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What do Matilda and Margaret, Eleanor and Elizabeth, plus two Henrys, add up to…?

To my mind, it adds up to two very similar situations that are two centuries apart.

Henry I deathbed - stand-in pic

Let us begin in the 12th century. On his deathbed, Henry I of England named as his successor his only surviving child, his daughter, the Empress Matilda. He obliged the nobility to agree. They reneged, of course. A woman as queen in her own right? Cue mass hysteria among the male upper classes and uncontrollable fits of the vapours in the Church. And cue a sharp move by her cousin, Stephen, who promptly had himself crowned before she could even return to England.

To cut a long story short, Matilda fought first for herself, supported by her powerful half-brother, Robert of Gloucester. When it became clear she would never be accepted because she was a woman, Matilda fought on behalf of her eldest son. He, thanks to her tireless efforts, eventually became Henry II—and yes, he is one of the two Henrys.

There was nothing Matilda would not have done to see her son on the throne, and her aim came to fruition. And when he was crowned, she became the highest woman in the realm. She wasn’t monarch in the own right, but came darned close!

Then came the time when Henry II chose a queen. Not just any queen, but beautiful, spirited Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a powerful, troublesome lady with a mind very much of her own, but was also prepared to scheme and manipulate on behalf of her sons by Henry. Against Henry.

Eleanor’s reputation was not squeaky clean. She had been married to the King of France, only for the marriage to be annulled and custody of their two daughters given to Louis. She had been on a Crusade with her husband, and halted at Antioch, where she encountered her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, who was described by William of Tyre as “a lord of noble descent, of tall and elegant figure, the handsomest of the princes of the earth, a man of charming affability and conversation, open-handed and magnificent beyond measure“. There were whispers because Raymond and Eleanor spent such a great deal of time together and seemed so very intimate. She quite clearly found her uncle preferable to her husband. The whispers increased when she declined to leave Antioch with said husband, who eventually took her away by force. She was a lady to whom scandal seemed drawn, but it is only her ‘acquaintance’ with Raymond that is of interest for this article.

Raymond of Poitiers

Raymond of Poitiers

The difficulties between Henry and Eleanor commenced when the latter came up against Matilda, who was not about to surrender the position of First Lady. As far as Matilda was concerned, Eleanor was simply Henry’s wife, with no claim to any power. A baby-making machine, no more or less. Open warfare threatened.

fighting women

Was Henry caught in the middle? Well, in a way, but he loved his mother because of all she had done to put him on the throne. Then (so the story goes) he fell for one of his many mistresses, a lady known as Fair Rosamund Clifford. It was too much for Eleanor. Already furious about playing second fiddle to Matilda, she now had to endure his immense infatuation for younger  woman. Eleanor stormed off to her lands in Europe, there to plot with her sons against their father.

the lion in winter

If you have seen the film The Lion in Winter, you will know that Eleanor and Henry were played by Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. Oh, how the sparks and flames flew when they were on screen together. Eleanor was indeed very beautiful, but I don’t think Henry resembled O’Toole. According to Gerald of Wales [he had} “a reddish complexion, rather dark, and a large, round head. His eyes were grey, bloodshot, and flashed in anger. He had a fiery countenance, his voice was tremulous, and his neck a little bent forward; but his chest was broad, and his arms were muscular. His body was fleshy, and he had an enormous paunch, rather by the fault of nature than from gross feeding.” Definitely not the gorgeous Peter.

* * *

Now we must fast forward to the fifteenth century, and Lady Margaret Beaufort, yet another mother who would stop at nothing to see her son on the throne. Meet that son, Henry VII, the second Henry concerned in this article. Unlike Henry II, who was a direct blood heir, Henry VII’s forebears descended through a rather convoluted and weak line that included the bastard strain of the Beauforts (illegitimate offspring of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine de Roët.

When Henry, taking for himself the role of legitimate heir of the House of Lancaster, was helped to Richard III’s throne by traitors, his formidable mother became First Lady—she was known as the King’s Lady Mother. Like Matilda, Margaret also had a helpful half-brother, John Welles, Viscount Welles, but he was hardly in the same class as the mighty Robert of Gloucester.

I could not find an illustration of John Welles, but this is his father, Lionel, Lord Welles, who died at Towton.

Henry always supported whatever Margaret did. She was, perhaps, the only person he ever trusted completely. His was a suspicious, secretive, paranoid character. He was not a mother’s boy, but came pretty close.

Then he too took a wife. He had to, he’d promised it in order to win the support of discontented supporters of the House of York (to which his defeated predecessor, Richard III, had belonged). If Henry had tried to wriggle out of it, there would have been uproar, because the promise entailed marrying the eldest Yorkist princess, Richard III’s niece, Elizabeth. Henry VII did not like having to do as he was told, but wasn’t given much of a choice.

Elizabeth of York - for WordPress

It is hard to imagine anyone less like Eleanor of Aquitaine. Elizabeth of York was reportedly lovely, but was mostly so quiet and apparently inactive that she barely offered a defiant squeak when Henry and his mother belittled her. She must have loathed Margaret, who swanned around almost as if she were the king, not Henry.

However, like Eleanor before her, Elizabeth had also been caught up in a scandal. It too involved an uncle, Richard III. There were strong rumours that something went on between uncle and niece—so strong that Richard was forced to deny it all in public. Whether there was any truth in it all will never be known, although I doubt very much that Richard returned any incestuous affection. That falls into the realm of fiction. He was intent upon arranging a foreign match for her. But the story clings to Elizabeth’s memory. Maybe she did love Richard, who, unlike his Shakespearean namesake, was actually a handsome young widower at the time in question.

Richard III for WordPress

Henry VII may have come to feel affection for his queen (perhaps because she was so unlike his domineering mother!) but she always took second place to Margaret. There is no known equivalent of Fair Rosamund in Henry’s life, so Elizabeth was never challenged on that score. Even if she had been, I doubt if she would have flounced off in a fury as Eleanor did. Perhaps Henry’s problem with his marriage was that he could not forget the rumours about Richard.

Maybe Elizabeth was one of those people who work quietly in the background, getting her own way when she wanted, but never openly defying either Henry or Margaret. Well, she did once, and Henry was so startled at the unexpected stamping of her Yorkist foot, that he backed down. I’d love to have been there, just for the joy of seeing his face.

So, there we have it. Two grimly determined mothers-in-law, two daughters-in law touched by rumours of incest and consigned to second place. And two Henrys who were loath to take on their mothers. Two M’s, two E’s and two H’s!

Matilda and Margaret could not have the throne in their own right, but were prepared to fight tooth and nail to put their sons there. Eleanor was another in the same mould, but Elizabeth of York was not. Neither daughter-in-law was afforded proper prominence in the eyes of her husband.

As for the Henrys, well, while their mothers could not rule alone as the true monarch (heaven forfend!) these sons were quite happy to lay claim the throne through the female line. So, a woman’s blood was good enough pass on to a son who would be crowned, but was next to worthless if she tried to assert herself by becoming “king”.

 

CAN A PICTURE PAINT A THOUSAND WORDS?

It’s said a picture can paint a thousand words.  It certainly can but not always accurately.  It can distort the truth.  Art work based on the Ricardian period is certainly true of this.  Take for example the stunning painting by Edwin Austin Abbey, Richard Duke of Gloucester and the Lady Anne.

800px-Edwin_Austin_Abbey_richard_duke_of_gloucester_and_the_lady_anne_1896.jpgRichard Duke of Gloucester and Lady Anne, Edwin Austin Abbey, 1896.

Here we have an angst ridden Anne, while a definitely humpbacked Gloucester offers her a ring.  It just makes you want to shout at the canvas ‘run, run Anne and don’t look back..!’ although it should in fairness be remembered the painting is based on a scene from Shakespeare’s version of Richard lll rather than the actual facts.

There have been numerous paintings of Richard of Shrewsbury being removed from his mother, a distressed looking Elizabeth Wydeville, and although for all I know Elizabeth may well have been distressed on that day,  it aint looking good for the ‘wicked uncle’ is it?

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This version is by Philip Calderon.  Young Richard gazes tenderly at his mother   while being yanked away by his arm by a portly gentleman in red..poor little blighter.

A couple of paintings of the ‘princes’ do stand out for me.  The beautiful one by Millais (he used his daughter as a model for one of the princes) where he has the boys, standing in a darkened stairway of the Tower (where,  to add poignancy to the scene, some believe their remains were found buried) clinging to each other while a dark shadow lurks ominously at the top of the stairs…Yikes!

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The Princes in the Tower,  John Everett Millais 1878.

Another one. this time by Paul Delaroche, King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower,  depicts the two young boys, gazing into the middle distance, unaware, hopefully,  of their impending doom, while their spaniel’s attention, tail between his legs, is drawn to the door.  These artists certainly knew how to twang on the old heart strings!  Great stuff but  maybe not very helpful to some in forming positive perceptions of Richard’s character.

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King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower, Paul Delaroche 1831.

But finally, one that is actually closer to the truth, from a mural in the Royal Exchange by the artist Sigismund Goetz, and one   I can clearly remember, as a small child, from its inclusion in Cassell’s History of the English People.  I would gaze at it, not properly understanding what it actually represented, but nevertheless entranced.  It was not until years later that I could understand what was going on and who the people were in the painting.  A grave, noble,  and rather handsome humpless Duke of Gloucester being offered the Crown at Baynards Castle.  Beautiful ladies in butterfly headdresses look down at the scene from the top of the stairs….its Cicely and Anne!.  A rather frivolous looking young man, leaning nonchalantly against the stairs,  as an elderly man, almost hidden from sight, leans over and surreptitously whispers in his ear..ah!..tis Buckingham and Morton..meanwhile in the background Gloucester supporters , in harness, roar their approval.  Splendid stuff and about time too.

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Mural in the Royal Exchange,  Offer of the Kingship to Richard Duke of Gloucester at Baynards Castle June 26 1483 Sigismund Goetz

Paul Delaroche also painted The Execution of Lady Jane Grey..not one of our Ricardian characters… but a descendant of  one, Elizabeth Wydeville, via her son Thomas Grey, lst Marquess of Dorset.  Delaroche again gave his artistic license free reign..Jane was in fact executed in the open air, in the part of the Tower that is known as Tower Green where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and also Margaret of Salisbury, Clarence’s daughter were executed.

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The execution of Lady Jane Grey, Paul Delaroche 1833

So at least one of these extremely gifted artists managed to get it right in terms of accuracy as to what actually happened.    What gifts for the art world but for the greater part, I do wonder if in the past,  these paintings proved for some people  to be rather a hindrance for the rehabilitation of Richard’s character.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard III takes on the tyrant Henry VIII…

richard-iii-huffington

fat-henry

I have my priorities right with picture size! Anyway, here’s a laugh, courtesy of the Huffington Post. Errors and all. I have quoted it in full.

“Be warned. There is a downside to dreaming big. To those of you who hope to reach life’s pinnacle — which obviously is becoming an obese, ginger tyrant — when/if you ascend those dizzying heights and widths, you will be attacked by those who are your inferiors. That’s right fat sociopaths-in-training, prepare for the foulest, most unseemly assaults on your reputation, honour, and glory.”

“The most recent example of this is taking place even now in the city of Leicester (that’s in England, American readers), where under the guise of a “comedy festival” I have learned that history’s most malevolent and unsexy monarch, Richard III, is attempting to pump up his meagre fame by using some of my tweets in a public exhibit.

Enraged and purple-faced at this news, I penned the following letter:”

“Dear Richard III,

Normally I would begin an email such as this with some sort of kingly and extremely gracious opening statement but under these circumstances I have lit those diplomatic norms on fire and hurled them off the balcony. Why am I literally exploding with anger? I shall tell you in the very next sentence! I have learnt through my network of spies and henchpersons that you have engineered some type of public display there in Leicester of your tweets, which on its own is nothing short of a HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION!! BUT WORSE, THIS EXHIBIT APPARENTLY INCLUDES SOME OF MY GLORIOUS TWEETS AS WELL!! MY TWEETS PLACED ADJACENT TO YOURS?!?! HAVE YOU NO DECENCY? HAVE YOU NO SHAME? A POX ON YOUR KEYBOARD! This is such a hideous intrusion upon my majestic person — which is at least five times the size of yours and therefore better and much more attractive to ladies. Beyond stealing my tweets to big-up your exhibit, I suspect you may have included images of me. Fine. People like to look at me. Perfectly understandable. But here’s what I will not stand for — ANY PICTURES OF MY MUM AND/OR ANY INDICATION THAT SHE MAY HAVE LOOKED UPON YOU, DESIRED YOU, OR COME INTO ANY PHYSICAL CONTACT WITH YOUR EXCEEDINGLY NASTY PERSON!!

I demand a response! I insist that people will be clear we are not BFFs — it must be made beyond obvious that my dad did heroic stabbing things to you at Bosworth Field. We do not “hang out”. We do not joust or play tennis or go codpiece shopping together. We did not belong to the same book clubs. You are not my “wingman”! And none of your bragging about how nice your coffin is!!

With utmost sincerity,

Henry VIII

 

“To which Richard replied:

Dear Henry VIII

I can happily confirm that those kind fellows at the Leicester Comedy Festival have bestowed me with my own exhibition, filled with my wise words and tweets and not only this, BUT ITS IN MY OWN PERSONAL MUSEUM AND VISITOR CENTRE (let me know when you have one of those – and no you cannot claim modern day Whitehall to still be yours).

One is also happy to tell you that I have included some of my witty, charming and ultimately superior responses to your brash, bellowing outbursts. For nearly 500 years my good name has been sullied, abused and lied about thanks to the ALTERNATIVE TRUTHS and Tudor Propaganda spouted by you, your father, and those scrawny, miserable daughters of yours. These lies even stretch to a claim I murdered my nephews in the Tower of London, which I can 100% confirm is FAKE NEWS. Therefore it is to be expected that I now seek to tell the truth and to clear my name. And don’t you dare blame it on Shakespeare, just because he wrote a rubbish play about you.

Yet worry ye not, because this comedy exhibition features not only you, but also my views on the good city, its football team, it’s car parks and even its politicians. What’s more, with my disabilities, the building is fully accessible to those with physical restrictions, the doors are wide enough even for your XXXXXL tunics and tights… to be honest you can even come in a wheelchair if your gout is still playing up. £8.95 entry (though I’ll let you in for £8 since you’re over 60).

Anyhow, must dash, I’m having new air conditioning fitted to my tomb, turns out my 21st century designer home can get a little warm in the summer months, the Archbishop tells me it’s the underfloor heating.

Look forward to seeing you at my own exhibition

Dickie

Ps, forgot to say, when you next speak to your mother, please give her my love and tell her I fondly remember that time she and I had Westminster Abbey to ourselves, she showed me things that night which Anne had never let me think possible. Funnily enough, it’s just in the next room to that crowded tomb where you currently lie.”

“To which I responded:

Dear R3,

Tudors rule, Plantagenets drool!

Yours,

H8

 

I think that ended well.”

CLATTERN BRIDGE -A MEDIEVAL BRIDGE – KINGSTON UPON THAMES

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Clattern Bridge, Kingston upon Thames, was built prior to 1293 and is still in use today.  It was known as Clateryngbrugge in medieval times maybe because of the sound horses made crossing it.

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Unfortunately I can find no trace of King Richard ever using it in his travels although there is a tenuous link  –  Shakespeare’s King Richard lll was recently performed  at the Rose Theatre – a short distance away from the bridge!

 

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This wonderful old bridge  doesn’t actually cross the Thames, but the Hogsmill River which is a tributary of the Thames.  However it is but a very short distance from  the present Kingston Bridge..where  close by once stood an  earlier bridge.. and it is probable that it was this bridge that the funeral cortege of Richard’s niece, the 14 year old Princess Mary , crossed over,  on her way to burial at Windsor having died at Greenwich in May 1482 (1)

  1.  Anne Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor p.61.

 

 

A year of anniversaries

shakespeare

2016 has been the 1000th anniversary of Edund Ironside’s accession and death, also of the death of his father Ethelred Unraed and the double accession of Cnut of Denmark. It has also been the 950th anniverary of the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings, being the end of the House of Wessex after its interruption.
Four centuries ago, St. George’s Day to be exact, marks the death of Shakespeare and possibly his 1564 birth. Opinion is still divided as to whether, in Richard III’s case among others, he merely embroidered what passed for history during his lifetime or invented many of the significant events he wrote about. At least we can precisely date his death better than we can his birth and we can, ironically, rely on the flow of his plays relating accurately to the culture of his own time, such as Cordelia’s execution, which could not have happened in Richard’s own century.

In March, Helen Castor marked the anniversary on Channel Four by investigating the fate of the Bard’s own remains in this documentary. It transpires that, having been buried in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church with his family and a forbidding epitaph(1), GPR investigations show that his skull is probably missing, just like Morton’s at Canterbury Cathedral. Richard, of course, was intact except for his feet. It seems that not everyone over the years heeded the curse:

(1) Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be Middle English the.svg man Middle English that.svg spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he Middle English that.svg moves my bones

History and cultural history (II)

In this piece, we introduced the idea that Shakespeare, although a very inaccurate historian, accurately reflected the cultural history of his time with respect to the political execution of women. We have also discussed how the Bard’s Richard III may actually have been a portrayal of Robert Cecil. Another piece showed the uncertainty as to the origin of coloured roses as politico-military badges.

Now think of Hamlet. His adversary is King Claudius, his uncle, supported by the verbose courtier Polonius. The play was set in Denmark and 220px-claudius_crop 220px-edwin_booth_hamlet_1870written during 1599-1602 when it was apparent that England would soon have Anne of Denmark as Queen Consort. Hamlet kills Polonius as the older man hides behind an arras, which is a tapestry or curtain.

In January 41 AD, Claudius was proclaimed as Rome’s new Emperor. Graves portrayed him as hiding behind a curtain as his nephew Gaius (“Caligula”) was assassinated, to be found by a Praetorian named Gratus. Sometimes, it seems, those writing fiction cannot be original.

Shakespeare’s … Father

This interesting article shows how John Shakespeare, as Bailiff of Stratford-upon-Avon, was forced to paint over some mediaeval murals. As a clue to what really happened, remember that Michael Wood thinks both John and William Shakespeare to have been Catholics.

Let me reassure you that Henry VIII wasn’t still King sixteen years after he died, nor was William Shakespeare born thirty-eight years after he died – and long after his father died. The murals are so truly stunning that they are worthwhile despite the errata.3aae9bf400000578-3964086-the_colourful_murals_thought_to_be_some_of_the_finest_in_europe_-m-46_1479900631120

No, don’t get excited – it’s the same old Shakespearean Richard….

richard-in-shades

Unfortunately, Dr Bronwen Price is Principal Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Portsmouth, and a specialist in Shakespeare, so we cannot expect anything about the real Richard. Still, if the illustration is anything to go by, at least he keeps up with the times. He’s been portrayed in numerous periods and settings, so maybe this time he’s a rock star.

RAMSHACKLE CINEMA LAUNCHES LECTURE SERIES IN BEMBRIDGE

“Hey, guys, there’s something horribly wrong with my leg as well!”….

robert-sheehan

A year ago I posted on my Facebook page a link about Robert Sheehan becoming the next Shakespearean Richard III. Not knowing the actor, my only comment was that at least he was the right age to play Richard.

http://www.digitalspy.com/tv/misfits/news/a670513/robert-sheehan-doesnt-regret-leaving-misfits-early-i-was-just-a-restless-fella/#~ppnuTZvYf8bMXy

I thought no more of it, until prompted by a Facebook reminder of what I’d been up to a year ago. Curiosity set me browsing to see if there was more about Mr Sheehan’s actual performance. Opinion seems mixed, and there are a lot of reviews, so I’m providing the link to just one.

http://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/theatre/611200/review-The-Wars-Of-The-Roses-Rose-Theatre-Kingston

Most of the performers are praised,  especially the ladies, but there is some reserve about Richard himself. Not having seen the production, I cannot say one way or the other. But there are  photographs with the review, including one of Richard wearing a very strange leather-strap contraption on his right leg. It covers the leg from ankle to thigh, and to me it proclaims: “Hey, guys, as well as everything else, there’s something horribly wrong with my leg as well!”

Anyway, it would seem that Mr Sheehan’s Richard will not go down in the annals of Great Performances.

 

Richard III stained glass window in Exeter (by Ian Churchward)

exetercathedralI thought I was very well acquainted with the local history of Exeter where I was born and where I have been working on and off for the last seventeen or so years. I also thought I had found out everything I could about the places of interest relating to Richard III in Exeter. I was therefore amazed and exceedingly pleased to discover earlier this year that there is a beautiful stained glass window of Richard III in a hotel in Exeter that is only a few minutes walk from my office where I work. I recently mentioned this window to one of the founding members of the Devon & Cornwall branch of the Richard III society who also had not known about this Ricardian item of interest.

 

I happened to find out about this window by accident when I stumbled across a reference to it on an obscure web page which had been posted by the USA branch of the Richard III society. The window is located in the Mercure Exeter Southgate Hotel and depicts Richard III visiting Rougemont Castle in Exeter in November 1483. The hotel was originally the Rougemont Hotel and the window was designed by Frederick Drake. There is an inscription under the window which recalls a scene from Shakespeare’s Act 4, Scene 2 which reads as follows “When last I was at Exeter the mayor in courtesy show’d me the castle and call’d it Rougemont at which name I started because a bard of Ireland told me once I should not live long after I saw Richmond”

 

During the Second World War the window was removed and placed in a cellar for safety. This was a wise precaution because the centre of Exeter suffered considerable damage due to German air raids in the 1940’s. It can be found on the first floor level at the top of a central staircase. The hotel is in Queen Street just off the main shopping high street and opposite Exeter Central railway station.

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