Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mini-Review: Richard, The Young King To Be

Yay! My footnotes are finally done!

Since I had some free time yesterday, I finally finished Josephine Wilkinson's new biography, Richard, The Young King To Be. It covers Richard's life until 1475, ending with Edward IV's anticlimatic excursion to France.

On the whole, I thought this was well done. Though highly sympathetic to Richard, it avoided the romanticism of Paul Murray Kendall (no escaping with Anne to breathe the free air of the moors, for instance). Richard's marriage to Anne is viewed as a pragmatic move by both parties, rather than as a match of childhood sweethearts, and Wilkinson even dares to suggest that one of Richard's illegitimate children could have been born during his marriage, as opposed to the traditional Ricardian view, which insists that they were born either in his unmarried days or through immaculate conception. In addition to noting the identification of Katherine Haute as a possible mistress of Richard's, she comes up with another candidate as well. Richard's land transactions involving the Countess of Oxford, the Countess of Warwick, and the young Duke of Bedford are examined in detail, and though Wilkinson puts most of the blame on Edward IV and Clarence, she doesn't absolve Richard entirely.

I did have a couple of reservations. Moving dangerously close to Kendall territory, Wilkinson presents the young Richard as idolizing his brother Edward. (One such passage reads, "For him, Edward was the realisation of the the angelic prophecy that foretold the return of the righteous, sacred king" (p. 98). This is psychologically quite plausible, but it's not something we know as fact, and Wilkinson doesn't produce any sources to verify her assertion. Later, during a brief excursion into the future, Wilkinson states categorically that Edward V was illegitimate and that the Woodvilles were planning to "depose" Richard from his protectorate by rushing Edward to London so that he could be crowned immediately (p. 134). Wilkinson, like other writers who accept Richard's accusations against the Woodvilles as fact, doesn't explain why, if the Woodvilles were trying to rush to London, Anthony Woodville dawdled so long at Ludlow with his charge and met Richard III at his lodgings instead of pressing onto London. Maybe Wilkinson will attempt an explanation in her next book.

All in all, though, this was an interesting look at a part of Richard's life that has been given relatively scant attention by historians. As it appears that this will be a two-part biography, I'll be interested in seeing that Wilkinson makes of the older Richard.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Snippet Time!

I'm inserting footnotes into an article I'm doing about the Woodville siblings, which is such a time-consuming and tedious process that it hasn't left me much time for blogging this week. (Next time, I'm just going to say, "Because I read it somewhere," for my references, and leave it at that.) Anyway, I thought some of you might like to see an excerpt from the novel I'm working on, which is called My Heart Split With Sorrow (from Buckingham's speech in Shakespeare's Richard III) until I find a title I like better. Six-year-old Katherine Woodville has just stumbled into a family wedding:

As I stood there, at a loss for words and sensing that I had somehow done a Bad Thing, the groom turned and stood, making me gasp. He was tall--well over six feet—and dazzlingly handsome, with hair of a rich, almost coppery auburn. Small, sallow, and of middling appearance, I was none of those things, and I averted my eyes as if caught gazing into the sun. “Well, now. Who is this young lady?”

“Katherine, sir,” I managed.

“Kate,” the groom said as I thrilled from my head to my toes. How did this man know that I loved to be called “Kate,” only Mother insisted on the more dignified “Katherine”? He turned to my sister. “I’ve changed my mind, I’m afraid. This will be my new bride.”

“She’s a trifle young for you,” said my sister a little tensely.

“Oh, maybe a bit,” the man conceded. He smiled. “Some other lucky man will have little Kate, then. Lady Kate? Can you keep a great secret?”

“You had better,” my mother warned.

“I know Kate will,” the man said reassuringly. He looked down—a long way down--straight into my eyes. “Kate, I am getting ready to marry your sister. But it is a great secret. No one can know until I announce it personally.”

“Your family would not approve?” I ventured, as he was being so confiding.

“Indeed no.”

“That is a pity.”

“But they will come to understand in time.” He cleared his throat and looked thoughtful for a moment, then appeared to make up his mind. “But there are other reasons why there are difficulties just now. I suppose you have not seen our King Edward yet, Kate?”


“Have you heard much of him?”

I was delighted by his question, for it gave me the opportunity to demonstrate what a good Yorkist I was, a great necessity in our family, since it was not so terribly long ago that Papa and my brothers Anthony and Richard had fought for the house of Lancaster. Having gone over to what now all agreed heartily to be the right side, Papa had sternly informed us children that we should always speak well of the House of York. As with all of my father’s advice, I had heeded it dutifully, but I seldom had the chance to put it into practice, for all of my brothers and sisters, being older and much wiser, were naturally much better Yorkists as well, and never made a mistake I could correct. “No,” I admitted. “But I hear he is very brave. And very handsome.”

The second man laughed, a sound that made the chapel echo. He was well over a decade older than the groom and less handsome, though his ruddy face was a good-humored one. “Ned, there’s a fine courtier for you! Shall I?”

The younger man nodded, and the older man reached in a purse and drew out a fine gold chain, then handed it to me. (Later, I was to learn that he always kept one or two on his person, in case of emergencies.) “There’s a reward for your loyalty, Lady Kate.”

“Thank you,” I said vacantly, staring at the chain. It was lovely, and even to my inexpert eyes looked frightfully expensive. Was my sister marrying a highwayman?

The younger man laughed at my expression. “You see, Kate, I am the king. And I have come here to marry your sister.”

There were any number of dignified and proper responses I could have made to this announcement. I, of course, made none of them. My mouth gaped open, most unattractively I fear. “You?” I asked. “Her?”

“Me. Her.” The king nodded. “She will make a lovely queen, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” I admitted feebly. Elizabeth was indeed lovely; indeed, I sometimes thought that she and my brother Anthony had taken so much beauty for themselves that was not enough left for the other ten of us children, especially me.

“But you must keep this a secret, Kate, as I have said. You will promise?”

“On my life!”

“Good girl,” the king said. He grinned. “Or I would be obliged to put you in my Tower as a lesson, you know.”

My previous promise was empty compared to the one I made now. “I swear and hope to die if I break my promise,” I vowed, kneeling and making the sign of the cross for good measure. I might have gone further and prostrated myself had Elizabeth not interrupted.

“Time passes. Ned, I know the child will not tell. Can we please resume the ceremony?"

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Mysterious Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Stafford

In researching my novel featuring Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, I naturally had to do some digging regarding his mother, Margaret Beaufort--not to be confused with the other Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII. This was a frustrating dig!

This Margaret Beaufort was one of five daughters of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, and Eleanor Beauchamp. Her father was killed at the first battle of St. Albans on May 22, 1455. All three of her brothers met violent ends during the Wars of the Roses: the eldest, Henry Beaufort, was executed by Yorkist troops in 1464; the second, Edmund Beaufort, was executed after the battle of Tewkesbury; and the third, John, died in battle at Tewkesbury.

Margaret married Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Stafford, the eldest son of Humphrey Stafford, the first Duke of Buckingham. According to a manuscript cited by Carole Rawcliffe, the marriage took place in 1444. Probably Margaret was a child when she married, as her eldest son was not born until 1455.

Margaret was pregnant with her first son, Henry Stafford, when her father was killed at St. Albans. Many sources, even the Complete Peerage, mistakenly claim that the Earl of Stafford, Margaret's husband, was killed at St. Albans as well, but he, like his father the Duke of Buckingham, survived the battle with wounds. Margaret and Humphrey's eldest son, Henry, was born on September 4, 1455.

In 1458, the the Earl of Stafford died of the plague. He had been appointed in 1457 to the council of Prince Edward, son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Margaret Beaufort was left a widow with two sons, Henry and Humphrey.

The first Duke of Buckingham was killed at Northampton in 1460, making Margaret's son Henry the second duke. His wardship and marriage were in the hands of the first duke's widow, Katherine, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourchier. Later, Edward IV purchased the wardship, and Henry and his younger brother were eventually brought into the household of Elizabeth Woodville. Humphrey, along with Henry, was made a Knight of the Bath and shared Henry's tutor, but he apparently died young, for there is no trace of him after the 1460's.

Margaret Beaufort, meanwhile, remarried. Her second husband was Richard Darell, variously spelled as Darelle, Darrell, and Dayrell, who was a younger son in a family of five brothers. The two had a daughter, Margaret.

It is here where things get murky with Margaret. The Collections for a History of Staffordshire contains this entry:

Wilts. Richard Darelle, late of Litelcote, armiger, was summoned at the suit of Alexander Darelle, executor of the will of Elizabeth Darelle, in a plea that he should pay to him a sum of 45 marks, which he unjustly withheld, and Alexander stated that on the 1st August, 3 E. IV, [1463] the said Richard had placed Margaret, the Countess of Stafford, to board ("ad mensam") with the said Elizabeth during her lifetime, paying to her for each week for which the Countess was at board with her the sum of 13s. 4d. for her diets ("pro dietis suis"), such rate to continue during the whole time of the presence of the said Countess ("essencie ipsius Comitesse") at board with Elizabeth, and notwithstanding the said Countess had remained at board with her from the said 1st August for the 45 weeks following, the said Richard had not paid Elizabeth during her life for the said arrears, and had refused to pay her executor, notwithstanding frequent requisitions made upon him, and he produced the testamentary letters of the said Elizabeth, which satisfied the Court that he was her executor. Richard Darelle appeared by attorney, and denied that he had detained the money, as stated by Alexander, and appealed to a jury which was to be summoned for the Quindene of Easter Day. A postscript shews that the Sheriff had made no return to the writ up to Michaelmas term, 6 E. IV. m. 341, dorso.

The editor concludes that this entry indicates that Margaret was an "imbecile." So was she actually incapacitated, mentally or physically? It's difficult to say for sure from this single entry, but it does sound as if Margaret was being made the responsibility of Elizabeth (apparently her mother-in-law, Elizabeth Calston, who died in 1464) rather than as staying with her as an ordinary guest. It has been suggested that Margaret was staying with Elizabeth during her pregnancy, but "such rate to continue during the whole time of the presence of the said Countess" suggests a more indefinite term.

Whatever the reason the countess was staying with Elizabeth, almost nothing else is heard of her. She is noted as presenting a rector, John Southwell, to Wells in Norfolk in 1463; in 1465, Richard Darell presented William Dudley to Wells in Margaret's right. (Dudley was later Bishop of Durham.) British History Online (Romsey) indicates that she had manors at Stanbridge Earls, Wexcombe, and Bedwyn. (See text by note 206.) Even her death date is unclear. Some sources give the date as being in the 1470's, and others give it in 1480, but the latter appear to be confusing her with her Stafford mother-in-law, Katherine Neville, who died that year. She was certainly dead by May 22, 1481, when Richard Darell and his second wife, Jane Baron, deeded over some land. Thus, she was spared the knowledge of the beheading of her only surviving son on November 2, 1483.

Some of the countess's obscurity might be explained by her Beaufort connections: as her father and all of her brothers died in the service of the House of Lancaster, she was unlikely to be welcome at Edward IV's court or to relish going there. Nonetheless, the countess's second husband, Richard Darell, was not out of favor with Edward IV, but was appointed to a number of commissions. He also served as one of his stepson's councilors and in 1483 was present at the coronation of Richard III. Having steered clear of his stepson's rebellion later in 1483, Richard Darell died in 1489. In 1480, he and John Tuchet, Lord Audley, arranged for Audley's heir, James Tuchet, to marry Darell's daughter by Margaret Beaufort, named Margaret after her mother. It was a short-lived marriage, for by 1488, James Tuchet had remarried. Like her mother, Margaret Darell was spared grief by her early death, for James Tuchet was beheaded in 1497 after rising against Henry VII.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What? A Despenser in Trouble?

One of the little tidbits that I never got to use in either The Traitor's Wife or in Hugh and Bess (coming out in a new edition later this year) is the fact that in 1344, yet another member of the Despenser family got into trouble. This time, it was Gilbert le Despenser, the third son of Hugh le Despenser the younger and Eleanor de Clare.

Gilbert was born before July 9, 1322, when Edward II granted him a remainder interest in the manor of Melton Mowbray, which had come into the king's hands thanks to his triumph in the so-called "Despenser war," which had erupted when Hugh the younger's land-grabbing and the king's complaisance outraged their enemies. My educated guess is that Gilbert was born during the unrest, which began with the devastation of the Despensers' lands in May 1321 and ended with the battle of Boroughbridge and the execution of the Earl of Lancaster in March 1322. Had Gilbert been born before the civil war broke out, it seems likely that the king would have given him a present of land at that time or that his father would have made some arrangements to endow him with land, as he seems to have done for the second Despenser son, Edward.

Edward and Gilbert (along with their younger brother, John) were fortunate enough to escape the grimmer consequences of their father's downfall in 1326. At age eighteen, their eldest brother, Hugh, had been entrusted with Caerphilly Castle, which he held against the queen until 1327, when he surrendered it in return for the promise of his life. He was kept a prisoner until 1331, even after the fall of Isabella and Mortimer. Hugh the younger's widow, Eleanor, herself was confined to the Tower, and three of the Despenser girls were forced to take the veil. The boys apparently shared their mother's imprisonment (the order releasing Eleanor in February 1328 refers to her children as well), but once she was free, they were too. One wonders why Isabella and Mortimer, having forced three Despenser girls into convents, were so lax with their brothers. Perhaps having vented their spite on the girls and imprisoned the oldest son, they were content to let the younger boys alone.

Gilbert is next heard from in 1342, when he and his brother Edward fought under the banner of their brother Hugh at Morlaix in Brittany. Sadly, only two of the three brothers came home alive: Edward was killed in the battle.

It is on December 20, 1344, that this mysterious order appears in the Close Rolls:

To Robert de Dalton, constable of the Tower of London, or to him who supplies his place. Order to release Gilbert le Despenser, knight, from prison by the mainprise of William de Bohun, earl of Northampton, and Hugh le Despenser, as he is staying under arrest in the Tower by reason of certain excesses charged against him. By p.s. [16509.]

So what was our friend Gilbert up to? Sadly, I haven't a clue. The maddeningly vague term "certain excesses" appears quite frequently in the Close Rolls, usually in tandem with the equally unenlightening "trespasses." Nothing more is heard of the charges against Gilbert. He had distinguished mainprisers: Hugh, his oldest brother, had worked his way back into royal favor through years of loyal military service, and the Earl of Northampton, a cousin of Edward III and of the Despensers as well, was one of the most distinguished commanders of his day.

Gilbert's offenses, whatever they were (if any), did not hamper his future career. He served at Crecy and Calais, either as one of the king's household knights or under his brother Hugh's banner. In 1349, one John de la Ryvere acknowledged owing 900 pounds to Gilbert. He served Edward III again in 1359-60--his brother Hugh had died in 1349--and with John of Gaunt in 1369. On March 6, 1370, Henry de Wakefield, keeper of the king's wardrobe, gave Gilbert 15/. Os. 7\d. for the wages of himself, his men at arms, and archers. That same year, Edward III granted Gilbert "40 marks yearly, to be received at the Exchequer during his life, for the good service rendered by him to the same Lord the King."

Gilbert died on April 23, 1382. He had been married to Ela de Calverley. The couple had a son, John, who died at age 14 in 1375. Whatever the youthful folly that had put him in the Tower in 1344, Gilbert, aged at least sixty at his death, could congratulate himself on having reached a ripe old age for a Despenser male.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Richard and Harry Show

Well, I'm chugging along in my work in progress, and the Duke of Gloucester, aided by his friend the Duke of Buckingham, is on the verge of usurping the throne, with grim consequences for everyone concerned. Since my characters are so busy, I am too, but I thought I'd stop by and pass along this interesting online book I came across a few months back, Devon--Records of Early English Drama by John M. Wasson. These records show (among other things) payments made to various nobles' minstrels when they appeared in various towns. Interestingly, Buckingham and Gloucester's minstrels appeared together on several occasions in Barnstaple:


Receivers'Accounts NDA: Roll 2010

Et de xvj d datis minstrall' ducis Glawcestrie et de xij d datis minstrall" ducis Bokynham [others are named here too]


Receivers'Accounts NDA: Roll 2014

mb 1 (External expenses)

Et de viij d. minstrall' ducis de Bokynham. Et de iiij d. minstrall' ducis Gloucestrie [This must have been quite a show; the Dukes of Norfolk and Clarence, among others, also had minstrels there.]


Receivers'Accounts NDA: Roll 2015

mb 1 (External expenses)

Et de iiij d. minstrall'ducis de Bokyngham et de iiij d. Minstrall Henrici Botrugan Et de viij d. Custodi vrsorum domni Clarencij. Et de v s. solutis vj Ministrallis domni Regis. Et de xij d. duobus ministrallis ducis Gloucestrie

[Note the presence of the Duke of Clarence's "bear ward" and the king's minstrels here.]

With regard to the record for 1470-71, this must refer to a period after May 1471, since these accounts run from September to September and Gloucester was in exile with his brother Edward IV from September 1470 to April 1471, and fighting against forces of Lancaster in April and May 1471. It's interesting to note that Buckingham (born in 1455) was still a minor in 1471, a ward of the king who had been put in the custody of Elizabeth Woodville in 1464. The fact that the teenage Buckingham had a minstrel who traveled about suggests that even if he was still under the queen's care, he must have had something of a household at the time, contrary to Elizabeth's detractors, who portray her as ruthlessly exploiting her ward and keeping him from living the normal life of a noble adolescent male.

Well, back to Harry and Richard!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Review: A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin

A Secret Alchemy is narrated by two historical characters, Elizabeth Woodville and her brother Anthony, and by one fictitious one, Una Pryor, a historian who's returned to England from her home in Australia to sell her English property. During her stay in England, the recently widowed Una, who's working on a book about Anthony Woodville and his reading, visits the cousins with whom she was raised and encounters the man whom she loved as an adolescent.

Anthony's story begins with the last journey of his life: he is bound for Pontefract Castle, where he knows that the future Richard III has scheduled his execution. Elizabeth tells her story from the quiet confines of Bermondsey Abbey, to which she has retired from the court of Henry VII. Neither tells his or her life story from beginning to end; instead, they each focus on a few selected episodes, such as Elizabeth's courtship by Edward IV and Anthony's exile abroad. As a result, the cast of characters is relatively small: we meet Edward IV, Edward V, a few Woodvilles, Anthony's lover, and Elizabeth's long-time attendant and confidante. There's a cameo appearance by Thomas Malory and a couple of very brief ones by the future Richard III.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Anthony's and Elizabeth's stories, and had tears in my eyes after reading both (which doesn't happen very often, especially when I know the ending). Anthony's tale, especially the love story Darwin gives him (which I found very plausible) and his terrible grief when he realizes that his charge Edward V is at the mercy of Richard III, is very moving. Elizabeth, who's so often reduced to a caricature by historical novelists, is beautifully drawn here. She's strong-minded and courageous, yet vulnerable. There's even a touch of humor here and there, as when Elizabeth's earthy sister Margaret comments on the queen's morning sickness.

The contemporary story, Una's, was well done also. I didn't find it as compelling as the medieval ones, but Darwin did a nice job of working the historical strands and the contemporary strand into an integrated whole.

Darwin has researched her novel with care, and she provides an afterword putting the tales of Anthony and Elizabeth in their historical context.

I heartily recommend this novel.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


No, not the type with flappers. I was Googling last night and was excited to find this book: Seals by Walter de Gray Birch.
Here's the seal of Eleanor de Clare, heroine of The Traitor's Wife, and her second husband, William la Zouche. Eleanor's, of course, is the second one. (Look at the end of the post if for some reason Google's not letting you see the images below.)


And here's the seal of Eleanor's eldest son, Hugh le Despenser the even younger (died 1349), the hero of Hugh and Bess:

Seals By Walter de Gray Birch: "I 1 HUGH LE DESPENSER 1V "

Neat, eh? Zouche and Hugh, of course, are shown with their coats of arms, while Eleanor has a shield with the lions of England (reminding us that she was a granddaughter of Edward I) and another with the arms of Clare (her father, of course, was Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester).

Zouche and Eleanor: