Thursday, June 26, 2008

In Which the Richard III Society Helps Alleviate Global Warming

Yesterday, while working on my novel, I had the need to know which lands of the Duke of Buckingham's were granted to who after his execution. Of course, I knew where this information could be found--British Harleian Manuscript 433. Sadly, I said to myself, "Well, since my copy of Harley 433 hasn't arrived yet, I guess I'll have to drive to the library this weekend, even if it means wasting gas and helping ruin the planet through global warming."

But the day is saved, because twenty minutes ago, I opened my front door, and what did I find, but all four volumes of Harley 433 stacked prettily on my doorstep! Having checked them to make sure that all four volumes are there (just as a proud parent counts an infant's fingers and toes), I can now say at last, "Thank you, Richard III Society, for sending me my Harley 433."

My daughter's comments: "It smells like a library in here."

Some people just have no appreciation of the finer things in life.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley

I've been in a nonfiction mood lately, so I've been reading Alison Weir's Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, a title that pretty much says it all. Weir is quite sympathetic toward Mary, not at all toward Lord Darnley, which seems to be the general attitude of most of Mary's biographers. I've been supplementing Weir with Caroline Bingham's biography Darnley, a sympathetic yet judicious study of the victim of one of history's most famous murders. (Edward II fans may recognize Bingham as the author of a well-written and fair-minded popular biography of that ill-fated king.)

Being the type of bleeding-heart Democrat that I am (which may explain why no one ever offered me a job at the Justice Department), I confess to a certain amount of sympathy for Darnley. Admittedly, he was involved in the murder of Mary's secretary David Rizzio, though he was hardly alone in the enterprise and by the standards of the day might have thought it was morally justified based on his belief that Rizzio was having an affair with Mary. He appears to have been spoiled, self-indulgent, and petulant. During the first part of his marriage, at least, he was a heavy drinker, though he also engaged in wholesome activities such as hunting, hawking, riding, and (unusually) swimming. He may have had syphilis at the time of his death, though this doesn't necessarily imply that he was more promiscuous than other men of his class; one unfortunate encounter in a brothel would have been enough. On the other hand, he was only twenty or twenty-one when he was murdered. While his character might have degenerated with age, it's also possible that it might have improved, especially if he had fallen under the influence of a wise and disinterested advisor. Unfortunately, such were few and far between, even if he had been inclined to listen, and the deadly politics of his time left no room for error. Caroline Bingham sums his life up nicely when she says, "Darnley is a tragic figure as the victim of a brutal and ruthless crime; but he is even more tragic as a figure of unfulfilled promise."

I haven't read widely enough on the subject to have an opinion on whether Mary was implicated in her husband's murder, though Weir exonerates her. Amazon has benefited greatly from my curiosity to learn more about this matter.

Speaking of books, we've now arrived at Day 8 of Waiting for Harley, though two people have assured me that the books were finally sent on June 18 (which, coincidentally, was also the first day of Waiting for Harley). I have plans for a blog celebration when and if the books finally arrive, so keep checking! I just hope the damn things were sent by air mail.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Review: The Lord of Greenwich by Juliet Dymoke, Plus a Harley Update

First, since we're on day 5 of Waiting for Harley, I've decided that my karma is so hopelessly bad that there's no point in posting nice things about Richard III. (Bear in mind that the books were paid for on May 14.) Instead, I'm giving in to my Inner Tudor and am plastering the walls with images of Henry VII. (Cackles evilly.) Anyway, while waiting for my poster putty to dry, I thought I'd do a quick review of The Lord of Greenwich, a historical novel by Juliet Dymoke.

The Lord of Greenwich is about Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester, a younger brother of Henry V. It follows his career from his youth during the declining days of his father, Henry IV, to the the period after his wife Eleanor Cobham's trial and public penance on witchcraft charges.

I don't think this was one of the best Juliet Dymoke novels I've read, but I did enjoy it for the most part. I thought that it captured Humfrey's complex personality well. The last chapters, where Humfrey has lost his wife and his political power, and has only his learning and a few faithful friends for solace, were quite moving.

Where the novel had problems for me was in the middle section, which felt extremely rushed and which could have used some editing. At one point, for instance, we're told that Humfrey's first wife, Jacqueline, is being held captive. Several pages later, she's apparently been set free, since Humfrey makes a reference to trying to persuade her to leave, but what precisely happened is never explained. Then, we're suddenly told that Humfrey's marriage has been annulled, but we're never told who was seeking the annulment. Neither of Humfrey's wives, in fact, is drawn all that well, which is a shame, because it would have been interesting to know more about them.

On the plus side, this is a fairly neglected period in historical fiction, and the novel did make me want to read more about Duke Humfrey. Jean Plaidy has written Epitaph for Three Women, which deals with Eleanor Cobham, Joan of Arc, and Katherine of Valois, and Hilda Lewis has written I, Jacqueline, about Jacqueline of Hainault, but those are the only novels I know of that deal with Duke Humfrey or his wives. Anyone know of any others?


He's the man!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Waiting for Harley: Day 2

So no Harleian MS in the mail today. Was I surprised? Nope. I just knew that I'd have to keep coming up with Good Things, Only Good Things to Say About Richard III to get that bad karma gone.

Tonight's special? Well, Richard had a really nifty emblem, the white boar. You can see it here. (The Society That Does Not Send Books on Time also has pictures, but they're not getting any link love from me until I have my Harley in my hands.)

While we're on the topic of pigs, those of you from overseas and outside of the midwestern and southern United States may be completely unfamiliar with Piggly Wiggly supermarkets. Feast your eyes on their logo merchandise, and ask yourself, whose pig do you prefer, Richard's or Piggly Wiggly's? (I, of course, am not responsible if you answer "Piggly Wiggly.")

The Death of Piers Gaveston

Having seen Alianore's post on the subject, it seemed improper to let the day go by without a brief tribute to Edward II's favorite, Piers Gaveston, who was executed on June 19, 1312. (In medieval history, at least, June seems to have been quite the month for unjust executions.) It was a tragic end to what appears to have been at the very least a deep friendship on both sides. As I haven't the chance to write a proper post, here's an excerpt from The Traitor's Wife instead:

The justices examined the evidence presented to them—an easy task as Gaveston himself had no chance to speak or call anyone to speak in his behalf—and sentenced the Gascon to death. Here Gilbert de Clare, though unwittingly, came to Gaveston’s aid, for the earls deemed it unseemly that the brother-in-law of the Earl of Gloucester should die a traitor’s death. Instead, he was granted the nobleman’s death of beheading.

“They finally took him out of the dungeon, on June 19 it was,” said the Countess of Pembroke’s laundress. She cleared her throat; it was not usual for her to speak in front of so many people, and certainly not in front of a group of people like this—the king, the queen, her lord Pembroke, the king’s nieces, the Earl of Surrey, Lord Despenser and his son. Gaveston’s young widow was in full mourning; most of the others were in black or at least in their drabbest robes. “Poor man, he was filthy and looked in need of a good meal—he’d been in there nine days—but still he bore himself proudly, like the fine knight that I had heard he was. The Earls of Lancaster, Arundel, and Hereford came to Kenilworth to watch it be done.”

“Only the three?” asked Hugh the elder. “Where was Warwick?”

“He was not there, sir, I’ll swear it. They say he stayed in his castle at Warwick
the whole day.”

“Then he is not only a scoundrel, but a coward,” said the king’s niece Eleanor. It was odd, the laundress thought, that it was she, not the queen, who had reached over and clasped the king’s hand while the tale was being told, but the ways of the royal were inscrutable and the girl after all was the king’s near relation.

“Aye, my lady, they say he wanted no part of the business once he started it. So they brought him to Kenilworth, as I said, to the Earl of Lancaster’s land, I think. Then they took him to a place called Blacklow Hill—many a day I rolled down it as a girl, and no longer will anyone want to play there—”

“Was he shriven?” asked the king. “Do you know?”

“There was no priest there, but he prayed before he died, and many of the bystanders did too—although others laughed.”

The king was weeping, and so were his nieces. Strange, the laundress thought,
the queen—the closest thing to an angel in looks she had ever seen—was dry-eyed. But if the rumors about the king and Gaveston had been true…

The second Edward wiped his eyes. “Go on.”

“There’s little left to tell, your grace. They bade him to kneel down, and he did, as graceful as though he was here in court. He had just time to commend his spirit to God. Then one man—a Welshman he was—ran him through the heart, then another Welshman cut off his head. Oh, but he did ask before, joking-like, that they leave him his head so as not to spoil his beauty so much.”

The younger Despenser’s mouth twitched upward.

“The Earl of Lancaster did not go up the hill for some reason, so they had to bring the head down to him, to show him that the deed had been done. Some friars came and got the body later, as you now know, your grace, and took him to Oxford.” She paused awkwardly, then remembered that she had been asked to tell everything she knew. “I heard—but do not know for sure—that his head was sewn back on.”

“God bless the friars,” said Edward. “They shall be well rewarded. And so shall you.” He nodded at his steward, standing nearby, who approached the laundress with a purse.

“It was the countess’s doing, your grace. She sent me to visit my family near Warwick Castle, knowing that I would keep my ears and eyes open and report on what had happened.”

“And it was you, Pembroke, who asked the countess to provide those eyes and ears. Thank you.”

“It was the least I could do, your grace.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Waiting for Harley: Day 1

There's a forlorn, four-book-wide empty spot on my bookshelf, begging and pleading to be filled by the elusive 4-volume Harleian 433 manuscript, which I'm still waiting to receive from the Richard III Society.

I've decided that this delay in receiving my books is due to bad karma, no doubt caused by my failure to be sufficiently appreciative of England's last Plantagenet king. Therefore, in an effort to right this wrong (and, more important, to get my damn books), I'm going to write one nice thing about Richard III every single day. Or at least for as long as I can stand it.

So here's Nice Thing #1: Richard III had very nice handwriting. See it here? I bet that's more than one can say about Henry Tudor's handwriting, or the Duke of Buckingham's handwriting, or (shudder) Elizabeth Woodville's handwriting.

Now, that wasn't so hard, was it? I can hardly wait for tomorrow to post Nice Thing #2. In the meantime, while I pass the hours in wistfully contemplating the picture of volume 1 posted above, there's a new poll in the sidebar to keep you busy.

Friday, June 13, 2008

William Hastings: Richard III's First Victim

On Friday, June 13, 1483, William Hastings walked into what he thought was a routine council meeting called by Richard, Duke of Gloucester. When Hastings left the chamber a few hours later, it was as a prisoner being hustled out to execution.

No trial was given to Hastings, whose death on Tower Green was such a hasty affair that no scaffold had been erected. He was the first of the four men who would die violently before Gloucester, who had been serving as protector of England during the minority of Edward V, took the throne as Richard III.

As with so much involving Richard III, there are conflicting theories as to why William Hastings, probably the most loyal friend Edward IV ever had, met his death at the hands of Richard, Edward IV’s supposedly devoted brother. Richard himself claimed that Hastings had been plotting against him, though he never produced any proof to substantiate his claims. Those defenders of Richard who have taken him at his word suggest that Hastings was driven into conspiracy by concerns that under the protectorate, he would lose the power and prestige he had enjoyed during Edward IV’s reign or by his suspicion that Richard meant to take the throne for himself.

The alternative explanation is that there was no plot at all and that Richard, having planned to seize the crown, ruthlessly eliminated Lord Hastings as the man most likely to stand in his way. This theory was propounded by those writing under the Tudors, but it was also that of Dominic Mancini, writing shortly after the events in question at a time when Henry Tudor was still an obscure exile:

After this execution had been done in the citadel, the townsmen, who had heard the uproar but were uncertain of the cause, became panic-stricken, and each one seized his weapons. But, to calm the multitude, the duke instantly sent a herald to proclaim that a plot had been detected in the citadel, and Hastings, the originator of the plot, had paid the penalty. . . . At first the ignorant crowed believed, although the real truth was on the lips of many, namely that the plot had been feigned by the duke so as to escape the odium of such a crime. [Richard III: A Source Book, by Keith Dockray]

It’s probably not a big surprise to readers of this blog that I lean toward the second theory: that of there being no plot by Hastings at all. Richard had recently had three of the men closest to Edward V—his uncle Anthony Woodville, his half-brother Richard Grey, and his chamberlain, Thomas Vaughan—arrested on equally vague charges of conspiracy, which would never be proven. They too would be executed without trial. In just a few days, Richard and his followers would spread the story that Edward IV had been precontracted to Eleanor Butler before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, making the latter marriage invalid and the resulting children bastards. These allegations would never see the inside of an ecclesiastical court, where they belonged. In each case—Hastings, Woodville, Grey, Vaughan, and the precontract—Richard would accuse, but never prove. None of those involved were allowed to defend themselves against Richard’s allegations.

No one, however, was inclined to press the point: The sudden, shocking execution of Hastings, the arrests of others on June 13 and on June 14 (including the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Ely, Oliver King, secretary to Edward V, and John Forster, an official of the queen), the previous arrests of Edward V’s associates and their executions on June 25, the large number of armed men sent to Westminster Abbey to aid in persuading Elizabeth Woodville to giving up the Duke of York to Richard on June 16, and the rumors of massive numbers of troops headed from the north to London were powerful incentives for those who valued their heads to be docile, for the time being at least. What must have made Hastings’ execution all the more terrifying was that he was no unpopular royal favorite, but a well liked, competent, and respected man who had been associated with the Yorkist cause for decades.

In his treatment of Hastings’ widow and children, Richard did act commendably, allowing Lady Hastings to retain her husband’s land and goods, though Rosemary Horrox notes that Hastings’ royal grants were seized. This can and has been treated as an instance of Richard’s chivalrous behavior toward widows, though one might counter that it would have been rather more chivalrous of Richard not to have made Lady Hastings a widow in the first place.

Richard did do Hastings one service: he allowed his family to bury him in the Chapel of St. George at Windsor beside his friend Edward IV, as Hastings had requested in his will (made in 1481). His tomb can be seen there today. Other relicts of Hastings survive in the Hastings Hours, an illuminated manuscript owned by Hastings that today is in the British Library; in the ruins of Ashby de la Zouche Castle, which Edward IV granted to Hastings, and in Kirby Muxloe Castle, which Hastings was improving until the last days of his life.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Really Random Stuff

1) Over the weekend at the bookstore, in which I was lingering partly to avoid the 100-degree heat here, I finally remembered to look at the ending of Ian McEwan's Atonement to see what all of the fuss was about. Now I know, and what's more, I've got my dose of literary fiction for the year without having to have actually read the whole book. A nice day's work, if you ask me.

2. Since receiving some research materials earlier this spring bound in pressboard binders, I have become increasingly addicted to pressboard binders. On Monday night Hubby came home from the office supply store with a package of shiny new ones for me, and last night I started punching holes in some of my research material so I could put them in the binders. They're beautiful. Now all I need is one of those hole punchers that can do fifty pages at a time.

This may partially explain why my daughter never tells her friends, "My mother is cool."

3. I have fifty dollars in my wallet. There are fifty dollars worth of new books I want from the bookstore, including Sandra Gulland's new novel. Coincidence? I think not.

4. Since the end of May, I have walked out to the mailbox with a spring in my step, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the four-volume Harleian 433 manuscript, which is published by the Richard III Society and which has all sorts of useful information in it for someone doing research in the period. (That hammering you hear is another nail in my coffin of uncoolness.) Each day, I have trudged back with sagging shoulders, hands full of bills but not with the Harleian 433. One would think that the Richard III Society, devoted as it is to a man who could condemn and execute a man within a space of a couple of hours (the subject of my next post), would be a tad more efficient. I have arrived at several explanations for this delay:

a. The people in the UK responsible for posting the manuscript have all gone on one of those long vacations to wonderful locales that no one in the United States can afford except for the parents of my daughter's friends.

b. The Richard III Society has been secretly infiltrated by devotees of Henry Tudor, and this is all part of a sinister master plot to take it over by breeding discontent.

c. The fault lies not at all in the UK, but with agents of the Bush administration who have intercepted the package on the premise that anyone receiving four books from overseas with a weird title when they could be buying ghostwritten books by members of the Bush family at Wal-Mart is up to something sinister.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Mini-Review: The Red Queen by Ruth S. Perot

Recently, in a book-buying spree at Amazon, I picked up copies of two historical novels about Margaret of Anjou. The first is best left unnamed. Though the writing in itself wasn't bad, its plot consisted mainly of Margaret of Anjou having sex with men, boys, and women from all classes in all sorts of settings. (This may be the only historical novel written where Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret of Anjou have a lesbian relationship. Hopefully, it will be the last.) On the plus side, the author appears to have done a fair amount of research, so at least Margaret was having sex with people with whom she was known to be in the same geographical area as at the relevant time.

The second Margaret of Anjou novel is The Red Queen by Ruth S. Perot, which apparently was self-published in 2000. Unlike the first book mentioned here, which reads like a schoolboy fantasy run amok, The Red Queen is a rather sedate telling of Margaret's story, reminiscent of Jean Plaidy's The Red Rose of Anjou. It's a sympathetic look at Margaret, though it doesn't gloss over her faults either. The writing is solid, as is the research.

This novel could stand to be longer. In less than 300 pages, The Red Queen covers 40 years, and the period from 1460-71 seems to have been given rather short shrift. I would have especially liked to have seen more interaction between Margaret and her maturing son, between her and the Earl of Warwick, and between her and Anne Neville. It was nice, however, to see some familiar faces from the Wars of the Roses without the stereotypes that mar so many novels set during this period. For telling the story of a woman who's too often been reduced to a mere caricature, Perot deserves high marks.