Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer Search Terms!

Some search terms for July for my website and for Historical Fiction Online:

how long can you be in a funeral home before being burryd in england

If you have to ask, it's probably time to start digging.

medievil games of cance

You pays your money and you lose your aitches.

why was elizabeth woodville not elizabeth i

Because wearing that ruff itched too much.

wife of a traitor

So close . . . So close. Just make it into a possessive and put a "The" in front of it, please.

video of kittens dressed in viking outfits to the tune of the immigrant

I really hope they found this one.

i just want to buy sunne in splendour for my sony reader

If this isn't a cry of anguish, I don't know what is.

how can medieval help a country

Well, it certainly can't hurt.

what s the difference between toe rings and finger rings?

If I were this person, I might want to rethink my lifelong dream of winning big on "Jeopardy."

medieval films of sex

Sadly, all of the known medieval sex films were destroyed in the Great Fire of London. But at least we have the kittens in Viking outfits to watch.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Will of Cecily, Duchess of York

Here's another will for you: that of Cecily, Duchess of York. Cecily signed her will on May 31, 1495, at her home of Berkhamsted Castle, a few days before her death. Her will appears in Wills From Doctors' Commons, edited by John Gough Nichols and John Bruce and available on Google Books.

Cecily's will takes up eight pages and is printed in a single paragraph. I have taken the liberty of breaking down the bequests into paragraphs to make it more readable.

Of the religious goods that Cecily gives so generously, an "abe" was an "alb," a type of vestment. Likewise, I believe that "tencule" means "tunicle," which is also a vestment. "Fanons" were strips of material worn on the left wrist.

A "dymysent" is a type of girdle; Henry VI gave the pregnant Margaret of Anjou one in 1453.

Cecily twice refers to her husband as being the father of Edward IV: a mere form of words, or perhaps a quiet refutation of the rumors that Edward IV was illegitimate? Wisely, Cecily makes no mention of her other royal son, Richard III.

It's interesting to see which family members received bequests. All of Cecily's granddaughters through Edward IV--the queen, Bridget (a nun), Cecily, Anne, and Katherine--were remembered. The duchess's two grandchildren by George, Duke of Clarence, aren't named: Cecily might have thought it unwise to leave anything to her grandson Edward, Earl of Warwick, imprisoned in the Tower, but his sister Margaret was married to Richard Pole, who enjoyed royal favor. Some of Cecily's de la Pole grandchildren were given bequests, despite the fact that their brother John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, had been killed rebelling against Henry VII a few years before. Left out too was Anne St. Leger, daughter of the deceased Duchess of Exeter and Thomas St. Leger. Anne St. Leger was married to George Manners, not a controversial figure. Perhaps Cecily left bequests only to those grandchildren to whom she was close, or perhaps she had been generous to the omitted grandchildren during her lifetime and had no need to remember them in her will.

As Ian Arthurson notes in The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy, Richard Lessy, Cecily's steward, was involved in the conspiracy; the "charges which he has to pay to the Kinges grace" referred to by Cecily were the 200 pound fine he had to pay for his royal pardon. Arthurson also suggests that Anne Lounde might have been connected with Warbeck's chancellor, William Lounde. Richard Boyville, also named, had connections with Cecily's daughter Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, who had been heavily involved in the conspiracy. Does this mean, as some have suggested, that Cecily herself was a participant? I find it unlikely; if Cecily indeed had been involved, flaunting her ties to Lessy and the others in her will would only irritate Henry VII, who could have interfered with Cecily's cherished hope of being buried at Fotheringhay beside her husband.

Cecily was indeed buried at Fotheringhay. On a visit there, Elizabeth I, distressed at the neglect of the graves of her ancestors, ordered that the bodies be moved into the present church and that monuments be erected over them. Cecily's coffin was opened for the removal, revealing that she had been buried with a papal indulgence tied around her neck with a silver ribbon. The handwriting on the indulgence was "as fair and fresh as if it had been written yesterday."


In the name of allmyghty God, the blessed Trinite, fader and son and the holigost, trusting in the meanes and mediacions of oure blessed Lady Moder, of oure most blessed Saviour Jh'u Crist, and by the intercession of holy Saint John Baptist, and all the saintes of heven: I, Cecille, wife unto the right noble prince Richard late Duke of Yorke, fader unto the most cristen prince my Lord and son King Edward the iiijth, the first day of Aprill the yere of our Lord M.cccc.lxxxxv. after the computacion of the Church of Englond, of hole mynde and body, loving therfore be it to Jh'u, make and ordeigne my testament in fourme and maner ensuyng. Furst, I bequeath and surrendour my soule in to the mcrcifull handes of allmyghty God my maker, and in to protecion of the blessed virgin our lady Saint Mary, and suffrage of Saint John Baptist, and of all other saintes of heven. Also my body to be buried beside the body of my moost entierly best beloved Lord and housbond, fader unto my said lorde and son, and in his tumbe within the collegiate church of Fodringhay, if myn executours by the sufferaunce of the King finde goode sufficient therto; and elles at the Kinges pleasure. And I will that after my deceasse all my dettes sufficiently appering and proved be paid, thanking oure Lord at this tyme of making of this my testament to the knolege of my conscience I am not muche in dctt; and if it happen, as I trust to God it shalnot, that there be not found sufficient money aswell to pay my dettes as to enture my body, than in advoiding such charges as myght growe for the same, the whiche God defende, I lymytte and assigne all such parcelles of plate as belongith to my chapell, pantry, cellour, ewry, and squillery, to the perfourinyng of the same, as apperith in the inventary, except such plate as I have bequeithed.

Also I geve and bequeith to the Kinges noble grace all such money as is owing to me of the customes, and two cuppes of gold. Also I geve and bequeith to the Quene a crosse croslette of diamantes, a sawter with claspes of silver and guilte enameled covered with grene clothe of golde, and a pix with the fleshe of Saint Cristofer. Also I bequeith to my lady the Kinges moder a portuos with claspes of gold covered with blackc cloth of golde. Also I geve to my lord Prince [Arthur] a bedde of arres of the Whele of Fortune and testour of the same, a counterpoint of arras, and a tappett of arres with the pope. Also I geve to my lord Henry Duke of Yorke [later Henry VIII] three tappettes of arres, oon of them of the life of Saint John Baptist, another of Mary Maudeleyn, and the thirde of the passion of our Lord and Saint George.

And if my body be buried at Fodringhay in the colege there with my most entierly best beloved lord and housbond, than I geve to the said colege a square canapie of crymeson clothe of gold with iiij. staves, twoo auter clothes of crymeson clothe of gold, twoo copes of crymeson clothe of gold, a chesibull and twoo tenucles of crymyson clothe of gold, with iij. abes, twoo auter clothes of crymeson damaske browdered, a chesibull, twoo tenucles, and iij. copes of blewe velwett brodered, with iij. abes, thre masse bokes, thre grayles, and vij. processioners. Also I geve to the colege of Stoke Clare a chesibull and twoo tenucles of playn crymyson cloth of gold with iij. abes, twoo auter clothes, a chesibull, twoo tenucles, and fyve coopes of white damaske browdered, with iij. abes, twoo awter clothes of crymeson velwett upon the velwete {sic), a vestement of crymeson playne velvet, iiij. antiphoners, iiij. grayles, and sixe processioners. Also I geve to the house of Sion two of the best coopes of crymyson clothe of gold.

Also I geve to my doughter Brigitte [daughter of Edward IV] the boke of Legenda Aurea in velem, a boke of the life of Saint Kateryn of Sene, a boke of Saint Matilde. Also I geve to my doughter Cecill [daughter of Edward IV] a portuous with claspes silver and gilte covered with purple velvet, and a grete portuous without note. Also I geve to my doughter Anne [daughter of Edward IV] the largest bedde of bawdekyn, withe countrepoint of the same, the barge with bailles, tilde, and ores belonging to the same. Also I geve to my doughter Kateryn [daughter of Edward IV] a traves of blewe satten. Also I geve to my doughter of Suffolke [identified by the editors as either Cecily's daughter Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, or Margaret, wife of Edmund de la Pole] the chare with the coveryng, all the quoshons, horses, and harneys belonging to the same, and all my palfreys. Also I geve to my son of Suffolke [Edmund de la Pole] a clothe of estate and iij. quoschons of purpull damaske cloth of gold. Also I geve to my son Humfrey [de la Pole] two awter clothes of blewe damaske brawdered and a vestyment of crymeson satten for Jh'us masse. Also I geve to my son William [de la Pole; misidentified by the editors, who were unaware of this grandson's existence, as William Stourton] a traves of white sarcenet, twoo beddes of downe, and twoo bolsters to the same. Also I geve to my doughter Anne [de la Pole], priores of Sion, a boke of Bonaventure and Hilton in the same in Englishe, and a boke of the Revelacions of Saint Burgitte.

Also I woll that all my plate not bequeithed be sold, and the money thereof be putte to the use of my burying, that is to sey, in discharging of suche costes and expensis as shalbe for carying of my body from the castell of Barkehampstede unto the colege of Fodringhey. And if any of the said plate be lefte unexpended I woll the said colege have it. Also I geve to the colege of saint Antonies in London an antiphoner with the ruelles of musik in the later ynd. Also I geve unto Master Richard Lessy all suche money as is owing unto me by obligations what soever they be, and also all such money as is owing unto me by the Shirfe of Yorkeshire, to helpe to bere his charges which he has to pay to the Kinges grace, trusting he shall the rather nyghe the said dettes by the help and socour of his said grace. Also I geve to Master William Croxston a chesibull, stoles, and fanons of blake velwett, with an abe. Also I geve to Master Richard Henmershe a chesibill, stoles, and fanons of crymyson damaske, with an abe; and a chesibill, stoles and fanons of crymeson saten, with an abe. Also I geve to Sir John More a frontell of purpull cloth of gold, a legend boke, and a colett boke. Also I give to Sir Randall Brantingham a chesibill, stoles, and fanons of white damaske, orfreys of crymson velvet, with an abe, the better of bothe. Also I geve to Sir William Grave a chesibill, stoles, and fanons of white damaske, orfreys of crymeson velvett, with an abe; a masse-boke that servith for the closett, a prymour with claspes silver and gilt, covered with blewe velvett, and a sawter that servith for the closett covered with white ledder.

Also I geve to Sir John Blotte a gospell boke, a pistill covered with ledder, and a case for a corporax of grene playne velvett. Also I geve to Sir Thomas Clerk a chesibill, twoo tenucles, stoles, fanons, of rede bawdeken, with iij. abes. Also I geve to Sir William Tiler twoo coopes of rede bawdekyn. Also I geve to Robert Claver iij. copes of white damaske brawdered, and a gowne of the Duchie facion of playne blake velvett furred with ermyns. Also I geve to John Bury twoo old copes of crymysyn satten cloth of gold, a frontell of white bawdekyn, twoo curteyns of rede sarcenett fringed, twoo curteyns of whit sarcenet fringed, a feder bed, a bolstour to the same, the best of feders, and two whit spervers of lynyn. Also I geve to John Poule twoo auter clothes, a chesibull, twoo tenucles, stoles, and fanons of white bawdekyn, with iij. abes; a short gowne of purple playne velvett furred with ermyns, the better of ij. and a kirtill of damaske with andelettes of silver and gilt furred. Also I geve to John Smyth twoo auter clothes, a chesibill, twoo tenucles, stoles, and fanons of blew bawdekyn, with iij. abes. Also I geve to John Bury twoo copes of crymysyn clothe of gold that servith for Sondays.

Also I geve to John Walter a case for corporax of purple plaync velvett, twoo cases for corporax of blewe bawdekyn, twoo auter clothes, a chesibill of rede and grene bawdekyn, a canapie of white sarcenett, iij. abes for children, and iiij. pair of parrours of white bawdekyn, twoo pair parrours of crymsyn velvett, twoo pair parrours of rede bawdekyn, a housling towell that servith for my selfe, twoo corteyns of blewe sarcenett fringed, a sudory of crymysyn and white, the egges blak, a crose cloth and a cloth of Saint John Baptist of sarcenett painted, a long lantorn, a dext standing doble, twoo grete stondardes and ij. litill cofers. Also I geve to John Peitwynne twoo vestimentes of white damaske, a white bedde of lynnyn, a federbedde and a bolstour, and a short gowne of purple playne velvet furred with sabilles. Also I geve to Thomas Lentall six auter clothes of white sarcenett, with crosses of crymsyn velvet Also I geve to John Long iij. peces of bawdekyn of the lengur sorte.

Also I geve to Sir [John] Verney knighte and Margarett his wiffe a crosse [of] silver and guilte and berall, and in the same a pece of the holy crosse and other diverse reliques. Also I geve to Dame Jane Pesemershe, widue, myne Inne that is called the George in Grauntham, during terme of her life; and after her decesse I woll that the reversion therof be unto the college of Fodringhay for evermore, to find a prest to pray for my Lord my housbond and me. Also I geve to Nicholas Talbott and Jane his wife a spone of gold with a sharp diamount in the ende, a dymysent of gold with a collumbine and a diamont in the same, a guirdill of blewe tissue harnessed with gold, a guirdill of gold with a bokull and a pendaunt and iiij. barres of gold, a hoke of gold with iij. roses, a pomeamber of gold garnesshed with a diamont, sex rubies and sex perles, and the surnap and towell to the same.

Also I geve to Richard Boyvile and Gresild his wife my charrett and the horses with the harnes that belongith therunto, a gowne with a dymy trayn of purpull saten furred with ermyns, a shorte gowne of purple saten furred with jennetes, a kirtill of white damaske with aundelettes silver and gilte, a spone of gold, a dymysynt of gold with a columbyne garnesshed with a diamant, a saphour, an amatist, and viij. perles, a pomeamber of gold enameled, a litell boxe with a cover of gold and a diamant in the toppe.

Also I geve to Richard Brocas and Jane his wife a long gown of purpull velvett upon velvet furred with ermyns, a greate Agnus of gold with the Trinite, Saint Erasmus, and the Salutacion of our Lady; an Agnus of gold with our Lady and Saint Barbara; a litell goblett with a cover silver and part guild; a pair of bedes of white amber gauded with vj. grete stones of gold, part aneled, with a pair of bedes of x. stones of gold and v. of corall; a cofor with a rounde lidde bonde with iron, which the said Jane hath in her keping, and all other thinges that she hath in charge of keping.

Also I geve to Anne Pinchbeke all other myne Agnus unbequeithed, that is to sey, ten of the Trinite, a litell malmesey pott with a cover silver and parte guilte, a possenett with a cover of silver, a short gowne of playne russett velvett furred with sabilles, a short gowne of playne blewe velvett furred with sabilles, a short gowne of purple playn velvet furred with grey, a tester, a siler, and a countrepoint of bawdekyn, the lesser of ij.

Also I geve to Jane Lessy a dymysent of gold with a roos, garnisshed with twoo rubies, a guirdell of purple tissue with a broken bokull, and a broken pendaunt silver and guilte, a guirdill of white riband with twoo claspes of gold with a columbyne, a guirdell of blewe riband with a bokell and a pendaunt of gold, a litell pair of bedes of white amber gaudied with vij. stones of gold, an haliwater stope with a strynkkill silver and gilte, and a laier silver and part guilte.

Also I geve to John Metcalfe and Alice his wife all the ringes that I have, except such as hang by my bedes and Agnus, and also except my signet, a litell boxe of golde with a cover of golde, a pair of bedes of lxj. rounde stones of golde gaudied with sex square stones of golde enemeled, with a crosse of golde, twoo other stones, and a scalop shele of geete honging by.

Also I geve to Anne Lownde a litell bokull and a litell pendaunt of golde for a guirdill, a litell guirdell of golde and silke with a bokill and a pendaunt of golde, a guirdell of white riband with aggelettes of golde enameled, a hoke of golde playne, a broken hoke of golde enameled, and a litell rounde bottumed basyn of silver.

Also I geve to the house of Assherugge a chesibull and ij. tenucles of crymysyn damaske embrawdered, with thre abes. Also I geve to the house of Saint Margaretes twoo auter clothes with a crucifix and a vestiment of grete velvet. Also I geve to the parish church of Stoundon a coope of blewe bawdekyn, the orffreys embrawdered. Also I geve to the parishe church of Much Barkehampstede a coope of blewe bawdekyn, the orffreys embrawdered. Also I geve to the parish church of Compton by sides Guilford a corporax case of blake cloth of gold and iiij. auter clothes of white sarcenett embrawdered with garters.

Also I geve to Alisaunder Cressencr my best bedde of downe and a bolster to the same. Also I geve to Sir Henry Haidon knyght a tablett and a cristall garnesshed with ix. stones and xxvij. perles, lacking a stone and iij. perles. Also I geve to Gervase Cressy a long gown of playn blewe velvet furred with sabilles. Also I geve to Edward Delahay twoo gownes of musterdevilers furred with mynckes, and iiij li of money. Also I geve to Thomas Manory a short gowne of crymesyn playn velvet lyned, purfilled with blake velvet, and iiij li in money. Also I geve to John Broune all such stuf as belongith to the kechyn in his keping at my place at Baynardcastell in London, and iiij li in money. Also I geve to William Whitington a short gown of russett cloth furred with matrons and calabour wombes, a kirtill of purpull silke chamblett with awndelettes silver and gilte, all such floures of brawdery werke and the cofer that they be kept in, and xls. in money.

Also I geve to all other gentilmen that be daily a waiting in my houshold with Mr. Richard Cressy and Robert Lichingham everich of theime iiij li in money. Also I geve to every yoman that be daily ad waiting in my houshold with John Otley xls. in money. Also I geve to every grome of myne xxvj s. viij d. in money. And to every page of myne xiij s. iiij d. in money. Also I geve to Robert Harison xls. in money and all the gootes.

And if ther be no money founde in my cofers to perfourme this my will and bequest, than I will that myne executours, that is to sey the reverend fader in God Master Olyver King bisshop of Bath, Sir Reignolde Bray knight, Sir Thomas Lovell, councellours to the Kinges grace, Master William Pikinham doctour in degrees dean of the colege of Stoke Clare, Master William Felde master of the colege of Fodringhey, and Master Bichard Lessy dean of my chapell, havyng God in reverence and drede, unto whome I geve full power and auctorite to execute this my will and testament, make money of such goodes as I have not geven and bequeithed, and with the same to content my dettes and perfourme this my will and testament. And the foresaid reverend fader in God, Sir Rignold Bray knyght, Sir Thomas Lovell knyght, Master William Pikenham, and Master William Felde, to be rewarded of suche thinges as shalbe delivered unto theme by my commaundement by the hondes of Sir Henry Haidon knyght stieward of my houshold and Master Richard Lessy, humbly beseching the Kinges habundant grace in whome is my singuler trust to name such supervisour as shalbe willing and favorabull diligently to se that this my present testament and will be perfittely executed and perfourmyd, gevyng full power also to my said executours to levey and receyve all my dettes due and owing unto me at the day of my dethe, as well of my receyvours as of all other officers, except such dettes as I have geven and bequeathed unto Master Richard Lessy aforesaid, as is above specified in this present will and testament. And if that Master Richard Lessy cannot recover such money as I have geven to hym of the Shirfles of Yorkeshire and of my obligacions, than I will he be recompensed of the revenues of my landes to the sume of v c. marcs at the leest.

In Wittenesse Herof I have setto my signet and signemanuell at my castell of Berkehamstede the last day of May the yere of our Lord abovesaid, being present Master Richard Lessy, Sir William Grant my confessour, Richard Brocas clerc of my kechyn, and Gervays Cressy.

Proved at " Lamehithe" the 27th day of August, A.d. 1495, and commission granted to Master Richard Lessy the executor in the said will mentioned to administer, &c. &c.


Ian Arthurson, The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy, 1491-1499. Sutton Publishing, 1997.

Edward Bradley, Fotheringhay and Mary, Queen of Scots by Cuthbert Bede. 1885. On Google Books.

Christopher Harper-Bill, ‘Cecily, duchess of York (1415–1495)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004 [, accessed 29 July 2010]

John Gough Nichols and John Bruce, Wills from Doctors' Commons. Camden Society, 1863. On Google Books.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Will of Elizabeth Woodville

Last night as I was going to bed, it occurred to me that I have never done a blog post about the last will of Elizabeth Woodville. So here it is!

Elizabeth died at Bermondsey Abbey on June 8, 1492, aged about 55. By this time, all of her eleven brothers and sisters were dead except for her youngest sister, Katherine, Duchess of Bedford and Buckingham. Only one of her four sons is known to have survived her: Richard Grey had been executed by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in 1483, and her two royal sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, disappeared that same year.

Elizabeth had been living at Bermondsey since around March 1487. Why she lived there has been fiercely debated. Vergil claims that she was sent there by Henry VII as punishment for having made her peace with Richard III in 1484, but this seems like a rather delayed reaction on Henry VII's part, especially since Elizabeth had already been allowed to serve as godmother to Prince Arthur in 1486. Later historians, beginning with Francis Bacon and recently David Baldwin, have argued that she was forced to go to Bermondsey because she had been involved in Lambert Simnel's 1487 rebellion. Others have rejected this story as unlikely. Elizabeth had leased the abbot's house at Westminster on July 10, 1486, which as David MacGibbon notes already shows an intention to live away from court and her own estates. Although she was deprived of her dower lands, which were transferred to her daughter Queen Elizabeth in 1487, Michael Hicks has pointed out that "no late medieval English king permitted dower to two queens simultaneously." She was given an annuity of 400 marks, increased to 400 pounds in 1490. Henry VII occasionally gave her grants, including a gift of 50 marks in December 1491, and she appeared at court from time to time. She was even considered as a bride for King James III of Scotland (d. 1488), an unlikely match for Henry VII to make if he believed that Elizabeth had been plotting against him. The more likely scenario, then, appears to be that Elizabeth chose voluntarily to end her days at Bermondsey, a perfectly respectable lodging for a dowager queen.

Like her predecessor Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth apparently had little of value to leave at her death (in contrast to the royal mothers Cecily, Duchess of York, and Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, whose wills go on for pages). We do not, however, know what comprised the "smale stufe and goodes" Elizabeth refers to; perhaps she had more comforts around her than is generally assumed.

IN Dei nomine, Amen. The xth daie of Aprill, the yere of our Lord Gode Mcccclxxxxii. I Elisabeth by the grace of God Quene of England, late wif to the most victoroiuse Prince of blessed memorie Edward the Fourth, being of hole mynde, seying the worlde so traunsitorie, and no creature certayne whanne they shall departe frome hence, havyng Almyghty Gode fressh in mynde, in whome is all mercy and grace, bequeath my sowle into his handes, beseechyng him, of the same mercy, to accept it graciously, and oure blessed Lady Quene of comforte, and all the holy company of hevyn, to be good meanes for me. It'm, I bequeith my body to be buried with the bodie of my Lord at Windessore, according to the will of my saide Lorde and myne, without pompes entreing or costlie expensis donne thereabought. It'm, where I have no wordely goodes to do the Quene's Grace, my derest doughter, a pleaser with, nether to reward any of my children, according to my hart and mynde, I besech Almyghty Gode to blisse here Grace, with all her noble issue, and with as good hart and mynde as is to me possible, I geve her Grace my blessing, and all the forsaide my children. It'm, I will that suche smale stufe and goodes that I have be disposed truly in the contentac'on of my dettes and for the helth of my sowle, as farre as they will extende. It'm, yf any of my bloode wille any of my saide stufe or goodes to me perteyning, I will that they have the prefermente before any other. And of this my present testament I make and ordeyne myne Executores, that is to sey, John Ingilby, Priour of the Chartour-house of Shene, William Sutton and Thomas Brente, Doctors. And I besech my said derest doughter, the Queue's grace, and my sone Thomas, Marques Dorsett, to putte there good willes and help for the performans of this my testamente. In witnesse wherof, to this my present testament I have sett my seale, these witnesses, John Abbot of the monastry of Sainte Saviour of Bermondefley, and Benedictus Cun, Doctor of Fyfyk. Yeven the day and yere abovesaid.

Elizabeth's funeral, as she requested, was a modest one, deserving of its own blog post.


David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower. Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2004 (paperback edition).

Michael Hicks, ‘Elizabeth (c.1437–1492)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2008 [, accessed 23 July 2010]

J. L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005 (paperback edition).

David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville: Her Life and Times. London: Arthur Baker, Ltd., 1938.

J. Nichols, A Collection of all the Wills, now known to be extant, of the Kings and Queens of England . . . . London: J. Nichols, 1780. (Available on Google Books.)

Arlene Okerlund, Elizabeth: England’s Slandered Queen. Gloucestershire: Tempus, 2006 (paperback edition).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scenes from Coventry

In 1456, Margaret of Anjou took up residence in the midlands, where she and Henry VI would spend much of 1456 and 1457. Their base was the city of Coventry, which would become known as "the queen's secret harbour." Henry and Margaret's visits to Coventry were recorded in The Coventry Leet Book (available on Google Books), edited by M.D. Harris.

The most spectacular civic event took place on September 14, 1456, when the city of Coventry greeted Margaret with a series of pageants. Featured were speeches from figures representing Isaiah and Jeremiah, Edward the Confessor and John the Evangelist, the four cardinal virtues of Righteousness, Temperance, Strength, and Prudence, and the nine worthies--Hector, Alexander, Joshua, David, Judas Maccabaeus, Arthur, Charlemagne, Caesar, and Godfrey of Bouillon. Bringing up the rear, appropriately enough, was St. Margaret slaying a dragon.

The text of the pageants can be found in The Coventry Leet Book. (Incidentally, the writer of the verses, John Wetherby of Leicester, received 25 shillings for his work.) To give you a flavor, here is part of Julius Caesar's speech:

I, Julius Cesare, souerayn of knyghthode
And emperowr of mortall men, most hegh & myghty,
Welcum you, princes most benynge & gode;
Of quenes that byn crowned so high non knowe I.
The same blessyd blossom that spronge of yowr body,
Shall succede me yn worship, I wyll it be so;
All the landis olyve shall obey hym vn-to.

Henry VI was present at Coventry, as Judas Maccabeus duly noted:

Your own souerayu lorde & kynge is present here,
Whome God for his godenes preserve in good helthe,
And ende you with worship to this landys welthe!

Nothing indicates that the king received the same sort of ceremonial greeting that his queen did: this was Margaret's show. The mayor did, however, give a tun of wine to the king. He also paid two shillings for a "glasse of Rose water" for Lord Rivers, whose daughter Elizabeth would become Edward IV's queen in 1464.

When Margaret left Coventry for Coleshill in March 1457, she famously asked that she be accompanied by the sheriffs bearing their staffs of office, just as the king had been accompanied, though she stopped short of having a sword borne beside her. Her visit to Coventry in May 1457 to see the Corpus Christi plays, however, was far less formal. Margaret asked not to be met, and she brought a host of distinguished guests with her:

On Corporis Christi yeven at nyght then next suyng came the queue from Kelyngworth to Coventre; at which tyme she wold not be met, but came preuely to se the play there on the morowe; and she sygh then alle the Pagentes pleyde save Domes-day, which myght not be pleyde for lak of day. And she was loged at Richard Wodes the Grocer, where Ric. Sharp some-tyme dwelled, and there all the pleys were furst pleyde. At which tyme the Meyre and his brethern send vnto her a present which was sich as here suytli: That is to wit, ccc paynemaynes [fine white bread], a pipe of Rede wyne, a dosyn Capons of haut grece, a dosyn of grete fat Pykes, a grete panyer full of Pescodes and another panyer full of pipyiis and Orynges and ij Cofyns of Counfetys and a pot of grene Gynger. And there were with her then these lordes and ladyes that here folowen: That is to sey, the Duke of Bukkyngham and my lady his Wyff and all ther Childern, the lord Revers and my lady hys Wyf, the lady of Shrowesbery the Elder, and the lady of Shrowesbery the yonger, with other mony moo lordes and ladyes. And the Friday then next she remeved to Colshull to her mete and Eculsale [Eccleshall] to the Prynce; at which tyme the seid Meire and his brethern with right a Good feliship of the seid cite, which plesid her highnes right well, brought her to the vtmast syde of theyre fraunchice, where hit plesyd her to gyff them grete thank bothe for theyre present and theyre gentyll attendaunce.

Note the fact that the "lack of day" prevented the Doomsday play from being staged, which seems quite appropriate, and the Woodville sighting ("the lord Revers and my lady hys Wyf").

Though The Coventry Leet Book records a few more of Margaret's and Henry's comings and goings, the good times at Coventry would soon be over for Margaret. Following the Yorkist victory at Towton in 1461, the officials of Coventry dutifully raised money for a present to the new king, Edward IV. In 1467, they prepared for a visit by Queen Elizabeth Woodville. When Margaret herself returned to Coventry in 1471, it was as a captive being brought to Edward IV, fresh from his victory at Tewkesbury.


The Coventry Leet Book
J. L. Laynesmith, "Constructing Queenship at Coventry: Pageantry and Politics at Margaret of Anjou's 'Secret Harbour.'" The Fifteenth Century III: Authority and Subversion, ed. by Linda Clark.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Captive Queen by Alison Weir

Having read the reviews of this novel about this year's "It" girl in historical fiction, Eleanor of Aquitaine, I fully expected to hate this book. Instead, I found myself rather liking it.

The Captive Queen follows Eleanor from her marriage to Henry II to his death, with an epilogue that breezes through Eleanor's last years. As the title implies, much of the novel takes place after Eleanor, having helped her sons to rebel against their father, is imprisoned by a furious Henry.

There are some things I didn't care for about this novel. I could have done without Eleanor's flings with her uncle Raymond, Geoffrey of Anjou, and a troubadour, although as Weir notes, these affairs have been the subject of historical conjecture. The flings, however, are past history by the time the novel opens, and they aren't presented in such a way that they make Eleanor appear to be wildly promiscuous; rather, her infidelity is the outgrowth of loneliness, sexual frustration, and even immaturity. Louis, Eleanor's first husband, appears only briefly in the novel in person, but Weir gives him a certain dignity; he's not the butt of contempt he often is in historical fiction.

On the same note, a number of readers have complained about the sex in this novel. This is largely a matter of individual taste, of course. I'm of the "less is more" school, yet I can't say I found the sex here excessive or overly graphic as compared to that in other mainstream historical novels; I certainly never got the impression I was reading a romance novel in disguise. I did find the novel's opening scenes, where Eleanor and Henry jump into bed, then decide to marry, after having barely become acquainted, to be rather improbable, but the novel was far from the bonkfest I'd expected.

There was some awkward expository dialogue here, especially the scene where a nurse is made to tell Eleanor, solely for the reader's benefit, that one of Eleanor's sons is three years old. An equally groan-inducing scene comes when an abbess tells Eleanor, "King Stephen still lives." (How dim do these people think poor Eleanor is?) Fortunately, this type of dialogue becomes less frequent as the book progresses.

Eleanor is the main viewpoint character here, though we sometimes see the action from Henry's point of view as well. This can be rather frustrating, since we're left to guess at what characters like Thomas Becket and Eleanor's sons might be thinking. Those who want a novel on the scale of those of Sharon Penman's, in which we see the action through the eyes of many characters, won't find such a book here.

So why did I like this novel nonetheless? Mainly because Weir succeeded in making me like Eleanor. I'm no expert on the historical Eleanor, but I seldom find myself liking her in historical novels, chiefly, I think, because authors--even good authors--turn her into a feminist icon, the Strong Woman to end all Strong Women. They're so in awe of her, they forget to make her human, and I usually find myself itching to see her taken down a peg. I didn't have that problem here. Eleanor makes mistakes, gets the worse of arguments, says and does things she regrets. For once, I found myself on her side, and I ended the novel wishing I could spend some more time in her company.

FCC guys: I got an ARC from another reviewer. Husband: I bought the hardback anyway. You knew what you were in for when you first saw those bookshelves in my apartment.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Excerpt from The Queen of Last Hopes

Since my new editor at Sourcebooks liked the manuscript for The Queen of Last Hopes and hasn't requested any major changes, I've placed an excerpt on my website. Hope you enjoy it! It's scheduled for publication in January 2011.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Waiting for Fall: Books I'm Craving

One of the worst things about summer, aside from the heat and the humidity, is having to wait until publishers bring out their fall books. Here are some of the ones that I'm awaiting eagerly:

Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman (already published in the UK; September for the US):

A source of endless fascination and speculation, the subject of countless biographies, novels, and films, Elizabeth I is now considered from a thrilling new angle by the brilliant young historian Tracy Borman. So often viewed in her relationships with men, the Virgin Queen is portrayed here as the product of women—the mother she lost so tragically, the female subjects who worshipped her, and the peers and intimates who loved, raised, challenged, and sometimes opposed her.

In vivid detail, Borman presents Elizabeth’s bewitching mother, Anne Boleyn, eager to nurture her new child, only to see her taken away and her own life destroyed by damning allegations—which taught Elizabeth never to mix politics and love. Kat Astley, the governess who attended and taught Elizabeth for almost thirty years, invited disaster by encouraging her charge into a dangerous liaison after Henry VIII’s death. Mary Tudor—“Bloody Mary”—envied her younger sister’s popularity and threatened to destroy her altogether. And animosity drove Elizabeth and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots into an intense thirty-year rivalry that could end only in death.

[I'm reading the UK edition of this and am finding it excellent.]

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor (October 2010 in the UK; February 2011 in the US, but I'm not waiting):

The boy in the bed was just fifteen years old. He had been handsome, perhaps even recently; but now his face was swollen and disfigured by disease, and by the treatments his doctors had prescribed in the attempt to ward off its ravages. Their failure could no longer be mistaken. When Edward VI – Henry VIII’s longed-for son – died in 1553, extraordinarily, there was no one left to claim the title King of England. For the first time, all the contenders for the crown were female. In 1553, England was about to experience the ‘monstrous regiment’ – the unnatural rule – of a woman. But female rule in England also had a past. Four hundred years before Edward’s death, Matilda, daughter of Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conquerer, came tantalisingly close to securing her hold on the power of the crown. And between the 12th and the 15th centuries three more exceptional women – Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou – discovered, as queens consort and dowager, how much was possible if the presumptions of male rule were not confronted so explicitly. The stories of these women – told here in all their vivid humanity – illustrate the paradox which the female heirs to the Tudor throne had no choice but to negotiate. Man was the head of woman; and the king was the head of all. How, then, could a woman be king, how could royal power lie in female hands?

The Wars of the Roses by Michael Hicks (October 2010 in the US):

The Wars of the Roses (1455–85) were a major turning point in English history. But the underlying causes for the successive upheavals have been hotly contested by historians ever since. In this original and stimulating new synthesis, distinguished historian Michael Hicks examines the difficult economic, military, and financial crises and explains, for the first time, the real reasons why the Wars of the Roses began, why they kept recurring, and why, eventually, they ceased. Alongside fresh assessments of key personalities, Hicks sheds new light on the significance of the involvement of the people in politics, the intervention of foreign powers in English affairs, and a fifteenth-century credit crunch. Combining a meticulous dissection of competing dynamics with a clear account of the course of events, this is a definitive and indispensable history of a compelling, complex period.

[Hicks already has a book out by this title, but this seems to be a different one.]

The Last White Rose: Dynasty, Rebellion and Treason - The Secret Wars Against the Tudors by Desmond Seward (September 2010).

This is a brilliant new interpretation of one of the most dramatic periods of British history. The Wars of the Roses didn't end at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Despite the death of Richard III and Henry VII's victory, it continued underground into the following century with plots, pretenders and subterfuge by the ousted white rose faction. In a brand new interpretation of this turning point in history, well known historian Desmond Seward reviews the story of the Tudors' seizure of the throne and shows that for many years they were far from secure. He challenges the way we look at the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII, explaining why there were so many Yorkist pretenders and conspiracies, and why the new dynasty had such difficulty establishing itself. King Richard's nephews, the Earl of Warwick and the little known de la Pole brothers, all had the support of dangerous enemies overseas, while England was split when the lowly Perkin Warbeck skilfully impersonated one of the princes in the tower in order to claim the right to the throne. Warwick's surviving sister Margaret also became the desperate focus of hopes that the White Rose would be reborn. The book also offers a new perspective on why Henry VIII, constantly threatened by treachery, real or imagined, and desperate to secure his power with a male heir, became a tyrant.

Margaret Beaufort: The Mother of the Tudor Dynasty by Elizabeth Norton (September 2010 in the UK)

Divorced at ten, a mother at thirteen & three times a widow. The extraordinary true story of the 'Red Queen', Lady Margaret Beaufort, matriarch of the Tudors. Born in the midst of the Wars of the Roses, Margaret Beaufort became the greatest heiress of her time. She survived a turbulent life, marrying four times and enduring imprisonment before passing her claim to the crown of England to her son, Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs. Margaret's royal blood placed her on the fringes of the Lancastrian royal dynasty. After divorcing her first husband at the age of ten, she married the king's half-brother, Edmund Tudor, becoming a widow and bearing her only child, the future Henry VII, before her fourteenth birthday. Margaret was always passionately devoted to the interests of her son who claimed the throne through her. She embroiled herself in both treason and conspiracy as she sought to promote his claims, allying herself with the Yorkist Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, in an attempt to depose Richard III. She was imprisoned by Richard and her lands confiscated, but she continued to work on her son's behalf, ultimately persuading her fourth husband, the powerful Lord Stanley, to abandon the king in favour of Henry on the eve of the decisive Battle of Bosworth. It was Lord Stanley himself who placed the crown on Henry's head on the battlefield. Henry VII gave his mother unparalleled prominence during his reign. She established herself as an independent woman and ended her life as regent of England, ruling on behalf of her seventeen-year-old grandson, Henry VIII.

[I'm a little wary of this one, having found some odd errors in her She-Wolves book in the chapter on Isabella, and the statement that Margaret ruled England as Henry VIII's regent makes me decidedly nervous, since Henry was not placed under a regency, but we'll see.]

Towton: The Battle of Palm Sunday Field by John Sadler (September 2010--no description yet).

I could find some more if I worked at it, but this is already going to be a very expensive fall!

Friday, July 02, 2010

In Which We Review a Paper Doll Book for the First Time

A couple of weeks ago on e-Bay, I came across a book called Infamous Women Paper Dolls, featuring, among other women, Margaret of Anjou. Naturally, I had to see a copy, and it arrived in my mailbox today.

Infamous Women was published in 1994 by Bellerophon Books, which has produced a number of other books in this vein, including Great Women, Henry VIII and His Wives, and Elizabeth I. The book contains a figure for each woman featured and an extra outfit to dress her in, along with a brief biographical sketch of each woman. It's not possible to use the paper dolls without destroying the biographical sketches, so I'm guessing the idea is to photocopy the pages with the dolls if one is actually inclined to play dress-up. Both the dolls and the costumes can be colored.

Margaret, of course, is just one of the women featured here: Isabella of France, Joanna of Naples, Isabelle of Bavaria, Lucrezia Borgia, Catherine de Medici, Frances Howard, and Catherine the Great are some of the others who have the honor to be included. I can't really tell what the target audience of this book and the others in the series is. Most people, I suspect, will buy them for the illustrations rather than to actually use as coloring books. The biographies, which cheerfully recount the ladies' various love affairs, clearly aren't aimed at a juvenile audience, nor is the nude picture of Semiramis.

The best feature of these books is the illustrations, which are taken from contemporary depictions. Margaret of Anjou's paper-doll self is based on the portrait medal of her by Pietro da Milano, and Isabella of France's doll is taken from the Isabella Psalter. (I can't reproduce the images here for copyright reasons, but if I were Edward II, I'd treat Isabella with respect, because she looks quite displeased here. Margaret, on the other hand, looks rather cheerful.)

Neither the artist nor the writer are credited here. The writer has a certain dry sense of humor: In describing Joanna of Naples' death, we're told, "Charles announced that Joanna had died a natural death. This was true, since it is natural for someone held between two feather beds to die for lack of air." Describing Roger Mortimer's escape from the Tower, the author writes, "Since most prisons do not offer their prisoners holes in the walls, drugged guards, and rope ladders, many people suspected that the Queen had helped him."

Of the women in here, there's only a couple I'm very familiar with, so I can't make any pronouncements about the accuracy of the biographies as a whole. It's unlikely that Isabella of France had anything to do with Roger Mortimer's escape, but at least the author doesn't regurgitate the old myth about Isabella being locked up in Castle Rising and going mad. As for Margaret of Anjou, she's credited almost single-handedly with starting the Wars of the Roses, with no acknowledgment that men like the Duke of York had their own ambitions. The "Holy Ghost" statement about Edward of Lancaster's birth is trotted out, taken, as usual, out of context. Margaret is depicted as being in control of Henry VI from the onset of their marriage, and poor Henry himself is reduced to a saintly caricature. Of course, as this was published in 1994, the author didn't have the benefit of the recent research into Margaret's life, though that's no excuse for chronological errors such as having Margaret fleeing to France after the capture of Henry VI. For the most part, though, I didn't see any huge bloopers here; in Margaret's case, what's most bothersome is the failure to put her actions into context or to acknowledge the difficult position in which she found herself. But perhaps that's too much to expect from a book entitled Infamous Women, which naturally emphasizes the negative.

As for the play aspect of this book, Margaret's outfit is provided with sufficient tabs to stay on Margaret. Those wishing to color, however, are advised to use a very sharp crayon, as otherwise one will have the utmost difficulty staying within the lines.

(P.S. How do you like the new blog layout?)

(P.P.S. I've started a Facebook group for The Beaufort Family. If you're on Facebook, join in!)