Thursday, January 31, 2008

Eva's Book Meme, and a Blogger Housekeeping Note

Marg tagged me for Eva's Book Meme*:

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

Like Marg, I think I'd have to answer Dorothy Dunnett's books. I hear mostly good things about them, and I think I even have a copy of King Hereafter in my garage, but I just can't bite. I think it's that for all the good I hear about her books, they just seem like too much work. And I do enough of that at the day job!

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

Being that this is a historical fiction blog, I'll pick Richard III, Edward IV, and Edward II and take them clubbing. (Though somehow I can't picture Richard III enjoying it much.) Hopefully, after a long evening of drinking, I'd hear (a) what really happened to the Princes, (b) whether there was a precontract, and (c) what really did happen in Berkeley Castle.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can't die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality Longevity-Industry Dec-07 is great for awhile, eventually you realise it's past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

I'm having a difficult time with this one, because although I can think of a lot of books I dislike, it's usually not because they're boring but because of something else--it's because they're poorly written, or pretentious, or have stereotypical characters. Things like that. That being said, I did have a hard time wading through Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (this was back when I was younger and would finish any book I started, no matter how dreary). Almost everyone in it struck me as an upper-class twit (except for the lower-class characters), and I didn't give a rap about Clarissa's former love or about her angsty family. So I'll pick that. (Come to think of it, Woolf did manage to make London seem like a pretty boring place. And that's quite a feat now that I think of it.)

Come on, we've all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you've read, when in fact you've been nowhere near it?

I really can't think of one. The closest I can come to recalling is Howards End by E.M. Forster, which we were given the option to read in one of my English classes years ago. I opted out, and sat through the class discussion trying to look as if I knew what the professor was talking about.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to 'reread' it that you haven't? Which book?

I can't ever remember this happening. I'm more likely to read a book and forget I read it.

You've been appointed Book Advisor to a VIP (who's not a big reader). What's the first book you'd recommend and why? (if you feel like you'd have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)

Depends on the VIP. I'd probably pick a nationally known talk show host and advise them to read one of my novels in the hopes of getting a mention!

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Latin, so I can wade through medieval documents to my heart's content!

A mischievous fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

Charles Dickens's Bleak House.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What's one bookish thing you 'discovered' from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

I've discovered all sorts of great people through blogging--just look at the sidebar for just a few of them!

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she's granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

I don't really care what the books look like, as long as they're in good condition with easy to read type. (I tried to read a mass-market paperback of Antonia Fraser's Mary, Queen of Scots a while back and couldn't do it--the typeface was so dense and the book so thick it was impossible to crack it open to read that easily. It was an almost painful process.) The main thing I want is just room to put them in! So a big house with lots of extra rooms would be my dream library--with, of course, some comfy chairs to read in.

One of the sexier things I've seen recently are the movable bookshelves in the Duke University library. You press a button and they can move together to give you more room to get to an adjoining bookshelf, or you can press another button and they move apart so that you can go into the stacks. If Oprah ever discovers me, that's what I'll be spending the sales proceeds on.

*And, for extra credit, if you leave a comment letting Eva know you've done the meme with a link to the post, she will give you some link love via a big list of who's participated. Additionally, if you link back to her original post, she will enter you in a drawing to win The House at Riverton. If you're an American, this is especially exciting since it isn't going to published until April. ;) To be in the drawing, you must have posted the meme (and commented) by February 5th, which is when she is holding the drawing.

OK, now to interrupt for a housekeeping note:

I've been pretty erratic about posting to my Unromantic Richard III and Plenty About Plaidy blogs, so I'm not going to be keeping them up anymore--all my posts will go here. The archives will still be available, though.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Richard Woodville, First Earl Rivers

As I come along with my novel in progress, I'm going to be adding short biographies of members of the Woodville family to my website. Here's the starting entry:

Richard Woodville’s father, also Richard, had been chamberlain to John, Duke of Bedford, a younger son of Henry IV. The younger Richard was knighted in 1426. Like his father, he served the Duke of Bedford, who in 1433 married the seventeen-year-old Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Bedford died two years later. Sometime in 1436 or 1437, Richard Woodville, a mere knight, shocked the court by marrying the widowed Duchess of Bedford.

Henry VI fined the couple ₤1,000 for the match, but they were soon forgiven. Richard served Henry VI militarily and administratively and became a knight banneret in 1442, Baron Rivers in 1448, and a Knight of the Garter in 1450. Like his eldest son, Anthony, he was an accomplished jouster, taking part in a 1440 tournament at Smithfield where he fought Pedro de Vasquez, a Spanish knight.

When hostilities broke out between the houses of Lancaster and York, Richard sided with the Lancastrians. He and Anthony were taken captive at Sandwich in 1460; at that time, the two Woodvilles underwent the humiliating experience of being “rated” for their low birth by the Earl of Salisbury, the Earl of Warwick, and the Earl of March—the latter being the man who would marry his daughter four years later. Sometime after this dressing down, Richard and Anthony were released. They returned to fight at the Battle of Towton in March 1461, where the Lancastrians were soundly defeated. With the Lancastrian cause appearing hopeless, Richard and his son made their peace with the new king, Edward IV. He was pardoned in June 1461. From thereon to his murder nine years later, Richard served Edward IV loyally. By 1463, he had become a member of the king’s council.

Richard might have continued as a minor courtier had it not been for the extraordinary event of May 1464—the secret marriage of his widowed daughter, Elizabeth, to Edward IV. Whether Richard had any role in bringing the couple together is unknown; later sources credit only his wife, Jacquetta, with promoting the match, and Richard III later claimed that Jacquetta and Elizabeth had procured it by witchcraft.

In September 1464, Edward announced the marriage to his council, and in May 1465, Elizabeth was crowned. Richard soon reaped the rewards of being father-in-law to the king. He was made treasurer of England in March 1466 and raised to an earldom in May of that year. In 1467, he became constable of England. His income from his offices was ₤1,586

Though Richard seems to have filled his positions competently and the favor shown to him was not grossly disproportionate, his success and the gains made by other Woodville family members aroused the resentment of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as “The Kingmaker” for his role in bringing Edward IV to the throne. Warwick’s formerly all-encompassing influence with the king was waning just as the Woodvilles’ was growing. The earl had other grievances besides the Woodvilles—Edward’s foreign policy and his refusal to allow Warwick’s daughters to marry Edward’s younger brothers among them—but they and other men who had risen high in the king’s service as royal favorites were easy targets. As Warwick began to plot with the king’s maladroit younger brother, George, the Duke of Clarence, discontent in the North over taxes and the dispossession of Henry Percy from his family’s earldom created a volatile situation of which Warwick and Clarence took full advantage. In Calais on July 12, 1469, they issued a proclamation complaining of “the deceitful, covetous rule and guiding of certain seditious persons,” naming Richard Woodville, his wife, his sons Anthony and John and their brothers, and several other men.

Warwick returned to England and began to raise men. Edward IV, evidently underestimating the seriousness of the situation, had left William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, and Humphrey Stafford, the Earl of Devon—two of the men named in Warwick and Clarence’s manifesto—to deal with the rebel army. Herbert’s army met Warwick’s army at Edgecote on July 26, 1469. Outnumbered, Herbert’s Welsh troops were defeated and Herbert captured and beheaded by Warwick’s men. Humphrey Stafford was captured and executed by a mob some weeks later.

Richard Woodville, in the meantime, had gone on pilgrimage with Edward early in June. By July, Edward IV, fearing all too correctly that his in-laws might be a rebel target, sent them away for their safety. Richard and his son John, however, were captured by Warwick’s men. On August 12, 1469, they were beheaded near Coventry without trial. It was an act that has rightly been described as one of private revenge on Warwick’s part rather than one justified by charges of treason. Richard’s burial site is unknown. Interestingly, Walter Blount, who had given up the treasury to Woodville in exchange for a barony, an annuity, and 1,000 marks, seems to have borne no grudge against his replacement; he asked in his will several years later that masses be said for the souls of Richard and John.

Though Richard Woodville, along with other members of his family, has been described as greedy and grasping, the hard evidence for this is somewhat lacking. Richard does appear in a bad light if one believes the story that he and Jacquetta schemed to ruin Sir Thomas Cook based on charges of treason simply because he refused to sell them a tapestry Jacquetta coveted. Recent scholarship, however, has cast doubts on aspects of this story, which I’ll be posting on later.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Huh?

From Booking Through Thursday:

What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”

Great question!

I'm rather fond of the novels of James Wilcox, whose books get into bookstores but never get the front-of-store billing that some others do. Some are set in a small town in Louisiana; others are set in New York City. The Louisiana ones are better, in my opinion. They're comic with a hint of tragedy. My favorite is probably Miss Undine's Living Room.

Probably my favorite obscure book is Steven Millhauser's Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright. The novel, which takes the form of a biography written by a 11-year-old about his recently deceased friend of the same age, is often hilarious, yet also charming and touching. It also splendidly evokes the atmosphere of 1950's America, in and outside the classroom.

Historical-fiction-wise, I've mentioned it before on this blog, I think, but some of my favorite obscure novels are now out-of-print novels about the reign of Edward II, namely, The King's Minions and The Queen and Mortimer by Brenda Honeyman, The Lion and the Leopard by Mary Ellen Johnston, and The Lord of Misrule and King's Wake by Eve Trevaskis.

Moving on to obscure Richard III fiction, I borrowed Presumed Guilty by Evelyn Rosenthal from the Richard III Society's library the other day and was quite impressed by it. Published by Vantage Press, a subsidy press, in 1982 when self-publishing was still an expensive undertaking, it tells its story (through Buckingham, Elizabeth of York, Francis Lovell, Margaret of Burgundy, and John Morton) as well as or better than most other Ricardian novels I've read, and it's a hell of a lot better researched than many of them. Pity it was published before the days of print-on-demand; it'd be easier to find a copy for sale!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Odds and Ends; and Edward II's Reign in a Nutshell

SonjaMarie over at the Historical Fiction Board linked to this site of historical figures by George S. Stuart. I liked his English figures--pity he hasn't done the Plantagenets.

Saw a link to Book-A-Minute Classics over at the Smart Bitches blog. Check out the classics--I particularly liked their take on Virginia Woolf and David Copperfield.

Naturally, that got me thinking I should do a fast version of the story of Edward II's reign (you can find another version here by Neadods):

Barons: We don't like your favorite, Piers Gaveston.

Edward II: Oh? Well, that's too bad. Do something about it.

(Barons execute Gaveston.)

Barons: We don't like your favorites, the Despensers.

Edward II: Oh? Well, that's too bad. Do something about it.

(Barons execute Despensers.)

Barons: We don't like you.

Edward II: Oh? Well, that's too bad. Do some-- OUCH!

Edward III: Mother, I don't like your lover, Roger Mortimer.

Isabella: Oh? Well, that's too bad. Do something about it.

(Edward III executes Mortimer.)

Isabella: Son? You do like me, don't you?

Edward III: Sure, Mom.

Isabella (sighing): Good. Had me worried there for a moment.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Monday Morning Keywords

higginbotham family scotland

You ought to see the kilts the Higginbotham men wear. Bare-chested, naturally.

hugh t. despenser

There's Hugh the elder, Hugh the younger, and Hugh the Mr. T. Despenser. I probably won't be writing about the latter.

i heard that you are working with childrens isabella

Nothing like a little charity work to rehabilitate one's image

isabel denounces he sisters-in-law for adultery

You skanks!

how to get to blacklow hill

Get a lonely young prince to fall in love with you, let him make you an earl and give you a lot of land, and call the barons funny names and make them kneel to you once the prince becomes king.

king henry viii called catherine of aragon a cow

snippets from william shakespeare

Henry: O, Catherine. This I say to you. Thou art a cow, unlike the slim maiden Anne Boleyn.

Catherine: Look who talketh.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Review: Jane Boleyn by Julia Fox

As everyone knows, Jane Boleyn, bitterly jealous of her husband George's close relationship with his sister Anne Boleyn, gave evidence that led to the executions of both for adultery. Not satisfied with that, Jane went on to serve Catherine Howard, where for twisted reasons she aided and abetted the queen's adultery with Thomas Culpepper, leading to Catherine's execution and Jane's own as well.

In Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford, Julia Fox demolishes this long-accepted story by looking at contemporary sources. She notes that there is no evidence that Jane was on poor terms with her husband or with Anne Boleyn and no reason why she would want to exchange her very comfortable life as George's spouse and the queen's sister-in-law for the precarious existence of a traitor's widow living off a small jointure. When George was in prison, she sent a letter to him through the constable of the Tower promising to attempt to intercede on his behalf, a promise that cheered the imprisoned man. She did not testify at George's trial (no one did), but on pretrial questioning by Cromwell may have told him that Anne had complained of Henry's difficulty in sustaining an erection, a statement that George at trial was requested not to read aloud but did, with disastrous consequences when the statement was twisted to suggest that Henry could not function sexually at all and thus could not have fathered Anne's child.

Fox follows the widowed Jane through her subsequent service to Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves to her service with Catherine Howard. She points out the difficult position Jane faced when asked to assist with Catherine's communications with Culpepper: she could refuse and be sent in disgrace from court, where she had succeeded in making sort of a career for herself and where her life was centered, or she could go to Henry and risk his wrath if she turned out to be wrong about the queen's intentions. Once she realized the full extent of what was happening, it was too late to extricate herself. She chose to keep silent and to continue to obey her queen, a disastrous choice but one for which she accepted the consequences with composure and courage.

In Jane Boleyn, Fox not only reassesses Jane's tarnished reputation and shows us how she became reviled over the centuries, she introduces us to Jane's upbringing and family, including her scholarly father, who had the misfortune to survive Jane and who may have quietly recorded his grief in a translation presented to Henry VIII.

Well researched and full of compassion for its subject, this is a must read for those interested in the Tudors--and even for those who aren't.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Anticipation

From Booking Through Thursday:

Last week we talked about the books you liked best from 2007. So this week, what with it being a new year, and all, we’re looking forward….

What new books are you looking forward to most in 2008? Something new being published this year? Something you got as a gift for the holidays? Anything in particular that you’re planning to read in 2008 that you’re looking forward to? A classic, or maybe a best-seller from 2007 that you’re waiting to appear in paperback?

I'm looking forward to Ian Mortimer's book The Time Travelers' Guide to Medieval England (scheduled for October, according to his website). Also in the nonfiction department, I'm looking forward to A. J. Pollard's Warwick the Kingmaker (not to be confused with Michael Hicks' and Paul Murray Kendall's books by the same name).

On the fiction front, it seems to me that it's about time for another Anne Tyler or P. D. James novel, but I don't know if either author has a release scheduled for this year. If either does, I'll be buying it the day of publication! Looking forward to seeing what Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir's forthcoming novels are like, though I do rather wish they'd chosen less written about people (Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I are their respective subjects). Speaking of Tudor women, I'm interested to see what Brandy Purdy makes of Anne Boleyn in her Vengeance Is Mine. Dropping back two centuries, I'm looking foward to David Blixt's sequel to The Master of Verona.

So: a lot to look forward to. I just need to get more time for reading!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Post on My Richard III Blog

Stop by if you're interested in Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, and his duchess! (Yes, I have been writing a lot about the chap lately, haven't I?)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

I'm working on a very long post for my recently neglected Unromantic Richard III blog, so this is just a quickie. I'm not big on New Year's resolutions in general (for one thing, other than Teddy Grahams and GummiSavers, I don't have much to give up, unless I cut my Amazon expenditure in half, which would not be a good thing), but there are a few things I'd like to do in relation to my reading and writing:

Read a novel in Colleen McCullough's Rome series. I always hear good things about it, so I'd like to find out what I'm missing!

Get most, if not all, of my third novel completed this year--100,000 words, not any wimpy 60,000 words either.

Update my website with some more Medieval Miniatures, as most of the comments I get on the site seem to come from people who have read one of them.

Keep my blogs more up to date.

Read the books that have been sitting on my shelf since last year before buying any new ones. Actually, I broke that resolution just a couple of hours ago. Oh, well--there are worst things, I guess!