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Richard III and Robert Cecil (Part II)

In a previous post, we explored the theory that Shakespeare’s Richard III was actually based on the Elizabethan politician, Robert Cecil.

Picture of Robert Cecil

Here is another discussion of the subject, Richard III and Robert Cecil, with references to the hypothesis that Shakespeare was actually the 17th Earl of Oxford, a descendant of the previous Earls of Oxford who were such thorns in the side of the Yorkist kings and one of whom was a major factor in Richard’s defeat at Bosworth. If this is true, it is no wonder that ‘Shakespeare’ was happy to blacken Richard’s name.

There are a few misconceptions in the linked article, notably the assertion that Richard executed the 12th Earl and his oldest son; since Richard was only nine years of age on the date Oxford was executed (26th February 1462) this is obviously erroneous and it was, in fact, John Tiptoft who would have presided over Oxford’s execution, being Constable of England at that time (a position he occupied until 1469).

Such distortions of age and timing also occur in Shakespeare, of course, placing Richard at the first battle of St Alban’s, when he would only have been two and a half years old! In fact, he took part in neither of the St Alban’ s battles.

Also, the article states that the most recent attempt to refute the Shakespearean portrayal of Richard’s character was Josephine Tey’s ‘Daughter of Time’. Although this is probably the most famous such work there have, in fact, been countless more recent ones attempting the same thing, such as ‘The Sunne in Splendour’ by Sharon K Penman, ‘We Speak No Treason’ by Rosemary Hawley Jarman, ‘I, Richard Plantagenet’ by J P Reedman and my own ‘Richard Liveth Yet’.

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Interview with Alex Marchant, Ricardian Children’s Author

Cover of 'The Order of the White Boar'

There is a new Ricardian children’s author on the block: Alex Marchant. Alex kindly agreed to an interview:

Q: You’ve recently published your first novel about King Richard III for children, The Order of the White Boar. What made you write about King Richard?

Alex: I first became interested in King Richard in my teens when my eye was caught by an intriguing title among the books in the school library: ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey. By the time I finished reading the book I was a confirmed Ricardian (even if I didn’t know the term then). I think what piqued my interest was a sense of the enormous injustice this man had suffered after his death – along with the tragedy of that death and of the preceding two or three years of his life. I joined the Richard III Society (I think as one of its youngest members), read as much as I could about the man and visited major sites associated with his life – and death.

I’d always been interested in history and always written stories, including attempts at book-length works throughout my teens. But then life got in the way as it often does – university, career, marriage, kids, house renovation – and it was only a few years ago I returned to writing. And soon after that came the announcement of the dig to find his grave in Leicester, then the momentous press conference that revealed that King Richard had, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, been found.

Q: It was quite a day, wasn’t it? What was your reaction to the announcement?

A: My first thought – after surprise and delight – was ‘This is a unique opportunity to restore Richard’s reputation. What can I do to help?’ I knew I wasn’t a campaigner – the sort of person who writes letters to important people or stands up to speak in support of a cause. But perhaps I could write a children’s book that could communicate Richard’s story to a new generation. At that point I was editing my previous book, ‘Time out of Time’, in hopes of publication and was also partway through a second book for children, so I was uncertain whether I should move on to something completely new. But when a little research showed that there really weren’t any books aimed at my target age group (10–13) showing Richard in a positive light, I realized this was a gap in the market that needed to be filled.

Q: Were you surprised about that?

A: To be honest, yes. I found that there were several such books for adults (a number that has increased over the past five years), but even an approach to the Richard III Society librarian only turned up a couple for children – neither of which was a straightforward story of his life. One was a timeslip book, ‘A Knight on Horseback’ by American author Ann Rabinowitz, which follows the adventures of a twentieth-century boy who gradually learns the true story of Richard III after his initial exposure to the Tudor myths and Shakespeare’s version. The other, ‘A Sprig of Broom’ by Barbara Willard, is a beautifully written evocation of early Tudor England – but Richard appears only in the prologue, which takes place on the eve of Bosworth. The rest tells the story of Richard of Eastwell – at least the interpretation that has him as Richard’s illegitimate son. And by the end, the main character decides he doesn’t want to be known to be related to King Richard….

With the nationwide excitement at the finding of Richard’s grave, I thought there were bound to be other books for children on the way – as has proved to be the case – but by that time my lead character Matthew was hammering on my door, demanding that I write his story, and it was very hard to say no. So I put my half-finished Scottish book on the back burner for the time being, and set to work researching Richard and his times while I finished editing ‘Time out of Time’.

Q: You say none of the previous books for children was a straightforward telling of Richard’s life. In ‘The Order of the White Boar’, you didn’t choose to take that course either, preferring to concentrate on his final years and viewing them through the eyes of a fictitious character. Why was that?

A: I suppose partly because Richard’s life has been brilliantly told already through adult fiction, in books that have been very influential in terms of changing people’s minds about him: Penman’s ‘Sunne in Splendour’ and Hawley Jarman’s ‘We Speak no Treason’ for example are often mentioned as having shown people the way beyond Shakespeare’s monstrous depiction towards the real history of the man. And maybe because I thought those books that were likely to be in the publishing pipeline after the rediscovery of his grave would offer the straightforward story – as has been the case with a couple that have appeared. Perhaps most importantly, I felt that a young narrator who was an outsider – as Matthew is, being just a merchant’s son, rather than a noble – would be able to offer a different perspective – a view of Richard that hasn’t been seen before.

Q: In one of the early reviews of the book, the writer says that, rather than portraying Richard as a warrior or romantic hero, as in most adult novels, ‘The Order’ shows him ‘as a master, as a father, as a family man and as a decent, kind-hearted adult . . . He feels much more human than he usually does in historical fiction.’ Is that what you were aiming for?

A: Very much so – and I’m delighted if readers think I have managed it! My intention was always to show ‘the real Richard’ – the man who served his brother in administering the north of England, did the job well, treated the people fairly, was a cultured family man as well as a soldier. And who, in the spring of 1483, when faced with the tragedy of his brother’s early death, had to deal with a difficult and dangerous situation. My aim was to use the contemporary sources as much as possible to lay the foundations for exploring his motivations and reactions when navigating the potentially explosive events of that time. The traditional histories seem to me to struggle with explaining how this loyal, steadfast brother changed into the murdering, usurping tyrant so beloved of the Tudor-created legend. I hope that seeing Richard’s character and behaviour through a child’s eyes in both domestic and more public situations allows the reader to work out for themselves who he was and what his actions mean.

Q: You mention the death of King Edward IV in the spring of 1483. While hoping not to give too much away about ‘The Order of the White Boar’, it does in fact end at that time. Do you think readers will be disappointed at that?

A: I hope not, although I can understand it if they are. But I hope they’ll take on board the note at the end, saying that a second book of Matthew and his friends’ adventures is coming soon. ‘The Order’ doesn’t end on a cliffhanger as such, rather at the start of a journey – one which represents the closing of one chapter in Matthew’s life and the opening of another. And the same can also be said for Richard – in some ways, the death of his brother was the start of a very different part of his life. The next book, ‘The King’s Man’, tells the story of the next two years or so – from a few days after the end of ‘The Order’ through to the fateful days of August 1485.

A: You say the second book is ‘coming soon’. How soon, and how does it build on the foundations laid in ‘The Order’?

Q: If all goes to plan, ‘The King’s Man’ will be published in spring 2018 – so not too long to wait (although it may well seem ages to my younger readers!) It’s finished, but needs some final editing before production starts. As I say, it takes up the story again as Richard and Matthew travel south to meet with the new boy king, Edward V, and catapults them into the political intrigues and manoeuvrings on the road, in court and in the cities of London and Westminster. We meet again some of the characters (historical and fictional) encountered perhaps only briefly in the first book and see the effects and influences they have on the lives of both Richard and Matthew.

Of course readers, both adults and children, who have a knowledge of the history of the time will know where the story ultimately leads, and the challenges and heartbreaks along the way. ‘The King’s Man’ is overall a much darker book than ‘The Order’. But I hope it offers not only a flavour of the times, but also a worthwhile exploration of how and why events played out as they did.

Q: Where will you go next? Back to your half-finished Scottish book? Or, as many of us who write about him find, will you be drawn back to Richard?

A: I’m not sure Drew – the main character of the other book – will be pleased to hear this, but no, I’m not finished with Richard yet! (Poor Drew – I’d already abandoned him once before, to write ‘Time out of Time’…) I’ve already started preparing a third book in the ‘White Boar’ sequence that takes the characters (at least those who remain) beyond the events of August 1485. There are events that stretch years beyond that date which, to me, are still part of Richard’s story. In some ways, of course, that story continues to today – to the many people around the world who are still fighting for a reassessment of his life and reputation in light of what we now know about him and the lies that were told in the decades and centuries after his death. But the story I’ll tell will be that of people who knew him personally and sought to defend him in living memory.

Q: It sounds like we’ll have to wait a little more than six months for the third book in the series.

A: I’m afraid so. My track record isn’t great on finishing books quickly! My first took three and a half years, my second two and a half – although I suppose you could say it was just over a year as I wrote both ‘White Boar’ books one after the other in that time, treating them as a single story at first. But I plan to self-publish ‘Time out of Time’ while working on the third ‘White Boar’ book. I hope that readers who enjoy ‘The Order of the White Boar’ will similarly enjoy it, although it’s rather a different beast. It’s a mixture of timeslip and ghost story, drawing on my former career as an archaeologist. The Scottish book is also a sort of ghost story based around an archaeological dig – that was one of the main reasons I decided to write straightforward historical fiction when it came to Richard’s story. Although at first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to immerse myself properly in the fifteenth century in order to write from the point of view of a fifteenth-century boy!

Q: But you did manage it?

A: Perhaps too well. For months after I finished the book I missed my characters enormously, they’d accompanied me for so long on my dog walks over the local moors! I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with them – well, some of them anyway – over the next few months as I make a start on the new project.

Q: I very much look forward to reading it when it’s finished – and of course ‘The King’s Man’ in the new year. Thank you, Alex, for speaking to us today.

A: Thank you.

 

 

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.

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