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Who was the first bastard slip to grab hold of the crown of all England….?

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Bearing in mind that I am  NOT a historian, here is a little teaser to pass the time. We all know the texts from the Bible about bastard slips not taking root, and the sins of the fathers being visited on subsequent generations. Right, so what happens if we apply that literally to the throne of England? Just how far back do we have to go to find the first illegitimate person to sit on the throne of all England?

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Pope Adrian I and Charlemagne

In 786, Pope Adrian I announced that a king could not be begotten in adultery or incest, and if he wasn’t either of those but illegitimate anyway, he still couldn’t have the throne of any kingdom. Should this decree be my quest’s starting point? There were different kingdoms within England, but they were Christian, and if the Pope decreed, then he ought to have been abided by. Right?

Egbert of Wessex - Ruler of England

Egbert of Wessex – Ruler of England

The first king to be known as the Ruler of England was Egbert III of Wessex, 827-839, but the one to be truly the King of all England was, apparently, Aethelstan, August 924 – 27th October 939.

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Athelstan

Harold I - Harefoot

Harold I – Harefoot

There is an interesting timeline of our early kings at http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/KingsQueensofBritain/ and if I follow it, the first mention of an illegitimate king (after the all-important 786 date) is Harold I, 1035–1040, known as Harefoot. The English line of kings had been ousted by the Danes, led by Sweyn Forkbeard. Sweyn’s son Canute had succeeded him, and Harold Harefoot was Canute’s baseborn offspring.  

Tut, tut, Harold Harefoot. You broke the Bible’s rules, because on Canute’s death you sneaked the throne from behind the back of your legitimate half-brother, Harthacanute, who was abroad at the time. BUT—big but—Harthacanute took the throne back, had the by-then-dead Harold dug up, beheaded, and chopped into bits to be thrown in the Thames. There’s nothing like making absolutely sure someone ain’t gonna come back!

Harthacanute

Harthacanute

So, illegitimate Harold Harefoot was a mere blip. But he had been crowned king, which was one in the eye for Pope Adrian. We have to ignore the fact that coronation vows and anointing make a man a king regardless. We’re talking the Bible’s texts mentioned at the beginning of this article. And because we’re talking the Bible, if Harold I had sons, legitimately born or not, they could not have succeeded. So any line that might have descended from him would be illegitimate, to the whatever generation.

Next the throne zipped back to the English line. Harthacanute had been the Danish-line son of Canute by Emma of Normandy. Emma had been married before, to English-line Aethelred the Unready, by whom her eldest son was Edward. The Danes had pushed Edward aside, but now his half-brother Harthacanute declared him to be his heir.

Emma of Normandy

Emma of Normandy

Aethelred the Unready

Aethelred the Unready

Edward, who became known to posterity as  St Edward the Confessor, became king and was married, but died childless. Dang! Another crisis.

Edward the Confessor's death

Death of Edward the Confessor

After the Confessor, the throne went to someone who was elected by the Witan, Harold Godwinson, who was, of course, the King Harold who was defeated at Hastings in 1066.

Harold - Bayeux

Harold Godwinson

And who conquered him? Why, someone known as William the Conqueror, and also as William the Bastard! Oops! We have to stop right there, because the Bible says that anyone, anyone, who descended from William would be forbidden to ascend the throne.

William of Normandy

William of Normandy – the Bastard

Which brings me to the next question. Let’s imagine Hastings went the other way, and William escaped back to Normandy, or died in battle or was captured and executed. Who should have been king after Harold Godwinson? Well, he was famously connected with Edith Swan Neck, who was judged by the Church to be merely his mistress because they only married according to Danish law. So their six children were all barred. It was Edith Swan Neck who was said to have identified Harold’s mutilated body after Hastings, recognising it by a mark only she knew.

Edith Swan Nack identifies Harold after Hastings

Edith Swan Neck recognises Harold’s mutilated body by a mark only she knows.

But in January 1066 (presumably because he needed an undeniably legitimate heir) Harold had married another Edith, the widow of the Welsh prince Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. In church this time. One wonders if Edith Swan Neck really was the only one who knew his body that intimately. Perhaps this second Edith had spotted the mark too! Anyway, by Edith II he had two sons, another Harold and Ulf, who might have been twins, given that their father died at Hastings in the September.

Both boys survived into adulthood, and in all likelihood sired offspring of their own. Mind you, the legitimacy of said offspring remains unknown. They too could have hooked up with unacceptable partners like Edith Swan Neck! Or become monks, been gay, or not interested in anything. It’s all annoyingly shrouded in mystery.

So, is it at this point that the true line of the Kings of England disappears into the mist?

You’ll no doubt be pleased to know I don’t intend to investigate further, but it does make me wonder just who might be on the throne now if those texts from the Bible had been followed to the letter. The history of England would have been so different as to be unrecognisable. No Plantagenets. No House of York! No House of Lancaster. And forget the Tudors. The who? Never ‘eard of ‘em. Also no Stuarts, Commonwealth, Hanoverians or Windsors…

Of course, my reasoning above is almost certainly dodgy, as I do not doubt someone out there knows and will say. But in the meantime, might there be a busy, diligent soul somewhere (someone who only dreams in Latin!) delving into ancient records and manuscripts, trying to trace the heirs of Harold and Ulf…? How interesting if that diligent person were to discover the real present-day King (or Queen) of England.

Hmm. Would anyone dare announce such a thing? After all, William the Bastard’s White Tower still stands, and those Tudor-garbed Beefeaters still rattle lots of ominously big keys.  All I know is that I’m certainly not the rightful Queen of England – so don’t come knocking on my door in the middle of the night to haul me off to Tower Green.Imperial-State-Crown

 

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More Tyrrells, this time in Oxfordshire. One family or two?

This (below) is Shotover Park in Oxfordshire, formerly part of the Wychwood royal hunting forest. It becamAerial_View_of_Shotover_House_(geograph_4217497)e the property of one Timothy Tyrrell in 1613, the year after the death of Henry Stuart,  Prince of Wales, whom Tyrrell had served as Master of the Royal Buckhounds. Tyrrell was further honoured with a knighthood in 1624 and his grandson James built the current House, a listed building, on the site in 1714-5.

Stuart Oxfordshire was not Yorkist Suffolk, Prince Henry was not Richard III and buckhounds are not horses. Nevertheless, Sir Timothy was serving the Crown in a very similar role to that of his namesake and it is not surprising that readers will wonder whether he was related to Sir James through a different branch of the family, as a direct descendant or not at all. In a similar case, we showed “Robin” Catesby to be descended from William.

We can take a few clues from Sir James’ life and career. He was born into a Lancastrian family in about 1455 at Gipping Hall, near Stowmarket, and was appointed Master of Horse in 1483. In 1485, he became Governor of Guisnes and may have transported the “Princes” to the continent en route to taking up this position – in which case they could have resided at Gipping Hall for a short while. Gipping Chapel (left) still stands. In 1502, he was arrested for helping the fugitive Earl of Suffolk and tried at the London Guildhall for this alone. Starkey has shown that Henry VII and Elizabeth of York watched it at the Tower, presumably live on television, including Tyrrell’s murder confession which nobody mentioned until More wrote some years after Henry’s death – see Leas’ article.

In other words, this Tyrrell was associated with the sons of a King, as Sir Timothy was to be. Sir James’ family was also associated with Great Wenham near Capel St. Mary and benefitted when his 1504 attainder was reversed only three years later. He had three sons and a daughter, of whom at least three survived him.

Did the boys from the Tower escape from one of Yorkshire’s lost coastal towns or villages…?

Yorkshire's lost coast

I have often wondered about Richard’s plans for the Yorkist “heirs” he sent for safety to Sheriff Hutton. We know Elizabeth of York was there, because Henry Tudor sent a very swift party to secure her person. She was then escorted regally to London, to be greeted at Lambeth by her husband-to-be. After he’d established himself as a conquering hero, of course, and dated his reign from the day before Bosworth. But that is not the point now. Warwick was also at Sheriff Hutton, and everyone there was under the protection of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. Were the boys from the Tower there too?

If things went against Richard, had he instructed Lincoln to take everyone out of England and across to Margaret of York in Burgundy? Let us imagine he did issue such an order. Where on the coast would Lincoln likely take them? Surely not somewhere to the south, like Harwich or Lowestoft, or too far to the north. Time would be of the essence if they were to be whisked away before Tudor got his claws into them.

Something went wrong, of course. Elizabeth of York did not leave, and was captured….er, rescued by her new swain. Or perhaps that was what she had wanted all along? Warwick became another prisoner, as did Lincoln himself. (Do we know how/when John de la Pole was apprehended?) And then there is the biggest mystery of all: if the boys from the Tower were there, what happened to them?

Let us go back to Sheriff Hutton. When the terrible news arrived from Bosworth, there would be panic as those who intended to escape made ready for flight—we’ll say that they would head for the nearest access to the sea. It seems logical. One thing about the Yorkshire coast applied then as it does now. Erosion. There were already a number of lost towns and villages down the stretch from Ravenspur in the north to Spurn Head in the south. But some that are lost now, were still there in 1485. Was one of them the intended destination? There was no need for a large port, or a harbour with quays, just somewhere from which a small boat could put out to a waiting vessel.

cog and boat of fugitives

We will never know what happened, of course, but I for one can imagine the scene on that shore. Perhaps after dark, the sweating horses and fleeing Yorkists, the shouts from men waiting to push a large boat out into the waves. And off shore, the lights of a cog at anchor.

Maybe such a scene never happened, but if it did, maybe only the boys from the Tower were safely on board that cog. Safely? Well, maybe fate decreed they never reached Burgundy. Maybe a sudden storm sent the cog to the depths. Maybe that’s why no one knows what happened to the sons of Edward IV? Or, of course, they did reach their aunt’s protection, and one of them survived to grow up to challenge Henry Tudor as Perkin Warbeck. I hope so.

cog

For information on the lost villages and towns of the Yorkshire coast, here are two links to tell you more and this connected post.

 

Was Lord Stanley present when Hastings was arrested….?

Thomas Stanley signature

Tomorrow is the 534th anniversary of the council meeting in the Tower that culminated in the arrest of Hastings. There have always been inconsistencies in accounts of that day, but the one I am concerned with is whether or not that treacherous snake, Thomas Stanley, was present. You see, according to whose version one reads, at the climactic moment of Hastings being accused of treason, Stanley could have:-

  • Dived under a table/been mildly hit with a pole-axe (!)/or had hands grab him.
  • Been imprisoned in the Tower/held in custody in his own London lodgings/taken to a separate room.
  • Wasn’t there at all.

You pays your money, and you takes your choice.

So, in an (ultimately unsuccessful) pursuit of the truth, I have tried to pinpoint mentions of him. To do this, the early chronicles etc. have to be consulted. I am not a historian or scholar, so I turned first to the truly excellent William, Lord Hastings, and the Crisis of 1483: An Assessment by Wendy Moorhen (Richard III Society). She examines these early accounts, and the following extracts are taken from her work.

“…[According to the Great ChronicleUpon the same [day] dyned the said lord hastynges with him [Richard] and afftyr dyner Rode behynd hym or behynd the duke of Bukkyngham unto the Towyr. When all were assembled a cry of treason was uttered and the usher burst upon ‘such as beffore were appoyntid’ and arrested Stanley and Hastings, the latter being executed without ‘processe of any lawe or lawfully examynacion’…

“…Mancini portrays the events as beginning with Hastings, Rotherham and Ely making a customary call upon Richard in the Tower at ten o’clock. The Protector at once accused them of arranging an ambush upon him ‘as they had come with hidden arms’ and again, by pre-arrangement, soldiers entered the room, this time accompanied by Buckingham, and despatched Hastings forthwith. ‘Thus fell Hastings, killed not by those enemies he had always feared, but by a friend whom he had never doubted…’

“…Crowland merely reported: ‘On 13 June, the sixth day of the week, when he came to the Council in the Tower, on the authority of the Protector, Lord Hastings was beheaded‘.

“…In More’s account…the most colourful and detailed version…During the scuffle Stanley received a blow that knocked him under a table, with blood about his ears, then with Rotherham and Morton, he was arrested. and they were taken to separate rooms while Hastings briefly made his confession, the Protector having declared he would not eat ’til I se thy hed of’…”

“…It is noticeable after reviewing these different accounts that Thomas Stanley only appears in the Tudor versions. Perhaps his fame was not so great in 1483 when Hastings, Morton and Rotherham took centre stage, but it is worth noting that although he is included with the plotters retrospectively, yet less than three weeks later he carried the constable’s mace at Richard’s coronation. Did Stanley, as the step-father of King Henry VII, need to be seen, in retrospect, as acting against Richard?…” 

I move on to other accounts, mostly modern. Next is a passage taken from Richard III and the Murder in the Tower by Peter Hancock. “……the Earl of Derby was hurt in the face and kept awhile under hold…” Hancock also says “…The consensus is that Lord Stanley (the Earl of Derby) suffered some injury to the face and that a number of blows were aimed at him. One account has it that he dived under the table to avoid attack…” 

Richard III by James Gairdner, who admits that his source is More, whose source in turn was Morton (“a statesman of high integrity” who must have told the truth! Eh?) “…The cautious Stanley had a blow aimed at his head with a pole-axe, but escaped with a slight wound in the face and was taken into custody…”) Hastings, of course, was beheaded immediately. Stanley was released on 4th July. A pole-axe??? And still the varmint survived!

Life of Richard III – Sir Clements Markham does not actually mention Stanley when Hastings was arrested. This writer does, however, say that Hastings was condemned and executed a week later, on 20th June. (Stallworthe to Sir William Stonor).

Henry VII by S.B. Chrimes apparently speculates that Hastings was killed during the confusion, not afterwards by execution. He also says “…for whatever precise reason, Richard ordered his [Morton’s] arrest along with Stanley and Hastings and others, in June 1483…”

Royal Blood – Bertram Fields. “…The other meeting was to take place in the Tower. It was to include Hastings, Morton, Stanley and Rotherham, as well as Richard and Buckingham…Lord Stanley, who was injured in the melee, was confined to his London home….”

Richard III by Paul Murray Kendall has it as follows. “…The second group was requested to attend in the council chamber in the Tower at ten o’clock in the morning. It consisted of Hastings, Stanley, Morton, Rotherham and Buckingham…Richard directly accused Hastings and Stanley and Morton and Rotherham of plotting with the Woodvilles against the protectorship…Perhaps Hastings and Stanley reached for a weapon…Stanley was put on detention in his own lodgings…Stanley’s art of landing on the winning side had not deserted him. In a few days he was not only released but restored to his place on the council….”

Richard III by Charles Ross. “…The two prelates were arrested and confined to the Tower; so too was Lord Stanley, who seems to have been slightly wounded in the affray…”

The Last Knight Errant – Sir Edward Woodville by Christopher Wilkins. “…There was a moment’s silence and then he [Richard] accused Hastings and the two bishops [Archbishop Rotherham and John Morton, Bishop of Ely] of treason. There was shock and fury, shouts of ‘treason’ and armed men rushed into the room. Stanley very sensibly fell to the floor. Hastings was grabbed, held by the guards and told he was to be executed immediately…” Wilkins gives no source for Stanley having flung himself to the floor intentionally. He goes on to say that Stanley was imprisoned in the Tower, as were the two bishops…”

At this point I decided that getting to the bottom of what happened on 13th June 1483 was going to be impossible. I should have known better, because these facts have eluded eminent historians, even though they give firm opinions of what went on and who was there.

So I will give an opinion too. Although Tudor accounts refer to him as the Earl of Derby, which he was not in 1483, other early accounts refer to him as Lord Stanley. I think he was there, that he was part of a conspiracy against Richard, and that it was amazing he not only survived but for some reason managed to be taken back into favour. Teflon Thomas. Richard was too trusting and/or a lousy judge of character. Why that pole-axe didn’t send Stanley into eternity I will never understand! There is no justice. The reptile actually died in his own bed, just like his equally serpentine and undeserving son-in-law, Henry VII!

Stanley's bed before restoration

Thomas Stanley’s bed, before restoration

Supposedly Thomas Stanley - Ormskirk

Believed to be Thomas Stanley and his first wife at Ormskirk church

Or, of course, he was never a conspirator and supported Richard loyally to the end,  which made him an embarrassingly Yorkist father-in-law for Henry Tudor, who was a bit cross about it. Margaret Beaufort adored her husband and feared for his life, so she doctored all the records and made Thomas vow to say he’d always opposed Richard and had even been wounded and arrested on 13th June. Henry believed his mother, made Thomas the Earl of Derby, and they all lived happily ever after. Oh, I don’t know. Over to you…

Stanley the Angel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 Loyalty Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce.

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Those looking for an in-depth assessment of the life of Margaret Pole need look no further. Hazel Pierce has more than adequately supplied it in her biography of Margaret – Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 Loyalty Lineage and Leadership.  Covering Margaret’s life from early childhood – orphaned at five years old,  Margaret’s earlier needs were catered for by her uncle Edward who supplied her with the necessities – well –  it was the very least he could do under the circumstances – her marriage to Sir Richard Pole – Pierce opines this was a happy one – her widowhood  – the restoration to her  of her brother Edward’s Earldom of Salisbury  by Henry Vlll and finally, her violent death at the hands of an inept axeman aged 67.

 

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George Duke of Clarence – Margaret’s father ‘a myghty prince semley of person and ryght witty and wel visaged’.  At her birth in 1473 he stood third in line of succession to the crown of England.

I must confess that on reaching the end of the book my view of Margaret had changed slightly and not perhaps for the better.  I was left slightly  confused – was she merely obstinate, stubborn and hardheaded,  foolishly pressing Henry’s buttons to the limits – unwisely as it transpired – or was she driven by the rememberance of her noble lineage, indeed more noble than Henry’s,  the present occupier of the throne?   Did she feel honour bound , even duty bound,  after the judicial murder of her brother, Edward the Earl of Warwick, to fight Henry tooth and nail over property matters, a fight that raged for 10 years?  Did this lead to Henry nurturing a dislike for her which would later influence the decision to execute her?  Undoubtedly she infuriated Henry when she encouraged his daughter, the rebellious  Mary,  aiding and abbeting her in her refusal to return her jewels when her father needed them for his new wife, Anne Boleyn.  Margaret seems to have suffered from a nervous breakdown when she and Mary were forcibly parted but later regained her strength and resolve when standing up to the most strenuous of interrogations ,  her courage shining  through in the comments made by one of these interrogators,  Sir William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, who according to Pierce was sympathetic to Margaret’s younger son Geoffrey, but disliked Margaret.  He later wrote ‘we have dealid with such a one as men have not dealid with to fore us,  Wee may call hyr rather a strong and custaunt man than   a woman

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William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein.  The face of the man who interrogated Margaret over 2 days.

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Warblington Castle, Hampshire,   Margaret’s principal residence where she was interrogated by  Sir William Fitzwilliam and Thomas Goodrich Bishop of Ely.

Fortunately for Pierce – and for us – plentiful records have survived that cover Margaret and her sons’ lives ( had the human shredders from the reign of Henry Vll long since departed this mortal coil?)  that have enabled Pierce to write a cracking good book and her meticulous attention to detail must be applauded.  I found it difficult at times to put this well researched and balanced book down.

Margaret’s eldest son, Henry Montague seems the most sensible of the lot although prone to letting his mouth run dangerously away with him from time to time.

Geoffrey, the youngest,  is perhaps the one that took after his maternal grandfather, the mercurial George Duke of Clarence, a loose cannon, but at the same time likeable and charming , with friends  that tried to save him, but perhaps lacking the courage of George. He tried to suffocate himself with a cushion, which,  not surprisingly failed, and his wife was terrified that he might reveal too much if interrogated –  indeed he feared this very thing himself.

Reginald – ah Reginald! – he was the fly in the ointment, safely on the Continent, he managed to survive assassination attempts on his life and was complicit, via his writings, in the downfall of the Pole family.  Reginald survived to become a Cardinal and later Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary Tudor.  For me a further question arises over Reginald’s rather cavalier attitude to his family back in England.  Opposed to Henry’s religious changes in 1537 he sent a message warning that if his mother supported these opinions  ‘mother as she is myne, i wolde treade appon her with my feete”    Reginald seems not to have  give a flying fig over the survival and fates of his family.  If so why?  Perhaps a grudge of some sort, an axe to grind?  Pierce added that Reginald’s actions are so well known that they do not need including in her book.  So that is another story.

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Margaret’s son, Reginald Pole, consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1556.

And so around spun the fickle wheel of fortune, until they, with the exception of Reggie, were totally undone,  disaster and tragedy overtaking them all , with even Montgue’s young son, Henry Pole the Younger, disappearing from sight forever once he entered the Tower of London with his father and grandmother.  Poor little blighter.

Although this book does answer many question about Margaret and her family it does leave me with one – did the Poles contribute to their own demise, all in some way stretching Henry’s patience to the limit OR was it always inevitable that Henry would in the end,  annihilate the last of those who had the royal and noble Plantagenent blood coursing through their veins?

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The Salisbury Chantry, Christchurch Priory, Dorset.  Margaret’s intended resting place.  Margaret was in eventuality buried in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, at the Tower of London alongside Henry’s other victims.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A theory about Tyrrell, Llandovery Castle and the boys from the Tower….

Llandovery Theatre-Feb-2016

I can’t find a date on this article about Llandovery Theatre, but it’s interesting to find a theatre website that supports Richard. It contains an intriguing theory about Tyrell and the boys from the Tower:-
“In 1485, Richard III gave a Charter to Llandovery, and appointed James Tyrell to be steward of Llandovery Castle. Before Bosworth he sent Tyrell to France to ‘monitor’ the build-up of the ‘invasion’ expected from Henry. Were the princes housed at that time in Llandovery Castle, or did Tyrell take them out of England into France for their safety? If we believe Tyrell to be the murderer of the princes, maybe we should start by digging up the car-park beside Llandovery Castle, to see what we may find.”
My thought: Tyrell’s guilt would not automatically mean Richard’s as well, of course. I will never believe that Richard ordered the deaths of two of his nephews, but for some reason left a third nephew (Warwick) alive. Not logical.

llandovery castle

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

Lucy does WOTR fibs….

lucy-worsley

I awaited Lucy Worsley’s latest series with great eagerness. Her impish character and entertaining presentation is always worth watching. And so it was again on Thursday, 26th January, in the first episode of British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley. It concerned the Wars of the Roses.

Well, obviously, as a Ricardian I was keen to know what she would have to say about Richard III, but the programme was about the wars in general and how they have been immensely misrepresented through the centuries as a thirty-year-long blood bath that terrified and depleted the entire realm. The truth was that most people hardly noticed what was going on, because it was strife among the nobles, not the populace. It has been estimated that out of the thirty years, there were only thirteen weeks of actual fighting.

One actual example of carnage and bloodshed was Towton. There was an excellent account of the carnage. Lucy stood at the top of the steep slope, where the Yorkists were positioned, looking down to the level meadow and winding river at the bottom. She reminded us that the river was in flood at the time. The Lancastrians were trapped between the Yorkists and the floodwater. It was really demonstrated how the Yorkists were able to rush down and slaughter the Lancastrians. A horrible, horrible battle, but the only one of all the WOTR battles to produce such devastating killing in such huge numbers. 28,000.

Towton aside, the universal version of events in those thirty years is courtesy of the Tudors, especially Henry VII, the first and most devious of a devious pack. The fifteenth-century conflict is “a tapestry of different stories woven together by whoever was in power at the time”—cue Henry VII, darn his usurping little socks. That man a master weaver of lies!

As a result of his machinations, it’s as if there was such a huge conspiracy to lay blame on Richard III that the whole of English history has somehow been tainted by it. Cruelly, Henry’s lies took root, and Richard was damned. That was made clear throughout the programme.

We saw all the Tudor embellishments—masonry, paintings, literature (read Shakespeare). Henry even saw to it that  illustrations predating his accession were doctored to include his badges and symbols, thus pretending that his ancestry and right to the throne had been there all along! There was very little of which he did not think and take steps to correct. One almost has to admire his thoroughness. But what a natural-born LIAR!

There weren’t many glimpses of Richard. Least of all the real Richard, because the programme was all centred on the myths, as the series title makes plain. But Henry’s endless untruths were just accepted, without any real attempt to prove them to be so.  Nothing was said to show how good a king Richard had been in his brief two years. No mention of his Parliament, for instance, which definitely proved  him to be a just man with the welfare of the people at heart. I doubt if Henry knew what welfare was, except when it applied to himself. As for justice…forget it. Anyway, one sentence about the Parliament would have gone a long way to redress the balance.

As for Richard’s physical appearance, it wasn’t until the very end that Lucy went to Leicester, and Richard’s skeleton had a look-in, but not the modelled head that gives such a good impression of what he actually looked like. The fine statue by the cathedral featured in one of the final scenes, but even then we had to see Henry again—a little statuette brought by someone who has started a Henry VII Society to rival the Richard III Society. This gentleman moaned that Henry was now being maligned. Well, Horrible Henry, have a dollop of your own medicine!

All that said, it was still enjoyable. Lucy is wonderful viewing, and if she told us black was white, I might have trouble arguing. Except where Richard III is concerned, of course.

See a clip at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04png88

 

 

The Private life of Edward IV, by John Ashdown-Hill….

There are some very gooNed Fourd biographies of Edward IV, by the likes of Pollard, Ross, Kleinke and Santiuste but surely none have tracked his movements, sometimes month by month, like this book does. This is not a full biography and it does not claim to be, but focuses on Edward’s romantic life – his known partners including his legal wife, Lady Eleanor Talbot, Henry Duke of Somerset (!), Elizabeth Lambert and Elizabeth Woodville, as well as the more … elusive … ones.

Edward had other children, apart from those born to Elizabeth Woodville, and Ashdown-Hill tries to identify their mothers. Two of these children were Lady Lumley and Arthur Wayte.

Having devoted much of his nine previous books to explaining the context of the Three Estates offering the throne to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the writer now goes further into the mystery of “Princes” through an excellent appendix by Glenn Moran, which takes their female line forward to a lady who died earlier this year. It also encompasses the complication of someone who definitely ended his life in the Tower about sixty years later and whose mtDNA would almost certainly be identical.

Together with this discovery, we know somewhere else that Edward V and his remaining brother cannot be found. It seems that we only have to wait for the urn to be accessible to determine its contents, one way or the other.

Olde London Towne (2)

Following our previous post, This tells us about some specific mediaeval buildings ands structures.

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