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See facsimiles of wonderful medieval books….

taken from the link below

 

It isn’t every day that one happens upon a site such as this one that offers little videos of various reproductions of wonderful medieval books, including the delightful little Psalterium Sancti Ruperti, pictured above.

Others include the Barberini Book of Hours for Rouen, the Prayer Book of Anne of Brittany and the Book of Kells. An excellent site to browse through.

Chaucer was a “hot” young man in tighter than tight tights….?

 

As the author of this Guardian review points out, when we think of Chaucer, we visualise a rather chubby, light-hearted, witty, somewhat cheeky middle-aged man as portrayed in the few portaits we have of him, such as the one above.

Well, it would seem that as a younger man he was indeed cheeky! And not in the conversational context! When he was a page in the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, we’re told he wore a paltok and “….long leggings, or tights. Contemporary sources say they emphasised the genitals, as they were laced up very tightly over the penis and bottom, so you could see everything….” Good heavens! And to make matters worse, a paltok was “….a kind of extremely short tunic ‘which failed to conceal their arses or their private parts’….”

And this is Chaucer, over whose works many a schoolchild, university student, historian and general enthusiast has laboured for centuries? The Father of English Literature? Will I ever ‘see’ him in the same light again? His characters, yes, but not the great man himself!

This biography, new in 2019, promises to be well worth the reading. I certainly will be!

available at Amazon

 

A royal doctor colludes at murder….

Yes, it’s those poor lost boys again, and maybe someone did do away with them as they slept. But who?

According to Merriam-Webster, the verb Collude means “to connive with another :  conspire, plot”. Right, that’s clear enough, so what is one to make of the following heading? A ROYAL DOCTOR COLLUDES AT MURDER – like this case?

There’s only one conclusion for me, that the doctor was involved in a murder that was covered up. Yes? Well, if there’s another interpretation, I’d like to hear it. Especially as the doctor in question is none other John Argentine, who attended the sons of the demised Edward IV in the Tower, and who, under Henry VII made all sorts of claims about young Edward V fearing for his life every morning “like a victim prepared for sacrifice, seeking remission for his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him….”

Maybe it was true, the boy did so fear, and it has always been taken to imply that he feared nasty Uncle Richard’s murderous  intentions. But here’s a thought. What if Argentine himself was the one the boy feared? What if Argentine did indeed do away with him somehow? And his little brother. How very easy then for the good doctor to wring his hands and weep copious crocodile tears while laying the blame squarely at Richard III’s feet. The blame for what? Why blue bloody murder, of course. Awkward though, when he’d disposed of the bodies so well they couldn’t be produced as proof. Oh, but if enough noise was made, the story would be believed anyway, right?

As for Argentine’s motive…maybe it was pure ambition. He decided Richard wanted the inconvenient boys eliminated, and despatched them, as had the slayers of Becket at Canterbury. Despatched them in the expectation of being rewarded. Where? In the Thames? In a big pit? Who cared, all he wanted was for them to have disappeared completely. And so they did.

Then he had a shock when Richard was appalled by their disappearance (because I don’t think Richard ever had any intention of disposing of his nephews). Realising his own neck was on the block if he was found out, Argentine said nothing, but just went with the flow.

Ah, then came salvation. Richard lost at Bosworth. Maybe the Argentine career was up and running again! So he scuttled to Henry Tudor to  point a bloody finger back at Richard’s memory. “Edward V dreaded Richard, and feared for his life every single hour of every single day. As did his little brother. Poor fatherless boys…” Henry was pleased, and Argentine prospered.

Well, it’s a thought. The quoted headline above is taken from a book called Royal Poxes and Potions, the Lives of Court Physicians, Surgeons and Apothecaries by Raymond Lamont-Brown. The headline covers a small article based around Domenico Mancini’s account of his stay in England under Richard III. It clearly cites the royal doctor John Argentine as a colluder in the murders of the princes.

Well, he may have been more than a colluder, he may have been the murderer!

Or, of course, none of this happened, and the boys disappeared because Richard himself saw them to a safe place. Maybe something happened then—illness, a terrible accident, a shipwreck, whatever—and the boys did indeed disappear forever. Or maybe they were so terrified when Richard was killed, that they didn’t dare to make themselves known. They’d really have dreaded every day that their nasty brother-in-law, Henry VII, whose claim to the throne wasn’t as good as their own, would soon see they disappeared again, and this time it would be permanent.

Either way, a horrible royal murder mystery was spawned.

The Central Line Consort?

Kathryn Warner has been Edward II’s main chronicler for a few years now, writing about the King himself, his times, his great-grandson Richard II, several other relatives the roots of the “Wars of the Roses”. This book is about Edward’s daughter-in-law, although he tried a little to prevent his eldest son’s marriage during his own reign and apparent lifespan.

However, Edward III did marry Philippa of Hainault and the marriage lasted for over forty years, during which time they had twelve children. Edward and their sons, particularly their eldest Edward the “Black Prince“, played a full part in victories at Crecy and Neville’s Cross. In a parallel with Richard III and his siblings, a thirteenth child, one “Thomas of Windsor”, has been added by modern writers serving as posthumous surrogate mothers, although not the same writer who gave Richard an elder sister, “Joan”, and added an “Edward” to Mary de Bohun’s sextet of children by the future Henry IV.

This is one of the relative few biographies I have purchased of a royal woman and feels very much like another one in particular. The first chapter, just like Ashdown-Hill’s best tome, explores the subject’s family in great detail but, unlike Eleanor and Paul Johnson’s Elizabeth I, Philippa of Hainault becomes pregnant regularly and has children, their ages are regularly mentioned and she, with Edward, formulates marriage plans for them, not all of which come to fruition.

This is a fascinating book, delineating a veritable matriach. As for our subtitle, peruse the above map. Hainault is on the eastern loop of the Central line, near Newbury Park. Elephant and Castle, on the Northern Line and near the Thames, is reputedly named after Edward II’s mother, although probably in error.

Dismal Sewage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Video Review by Matthew Lewis of Michele Schindler’s LOVELL OUR DOGGE

Author and historian Matthew Lewis has continued his excellent series of short videos reviewing various Wars of the Roses books and talking about all things Yorkist (and more besides.) One of his latest YouTube videos reviews the recent  book release LOVELL OUR DOGGE by Michele Schindler, a non-fiction offering that  helps to fill the rather large hole in our knowledge about Richard III’s best friend. Like Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, very little has ever been written about Lovell independently of Richard, either about his life or his family, and this oversight by most historians makes this highly significant figures fade into the background, which was certainly not the case during his lifetime. This book goes some way to getting a clearer picture of the man obscured by legend.

 

LOVELL OUR DOGGE VIDEO REVIEW BY MATTHEW LEWIS

 

LOVELL

Song and Story Combined

Cover of Distant Echoes, by Joanne R Larner
Cover of Distant Echoes

Ian Churchward of The Legendary Ten Seconds has kindly made a fantastic video promoting my book, Distant Echoes and using his song, Sheriff Hutton, which was the inspiration for the book! Here is the link if you would like to see it – and please give it a ‘like’! Oh and if the video has made you intrigued about the book, here is the link for that too!

Yorkist Stories

On Sunday 31st May there is an online launch event for a new collection of short stories about characters from the Wars of the Roses. They are by a selection of authors some well known to Ricardians and some not so well known and all the stories are snippets of the lives of different Yorkist characters, including Richard himself.

The book is available on Kindle here. There will be prizes and chats with some of the authors, including me! I submitted an extract from my novel Distant Echoes. So come along and chat from 16.00 – 20.00 and maybe win a prize!

Here is the link: Yorkist Stories launch

A collection of short stories about fascinating men and women who found themselves by birth, marriage, or fate on the Yorkist side of the Wars of the Roses.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester muses about his brother, Edward IV. William Stanley contemplates marrying. Francis Lovell celebrates Easter, and others appear in a variety of situations in this collection. Even a ghost or two turn up.

All proceeds of this will go to Médecins Sans Frontieres.

Shadow King: the Life and Death of Henry VI


Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

Head of Zeus Publications, 2020, paperback, 700 pages, £12.00
ISBN 978-1784-979645

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Henry VI has gone down in history as one of England’s worst kings. Not for being cruel or despotic; on the contrary, his nature was kindly and pliant, peace-loving and deeply devout – qualities that made him likeable as a person but hopeless as a monarch, a faint wavering shadow of his shrewd, martial father. His life would have been very different, and he may have become a better ruler, had he grown to manhood under the guidance of Henry V, this perfect model of the medieval warrior-statesman. Instead, by the latter’s untimely death in 1422 with his French kingdom far from pacified, the infant Henry only received the dire legacy of an unwinnable war, and perpetual bitter conflict between members of his family over the implementation of the late king’s will and their respective powers on the minority council.

Such is the context for the opening chapters of Lauren Johnson’s sympathetic new study, which sets out to ‘explore Henry VI as an evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation. In short, to consider him as a man.’ Recently released in paperback, Shadow King is a handsome volume, illustrated with 24 colour plates, family trees of the Houses of Lancaster, Beaufort and York, and three helpful maps, (France 1415 – 53; Wars of the Roses battles 1455 – 71; and 15th century noble landholding in England and Wales).

The well-referenced text falls into logical sections: Henry’s minority 1422 – 37; adult rule to 1453, including his marriage to Margaret of Anjou; political and mental breakdown, culminating in his deposition by Edward IV at Towton in 1461; his fugitive years, short-lived re-adeption, and eventual fate in the Tower of London. A brief ‘Afterlife’ and epilogue conclude the sad, strange stories of this unfortunate king and his queen, followed by two appendices, ‘Where did Henry VI die?’ and ‘Key Characters’, 68 pages of notes, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Stylistically, some passages read like an historical novel: ‘The inky waters of the River Thames rippled and slid beneath the wherrymen’s oars. In places the peaks of the waves glistened, light falling from the windows of Winchester Palace as bursts of laughter and music echoed out.’ (Page 45). Such imaginative touches bring the text to life for many readers, although my own preference is for Johnson’s straight prose, which I found admirably clear and refreshing. Why gild the lily?

As for content, I particularly enjoyed the first two sections. Johnson makes excellent use of some seldom-used sources to paint a convincing, detailed picture of Henry’s early life. Her exposition of the complex political situations in England and France, (riven by its own civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians), and the equally complex personal war between Henry’s kinsmen, is lucid and easy to follow; and she offers some perceptive analyses of the likely effects on an impressionable child of having to perform the rituals of royalty surrounded by such constant conflict and tension. Theoretically wielding absolute power but practically powerless to control his feuding councillors, it’s no wonder that Henry grew up hating discord, and wishing only to please and appease the people closest to him, emotionally or literally.

However, as the story moved into more familiar territory, I felt some disappointment. Plainly no fan of Richard, Duke of York, Johnson gives short shrift to his justifiable reasons for expecting a primary place on Henry’s council/in his confidence, and justifiable chagrin at being passed over for lesser men. York’s assumption of pre-eminence was based on his royal pedigree: descended from the second and fifth sons of Edward III via his mother and father respectively, he was one of England’s wealthiest magnates with a claim to the throne arguably stronger than Henry’s. This was not lost upon the king’s beloved Beaufort kin, a legitimated line sprung from John, Duke of Lancaster’s affair with Kathryn Swynford, who, (along with sundry other jealous rivals), persistently undermined York in Henry’s malleable affections. Had Henry managed to keep his powerful cousin on-side, the Wars of the Roses might never have happened; instead, he progressively alienated York, and wounded his pride, by showing an unfair and obvious partiality for the base-born Beauforts . It seems a shame that Johnson doesn’t extend her even-handed approach to Duke Richard, or treat him as another ‘evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation’ who, no less than Henry VI, deserves to be viewed ‘as a man’ trying to do his best for his country, his family and himself.

I was also disappointed by the brief, conventional accounts of the battles of Wakefield and Towton, the great Lancastrian victory followed shortly by the catastrophic defeat which cost Henry his crown, changing his life – and the course of English history – forever. In a work of this magnitude, it’s inevitable that some areas will be less well researched than others; nonetheless, for such a crucial episode, it was frustrating to see some old Wakefield myths perpetuated and enlarged. Like other commentators unfamiliar with the place, Johnson describes Sandal Castle as ‘majestic’ when, as castles go, it’s quite small (Sandal would fit inside the truly majestic Pontefract Castle several times over) and utilitarian. Interestingly, the ‘meagre’ household expenditure of £4 6s 7d for the Christmas – New Year period is cited to show that the castle was poorly provisioned, whereas to me it says precisely the opposite: it was already so well provisioned that little further spending was required. (I say ‘little,’ but the sum in question represents around 18 months – three years’ pay for a labourer, or six months’ pay for a liveried archer – it’s all relative!). This debatable interpretation is then used to present a version of the battle of Wakefield which simply doesn’t make sense: York, Salisbury, Rutland and their men, driven by hunger to hunt in the deer-park ‘north of the River Calder,’ ambushed by the Lancastrian army and slaughtered. Said deer park wasn’t just north of the river – it was the Outwood, some three miles north of Sandal and two miles north of Wakefield city, with its chantry chapel of St Mary perched on the Calder bridge; an unnecessarily long way to go when Sandal Castle had its own deer-park to the south, literally on its threshold, and miles of nearby river for fishing and wild-fowl hunting. (For my personal take on the battle, see this article ) I also found her treatment of Towton somewhat superficial, and lacking reference to more recent studies such as those by George Goodwin and Tim Sutherland.

Suffice to say, if I wasn’t such a pro-Yorkist anorak about this period in Wars of the Roses history, these criticisms wouldn’t have occurred, and I would have read the whole book with the same relish as I devoured the earlier sections! So, on the whole, I’m happy to recommend Shadow King as a worthwhile read, an enthralling tragedy which left me moved and thoughtful, and which will make a valuable addition to my bookshelves.

They don’t like it up ’em?

It seems that some of the denialists are becoming even more sensitive than before and dislike being called Cairo dwellers. One Michael Hicks acolyte went to the point of giving Matthew Lewis well-researched biography of Richard III a one-star review. Sadly for “Alex Brondarbit”, the introduction to his own latest book (below) by the Professor has also appeared. Although the length and phraseology differs, few will believe that Hicks didn’t “inspire” the secondary effort.

In his review, Hicks cites his own mentor, Charles Ross, describing his work as the definitive biography – and herein lies the problem. Ross wrote nearly forty years ago, reciting all of the old discredited sources, ending by stating that Richard’s body was dumped in the Soar after the Reformation. Hicks has written at least a dozen books about Richard III in that time, still based on Ross’ research, but the history and the science have moved on.

In fact, we at Murrey and Blue have drawn attention to this stasis on several occasions, pointing to:
Barrie Williams‘ painstaking research in the Portuguese archives that proved Richard’s remarriage plans soon after Anne Neville’s death, thereby contradicting the hoary old myth about Richard and Elizabeth of York,
Marie Barnfield‘s proof that “affinity does not beget affinity” and that Richard and Anne had all the dispensations they required,
The conclusive identification of Richard’s remains, which were still under the former Greyfriars and nowhere near the river Soar, through research initiated by John Ashdown-Hill and others,
Ashdown-Hill’s work on the pre-contract, restoring Lady Eleanor to her rightful place in history as Edward IV’s legal wife.
The evidence adduced by Wroe, Carson, Fields and Lewis, inter alia, suggesting that either or both “Princes” survived beyond 1485 together with Ashdown-Hill’s discovery of their mtDNA.

As one who has read both Kendall and Ross on several occasions, it is surely the case that the former captures Richard III’s essence far better, notwithstanding the fact that it was the earlier book. We have a whole series of posts based on the book Kendall could have written today and we can be confident that he would take account of this new learning were he still alive. Ross both wrote and died more recently but I doubt that he would have changed a word, just as Hicks’ mind is unchanged in that interval, even as the evidence points in a different direction. He evidently has a lesser opinion of amateurs, as many of the above are, but it is they who have made the great discoveries since 1980. It is the amateurs who have conducted original research here and not relied on the flaws inherent in Mancini, Vergil and More.

As the Arabs, including those in Cairo, say: The dog barks, but the caravan moves on.

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