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SHAKESPEARE’S RICHARD III: HERO OR VILLAIN?

” Never let it be said that fate itself could awe the soul of Richard.

           Hence babbling dreams, you threaten here in vain;

           Conscience avaunt, Richard’s himself again”

(The tragical history of King Richard the Third)[1]


 

Richard’s himself again: or is he?

There is a moment in Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tragedy of King Richard the Third’ that is not Shakespearean. It occurs during the Bosworth scene just as the king is about to ride into battle. Unnerved by the ghostly apparitions in the night of his vengeful victims, Richard’s courage seems to desert him (‘O Ratcliffe, I fear, I fear ‘). However, the sight and sound of Richmond’s army approaching rouses his natural ‘heroical temperament’ and as he rides away he whispers in White Surrey’s ear ‘Richard’s himself again’, which is not a phrase you will find in any extant Quarto or Folio edition of the play. It is, in fact, an interpolation from Coley Cibber’s seventeenth century adaptation and a small but significant example of Olivier’s editing. Its purpose is to reinforce the notion that Richard’s courage and resolution are unimpaired on the morning of battle. Its importance to Cibber (and presumably to Olivier also) is that it counters the insinuation in some interpretations of the play that King Richard was demoralized by guilt, fear and desperation at Bosworth.

 

Even though Olivier’s film is so heavily modified that much the subtlety of Shakespeare’s original play is lost, it should not be thought that his adaptation is inartistic. He is simply one of a number of distinguished actors and directors who between the reigns of the first and second Elizabeth have imposed their artistic ambition on the play. The point is that Shakespeare’s plays are not fossils set in stone. They are each subject to historical relativity and usage. Succeeding generations of actors, directors and producers have adapted them according to their artistic taste or the cultural, social and political ethos of their society. Indeed, it is possible that this play was used as a metaphor for exploring the concerns of contemporary first Elizabethans as well as those of later cultures. Modern performances of the play have portrayed Richard as a proxy for Hitler, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and ‘Rikki Ortega’ (a fictitious Californian gangster) among others.[2] Henry Goodman in the RSC’s 2003 production found ‘parallels for Richard’s deranged mind’ in the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter.[3] Anthony Sher (1984), looking for clues of Richard’s stage personality studied the psychology of the real serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen who murdered at least twelve men between 1978 and 1983. Contemporary socio-cultural themes such as physical and mental disability, gender, racial and class discrimination, and the importance of Richard III as a ‘case study’ of tyranny, are all now aspects of modern performances. [4] In fact, so different is the public taste for this play today that I wonder whether Shakespeare would recognize it as the one he wrote for Richard Burbage in the last decade of the sixteenth century.

 

Sign of the times

The play that Shakespeare actually wrote was an immediate smash-hit financially and critically. Moreover, Burbage’s portrayal of Richard was so powerful that it defined performances of the play for generations afterwards and contributed an epic snippet of Shakespearean erotic mythology, which we learn from John Manningham, a student at the Inner Temple, who wrote in his diary in 1602: ‘Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard III. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained and at his game ere Burbage came. The message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard III.’ I don’t know whether this anecdote is true or not, but it is at the very least an indication of the sensuousness of Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard and the popularity of his play.

 

The old adage that ‘plays are meant to be performed not read’ may be corny but it’s true nonetheless. The importance of actors and directors in shaping our opinion of this play cannot be overstated. In my copy of the RSC’s text, it states quite clearly that the best way to understand this play is to see or ideally to participate in it. It is my aim in this article to explore the theme of change in the production, presentation and performance of Richard III. Naturally, I am aware that it is this play that is in no small part responsible for the historical Richard’s bad reputation. Nevertheless, having written some articles in favour of the factual Richard III, I feel compelled to write a few lines in defence of the fictional one and the man who created him.

 

The distinction I make between the fictional and the factual Richard is not artificial and it is important. It is ignored or blurred too often and for too long in discussions and analysis of the play or the man. [5]  There are almost as many myths about the play as there are about Richard. Chief among these is the notion that Shakespeare is personally to blame for the misjudgement of history. I hope to show that is not true and that Shakespeare was far from being a Tudor stooge. While there is no doubt that he embraced the Tudor narrative of Richard as a villain or that he structured his play around the Tudor histories of Thomas More and Edward Hall, Shakespeare doesn’t make Richard out to be as bad as he might have done.

 

‘Matters of state, not fit to be suffered’

We now have a better appreciation of Tudor bias. The depiction of Richard as a monstrous villain without any redeeming characteristics was necessary to bolster Henry VII’s weak royal title. The fact is that in Tudor England and particularly during the Elizabethan period the condemnation of Richard in literature was practically unanimous. Regardless of his personal opinion, therefore, Shakespeare had little choice other than to conform to the ‘tenets of Tudor orthodoxy’. The Privy Council enforced strict censorship of ‘certain matters of state not fit to be suffered’. Shakespeare would have been extremely foolish to depart from the prescribed doctrine on touchy issues such as the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty.[6] The contemporary notion of kingship held that it was contrary to God’s law to depose a crowned and anointed king. Even a tyrant enjoyed God’s protection; however, whereas a tyrant must be endured a usurper was outside God’s law and could be overthrown with impunity. It was, therefore, necessary to depict Richard III as a usurper and a tyrant. Otherwise, it would call into question Tudor legitimacy and, more importantly, the validity of Elizabeth’s succession.[7]

 

In that context, it is all the more remarkable that Shakespeare does not depict Richard as the unrelieved monster of Tudor dogma. He is charismatic and his sardonic humour soon has the audience laughing with him; indeed, they are, in a sense, his co-conspirators. From the moment he enters the stage, Richard takes control of the play and the audience. Conversely, Shakespeare does all he can to downplay Richmond’s role. He writes nothing to make him personally attractive to the audience. He is not even mentioned until the fourth act and doesn’t appear on stage until the last. There is no scope for the audience to form any sort of relationship with such a boring, distant and obscure antagonist. Neither does Shakespeare write anything to counter suggestions that Richmond’s claim to the throne is questionable. In fact, it is soon clear that Richard cannot be defeated by any human adversary, least of all Richmond whose sole purpose is to be the clunky deus ex machina figure who is still alive at the end;[8] it is an indication of his dramatic irrelevance. I will return to these points later but for now I want to mention the play’s textual history.

 

Textual problems

Shakespeare wrote this play either in 1692 or 1694. The case for 1692 is based entirely on speculation about Shakespeare’s professional relationship with Ferdinando Lord Strange, a descendant of William Stanley the earl of Derby.[9] Although that date cannot be dismissed out of hand, it seems more likely that the play was written in 1594 for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. They were by far the most important and influential company of actors and in Richard Burbage they had the greatest actor of his generation. Writing for them was a good career move for Shakespeare who needed a star actor to play Richard. The Tragedy of Richard III together with the three parts of Henry VI comprised Shakespeare’s first tetralogy of history plays.[10] He wrote the second tetralogy about a few years later. Confusingly, these plays are about earlier kings: Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. The two tetralogies together chart the course of English history from the reign Richard II to the death of Richard III.

 

It is disappointing — to say the least — that none of the surviving Quarto and Folio texts of this play were authorised by Shakespeare. Experts cannot even be sure whether the synthetic text currently used in performance is an accurate representation of the version first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The Quarto text of the play (a small booklet) was printed in 1597 (Q1) and thereafter re-printed five times (in 1598,1602,1605,1612 and 1622). Unfortunately, each re-print was copied from the previous one, thus perpetuating existing errors and adding new ones. Consequently, every print after Q1 is different from every other print, which makes the Quarto version useless as a performance text. It is possible (I put it no higher) that Q1 is a ‘memorial’ version of the play assembled from memory by actors who had lost or forgotten their prompt sheets, or who wished to streamline the play for a provincial performance.[11] The First Folio (F1) version of the play was published in 1623 as part of a compendium of Shakespeare’s plays. It might have been copied from an independent manuscript that pre-dates Q1 (Is it Shakespeare’s original version? Who knows?) Understanding the relationship between these versions of the play is the most difficult textual problem of all Shakespeare’s plays; it has troubled scholars for years. F1 is longer than Q1. Whether, this us due to a reduction in Q1 or an enlargement of F1 is anyone’s guess. All we can truthfully say about these texts is that they differ from each other and are error-full.[12]

 

Coley Cibber (1671-1757) was an actor-manager, who at the turn of the eighteenth century wrote and printed a vigorous and populist adaption of Shakespeare’s play. He reduced its length by cutting all but eight hundred lines from Shakespeare and adding two thousand of his own, together with lines from Henry V and Henry VI part 3. The characters of Clarence, Edward IV, Rivers and Queen Margaret are omitted altogether. Despite being mocked at the time for its crudity, Cibber version became the standard performance text from 1700 until 1821. It was not until the last quarter of the nineteenth century that the F1 became the preferred stage text play. Cibber understood his audience. Shakespeare’s play was too long for eighteenth century playgoers who had no connection with, or understanding of fifteenth century politics. The real problem for purists is that Cibber’s adaptation concentrates attention even more on Richard at the expense of his lively interactions with Edward, Clarence, Margaret and Buckingham, which make Shakespeare’s play so compelling.[13] In that sense, Cibber’s alterations are crude.

 

‘The Play’s the thing…’

‘The tragedy of King Richard the Third’ is indubitably a psychological profile of a dramatic villain. Richard’s solo entrance and memorable opening soliloquy are indicative of his dramatic dominance and also of Shakespeare’s artistic intention to create a star theatrical villain rather than continue the cyclic theme of atrocity and revenge, as seen in the Henrician plays.[14] It is a change, which whether intended or not, challenges the idea that the first tetralogy represent a serial epic that is intended to be seen as a set and in sequence after the second tetralogy. It is a conundrum that has produced two distinctly different schools of thought. One is teleological in nature; the other is analogical.

 

The teleological theory interprets the cycle of history plays from Richard II to Richard III within the context of Tudor historiology and literature. The death of Richard III is seen as the preordained end of a curse that had afflicted England since the murder of Richard II. In the three parts of Henry VI, Shakespeare constantly links the present with the past. He never lets us forget that the usurpation of Henry Bolingbroke and the murder of Richard of Bordeaux were the root causes of division and tumult. Professor EMW Tillyard writing in the mid twentieth century argues that all four plays are united in political themes of order and chaos, and unity and civil war. : “The main business of the play [Richard III] is to complete [the] national tetralogy and to display the working out of God’s plan to restore England to prosperity…in its function of summing-up and completing what has gone before, Richard III inevitable suffers as a detached unit.” [15] He asserts that such a conclusion is inescapable in view of the ‘plays failure to remember’ Clarence’s perjury to Warwick, Queen Margaret’s mock crowning of York, the murder of Rutland and the murder of Prince Edward by York’s sons; If it were not so, implies Tillyard, the play would not make sense to audiences. ” For the purposes of the tetralogy and most obviously for this play, Shakespeare accepted the prevalent belief that God had guided England into the haven of Tudor prosperity” [16] Tillyard’s suggestion that Richard III is a religious play can only be substantiated if it is judged according to the traditional Tudor narrative, wherein both Richard and Richmond are God’s instruments. Richard is God’s scourge; Richmond, his emissary.

 

Tillyard’s only concession to Richard’s dramatic importance is that he is so evil and depraved, and his sins are so vast that his evil is absorptive and not contagious “He is the great ulcer of the body politic into which all impurity is drained and against which all the body politic are united.”[17] Nowadays, Tillyard’s ideas are regarded as sentimental “The view from a Cambridge college window looking out at a world at war [the Second World War] and nostalgic for a more stable and comprehensible historical process”[18] Whilst there are some obvious flaws in professor Tillyard’s logic, it is ridiculous to suggest that his ideas are based on nothing more than wishful thinking. However, his assumption that all Elizabethan’s shared the Tudor view of harmony is patently untrue. There was extreme political and religious division among the population.

 

The play’s theatrical history shows that from the sixteenth century until the twenty first century, political thinkers have used it as a medium for expressing their concerns in times of oppression and/or suppression. These performances use Richard’s rise to power, his elimination of opponents, his dissembling and his amorality as an oblique warning against the onset of tyranny in their own times. The fact that the play lends itself to this approach indicates that it is far more complicated than professor Tillyard suggests. It’s a point picked up by Sir Richard Eyre, former Artistic Director of The National Theatre. His production of Richard III starring Ian Mckellen toured the world in 1990 and inspired the subsequent film. Eyre’s decision to set the play in the 1930’s during the rise of Fascism was an artistic one based on his opinion that ” We have to keep thinking of ways of doing Shakespeare’s plays. They don’t have absolute meanings. There is no fixed, frozen way of doing them. Nobody can mine a Shakespeare play and discover a ‘solution’ [sic].” [19] However, in 1991 he took the play to Rumania, which he regarded as its spiritual home and used its enduring political power as a warning against tyrants such as the Romanian despot Ceausescu, and others such as Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. Eyre even suggests that Richard III could be seen as a handbook for Tyrants.

 

I must admit that the most memorable performances that I have seen (Olivier, Mckellen, Sher and Rylance) have been when the play was performed alone rather than as one of a sequence of plays. As a schoolboy, I watched the BBC’s 1960 production ‘Age of Kings’ in which  the first and second tetralogies were broadcast over many weeks. As I recall, Paul Daneman was a drab and unconvincing Richard and Sean Connery was a surreal Hotspur. I found Peter Hall’s 1963 RSC production of the Wars of the Roses, which was based on the first tetralogy, equally uninspiring. Ian Holm’s Richard being small of stature was incapable of dominating the play physically or dramatically. I was not impressed. I learned later that this casting was deliberate. The aim was to portray Richard as just another royal pretender.

 

My difficulty with the teleological and analogical concepts is that they are prescriptive. Tillyard’s Richard is God’s instrument and therefore not responsible for his actions as the end is pre-ordained. The notion that the play is actually a metaphor for tyranny is equally limiting since it dismisses Richard as nothing more than a cruel brute of a type that historically were responsible for countless innocent deaths. In my personal opinion, neither approach does justice to Shakespeare’s artistry and this play’s complexity. The reality is that Richard displays aspects of both theories and more. We cannot even be sure of the play’s genre. Shakespeare called it a ‘tragedy’; the compilers of the First Folio, classified it as a ‘history’. In the last century, professor AP Rossiter identified elements of comedy in the play. What are we supposed to think? I don’t believe that Shakespeare’s creativity was limited by anything so rigid as genre. Polonius’ suggests as much in this little speech to Hamlet wherein he introduces ‘the actors’ to the prince. “The best actors in the world either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited. Seneca cannot be too heavy, not Plautus too light for the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men.” [20] I like to think that Shakespeare was writing from his experience with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

 

Shakespeare’s description of the play as a tragedy does not imply an ethical or emotional judgement. It is a definition of the plays structure, which is based on the classical Senecan tragedies that depict the rise of great men and their downfall at fortune’s wheel.[21] It is Shakespeare’s way of heralding his artistic transition from the dramatization of chronicle histories to the creation of a histrionic and complex theatrical protagonist as the centrepiece of his drama. It was professor A P Rossiter in a lecture given ten years after Tillyard’s book who drew attention to the paradoxicality of Richard’s character, which he suggests “…decisively complicates the plays moral and political significance.[22] The problem as Rossiter sees it, is the illogicality between the concept of Richard as ‘a huge triumphant stage figure’ and his depiction by Tillyard within a rigid Tudor concept of retributive justice. Richard contradicts the expressly Christian notion of the Vice character in medieval morality plays; he is “…a heroic exemplar of humankind as being able to exert will; the world is poorer for his loss.”[23] This characterization also undermines the simplistic analogical idea that Richard is simply an evil man in a long line of evil men.

 

Shakespeare’s apparent conformity with conventional Tudor historiography is therefore complicated by his depiction of Richard as a caricature combining features from three theatrical characters familiar to Elizabethan audiences: the ‘de Casibus tragedian’[24], the demonic-comedian Vice character of the morality plays and the Marlovian Machiavellian of the Elizabethan stage. Above all, Shakespeare’s Richard is an actor. He is charming, witty, intelligent and eloquent, and dissembles his many parts so brilliantly that those whom he intends to kill do not realise until the very last moment that he is not their friend. He is Shakespeare’s version of a ‘thoroughly bad man in the role of a monarch and hero’ Rossiter describes him thus: ” He [is] a mocking comedian, a ‘Vice’ king but with a clear inheritance from the old Vice moralities: part symbol of evil, part comic devil and chiefly — on stage — the generator of roars of laughter at wickedness the audience would …condemn in reality.”[25]

 

His sardonic sense of humour is not a conventional rendering of Tudor doctrine. He makes us laugh. We are on his side. We enjoy this gritty comedy because we are Richard’s confidantes. We see the fools he dupes through his eyes and with his mind. We rejoice in their downfall. Richard is not just a consummate actor; he is also a consummate villain. He knows what he wants. He delights in telling us what he is going to do, and he does it. He can assume any mood or passion at will. He is believed without question. He has perfected simulation of every feeling and phrase to serve his purpose. And he has eliminated any weakness that might betray him, such as feelings of compunction, pity and uncertainty of mind.[26] Richard has all the qualities of the complete Machiavellian: ” …lifelong and unremitting vigilance in relentless simulation and indomitable deception.” [27] By presenting Richard in this form, Shakespeare is neither proving nor de-bunking the Tudor myth. Instead of certainty we have only ambiguity.

 

[1] Coley Cibber – The tragical history of King Richard the Third. Altered from Shakespeare by Coley Cibber, Esq. (London 1769 print) p.66

[2] John Jowett (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Oxford 2000) p.17; Annalieze Connelly (ed) – Richard III: a critical reader (Bloomsbury/Arden 2013) pp.111-150 passim.

[3] Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (eds) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Macmillan/RSC Shakespeare 2008) p.167.

[4] Bate ibid; Connolly pp.33-45 passim; the rise of Material Culturism has politicized the play. Material Culturists use a close examination of the play’s text to identify the ‘dominant hegemonic force in society’ (e.g. Crown, Church, Family and so forth) and the methods for disseminating their doctrine/ideology. By analyzing the text Material Culturists hope to spot examples of dissent and complicity with the dominant force’s doctrine/ideology. It is a methodology that tends to spotlight those people who are disadvantaged and/or marginalized by society, by virtue of their race, religion, gender, class or disability.

[5] Stephen Greenblatt – Tyrant: Shakespeare on power (The Bodley Head 2018) pp.53-95; professor Greenblatt has an interesting theory on tyrants and especially how they come to power. His view of Richard is wholly negative. He is a ‘worthless piece of work. There is no secret about his cynicism, cruelty and [treachery], no glimpse of anything redeemable in him and no reason to believe he could ever rule the country effectively… he leaves nothing behind except wreckage. It would have been better had he never been born’. Greenblatt is a professor of the Humanities and an expert on the works of Shakespeare: I am not. Nevertheless, there is much about his book with which I disagree. It is, I believe a good example of the simplistic thinking that comes from basing an opinion of the play on a study of the text conducted in an academic vacuum without the context of performance. But most of all I cannot accept his premise that Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard is an accurate representation of the real man, or that it was ever intended to be

[6] Greenblatt pp.1-23; contains a discussion on Shakespeare’s freedom of speech in the context of late Elizabethan religious fanaticism, domestic political intrigue and the threat to the English succession from a foreign power.

[7] Jowett pp.11-16

[8] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary – “dues ex machina (literally: ‘God from the machine’): a divine power, event, or person arriving in time to solve a difficulty (often rather contrived) interposition, esp. in a novel or play”. For example, ‘and then I woke up’.

[9] Jowett PP. 4-6; Shakespeare’s manipulation of history to put a positive spin on William Stanley’s part in Richard III’s downfall has tempted some scholars to speculate that the play was written in 1692 for Lord Strange’s Men. Ferdinando Lord Strange was a descendant of the said Thomas Stanley Earl of Derby and also of Henry VII (by Henry’s granddaughter Margaret Clifford). This may explain why Shakespeare has tactfully ignored Stanley’s acquiescence in Hastings’ execution, his part in crushing Buckingham’s rebellion, the rewards he received from King Richard and his ‘wait and see’ policy in 1485. Thomas Stanley is also portrayed as leading the Stanley contingent that surrounded and killed the King, whereas it was actually his brother William. It might also explain why Thomas Stanley has such a prominent role in the final scenes: presenting Henry with his crown and predicting the joyous union of York and Lancaster. Lord Strange and his family were noted for their Roman Catholic sympathies; however, in true Stanley fashion they managed to keep on the right side of the Reformation by hunting down Jesuits. From both the protestant and the catholic perspectives, Strange’s loyalty was suspect.

[10] Jowett pp. 73-74; the three Henrician plays were first published under the following titles: The First part of Henry VI (taken from the First Folio, there being no earlier text); The Contention of the Houses of York and Lancaster (now Henry VI part 2) and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth (now Henry VI part 3).

[11] Bate p.18; the title of the 1597 print makes interesting reading: “The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, containing the treacherous plots against his brother Clarence; the pitiful murder of his innocent nephews; his tyrannical usurpation; with the whole course of his detested life and deserved death. As has been lately performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s men, his servants”

[12] Jowett pp.110-120; Bate pp.9-15; both these editors provides extensive discussion on the textual chronology and problems arising from Quarto and Folio editions. See also Julie Hankey (ed) – Shakespeare’s Richard III in Performance (Junction Books 1981) pp. 27-32. It is also worth considering EAJ Honigmann (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1968) pp. 242-244. His textual notes were still helpful to me fifty years after they were written.

[13] Bate p.16; Richard had 32% of the lines in F1; more than any other Shakespearean protagonist except Hamlet (37%). Richmond by comparison has 4% of the lines, which is an index of his artistic importance. In Cibber’s adaptation, Richard’s share rises to 40%.

[14] Richards solo appearance and his opening soliloquy are unique in the Shakespearean canon. He is the only protagonist to open and speak first in his own play.

[15] EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) pp.200-04

[16] Tillyard ibid

[17] Tillyard p.208

[18] Connelly pp. 33-45;

[19] Bate and Rasmussen p.200

[20] TJB Spencer (ed) – Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1996) p.115 Act 2, Scene 2; ‘the law of writ and the liberty plays’: Polonius is distinguishing between plays that follow classical principles, like Ben Johnson’s and plays like Shakespeare’s with greater freedom of structure. The mixture of tragical-comical-historical-pastoral seems absurd until we recall that Shakespeare wrote Cymbeline.

[21] Jowett pp. 23-24; Seneca (BC 4-AD 65) was a Roman stoic philosopher and dramatist. He is famous for ten tragical plays that depict the rise of great men and their ruination or self-destruction due to uncontrolled emotion or madness. Seneca was widely read in medieval and renaissance Christendom. His tragedies influenced Shakespeare and other Elizabethan writers.

[22] AP Rossiter – Angels with Horns: fifteen lectures on Shakespeare (Longman 1989 edition) pp.1-22; see also Jowett p.10.

[23] Jowett pp.10-11 citing Nicholas Brooke – Shakespeare’s Early Tragedies (1968) pp. 78-79.

[24] De Casibus vivorum illustrium (on the fate of famous men): this is an encyclopedia of historical biographies dealing with the fortunes and calamities of famous men from Adam until the fourteenth century: not only their lives, but also their moral virtues.

[25] Rossiter p.15

[26] Rossiter p.17

[27] Rossiter ibid

 

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Seeking the Real Duke of Clarence

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Richard III’s brother, George of Clarence. You know the one–typical ‘middle child’, ‘false fleeting Clarence’, the one drowned in Malmsey who was also a drunk and quite possibly insane, hanging, as he did,  old ladies on the vaguest of suspicions.

And I began considering–is George, like Richard, maligned, doomed forever to be hidden in an obscuring web of myth and invention?

Certainly he was disloyal, joining Warwick against his own brother, Edward IV. He created a fuss when Richard wanted to marry Anne Neville, his protests lasting several years. He did indeed accuse Ankaret Twynho, and others, of poisoning his wife and baby son–and hanged the old lady after a brief and decidedly unfair trial.

But mad? A drunk? And in regards to his wife and child…what if he were right?

Like Richard’s supposed hump, limp, withered arm and other defects, George’s ‘insanity’ and ‘drunkenness’ appear to have been exaggerated if not completely  invented,  mainly in fiction. (And yes, I admit I am guilty of adding to this stereotype myself.) There is no mention in primary sources of George drinking or being dissolute; that idea seems to have come solely from his supposed death in a vat of malmsey, and the questions it raised (ie. Did Edward have him drowned in booze because he liked a tipple and maybe even requested such an end as a macabre  final joke?) Fickleness aplenty went on, certainly, and his last acts with the Twynyho affair were erratic, but he wasn’t spouting gibberish, having hallucinations, or lying catatonic like poor old Henry VI. He defended himself  in regards to the charges laid against him by the King, and apparently one of Elizabeth Woodville’s main fears was that people would follow him and her children would never inherit the throne. The people of England were hardly likely to follow another mad king. This implies to me that George was not generally seen as a loony, treacherous lush, but someone who might have had some decent enough qualities, or at very least some kind of strong charisma.

So that brings us back to the whole mystery surrounding the death of George’s wife, Isabel Neville, and his infant son Richard of York. Many have claimed Isabel died of childbirth-related illness…but she actually succumbed two and a half months after the birth. Childbed fever, the biggest killer of women in her day, normally took its victims far sooner. TB has also been suggested, and it is certainly not impossible, for in some victims TB symptoms can appear with frightening suddenness and ‘gallop’ on to their bitter end, but there is no written evidence of her having such symptoms. In the interim between childbed and her death, she travelled from Tewkesbury to Warwick, which implies she was not grievously ill at that point.  The baby too was alive and outlived its mother by about 10 days. So both mother and  child lived more than two months after the birth and made a moderately long journey without incident before their deaths.

Ankaret Twynyho (nee Hawkeston) herself is also the subject of some myth-making. In fiction she is often portrayed as a simple ordinary local woman, perhaps the midwife who delivered Isabel’s baby. However, she was not a peasant woman, nor is their any evidence she was Isabel’s midwife. It is merely known the she ‘served’ in the Clarence household. She did leave George’s service rather quickly after Isabel’s demise however, going to her home in Keyford, Somerset in the days before George accused her of murder.

Of John Thursby, who was hanged alongside her, little is known, save that he was from Warwick and said to be her accomplice. The third person who was accused,  managed (somehow and rather oddly) to escape any consequences, and is, interestingly, the one who George claimed to be the ‘mastermind’ behind the supposed poisoning. Strangely he is seldom mentioned in regards to the incident–and my feeling is his possible involvement needs to be re-assessed.

This suspect was Sir Roger Tocotes  of Bromham, long time associate of George of Clarence. (Michael Hicks went so far as to suggest George might even have called him ‘friend.’) He had supported the House of York and fought at Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury (where he may have been knighted). He even accompanied George on Edward IV’s ill-fated ‘invasion’ of France.

Why would George think this seemingly loyal supporter masterminded his wife and child’s death? What would be Tocote’s reason? What evidence existed at the time that made George believe him involved? Some writers say Tocotes ‘escaped’ George’s vengeance, others that he received an aquittal (from the king?) despite being the prime accused in  Isabel’s ‘murder.’

Later, long after George’s death,  Roger Tocotes would go on to be one of the Duke of Buckingham’s supporters  in the October rebellion of 1483. (Richard pardoned him.)  He then fought for Henry Tudor at Bosworth and did rather well for himself under the Tudor regime, becoming Sheriff of Wiltshire for a second time and also a Knight of the Body. He is buried in a very lavish chantry chapel in the parish church in Bromham, Wiltshire.

Could Roger Tocotes have indeed been a  turncoat who went from friend to traitor and tried to  bring Clarence and his family down? If so, who was behind it, what was the reason? After Isabel’s death, George was apparently afraid of being poisoned himself and blamed the King, his brother. He claimed Edward meant to ‘consume him in likewise as a candle is consumed by burning’. George’s seemingly wild claims have led  over the years to a probably false view of him as being paranoid and mentally unstable. There is always a chance that he may have been genuinely afraid, not crazy–and that he may have truly had something to fear.

Maybe Roger Tocotes, lying in his graffiti-covered tomb in Bromham church, took a dark and unhappy secret to the grave.

 

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A fictional treason case

In real life, there wercrowncourte no high treason cases in the United Kingdom after 1946 and no peacetime cases after 1913. However, regular viewers of Crown Court, which was shown on ITV from 1972-84, will have seen an episode in which a Congolese man was convicted and sentenced to death during that time. The episode ended before we were appraised of the prisoner’s ultimate fate but, until 1973, had a reprieve not been forthcoming, he could have chosen beheading as his mode of execution.

Here is the evocative closing theme, Peter Reno’s Distant Hills, played by the Simon Park Orchestra. There is also a snatch of “Jeremy Parsons QC” (Richard Wilson, with hair) examining a young Zoe Wannamaker in a rather less serious case. Many of the episodes are on YouTube. Does one of our readers have a link to the Congo treason affair?

Richard III in fiction

An article from the Society’s NSW branch:
http://www.richardiii-nsw.org.au/2015/09/not-looking-for-richard/

Not every mention of Richard III in fiction is actually in a book about him.

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.

Review of A Cautionary Tale by Joanie Swift

A Cautionary Tale - ultimate.2

As Joanie Swift herself states, “If only the Battle of Bosworth had not ended in a Tudor victory . . .” Yes, but it did, and we can’t change that, although Joanie takes a huge swipe in the right direction with this hilarious little roman à clef.

Instead of Bosworth in 1485, we’re in London in 1952, on 2nd October, the anniversary of Richard III’s birth, and events are in progress to right the horrible wrong of his defeat and death by treachery. It is also a defence of that tragic king’s reputation and a no-nonsense restoration of his honour.  A rib-tickling, modern(ish) tale of revenge and just desserts. Pot shots aplenty at the 1952 equivalents of all those actual historical figures who did the dirty on Richard. And they get short shrift at Joanie’s hands. As does any historian who is less than honest about acquiring ‘new research’.

She describes herself as “British, grandmother, ready for the fray . . . willing to pull rugs from beneath feet of clay”. Battle Granny, ready to defend Dickie Broom’s honour. Well, if you guess who Dickie Broom is really, then you will ‘get’ the rest of this satirical tale.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, and this is 500 years cold! But sweet for all that.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cautionary-Tale-New-Bosworth-ebook/dp/B00JM624ZW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418732697&sr=8-1&keywords=joanie+swift

Historical fiction, and why it grips us so . . . .

This is a blog from me that was written for: http://halebooks.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/historical-fiction-and-why-it-grips-us-so/

9780719813627CSK - author name prominentCicely's King Richard front with new crown

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that . . . . Well, the famous Jane Austen opening line is one of the most memorable of all time, and not only in historical fiction, which is what Pride and Prejudice has now become. It was, of course, current when written.

To me, it is a truth universally acknowledged that once an author becomes enthralled by the past, whether a person, famous event or quarrel, or something as fascinatingly complicated as the Wars of the Roses and the machinations in Renaissance Florence, it’s very difficult indeed to change genre.

The past beguiles us, and leaves us with so many intriguing puzzles that weaving one’s fictional plot through the known facts can be very rewarding. Whether you’re a gifted writer of thought-provoking books, as is Hilary Mantel, or a teller of tales, like me, the passion is the same. I am entranced by the Plantagenets. The thought of all that pageantry, bloodshed, dangerous love, wicked plotting and heinous treason fires me with interest. I’m alight with it. The colour, fashions and romance join in, and everything melds into a wonderful microcosm that is contained within the pages of a novel. Begin to read, and you’re carried back into those hazardous times, you meet the kings, queen and nobles, you accompany them on their adventures, into battle . . . and into love.

I do not suggest for a moment that Hilary Mantel approaches her works in the same way, but this is how I write, and my Cicely trilogy is the result of that imagined time-travelling excitement. My characters—both real and fictional—are there, in the thick of it. I’m there too, and so are my readers, being part of everything. We can’t possibly know what those real people said and did in private, so when they slip away secretly from the floodlit stage into the novel’s shadows, it will be for purposes that the author has invented.

This is where fiction blends with fact. The imagined events are woven intricately through the cloth of truth by the storyteller, and the result is a tale of what might have happened. Not what did. Provided the author makes sure the reader is never deceived into thinking the book tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then the world of imagination awaits.

The discovery of Richard III’s remains in Leicester has made him the most talked-of King of England, at once notorious and tragic, and the TV serialization of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen sparked a lot more interest in his life. An antidote to Shakespeare’s monster. I first became fascinated by Richard back in the very early1970s, when I read a little detective novel called The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Tey was clearly convinced Richard had been lied about throughout history, and her detective hero set about getting to the truth. His conclusion was that Richard was a good man and king who had been betrayed at the Battle of Bosworth.

There has been a huge increase in fiction and non-fiction about this last Plantagenet monarch, and judging by reviews at Amazon and similar sites, the trend is set to continue. The market is there, and publishers have responded, although whether individual publishers are presenting their fiction titles in the most advantageous way is another matter. Some do, some don’t.

In these days of increasing self-publishing, traditional publishers need to be one step ahead. Their clout is their distribution, marketing, production, well-honed editing and, of course, their reputation. Their authors expect their support and advertising, but with the Internet and social media, have to do a lot of self-publicizing as well. It’s up to all concerned to tap into the growing, hungry market, which does await its next meal! Thus it is even more incumbent upon publishers to do all they can to see their books do as well as possible.

Richard III and the Wars of the Roses may be almost fashionable now, but other figures and periods have just as strong a grip on the imagination of writers and readers alike. The Tudors, the Romans, Roundheads and Cavaliers, the Regency, the Victorians, Edwardians, the Roaring Twenties and the two World Wars. I’m sure I’ve missed many more that cry out to be mentioned, but the point is that the past—even the recent past—bewitches us.

Will this continue? Mediaeval storytellers entertained with tales of King Arthur and his knights, who inhabited a glorious, golden age that should be emulated in the mediaeval present, and since then every age has produced stories that look back longingly at what has been lost. So yes, historical fiction is going to continue to be popular. It may ebb occasionally, but the tide always comes in again and often stays high for a long time. Richard III may be the man of the moment, but if the remains of King Harold are discovered, as is expected, then there could be a trend towards Saxon/Norman-set novels. Ditto King Alfred, or even King John, should his lost treasure be found in the Wash. Publishers have to be ready to second-guess what will take off next—as will authors—and those with this prescience will steal a march on the rest.

A time machine is something for which many of us long, to go back to witness it all. But in the meantime, there are novels, where our imagination, not the skills of a film or TV director, or even Shakespeare, gets to work and recreates it all. For writer and reader alike, historical fiction is a wonderful escape from present woes.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writers and the reading public are enthralled by centuries gone by, and I for one do not think it will ever change. Authors and publishers need to be on their toes to satisfy demand.

It can now be revealed…

Minutes of the Disposal of the Princes Sub Committee

Held at the Tower of London, Fetterlock Suite. 

Present: 

His Grace King Richard III (in the Chair)

My Lord Bishop Russell (Chancellor)  (BR)

His Grace the Duke of Norfolk (Earl Marshal) (JH)

My Lord Viscount Lovel (Chamberlain) (FL)

Sir Robert Ratcliffe (Representing the North)  (RR)

William Catesby (Legal Team) WC

Lady Audley-Beauchamp (Acting Head of Yorkist Intelligence) (M)

Bert Scroggins (Press Officer)  (Pleb) 

BR opened the meeting with a short prayer (twenty decades of the rosary.) 

The Chair welcomed Members to the meeting, and indicated that wine and wafers were available on the side table. Members should help themselves and leave 2d in the dish. This was claimable on the quarterly expenses claim. The Chair expressed his regret that a mess of strawberries was not available on this occasion. 

Minutes of the Previous Meeting 

It was noted that ‘had a mild cold’ should be amended to ‘both had extremely bad pneumonia from day one, due to lack of care when in Woodville custody.’ 

The Amended Minutes were approved nem-con, and ordered to be signed by the Chair. 

Burial of the Princes 

JH suggested that the obvious thing to do was to put them in a boat – at night – take them out into the Thames and dump them over the sides. RR added that he knew where some cheap hessian sacks could be obtained. FL said he knew there was lots of old armour lying about the Tower that could be used to weight the sacks. JH agreed it was important the sacks should sink. He suggested old anchor chain. As it happened, he had some in stock. 

BR protested at length. Said it was much more obvious to bury the boys in the proper place, the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. This would enable proper funeral rites to be observed. Pleb pointed out that this might involve admitting the boys were dead. BR said that apart from anything else, that was the whole point of their unfortunate accidental death brought about by tragic misadventure. The bodies needed to be properly displayed so that people would know they were dead. WC added there were good precedents for this. The Chair said he was minded to agree. He had a black suit of clothes in need of an airing, and would be happy to attend the Service in the Capacity of Chief Mourner. That way everyone would know how upset he was. Moreover, no plots could then arise to put the boys back on the throne. Pleb pointed out certain presentational problems. WC advised that the boys could not be put on the throne anyway, as they were a) bastards and b) dead. 

M said this was all far too straightforward. The Intelligence Service took the view that it was much better to create a mystery, and confuse people as to what had happened. With good luck, people would still be pondering what had happened in 600 years time. This was a highly desirable state of affairs as such matters ought not to be in the public domain. M added that in the view of the Service, the bodies should be disposed of in the most impractical way possible, and that every encouragement should be given to ridiculous rumours, which would naturally would add to the desirable confusion and mislead our enemies within and without the realm. 

After a lengthy and wide-ranging discussion it was, 

RESOLVED: 

1)      That tenders be obtained from suitable contractors to partially demolish a suitable staircase within the Tower, and dig an excavation beneath it to the depth of at least ten feet.

2)      That the bodies be placed in the said excavation and suitable prayers, etc., said. (BR to arrange)

3)      That the work described above be then made good.

4)      That subsequently a suitable priest (BR to arrange. JH and FL to provide labourers.) be employed to dig everything up again and remove the bodies to a more suitable resting place. (BR to arrange.)

5)      That the activity above be carried out in broad daylight, and no attempt be made to discourage members of the Tower community from approaching the work site – subject to Health and Safety considerations.

6)      That no official announcement be made on this subject at this time or at any           future date, in order to increase speculation to a maximum. 

Any Other Business 

M informed the meeting that she was in correspondence with the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy with regard to the provision of ‘feigned boys.’ Once these had been taught English and court etiquette they could be released to cause still further confusion. The Sub-Committee approved this action. 

There being no further business, the Chair declared the Meeting closed. He invited Members to attend him to Greenwich for dinner and hawking. Pleb apologised for not being able to attend, as he had rumours to spread in the local taverns

The Cranford Mystery (2009)

Those who have watched this series (http://www.cranfordchronicles.com/ ), based on the Elizabeth Gaskell novels, may have been intrigued by Imelda Staunton’s character, Miss Pole. Could she be, albeit fictionally, a Plantagenet descendant?

Unfortunately not. Whilst descendants of the Countess of Salisbury through the female line abound (the principal surnames having been Hastings, Barrington* and Stafford*), the male line died out when the last two brothers (Arthur and Geoffrey) were murdered at the Farnese palace in Rome in 1605 and 1619. This link will explain more:

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=88659

Sir Richard Pole, the Countess’ husband, had no brothers but one sister so any Pole in the Victorian era could only be descended from a cousin, if at all.

* These lines persist but the surnames have changed again.

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