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Not a book to be taken seriously….

King Edward IV

Would you like a few sniggers and outright guffaws? Yes? Then I have just the book for you—Lives of England’s Monarchs by H. E. Lehman. I was searching for something specific, and for some reason Google took me first to page 182…

“…Edward [IV] was a large man possessed of great leadership ability and personal charm. But in many ways he lacked foresight, and was impulsive to his own hurt. He alienated many of his strongest supporters by seducing their wives. In Edward’s behalf, it should be added that, in those cases, it was the husbands, not the wives, who complained most strenuously…”

He alienated many of his strongest supporters by seducing their wives???? Where have I been? This is the first I’ve heard of these mass seductions and furious husbands. Does anyone know any more?

And from page 181 of the same book…

“…Edward’s youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) was always loyal. King Edward trusted and made Richard vice-regent for all the northern provinces of England. In reward for his loyalty, Edward gave Anne Neville, Countess of Northumberland, to Richard as his bride. (If that name sounds familiar, it is because she is the same Anne Neville, who briefly, was married to Queen Margaret’s Edward, Prince of Wales, near the end of Henry VI’s tragic reign.) Richard defended England against Scottish invasion, and secured the northland throughout Edward’s reign…”

Countess of Northumberland? Wouldn’t Harry Percy have noticed when his wife turned up as Richard’s queen? Was that the reason for Percy’s ill attendance at Bosworth? Oh, and the author also declares that Warwick Castle was in Northumbria.

saucy-lady

More from page 181…

“…Fourteen year old Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) was a trouble-maker in Northumberland, but bastardy in both his parent’s lines of descent (i.e. bastard Tudor and bastard Beaufort) made his royal connections seem too remote ever to be a real threat to the Yorkist line…Even so, just to be on the safe side, Edward exiled him from England. Henry Tudor went to live with his paternal uncle, Jasper Tudor, in Brittany, France…”

King Henry VII

Edward exiled him? Then spent years and year trying to lure him back? I think not! Edward would have grabbed the little varmint there and then, no messing about. (Oh, if ONLY!)And Brittany wasn’t in France at that point. You couldn’t make it up. Well, H.E. Lehman has, clearly.

For more entertainment, you should look at the book itself. http://tinyurl.com/hchylqp. If the link doesn’t work, Lives of England’s Monarchs by H. E. Lehman is available in Google books.

 

‘The Hollow Crown’: A Poisoned Chalice or the Ultimate Prize?

Giaconda's Blog

benedict Benedict Cumberbatch as Shakespeare’s Richard III

I am currently watching the second instalment of Shakespeare’s history plays, concerning ‘The Wars of the Roses’ as interpreted by the BBC’s condensed and somewhat, contorted adaptation.

The first part of ‘The Hollow Crown’ covered Shakespeare’s history plays: Richard II, Henry IV, Part I and II and Henry Vth.  It was, for the most part, an excellent production. A combination of strong casting, brilliant original material and interesting sets made it a joy to watch. Simon Russell Beale’s Falstaff was a triumph. He gave a mesmerizing performance which managed to capture all the facets of Falstaff’s complex character in little more than a look or a gesture.

The overwhelming sense of these plays was the great burden which kingship brought for the poor unfortunate who wore the crown. In another blog post I have written about this in detail, taking specific lines from each of…

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A life on the 14th-century ocean waves….

Jeanne de Clisson

It would seem that pirate queens existed long before the 17th/18th century, the Spanish Main and swash-buckling as we know it. There was a certain French noblewoman in the 14th century who took her revenge upon the French for executing her husband, and did all she could with her pirate fleet to help the England of Edward III. She even married an English nobleman.

To learn more of this extraordinary woman, look at the colourful illustrations at http://www.rejectedprincesses.com/princesses/jeanne-de-clisson 

Then, when your interest has been stirred, find out more by Googling her name.

 

Edward, the Black Prince.

I came across a conversation recently where people were regretting the early death of the Black Prince, because apparently everything would have been much better had he lived.

Unfortunately, even people interested in English history tend not to appreciate that at the end of Edward III’s reign England was 1. losing the war with France (badly) and 2. almost bankrupt.

So unless the Black Prince was secretly a magician who could conjure gold out of the air – paper currency being a thing as yet unknown – he would have struggled with the same issues Richard II and his Council faced – that is, how to raise money without upsetting the easily-upset English taxpayer. And if you look at Edward’s track record with his taxpayers in Gascony, it would probably not have been pretty.

A rather similar conversation can be had around Henry V. It is true that at his death the English military position had not collapsed (as it had in 1377) but the problems with money had already started. Parliament was not for splashing out. Not even for Henry V. Poor old Henry VI never had a chance – arguably his followers did extremely well to hold on to as much as France as they did for as long as they did.

If I am going to regret anyone’s early death it would be Edward IV’s. Had he lived another ten years Richard of Gloucester could have continued happily in Yorkshire, Henry Tudor would be a mere footnote in history, and a whole lot of sorrow would have been avoided.

The Success of the Usurper by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

For some years I have set my novels in the last years of Plantagenet reign, or the first years of the Tudor dynasty.

 UsurperWilliam
William the Conqueror

Many authors of historical fiction prefer to set their books in the Georgian or Regency periods, but tor me the Plantagenet dynasty was one of the most interesting and longest lasting that has ever ruled in England. Both Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties included amazing figures of mystery, fear and tyranny. Indeed, both dynasties were founded on blatant usurpation. William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, invaded England and won the throne in 1066. Thus the Plantagenet dynasty was born in murder and brutality.

William’s claims were never valid. Whether or not his story of promises were true, at that time the English throne was never given by right to the man arbitrarily named by the previous king. The English had a different system and chose the man of noble blood whom they considered best suited. Therefore the Plantagenet dynasty had no initial right to rule England, but of course William claimed that by right of conquest. And so William I was followed by many kings of murderous ambition, great renown, courage, responsibility, honest endeavour, and violent determination.

 UsurperHenry
Henry Tudor

The same occurred with the Tudors. Henry VII had no right whatsoever to the English throne. He had barely a single drop of English royal blood. It has sometimes been claimed that he was the true claimant of the Lancaster line (begun earlier by Henry IV, including Henry V, and Henry VI before the Yorkists once again claimed the crown) but even that is inaccurate. Henry VII was descended from a bastard line and barred from the royal inheritance, but even if that major difficulty was ignored, his claim was still only about the 15th in the Lancastrian line of descent.

Just like William the Bastard, Henry Tudor invaded England with a largely foreign army, and won the English throne by right of conquest. A usurper indeed, but he founded a dynasty of renown including some of the most interesting and fearful of sovereigns. For lovers of English history, it is often the Tudor period that fascinates the most. In those years of the Tudor family monarchy came the first two queens who ever ruled in their own right. A distinct lack of offspring brought the dynasty to an abrupt close, but not until they had sealed their names in history – written in blood.

Amongst the Plantagenets, many kings have gained a terrible and fearsome reputation. However, some of those reputations seem rather suspect when carefully examined. Indeed, there were different expectations in those times and a king had to be a great warrior, do great deeds and win the awe and admiration of his people. Brutality was common, executions were rife and poverty was the common order. It is hard to judge past actions and characters by modern standards.

Most of my historical novels are set during the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III. This was a controversial time, and has become even more controversial since experts argue over the rights and wrongs of York against Lancaster, the Wars of the Roses, and in particular regarding the guilt or innocence of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III. After many years of studious and careful research, I consider Richard III an interesting figure who had too little time to prove himself. I believe that he was no usurper, and was probably innocent of most other accusations hurled against him. But that is the fascination of history for we cannot be positive. Contemporary evidence is scarce, and propaganda was rife.

But my new book, Fair Weather, is set during the reign of King John in the early 13th century. This was another king plastered with a terrible reputation, and many claim this to be unjust. But he is not a main character in my novel – which has a time-slip plot with an element of the paranormal. I adored writing this book for it combines the freedom and wild exciting escapism of time-travel – the dark threat of murder and alchemy – and the significant atmosphere of the early Plantagenet time period. I love wandering those dark narrow cobbled lanes in my dreams – exploring the markets – the taverns – and the villages. I follow the ordinary folk and I share their lives. So different to my own. London Bridge had only recently been built – one of the greatest stone bridges of the world at that time. And it plays a large part in my story. That’s where I shall go first when my new time-machine is delivered by Amazon right to my front door. In the meantime my novel Fair Weather is almost a time-machine in itself.

Old England and its Saxon traditions was obliterated by the brutality of the Norman invasion and the usurpation of William the Bastard. But then that same Plantagenet dynasty was finally brought to an end by the next act of usurpation, when invasion brought the Tudor dynasty to power. So whether you love or hate these old royal houses, it cannot be denied that they fashioned England until the early 1600s, and were families of charisma, colour – and threat.

 

Not Richard, but Robert will certainly do….!

We all like a good TV series, especially if it has a mediaeval setting, but does anyone remember the French series from the early 70s, concerning Maurice Druon’s books, The Accursed Kings/Les Rois Maudits? The books deal with the French monarchy in the 14th century, and are (they say) another inspiration for Game of Thrones.

This Wikipedia page is very informative: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Accursed_Kings

When originally broadcast here in the UK there were sub-titles, but it didn’t detract at all. And when Robert of Artois was on screen, who cared what he was saying! The female population was too busy just looking.

The opening scene shows a gathering of all the characters, with brief remarks about them all. There is a man in red towards the back, and the camera dwells upon him, moving slowly up from feet to head. This is Robert (as played by the French actor Jean Piat, who is still good-looking today). Robert is quite something to behold, ladies. Take my word for it. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x22ojll_ep-01-rois-maudits-1972-le-roi-de-fer-part-1_shortfilms

The series was made again in 2005, but they messed with the costumes and thus ruined the whole thing before a word was uttered.

Anyway, I wholeheartedly recommend the books and the 1972 production.

A mysterious Early Modern marriage

It happened in Fontainebleau on this day in 1539. The groom was Cibaud de Tivoley, Seigneur de Brenieu, and the bride was described as “Marguerite de la Pole – Suffolk”. Two of the guests were Eleanor of Austria, wife of Francois I, and Gabriel, Marchesse di Saluzzo, both of whom were cousins of Lord Richard de la Pole. It is highly unlikely that Marguerite, who was named after her patroness the Queen of Navarre who was Henri IV’s grandmother and Francois’ sister, asserted her own paternity as her age may testify.

If Marguerite was Lord Richard’s daughter then she must have been born by Christmas 1525 because he was killed ten months earlier at Pavia, where Francois was captured. She could not have been much older than that because the couple had at least six children before his death in 1562 and lived on to 1599. These include Pierre (k. St. Denis 1567) and Claude (k. Ivry 1590), who were casualties of The French Wars of Religion

Richard the sporting inspiration (2)

 

MarkSelbyrugbyphotoLeicester, Leicester City and fireworks

Leicester City have finally clinched this season’s Premiership, despite having been in a relegation place at the time of Richard’s reburial, but his sporting influence clearly hasn’t stopped there. The Tigers have reached both a domestic and a European semi-final, beating French opposition, whilst Mark Selby is the snooker World Champion again.

 

Another Maligned King – or Propaganda Strikes Again

Richard_II_of_England

This portrait of Richard II in Westminster Abbey is familiar. What is less well-known is that it is heavily ‘restored’ over the years, most recently in 1866. In Richard II, Manhood, Youth and Politics, 1377-99, Christopher Fletcher reveals that when examined under infra-red reflectography the king’s beard was much more developed, covering much of his face, the line of his jaw was much more defined, the lips were less full. In other words, Richard’s image has been deliberately ‘feminised’ to match his reputation – or more precisely, the reputation Lancastrian propagandists attached to him as they went about distorting his character.

The fact is that only one contemporary Chronicler, that of Evesham Abbey, makes any reference to Richard appearing in any way feminine. He wrote that Richard had ‘fair hair, a white, rounded and feminine face, occasionally corrupted by a phlegmatic humour.’ But as this writer could not even get so basic a fact as the king’s height correct, one is left to wonder whether he actually set eyes on Richard. In any event, the description was set down after the king’s fall, and may well have been influenced by the propaganda of the new Lancastrian government.

So whence does this reputation proceed? As Fletcher explains, the medieval concept of manhood (based on classical tradition) held that women (and youths) were imperfect men. In particular they lacked the reason of men, were inconstant and apt to tell lies. These alleged defects are among those attributed to Richard, and help to explain why he is often spoken of as a ‘youth’ or ‘youthful’ or influenced by overly young advisers, even when it is obvious that (at least in the later part of his reign) Richard was not a youth – by our standards, let alone medieval ones – while even a casual examination of the facts will reveal that the majority of his advisers, throughout his reign, were his seniors, in some cases by many years.

In short, what medieval people meant by ‘youthful’ or ‘female’ was something different to what we mean by these terms, and implied a character defect. It did not necessarily mean that Richard was (in our terms)  young in years or feminine in his ways, or that his advisers were literally youths.

It is interesting to note that in his speech to Henry IV’s first Parliament, Archbishop Arundel stated that England had been ruled by youths by the counsel of widows. This sounds very much as though there was a suspicion that Richard had ignored his formal council and had in effect been advised by a sort of informal cabinet council in which women had their say! That he kept women at court in some numbers is undoubted. But did they really have political influence?

Arundel’s comment may be nothing more than a party political swipe to justify the overthrow of Richard’s government, but it is a good example of the conservative attitude towards the rule of women in England, which Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville were to face in years yet to come.

Although we are told not to judge by appearances, it is an unfortunate fact that appearances do influence opinion, even the opinions of professional historians. If Richard II’s portrait had not been ‘adjusted’ one wonders whether the king would have been referred to as ‘slightly epicine’ by Nigel Saul in his 1997 biography, or whether Saul would have dwelled on his ‘narcissistic’ personality.

The irony is that on three separate occasions in the 1380s, Richard proposed to lead an army to France in person. What stopped him from being a putative Henry V was that Parliament would not, or could not, supply the necessary funds. (A tale so familiar in later 15th Century history!) Richard was in fact keen to prove himself in the traditional ‘manly’ way, and it was scarcely his fault that there was no money available for the purpose. (By the way, at this point he was spending less on his household than Edward III had done, so  wild expenditure on pretty clothes and favourites cannot be blamed.) In 1385, he actually did invade Scotland – with one of the largest English armies assembled in the middle ages. He gets little credit from English historians for this – unfortunately his opponents ran away and there was no set-piece battle – but apparently Scottish and French historians are rather more impressed.

Contrary to popular opinion, Richard also appeared in tournaments, and won honours on occasions. Of course, one must also put an asterisk against tournament honours won by kings, but he certainly took part. He also rode right through the night on one occasion in his haste to get to London. Was this a physical weakling?

The final irony is that Richard’s burning, relentless determination to avenge himself on his enemies, to avenge his honour as he saw it, was the very epitome of noble masculinity as it was defined at the time!

This article is heavily influenced by and could not have been written without:-

Richard II, Manhood Youth and Politics 1377-99, by Christopher Fletcher, Oxford University Press 2008

 

 

 

 

Douce Dame Jolie: Machaut’s ghostly music of love and death

Giaconda's Blog

400px-Machaut_Douce_Dame_Jolie.svg

Douce Dame Jolie was composed in the C14th by Guillaume de Machaut who lived between 1300 and 1377 around the area of Rheims in France. It follows the conventions of the ‘Ars Nova’ style which flourished in France and the Low Countries during the C14th and the structure of a ‘virelai’, a verse of three stanzas with a repeated refrain before the first and after each subsequent stanza.

Machaut was a master of this form and Douce Dame is probably the best known and most performed of his virelai pieces. Many contemporary performers continue to sing versions of the song with different tempi and voice styles but it remains consistently haunting and intoxicating to the ear.

The virelai was one of the three ‘Formes Fixes’, along with the ballade and rondeau which were popular in the C13th – C15th and together with motets and lais formed the basis of secular musical…

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