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Elizabeth of York and the cult of Edward of Lancaster….

Edward, Prince of Wales, the eighteen-year-old son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury, 4th May 1471. He became the subject of an exclusive posthumous cult.

The chronicle of Tewkesbury Abbey tells of the Prince’s death in battle and of his burial ‘in the mydste of the covent quiere in the monastery ther’; the short paragraph describing his death ends with the words ‘for whom god worketh’, a reference to miracles performed at the tomb, which is now lost. The plaque in the floor of the abbey merely marks that he rests somewhere close by. A little like the tomb of Queen Anne Neville in Westminster abbey. The quire is in the western part of the chancel, between the nave and the sanctuary, which houses the altar and tabernacle. In 1911, flowers were still being laid on the site of the grave.

Further evidence of interest in the Prince includes an annual commemoration, bequests at his tomb, and pilgrimage to it. Queen Elizabeth of York offered, in March 1502. ‘to Prince Edward 5s’, though it was not indicated where exactly she offered them. There was a cult of the prince’s father, the saintly Henry VI, and Elizabeth offered three times at his shrine in Windsor. Henry VII must have granted his permission for these offerings.

In 1508 Edward, Duke of Buckingham (died 1521) visited the prince’s tomb in Tewkesbury. Danna Piroyansky, author of Martyrs in the Making – Political Martyrdom in Late Medieval England, considers he may have been hoping to advertise his Lancastrian connections, which made him a potential claimant to the throne, but I cannot go along with that. Advertise his closeness to the throne when Henry VII and then Henry VIII were reigning? It would amount to something close to a death wish.

To return to Prince Edward. He is believed to have fallen in battle, and the story of him being caught fleeing could be a Yorkist attempt to ridicule the Lancastrian heir’s courage, and thus contrast him unfavourably with the ‘courageous and manly’ Edward IV. It has to be considered. As does the other story that he was murdered by Richard of Gloucester to clear the way to marriage with Anne Neville, whose husband the prince was. This latter tale strikes me as another calculated Tudor fib to blacken Richard’s name.

anne_neville_and her husbands

I digress. After the battle, Edward IV attempted to check the much more important cult that swiftly arose around Henry VI, but there is no evidence that he did the same in the case of Prince Edward. Maybe because it was a number of years after Tewkesbury—1502—when his cult began to develop. And 1502 is when we have Elizabeth of York offering 5s ‘to Prince Edward’.

Now, there was more than one Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, of course. Another was the elder of Elizabeth’s two brothers, who was briefly King Edward V, and had been famously ensconced in the Tower with his younger brother. No one knows what happened to the boys, and everyone likes to blame Richard III. Failing that, they blame the Duke of Buckingham, Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII. The disappearance of Edward IV’s sons might have suited a number of people.

There is a question mark over the claimant Perkin Warbeck, who led Henry such a merry dance. Many believe he really was who he said he was, the younger boy from the Tower, Richard, Duke of York. If that is true, then what happened to the older of the boys, the lost King Edward V? If the little Duke of York had survived to manhood, why would he, not his elder brother, come back to haunt Henry VII? Maybe because Edward V—Prince Edward—died of natural causes?

Perkin Warbeck

If so, where might King/Prince Edward be buried? Presuming he died in England, of course. Perhaps a suitably secret place was one that was really quite obvious – the tomb of another Prince Edward. Elizabeth of York’s uncle and aunt, George, Duke of Clarence, and Isabel Neville, his duchess, were already buried in Tewkesbury Abbey, so the abbey may have seemed a good idea because of them as well.

Clarence House, Tewkesbury

Above is Clarence House, Tewkesbury. Might it have once had something to do with George of Clarence? He was granted Tewkesbury, had a bridge built there, and was buried in the abbey, so it is clear he had a lot to do with the town. This might have been his residence.

Would Elizabeth of York have to go to Tewkesbury in person to offer? Or could she send someone? There is no record (as far as I know) of her visiting Tewkesbury, so I think she would have delegated. Thus she could honour her lost brother right under her husband’s nose, in the guise of commemorating Edward of Lancaster.

Too far-fetched? Well, I am a novelist, but I do not see this as being so far-fetched as to be impossible. I have no doubt that those of you who think it is wildly unlikely will soon tell me so!

PS: A third Prince Edward, another Prince of Wales, was Richard III’s little son, about whose death and whereabouts there is still such a mystery. I will not pamper the novelist in me by wondering if Tewkesbury might be his resting place as well. With his uncle, George, Duke of Clarence. A temporary interment, while Richard prepared a much grander tomb for himself, his queen and his son. But then Bosworth put a stop to any plan poor widowed Richard may have had.

 

 

 

Give this Knight Errant a miss….!

knight errant - wilkins

If you support Richard III and believe history has “done him wrong”, for heaven’s sake do not read The Last Knight Errant: Sir Edward Woodville and the Age of Chivalry by Christopher Wilkins.

I made the mistake, and it soon struck me that the author had learned by rote every single myth about Richard, and then served them up as fact. Although, to be fair, he does dispense with the “two years in the womb, long hair and full set of teeth at birth” yarn. We don’t have the withered arm either. I suppose even Wilkins sensed these things would be going too far. After all, he’s aiming at a modern audience, not the Tudors. I will assume that the murder of Edward of Lancaster at Tewkesbury was a crime of Richard’s that Wilkins somehow overlooked.

So, let me see. Here are some of Richard’s crimes:-

  • He murdered Henry VI.
  • He poisoned Anne in order to marry his niece.
  • Joanna of Portugal declined to marry Richard and preferred her nunnery.
  • Richard intended from the outset to be rid of his nephews.
  • His marriage was “between brother and sister-in-law” and therefore invalid. There was no dispensation applied for anyway. Thus Edward of Middleham was illegitimate.
  • Elizabeth Woodville wasn’t plotting against Richard, she was merely afraid of him.
  • Elizabeth Woodville had a nervous breakdown, which explains her agreement to let her daughters go into Richard’s care.
  • Richard bullied the old Duchess of Oxford into giving him her estates.
  • There is no evidence that Edward IV ever wanted Richard to be Protector.
  • Stillington only revealed the untrue yarn of the pre-contract because Richard promised him his bastard son could marry Elizabeth of York.
  • History has “demonstrated” Richard’s ruthlessness.

That’s enough! Too much even. A load of old tosh, I fear, and so untrue in these important areas that I doubt the author’s portrayal of that thieving traitor Sir Edward Woodville is much better, except that it will be the other swing of the pendulum, halo and all. Can’t be bothered to finish the book to find out.

By the way, the back cover blurb even refers to Richard as ‘that genius of propaganda’! Richard? Has Wilkins never noticed the suffocating blanket coverage by the Tudors? Bah! I don’t mind honest debate, and accept that not everyone believes Richard was a good man, but I do object to this tommyrot. Trotting out the Tudor fairy tales of Thomas More, Shakespeare and the like is not good scholarship!

IN AN OXFORDSHIRE VILLAGE

In a beautiful, sleepy Oxfordshire village stands the church of St Mary the Virgin.  Once this village was a much busier place, with ornate Almhouses known as ‘God’s House’ (now partly a school)  and a lavish manor house that was near enough a palace.  Other than a wall of the old dairy, not one trace of the manor now remains above ground,  but in the 15th century this was the home of Alice de la Pole, wife of William de la Pole, Earl and later Duke of Suffolk.

Alice was the grand daughter of one of the most famous English writers of all time, Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame.Her father was Thomas Chaucer and her mother Maud or Matilda Burghersh who are both buried in the church in an altar tomb set with fine  brasses and covered in the wheel symbol of the de Roets and the leopards of the Plantagenets. Alice was married  three times, first to Sir John Philip, then Thomas Montagu  Earl of Salisbury, and finally to William de la Pole. Her son, John de la Pole,  married Elizabeth of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, and John’s son, Alice’s grandson, was John Earl of Lincoln, whom Richard III made his heir after the death of Edward of Middleham.

Alice’s husband William was murdered when his ship was intercepted by a huge royal warship called ‘Nicholas of the Tower’ while  crossing the Channel as he went into exile. Immediately he knew doom had befallen him; he had been told years before by the astrologer Stacey that he must ‘beware the Tower.’ Taken on board the enemy ship, he was beheaded with ‘many blows’ from a rusty sword and his body displayed for all to see upon the sands at Dover, his head stuck upon a stake.

Alice inherited  many lands and manors from her husband and as she loaned  a considerable amount of  money to the Crown, the lands and titles were not placed under attainder. At one point she was constable of nearby Wallingford castle and as such custodian of  both the ill-fated Henry  Holland Duke of Exter (later to suspiciously ‘fall off’ a ship and drown after Edward IV’s French campaign) and Margaret of Anjou in the aftermath of Tewkesbury. Years before, Alice had been one of Queen Margaret’s ladies in waiting.

Alice died in 1475 at the age of 71. She has a large and elaborate alabaster tomb of exceedingly fine workmanship. On top lies the effigy of a strong-featured but peaceful-looking woman wearing a coronet; below the top, in a recess, lies a macabre memento mori monument of the Duchess as a decaying corpse, a grim reminder of the transience of life.

 

 

Did Edward of Middleham come to London….?

A short while ago I had cause to question a source that spoke of Edward of Middleham coming south to London with his mother, Anne Neville. My source at that time was http://www.basiccarpentrytechniques.com/Medieval%20Towns/The%20Story%20of%20London/46618-h.htm#CHAPTER_II

Frontispiece

In the above work is the following paragraph:-
“Edward IV. died on April 9, 1483, and his young son, Edward V., was brought from Ludlow by the Greys, his relations on the mother’s side. Richard Duke of Gloucester, fearing the action of the Greys, overtook the procession, and sent Earl Rivers and Sir Richard Grey prisoners to Pontefract. Edmond Shaa, the Mayor, the sheriffs and the aldermen in scarlet, with 500 horse of the citizens in violet, met the King and the Duke at Hornsey, and, riding from thence, accompanied them into the city, which was entered on the 4th of May. The King was lodged in the bishop’s palace, where a great Council was held, at which the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham and other great lords were sworn. Edward V. was deposed soon after this, and on the 5th of July, the day before his coronation, Richard rode from the Tower through the city, with his son, the Prince of Wales, three dukes, nine earls, twenty-two viscounts and barons, eighty knights, esquires and gentlemen ‘not to be numbered,’ besides the great officers of State.”

I thought then that the boy was always left in the north, but now I’ve come across another source that states quite clearly he came south with his mother and was present at their coronation. (See page 22 of Lives of the Princesses of Wales by Mary Beacock Fryer, Arthur Bousfield, Garry Toffoli for the extract below.) http://tinyurl.com/j3r97ax

Edward of Middleham in London

So, did Edward of Middleham ever come to London?

 

A sword made for Richard’s son….?

Prince of Wales sword

The following is taken from an item in one of the Mortimer History Society newsletters. It was by a member, Stefan Zachary, and concerns a sword of state in the British Museum.

Prince of Wales sword - 3Prince of Wales sword - 2

 

Mortimer Heraldry on a Sword of State 

This sword is dated c1460-70 and it is said to be a ceremonial sword of the Prince of Wales. On one side of the hilt is the English Royal coat of arms and also those of Wales, Cornwall and St George. On the other side are the arms of Mortimer quartered with de Burgh. This quartering was first used by Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March (d1398) as his mother was Philippa de Burgh, Countess of Ulster.

The title ‘Prince of Wales’ was first used by an English monarch by Edward I, who gave it to his son and heir, the future Edward II. So, given the age of the sword, it is possible that it was made for Edward, Lancastrian son and heir of Henry VI. Or, that the Yorkist Edward IV gave this sword of state to his son Edward (later Edward V) in 1470. In 1472 King Edward IV set up a council to advise and assist his young son in performing his duties and this council blossomed into the Council of Wales and the Marches, based in Ludlow, that survived until 1689.

The other possible recipient of this fine sword was yet another Edward, the son of Richard III, created Prince of Wales in 1483. Only he and Edward V, among these heirs, were of Mortimer descent.

Sherlock: The Mystery of the Princes

Giaconda's Blog

sherlock head

Sherlock and Watson are looking for a killer. There has to be a killer or killers because Dan Jones said that ‘The Princes Must Die’ (episode three of Britain’s Bloodiest Crown) and after the Christmas special they are able to time travel which is just as well as they need to whizz back to late C15th England in order to solve the case.

The Game is On!

The list of suspects is fairly normal – people who needed to remove them in order to get closer to the throne, the newly crowned king who feared they would remain figureheads, disgruntled nobles, people who didn’t want the ‘old royal blood’ diluted by ‘chav-bloods’ (thanks Dan – it’s just a touch of Harry Potter for the kids yet also relevant to TOWIE fans) and then there are hired killers who might have done it for the money, to get out of the…

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Those le Despensers

We all know that the principal protagonists of Edward II’s reign – the King himself and Roger Mortimer, later Earl of March – were among Richard III’s ancestors. However, this table shows that Anne Neville, his Queen Consort, was descended from Hugh le Despenser the Elder (and also from the Younger) through the Beauchamps of Warwick. As a Neville, she was also descended from Edward II, through John of Gaunt, but not from the Mortimers. Thus Edward of Middleham, their son, was descended from all three.

Thanks to Kathryn Warner for these photos of Hugh the Younger’s, subsequently vandalised tomb. Hugh the Elder’s has no effigy:leDespenser leDespenser2

FEAST OF THE INNOCENTS: Ricardian Christmas Fiction

December 28th was the Feast of the Innocents, commemorating the day in which Herod slaughtered  young male children in an attempt to kill the newborn Christ-child. In medieval England it was an important feast day and also part of the ‘Feast of Fools’. In many towns and cities over the festive season the church authority was supplanted by ‘Boy Bishops’ (there was traditionally one at Salisbury near my home) and the Feast of the Innocents was the last day in which the Boy Bishop held sway– on this day too, the words of children were to be heeded above those of adults.

In this short Christmas story, FEAST OF THE INNOCENTS, Richard III (here still Duke of Gloucester) is depicted with his son, Edward of Middleham, who died young in 1484. Edward gets very little ‘airtime’ in Ricardian fiction, other than to be born to great rejoicing, then to be sickly but much loved, then to tragically die. This is wholly understandable, as so little is known about him; even his birthdate is questionable, ranging between 1473 and 1476. He is almost always depicted as sickly, and he has some health issues in this short tale too, but there is no real proof that he was particularly ailing, although it may be suggestive that he was taken by chariot (carriage) to York for his investiture and did not seem to have been at his father’s coronation or to have travelled much outside Middleham. Of course if he was perhaps born in 1476 or even later, this might be more understandable.

In Feast of the Innocents Edward is given a ‘voice’ and a little adventure in a snowstorm that sweeps in over the Dales. All fantasy and speculation of course, but using the evocative and beautiful landscapes of Wensleydale and Coverdale,and real places that Richard (and young Edward) would have known in life. A Christmas feast is also described at Middleham castle, based on the actual procedures of table laying and manners known to have taken place in Richard’s era.

The title itself of course is slightly provocative because of Richard’s ‘reputation’ regarding the disappearance of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ and their presumed (and it is certainly unproven) murder ,with some traditionalists having drawn parallels with  King Herod killing boy babies that threatened his realm. In this story, it attempts to show what Shakespeare completely obliterated and many writers of the era ignored (save for the one mention that Richard and Anne were nearly mad with grief when Edward died); that Richard was a father, who undoubtably cared for his child and had the same feelings as emotions as anyone else. I think, in fact, one of the great disservices Shakespeare did to Richard (and there were many) was to make him childless, a barren unloved and unloving creature, completely inured to human kindness.

feast1-2

Band of Brothers

godfather 2When Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo began to write their classic Godfather movies, based on Mario Puzo’s pop novel, did they have the Plantagenet Brothers, Edward, George and Richard in mind as the prototypes of Sonny, Fredo and Michael Corleone?  Whether they did or not, the parallels among the characters and their historical counterparts are quite interesting and in several instances, astonishing.

In Godfather 2, considered the masterwork of the trilogy, we meet the handsome, elegant Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro), father of the trio, as a young Italian immigrant who learns to survive the mean streets of Manhattan in the early 20th Century.  After many trials and error, he succeeds by eventually seizing authority from the corrupt, wealthy power-brokers and extortionists of the poor, exemplified by Don Fanucci (Gastone Muschin), and proceeds to build a power base of his own from which he can exercise both justice and punishment as well as accumulate land and riches.  That this land is in the Borough of Queens, New York and not Lincolnshire or Yorkshire does not lessen the fact that it bears some similarity to the life of Richard of York in his ongoing quest to seize power from the naïve Henry the Sixth and his corrupt court.  Where they differ, aside from location and time, is that Don Corleone did not have to contend with the scary Margaret of Anjou.  In almost all cases in these movies, with perhaps the exception of Kay played by Diane Keaton, the women take a backseat to the men of the Costa Nostra.

godfather 6

Where the parallels get much stronger is the introduction of the three brothers in the first Godfather film.  The youngest, the quiet, scholarly Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is back from fighting in the Pacific and hopes to graduate from college and go into politics.  A bit of an outsider within his family (“That’s my family, Kay, not me”), he is nonetheless keeping a silent watch on the frenzied actions of his landsman.  In this, we see an inkling of the young Duke of Gloucester, a soldier who may originally have been slated to become a priest, who had an active interest in law, literature and music but one who had no logical chance of rising within the royal family.  But through twists of amazing fate and fortune’s ever-spinning wheel, as most Ricardians know:  just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in!

godfather 4Brother Sonny Corleone (James Caan), the oldest of the clan, is the golden boy of the family, the apple of his father’s eye (Marlon Brando) and the successor to his father’s dynasty.  But Sonny has a problem not unlike his Plantagenet model, King Edward IV:  he’s a slothful womanizer with several mistresses, one of whom, Lucy, is so tempting that Don Corleone scolds his son for becoming soft and decadent and not looking after business.  Sonny’s insistence on bringing narcotics into his crime syndicate – a quick way to make a buck – surely has a parallel to Edward’s Treaty of Picquigny, which easily brought thousands upon thousands of crowns into the English treasury and was much disdained by the straight-laced Richard.  We also know that Edward came to value Richard’s loyalty and work ethic in carrying out his orders as Constable of England, head of the Admiralty and Lord of the North and so, too, does Sonny esteem his youngest brother when Michael volunteers to kill his father’s would-be murderers after Corleone Pére becomes the victim of an assassination attempt.  While we cannot compare Richard’s actions to that of the murderous Michael, we do know that Richard remained a loyal family man and admirer of his brother Edward – perhaps until he was set upon by a brace of Woodvilles.

Was there ever a character more like George, Duke of Clarence than Fredo played by the late, great John Casale?

godfather 5This is the weak middle brother who drunkenly screams “I’m your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over!” when confronted about his bad behavior.  He’s the overlooked, jealous and distrusted son and sibling, constantly protected by Michael but continually betraying his family in wrong-headed alliances with Las Vegas and Havana mobsters culminating in a plot to assassinate his younger brother who is now head of the family.  How similar to the unstable and drunken Clarence joining with the Earl of Warwick in rebellion and again implicated in various plots to overthrow the king and seize the crown.  Just as Clarence was hauled off to the Tower by Edward IV, Fredo is consigned to purdah at Michael’s Lake Tahoe secluded retreat.  At this point, the parallel diverges in that we know that Richard was adamantly opposed to his brother being executed while Michael Corleone delivers Fredo’s death warrant with a kiss.  (“It was you, Fredo, it was you.”)  Yet both brothers, historical and fictional, deeply regret the loss of a childhood playmate and blood relative.

Once Fredo is executed and Sonny and Vito are long dead, an embittered Michael stands alone as the head of his family.  He is left with fractured friendships and interests which must somehow be glued together in order to keep “the business” going.  Michael becomes involved with shady Italian politicians and Vatican financiers as Richard welcomed the overtures of the dicey Duke of Buckingham.   Both have unhappy outcomes that do not bode well for the future of either man.  Lastly, there is an eerie similarity between Richard and Michael when his daughter, Mary, played by Sofia Coppola in Godfather 3, is brutally murdered on the steps of the Palermo Opera House by a bullet meant for her father.  In his guilt and frenzy, we see Michael silently scream in what must surely echo Richard’s own agony when confronted with his own son’s unexpected death.  Michael cannot be comforted by his ex-wife and I suspect Queen Anne also could not help her grieving husband.

godfather 7

Truly, a medieval bloodfest filmed by Gordon Willis in somber, handsome shades of ruby red, cobalt blue and black that might easily hint at a touch of Yorkist murrey and blue.

Oh, and could this be Richard and his lawyer William Catsby?  Played by Robert Duvall.

godfather 1

Coming to Know Richard III: The Fictional Character vs. The Actual Man

 

“Life is like a prism. What you see depends on how you turn the glass.”
~Jonathan Kellerman

In the late 80s, I made the acquaintance of a classically trained British actor. Born in Guernsey, he served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and was imprisoned in a German prisoner-of-war camp for three years, from 1942 to 1945. Until I learned that he and his fellow prisoners were forced to perform Shakespeare before the guards, and that the guards had demanded he take the female roles, I did not understand his groundedness, his wicked sense of humor, his unspoken but clear compassion for a friend who had been abused in certain ways during her youth, and his unfailing attitude of, “I’ve seen bad, and this isn’t it.”

Until we know someone’s past, we can’t understand him. We also can’t know what he cares about or what motivates him.

While developing Richard as a character for multiple novels, and wanting to make him different in each novel, I realized that both historians and writers of fiction already see him and his motivations as if through a glass prism or a spectroscope. Some might argue that Shakespeare is to blame for the archetypal Machiavellian villain many think of when they think of Richard, but the human need to shoebox and categorize things and people, and the majority’s willingness to accept a traditional category without personally researching its historical validity likely have more to do with what the average person thinks about Richard…if the average person ever thinks about Richard.

Will the Real Richard III Please Step Forward?

In Richard’s case, we know some events of his life, but we do not know which events were meaningful enough to him to have helped shape who he was.

The major historical events are known and can be traced. Only occasionally can Richard’s reactions be traced, and we are entirely ignorant as to his motivations even when we think we know his motivations. But a plethora of writers – both of history and of fiction – have looked at the events Richard lived through or participated in, and they’ve gone on to decide what was important to him, and why. And so it is that most who have bothered to write about Richard have assigned subjective motivations to him.

It’s doubtful this will ever change because the temptation is too strong in most people for them to resist overlaying their personal feelings and reactions in response to the historical events that affected Richard or his contemporaries. A problem occurs when one writer accuses another writer’s reasoning as “wrong” when there can be no proven “right” answers to the mysteries in Richard’s life. Some people seem to forget the mysteries are many. Things like “What happened to the princes in the Tower?” and, “Did Edward IV marry Lady Eleanor Talbot before he married Elizabeth Woodville?” and, “What did Anne Neville die of? What did Edward of Middleham die of?” will always remain mysteries. Some people seem to forget that, too.

It can be fun to debate the points and possibilities, but many of us don’t know how to have fun debating. Many of us don’t even know how to debate. As the old Goon Show line goes, “I’m not saying she’s insane, but she leaves her premises immediately.”[i]

YOUR Richard is Too Hot, Cold, Romantic, Incestuous, Weak, Murderous, Tender, Loving, Psychotic, Paternal, Devoted, Comical, Tedious, Arrogant, Sneaky, and I Love/Hate Him, So Nyah!

When a writer of fiction uses Richard as a character, the writer makes certain subjective decisions about the character which are dictated by the story the writer wishes to tell. The Richard a writer creates is his or her own interpretation of the man, and the events and people in the real Richard’s life influence that interpretation as the story demands. A romantic novel featuring Anne Neville and Richard would focus on different events and character actions and reactions than an historical novel featuring Richard training as a squire to become a knight under the Earl of Warwick’s men.

No fictional Richard-construction is “better” or “worse” than any other. As Oscar Wilde said, “Books are either well written or badly written. That is all.” If you don’t like a particular flavor of tea, you can be nice and leave the pot for others to enjoy. You might even wander off to create your own flavor of Richard-tea. In any case, your flavor of Richard-tea is over there safely shelved on your bookshelf or still in your head. No one has messed with him, and you’re free to drink him up as you like.

MY Historical Rendition of Richard is The Definitive Version, Full Stop, Forevah! I’ll Snarl at Anyone Who Says Otherwise, So Nyah!

When a professional or amateur historian writes about history, he or she usually takes a position regarding their subject, and they back up their stance by interpreting historical events. (When you find an historian who’s neutral, send them roses, thank them profusely, and buy everything they’ve written. New. Yes, from that expensive university or independent press.) In the case of someone like Winston Churchill, there’s a plethora of contemporary source material, and the subject’s reactions and motivations are on record, so the historian has only to extrapolate Churchill’s reactions and motivations. But then, Churchill knew he was making history. Richard III didn’t. He was likely only trying to survive and take care of what mattered to him…like thousands of other people, noble and commoner, around him. (See what I did there? Create motivations for R3’s actions and other people’s actions, too? See how easy it is?)

In the case of Richard III, contemporary source material is so sparse, it’s not possible for anyone to reliably extrapolate Richard’s reactions and motivations, so contradictory interpretations are inevitable and multiple from the 15th century long into the future.

Every historian writing about Richard forms and expresses his or her opinions and theories without being able to provide definitive proofs to convince their audience because definitive proofs do not exist in Richard’s case.There is evidence. There is probability. Good writers weigh both, but ultimately nothing but conjecture is possible where his reactions and motivations are concerned because the king’s skeleton was not found clutching a thick tome in its bony fingers that contained its owner’s private thoughts in neat middle English, and no archive has yet yielded same.

So whenever a professional or amateur analyst of Richard III, his life and his times, expounds on Richard’s personal motivations and goes on to offer definitive answers to any of the myriad mysteries regarding him, they’re actually expounding on what their own imagination has come up with. So unless an historical writer or blogger confines themselves to the known facts and doesn’t venture into the realm of, “Richard did X because he felt Y,” it’s all conjecture…unless someone has a direct line to the Unseen Realm and to Richard, or to the elusive Akashic Records. And if they do, I wish they’d bottle and sell it so the rest of us can play, too.

All we can do as The Audience is apply or not apply critical thinking to what we read and hear regarding Richard. If all we do is absorb the opinions and theories of others, then we have no studied, deliberate theories or opinions of our own. And that’s sad, and perhaps lazy of us. But then I wonder…how many of us have been taught critical-thinking skills?

Shakespeare Knew How to Have Fun with His Duke of Gloucester

Like it or not, Richard III as a character in fiction is forever fair game. He’s also a wonderful character to play with. You can let your imagination run riot to create a romance, a comedy, or a tragedy with him, and no one can tell you that you’re wrong to do so. (Actually, they will tell you, but you’re free to pity the Mrs. Grundys of the world for missing out on all the fun while you go back to playing with him and irritating them.)

In Richard’s real life, events continued shaping who he was throughout his life. It’s the same with us as well, but in fiction a writer will assign a character only one (1) meaningful life event. That one event helps the reader to understand the character, know what he cares about, and know what motivates him. The meaningful event is also the foundation for:

  1.  What the character wants
  2.  What choices the character makes when he’s stressed
  3.  The story’s theme

When the writer chooses the meaningful event carefully and uses it to their best advantage, they’re able to manipulate their audience’s emotions and reactions. This is great fun, hopefully for the audience as much as for the writer — if the writer does it right.

Shakespeare’s audience couldn’t claim they weren’t warned as to his Richard’s Meaningful Event, since the Bard has the Duke of Gloucester lay it all out in the soliloquy opening “Richard III.” What’s amazing is that this particular Meaningful Event was created full-cloth in Tudor times, by Tudor writers, and traditional historians have taken it as religious historical dogma ever since. It took Philippa Langley, John Ashdown-Hill, a whole lot of money from a whole lot of international Richard supporters, and Richard’s voice speaking from beyond the grave through his bones to offer the definitive proof that hey, he wasn’t at all as the Tudor writers (*cough* Thomas More, the Croyland Chronicle, etc. etc. etc.) and Old Willie presented him. And if the Tudors and Willie were wrong about Richard’s physical attributes, the next question to ask is: What else did they get wrong about him?

Lie to Me Once, Shame on You. Lie to Me Twice, and I’ll Never Believe Another Thing You Tell Me

When a witness on the stand in a court trial lies about one thing, their entire testimony is thrown out. They also instantly become a defendant, and they can be put on trial for perjury. So it is with Tudor propaganda. Once you catch a Tudor chronicler in one lie, their entire chronicle – down to the smallest detail – is suspect.

But hey, back to Shakespeare and the fun he had creating his Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

What Meaningful Event Does Shakespeare Assign His Version of Richard?

Shakespeare’s character is physically deformed and unfinished, lame and unfashionable. Even the dogs bark at him when he stops near them. (Or, as Gollum more succinctly put it in the screenplay of The Two Towers, to himself about himself, “You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you.”)

Shakespeare uses Richard’s physical deformity as the foundation for:

WHAT Richard WANTS: To be a subtle, false, and treacherous villain because he can’t be a lover.

WHAT CHOICES HE MAKES WHEN HE’S STRESSED: When play opens, Richard has already laid plots to make his brothers hate each other. The play goes on to reveal his other, rather nasty choices. Was he under stress before the play began, or after? You can argue either way.

THE PLAY’S THEME: Various themes apply, so take your pick as they relate to Richard’s meaningful event. (There are other possible themes beyond these.)

  • Mortal Justice vs. Divine Justice
  • Free Will vs. Fate – “Divine Providence” to Renaissance audiences
  • Time – Richard seems to have the ability to speed up time. This is seen to work for him, but in the end it works against him.
  • Manipulation – He manipulates the audience as well as the other characters.
  • Power – Getting it. Holding onto it. Shakespeare’s Richard is portrayed, not as the medieval warlord he was, but as a Renaissance “Machievel” – someone who will do anything to get in power and stay in power.
  • Physical Deformity Reflects Moral Deformity — doesn’t much apply today, but aligns with the 16th-century belief system

You Too Can Have Fun with Richard

Wanna start creating your own Richard? It’s not hard, so why not have a go? If you don’t want to create your own, you could pull out your favorite novel that features him and see what the writer used to underlay Richard’s story goal, the choices he made during stressful times, and the story’s theme.

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to select a meaningful event from Richard’s real life. The event should have happened before your story begins. It should also create ongoing suspense within your reader. You want them to ask and keep asking, “What’s Richard going to do next, and why?”

Story suspense depends on conflict and suffering, so the event you select must be traumatic – a betrayal, an insult, a loss, an injury, something that deeply wounded Richard. There are so many possibilities to choose from in his life, I’m not going to list examples. Part of the fun is making a list of possibilities for yourself and deciding which one to use.

The outcome of the event that wounded Richard should have created two or three specific things within him. Here are the three specific outcomes you’re looking for, compliments of Elizabeth Lyon’s A Writer’s Guide to Fiction.

  1. The wound should leave the character with a need so intense, he or she will be driven to fulfill it. These needs are universal, such as belonging, love, family, self-worth, or faith.
  2. The wound should leave the character with a weakness, a character flaw that seems out of the control or beyond the full awareness of the character.
  3. The wound may also gift the character with a heroic strength that increases his determination to fill the need and reach the plot goal.[ii]

If what you’ve chosen doesn’t create at least two things from this list, select another traumatic, meaningful event from Richard’s life.

The next time you run into the historical Richard or a fictional version (or both wrapped into one work), see if you can identify the meaningful event the writer is using to drive their version of the man. If you can’t identify their premise…I’m not saying they’re insane. Only that their work may be badly written.

__________

[i] Premise, also premiss. Logic. A proposition supporting or helping to support a conclusion. If you’d like to search “The Goon Show” radio scripts for the line, some are here: http://www.thegoonshow.net/scripts_alpha.asp … Good luck with that if you’re not a fan of Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, et. al. and their brand of humor. And if your first response was, “What’s a goon show?”, fuggedaboudit.

[ii] Lyon, Elizabeth. A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, Perigree, New York, 2004, p. 87.

 

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