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Hostile Historians and Uppity Authors: Never the Twain Shall Meet?

You would have had to have been locked a dark dungeon in the Tower not to have noticed that there is a new TV series out based on a Philippa Gregory bestseller. THE WHITE PRINCESS has hit the screens in the US (no dates for the UK this time; the BBC bailed after The White Queen.) In both book and series, the ravishing Elizabeth of York, here called Lizzie for short (an anachronism right there–girls called Elizabeth were normally called Bess or Bessy, with Lizzie not appearing for several hundred years) fights for the honour of the fallen House of York against the husband she loathes but has been forced to marry, the new King Henry Tudor (here anachronistically bearded and impossibly attractive) and his sinister, lurking mother, Margaret Beaufort (Catelyn Stark in a late medieval version of a Mickey Mouse hat.) The first episode has a brief flash back to Lizzie’s pre-Bosworth on-the-battlefield fling with Uncle Richard, and then much time is spent bemoaning the untimely death of her lost lover and fighting against the dastardly machinations of Henry and his mummy. And then, eventually, Lizzie and Henry fall in lurrrrve.

Now much of this scenario is fantasy, pleasing to neither the Tudorites, who frequently moan that ‘Philippa Gregory is anti-Tudor!’ because, amongst other things, she didn’t make the Henry-Elizabeth alliance an immediate Mills and Boon romance, and equally TWP is not admired by the Ricardians because of Gregory’s overblown use of the discredited idea of an affair between Elizabeth and Richard III, when it is known from existing state documents in Portugal that he planned to marry Joanna of Portugal and at the same time have Elizabeth wed Duke Manuel of Beja.  Certainly it is true that Richard had to deny in public that he wished to marry Elizabeth, but it genuinely appears that this so-called proposed marriage was nothing more than gossip, much of it deliberately malicious, and the other possibly arising from pure misunderstanding. Why should anyone be surprised that courts were full of rumours about sex?- Look at how the modern press pairs celebrities up when they hardly even know each other!

Of course, Philippa Gregory is a fiction author so she is entitled to write whatever floats her boat. The public decides what it enjoys, and with her very hefty bank balance and millions of sales under her belt, people obviously enjoy her writing, accurate in historical content or not. Witchy Woodvilles, whistling down stormwinds isn’t exactly my thing, nor is the repetition of words/phrases and names that seem to be her trademark style, but clearly  the easy to read, first person, female format appeals to many readers.

However, the problem seem to be of late that Ms Gregory has assumed the designation of ‘historian’ in interviews and documentaries, and this self-appointment  has irked a few familiar faces, including the eminently irkable David Starkey and highly successful historical fiction author Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall. Doctor Gregory, as many of her fans call her, indeed has a doctorate …but it is not in history, medieval, Tudor or otherwise. Rather, it is in literature. Certainly many laymen have great knowledge of history and have come up with new discoveries and theories missed totally by accredited historians, but the problem seems to be when the lines of fiction/non-fiction blur due to the author’s own self-promotion and self-accreditation.  This is clear from the comments on the webpages dedicated to the new White Princess series; many viewers/readers are convinced that every word of the novel and the prequels  (and their tv versions) is true because the author ‘researches everything SO thoroughly and is a historian.’

No, she is a fiction writer with a long-term interest in history, using a reasonable amount of historical facts alongside some intriguing historical fictions (and of course history itself is full of myth, rumour and outright lies!) in order to make a rousing story. If Gregory is as well-versed  in history as she claims, she should be honest enough to at least admit that the affair between Richard and Elizabeth, as an example,  most likely never happened. Instead, she points selectively to anything that might ‘back up’ her book and completely ignores any evidence to the contrary. That is just self-promo and is indeed a far cry from what she herself said when TWP was still a work in progress–that of all her books it contained ‘the most fantasy.’

(That said, I don’t 100% agree with Hilary Mantel, either, who said she thought historical fiction writers should not add bibliographies into their novels as it implied they were non-fiction and the contents therefore  ‘true’. I believe a brief list should be included, in order to have the readers (hopefully) study more of the time periods involved and make up their own minds. )

So, dear viewers,  please take the White Princess with a pinch of salt – the Bosworth night fling, the rather aged and silent Francis Lovell, who now appears mysteriously in the story after being completely invisible in The White Queen, a letter of Buckingham (who is long dead) and other gaffs, along with Ms Gregory’s amazing claim in the article linked below that Richard III was ‘terrified’ of Elizabeth Woodville (Awk, say what? Why, did her weird whistling magic bother him that much?) Enjoy it, if it’s your thing, but  forget the ‘history’ part.

Fiction brings the past alive for many of us, me included, but let’s remember that’s what  it is. Fiction. However, I fear this plea will be in vain. After all, look how many people still think Shakespeare was  a historian and not a playwright!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/event/article-4406136/Historial-novelist-Philippa-Gregory.html

https://thecreationofanneboleyn.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/fact-fiction-and-philippa-gregory/

The-White-Princess-Starz

Give this Knight Errant a miss….!

knight errant - wilkins

If you support Richard III and believe history has “done him wrong”, for heaven’s sake do not read The Last Knight Errant: Sir Edward Woodville and the Age of Chivalry by Christopher Wilkins.

I made the mistake, and it soon struck me that the author had learned by rote every single myth about Richard, and then served them up as fact. Although, to be fair, he does dispense with the “two years in the womb, long hair and full set of teeth at birth” yarn. We don’t have the withered arm either. I suppose even Wilkins sensed these things would be going too far. After all, he’s aiming at a modern audience, not the Tudors. I will assume that the murder of Edward of Lancaster at Tewkesbury was a crime of Richard’s that Wilkins somehow overlooked.

So, let me see. Here are some of Richard’s crimes:-

  • He murdered Henry VI.
  • He poisoned Anne in order to marry his niece.
  • Joanna of Portugal declined to marry Richard and preferred her nunnery.
  • Richard intended from the outset to be rid of his nephews.
  • His marriage was “between brother and sister-in-law” and therefore invalid. There was no dispensation applied for anyway. Thus Edward of Middleham was illegitimate.
  • Elizabeth Woodville wasn’t plotting against Richard, she was merely afraid of him.
  • Elizabeth Woodville had a nervous breakdown, which explains her agreement to let her daughters go into Richard’s care.
  • Richard bullied the old Duchess of Oxford into giving him her estates.
  • There is no evidence that Edward IV ever wanted Richard to be Protector.
  • Stillington only revealed the untrue yarn of the pre-contract because Richard promised him his bastard son could marry Elizabeth of York.
  • History has “demonstrated” Richard’s ruthlessness.

That’s enough! Too much even. A load of old tosh, I fear, and so untrue in these important areas that I doubt the author’s portrayal of that thieving traitor Sir Edward Woodville is much better, except that it will be the other swing of the pendulum, halo and all. Can’t be bothered to finish the book to find out.

By the way, the back cover blurb even refers to Richard as ‘that genius of propaganda’! Richard? Has Wilkins never noticed the suffocating blanket coverage by the Tudors? Bah! I don’t mind honest debate, and accept that not everyone believes Richard was a good man, but I do object to this tommyrot. Trotting out the Tudor fairy tales of Thomas More, Shakespeare and the like is not good scholarship!

Uncle Richard?

richard-iii-huffington

A long time ago, I posted a short article about one of my ancestors, Thomas Snellgrove, who was a portrait artist and painted an actor portraying Richard III. Here is the link.

Portrait of actor playing Richard by Snellgrove

George Frederick Cooke playing Richard III by T.W. Snellgrove

I have been researching my family history for over thirty years and it used to be a very slow and painstaking process. The internet has obviously made things easier and quicker in many ways and I now have some other interesting Ricardian links to report.

I found a probable direct ancestor called Sir Henry Vane, the Younger – I had not heard of him, but discovered that he was a Parliamentarian in the Civil War and was beheaded on Tower Hill after Charles II returned to the throne. Interesting, so I started tracing his family back further and came upon a Vane who had married a lady called Joan Haute. As you probably know, there was a Katherine Haute to whom Richard gave an annuity of £5 and this was considered suggestive of her having been his mistress and mother of one or both of his illegitimate children. I did find a Katherine, married to a James Haute, brother of my ancestor.

I carried on further and found that Joan Haute’s grandfather, Richard, was married to an Elizabeth Tyrrell, brother of James Tyrrell, one of Richard’s henchmen, accused of murdering the ‘Princes in the Tower’ on his orders. It was odd to think I had recently visited the Tyrrell chapel at Gipping and seen the memorials for the Tyrrell family in the church at Stowmarket – how strange that these could be my relatives!  James was executed at the Tower too, by Henry VII.

And Richard Haute’s mother was a Woodville, sister to Richard Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s father. Elizabeth, as we know, was Richard’s sister-in-law (or at least was thought to be until it was found the marriage was invalid).

Sir Henry Vane’s wife was Frances Wray, and I next followed her line back. Her father married Albinia Cecil, great granddaughter to William Cecil, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. One of his sons (half-brother to my presumed ancestor, Thomas Cecil) was Robert Cecil, who was thought to be the ‘model’ for Shakespeare’s Richard III; he was an unpopular politician of the time and also a hunchback.

Pic of Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Thomas Cecil meanwhile was married to a Neville! This was Lady Dorothy Neville, descended from George Neville, brother to Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother! This would make Richard my 1st cousin 17 times removed.

It’s not all good though; there are four connections to the Stafford family, two of which are direct lines to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who betrayed Richard and was called by him ‘the most untrue creature living’ – another executed ancestor.  And, of course, via the Nevilles, I would also be related to Margaret Beaufort and Henry Tudor through the John of Gaunt line. ☹

Another not-so-good link is to the Percy family and thence to Henry Percy, who was lynched by a mob when he tried to raise taxes in Yorkshire, for not supporting Richard at Bosworth.

Yet another is to the Brandon family via the sister of William Brandon, Henry Tudor’s Standard Bearer, whom Richard personally killed at Bosworth. He would be my 16 x great uncle.

Other significant names that I haven’t fully explored yet are: Howard, Harrington, De Vere, Zouche, Somerset, Bourchier and  Clifford.  I haven’t found any Stanleys yet!

One of the Stafford links also leads to Margaret, daughter of George of Clarence and there is another to Margaret Courtenay, whose mother could be Katherine of York, the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville (her father married twice and it isn’t known which wife Margaret was born to – the second one was descended from John Neville, brother of Warwick the Kingmaker). These connections would make Richard also my 16 x great uncle. This would mean that one 16 x great uncle (Richard III) killed the other (William Brandon)!

Graham Turner painting of Richard III at Bosworth killing William Brandon

The Battle of Bosworth (Richard III killing William Brandon) by artist Graham Turner, copyright Graham Turner. N.B. Prints and cards of this and many other Ricardian scenes are available – click on the picture above to see.

How convoluted and complicated were the relationships in those days. But it just reveals how, if you can just find one key link into the nobility, you are basically related to them all!! It is also said that nearly all English people are descended from Edward III, so going by my experience (and Danny Dyer’s!) it could be true. I encourage anyone to have a go at researching their family – it is fascinating.

One caveat if you use the internet to do your research though – you have to be careful not to replicate others’ mistakes – I have found Cecily Neville given as the mother of Elizabeth Woodville and someone getting married before they were born – I know they married young in those days, but really!

 

 

Cecil image credit: John de Critz the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Radio Interview Regarding the Leicester Cathedral Controversy

Having heard that Leicester Cathedral were staging a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III inside the Cathedral itself, feet from where Richard is buried, I felt I had to do something to protest. It is not that I object to Leicester putting plays on in the Cathedral, although some do. Nor do I hate Shakespeare’s Richard III per se – it is true that he would not be anywhere near as famous without Shakespeare, although perhaps many would feel it preferable if he were less well known and less vilified. And Shakespeare was, of course, a genius, a fact which serves Richard ill because the plays, including the Bard’s Richard III, will never stop being performed. We must try to ensure that any future production of it will incorporate a disclaimer stating that it is fiction and giving a summary of the true Richard.

But it is quite a different matter to stage the play beside Richard’s tomb. So, I started a petition and was lucky enough to be interviewed about it on my local radio station, BBC Essex. Here is the transcript of the interview (there is a link at the bottom to BBC iPlayer, but it will be there only until the end of May 2017):

Dave Monk: Now you may be familiar with the incredible story about Richard III. Now the king was killed following his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth, fought in 1485. His remains were found recently, unearthed beneath a Leicester car park. Well, they now reside in Leicester Cathedral, but a bit of a row has broken out because a production company wants to stage a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III right there. And funnily enough (he said, name-dropping) I was with the Duke of Gloucester this afternoon, who’s all part of that, of course, because he was Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Critics say it is disrespectful and insensitive as the play portrays Richard in a bad light. Oh, yes it does. Well, Essex author, Joanne Larner, from Rayleigh, is behind the petition calling for the performance to be stopped. And I’d like to know why that is. Joanne, great to have you on. Why have you set this up?

Joanne: Well, it’s just, I thought it was such, a…I was so disappointed. I’ve visited the Cathedral several times and I even was there for the reinterment and I thought they did it really well and they promised to treat Richard’s remains with dignity and honour and I’m so disappointed and saddened and completely disgusted now that they’re doing this because it is almost as if they are dancing on his grave, in a way and I don’t think they are keeping their side of the bargain of treating his remains with dignity and honour.

Dave: Because, let’s face it, Rich – sorry, Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard was the bad guy. He was a scheming, nasty hunchback, a nasty king, and that’s how he was portrayed and we have no idea whether that’s the truth or not, have we?

Joanne: Oh yes we do!

Dave: Oh go on, then.

Joanne: Well. we think that that portrayal was partly Tudor propaganda – Shakespeare was writing in Tudor times and Tudor had to defame Richard’s character to justify his own taking of the throne. And also, I think as well that Shakespeare may have been doing a satire on a politician of his day, Robert Cecil, who was a hunchback and who was very unpopular. And so, it might not even necessarily be solely about Richard. But, in any case it’s fiction, it isn’t history and the real Richard actually did a lot of good things. I could give you some examples if you’d like to know some of the good things he did.

Dave: Yeah, I’d really like to know, yes.

Joanne: Well, he tried to stamp out corruption of the juries. He was only king for two years, as you know, and he only had one Parliament, but he did all this. He brought in a primitive form of legal aid for the poor, he encouraged reading and learning, he exempted books from taxes – that’s not the action of a tyrant, they usually discourage learning and reading. He had his laws made in English for the first time, so that more people could understand them, he was known before his brother died to be just, loyal and courageous. He was the last English king to die in battle, defending his country and his crown.

Dave: Well, let’s face it we’ve got to always remember, that it’s the victors who write the history books.

Joanne: Exactly, yes.

Dave: You’ve always got to keep that in mind, haven’t you? Why your fascination?

Joanne: Well, I only got interested, actually, after they found him and I saw the documentary and it absolutely fascinated me. And especially the lady, Philippa Langley, who was so passionate about him and I thought, well, how can someone be so passionate about someone who’s been dead five hundred years? And it made me research him and find out about him and I was so inspired that I’ve actually written three novels about him now.

Dave: Pretty good going, isn’t it, really?

Joanne: Mmm, and I’m just as passionate as she is. So – there’s a lot of us   and we all feel really strongly about him.

Dave: So, if it is, I mean you say it’s fiction, if Shakespeare’s Richard III is just fiction, why the big deal? Why the big problem?

Joanne: Well, simply because it portrays him in such a bad light. He’s portrayed as an evil hunchbacked tyrant who murdered his way to the throne and to perform that play literally feet from his grave, I think is just terrible.

Dave: How’s the petition going so far? Have you got much support?

Joanne: Well, it’s only been on for a few days, we’ve already over seven hundred, but obviously the more, the merrier, so anybody else who’d like to sign, I’d really welcome it. You know, it you feel as outraged as I do. I mean, I know Leicester Cathedral do have to make money and they’ve put on other plays there which some people don’t like but I understand that, you know, that they can’t, they don’t charge an entrance fee to the Cathedral, and they’ve put on Richard III before, so they say, but that was before Richard was there. And it’s this juxtaposition of that play and that place that’s the problem.

Dave: Oh alright, Joanne, thank you very much. Joanne Larner, Essex author, from Rayleigh and she is behind that petition to get that performance of Richard III stopped.

 

Since the interview, we have reached well over a thousand signatures – please add yours by clicking the picture of his tomb below.

Photo of Richard III's tomb

Clcik here for link to hear interview – starts near the end of the programme, about 2:45-46

Annette Carson: in sympathy with King Richard

To the delight of travelers across the globe, tired of lugging all those hard-copy books on planes, trains and automobiles, Annette Carson’s Richard III The Maligned King has just been released in ebook form and can now be purchased on Amazon.com.  Along with John Ashdown-Hill, Carson is part of a new generation of historians who have pushed forward new-found information that has helped to rehabilitate Richard the Third’s reputation in the 21st century with an energy matched only by their scholarship and dogged research.

Originally published in 2008, Richard III The Maligned King is not a biography but an examination of what happened from the moment his brother, Edward IV, died to his own untimely death.  It relies almost solely on contemporary accounts and moves in a direct timeline that makes enthralling reading.  Carson displays a ready wit and is not afraid to take on the hoary myths that cling to traditional historians like Spanish moss on a crumbling hacienda.

Although busy with new projects, Carson was able to spend a few moments with The Murrey and Blue to share her thoughts on Richard the Third and her background which led her to write about the maligned king.

Can you give us a little information on your background, Annette?

Like many people of my generation (I was born in 1940 and grew up in a single-parent family) I couldn’t afford a university education.  Music ran in my family and I was guided towards the Royal College of Music but I soon knew it wasn’t for me.  I married an actor and joined the staff of RADA as Front of House Manager, and then spent the next twenty years working the entertainment industry, including spells at Equity and Thames TV.

By 1984, having been involved for ten years in the sport of aerobatics and produced a fair amount of aviation writing and journalism, I was invited to co-author a book on aerobatic technique which was well received.  I was then commissioned to write a world history of aerobatics, which kicked off my professional writing career.  I enjoy technical writing and the research that goes with it, which in this case entailed learning Russian and took me to four continents.  That book sold 14,000 copies and my next book, a biography of the rock guitarist, Jeff Beck, is still in print and has sold over 15,000.

As you can tell, I follow where my muse takes me…so when other authorial ideas didn’t take off (I was JUST beaten to the draw on a proposed biography of Alan Rickman!) it occurred to me to put my ideas about Richard III into a book.

I’d been fascinated by Richard since 1955 when I was taken to see Olivier’s film of Richard III on a school trip.  Already a great lover of Shakespeare, I had never thought to doubt his mesmerizing portrayal of villainy.  So it hit me like a thunderbolt when my teacher said that many people considered him to have been a very good king whose reputation was deliberately blackened.  I’m something of a campaigner at heart – I took a particular injustice as far as the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights – so from my schooldays onwards I read as much as possible to try to uncover the truth.

Can you tell us something about your research methods?

Obviously, the ideas in my book had been germinating throughout decades of reading, so I had a lot in place by the time of the first draft in about 2002.  Fortunately, many of the standard sources were in print long before the internet became the resource it is today and my research entailed mining the documents and articles referenced by writers from Paul Murray Kendall onwards.  That’s my advice to anyone wanting to delve into where our ideas about history stem from:  become a reader of footnotes!

Paul Murray Kendall’s footnotes alone are worth the price of the book and often overlooked when traditionalists criticize him.  You did not write a biography of Richard.  Why?

I specifically didn’t want to write a biography because I was interested only in certain aspects of the years 1483-1485.  I had formulated several original ideas I wanted to explore, starting with what was known of the bones discovered in the 17th century and thought to be Richard’s nephews.  A major item of interest was to visualize exactly where they were found and what the staircase was like and the terrain around that area.  For this I got plans from Historic Royal Palaces and called on expert help from a civil engineer in order to commission an illustration – the only image I know that accurately depicts the discovery site based on contemporary descriptions, aided by illustrations, surveys and plans of the Tower.  I also wanted to highlight the importance of the jaw disease of the elder skull, and how significant this would have been if it had belonged to the heir of the crown.

Another thing I was keen to research was witchcraft in England in the 15th century, something which, because it already interested me, I knew the usual run of historians got completely wrong and still do.  There were many other original ideas – too many to mention – but several have now entered the general Ricardian discourse:  e.g. my taking apart all the myth-making in Vergil like Henry Tudor’s supposed oath to marry Elizabeth and the story that her mother meekly gave him her hand thinking her sons were dead.  Until then it had always been recited as genuine ‘history’.  And then, of course, my introduction of Richard’s bride-to-be Princess Joanna of Portugal, complete with colour portrait, whose existence had been known to readers of scholarly works but only as a shadowy figure.  I still maintain (with support from Arthur Kincaid) that my reading of Elizabeth of York’s letter in the Portuguese context is the only one that satisfactorily explains what the young Elizabeth was referring to.

Joanna must be one of the most under-reported stories in the history of Richard III.  Do you consider yourself a Ricardian?

By the time I finished in 2005 I had already written 160,000 words, so you can imagine how long a biography would have been!  My overall concern was (and is) always to set 15th-century events firmly in the relevant 15th century context.

I like to call myself a Ricardian because I am in sympathy with King Richard but I have to be careful of the word these days because it’s beginning to be used to signify blinkered adulation.  As recently as last year the President of the Richard III Society used the term ‘Ricardian translation’ to mean a pro-Richard whitewash.  I have no problem with anyone who admires Richard or with novelists who fictionalize him but it’s worrying when the boundaries get blurred and even Ricardians sometimes fail to make a distinction.

Occasionally I have to check your book and other non-fiction to see whether ‘a fact’ I’m using in an argument is indeed true or was inserted in one of the many novels written about the king.  It gets confusing.

Let’s be clear that I’m all in favour of speculation, because it can open up startling new trains of thought – and the Ricardian ground is so well-trodden that any new way of looking at something can be good for broadening horizons!  It’s sad, actually, that so many readers want a book about history to be a history lesson, and so many historians want to give them precisely that, right down to psychological profiling.  Whereas my job as a non-fiction writer is to explain how few and tenuous are those things that could be deemed factual, and to offer alternative constructions to conjure with and ponder upon.  I say what I think, and what others think but I don’t tell you they are the only conclusions.

What are you working on now?

I’m afraid there won’t be any new work on Richard III.  Unfortunately, I’ve found the atmosphere around Ricardian studies growing distinctly uncongenial and egocentric, so I’ve returned to aviation.  I am presently researching a biography of a courageous young World War I pilot which I hope to be ready for his commemoration in 2018.

My last Ricardian outing is assisting Arthur Kincaid with his updated and revised edition of Sir George Buc’s History of Richard III, which involves many interesting discussions and much repeated proof-reading.  Interestingly, the reason for Dr. Kincaid’s departure from the Ricardian community thirty years ago resembles mine.  It took considerable encouragement and persuasion for him to return to Buc, and I promise that when it’s published it will contain a treasure-trove of accurate and illuminating footnote references to delve into.

So you haven’t completely moved on from the maligned king!  I look forward to being able to buy both of your new books.  Thank you so much for sharing your time with the Murrey & Blue and I hope everyone purchases this new electronic edition .

annette 3

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…

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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

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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

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