Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Henry II: To spend more time with my sons.
Brian Boru: No more wives!
Harold Godwinson: To let the fyrd go home early for harvest this year -- 1066.
Richard Sharpe: To see Boney.
William of Normandy: To get in touch with my Inner Bastard.
William Rufus: To get more time off from being king, like spending more time hunting in the New Forest.
Robert the Bruce: To spend more time on the web.
Robin Hood: To tell my girlfriend I'm not the Marian kind.
Brother Cadfael: To look into $4 prescriptions at Walmart.
Nan Hawthorne: To keep up with updating medieval-novels.com better.
Lady Godiva: To work out more often.
Henry II: To spend some real quality time with Eleanor.
Richard I: To pay a visit to that place over the Channel, whatever it’s called. Oh, that’s right—England!
John: To schedule an appointment with that public relations guy.
Hugh le Despenser the elder: To be more strict with little Hugh.
Richard II: To get rid of that Henry Bolingbroke fellow before he really becomes a pest.
Owen Tudor: To get up my nerve to ask Queen Catherine for a date.
Margaret of Anjou: To assert myself more.
George, Duke of Clarence: To get along better with my brother Ned.
Warwick the Kingmaker: Not to sweat the small stuff.
Perkin Warbeck: To find myself.
Thomas More: To complete my unfinished book so that posterity will know what a truly great guy Richard III was.
Monday, December 29, 2008
For fiction, I especially enjoyed Sharon Penman's long-awaited Devil's Brood, Jean Plaidy's French Revolution trilogy, Michelle Moran's The Heretic Queen, and Louis Bayard's The Black Tower.
In nonfiction, my favorites were James Swanson's Manhunt, about the search for John Wilkes Booth; Julia Fox's Jane Boleyn (a book that has absolutely spoiled most historical fiction dealing with Jane-as-warped-wacko for me), Linda Porter's The First Queen of England: The Myth of “Bloody Mary," and Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England.
Both lists could probably be quite a bit longer, but I didn't keep any sort of record of what I read this year, so I'm relying mainly on what jumps out at me from my shelves. I'll probably think of other things once I sign off for the evening.
What am I reading these days? I just finished Alice Harcourt's The Clandestine Queen, a 1979 historical novel that covers Elizabeth Woodville's life from her time as a lady in waiting to Margaret of Anjou through the birth of her first royal son, Edward V. There are some anachronisms (use of "your majesty" and certain nicknames that sound more modern than medieval, for instance), but Harwood has clearly done her research as far as the historical events of the period are concerned. I found it a pleasant, if workmanlike, read, and I look forward to reading the other Harwood novel I have on hand, which deals with Perkin Warbeck and his bride.
Courtesy of Sourcebooks, I also have a copy of Georgette Heyer's The Conqueror, which I take with me to the gym and read while on the treadmill. I confess to being confused from time to time as to who is William's enemy and who is not, but as the characters themselves seem a bit confused on this point too, I can live with it.
On the nonfiction front, I recently finished David Starkey's Henry VIII: Virtuous Prince. Issued in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of Henry's accession to the throne, this book covers Henry's youth and the early days of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. It's arranged chronologically and thematically, with chapters on Henry's education and on his early relationship with Wolsey, for instance. I found it very readable, although it could have used a better editing, especially since it's intended for a general audience and not for specialists. (For instance, Starkey discusses the rebellion of 1483 without ever naming Henry Buckingham as a participant, then, some pages later, mentions Henry Buckingham with the expectation that the reader will somehow know who he is.) Next on the nonfiction list, I believe, will be Alison Weir's biography of Katherine Swynford.
And now, what does this blog have in store for 2009? I've got a few posts in mind already, including Eleanor de Clare's father, Gilbert de Clare, Joan of Kent's messy marital litigation, and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham's mysterious, possibly insane mother. This should be the year too when I do a post on Anthony Woodville, having done his brothers and sisters already. As usual, we'll have some fun here, starting on New Year's Eve when sundry familiar figures make their New Year's resolutions. Stay tuned!
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Ethelred the Unready -- a day planner
Alfred the Great - an oven timer
Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians - for Bernard Cornwell to get me right in his novels
Harold Godwinson - Edward the Confessor's will in writing.. or not
Godiva of Coventry - super hold hair spray
Offa of Mercia - a really butch dyke
Ivar the Boneless - need you ask?
Aethelwald, son of Ethelred - primo genitor.
Lawrence of Críslicland - for a certain Breton mercenary to take a long walk off a short pier
William Rufus -- A new archery set.
Edward I: Scotland.
Piers Gaveston: Just something handmade. No, really! Well . . . if you insist, jewels are always appropriate.
Isabella of France: My jewels back.
Hugh le Despenser the younger: Whatever someone else is getting.
Roger Mortimer: Hugh on a platter.
Edward II: Fodor's Guide to Italy. Or some Sears Craftsman tools . . . or a craftsman.
Edward III: France.
Edward IV: Getting to Yes.
Elizabeth Woodville: An agreeable second husband who will be nice to my large family.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester: Something round and gold and shiny that fits nicely on my head.
Henry Tudor: Something round and gold and shiny that fits nicely on my head.
Margaret Beaufort: Only the best for my darling, sweet Henry.
Elizabeth of York: My mother-in-law to go on a long pilgrimage. Preferably to the Holy Land.
Henry VIII: 6 free sessions of marriage counseling.
Anne Boleyn: Morning sickness.
Katherine Howard: Someone around my own age to pal around with.
Katherine Parr: Widow's weeds.
Boswell the cairn terrier: Mom to get off her duff and take me for a walk.
Ginny, Onslow, and Stripes: A wing chair apiece so we don't have to share them with those presumptuous two-legged beasts and that irritating dog.
Happy holidays, all, and thanks for suggesting this, Nan!
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
If Onslow hasn't brought down the Christmas tree by tomorrow morning, I'll be doing a joint post with Nan Hawthorne about what certain historical figures want in their Christmas stockings. (In some cases, that will mean some mighty big stockings.) Merry Christmas, if it's not yet arrived in your part of the world, and if it has, I hope you had a delightful one!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
(Their names are William, Winston, and Walter, by the way. Walter came first, and I acquired William and Winston over the weekend. My daughter has Walter's twin, Anthony. She thinks it's a hoody name. I didn't tell her it reminded me of Anthony Woodville.)
Letting the Cat in the Bag
Why We Need a Bigger Bed
Monday, December 22, 2008
My, time has flown since my last Christmas letter! This has been a very special year in terms of personal and professional growth for me.
First, knowing what a burden my marriage has been to me over the last couple of years, I think you’ll be glad to hear that I’ve finally made some progress on the Edward front. We had been living apart for quite a long time now, and I might have been content just to leave it at that, but some friends, and one very dear friend in particular, helped me to realize that for my good, and for the good of all around me, I just had to stop sitting around and wondering what was going to happen next. I also had to take steps to make sure I had an adequate income, because frankly, the pittance Edward was allowing me simply wasn’t enough. And his friends--well, let me say that they were just insufferable. Absolutely insufferable.
So I finally took the initiative, and do you know what???? Everything worked out just perfectly, and Edward gave into all of my requests! It's so empowering to realize that all along I had the ability to make these changes, but just needed to muster the will and the courage to make them. It saddens me now to think that I wasted all of those years being a passive, obedient wife when there was so much potential in me just waiting to be unleashed.
You might wonder what Edward is doing now. Well, as you might know, part of the reason our marriage had been so stressed is because of his work situation, which has gone from bad to worse. The upshot of this is that although nothing has been set in stone yet, I think he’s really going to have to understand that he just can’t stay on in his present position and that some new blood will have to be brought in to really turn things around. In the meantime, he’s living with a relative in the country and thinking things over (sans the dreadful friends, I might add, whose lives are in pieces, so to speak). I just hope he sees reason and gives in gracefully. But you just really don’t know with Edward. You really don’t. He’s impossible.
But enough about Edward, and to some very special news about me. For the very first time in my life, I have found a man who meets all of my needs. (And I mean all of them.) He’s the dear friend I referred to earlier, just in case you haven’t guessed! We had known each other for some time, actually, but it was only around the beginning of this year that we finally admitted that we really belonged together and that nothing and no one—no, not even the Church—was going to keep us apart. Roger (that’s his name) has a wife and children—the good ones always do, you know—but it’s purely a marriage of convenience. He will spend some time with them now and then for appearances’ sake, but I am the real love of his life, and everyone who hasn’t realized that will soon know it. You can’t stand in the way of true love, and Roger’s wife will just have to understand that. Anyway, Roger is now in a position to be more than generous to her financially, which is probably all she cares about. She’s never appreciated Roger the way she ought to. Wives just never do.
I’m also pleased to say that this year has brought me improved professional opportunities as well. Roger and I have some exciting ventures in mind. It’s not quite clear what exact form my own role will take, since so many changes have taken place so suddenly, but I’m absolutely certain that it will be a fulfilling one that allows me to make use of all of my diverse abilities. Really, my destiny is mine to shape. Thank God Roger has been there to help me see that.
But enough about moi for now. Little Ned is doing well. He’s at that awkward age where children want more independence but aren’t quite ready to deal with it, even though they think they can handle it just fine. We have a bit of a dust-up about this now and then, especially since I’m now for all intents and purposes a single mother, and what son thinks his mother knows anything? Ned really needs a man around, a real strong man who can serve as a role model for him and to tell him what to do when the situation demands it. Roger, of course, has been invaluable here. Ned has a bit of that tedious “you broke up my parents’ marriage” thing going on with Roger, but I keep telling him that it was broken before Roger ever came into the picture. In any case, I have my own needs, and Ned is just going to have to deal with that. He really is, because there’s more to me than just being Ned’s mother, and it’s high time he realized that. As Roger says, there’s facets of me that no one ever dreamed existed until this year, and I just need to keep working on uncovering them. It’s something I positively owe to myself.
Here’s wishing that your 1326 has been as exciting a personal journey as mine and that 1327 will be even better,
Friday, December 19, 2008
Another year almost over! Who could have guessed that 1483 could have passed so quickly? Well, time flies when you’re having fun, they say!
First, the big news. Richard got a new job! It involves a lot more prestige and rewards, but also a lot more responsibility, so he wasn’t really sure whether he wanted to take it or not. But after talking it over with family and friends, he decided to go for it, and so he did! There were a couple of minor obstacles in the way, but they weren’t as hard to get around as he thought they would be at first. Anyway, he’s been in his new position since July, and though he’s not one to brag, we think he’s doing a pretty good job in it. Some of the old staff didn’t care for him taking over, it’s true, but some people just don’t like change, even when it’s good for them. We know they’ll adjust.
The only bad thing about the new job is that it requires Anne to do a lot of entertaining, so she had to move to London with Richard and leave little Ned up north with Anne’s mum. We really miss them both, but Ned is doing well. Now that it looks as if he’ll be going into the new “family business,” he’s got a lot of learning to do anyway.
Anne’s mum is such a card, by the way! When she heard about Richard’s new job, she said, “Well, maybe now you can spare me an acre or two, the pair of you!” She’s so funny, she makes the north seem a little warmer just by being there.
Richard’s mum is doing well too. There was a bit of a dust-up when she heard of some foolish gossip about her just before Richard got his new job, which some very silly people blamed on Richard himself! But everything’s been smoothed over now, and she’s back to praying at Berkhamsted just as if nothing ever happened at all. She tells Richard that she prays for him more than ever now, and we certainly do appreciate that.
Anyway, we’re adjusting pretty well to Richard’s new job and to our new digs in London. Anne wants a little company there, so we’re trying to get Richard’s niece Elizabeth—you remember that pretty girl whose father was always trying to pinch someone’s arse—to come join us there. It’s a delicate situation because her mother is VERY overprotective and has her nose out of joint for some reason too. But Richard says that he thinks he can sweeten her up for the right price. We certainly hope so, because if he doesn’t, Elizabeth just might get fed up and marry this dreadful man named Henry who’s been after her hand. His mother (the Henry creature’s, that is) used to be positively underfoot here in London, trying to get her precious Henry a position, and to hear her talk her darling boy could do Richard’s job just as well as he could. The very nerve! We don’t envy her husband one bit—how many times can you say, “Yes, dear,” in an evening? But she’s back at home where she belongs now, and it doesn’t look as if we’ll be hearing anything from her and her precious son any time soon—which is just another Christmas blessing!
The best to you and yours this Christmastide.
Richard and Anne
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Because various people are arrested and imprisoned daily on suspicion of felony, sometimes out of malice and sometimes on vague suspicion, and thus kept in prison without bail or mainprise to their great vexation and trouble; be it therefore ordained and decreed, by authority of this present parliament, that every justice of the peace in every county, city or town shall have authority and power to grant bail or mainprise at his or their discretion to such prisoners and people thus arrested, in the same form as if the same prisoners or people were indicted for the same on record before the same justices in their session; and that justices of the peace shall have authority to inquire in their sessions into all manner of escapes of every person arrested and imprisoned for felony; and that no sheriff or escheator, bailiff of a franchise or any other person shall take or seize the goods of any person arrested on suspicion of felony before the person thus arrested and imprisoned has been convicted or attainted of the felony according to the law, or else the same goods have been otherwise lawfully forfeited, upon pain of forfeiting double the value of the goods thus taken to the person harmed in that respect, by action of debt to be sued in that matter by the same process, judgment and execution as is usually used in other actions of debt sued at the common law; and no essoin or protection shall be allowed in any such action, and the defendant in any such action shall not be admitted to wage or do his law. [The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, C. Given-Wilson et al., eds.]
While Richard III should be given due credit for this provision, which may have been the product of his own initiative and certainly would have required his approval, some of the more enthusiastic of his supporters have gone so far as to credit Richard with actually originating the right to bail. This extravagant claim crops up fairly frequently on the Internet, and has even made it to print. One example can be found in Richard III: The Maligned King, where author Annette Carson writes: “To Richard’s Parliament . . . we owe our right to be judged fairly by our peers, to enjoy bail, and not to have our possessions seized when arrested on suspicion of felony” (p. 232).
We’ll talk about the right to jury trial, which Carson appears to be crediting to Richard III as well, at some other time. (What Richard actually did was require jurors to meet certain property-owning qualifications, as an attempt to reduce jury tampering.) For now, though, let’s move on to bail.
Contrary to what Carson and like-minded Ricardians would have us believe, bail and its kissing cousin, mainprise, were around hundreds of years before Richard III’s Parliament. Indeed, a form of bail existed in Anglo-Saxon times as “bohr.” (If Ricardians really want, I suppose it won't hurt anything if they regard this as a prophetic reference to Richard III’s white boar insignia.)
Bail developed further after the Norman invasion. For a time, any offense was bailable, but this changed in 1166 when certain offenses, including homicide and forest offenses, were designated in writing as nonbailable. As to the bailable offenses, sheriffs had a great deal of discretion, which not surprisingly was abused by men eager to line their coffers. The result was the First Statute of Westminster in 1275, a product of Edward I’s reign. This was meant to reduce the discretionary power of the sheriffs, but proved less than effective, even as both Edward II and Edward III enacted laws to try to curb abuses. Eventually, in the 1400’s, the sheriffs were given less power, and in 1461, justices of the peace were allowed to grant bail. They could do so, however, only for those who were indicted before them. Thus, as noted by William F. Duker (whose 1977 article, “The Right to Bail: A Historical Inquiry,” in the Albany Law Review forms the basis of this blog post), the measure was a “half-way” one.
In 1467, the commons made the following request:
The commons assembled in this present parliament pray, that where several of your faithful, true liegemen throughout this your realm, through malice and ill will, have been arrested daily on suspicion of felony, of which they are not guilty, and thereupon have been taken to various of your gaols, where by law they must remain in prison until the coming of your commissioners for gaol delivery, whereby your said faithful, true liegemen have been greatly impoverished and harmed daily.
Wherefore may it please your highness, of your most abundant grace, having sympathetically considered the foregoing, to ordain and decree, by the assent of the lords spiritual and temporal assembled in this your present parliament, and by authority of the same, that each of your justices of the peace in every county of this your realm, and elsewhere where they are commissioners, shall have full power and authority to grant bail to all your liegemen who are committed to any of your gaols on suspicion of felony, as described above, until the next coming of your said commissioners for gaol delivery; and that the said justices of the peace who take such bail as described above shall put their bills of the same bail before the said commissioners for gaol delivery at their next coming into the area where such bails shall happen to be taken, and the same commissioners shall act upon the same bills of bail in the same manner and form as if the bail had been taken by themselves. [Parliament Rolls]
Edward IV merely responded, “The king will consider this further.”
The 1484 statute enacted by Richard III’s Parliament strongly resembles this 1467 petition. It has been a matter of much debate whether Richard III’s legislation was motivated by his own concern for justice or by a need to curry favor with a populace that had yet to fully accept him as king, and whether the legislation was the product of Richard III’s own initiative or that of others. Even if one gives Richard the benefit of the doubt, the commons of 1467 should surely be given some credit in inspiring the 1484 legislation. It should also be seen in context, as part of a series of bail reforms that had been ongoing since the thirteenth century.
In any event, Richard’s legislation, though a valiant attempt, did not eradicate the problems associated with bail. In 1487, Henry VII’s Parliament complained:
Where in the parliament lately held at Westminster in the first year of Richard III, late in deed and not by right king of England , it was ordained and enacted, among various other acts, that every justice of the peace in every county, city or town should have authority and power at his or their discretion to grant bail or mainprise to prisoners and persons arrested on slight suspicion of felony; on the strength of which various people who were not mainpernable were subsequently often granted bail and mainprise by justices of the peace, against the proper form of the law, whereby many murderers and felons escaped, to the great displeasure of the king and the annoyance of his liege people. [Parliament Rolls]
Henry VII’s Parliament, therefore, ordered that “the said justices of the peace, or one of them, so taking any such bail or mainprise shall certify it at the next general sessions of the peace, or at the next general gaol delivery of any such gaol in every such county, city or town, following the taking of any such bail or mainprise; upon pain of forfeiting £10 to the king for every recorded failure.” This also proved unsatisfactory, though, for the justices of the peace were proving no less eager to profit from their offices than the sheriffs.
This blog isn’t entitled “Bail Through the Ages,” so suffice it to say that reforms continued and that future generations, particularly in the seventeenth century, would wrestle over the questions surrounding bail. In sum, though, if you find yourself in difficulty and have to utilize the services of a bail bondsman, you can indeed give Richard III some thanks—but you also have to thank the Anglo-Saxons, Edward I, the commons of 1467, and many others as well. Let freedom ring!
Thursday, December 11, 2008
This may explain why I have never understood why anyone would pay $500 for a pair of shoes, my indifference to knickknacks, and why strangers over the telephone often address me as "sir." On the other hand, it doesn't do much to explain my total lack of interest in sports, my willingness to ask directions, and my two pregnancies.
As it's time to get back to work, I'll curb my distressingly feminine tendency to chit-chat and cut this blog post short. Besides, I need the extra time to search out some Bernard Cornwell novels tonight.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Cherished as they are by historical novelists, the evidence for these portrayals is rather lacking. The only thing that points toward George’s drinking habits is the supposed manner of his death, being drowned in a barrel of sweet wine. Little Edward’s simple-mindedness is derived from a single remark made about him in later life that he could not “tell a goose from a capon,” which could mean that he was mentally slow, but could just as easily mean that he was naïve, unworldly, or lacking in common sense. (Having at that time spent most of his life as a prisoner in the Tower, it’s not surprising if he was deficient in some respects, like the long-imprisoned Edward Courtenay would prove to be decades later.) The only evidence for Anne’s frail health is her early death, but up until a few months before her final illness, she seems to have been active enough, accompanying her husband in his kingly travels. As for her meekness, almost nothing is known of her personality.
And Lord Hastings, the main subject of this post? While the little the sources have to say on the subject of his sex life suggest that he was a bit of a womanizer, this is hardly the sum total of his personality. There’s certainly nothing to support his portrayal by one historical novelist as a sexual predator with a fondness for raping virgin peasant girls. The one contemporary account of his sexual predilections comes from Mancini:
Hastings was not only the author of the sovereign’s public policy, as being one that had shared every peril with the king, but was also the accomplice and partner of his privy pleasures. He maintained a deadly feud with the queen’s son, whom we said was called the marquess, and that because of the mistresses whom they had abducted, or attempted to entice from one another. [The Latin here reads “idque propter amores alteri ab altero ablatos, aut sollicitatos.”]
Elsewhere, Mancini writes of Edward IV himself, “He pursued with no discrimination the married and unmarried the noble and lowly: however he took none by force.”
Assuming Mancini’s informants were correct, the description of Hastings and the Marquis of Dorset’s abducting each other’s mistresses, while not showing either in a particularly favorable light, certainly does not support a characterization of Hastings as a rapist, especially since his partner in pleasure, Edward IV, is emphatically described as not being one. Interestingly, the Crowland Chronicler, who unlike Mancini appears to have been well connected at court and probably knew Hastings personally, mentions nothing of Hastings’ sexual behavior at all, but states without explanation that much ill-will existed between Hastings and the queen’s relations.
That’s it, as far as I can tell, of contemporary or near-contemporary accounts of Hastings’ sexual appetites. Thomas More writes that Elizabeth Woodville “thought [Hastings] secretly familiar with the king in wanton company,” but gives jealousy of Hastings’ offices and gifts from the king, not sexual rivalry, as the reason he was disliked by the queen’s relations. As for his character, More described him as “a good knight and a gentle, of great authority with his prince, of living somewhat desolate [dissolute].” This rather vague last descriptor could mean a lot of things, but certainly doesn’t support a portrayal of Hastings as a sexual predator. Neither does More’s statement that Hastings kept Jane Shore as his mistress after the king’s death and that although Hastings was enamored of her during the king’s life, he “forbare her of reverence to the king, or else of a certain kind of fidelity to his friend.” (Other than Thomas More, only The Great Chronicle of London links Hastings and Jane Shore.)
Philip de Commines, who had dealings with Hastings over the pension paid to him by the King of France, described him as “a man of honour and prudence, and of great authority with his master, and deservedly, upon account of the faithful service he had done him.”
Hastings seems to have been devoted to his family as well. Having been hustled off to execution without trial by the future Richard III on June 13, 1483, Hastings had no time to settle his affairs on that day, but he did leave behind a will, made in 1481. An abstract of this lengthy document can be found here (p. 368), and it shows a man who, whatever his appetites, was conventionally pious and concerned about the welfare of his loved ones. Hastings makes careful provision for his wife and for his children, and Katherine heads the list of his executors, where she is described as “my entirely beloved wife.” Hastings concludes with a request to Edward IV:
whose good grace, in the most humble wise, I beseche to be good and tender and gracyous Lord to my sowle, to be good and gracyous Soverayne Lord to my wyfe, my son, and myn eyre, and to all my children, whom I charge upon my blessyng to be true sogetts and servants to you my Soverayne Lord under God, and to your eyre, and to all your issue
As this passage and his years of unwavering allegiance to Edward IV suggest, Hastings’ defining quality was not debauchery, but loyalty.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
A while back, I read Brenda Honeyman's Good Duke Humphrey, which is more about the early days of the Wars of the Roses generally than Humphrey, who dies halfway through the novel. It takes a while to get into it and to get acquainted with the large cast of characters (for a short novel), but it's well worth reading. It was especially interesting to see Humphrey's two bastard children, including the oddly named Antigone, in a novel. Cecily Neville and Jacquetta Woodville also play prominent parts.
Off the topic of historical fiction, I read P. D. James The Private Patient, about the murder of an investigative journalist following her plastic surgery, a couple of days ago. As usual with James, I enjoyed the read, but it wasn't quite up to the standard of her usual work, I thought. The characters didn't seem as vivid as in previous books, and the victim's own personality and motivations seemed to get lost along the way. I also found it irritating that a very minor character was almost raped, solely, it appeared, to have Adam Dalgleish demonstrate his sensitivity and his new love, Emma, to demonstrate her perfection by their reactions. But even though I can't say this was among James's best, it was still pretty good.
Historical fiction and history books I'm looking forward to: Anne Easter Smith's The King's Grace, about Edward IV's illegitimate daughter, Grace; Alison Weir's biography of Katherine Swynford (finally coming here to the US); Emma Darwin's A Secret Alchemy (featuring Elizabeth and Anthony Woodville), which I'm hoping will be under my Christmas tree; Susan James's Catherine Parr: Henry VIII's Last Love; and a novel by Emma Campion (aka Candace Robb) about Edward III's mistress, Alice Perrers, called aptly, The King's Mistress. With so many books to look forward to in the months to come, what's not to be thankful for?
And it's even more fun (and thanks-inspiring, from my point of view, anyway) to look at this catalog! Check out page 41.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
buckingham beheaded by jenry v111
That Jenry! Probably meant to behead someone named Huckingham instead.
No doubt from an evil woman.
edward i lovers
Maybe they'll feature in the prequel to Braveheart.
=edward iv s possible illegitimate birth out of consideration
Cecily of York taking politeness a bit too far?
queen isabella overweight
So that explains why things went sour between her and Edward II.
what was edward ii credited for
Feeding overweight Isabella lots of snacks?
what mistake did the earl of oxford make
Sending his son to Cambridge?
loyalty and devotion of king arthur chunks
Ah, Guinevere might have been faithless. But at least the chunks stood by him.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Sir Francis Walsingham by Derek Wilson (NF)
Madame de Pompadour by Evelynne Lever (NF)
Devil's Brood by Sharon Penman (I had a ARC, but this was a spanking new hardback)
George III by Christopher Hibbert (NF)
Charles II: His Life and Times by Antonia Fraser (big coffee table size book)
Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams by Lynne Withey
Lincoln's Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (I didn't like it much, but I wanted a copy anyway)
The Life of Sir Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd (NF)
Too Great a Lady by Amanda Elyot
Branwell [Bronte] by Douglas Martin
Thomas Becket by Richard Winston (NF)
Henry V by Desmond Seward (NF)
The Private Life of Henry VIII by N. Brysson Morrison (NF)
Henry II by W. L. Warren (NF)
The Last Wife of Henry VII by Caroly Erickson (I did like parts of it)
A Rose for the Crown by Anne Easter Smith (I liked her second novel better, but I wanted it for my Wars of the Roses library)
Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
Bastard Prince: Henry VIII's Lost Son by Beverley A. Murphy
Plus five other books for my family. And believe it or not, I actually put some back without buying them.
I do have to say I earned my goodies, for unpacking those books is actually hard work; I was standing on my feet for most of the day, which is quite a change from my usual daily activity of plopping myself in front of the computer all day. And the boxes of books themselves can be quite heavy, even if one is only pushing them around instead of trying to lift them. I'm quite sore tonight, as a matter of fact. (I know; you don't feel the least bit sorry for me.)
The boxes of books have already been sorted by genre (loosely) when they arrive at the sale site, so on the first day, we unpackers pretty much go to whichever table we please--i.e., where our genre of choice resides. There's always a bit of a rush for General Fiction, which includes historical fiction. History and Biography are also popular, as is the Juvenile section, but my Juvenile days are past.
This year I arrived a little late, so I just got one long table done in the General Fiction section before the tables were completed. I should have moved right on to Biography, but instead I went to Romance, since there were rows and rows of romance tables and no one working at them. Now, I've no doubt there are some wonderful stories between all of those covers with barechested, hunky men and ravishingly beautiful women, but it sure makes for some bleak unpacking. That, and the only person nearby was blabbing away on her cell phone, so I couldn't even unpack and think my own thoughts in peace. Instead, I had to listen to this woman call her office and deal with some minor crisis in what was either (a) an attempt to remind everyone there how utterly indispensable she was or (b) an attempt to get called back to the office so she wouldn't have to unpack any more romance novels herself. Anyway, I must confess after about three boxloads of paperback romances and listening to Ms. Junior Executive, I bailed and took myself over to Biography, where I got much of the haul above.
Lots of volunteers bring their children to this event--some, I suppose, are home-schooled, while the teenagers must get some sort of service hours for volunteering for these type of events. Anyway, I was working across from a mother-daughter duo who, to put it mildly, did not seem to be getting into the spirit of things. The mother was doing most of the unpacking, while the teenage daughter was lounging around looking pretty and occasionally moving a trade paperback a fraction to the left or right. Anyway, as all of this bibliomania was making me slightly extroverted, I asked the duo if there was any particular topic they were looking for. They said, "No," with rather a puzzled air, as though the notion was an entirely strange one to them. Then, obviously purely out of politeness, they asked me if there was something I was looking for, and I naturally said that I was looking for anything to do with Great Britain before the nineteenth century. They looked disturbed by this, as if I'd expressed an interest in setting up a pornography table, and said that perhaps I could find what I was looking for over at English literature. I said, "No, um, I mean biographies having to do with that period." At which point this scintillating conversation came to an end. Geez. (I should have told them about my own novels and really scared them.)
As always, it was amusing to see that several copies of The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George had ended up in Biography, along with The Memoirs of Cleopatra. Bill Clinton's My Life was in abundance over in the Biography section (most of the books being deaccessioned library holdings), but none of President-elect Obama's books were in evidence. Since the library probably ordered scads of them after the election, they will probably turn up at next year's sale.
Once everything was unpacked (let me tell you, I can sling around those Thriller/Adventure hardbacks with the best of them), I indulged myself in the pleasant pastime of browsing the tables. Over in General Fiction, there was an abundance of Philippa Gregory (I had a choice between the original Other Boleyn Girl cover and the movie tie-in cover, and naturally chose the pre-movie cover) and Diana Gabaldon, especially her most recent novel, which the library had bought in abundance and was now selling the excess. The last sale, as I recall, was a good one for Bernard Cornwall fans, as there were a lot of his books there, but I didn't see many this time. There was quite a bit of Victoria Holt, but not much of Jean Plaidy. I was quite surprised to see an almost pristine copy of Devil's Brood by Sharon Penman. It had a dinged corner, so I suspect it was donated by a bookstore. I was toying with buying Margaret George's Helen of Troy, but from what I've read about it I'm not sure it would appeal to me. Maybe my resistance will be weaker tomorrow.
For I will be back tomorrow; the unpacking's over, but as books get bought, tables need to be consolidated and books moved around. Some more boxes of books might even have arrived overnight, who knows?
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Anne, who died in 1480, married twice. Anne’s first husband, Humphrey Stafford, became the first Duke of Buckingham. He was killed at Northampton in 1460 while guarding Henry VI’s tent. Her second husband was Walter Blount, Lord Mountjoy. Anne and Humphrey’s oldest son, another Humphrey, predeceased his father, dying of plague in 1458. Thus, Anne and Humphrey’s grandson, Henry Stafford, became the second Duke of Buckingham.
I’ll probably be posting more about Anne later, but in the meantime, here are some highlights from her will. An abstract of it can be found in Testamenta Vetusta, available through Google Books, but the following is based a transcription I had made.
Anne bequeathed her soul to “almighty God,” and, more prosaically, asked that her body be buried in the collegiate church at Pleshey, which Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, Humphrey’s ancestor, had founded. She asked that her body be carried there “settying all pompe and pride of the world apart.” Anne arranged for masses to be said for the soul of her “moost dere and best beloved husband Humfrey” and for their children, most of whom she had outlived. Strangely, Anne’s second husband, who predeceased her in 1474, is not mentioned in Anne’s will, though he referred to her in his own will as “my dear and well beloved Lady and wife.”
Having arranged for the welfare of her and her family’s souls, Anne remembered the poor prisoners of Newgate, Ludgate, the Marshalsea, and the King’s Bench in her will. She then turned to a series of bequests to named individuals.
Heading the list of bequests was a pair of gilt basins to “my sonne of Bukkyngham,” i.e., Anne’s grandson, the second Duke of Buckingham. Henry also received a bed of the salutation of Our Lady with the hangings of the chamber of antelopes; the antelope was a badge associated with the house of Stafford. Uniquely among Anne’s bequests, the one to Harry contains a stern provision that if he interrupted or upset her will, the bequests would be void. One wonders whether Harry, a twenty-five-year-old who was to survive Anne by only three years due to his ill-fated rebellion against Richard III, had done anything to cause his grandmother concern.
Anne’s sons had all predeceased her. Her most personal bequests were to her surviving daughter, Joan, whose marriage to William, Viscount Beaumont, a Lancastrian diehard associated with the Earl of Oxford, had been annulled. Joan’s second marriage was to another William, William Knyvet, who eventually joined Buckingham’s rebellion in 1483. Joan received a pair of silver-covered, partly gilt basins that Duchess Anne used to wash in most commonly; a pair of silver pots; a silver-covered, partly gilt cup that the duchess used most commonly to drink out of; a bed of cloth of red aras; a counterpoint of scarlet; two pairs of the duchess’s best sheets; a pair of her best fustians; one of her best featherbeds; carpets; napkins; towels; and some revenues from the manor of Fakenham Aspes in Suffolk. Joan had a son, Edward Knyvet, who received a monetary bequest.
Another grandson, Edward Stafford, the son of Anne’s deceased son John, Earl of Wiltshire, received a bed of red velvet with a counterpoint of scarlet. Edward, called “my sonne of Wiltshire” by his grandmother, was a boy of eleven in 1480.
The most famous bequests of Anne’s are to the widow of her deceased son Henry Stafford: Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond. Margaret received a book in English, Legenda Sanctorum; a book in French called Lucun; another French book of the epistles and the Gospels; and a primer (a Book of Hours) with clasps of silver and gilt covered with purple velvet.
Anne’s “daughter Mountjoy” received silver pots, a basin and a ewer of silver, a standing cup covered with gilt, a bed, sheets, a pair of fustians, napkins and towels, and a spice plate. This seems to be another grandchild: the daughter of the duchess’s daughter deceased daughter Anne and her second husband, Thomas Cobham. Anne Cobham married Edward Blount while the two were still children; Edward died at age eight or nine.
Finally, Anne left monetary bequests to various servants and to a number of gentlemen and gentlewomen, including several women who received money for their marriages.
Anne’s nominated executors include a couple of well-known names: John Morton, Bishop of Ely (who was later linked with her grandson Henry Stafford in plotting to overthrow Richard III) and William, Lord Hastings. Anne also nominated Thomas Garth, William Drayton, John Cornyssh, Richard Harpur, and Ralph Tykhill, who ultimately served as her executors.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?
Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?
If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?
I've always been a book buyer; even as a child I owned a lot of books. If I like a book, I want to own my own copy of it, to re-read anytime I please. As I'm getting older and busier, I tend to re-read fiction less than I used to, but still I like the feeling of knowing that if I want to look up a favorite passage, the book I want is just a few steps away.
Since I started writing historical fiction, it's become important that I have a good collection of nonfiction for research purposes. Though the university library I frequent is excellent, it's a 45-minute drive away, and there's always the risk that some professor might have the book I want checked out and hang on to it for months. So unless the cost is prohibitive, I like to own my research books as well. (And it saves gas!)
Another reason I'm a book buyer is that my tastes are somewhat arcane. I tend to focus more on certain eras and personages than on particular authors, and strangely enough, my local library has the idea that there's no reason for it to have every novel ever written, say, on Edward II. So to find what I'm looking for, I either have to go through inter-library loan or buy it, and if a book I'm interested in can be got for a few dollars, I'd as soon buy it and take a chance on hating it rather than go through the time-consuming process of inter-library loan.
Finally, there's just nothing that matches the sheer sex appeal of a shelf covered in luscious, lovely books. Unless, say, it's Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy standing next to a shelf covered in luscious, lovely books. But you still have to have the books.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Speaking of children, in 1485, one young boy must have been very happy to see Henry VII be crowned king. At age five, Edward Stafford lost his father, his title, and his lands when Henry Stafford, second Duke of Buckingham, was executed at Salisbury on November 2, 1483, for rebelling against Richard III. Edward and his brother and two sisters, along with their mother, were reduced to living on a pension from the king of 200 marks per year, with not an acre of land to call their own.
All this changed, of course, when Richard III was defeated at Bosworth. Seven-year-old Edward was restored to his dukedom and to his Stafford inheritance, although of course because he was a minor, he became a ward of the crown. He also acquired a stepfather, Jasper Tudor, Henry VII's uncle, and a guardian, Margaret Beaufort, the king's mother. To cap it all off, before the king's coronation, he was made a Knight of the Bath. Edward's world had turned on its axis once more.
And Edward also got quite a spectacular wardrobe.
Thanks to the grandeur of Google Books, a book called English Coronation Records by the splendidly named Leopold G. Wickham Legg is online, and it gives a list of items purchased by Henry VII in anticipation of the coronation. No description of the actual coronation survives, but the book also contains a copy of the "Little Device" for Henry VII's coronation, which gives an idea of how the ceremony was to proceed. (Don't ask me why it's called a "little device." To my knowledge, there's no "Big Device" out there.) The Little Device, which seems to have been cribbed off a similar document for Richard III's coronation ceremony, doesn't mention Edward as a participant in the crowning. Probably he was considered too young to have a position of responsibility in the affair, though it seems likely that he was included in the various processions, perhaps being carried around on a squire's shoulder as his parents had been in 1464, when they at ages seven and nine attended Elizabeth Woodville's coronation. Edward and his younger brother were provided with gear for their horses (and a horse in the duke's case), probably for the procession from the Tower to Westminster on the eve of the coronation
Whatever Edward did in the ceremony, he was handsomely outfitted for it. Legg's book includes a list of the items purchased for the duke and his brother, Henry, who was probably around six at the time:
Item payde for a horse for my lorde: xxjs
Item for a Sadelle for my lorde: xs
Item for a Swerde for hym: iiijs
Item a paire hosen called Chasembles: xijs
Item for making of ij gownez of blue veluet for my lorde and his
Item for making of a gowne and a hode lyke ermytes wede for my
Item for making of a Surcote and a mantel 1 of sarsinete: xxd"
Item for making a blewe gowne and a hoode for my lorde: xvjcf
Item a paire of Spurres: price xS iiijct
Item for furring of ij gownes of blue veluet furred w' greye: iiijs
Item for ij furres of greye for the saide gownes at xviijs xxxvjs
Item for furring of a blue gowne and a hoode furred w' pured: xvjd"
Item for furring of a mantelle and a surcot of rede sarsinet: xijd"
Item a tymbre of pured for the said Garments price: ijs
Item a federbedd and a bolster: xs
Item a Pillowe of downe price: ijs
Item a celour and a testour: price iiijs
Item a paire blankettes: price vjs viijd"
Item a par of Shetes: price vjs
Item a Mantelle: price vs
Item vij yerdes rede worstedd: price the yerde xviijd xS vjd
Summa vij ti ijs xd
Other purchases for the duke include Flemish cloth and buttons. His saddle and harness and those of his younger brother were covered in crimson velvet.
"Sarsinet" is defined by Anne Sutton and Peter Hammond in The Coronation of Richard III as "a very fine and soft silk." A "tymbre of pured" appears to refer to fine furs. A tester was a bed canopy; a celour a fabric headboard.
Much of these expenses evidently pertain to Edward's being made a Knight of the Bath, such as the bedding and the "gowne and a hode lyke ermytes wede" (hermit's weeds), which a prospective knight was to change into after his ceremonial bath before beginning a vigil in the chapel. (The knight was also to be shaved, which in seven-year-old Edward's case must have been accomplished quite quickly.)
This was the start of what to be a grand sartorial career for the third Duke of Buckingham, whose life ended on the scaffold in 1521 after he made the exceedingly unwise mistake of irritating Henry VIII. In 1500, the 22-year-old duke accompanied Henry VII to Calais in a "large and rich" gown of cloth of gold, with the trapper of his courser covered in "littel prety belles" of silver and gilt. The following year, he cut a fine figure at the wedding of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon in a gown that was valued at 1,500 pounds. In 1513, in the company of Henry VIII, he managed purple satin, covered with antelopes and swans of fine gold bullion and "full of Spangles, and little Belles of golde."
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
As Election Day has dawned, I will be either in a very good mood this time tomorrow or a very bad one. If Obama wins, Wednesday might be a good time to post your comments telling me that Isabella was the nicest queen in the history of the English nation and that Richard III was a terribly misunderstood guy who would have been a great king if it weren't for Those Nasty Woodvilles. I'll just sit back and smile.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
Unfortunately, just as some of Richard’s defenders have chosen to purify his name by blackening those of his enemies, notably the Woodvilles and William Hastings, others have chosen to minimize his acts by dismissing the lives of his nephews as being of little or no importance. Those Ricardians who tear up at the thought of little Richard of Gloucester and little Anne Neville gamboling together as children in Yorkshire, or at the thought of the untimely death of Richard’s own young son, can be remarkably cold-blooded when it comes to the sons of Edward IV.
One can browse through the Internet and find a certain breed of Ricardian expressing open contempt and disdain for these boys, aged twelve and ten at the time of their last sighting. Others, however, demean the brothers in more subtle ways. One common means is to imply that because of his upbringing at Ludlow amongst his Woodville kin, Edward V was not a true Plantagenet, but a Woodville, and therefore apparently not worthy of his uncle Richard’s regard, or ours. As Paul Murray Kendall writes, in his chapter where he imagines Richard’s thoughts in deciding to take the throne, “When Richard tried to find a nephew, he met only a Woodville. The boy’s rearing had drained out of him the blood of his father.” Kendall’s statements have been most recently echoed by Annette Carson, who writes blithely, “Edward had been brought up as a Woodville, surrounded by Woodville handlers.” (The term “handlers” in itself neatly objectifies the boy, making him sound like a prize show dog or a package.) Historical novels that are sympathetic to Richard III generally take some variation on this tack, portraying the boys, or at least Edward, as having been so thoroughly brainwashed by their Woodville relations that they are unable to establish any rapport with their worthy uncle, or with the reader.
Another group is the pragmatic Ricardians, who point out that having been exposed as bastards, the boys therefore lost all importance, to which they were never entitled to in the first place, and were naturally destined to sink into obscurity. Those who have some sympathy for their plight are portrayed as bleeding hearts with a poor knowledge of the realities of fifteenth-century England. But assuming that the boys were in fact bastards, which is by no means proven, one is left with the fact that bastardy, at least royal bastardy, did not necessarily equate to low status or obscurity. Richard III made a countess of his bastard daughter Katherine, marrying her to the Earl of Huntingdon, and he created his bastard son, John, Captain of Calais, with more honors likely to have come had Richard reigned past 1485. If researcher Barrie Williams is correct, the supposed bastardy of Edward IV’s offspring by Elizabeth Woodville didn’t stop Richard III from trying to marry Elizabeth of York to Manuel, Duke of Beja, who eventually became King of Portugal. Richard might have even considered marrying Elizabeth himself; certainly, he had to deny such an intention publicly. In short, the boys didn’t have to be cast out into outer darkness once they were proclaimed to be bastards: Richard pushed them there.
Distasteful as it might be to some of Richard III’s defenders, the boys’ contemporaries do not seem to have regarded them as inconveniences to be casually tossed aside. Dominic Mancini wrote of young Edward:
He had such dignity in his whole person, and in his face such charm, that however much they might gaze he never wearied the eyes of beholders. I have seen many men burst forth into tears and lamentations when mention was made of him after his removal from men’s sight; and already there was a suspicion that he had been done away with.
Annette Carson, who is quite ready to give credence to Mancini when it suits her purpose, less so when it does not, pours scorn on this account. Accusing Mancini of “over-egg[ing] his pudding,” she writes, “Such outbursts are thoroughly unlikely on the part of sober medieval English townsfolk, of whom no more than a handful outside of Court circles could even have clapped eyes on the boy. Any tearful men observed by Mancini were perhaps not entirely sober.” It’s notable that while Carson is inclined to be flippant about Edward V (one explanation that she gives for Edward’s reported statement to John Argentine that he believed he was facing death is that he was “indulging in the dramatics of a typical twelve-year-old”), no such tendency occurs when she speaks of the fates of Richard III’s short-lived son or of the young Earl of Warwick, imprisoned and eventually executed by Henry VII.
Carson’s sallies at the expense of Edward V aside, at least four men showed their regard for Edward and his brother in the most convincing manner possible: they risked—and lost—their lives for them. Robert Russe, a sergeant of London, William Davy, pardoner of Hounslow, John Smith, a groom of Edward IV’s stirrup, and Stephen Ireland, wardrober of the Tower, “with many others” entered into a plot to set fires throughout London, with the intent of using the attendant distraction to free the princes from the Tower. According to the antiquary John Stow, the four were beheaded. The existence of such a plot (which was followed by others that would eventually grow into the uprising of October 1483 known as Buckingham’s Rebellion) is confirmed by a contemporary account of Thomas Basin, a Frenchman who reported, in the words of historian Michael Hicks, “a plot by fifty Londoners on the princes’ behalf which failed to attract support and led to the execution of four of them.” As both Hicks and Rosemary Horrox point out, this plot may be the unnamed “enterprise” to which Richard III alluded in a letter to his chancellor on July 29, 1483.
What did these four men have to gain from their plot? Royal favor, of course, if they succeeded in freeing the brothers and restoring Edward V to the throne, but the rewards these men could have hoped to receive seem far outweighed by the risks they ran: imprisonment at best, execution at worst. Had these men been motivated by selfish concerns, it would have been much easier, surely, and much less risky, simply to concentrate their energies on currying favor with Richard III and his cronies. Instead, they risked all, and lost all, for the cause of two young boys. They did not regard them as the mere collateral damage of Richard III’s ascent to the throne or as creatures of no worth. Neither should we.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Second, here's what some historical figures would be named if you put their names in the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator:
Hugh le Despenser the younger: Recoil Mush Palin
Eleanor de Clare: Steam Fangs Palin (poor Eleanor!)
Queen Isabella: Knife Pile Palin (an apt one!)
Edward II: Clop Clutch Palin
Edward IV: Rock Crane Palin (Ooh!)
Elizabeth Woodville: Rankle Hiway Palin
Jane Shore: Bash Budweiser Palin
Richard III: Cue Manhunt Palin
Henry Tudor: Cuppa Invader Palin (Ricardians will like this one!)
Anne Boleyn: Plop Hero Palin
Henry VIII: Timber Challenger Palin
Elizabeth I: Clamp Noodle Palin (I dunno)
Marie Antoinette: Log Justice Palin (that has a nice revolutionary ring to it)
And my Palin name?
Bigger Channel Palin
Saturday, October 25, 2008
How Facts Made Fantasy into Fiction
By Nan Hawthorne, author of An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England
The very first words of what would become my novel, An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England www.shield-wall.com, were penned by me in 1964. My new friend Laura and I had met at a weeklong camp and started play-acting a medieval fantasy about a king named Lawrence and a queen named Sunshine. The first time pencil hit paper I was writing as the king to the queen from whom he was separated -- I can't remember why except that I lived in Juneau and Laura lived in Ketchikan. Even when the letters turned into narrative vignettes we maintained our love for the sort of medieval fantasy that adolescent girls favor. There was no consideration of the where and when, not really. Lawrence and the renamed Josephine reigned over Generic Medieval Kingdom in some sort of Generic Medieval Period.
But... I wanted more. I am enough of an ISTJ to want to know the when and where, and to have a sneaking desire to make it somewhere and sometime possible.
So, pre-web as it was, I did a little 14-uear old research and came up with the idea that "Dark Ages" meant no one knows a thing about the period, and I specifically chose the decades before the one event I knew about.. the crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD. I chose Lincolnshire to be where our kingdom lay -- since nothing was known about any of it, who would say me nay? -- merely because The Wash made it easy to locate on a map. In my romantic adolescent way I chose the name "Christenlande" for the kingdom. The year was 764 AD and everyone was living happily ever after in stone castles and the place was lousy with knights and tournaments and minstrels.
And that's where things stood when I started writing the stories again, or rather rewriting them for Ghostletters www.ghostletters.net . It was only when I had decided to turn my attention to a serious rewriting of "The Story" as we called it and turning it into a novel that I started to look into what was really known of the "Dark Ages". The opening scene of the novel had young Prince Lawrence taking three steps at a time as he ascended to his father's castle chamber. I was about to relearn my medieval fantasy. By the time I was on the second draft, facts had come along to help me create fiction that was better and to create a love in me for what they revealed.
Medieval fantasies are delightful. Fairy tales tend to be set at least in costuming in the Middle Ages. But somewhere out there was something many historical novelists who focus on the era discover, that reality, though often brutal, is even more appealing that fantasy. Had I persisted in my vaguely 12th century setting I would have been forced into changing who the characters were, but by leaving it late 8th century, I had to relearn history. As it turns out, that was a pleasure beyond reckoning. I lost a fantasy but I gain Anglo Saxon England.
Here is what the basic difference is. Instead of castles, the Anglo Saxons had vertical timber walled forts, meadhalls, and daub and wattle. Instead of feudalism they had tribalism. The very word "king" comes from "cyning", an Old English word that refers to kin, signifying that the only requirement to be king was to be within the kin of the ruling family. Instead of the eldest son following in the late king's place, a group of councilors called the Witan chose the most worthy man from the kin. Even better than that, it could happen, and did on several occasions, that the worthy kin was a woman, like Aethelflaed, the Lady of the Mercians. I learned that women had more rights in the period than they would again until the late 19th century. I learned that instead of knights one found warriors, housecarls, in shield-wall, and they fought on foot in the open, not encased in suits of armor on huge destriers. Towns were a new fangled concept. The distance between king and peasant had far fewer and less stringent layers.
In short, it was an era I could get my teeth into. The "Dark Ages" were filled with light in spite of the popular belief. There were people like Alfred the Great who wrote everything down, and I mean everything. There were monks galore who did the same. The archaeological evidence fills in much of what monks might not write about. There might not be tumbled down stone castles but there were cylindrical sections of earth where the material analyzed proved to be a foundation pole. As romantic and fun as the fantasy Middle Ages were, the reality of life in a highly developed agrarian society that gave us our jury system among other legal precedents was far more engaging.
The result of this journey of discovery is that I started out with a sweet little medieval knights and ladies fantasy but ended with five hundred years of a far more egalitarian and enlightened history than I knew existed. I ended up with a culture of which I cannot get enough. All my future novels will be set in Anglo Saxon England -- that is, unless I write a fictional biography of my prostitute grandmother's life in the Yukon.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Some worrywarts are concerned that if the McCain-Palin ticket wins the 2008 presidential election, we Americans will have a woman with quite limited qualifications sitting a heartbeat away from the presidency, occupied by a 72-year-old whose personality makes him a textbook candidate for a massive heart attack. But am I going to worry? Not me! I'm just going to sit back and pretend that I'm in medieval England. Because, as you will see, Palin would make a wonderful medieval queen.
- Inability to accurately describe vice-president's role shows grasp of need to expand role of queen when circumstances demand it
- Taking daughters uninvited to events at taxpayer expense, then claiming that they are there on official business, shows determination to groom them for hereditary office
- Hostility toward American constitutional principles (freedom of speech, freedom of the press, separation of church and state) augurs well for strength in grasping monarchical principles
- Proven ability to charm older men will come in handy for making alliances
- Beehive hairstyle is natural for crown
- Charging Alaskan taxpayers for living in own home demonstrates sound understanding of need to impose taxes to support regal lifestyle
- Appointment of high school friend as Secretary of Agriculture based on friend's childhood love of cows augurs well for distribution of patronage to a few favorites
- Firing of town and state employees on dubious grounds shows proper attitude toward underlings
- Refusal to answer questions from press, public indicates realization that access to sovereign must be limited in order to maintain royal dignity
- $150,000 wardrobe purchased for two-month campaign season shows understanding of need to dress well in order to impress lowly peasants
Monday, October 20, 2008
Crispin Guest—A Character Study
VEIL OF LIES; A MEDIEVAL NOIR, is the first in a series. It is my own subgenre of medieval mystery that I term "medieval noir." It's a hard-boiled detective set in the middle ages. Because of the darker themes, this called for an exceptional detective, one who would be compelling in book after book.
Enter Crispin Guest.
Now let's back up a bit. When an author devises a detective for a series, they have to keep certain things in mind: will he be equipped to solve the crimes that come his way? In an amateur sleuth story, it has to be believable when the detective comes upon murder after murder. In something like a private eye story it is a given that the detective will know what to do and how to proceed when encountering the ultimate crime.
But set the story in the distant past where there is little in the way of forensic science to help you, a vastly under-funded and under-trained "police force", coupled with the fear and superstition of a particular point in time, and you have special difficulties in allowing your detective to be able to solve a crime.
I needed a detective who was able to read and write. Not so easy in the middle ages when even some of the nobility could do neither. This is the reason that many medieval mystery protagonists are monks and nuns. The clerical class, for the most part, could read and had a bit of time on their hands.
But I also wanted someone who could move between the classes, someone who was well aware and even knew by name some of those in the upper echelons of society. He needed to be a man familiar with weapons so that he could fight his way out of any difficulty. He had also to be familiar with death so he could recognize an accidental death from a deliberate one, and a fresh corpse from an old one. This meant he had to be a man-at-arms, someone who had seen many battles and their aftermath. But it also meant that he could no longer be a part of the society to which he had been born. Forced to live among people that he never considered his equal, he would be imbued with ready-made angst and animosity. Throw in a sheriff who gives him grief at his change in station and we have the makings of a darker, character-driven morality play.
Crispin Guest was a man who had everything: a title, wealth, status at court. He was a possible candidate for Edward of Woodstock's privy council when he became king. As the protégé under John of Gaunt the duke of Lancaster (Edward's brother), Crispin had fought in battles and even led his own men. He had jousted in tournaments, and was well respected among the elite.
But when Edward of Woodstock (whom we know as the Black Prince) suddenly died and his father the king died soon thereafter, that left the throne in the hands of Edward's son, Richard II. Crispin well knew that Richard's uncle, John of Gaunt, was the better man and should be king. And when there were murmurings to place Lancaster on the throne instead of his ten-year-old nephew, Crispin threw in with that lot, well knowing his choice was dangerous but also knowing in his heart that this was the right choice for England.
But what he had not known, was that the plot was little more than a trap set to discover any conspirators to usurp the rightful heir. Caught in the web, Crispin was arrested. The conspirators that could be found were executed most brutally, but Crispin's champion was John of Gaunt himself, who pleaded with the ten-year-old King Richard to spare his life. Richard did so, on the condition that Crispin lose all. Banished from court, stripped of his lands, wealth, and status, he was allowed to stay in London. But how to stay alive?
Men in similar straits took to highway robbery. But not Crispin. His honor would not allow it and he took many menial jobs before he stumbled upon the one that satisfied his pride if not his purse. He gained a reputation for finding lost objects—for tracking them down—hence, his new title as the Tracker...for sixpence a day, plus expenses.
Though Crispin is a character with a chip on his shoulder, he has a strong sense of honor coupled with great wit. He feels a certain sense of obligation toward the weakest in society, fulfilling his chivalric code even if he can no longer be a knight. He's a lover and a fighter. And, of course, endlessly curious.
So now I have a detective equipped and ever willing to use his wits to outsmart the murderer, getting into scrapes and causing a few bruises himself. Then I build my mysteries within the framework of the politics, people, characters, and events of the late 14th century, taking it down a notch into darker territory, delving into the grit of London.
There is no end to the ideas.
Visit Jeri on her website to read an excerpt from Veil of Lies at www.JeriWesterson.com.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Historical Fiction Online, by the by, is co-administered by Marg over at Reading Adventures and by yours truly. It's a fun site, and a very congenial one.
Now for the tidbit: a couple of days ago, I started reading The Passionate Queen by Barnaby Ross, a historical novel about Margaret of Anjou. Being a curious lass, I Googled to see what I could find out about Ross and discovered that it was a pseudonym for Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky, cousins who created the well-known Ellery Queen detective series. But the plot thickens: Nathan and Lepofsky also allowed a third writer, Don Tracy, to publish historical fiction as "Barnaby Ross," and it is he who wrote The Passionate Queen. Don Tracy (1905-1976), whose other historical novels can be seen at one of the links above, was a prolific writer of pulp crime fiction who also wrote under the name of Roger Fuller. He seems to have had very broad interests, writing crime fiction and historical fiction from a variety of periods and touching on subjects such as racism and alcoholism.
The Passionate Queen (1966) is quite well written, though I was somewhat taken aback when a few pages in, the narrator, a knight who serves Margaret of Anjou, relates how the seven-year-old Margaret instructs the 10-year-narrator to seduce her 15-year-old sister so that Margaret can steal one of her dresses. Our precocious hero duly performs his task and loses his virginity, a task that he informs us was made easy and pleasant by the sister's "lubricity." I was pleased to find that Margaret did not demonstrate similar lubricity, but has her son dutifully fathered by Henry VI.
In parting, here's the cover for the Pocket Books edition of The Passionate Queen (50 cents), on which a previous owner has scribbled "Henry IV Lancaster." With that hennin and that low-cut neckline, Margaret looks as if she could easily go airborne. I also like the last page of the book, which on one side contains an ad for Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (75 cents) and on the other for a series of Playboy books, including the perennial More Playboy's Party Jokes (also 75 cents), accompanied by cartoons of lubricious young women wearing nothing but black stockings. Something was lost when the publishing world decided to start issuing historical novels in decorous trade paperbacks, wasn't it?
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Jasper starts his will, dated December 15, 1495, and given at his manor of Thornbury, by bequeathing his "soul to almighty God to our blessed lady his mother the Virgin Mary and to all saints." Most of the rest is concerned with monetary bequests to religious houses and provisions for the welfare of his own soul, those of his parents, and that of his brother Edmund. (The transcriber supplied me both transcriptions in the original spelling and in modern English. In the modern English version, Jasper asks that land be amortised "for the finding of 4 priests to sin perpetually." I was disappointed to find out that this was a typo by the transcriber and that the priests were to sing perpetually. The former request sounds like a lot more fun, and lends itself to considerable creativity.)
A number of religious houses received rich garments from Jasper. His chosen burial place, Keynsham Abbey, received his best gown of cloth of gold, which was to be made into vestments "to the honour of God and his blessed mother." The monastery of St. Kenelme of Winchcombe received a gown of crimson velvet for a cope. The church of Thornbury got a black velvet gown for the same purpose. A second gown of cloth of gold was given to the Grey Friars of Haverford, where Owen Tudor was buried, for a cope or vestments. Another black velvet gown went to the church of Pembroke for a cope. Jasper left the Blessed Trinity of Crichurch (the Priory of Holy Trinity in London) a jacket of cloth of gold, which was to be used to make two jackets. (Did Jasper's jacket contain a lot of excess fabric, or had Jasper grown a trifle plump following his return from his long exile?)
Jasper left his household servants a year's wages and asked that his household be kept from the day of his death until the following Easter. The land that Jasper held in fee simple was to be retained for 20 years for the payment of his debts and the satisfaction of his will, after which it was to go to Jasper's nephew, King Henry VII, "and to his heirs kings of England forever." Jasper also asked that Henry see the will executed "for my old since devotion to his Grace." He appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, Giles, Lord Dawbeny, Dr. Owen Poole, Richard Newton, John Browne, and Morgan Kydwelly as his executors. When the will was probated on July 2, 1496, Dawbeny and Kydwelly were appointed the executors.
The reason I requested a transcript of the will was to determine whether the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography was correct in saying that Jasper failed to mention his wife, Katherine, in his will. (Katherine, for those of you don't follow this blog breathlessly, was the former Katherine Woodville, sister to Queen Elizabeth Woodville and widow of the executed Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. She married Jasper after the Battle of Bosworth.) To my delight, Katherine, who had wealth of her own thanks to her jointure from Buckingham, did indeed get a mention in Jasper's will, albeit of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it variety. Jasper placed the residue of his goods in the hands of his executors and asked that "my Lady my wife and all other persons have such dues as shall be thought to them appertaining by right law and conscience."
It's interesting, though, to note that Katherine was not made one of husband's executors. Perhaps she was a bit of a ditz regarding business affairs, for Carol Rawcliffe, noting her son Edward's meticulous record-keeping, described her as "rather negligent over the care and custody of her muniments." In any event, Jasper was probably wise in omitting his widow from the list of executors, for just two months after Jasper's death, Katherine showed that she had other things on her mind: she married, without royal license, Richard Wingfield, a young man probably about twelve years Katherine's junior.