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What were our medieval kings’ voices like….?

On your knees was the best place around Bluff King Hal

Today I once again heard Henry VIII described as Bluff King Hal. Well, this is usually said almost affectionately, which the Henry VIII we all know does not warrant. He was a monster. I think his voice was probably stentorian. Eventually he was downright nasty and needed to be approached with an excessively long bargepole. But not prodded with it, even accidentally! Heavens, no. Your head would be lopped before you drew your next breath! A frightening and frightful man in every way, he viewed women as disposable, as a few of his wives found out the hard way. And if you were male, being on his wrong side was very hazardous too, but you didn’t have to grace his bed.

King Henry VIII

Of course, there’s more than one way of defining bluff, and if you go to Merriam-Webster, you find that it also equates to surly. Go then to surly, and definition 1 is domineering, haughty, imperious. That suits Bluff King Hal for me. Another definition of bluff is having a good-naturedly abrupt, frank, and outspoken manner. That’s not Henry. Definition 1 does it for me, with dangerous, half-mad and bloody-minded added for good measure.

Well, given this view of him, I began to wonder about how other monarchs of that period, and before, might sound. I don’t mean their accents, whether or not they spoke Norman-French or even if they understood English, just their general sound. I mean, someone hopping around in a French fury is going to sound much like someone hopping around in an English fury, right? The overal impression would be the same.

King Henry VII

So, in reverse order from Henry VIII, I go first to his father, Henry VII. Now I can only imagine him with a soft, measured voice, always with much thought before anything was uttered. Rarely any humour, but when he did laugh, he went for it! Not that the laughter would necessarily be joined by others. Well, not with honesty, anyway. They’d all be too nervous. Henry’s reign was spent in anxiety of being kicked off the throne (after all, he’d stolen it). I think the endless worry affected his health. He wasn’t the most robust of men, and although he died in bed, it wasn’t a pleasant death.

Henry has been defended as doing his best to avoid executing his opponents, but that didn’t stop him scything his way through anyone with the “wrong type” of royal blood, i.e. anyone who could even remotely be described as Yorkist! Great care would be always be needed with him because he was constantly veiled. You really did not know what he was thinking…or what his solution to a problem would be. Except that when push came to shove, you’d be permanently disposed of.

King Richard III

Still going back, I come next to Richard III. He too I always hear as soft-spoken, but not quite as measured as Henry VII because Richard wasn’t forever concealing his inner self. He was more likely to be honest, and had a sense of humour, not least as proved by his dry comment to that gentleman who wished to marry Jane Shore! Now, when Richard wished to be heard, he could command attention without much effort. He wasn’t a big man by any means but he had great presence. No need to shout and wave his arms, a glance would probably say what was necessary. He was royal to his fingertips, and yet approachable. When he made friends, he kept them. Loyalty was a word that meant everything to him; he was loyal and he expected the same from others. The Stanleys must have been a very nasty experience, but by the time they exposed themselves it was too late. Richard didn’t deserve to die at Bosworth, but he couldn’t fend off such low treachery.

Contrary to all the traditional stories, Richard wasn’t hated and resented when he accepted the throne. There was in fact great relief throughout the land because a dangerous minority rule had been avoided—memories of Henry VI and Richard II were still strong. Richard was a reliable man of experience, proven in worth and loyalty, and intent upon improving the lot of his subjects. And he was regarded as the rightful king. Everyone knew how dodgy his big brother’s love life had been, and that Edward IV would indeed have lied to women to get them in the sack. The only ones who resented Richard were those who supported Edward’s offspring whether or not they were legitimate. The thwarted Woodvilles were particularly angered of course, because they’d planned to rule England through Edward V. Richard had out-manoevred them.

So, I stand by my first description of his voice. Whether or not he had a West Midlands accent, a Yorkshire accent, or whatever, he was the very opposite of a bellower. But he certainly spoke English and wrote in it.

King Edward V

Edward IV’s elder son, Edward V, was a boy, much brought up and completely influenced by his mother’s family, the Woodvilles, who wanted him on the throne and Richard of Gloucester 6’ under it! I hear young Edward as a strident boy who’d been taught to view his Uncle Richard with deep suspicion. Not the boy’s fault, but I shudder to think what his reign would have been had his illegitimacy not come to light. Richard, would have remained Duke of Gloucester and would have come to a swift, very sticky end, of that I’m sure. And the new young Woodville king (I can’t view him as a Plantagenet!) would have rubbed his hands at a job well done. Thank the Lord we were spared the House of Woodville. If only the same could be said of the awful House of Tudor. Anyway, I feel Edward V was a superior, know-it-all, just-about-teenaged prat…er, sorry, brat. And we all know what they sound like – they’re the same today.

King Edward IV

Now we come to Edward V’s father, Richard’s big brother, Edward IV. Hmm, somehow I think his voice was level and imperative at the same time, but never on the strident Richter scale of his grandson, Henry VIII. When Edward wanted to be heard, he upped the volume without ranting, and everyone jumped to attention. Plus, of course, with his great height he simply commanded from above! And as he was prepared to order the execution of his brother, George, Duke of Clarence, I think everyone tippy-toed around him. His sense of humour was very evident, however, especially when he’d had a few. If he hadn’t married a Woodvuille, and proceeded to lavish every possible grace and favour on her numerous and unworthy relatives, he’d have been mourned much more than he was.

Edward IV had always known that he wasn’t legally married to his queen, yet he kept his mouth shout, fully intending his illegitimate son to succeed him. By so doing he made certain of endangering the life of his only remaining brother, Richard, whom Edward knew was his rightful successor, and who had a trueborn son of his own who should have eventually become king as well. Richard was the true line of succession, but Edward sat on his grubby little secret. When Richard finally realised this, he must have been cut to the quick. Loyalty was a quality singularly lacking in Edward IV, and my opinion of him is very low indeed, although not quite as low as Henry VII and Henry IV. I put Edward IV in third place in the Nasty Man Stakes. Edward was unlikeable, I feel, albeit behind an exterior of warm bonhomie.

King Henry VI

Henry VI. Oh dear, rightly or wrongly I always hear him speaking querulously, except when praying, which he did constantly. When addressing God, he was almost cringingly respectful. Now, I don’t mean that as an insult to his piety, merely a statement of fact. My fact, and I may have him wrongly pinned. His long reign was an absolute disaster for England. He would have been better off—and much happier—in a monastery, as I think he might have agreed. It was a relief for England when he was toppled by Edward IV and the House of York. The Lancastrians were all usurpers, although Henry V certainly redeemed them. But, like so many good things, he died to soon and was replaced by his baby son.

King Henry V

Onward—or backward—to Henry V, hero of Agincourt. Well, I have difficulty with him, perhaps because I know so little of him. I too have been indoctrinated, at school by Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I. But he must have been a very commanding man, almost rivetingly charismatic on the battlefield. His voice? Very clear, with no room for misunderstanding. And no extra words.

King Henry IV

Then his father, the eponymous Henry IV, Parts I and II, who was the first Lancastrian king (and the first to usurp the throne!) One of my least favourite kings—in my estimation he and Henry VII are almost neck and neck, with Henry VII over the line by a short head. Henry IV was an unpleasant man (in my estimation), and I always hear him with a clipped, gruff voice. Like Henry VII, he spent his entire reign needing to justify his usurpation, and his health gradually failed. In his case I hear slight hesitations now and then because he was always on guard. These hesitations Henry VII concealed by being so measured, but Henry IV wasn’t clever enough for that. Also like Henry VII, he was never a happy man. Neither of them was able to relax and be himself. Serves them both right for rising against the rightful king and stealing the throne.

King Richard II

Richard II. Ah, one of my favourites, and although I don’t see him as angelic by any means, I do think he’s had a shabby rap from history. He was still a little boy when he succeeded to the throne, and was quite cruelly controlled and ordered around by his royal uncles. His voice when he reached maturity? Crisp, often hasty, and as his reign went on, increasingly nervous and suspicious as well as swift to turn to anger, which is hardly surprising, given the political mayhem all around him. Like Richard III, he has been and continues to be the target of Lancastrian/Tudor spite and their need to justify their illegal actions. Henry IV murdered Richard in cold blood, probably by starvation, and I hope had nightmares about it ever afterward.

King Edward III

Edward III, the last king I intend to consider. He was Richard II’s grandfather, his father, the “Black Prince” having predeceased Edward. Well, Edward was quite some king, and for two thirds of his reign was the great monarch and saviour of England. He was much loved, by his subjects and his aristocracy, and I always hear him talking to the latter on the level. He was amenable, but always in charge, and seldom raised his voice. He knew how to keep things on an even keel, and was a very open, approachable man who was deeply in love with his queen. When Philippa died, Edward was desolate. He’d needed her, and was caught (on the rebound, so to speak) by one of her ladies-in-waiting, the infamous Alice Perrers. This coincided with his gradual deterioration, mentally and physically.

Toward the end of his life Edward was a shadow of his once great self, and seemed to only listen to Alice and her cohorts (“evil advisers”). It was a very sad close to an illustrious career, and I hear his once amiable voice becoming weaker, more confused, puzzled even. Sometimes he was lucid and had moments of ability, but mostly he was incapable of withstanding Alice’s machinations. She, of course, had to make hay while the Edwardian sun shone, because when he died, so did her power. She needed to amass what she could while she could as the vultures were waiting to strip her bones bare. Whether or not she resorted to the services of a necromancing friar is another matter.

So there you have it. This is how I imagine these kings to have sounded. I doubt if everyone will agree with some of my opinions, maybe any of them, but I’ll be interested to learn how others have always imagined the voices of monarchs of the medieval period.

History isn’t “horrible”, it’s essential….!

Richard III – from ‘Horrible Histories’

“…Imagine knowing the entire list of British monarchs by heart at age 10. Imagine knowing about cavemen courting rituals or what soldiers ate during World War I. Imagine becoming so invested in the life of the infamous King Richard III of England that you joined the Richard III Society, a group dedicated to finding his bones and solving the mystery of what happened to his nephews over 500 years ago…”

The extract above is from this study breaks article which, as you might guess, is all about ‘Horrible Histories’!

It made me think, because I did know my English/British monarchs by the age of 10…by 8/9 in fact. There was a chart on my bedroom wall and it faced me when I sat up in bed. I noticed Richard III even then, because he was so different from the rest. Slender, dark-haired, troubled…or so it seemed to me. The other kings/queens seemed more or less expressionless (except for Henry VII, who looked out of the chart in that rather crafty, sideways manner we know and love so well!)

A present-day friend tells me: “There was a frieze over my classroom door { at the same age} with them all on from Alfred, including the years. I did the research and writing, although none of us could reach where it was placed.”

There’s no doubt that history lessons used to entail knowing our stuff. Nowadays, it seems, they’re taught that the world didn’t exist before World War I. Medieval? What the heck is that? So, the likes of ‘Horrible Histories’ are to be welcomed, because they introduce modern children to the past. It’s their past, after all. They should know how their country developed to become what it is today…and realise that it wasn’t a process that came into being magically in the year 1900!

PS: And if help is needed to remember history and its facts, then there’s nothing better than a good song. So try this one.

The signatures of England’s kings and queens since Richard II….

from https://twitter.com/usefulcharts – Matt Baker @usefulcharts

Well, it has to be from Richard II, because I believe he was the first monarch to actually sign anything. But I’m not stating that as if it’s carved in stone! And the signatures I’m concerned with here are from Richard II to Henry VII, because their reigns cover the period in which I am most interested.

I have always been fascinated by the handwriting of our monarchs. Not so much the recent ones, or indeed those after the first Tudor, but certainly the Plantagenets (including York and Lancaster). The above image is, as the caption states, the work of Matt Baker. His page is fascinating, with charts for all sorts of things. Well worth a visit.

Anyway, to the signatures. Can we, as amateurs, read anything into the way these monarchs wrote their names?

The first one is, as I’ve already stated, Richard II. Well, it’s not a very confident signature. More the hand of someone who is trying hard to be something he is not. In my opinion. He spent his reign in turmoil, and wanted peace when his aristocracy wanted war. Never the twain…

Henry IV comes next. Hard to say what his moniker tells us. It looks shifty to me, as if the only thing he’s going to really give away is the R at the end. But then, he usurped Richard’s throne, and maybe it always weighed upon him. Certainly I don’t think he was a happy man.

Then Henry V. Heavens, that’s a bold, businesslike signature, with a firm line underneath. Definitely not a man to mess with.

Henry VI is very neat, and those two loops are identical. Absolutely. Very measured, when I would have thought measured was one of the last things he was. He was too fragile for that. I think so, anyway.

Edward IV’s looks as if he wrote it when under the influence. It’s hard to make out his name amid all those illegible letters. He was a man who did not relish the mundane chores of being king, and to me his signature looks impatient.

Edward V should be next, Not Richard III. Edward’s boyish signature is…um, very long. Certainly not that of someone who was ready to be king. Which he wasn’t, of course. Ready, I mean. And then he didn’t become king anyway, as we know.

Richard III’s signature is precise and thoughtful, as is his writing in general. He was clearly educated, intelligent, and not one to rubber stamp anything. He’d go through the small print. And he was also innovative, prepared to cut through red tape and make the law fairer to the common man. So nothing like Shakespeare’s awful caricature.

Henry VII’s resembles the tracks of a large, very guarded spider. Finding the actual man in among all those loops would never be easy…which is probably the way Henry wanted it. His character was as hooded as his eyes. He was in there somewhere, but he didn’t let many people inside. Another usurper who always had to glance over his shoulder.

The above are my opinion, and no doubt many of you disagree. I’d like to hear your comments!

Films about the monarchy in Britain….

Not that I think William Wallace counts as part of the British monarchy. I don’t believe Old Longshanks would have had any of that! Anyway, to read an article about films concerning various kings and queens, go here.

But where’s King Arthur?????

Our monarchs and the months of the year….

 

Lists can be very interesting, and someone has delved into the connection between our monarchs and the months of of the year. To see January, go here . February follows here.

Roll on March.

Five important royals who didn’t ascend the throne….

BlackPrince

Edward of Woodstock, known to history as the Black Prince

Would these be your five? Or do you have other suggestions?

PS Who can spot their deliberate mistake?

The royal art of hoping to die in your bed….

A royal medieval funeral

Well, I was at a temporary loose end, pondering what to do to while away a Saturday afternoon…and what did I come up with? Why, assembling scenes of the deaths of monarchs of England. Of course. The devil makes work for idle hands, and mine were indeed idle.

So here are our kings and queens, from Edward the Confessor to Elizabeth I. The line was drawn at the Stuarts, Georgians and so on, in whom I am just not particularly interested. Some of the monarchs who did interest me were most reluctant to divulge their death, funeral or burial scenes, and for them I had to settle for tomb effigies and the like.

The only trouble is…well, when push comes to shove, so to speak…a monarch dying in a bed is, well, someone dying in a bed. It’s difficult for even the most talented artist to come up with something different. At least Elizabeth I seems to have opted for the floor at the foot of her bed, which was indeed an innovative move.

Some of the scenes are the stuff of myth or legend, for example the death of Henry VI…by a murderer who couldn’t be anyone other than Richard of Gloucester. And then there’s the death of Edward V and his brother, smothered so vilely in their beds on the orders of that same Richard. Another is the illustration of a remarkably svelte Henry VIII commending his son, Edward VI, to rule in his place. Did Henry really lose that much weight before dying?

Anyway, here goes:-

Edward the Confessor, 1042-1066, and Harold Godwinson, 1066 If Harold did indeed die in this way. The Bayeux Tapestry is certain he did. 

William the Conqueror, 1066-1087 and William Rufus, 1087-1100 

Henry I, 1100-1135, and King Stephen, 1135-1154

Empress Matilda, 1141, and Henry II, 1154-1189

 Richard I, the Lionheart, 1189-1199, and King John, 1199-1216

 Henry III, 1216-1272, and Edward I, 1272-1307

 Edward II, 1307-1327, and Edward III, 1327-1377. Was Edward II really killed in such a horrific way? And what was the truth about Alice Perrers and Edward III’s rings?

 Richard II, 1377-1399, and Henry IV, 1399-1413

Henry V, 1413-1422, and Henry VI, 1422-1461 Yes, Henry VI’s murderer just has to be Richard of Gloucester. And just look at those evil spurs! Only Beelzebub would have such things!

 Edward IV, 1461-1483, and Edward V, 1483. I won’t bother with the break in Edward IV’s reign. As for the deaths of the boys in the Tower. Well, Richard again, of course. No one else in the whole wide world had even a teensy motive for being rid of them. Right? 

Richard III, 1483-1485 – the best of them all!

Henry VII, 1485-1509 and Henry VIII, 1509-1547

Edward VI, 1547-1553, and Queen Jane Grey, 1553

Mary I, 1553-1558, and Elizabeth I, 1558-1603

The following site is also quite interesting for royal deaths and mourning:- http://www.gutenberg.org/files/44379/44379-h/44379-h.htm

 

 

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