Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham Pay Homage to the Prince of Wales

Last night, when revising My Heart Split with Sorrow, I ran into the annoying scenario of having to rewrite a scene in order to account for one of my historical characters' known whereabouts. Once I realized that I could do so without sacrificing a big chunk of necessary dialogue, I was a happy camper.

Anyway, here's the record in British Library Additional Manuscripts 6113, folio 74de, as transcribed for me, that made me do my rewrite. It's an account of a dinner hosted by Edward, Prince of Wales, on November 9, 1477, and the homage done to him afterward. Ironically, in light of what was to happen in 1483, the first man to pay his respects was Richard, Duke of Gloucester; the second was Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.

1. M[emorandu]m that in the yere of our lorde / ml iiijc lxxvij /
2. on the ixth day of November / The Prince Feasced
3. the greate Parte of all the nobles Temporell /
4. beinge Presente at that generall counsell w[i]t[h]
5. all the Judgges and Barons of the Kinges eschequer
6. where after dynner / his Brother The Duke of
7. Yorke was Sette on the Beddes fote besyde the
8. clothe of Astate / And his uncle The Duke of
9. Gloucester on gorde / And on bothe his knees /
10. Pottynge his handes betwene the Princes handes
11. dyd hym homage for suche landes as he helde
12. of hym / And so kyssed hym / And that don The
13. Prince thanked his sayde uncle / that yt lyked hym
14. to do yt so humbly / And in lyke forme after
15. hym dyd the Duke of Buckingeh[a]m Also /
16. The Duke of Suffolke / The Marquis Dorsette
17. Therle Rivers / The lorde Lisle / Sir [blank] Bryan
18. chefe Judge of the comon Place / And the Officers
19. of Armes had the Rome made by gentlemen usshers
20. Clarencieux Kinge at Armes
21. Norrey Kinge at Armes
22. Chester Harrolde
23. Herforde Harrolde
24. Seales Poursev[a]unte beinge there presente

George, Duke of Clarence, of course, missed this dinner: he was a prisoner in the Tower and would be executed on February 18, 1478.

Incidentally, Paul Murray Kendall writes in Richard the Third that prior to 1483, Richard "had had small opportunity to know Buckingham well." How well Buckingham and Gloucester actually knew each other is unknown, but opportunities certainly weren't lacking: in addition to their being together on this occasion in 1477, the men also attended the young Duke of York's wedding in January 1478, where they were given the job of leading the little bride into the wedding feast. In 1471, they were among the nobles who joined Edward IV's triumphant entry into London following the Battle of Tewkesbury, and in 1474, Richard was one of the men who nominated Henry to the Order of the Garter, after which Richard and Harry seem to have attended at least one Garter feast together. They were each summoned to Edward IV's last Parliament in 1483, where Henry was among the men appointed triers of petitions for England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Richard III, "The Simpsons"-Style

The other night, "The Simpsons" did an episode which featured Homer attempting to build a diorama of Westminster Abbey. Anne of Cleves showed up briefly, which reminded me that some time ago, "The Simpsons" presented its own version of Henry VIII and his wives. Which got me to thinking (always a dangerous thing), isn't it time that "The Simpsons" did a show on Richard III? The Shakespearean Richard III, of course--the nice guy Richard wouldn't work at all for these purposes.

So in order to give the writers of the show a head start, I've already done the casting for them. All I need to do now is wait and collect a portion of the payment when they write the episode.

Richard III: Bart Simpson. Who else?
Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham: Milhouse Van Houten
Edward IV: Homer Simpson
Elizabeth Woodville: Marg Simpson
Elizabeth of York: Lisa Simpson
The Princes in the Tower: Rod and Todd Flanders
Margaret of Anjou: The Crazy Cat Lady
Henry VI: Hans Moleman
George, Duke of Clarence: Barney Gumble
Margaret Beaufort: Agnes Skinner
Henry VII: Principal Seymour Skinner
Bishop Stillington: Reverend Lovejoy
William Hastings: Lenny Leonard
Anthony Woodville: Ned Flanders
James Tyrell: Nelson Muntz

This is proving harder than I thought, for there's a lot to be said for casting Moe as Richard III. However, doing that would make the graphic below impractical:

So if you don't like my casting, eat my shorts.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Emily Sarah Holt, and the Despensers Meet Jane Austen

As longtime readers of this blog know, I've mentioned Emily Sarah Holt a few times here. Holt, who wrote historical fiction in the nineteenth century, wrote one of the first novels about the Despenser family, In Convent Walls. Her novels aren't for everyone--among other things, they're intensely anti-Catholic, and most of her good characters are incipient Protestants--but they were quite well researched. In Convent Walls centers around the Despenser girls who were forced into convents by Queen Isabella.

Anyway, I paid a pretty penny for my copy of In Convent Walls several years ago, which means, of course, that it's now available as a reprint on Amazon, along with a number of other novels by Holt. (Higginbotham's Rule: When you find and buy an out-of-print book after years of searching, it will soon be reissued at a fraction of the price that you paid for it.) Holt's White Rose of Langley, which features the very same Constance of York you'll recognize from Brian Wainwright's excellent novel, Within the Fetterlock, is also available as a reprint on Amazon and on Kindle, though you can also read it for free online.

Holt wrote several novels set during the Wars of the Roses, including one featuring Anne Neville's stint as a kitchenmaid and one about Perkin Warbeck, but they seem pretty hard to come by. Perhaps some accommodating person might bring them back into print?

Speaking of the Despensers, the late Joan Aiken wrote several Jane Austen sequels before they became as ubiquitous as they are now. One, Jane Fairfax, features this amusing little snippet:

Mrs. Fitzroy had been a Despenser, as she lost no time in informing any new acquaintance considered worthy of the honour; one of her ancestors had been the last Justiciary of England and another had been the Earl of Winchester, executed in 1322 by Queen Isabella. "No doubt she had her reasons," Colonel Campbell was in the habit of darkly muttering to himself when he chanced to hear one of his mother-in-law's not infrequent repetitions of this piece of history.

1322? Ah, well. It's still entertaining.

Oh, I keep forgetting to mention that Maurice Druon, author of Les Rois Maudits (The Accursed Kings), died on April 14. I was sad to hear of his death, though I have to admit that I found his depiction of Edward II and Hugh le Despenser to be a tad over-the-top. Still, he seems to have led a fascinating life; there's a good obituary of him here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Company One Keeps

Being a little lazy tonight, instead of revising My Heart Split with Sorrow, I started poking around in the Library of Congress catalog for some familiar names. I liked this list of entries adjacent to Hugh le Despenser the younger:

Despenser, Hugh le, the younger, d 1326.
Despentes, Virginie, 1969-
Desperado City
Desperado (Motion picture)
Desperadoes (Musical group)
Desperadoes Steel Band
Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
Desperadoes Steelband
D'Esperance, E. (Elizabeth), 1855-1919
D'Esperance, Elizabeth, 1855-1919
Desperate housewives (Television program)

How'd a nice lady like Elizabeth D'Esperance end up in such shady company? And who the heck is she? Well, now we know. On the other hand, Virginie Despentes might be a match for Hugh.

Sadly, searches for Edward II, Piers Gaveston, Roger Mortimer, and Isabella all proved rather unamusing, as did my search for everyone's favorite fifteenth-century king. No doubt certain folk would find this juxtaposition apt, however:

Woodville, Elizabeth, 1437?-1492
Woodville gold mine, Orange Co., Va.

Some ego-searching brought up several Higginbothams, along with a company known as Higginbothams (Private) Ltd., which has produced not only the invaluable "City guide of Hyderabad & Secunderabad" but the "Latest road guide to Tamil Nadu." Now if I find myself in either locale, I certainly know which maps to purchase.

Finally, a few lines down from the numerous entries for Henry VIII, I found this entry:

Henry (Whaleship)

So that's how he traveled after he got out of shape.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Current Reading, Some Link Love, and Dead Existentialists

Over my vacation I got less reading done than I thought I would (which is a good thing; I always pack an excess of books in fear of getting stranded at the airport or shut up in a hotel room on a rainy day), but I did get two books finished: The King's Confidante by Jean Plaidy and The Rose in Spring by Eleanor Fairburn.

The King's Confidante is a reissue of St. Thomas's Eve, first published in 1954. Like Plaidy's other early Tudor novels, it's held up quite well for a book that's over fifty years old. This one focuses on Sir Thomas More and his family, chiefly his daughter Meg. Though part of it centers on More's relationship with Henry VIII (hence the title), most of the book is given over to the family life of the Mores, and particularly More's loving relationship with Meg. I enjoyed it thoroughly, though I don't know enough about More's personal life to make any grand pronouncements about the novel historical accuracy. Incidentally, a recent nonfiction book by John Guy, A Daughter's Love, also deals with More and Meg, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

The Rose in Spring is part of a four-part series about Cecily, Duchess of York. This book covers her life from childhood until 1449, when she and her husband go to Ireland. I rather liked it, especially the depiction of Cecily's relationship with her older sisters, until Jacquetta Woodville came onto the scene. As my skim of the other books in the series indicates, Fairburn takes the usual line of evil Woodvilles and a saintly Richard III, so naturally Jacquetta here is portrayed as a full-fledged witch. That would be bad enough, except that Jacquetta is also depicted as a rather stupid witch. She holds a dinner party for the English nobility in Rouen to celebrate the Greek Festival of the Dead, and she leads the company into a "sinister, dark-shaped room which was decorated with silver stars and planets, wands, cups, pentacles and swords." Jacquetta then proceeds to give a Tarot reading. One might think this lack of subtlety was a tad dangerous. With all this and the promise of a debauched Edward IV jilting that poor sweet Eleanor Talbot in the sequel, I don't know if I'll be in a hurry to read the next books in the series. (For those with stronger stomachs for this kind of thing, the other books are White Rose, Dark Summer, The Rose at Harvest End, and Winter's Rose.)

I'm still reading Margaret George's Memoirs of Cleopatra (it was way too big to tote on the airplane), but for a change of pace I'm also reading Jocelyn Kettle's Memorial to the Duchess, about Alice Chaucer. It's quite interesting. Kettle wrote a couple of other historical novels, but this was her only venture into medieval England that I could find. Anyone know of any other medieval novels by her?

Finally, while I was away, my blog tour was still going on. You can read some more interviews with me at Savvy Verse and Wit (which is giving away four copies of The Traitor's Wife, Diary of an Eccentric (which is giving away one copy of The Traitor's Wife), and Steven Till. There are also reviews at Peeking Between the Pages, Savvy Verse and Wit, My Friend Amy, Medieval Bookworm, Steven Till, and Tome Traveller. There's also a review by a blogger who hated the book, but I'll let y'all hunt for that one. The word "sophomoric" ought to bring it up pretty quickly, which makes me think that I should raise the intellectual tone of this blog a bit. So here goes:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I'm B-A-A-C-K!

I spent seven very nice days in Paris. This was my first visit there, and I hope it won't be my last.

Since my family and I were first-time visitors, we spent most of the time doing the usual tourist activities--the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Montmartre, Versailles. We also made it to the Museum of the Middle Ages (the Cluny), where I especially enjoyed getting to see what a portable altar looked like (very small and, thus, very portable), to Père-Lachaise cemetery, the Concierge, and to the Cathedral of Saint-Denis (burial place of most French kings, including Philip the Fair). I'll be posting some more pictures later, but here's a few odds and ends. First, our family, being people of taste and discernment, couldn't resist this souvenir:

I thought the Ricardians who read this blog would like this tough-looking fellow at the Louvre:

I was quite taken with this advertisement featuring a bespectacled bunny:

Paul Delaroche's painting of the Princes in the Tower:


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Guest Q&A with David Jones

As promised, I'm leaving you for the week with a question-and-answer with David Jones, author of Two Brothers: One North, One South, a story of the American Civil War. David has a website here and has recently been interviewed over at Michele Moran's History Buff.

Q. What motivated you to write your novel?

A. The Civil War has always held special meaning for me as my father related interesting stories that he heard from his maternal grandfather, who served in the 10th West Virginia Infantry. However, the real impetus started about twelve years ago when I documented all aspects of my genealogy, including details of the Civil War regiments of my ancestors. My paternal great great grandfather served as quartermaster of the Federal 6th Maryland Infantry and Clifton Prentiss was another officer in the regiment. I discovered that Clifton’s younger brother, William, served in the Confederate Maryland Battalion and was written about by Walt Whitman in Memoranda During The War. I was captivated by the story and launched a three-year research effort that amassed a considerable stack of historical data on the persons and events involved. With the breadth and texture of the tale fully revealed, it was quite evident that this was a story that must be told.

Q. Apparently you could have written Two Brothers as a non-fiction. Why did you write it as an historical fiction?

A. Despite being aware that many Civil War buffs are biased “to the hilt” against historical fiction, I believed that the Prentiss brothers’ story could achieve greater readership as a novel, rather than as a non-fiction. After all, the circumstance of “brother fighting brother” is the quintessential story of the American Civil War. Further, the Prentiss brothers’ story is quite remarkable because they met during the Breakthrough Battle at Petersburg just one week before Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox. These dramatic events were recalled in a number of somewhat contradictory memoirs and eyewitness accounts that do, nevertheless, confirm the substance of the story. Clearly much would be lost if this poignant tale was presented as a stark non-fiction, based entirely on official records and supplied with extensive footnotes.

Q. Did you create many characters and events to benefit the telling of the story?

A. All but two of the characters in Two Brothers were real people and many of their experiences were recorded in post-war memoirs, books, and articles. Some literary license was employed when several anecdotes were stretched to include primary characters. My standards for creating these fictional aspects were 1) it could have happened that way; and 2) there was no evidence that it didn’t happen that way.

Q. Did these standards prevent character development?

A. Probably. I was careful not to indulge in too much character development beyond what was clearly suggested by historical record and genealogical evidence provided by a Prentiss family member. These were real people, living in difficult times not that long ago, and their memory should be respected. I believe that it’s wrong for an historical fiction author to take excessive liberties with the personality and character of historical figures. My hope is that the reader, despite the lack of character development, would become emotionally involved with the characters given their authenticity.

Q. The dialogue sounds very authentic for a mid-nineteenth American setting. Is it based on letters and journals written by the people portrayed? 

A. Yes, the dialogue is often based on the words and phrases of the participants that they recorded in letters, memoirs, and journals. In some instances, the dialogue is close to the record of what was actually said in those moments. I wrote in nineteenth century style to harmoniously blend the dialogue and narration as much as possible, although this format creates difficulty for a few readers. 

Q. Your book appears to focus more on the Confederate brother William rather than the Union brother Clifton. Is that true, and if so, why?

A. My goal was to be even-handed in the treatment of the Prentiss brothers as I related their wartime experiences and explored their reasons for choosing opposite sides. My own sense of the Civil War is that soldiers of both sides were honorable Americans. Whitman revealed a similar view in “The Wound Dresser” when he declared them all to be “unsurpass’d heroes” and “equally brave.” As research yielded more usable material on William and the 1st and 2nd Maryland Battalions than on Clifton and the 6th Maryland Infantry, it does appear that there is a bias in favor of the South. However, this factor is mitigated by the shift of focus from South to North as the story progresses toward the climax at Petersburg. Also, the viewpoint of the surviving brothers around Clifton’s hospital bed is clearly for the Union.

Q. The southern characters seem to be somewhat ambivalent about slavery and its connection to the Southern cause. Is this a common attitude among the Confederates that you researched?

A. Both North and South, the central issue in most people’s minds at the beginning of hostilities was not slavery. The average Northern soldier was fighting to preserve the Union and his Southern counterpart was fighting a second war for Independence from what was perceived to be the political and economic tyranny of the North. In fact, racial attitudes were essentially the same throughout the country. Nevertheless, recognition grew as the war progressed that slavery was at the heart of the conflict between the states. The Southern characters in Two Brothers were well-educated people of the upper class who held strong religious beliefs. It’s clear from their writings that they recognized the evil inherent in the institution of slavery and believed that slavery would wither away of its own accord over time. They even worried about the difficulty of transition for former slaves when freedom was inevitably achieved. Their slaves were mainly household servants, who, despite being well treated, were simply making the best of a bad situation. It should also be acknowledged that the plight of field slaves on large plantations was often much worse, but that sad circumstance does not fall directly within the Two Brothers storyline and the purview of its characters.

Q. What do you hope readers will gain from reading your book?

A. The realization that these soldiers, both North and South, were American patriots. They were the children and grandchildren of Revolutionary War patriots, yet they strongly disagreed on the major political, economic, and social issues of the period. The Civil War transformed this nation and we should celebrate our history by striving to achieve a better understanding of it. Historical fiction, properly done, can contribute greatly to that knowledge, and entertain at the same time.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

More Blog Touring, and Bits and Pieces

Some more reviews from Amy at Passages to the Past, Margaret at Historical Novels, and Grace's Book Blog. And Margaret is also interviewing me over here.

On a non-me-related note, I finished reading Robert Hutchison's The House of Treason this week. It's nonfiction about the Dukes of Norfolk from the end of Richard III's reign through that of Elizabeth I, and is a quite interesting portrait of a family that found it exceedingly difficult to stay out of the Tower. I'm currently reading Margaret George's Memoirs of Cleopatra, which is quite good.

Next week, I'll be mostly gone from the blogsphere. While I'm away, I'll leave you with a Q & A from David Jones, author of a novel about the American Civil War, Two Brothers: One North, One South. In the meantime, Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

More Blog Tourin'

A couple of reviews today by Lilly at Reading Extravaganza and S. Krishna. Thanks, folks!

March was a rather dismal month for amusing search terms on my website--most were straightforward and sensible. However, these are two web surfers who might have a bright future together:

torrid nubiles

whipping scene in poor cecily

Well, as they say:

to each his own like the old lady that kissed the cow

Monday, April 06, 2009

Blog Tour and a Giveaway!

Over the next few days, I'll be doing a blog tour for The Traitor's Wife, so this blog will be a little quiet since you'll be getting so much of me elsewhere. (Boswell says you can never have enough of me. But he's got Beggin' Strips and sausage biscuits to earn, so there may be some bias here.)

First, stop by Historical Tapestry for a giveaway of The Traitor's Wife! Two copies are up for grabs for readers in the U.S. and Canada.

Second, the lovely Amy over at Passages to the Past has an interview with me. You even get to see my smiling face!

Third, Carla, Michele, and Cheryl have each posted reviews. All are discerning readers, so I'm glad they liked it!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sweeping Changes Planned for Amazon's Review System

SEATTLE—APRIL 1: Concerned over customer and author complaints about its reader reviewing system, Amazon is planning drastic changes in the way customers will be allowed to review books.

The centerpiece of the new plan, called “Twice as Nice,” which is to be unveiled formally later this month, requires reviewers to leave two positive comments for each negative comment they make in an individual review. An anonymous company executive explained, “If you say, for instance, that an author couldn't write her way out of an open paper bag, you will have to balance that by making two positive comments like, ‘But her male characters were really HOT,' and ‘At least she didn’t have anyone eating potatoes in medieval England.’”

“We think this will lead to a more pleasant and congenial atmosphere at Amazon,” explained a public relations representative. “It won’t eliminate negativity altogether, because, let’s face it, some people just can’t be satisfied with anything. But at least anyone who leaves a negative comment will have to think hard about doing it, because they have to leave those two positives or the system will reject their comment. And looking for two positives will ultimately tend to enrich the reading experience, we think.”

The PR representative added, “To be frank, this decision was a business necessity, because authors are very sensitive, fragile sorts and will be more productive if they’re not spending three days in bed with their cats each time they get a bad review. By easing their pain, we’ll be increasing their output, and in the long run, we’ll have more product. It’s really a win-win situation all around, even for the cats, since the more the author produces, the more cat toys are involved.”

Under the new system, reviewers inclined to be critical will be encouraged through online tutorials to find creative ways of softening their remarks. Explained the company executive, “You can write, ‘This book put me to sleep,’ but then add, ‘But you know, a soothing sleep was just what I needed last night.’ Or the reviewer could say, ‘This writing is sophomoric,’ but add, ‘And I really had a blast my sophomore year.’ There are so many ways reviewers can be nicer. It’s mind-boggling, really.”

Also targeted will be the way in which customers vote on the helpfulness of reviews. The current system, under which readers can rate a review “helpful” or “not helpful,” will be changed to eliminate the “not helpful” option. “Our philosophy is that every review is helpful in some way, even if it’s by the author, her mother, or her best friend, because it at least gets a dialogue going,” explained the PR representative. “So readers will now vote ‘helpful,’ ‘very helpful,’ or ‘extremely helpful.’ It’s a small thing, granted, but it really will make life on Amazon a lot more pleasant. It just sets a more genteel tone.”

Asked whether the new system might simply mean that “helpful” becomes the new “not helpful,” the representative said, “We have an algorithm to take care of that, I’m sure.” Asked to explain precisely what an algorithm is, the representative said, “I’ll get back to you about that. I was an English major."

When asked whether the discouraging of negative reviews would stifle open discussion, the executive was philosophical. “It’s true that Amazon might become a little less lively, but I think in the long run, the new, nice Amazon will suit people just fine. And if reviewers have these pent-up urges to be snarky, they can always start blogs, can’t they?”

For more details about this new program, visit this site.