently shaping it, yet on so feeble a breath that neither he nor I could have caught it but for the great silence in which we stood. But hear it I did, and so did he. We never spoke of it but I know. “Cariad!” she said, and her breath caught and halted long gently began again, and again sank into stillness. He held her for a great while after that, but there was no more sound, and no more movement, and that was all her message to him. She did not leave him without saying farewell. Yes! Cariad!

This passage moved me deeply and I really wanted to capture the sense of tragedy. What I couldn’t capture was the beauty of the sunrise depicted by Mrs. Pargeter, for I’ve never been to that part of Wales to see it for myself. But I did try to get a feel as to what the area looked like by using Google maps. I also found pictures of the area on the Internet, but I could never get a true picture in my head. It also occurred to me as I was trying to compose the picture that Mrs. Pargeter was describing what they were seeing and so doing, does not involve the figures at all! So I had to combine the two; the figures and what they were seeing. In the end I think the figures are the true focal point of the painting and the sunrise had to suffer for it, All in all I’m pleased with the colors I used and never tire of looking at it.

A magical thing happened though after I hung the painting up in my living room. One afternoon I was sitting across the room from the painting and happened to glance up at it and caught my breath. A beam of light from the setting sun was shining on the figures and it seemed as if they were lit from within. Yes! Cariad! So, Lisl, is there a favorite passage from a book that you’d like to see painted?

Well, with some exceptions I generally tend to see moving pictures in my mind when passages evoke images. For example in Sunne the night before Richard’s first battle, Penman describes his facial movements in one particular instance, and I remember being struck by how easily I could see the exact movement of expression in his eyes and face based on her words. It’s an expression I’ve seen many times before in real life, but it’s the sort you never really stop to comment about. I was amazed at how such a small moment, an “insignificant” movement could leap out at me. I think it was made significant because, strange as this may sound, helped me to see more into this Richard.

I find it interesting that when you read you see moving pictures in your head. Don’t you love the way Sharon can describe facial expressions? There is so much subtlety in describing human emotions that it takes a very special author to bring the character to life; make them so real that as you said, “helped me see more into this Richard.” Writing, painting and music are very similar, in that when done well, evoke emotions that touch the heart.

Oh, I totally agree. Even small details can move hearts. Tell us about your Anne’s hair. If I recall correctly, it was described in the book as chestnut, yet you painted a rich red. How did you come to envision Anne in this way?

As a writer, have you ever had a chapter you were writing take on a life of its own? Your careful outline, suddenly gone astray? Well that happens with painting as well. I believe that I began to paint Anne’s hair a rich chestnut, but when painting the highlights I got carried away turning it red. I let it be because I liked the way it looked, knowing that I could easily change it later, but as the painting progressed I found that the color worked with the painting as a whole.

close-up-richard-and-anne

Close up, Richard and Anne

Also, I’m very aware that Anne should have been wearing a headdress. In fact I wanted to paint a headdress lying on the cloister wall, seemingly carelessly cast aside in the heat of the moment, but my art instructor at the time advised against it for she felt that it fought with the overall composition, so I left it out. The painting and the way it came to be is a bit reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelites, whose work was influenced in part by Romantic poetry.

There is a great deal of detail in your painting, yet it is much more subtle than in most of the PRB’s works. Is there any particular influence in your artistic background that informs this piece?

As a teen I discovered Botticelli. I loved his linear style of painting. Fell in love with his portraits of young men. If you look at Botticelli’s Madonna and Angels, they are just exquisite, very ethereal and captivating. Later on I discovered the Pre-Raphaelite movement and became a fan of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. I wasn’t surprised to find out that he was influenced by Botticelli! If you are familiar with Burne-Jones’ work, it’s very linear as well. Lately though I’ve been drawn to the Pre-Raphaelite artist J. W. Waterhouse. I have this fantasy of someday having the means to buy an old Tudor Style home in the English countryside where each room’s focal point and inspiration is a Waterhouse painting. We can dream can’t we? I believe that my style is a combination of Burne-Jones and Waterhouse. On a side note, the only painting that I’ve ever sold was a study I painted of the head of Venus in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. I always found that pretty ironic. Lisl, do you have a favorite artists, or movement?

Well, I must confess I am not very artistic, and growing up tended to run into information on movements that really did very little to inspire me. (Sounds terrible, I know.) However, in high school I read a lot of Arthurian literature and simultaneously discovered the greeting card companies’ attraction to paintings by Burne-Jones and others. They were simply magnificent and the styles completely captured me. I loved Keats and tried to imagine “La Belle Dame sans Merci” brought to canvas in a similar fashion—which was a departure for me because my entire life until then had been spent focused on words. I happened to mention this to my English teacher, who possessed a treasure trove of books, and she showed the Waterhouse to me, which delighted me to no end.

I love the Arthurian Legend myself and I never cease to marvel over the magnificent art and superb literature that it has inspired. When I was in high school I read the book The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart and just fell in love with her version of Merlin.

I am still in love with those books.

Of course I read the next two books that followed and found myself smitten with one of the minor characters she developed for the series. I would literally daydream about going back in time and meeting this character. Well eventually I put my daydream into words and wrote a complete story about me and this character. One day in my art class I mentioned my story and one of the students suggested that I try to get it published. I told her that it wasn’t possible because I used Mary Stewart’s story as a base for my story. Her character was one of my main characters. She then suggested that I write to Mary Stewart to see if she could give me permission to use her character. Well I did just that, not expecting to her hear from her. About two months later I get an “air mail” letter from Scotland in the post and could not believe that Mary Stewart sent me a hand written reply! She was extremely nice about it but, unfortunately her publisher advised her against my request. I wasn’t too disappointed because I really don’t think that I’m that great of a writer and even if she had given her permission, I doubt that it could have been of interest to any publishing house. I have a small story somewhat related you may find amusing.

The Crystal Cave was actually on a list of books we were required to read the summer before school started. I was in my “don’t-tell-me-what-to-read” phase and resisted. I thought I knew all I wanted to know about Arthur, and my mother despaired, but she bought the books anyway. One day when cleaning my room I picked one up and gazed at the cover illustration of a strapping and rosy-cheeked Merlin—he even had reddish hair. Or it may have been a teenaged Arthur. In any case the image intrigued me so much I began to skim through the book. I remember placing the cloth on the floor and sitting there as I actually began reading. That moment re-directed my life. Speaking of direction, Richard and Anne are located away from the central spot in the painting, and there is not much view to the sky, which is described magnificently in the passage it depicts – is there a statement within that choice, or intent to use these visual cues to signify mood or other energies within the scene?

Regarding the composition, I’m very fortunate to have had some very good art instructors who’ve taught me a lot about composition. There’s a mathematical formula called “The Golden Mean” which will tell you precisely where to place the focal point of your composition. Strangely enough, it’s not the center of the painting. There are also ways you can move the eye around the painting in a way that leads the viewer to the focal point. If you look at the cloister wall at the right hand side of the painting, it leads the eye to the figures. Also notice how the arch above the figures leads the eye to them. Remember earlier when I talked about the difficulties involved in painting a scene from a book? Well, this scene is not an exact replication of the scene from the book. The scene takes place in a priory garden with an arbor. When I sketched out the figures in an arbor, I just couldn’t get the feeling I wanted. But I knew that priories had cloisters so I used my artistic license and went the with cloister setting.

Perhaps this scene is a last embrace, their last moment alone before they have to return to the hall after they left the garden and walked through the cloisters? When I made the choice of the cloisters, I chose a setting that gave me very little opportunity to paint a beautiful sunset. Perhaps I’m not meant to paint sunsets or sunrises for that matter. I was hoping to get the feel of the beautiful sky in that little bit you get to see through the arch. I remember that there was mention of a sliver of a moon, so I enjoyed putting that in there along with the pink tinged clouds. I also liked the way the dark cloister roof and walls contrasted with the brilliant blue sky and clouds and the subdued colors of the cloister garden, giving the viewer a feeling of dusk. Do you find it easy for your eye to move around the painting?

I do, and your reference to “The Golden Mean” brings back some memories of art history class. I recall being astounded at these techniques, because I thought artists were these talented people who simply painted something and there it was. Beautiful at the first. Looking at the painting again, it is as if the arches not only lead the eye, but perform a double duty in actually framing the top of the painting. There also seems to be what I might call a “balance” to it. A framing seems to work at the bottom as well, but without a lot of detail to distract from the figures of Richard and Anne. Emotionally there seems to be much around them not necessarily seen by the eye.

It is very gratifying to hear your comments, Lisl. Such a lot of love and hard work went into this painting that it’s very satisfying to know that someone else can see and feel its meaning. Being an amateur, I always fear that my efforts will be seen as corny and simplistic. Your appreciation of this painting inspires me to keep painting.

How would you describe this painting to someone unfamiliar with Sunne in Splendour or Richard III?

Oh my. This is the best question of all for this would give me the opportunity to enlighten the viewer whose only exposure to Richard III has been from Shakespeare. First of all I would highly recommend that they read The Sunne in Splendour. But if they balked at reading the book, I would tell them of the real Richard, his unfailing loyalty to his brother Edward, his courage and valor in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, and his brilliant administration of his duties as Lord of the North. His motto says it all “Loyaulte Me Lie,” Loyalty Binds Me.

Book Review: We Speak No Treason

We Speak No Treason by Rosemary Hawley Jarman

Review by Lisl (2013)

Because I sometimes have a tendency to borrow too many books from the library, it happens on occasion that I tire of keeping up with conflicting due dates and end up tossing the lot into a bag to haul them back, unread. Such was nearly the case with an older, non-slipcovered edition of Rosemary Hawley Jarman’s We Speak No Treason, a novel I’d ordered on recommendation, but didn’t remember as I was deciding my returns. I made to rid myself of this unknown book, thinking it a pity I was unaware of its content; it could be a rewarding read. Alas, could all the rest be, and so I sighed and continued with my task.

Something stayed my hand, however, and it actually hovered over the return pile as I hesitated and then finally withdrew, my curiosity unwilling to let go of what I might find between these covers.

We Speak no Treason-1

Curiosity in the Middle Ages could be a dangerous trait, as we see the characters here hover before even simple scenarios they know about or wish to know more of, perform secret observations, listen in on others’ conversations, purposefully or perchance. They, too, draw back, aware that even small choices could change the course of their lives while circumstances around them scheme to propel their destinies in other unknown manner.

The language of the tale is indeed magical yet ordinary. Many of the words we associate with medieval speech appear, and at first, perhaps, readers may perceive them as curious, though the mournful aura of the tale hangs heavier than unknown lexicon. This is perhaps especially as the deeper readers make their way into the telling, the lexicon begins to take on a more ordinary aspect. Words begin to be recognized as cousins to those we use today, their associations and nuances easily understood in the passages they inhabit. Jarman repeats them enough—in the manner people would in ordinary parlance—for us to become accustomed, while avoiding the heavy-handedness that sometimes traps medieval novels in stereotype, and she does with grace and variety, each character at times revealing his or her own patterns of speech.

Forbidden stories of King Richard III, We Speak No Treason is narrated by three who had been close to him though furthest now from any safe position to engage in such discussion: the Maiden, Richard’s former leman-turned-nun; the Fool, perilously serving under Henry Tudor following service to both Richard III and his elder brother, Edward IV; and the Man of Keen Sight, condemned to die for the crime of loyalty to his king, by way of Henry Tudor’s backdating his own reign.

We are led through the events of the years leading up to that terrible summer of 1485, which sees the slaughter of the last Plantagenet king at the hands of Henry Tudor’s impossibly outnumbered army. Treason aids the usurper, whose paranoia is so great that even in the age of Elizabeth I, his granddaughter, no Plantagenet association is too small to remove the threat of execution. Small wonder the characters, revealing to us their secrets in Henry’s time, are “diverters of necessity,” secret personal writings or whisper their tale despite an already appointed date with death.

One’s own choices do not always a destiny make, though sometimes they can seem to seal fates. The Maiden’s remembrances draw us into the tale, by way of a book she had written in and hidden for over sixteen years, knowing she should have set it ablaze long before. Like the garden she tends and loves as her own, she once knew Richard Gloucester and tended him in secret, away from the curious and prying eyes of such like Elysande, who shields her from their common mistress, Jacquetta of Bedford. Friendly with Elysande during the reign of Edward IV, she nevertheless lives within a “cold season,” as she does when telling her tale under Henry VII. For Jacquetta is the mother of Edward’s Queen Elizabeth, of the Woodvilles, Lancastrians whose enmity with Edward’s York branch of the Plantagenets is bitter and long lasting—and later allied with Tudor.

Elysande creates diversions for the lover she knows exists, though she is unaware until later this lover’s Plantagenet name. The Maiden is savvy enough to have created her own strategy to get herself to court with her mistress, but later falls victim to Jacquetta’s and the Queen’s dangerous fright when Edward is taken prisoner by his rebellious Warwick cousin. She is spared death, but packed off to a nunnery, being the only one aware that, as she journeys she “safeguard[s] one last small and secret joy. The royal child, the Plantagenet. The child of my beloved.”

The Maiden’s tale at this point is broken, and prior perusal of the book would indicate that her tale picks up again in the fourth section, “The Nun.” Not necessarily meant to be a surprise, the Maiden herself references her nun status at the start, and modern readers have at least small awareness of medieval nunneries as a destination for widows and some women without means.

The baton thus passes to the Fool, and as we move deeper into his version of events, we begin to grasp the scope of Jarman’s skill in handling multiple narrators. Until now we have lived the Maiden’s tale with her in linear fashion, which may be the safest method but also the most effective given the sheer volume of detail. Familial relationships, names, events, rivalries, all this and more are referenced in a narrative that spans from the Maiden’s childhood, and prepares the reader for a slight shift in storytelling method as, fittingly, an actor takes the stage.

As such, the jester does not merely talk about disguisings; his life is lived as one. He “hides his wit behind idiocy and keeps a well-tuned ear,” talents that no doubt help ensure his survival under the reign of Henry Tudor. Moreover, Jarman’s technique with his storytelling reflects these methods he utilizes, giving the reader occasional pause to wonder under which king or moment the Fool now speaks. He tells of the Tudor’s paranoia manifest in a demand made after witnessing his mastiffs take on and kill a lion: “Hang them…Traitorous dogs shall not rise against a king.”

Piers—he reveals to us his name as well as internal conflict—nevertheless must at times strain to bear the load his lot in life has given him. “I live in past and present, then suddenly both come together with a fierce clash like an axe on armour and I am shaken into confusion[.]” He tends to confide in us some of the most horrific scenes at natural stopping points, or such when one must cease for the moment, the weight of his knowledge being too difficult to bear. We read these passages and then stop, the silence sitting with us as heavy as the terrible words preceding it. While talking about Anne’s pregnancy with the beloved Edward, Piers remembers Richard’s bastard son, and discusses at length the family’s living arrangement. John of Gloucester, he tells us, went to the block at age twenty, “brave Plantagenet. ‘Traitorous dogs shall not rise against a King.’”

If seeing so deftly into past and present while juggling to maintain a future is a curse as well as blessing, so too is there a downside to the acute vision possessed by the aptly named Man of Keen Sight, who, incidentally, meets briefly with Piers, who initially writes him off as a braggart.

However, it is so; the man has the ability to see into a long distance with greater acuity than most any other person. This aids greatly in his riding skills, but is “the archer’s enemy,” owing to the deficiency in spatial differentiation it causes. Perhaps akin to or presenting in conjunction with a proprioceptive disorder, it disorients the vision so receptors provide misinformation as to distance. “How,” the man asks, “can an archer study the nock and the unwavering hold when already the fat white cloud dangles close to his nose?”

Nonetheless, he develops technique to conquer this “useful fault” and it leads to riding with the Duke of Gloucester, whom he comes to love. The Man goes into exile with Richard, Dickon, who assigns him a pseudonym, “Mark Eye,” fitting for an archer and pleasing to the Man. He grows to love Dickon, and life, good, moves on.

It is not to last, however, as readers are aware from the time the Man is introduced by way of a penitent verse of The Nut-Brown Maid, one of many sung to us through the course of the novel:

It standeth so; a deed is do
Whereof great harm shall grow;
My destiny is for to die
A shameful death, I trow.
Or else to flee, the t’one must be,
None other way I know
But to withdraw as an outlaw
And take me to my bow.
Wherefore adieu, my own heart true!
None other rede I can;
For I must to the greenwood go,
Alone, a banished man.

Indeed, we are privy from the start to the understanding that herein lies a condemned man, one even who hears the construction outside of his own gallows. Frequently, as he relays his story to us from his cell, he accepts defeat and fault. He condemns his actions, though not for having ridden at the last with King Richard, but rather for the shame that stayed with him for having neglected his friendship and duty to the king, indeed for having betrayed him by teaming up, cowardly-like, with those aiming to destroy Richard after King Edward’s death.

It is also he who receives the prophecy depicting the end of the Plantagenet line, and: “your King. . . the foot that strikes the stone shall turn into a head, and the bones tossed on a dunghill, to stink forever.” He tries to shake off memory of it, as he tried to dismiss it when it is first told him. But his ability to do fails, as increasingly does any sort of sight that may have aided him to perceive the darkness in men, as Richard himself comments upon, after regaining the upper hand from those who aim to thwart his protectorship: “How strange are the hearts of men!” That Richard chooses time and again to forgive those who seek to do him ill—or are too lazy or cowardly to protest such—provides a vision in itself, the “natural” consequences, some might say, of allowing those who seek his destruction to roam free.

If Richard possesses such a failing and declines to admit it, the Man does not. He speaks in hindsight of his acuity dimming and recalls grievously instances when, even then, he ought to have wondered. In moments such as these, again, the author weaves her own storytelling skills by presenting the same event from different perspectives—and how different they at times are! Comparison of the passages indicate clearly what is important to each teller, by way of what each highlights (or leaves out) as well as their brevity or length.

There is a sort of deja-vu to these scenes, ghostly almost, until readers realize in fact they have been here before.

He summoned a sleepy young man to escort me back to the castle, one who had but lately come on duty, so that none should know, for the greenish dawn was rising over the fens and the camp would soon be stirring. He raised his hand to me as he stood between the tent-flaps, and there was a light about him that was not earthly; or it may have been their marsh fiends dimming their night-lamps behind him; I did not know.

*********
It was at Fotheringhay, and I had gone down into the camp, late, with some message. Everything was steaming with damp summer heat and in the musky darkness I discovered him with a young maid, whom he bade me guard through the ranks and deliver to the Duchess of Bedford’s apartments.
. . . I had thought it prudent to offer the damsel my arm, as she struggled through the trailing briars. . . . She stopped suddenly when we had gone a few steps and turned to look back.
‘Ah Jesu!’ she whispered, ‘How he shines!’
I fixed my sight upon the pale Duke, bringing him near in the lanternlight. A moth flew round his face and he lifted his hand to brush it away. The maiden smiled, in tears.
‘There is a light. . . a light,’ she sighed.
‘What then, mistress?’
She had looked up at me from the cavern of her hood.
‘A light about him not of this world,’ she said.
I could see naught but the fen-fires, burning malefically.

In any kind of literary studies, readers are frequently instructed in the import of every single word; in no other novel has this reviewer found this to be quite as so as in this one. It is, as Jarman herself states, “a mammoth work,” though by no means in size alone. The information, understanding, historical references, implications—every single sentence contains something to inform another passage or reality, or brings to bear somewhere else. And the author not only weaves it all together, but does so via three different complex personalities. An additional result, for better or worse, is a greater awareness of the psychology of humans. Readers begin to grasp the scope of differences, the pathways in lives, and understand a bit more about the why in some of them. We may never understand why Richard makes some of the choices he does, though we can more competently assess the reality in which he lives, and leave judgment off for someone else.

Nevertheless choices do lead people, as they do for this Man of Keen Sight. Greater awareness of his own choices leads him to the cell he now occupies, willingly, for he chooses not to quit the field alive. That he leaves alive became the choice of an Other, and it is to lead him to his death. He speaks plainly of the books about Richard he shall never read, though he is sure they cannot invent hateful propaganda, for “[t]hey would need to invent a devil in human shape, so great was his glory.”

And so they did. The Maiden, following escape with her royal daughter from the pseudo house of God the Woodvilles had imprisoned her in, learns so very quickly when she quite by chance sees, on that terrible summer day in 1485, the prophecy become true. As the Tudor men’s victory train passes by, approaching the Bow Bridge,

they surged on to [it], packed tight, their horses struggling in fear. The mule [hauling Richard’s ill-treated body], now nearly dropping from weariness among the foaming destriers, the steel-clad thighs, its flanks sodden with bloody sweat, staggered against the side of the bridge. The King’s head was crushed upon the stone. I heard the sound of rending bone, saw the bright new hurt done to the head which once did lie so sweetly in my lap. And I went mad.

But who was comfortable in the choices that led to this moment? Perhaps even not Henry Tudor, who worried these moments, some say, for the rest of his life, and not just in fear of his reign on this earth. The paranoia he created, not so uncommon in some royal circles, lived still when the one called Perkin Warbeck appeared, indeed still when the last Tudor monarch ruled. “They”—not only the Tudors—did indeed create a devil in human shape, taken up by others in fear for their lives.

What of us, then? We no longer have such fear stalking us. We can speak freely of Richard now, yet we, over 500 years later, have been taught and still teach our children of this “devil.” This is the choice we have made, save for some who have dedicated themselves to the truth, from the moment it was safe to do. So the threat over life is no more, but the pain lives on.

“How strange are the hearts of men!” Jarman’s Richard had cried out. For in addition to the dreadful memories exist some perceived threat to the power of theory, perhaps, or sense of relating. These people seem to want Richard to remain in the form that has been created for him, and although honest debate has been made, there are others who are not quite so.

In less than two hours from this writing the University of Leicester archeological dig team will reveal to the world the results of the DNA testing they have done on remains found that may be those of Richard, so unceremoniously treated in 1485. For Richard they seek to reverse the prophecy, at least that which relegates him to stink forever.

We cry for him at such inopportune moments, argue his case and in some instances find animosity developing around us. Some, including the author of We Speak No Treason, never wished for this dig to proceed—plainly and awfully spoken, it is indeed the digging up of an anointed king. Others argue they want to give him the dignified burial robbed from him. I cannot help but remember the Mother’s words to our Maiden:

“Have I not said that this life is a transient thing?”

Whatever our position, it may be our only consolation.

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