Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Poetry Corner!

Ah, the dangers of Facebook. Just when I was about to toddle off to bed, I was encouraged by The History Police page to unleash my Bad Ricardian Inner Poet. It led to this:

The Ballad of the White Rose

Anne, my sweet, frail flower
Sacrificed for the sake of power
Forced to marry a cruel and vengeful youth,
You kept within your heart the shining truth.
To lie with him you did abhor,
For you were bound to the white boar.
Death freed you from Lancaster’s wretched grasp,
Only to place you in Clarence’s cruel clasp.
In a cook shop you languished,
While all thought you had vanished.
Yet as Romeo would not be parted from his love,
Richard could not forget his gentle dove.
All he sought was your fair hand,
He cared nothing for your land.
Through London’s streets he paced by night,
While you continued in your helpless plight.
Good Lady Fortune led him to your side,
And you at last became his bride.
To lie with Richard, oh, such bliss!
Nothing like Lancaster’s cold kiss.
But now the door we must close,
On the wedding night of our fair rose.

There could be more here if you encouraged me . . .

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Captivity of Margaret of Anjou

A comment on Margaret’s Facebook page (thanks, Marilyn!) reminded me that I’ve never posted in detail about Margaret’s captivity following her defeat at Tewkesbury. So now I’m going to remedy this situation.

Edward IV left Tewkesbury on May 7, 1471, heading toward Worcester. On his way, he was told that Margaret had been found not far from there in a “poor religious place,” the identity of which is unknown, and would be at his commandment. Some authors, including Paul Murray Kendall and Clements Markham, claim that William Stanley captured Margaret, but they give no source for this information, and I have yet to find a primary source that mentions Stanley in connection with Margaret’s seizure.

Taken with Margaret were her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville, the Countess of Devon, and Katherine Vaux. Anne, of course, had been widowed at Tewkesbury, as had Katherine Vaux, whose husband William had fought and died for Margaret. The Countess of Devon was Marie, a bastard daughter of Charles, Count of Maine and thus a kinswoman of Margaret. Her husband, Thomas Courtenay, the Earl of Devon, had been executed after the battle of Towton; his brother John died at Tewkesbury. Ironically, the women were brought to Edward IV at Coventry, where Henry VI’s and Margaret’s court had been centered during the late 1450’s. It is not known whether the captives had first been taken to Tewkesbury to see their Lancastrian dead.

Edward’s army and the captives returned to London, where on May 21, 1471, they made a triumphant procession into the city, Margaret displayed in a chariot as a trophy of war. Probably Anne Neville was not with her at this point; as her sister Isabel was married to Edward IV’s brother the Duke of Clarence, Anne most likely had been sent to join her sister. Margaret was brought as a prisoner to the Tower, where her husband, Henry VI, also was a captive. That very night, Henry VI died. The official account claimed that Henry VI died of “pure displeasure and melancholy,” but few believed it, then or now. Whether Margaret was allowed to view her husband’s body before it was taken away for burial is unknown.

Now bereft of both her husband and of her only son, Margaret began what would prove to be four and a half years of captivity. According to records cited by Cora Scofield, Katherine Vaux remained with her, and two other women, Petronilla and Mary, waited on her. The ladies were not held for long in the Tower, for on January 8, 1472, John Paston reported to Mary Paston that Margaret had been removed from Windsor to Wallingford near Ewelme, the residence of Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk. Alice was the widow of William de la Pole, who had negotiated Margaret’s marriage to Henry VI and who been appointed by the king to bring his bride to England. Wallingford Castle was under the constableship of Alice’s son, John, who was married to Edward IV’s sister Elizabeth, and Margaret may have been given into the charge of Alice.

Cora Scofield has suggested that after January 1472, Margaret alternated between strongholds, sometimes in captivity at Wallingford, sometimes in captivity at the Tower. J. L. Laynesmith notes that payments to John, Lord Dudley, for Margaret’s “diets” exist for 1473 and 1474; Dudley was constable of the Tower, but held other offices as well. Laynesmith suggests that Margaret might have returned to the Tower in 1473, or perhaps was lodged someplace else in London under Dudley’s supervision. Sometime during this period, at the crown’s expense, a tailor provided Margaret with seven yards of a woolen cloth known as “puke,” while another person was paid for supplying Margaret six yards of black velvet for “frontlets, tippets, and other necessaries.”

Two records for 1475, Margaret’s last year of captivity, are of interest. Sometime in 1475, Margaret joined the London Skinners’ Fraternity of the Assumption of the Virgin: her membership is commemorated by a miniature (shown above) in the fraternity’s records. Katherine Vaux, Margaret’s faithful lady-in-waiting, also joined the fraternity that year and may be depicted alongside Margaret in the miniature. It may well be, then, that Margaret was residing in London at this time, and that her imprisonment was not rigorous. She certainly had the ability to petition for a papal dispensation, for on November 18, 1475, she was granted one. As transcribed by Peter D. Clarke, it reads as follows:

Margaret, formerly queen of England but now held captive in the hands of her enemies, [informs the pope] that since she is of a delicate and weak constitution and she inhabits a cold region where olive oil does not grow and eating other oil is harmful and abhorrent to her, she doubts whether she and even her household and other persons who sometimes happen to eat with her and may do so in the future can properly [nourish] their bodies and not endanger their persons without eating butter, eggs, and other dairy products. She requests that the pope grant to her and her current household and other person who happen to eat at her table that they may eat butter, eggs, and other dairy products on Lenten and other fasting days or that he leaves such food to their consciences. [approved under a special papal mandate by Antonio Parentucelli, bishop of Luni-Sarzana, regent of the penitentiary, and agreed by him that it be left to their consciences]

By the time Margaret’s dispensation was issued, her captivity was drawing near its end. Earlier in 1475, Edward IV and the French king, Louis XI, had entered into the Treaty of Picquigny; in the negotiations that followed, Louis XI agreed to ransom Margaret for 50,000 crowns (10,000 pounds). Louis’s motives were by no means altruistic; he would ultimately require Margaret to renounce all of her rights to her parents’ lands in Lorraine, Anjou, Bar, and Provence. Margaret, who died in 1482, would spend her last years in France as Louis’s pensioner.

On November 13, 1475, Edward IV authorized Thomas Thwaytes, who had been given custody of Margaret (probably pending the negotiations about her ransom), to deliver her to Thomas Montgomery, who in turn was to conduct her to King Louis in France. Scofield reports that Margaret was soon afterward taken to Sandwich and thence to France. She left behind the graves of those whose rights she had struggled for so long to protect: her husband, then buried at Chertsey Abbey (he was later moved to Windsor), and her son, buried at Tewkesbury Abbey.

On January 22, 1476, at Rouen, Margaret renounced all of the rights she might have in England and was formally handed over to French officials, thereby severing her ties with England. Nearly thirty-one years before, she had entered Rouen in grand state as England’s new queen.


John Bruce, ed., Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV in England. Camden Society, 1838.

Peter D. Clarke. “New evidence of noble and gentry piety in fifteenth-century England and Wales.” Journal of Medieval History 34 (2008), pp. 23-35.

Keith Dockray, ed. Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou and the Wars of the Roses: A Source Book. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2000.

Diana E. S. Dunn, ‘Margaret (1430–1482)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 25 Sept 2010].

J. C. Giles, ed., The Chronicles of the White Rose of York (includes Warkworth’s Chronicle).

R. A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI. Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2004 (paperback edition).

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

Nicholas Pronay and John Cox, eds., The Crowland Chronicle Continuations: 1459–1486. London: Richard III and Yorkist History Trust, 1986.

Charles Ross, Edward IV. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997.

Cora Scofield, The Life and Reign of Edward IV. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1923 (2 volumes).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Importance of Context

Thanks to the Internet, more primary sources are available to us historical novelists than ever before. As the availability of such sources grows, however, so does another danger: that the sources will be interpreted out of context. Karen Clark over at A Neville Feast has blogged about an excellent example of this: a letter by the Earl of Warwick in which his use of the phrase "destruction of some of my kinsmen" in official correspondence in reference to the deaths of his father and his brother and other relations has been treated by a novelist as proof of his heartlessness. I myself have ranted a number of times about Henry VI's supposed "Holy Ghost" remark, reported as hearsay by an ambassador who himself doubted the story's veracity, being quoted without the qualifier the ambassador attached to it as proof positive that Edward of Lancaster was illegitimate.

One sees popular historians as well as historical novelists making this mistake with original source material. One recent example I came across in my research for my work in progress was this one by Alison Weir, who in her book The Children of Henry VIII refers to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, as "arguably the most evil statesman to govern England during the sixteenth century." As partial proof as Northumberland's villainy, Weir cites a letter from the duke and writes:

He regarded the death of his seven-year-old daughter Temperance as more of an inconvenience than a tragedy, explaining to William Cecil with terrifying heartlessness that it would prevent him from attending council meetings for a few days in case he was infectious. In his letter, he cold-bloodedly described the child's body--"between the shoulders it was very black". There was no evidence of any grief.

Read in context, however, the letter doesn't really bear out this assessment. Here is the actual letter, taken from Patrick Fraser Tytler's 1839 book, England Under the Reigns of Edward VI and Mary . . . Illustrated in a Series of Original Letters, Volume 2:


Orig. St. P. Off. Domestic. June 2, 1552. "After my most hearty commendations. — Whereas I perceive by your letter of this instant, that, except the death of my daughter might seem dangerous and infectious, the King's Majesty's pleasure is that neither I should absent myself nor stay my son; whereupon I have thought good to signify unto you what moveth me to suspect infection in the disease whereof my daughter died. First, the night before she died, she was as merry as any child could be, and sickened about three in the morning, and was in a sweat, and within a while after she had a desire to the stool; and the indiscreet woman that attended upon her let her rise, and after that, she fell to swooning, and then, with such things as they ministered to her, brought her again to remembrance, and so she seemed for a time to be meetly well revived, and so continued till it was noon, and still in a great sweating; and about twelve of the clock she began to alter again, and so in continual pangs and fits till six of the clock, at what time she left this life. And this morning she was looked upon, and between the shoulders it was very black, and also upon the one side of her cheek; which thing, with the suddenty, and also [that] she could brook nothing that was ministered to her from the beginning, moveth me to think that either it must be the sweat or worse, for she had the measles a month or five weeks before, and very well recovered, but a certain hoarseness and a cough remained with her still. This [is] as much as I am able to express, and even thus it was: wherefore I think it not my duty to presume to make my repair to his Majesty's presence till further be seen what may ensue of it; neither my son, nor none that is in my house, except his Majesty, shall command the contrary, or that your Lordships' wisdom shall think it without peril, being no more nor no less than before is declared; requiring your Lordships' farther answer hereupon, and accordingly I will [endeavour] myself.

Thus I commit your good Lordships to the tuition of the Almighty.

From Oteforde in Kent, this 2d of June.

First, as other historians have recognized, based on other correspondence of Northumberland's at this time, the letter refers not to the death of Northumberland's daughter, but to the death of his daughter-in-law, Anne, married to his son Ambrose Dudley. ("Daughter" at the time was commonly used in situations where we would say "daughter-in-law.") Anne, a widow when she married Ambrose, was not a little girl, but was old enough to have borne her previous husband a son, who survived her.

Second, like Warwick in the previous century, Northumberland was not writing to report his personal troubles; as he clearly states, he was writing in response to concerns that his daughter-in-law had died of an infectious disease, which would make Northumberland's presence at court undesirable. Whatever Northumberland's own feelings about his daughter-in-law's death were, this business letter was not the place to express them. (One could, however, read the phrase "This [is] as much as I am able to express" to mean that he did not want to dwell further on the painful details of his daughter-in-law's death, though it could also be read to state that he knew no more details.)

Third, when Northumberland wrote this letter in 1552, he had fathered thirteen children, only seven of whom were still living at that date. Of those children who had predeceased him, the eldest son, Henry, had died in 1544 during the siege of Boulogne; the others had died during childhood. Northumberland, like so many other parents of the age, would have been all too accustomed to the early death of his offspring and their spouses. Facing the death of yet another young person, he might have thought it futile to rage against fate or express grief. The fact that he did not bewail the loss of his daughter-in-law in this letter, at any rate, does not mean he felt no sorrow. As Tytler wrote in 1839, showing more appreciation of human psychology than Weir would over 150 years later, "It is strange, that not a word of sorrow escapes the lips of [Northumberland]; and yet it would be hard to blame him, for the deepest is often the stillest grief."

Weir's using this single letter as evidence of Northumberland's lack of parental feeling is especially troublesome because, as Eric Ives notes in his recent book on Lady Jane Grey, evidence from Northumberland's other correspondence suggests that Northumberland was an affectionate father. Probably in 1552, he wrote to his eldest son, John, "Well enough you must understand that I know you cannot live under great charges. And therefore you should not hide from me your debts whatsoever they be, for I would be loathe but you should keep your credit still with all men. And therefore send word in any wise of the whole sum of your debts, for I and your mother will forthwith see them paid." In a letter to Cecil on January 3, 1553, when he was ill and probably depressed, he wrote, "What should I wish any longer this life, that seeth such frailty in it? Surely, but for a few children which God hath sent me, which also helpeth to pluck me on my knees, I have no great cause to desire to tarry much longer here." Moreover, at the lowest point of his life, when he stood condemned to die, he was anxious to save his children from his impending fate: he particularly requested "that her majestie wilbe gratyous to my chillder, which may hereafter do hir grace gode service, concydering that they went by my commaundement who am their father, and not of their owne free willes."

Letters from historical figures are a godsend to both historians and historical novelists alike. But if one is going to distort their meaning or read them out of context, one is really better off not using them at all.


Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, Edward VI: 1547-1553, Revised Edition (1992).

Eric Ives, Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery.

David Loades, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland: 1504-1553.

John Gough Nichols, ed., The Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary. Available on Google Books.

Patrick Fraser Tytler, England Under the Reigns of Edward VI and Mary . . . Illustrated in a Series of Original Letters. Available on Google Books.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Last Will of Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset

Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset, will be making an appearance in my work in progress. While doing research yesterday, I stumbled upon her will, printed by John G. Nichols in an 1845 issue of the Gentleman's Magazine. I'll probably be posting about her more later, as she is a fascinating woman, who was the subject of a number of literary dedications and whose own daughters were highly educated. The portrayal of her in the recent television series "The Tudors" as an adulteress is entirely fanciful. From 1537 to 1550, she was busy bearing her husband, Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, ten children. Edward Seymour was, of course, Jane Seymour's brother and the uncle of King Edward VI.

For reasons that are beyond the scope of this post, Anne's husband was executed in 1552. The duchess herself was imprisoned in the Tower, where she remained until Mary's accession in 1553. As a prisoner, her diet included mutton, beef, veal, capon, and larks, prepared for her by her own cook; she also enjoyed the company of two gentlewomen.

In 1558, Anne married her second husband, Francis Newdegate, who had been her husband's steward. He died in 1582, leaving her all of his estate. Famously, Anne's son Edward, Earl of Hertford, married Lady Jane Grey's younger sister Katherine, an escapade that landed both Hertford and Katherine Grey in the Tower. The imprisoned couple, who had conceived one son before their imprisonment, managed to conceive a second one during their incarceration. Both sons were eventually placed in Anne's care.

Born in about 1510, Anne lived to be quite an old lady, dying on April 16, 1587. She was survived by four of her children, including the no-longer-incarcerated Earl of Hertford, who had remarried following the death of Katherine Grey. Her will, which follows, indicates that for all the vicissitudes of the duchess's life, she did not die poor. (Do note the rope of a thousand pearls.)

[Burghley Papers, MS. Lansd. 50, art. 90.] In the name of God. Amen. The xiiij day of Julie, in the yeare of our Lord God 1586. I Anne by the goodness of God Duchess of Somerset, considering the many yeres wherwith God hath blessed me, and the sicknes wherwith I am visited, doe in perfect mynde and remembrance make this my last will and testament in manner and forme following. First, I thank God in Christ Jesus that he hath long agoe called me to the knowledge and love of the Gospell, and ever since kept me therein to an assured hope of life everlasting, thorough faith in the righteousnes of Jesus Christ alone. In which faith I recomend my bodie to the dust whence it was taken, and my soule into the most mercifull handes of him that redemed it, to be kept of him till it shalbe reunited to the bodie in that glorious daye of the resurrection of all flesh. Secondly, I geve thanks to God allso for the temporall blessings of my landes, goodes, and chatells, which I dispose to my childeren, servaunts, the poore, and others, as followeth.

First, I geve to my sonne the Earle of Hertford, and his heyres for ever, all my mansion howse situate in Chanon rowe, within Westminster, in the Countie of Middlesex, with the howsholde and furniture therof. Item, I geve him a glasse of cristall dressed with gould, a basen and ewer all gilt plaine, a payr of gilt pottes, a payer of flagons newe bought, iij gilt trenchers, a spone of gould not foulded, iiij other spones gilt antique fashion. Item, I geve him ij of the fayrest gilt bowles with covers, a salt of cristall, and my beast cheane of greate pearle with long beades of goulde betwene, a fayer juel of diamondes, and a greate pearle worth by estimation about xxx1.

Item, I geve to his wife my daughter of Hertford a fayer tablet to weare with antique work of one syde and a row of diamondes on the other syde. Item, I geve her a clock of gould work worth about xxx1.

Item, I geve to my sonne the Lord Henry Seymour xiij hundred powndes of lawfull English monie, over and above the vij hundred I have allreadie geven him towards the payment of his debts. Item, I geve him a fayer jewel of an egret with divers stones. Item, I geve him ij bowles of silver and gilt, with ewers, and a basen and ewer of sylver.

Item, I geve to my daughter the Ladie Marie Rogers all my lease and tearme of yeres in the manner and ferme of Ashford, in the countie of Middlesex, which I have fernied of (blank). Item, I geve her a harkenet of pearle, in number about c.c.c. two ropes of perle, in number about ij thousand, a lace with small pearle, a jewel of jacinth rownd with small pearle, a cople of bowles with covers, a spice box of sylver with the furniture of it, a ladle sylver and gilt, and my saddel embroydered with black velvet.

Item, I geve to my daughter the Ladie Elizabeth Knightley a greate cheane of pearle with true-loves, a jewel of a balist, ij great standing cuppes sylver and gilte, a jugge of stone fayer dressed with sylver and gilt, and a skellet of sylver.

Item, I geve to my sonne Beuchamp [a grandson] ij hundred powndes of lawfull English monie and a cheane of pearle and gould with friers' knottes, the gould by estimation worth about Lxxx1.

Item, I geve to my Sonne Thomas Seymour [another grandson] a hundred powndes of lawful English monie, and a cheane worth about Lxl.

Item, I geve to my sonne Beuchampes wife a booke of gould kept in a grene purse, and a payer of bracelets without stones.

Item, I geve to my daughter Maries husband a clieane of gould black.

Item, I geve to my daughter Elizabethes husband one of my ringes that hath the best diamonds.

Item, I geve to my goddaughter Anne Knightley five hundred powndes of lawful English monie and a rope of small pearle, in number about a thousand.

Item, I geve to my Lord Treasurer a jugge of cristall with a cover dressed with sylver and gilt, and a ring with an emerald.

Item, I geve to my nephew John Stanhope the fortie powndes he oweth me.

Item, I geve to my nephew Michael Stanhope a piller of gould with viii diamondes.

Item, all the reast of my plate not geven before I geve to my fower childeren, equally to be devided betwene them. Item, I geve a cofer of sheetes and pillowberes and a case standard with fine white naperie to my two daughters, equally to be devided. Item, I geve to the same my ij daughters my apparell, equally allso to be devided.

Item, I geve to my servant Win. Dickinson tenne powndes of lawfull English money, to be paide him for an annuitie or pension by myne executor during his life. Item, I geve to Richard Saunders, my servant, five powndes of lyke lawfull English monie, to be paide him by myne executor for a yearly pension during his life. Item, I geve to Richard Lanckeshire, John Trodde, and mother Gardener, to every one of them a yerely pension of 40s. to be payde them by myne executor during there lives. Item, I geve to all the rest of my gentilmen, yeomen, and gromes, and others in ordinarie, a yeres wages.

Item, I geve to Margaret Ashhurst all my wearing linnen, which is in her keeping, and a new black satten gowne. Item, I geve to Anne Jones 40s. Item, I geve to Mrs. Ansley a gowne of wrought velvet furred thorough with cunnie. Item, I geve to Jane Seymour 100l of lawfull English mony.

Item, I geve to godly and poor students in the ij Universites xx1, x1 to the one and x1 to the other.

Item, I geve to the poor prisoners in London xx markes, willing that these ij legacies be distributed by ij godly preachers.

The rest of all my landes, tenements, rentes, plate, Jewells, with other goodes, leases, chattles, horses, mares, geldinges, oxen, shepe, and all other stock and store, together with all mony, debts, now or hereafter dew, by bonde, covenant, or otherwise, my debts and legacies being payd, I geve to my sonne the Earle of Hertford, whom I make and appoint my sole executor, to see my debts payd and my legacies faithfully performed, and my funeralls discharged according to this my last will and testament. In witness whereof, to this my last will and testament, I have subscribed my name with myne own hande, and putte my seale this daye and yere abovesayd.

Signed, Anne Somerset.

Postscriptum. Memorandum, that there is no materiall enterlyning, but the gown geven to Mrs. Ashhurst, these wordes, " lawfull English monie," and abowt the recitall of the goodes,tenements, leases, &c. Witnesses. Tho. Penney. Tho. Muffet. W. Clarke.

Endorsed. This was acknowledged and avowed by her Grace the Duchess of Somerset to be her last will and testament, we witnesses whose names are underwritten.

Tho. Penney. Tho. Muffet. W. Charke.


John G. Nichols, "Anne, Duchess of Somerset." Gentleman's Magazine, 1845. (Available on Google Books)

Retha M. Warnicke, "Inventing the Wicked Women of Tudor England: Alice More, Anne Boleyn, and Anne Stanhope." Quidditas: Journal of the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association, 1999.

Retha M. Warnicke, ‘Seymour, Anne, duchess of Somerset (c.1510–1587)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004 [, accessed 20 Sept 2010]

Photograph of Anne's tomb in Westminster Abbey taken by Bernard Gagnon; obtained through Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

New in My Nonfiction Library

I am in the very pleasant position of having too much to read, for over the past few days, I've added several new nonfiction books to my collection. So, taking a cue from Kathryn's post, I thought I would mention some of them.

First and foremost is Michael Hicks' The Wars of the Roses. I was reading this last night, and from what I've seen so far, it's excellent--a balanced, well-researched account of the wars and the men and women involved in the conflict. Hicks has his share of detractors, mainly those unhappy about his unfavorable portrayal of Richard III, but I would recommend this book even to those readers, as no one, including Henry VII, is whitewashed here from what I've seen from reading selected portions of it.

Next, I got a copy of Elizabeth Norton's new book, Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty. On a skim, I've seen some glitches (such as Norton's having Margaret of Anjou present at the Battle of Wakefield), but on the whole this seems to be a decent, if not ground-breaking, introduction to Margaret Beaufort's life. I like the fact that Norton included an appendix of Margaret's letters.

I also received a copy of Desmond Seward's The Last White Rose, about the rebellions that dogged Henry VII and Henry VIII, but I haven't had a chance to give it even a skim.

Moving away from England to France for the moment, I've received a review copy of Tracy Adams' The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria, which explores the myths that have grown up around Isabeau of Bavaria, wife to Charles VI of France. I'm particularly interested in reading this book because of the parallels between Isabeau and Margaret of Anjou, who married Isabeau's grandson Henry VI: both were married to kings who went mad, thrusting their queens into roles of power, and both have been treated badly by history.

I can't forget my Kindle! I've downloaded Kate Williams' Becoming Queen Victoria, which is about not only the young Victoria but about Princess Charlotte, whose tragic death paved the way for Victoria to become queen. I also have 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII by Suzannah Lipscomb on my Kindle.

Finally, I'm anticipating receiving John Goodall's God's House at Ewelme, about the almshouse that was established in 1437 by William de la Pole and his wife Alice Chaucer, then the Earl and Countess of Suffolk, and that still exists today, administered by the Ewelme Trust. The book, which I checked out from the library a while back but, alas, had to return, has a great deal of information about the history of the foundation, so I'm looking forward to re-reading it and discussing it on this blog.

Despite all of these books, I went to Borders yesterday and felt unfulfilled when I walked out without buying any new ones. It's a disease--what else can I say?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Giveaway, New Website Design, and Kindling!

NOTE: I've rethought my giveaway. Now, the two winners (one outside of the United States) will have his or her choice of any of my published books!

I'm a tad busy at the moment, but I wanted to point you to my newly designed website, courtesy of Avalon Graphics! Stop by and admire the new look!

In honor of my pretty new website, I'm giving away two copies of any of my published novels--with each winner getting to choose the book he or she prefers! One copy will be reserved for a winner outside of the United States. Just leave a comment on the blog or on the corresponding Facebook page and you'll be entered. The giveaway closes on September 17.

Finally, when Amazon brought out the wireless-only Kindle, I capitulated and bought one. I have to say I'm quite enjoying it. It's perfect for reading independently published books that I otherwise might not take a chance on buying, and it's also great for reading new books that I can't quite talk myself into buying in hardback but don't want to wait for the paperback or for a library copy. I'm currently reading Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams on my Kindle. I'm also enjoying downloading some of the many older books that are free for Kindle users. (By the way, I'm hoping The Stolen Crown will soon be made available on Kindle; both The Traitor's Wife and Hugh and Bess are available in Kindle versions.)

Without further ado, here are seven things I love about my new Kindle:

1. Great big type.
2. Holding a Kindle and a dog on one’s lap is easier than holding a book and a dog on one’s lap. I could even fit a cat up there too.
3. No matter how dopey the book I’m reading is, I somehow look more intelligent when I’m reading it on my Kindle.
4. I can walk past the Nook lady at Barnes and Noble and look smug.
5. For every book I buy on the Kindle, I am justified in buying another book to take up residence on my bookshelf.
6. Three words: New Kindle smell.
7. My daughter doesn’t have one.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Singing, Laughing Henry VI at St. Albans?

Following the Lancastrian victory on February 17, 1461, at the second Battle of St. Albans, Margaret of Anjou was reunited with her husband, Henry VI, who had been in Yorkist hands and who had accompanied the Earl of Warwick to the encounter with Margaret's forces.

But what was Henry VI doing during the battle? Paul Murray Kendall, for one, leaves the matter in no doubt: "King Henry, whom Warwick had taken with him, was found under a tree laughing and talking to himself" (Kendall, Richard the Third). This portrait, implying a Henry who was clearly demented, has a great deal of appeal for historians like Kendall who are hostile toward Margaret; it shows that Margaret was willing to place England in the hands of a madman to secure her own power.

Contemporary descriptions of the battle, however, are by no means united in their description of Henry's behavior during the battle--indeed, not a single contemporary English source that I have seen describes Henry as laughing and talking to himself during the battle. Here are all of the contemporary or near-contemporary accounts that I know of:

An English Chronicle, edited by John Silvester Davies:

The xij. day of Feuerer, the Thurseday, kyng Harry with his lordes, that ys to say, the duk of Norfolk, and Suffolk, the erles of Warrewyk and of Arundelle, the lorde Bonevyle and other, went oute of Londoun, and came with thayre peple to the toune of Seynt Albonys, nat knowyng that the peple of the North was so nyghe. And whanne the kyng herde that they were so nyghe hym, he went oute and took hys felde besyde a lytelle towne called Sandryge, nat fer fro Seynt Albonys, in a place called No-mannes land, and there he stoode and sawe his peple slayne on bothe sydes. And at the laste, thorow the witbdrawyng of the Kentisshmen with thayre capteyne, called Lovelace, that was in the vaunt-warde,—the whych Lovelace fauored the Northe party, for as moche as he was take by the Northurnmen at Wakefeld whan the duk of York was slayne, and made to theym an othe for to saue his lyfe, that he wold neuer be agayns theym,—and also be vndysposycion of the peple of the kynges syde, that wold nat be guyded ne gouerned by theyre capteyns, kyng Harryes part loste the feeld. The lordes that were wyth the kyng seyng thus, withdrowe theym, and went theyre wey.

Whan the kyng sawe his peple dysparbeled and the feeld broke, he went to his quene Margarete that came wyth the Northurmen, and hyr sone Edward; for thay of the North sayde that thay came for to restore the kyng to the quene his wyfe, and for to delyuer hym owte of pryson; forasmeche as seth the batayle of Northampton he had be vnder the rewle and gouernaunce of the erles of Warrewyk and Salesbury, and of other.

Gregory's Chronicle:

And in the myddys of the batayle Kynge Harry wente unto hys Quene and for-soke alle hys lordys, ande truste better to hyr party thenne unto hys owne lordys.

Registrum Abbatiae Johannis Whethamstede (thanks to Lesley Boatright for the translation out of the Latin):

When they saw this, the (senior and sensible) commanders in the field under the king understood that the king hmself had neither the spirit nor the courage to console or inspire his people – indeed, he could not put a good face on it or find words – but rather in his heart inclined to the reverse. They withdrew to the queen, his wife, hoping in future to have a better day with the enemy, by the grace of the God who instructs hands for battle and fingers for war.

When they had withdrawn, and all the people [= army] had slid away as in flight, there came to the lord king a certain esquire, learned in the law and eloquent enough, [393] whose name was Thomas Hoo. He suggested to him that he should he should look at and consider the situation in which he now stood: how he was alone, without commanders, without soldiers, without standard-bearers, or any other men-at-arms who should have been at his side for ensuring the safe and secure protection of his body. He should send a suitable man to the army of the Northerners and to the leaders who were in command of them, to tell them that, not only for the said reason, but also because he well knew that they wished him well and had banded together simply for his sake and had come in their strength to these parts, he was ready and prepared to come to them and to remain with them in the same way as he had formerly remained under the command of the Southern lords.

And so, after giving this advice, the said esquire was sent to the army of the Northerners. When he came there, and had revealed the king’s will to the earl of Northumberland, to whom he was very well known, he brought back certain lords with him, and they escorted the king first to the tent nearest the royal castle – that is, the tent of Lord de Clifford. Then they went to fetch the queen and the prince and conducted them both at once into his presence.

When he saw them, he was overjoyed in his inmost heart, just as a betrothed man rejoices over his betrothed, or a father over his son who after he had “perished” was found again and brought again into his presence. He embraced them in his arms, kissing them, and exclaimed at once, “May the Lord God be blessed, who has done such great things in the people of the North that it was enough to restore to us again my wife wrenched away for a time, to drive off all the enemy they met in this, and happily to triumph over the enemy!”

The Crowland Chronicle Continuations:

The northerners then invaded the South and reached St. Albans. The earl of Warwick, who had brought along King Henry as if to make him fight against his wife and son, was put to flight but the northerners failed to follow up their victory and took the king and queen back to the North.

Annales Rerum Anglicarum (from English Historical Documents, Vol. IV, ed. by A. R. Myers)

On Shrove Tuesday . . . took place the battle of St. Albans, where the Duke of Norfolk and the Earls of Warwick and Arundel and many others fled from the field. And King Henry was captured on the field along with Lord Montagu, his chamberlain. And the prince came to the king in the field, where the king, his father, dubbed him knight.

John Benet, from The Wars of the Roses, ed. by Elizabeth Hallam:

The king went out against them, about a mile from the eastern quarter of St. Albans, where the duke of Norfolk, the earl of Warwick and the earl of Arundel fled. They abandoned the king, who was then captured by the other lords.

Calendar of State Papers, Milan, George Neville writing to Francesco Coppino, Bishop of Terni, Apostolic Legate in Flanders, April 7, 1461:

On the 15th of February, as I think your lordship will have learned from others, we had an action with the enemy to our loss, near St. Albans, the details of which would be equally painful and lengthy to narrate, and everyone who heard of it must have been much astonished. However, I think it right to give you a summary account of this battle. The Lord Barni, brother of my lord of Canterbury, together with my brother Lord Montacute and Sir Thomas Carletone, knight, were taken and carried away to York. The strenuous cavalier, Lord de Bonavilla, with the spirited and valiant knight Sir Thomas Bryel were taken and beheaded. I forbear to name the other persons of lower rank who perished; they say that some 3,000 fell on one side and the other; but we, being fortunate, amid so many misfortunes, escaped and lost that puppet of a king (quel idolo del Re) as that statue of a king turned his face towards the North, pillaging in the country, and at length the wife, with her husband, arrived at York, glorying in their very bloody victory.

Calendar of State Papers, Venice, George Nevill, Bishop of Exeter, Chancellor of England, to Francesco Coppini, Bishop of Teramo, in Flanders, April 7, 1461:

As something new has occurred here since your departure, I will write briefly about these events, as learnt by letters, from the lips of messengers, or from common report; although they are much incumbered and perplexed with many important matters.

On the 13th kalends of March (17th February) we fought unsuccessfully near St. Alban's, the details of which action would be too long to narrate, but I think it right to give a summary of the battle. Lord Berners (John Bourchier), brother of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Thomas Bourchier), with my brother Lord Montagu (John Nevill) and Sir Thomas Charleton, Knight, were captured and taken as far as York. Lord de Bonneville and Sir Thomas Kiryel were taken and beheaded, and many of inferior station on our side were destroyed. The loss on both sides amounts to well nigh 3,000 men. We however fled, and lost that puppet of a King—fortunate assuredly in this disaster; whereupon the puppet was carried off northwards and the country ravaged; at length the woman with her consort got to York, big everywhere of their not bloodless and unquestionable victory.

The Great Chronicle of London

And the Quene & hyr party hadd the vyctory & cawsed therle of warwyk & his men to ffle, Soo that kyng henry was lafft soo smally accompanyed, he was there takyn & browgth unto the Quene his wyfe . . .

Calendar of State Papers, Milan, March 9, 1461, Prospero di Camulio, Milanese Ambassador to the Court of France, etc., to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan.

The king was placed under a tree a mile away, where he laughed and sang, and when the defeat of the Earl of Warwick was reported, he detained upon his promise the two princes who had been left to guard him. Very soon the Duke of Somerset and the conquerors arrived to salute him, and he received them in friendly fashion and went with them to St. Albans to the queen, and on the morrow one of the two detained, upon his assurance, was beheaded and the other imprisoned.

Jehan de Waurin, Recueil des Chroniques, from English history illustrated from original sources ... 1399-1485, ed. by F. Hermia Durham.

And thus the king was taken under a great oak, where he was laughing greatly at what had occurred, and he begged those who came to him that they should do no hurt to the person of Monsieur Kyriel, which they promised ; but Lovelace, the disloyal traitor, led the king, Sir Thomas, and his son to the queen, who was right glad to meet the king.

So what do we have here? None of the English writers describes Henry as laughing and singing under a tree or as otherwise acting demented. The English Chronicle has Henry, seeing his Yorkist captors scattered, going to his wife. Gregory has Henry deserting to Margaret in the middle of the battle. Whethamsted, the abbot of St. Albans, who played host to Henry after the battle and would have been well aware of his mental state at the time, has Henry being given advice by Thomas Hoo before eventually being escorted to his wife. Crowland simply says that Henry went north after the battle. Annales Rerum Anglicarum has Henry being captured on the field and soon thereafter knighting his son. Benet also has Henry being captured by the queen's men. The Great Chronicle, a later source, has Henry being brought to Margaret. George Neville, Warwick's brother, refers to Henry contemptuously as a puppet but makes no reference to Henry's conduct during the battle.

It is only when we get to Prospero di Camulio, writing from France, and to Jehan de Waurin, a Burgundian chronicler, that the story of Henry laughing and singing beneath the oak tree appears. It's possible, of course, that these two sources are accurately reporting Henry's conduct and that all of the English sources somehow left out this detail, but it seems unlikely, especially given the fact that none of the English sources quoted are sympathetic toward the Lancastrians and surely at least in some cases would have relished recounting a story that showed their king in such a pathetic state.

At any rate, the fact that the laughing-under-a-tree story is reported by only two foreign sources should have made Kendall hesitate before reporting it as an undisputed fact. It didn't, of course, and like so many other dubious stories from the time, it has acquired respectability and staying power thanks to being thoughtlessly regurgitated in popular nonfiction and in historical fiction.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Mean Girls, Historical Fiction Style

As some of my Facebook friends know, there's a group called The History Police where like-minded individuals congregate in order to decry books and movies that distort history. Because a lot of us in that particular group are interested in medieval and Tudor history, books dealing with those periods get a good going-over there.

One of the discussions has centered on a novel set during the Wars of the Roses. It depicts Margaret of Anjou as being sexually promiscuous. Elizabeth Woodville also features in the novel, and is depicted in this and the author's other novels as practicing witchcraft with malicious intent. There's nothing unusual about either woman being treated in this manner, of course; it's almost mandatory in historical fiction set during this period.

Now, as we've discussed on this blog, there is no evidence--only Yorkist propaganda in Margaret's case and Richard III's unproven allegations in Elizabeth's--that Margaret had extramarital affairs or that Elizabeth Woodville was a practicing witch. These allegations were politically useful to those who made them. They also have their roots in misogyny and sexism, accusations of sexual misconduct and of sorcery being convenient weapons to use against women one needed to discredit or to get out of the way.

Which brings me to my point (you knew I would get there soon or later, didn't you?). The author of the novel I mentioned above is a woman, as are the authors of most other novels that depict Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville in this manner. Why would a female novelist want to perpetuate these stereotypical views of these women, or of any other historical woman? Why not make an effort to separate fact from propaganda?

The quick answer, for female and male novelists alike, is laziness. After all, most of the novelists who deal in stereotypes of historical women also deal in stereotypes of historical men. One can write a novel that's unsympathetic to, say, Margaret of Anjou or Elizabeth Woodville without turning Margaret into a slut or Elizabeth Woodville into a sorceress, but it requires a little more work on the author's part. Sadly, many authors appear unable or unwilling to undertake such labor.

Another answer is to serve an agenda: the worse Elizabeth Woodville looks, for instance, the better Richard III can be made to look. If Margaret of Anjou is indeed sleeping with half of the nobility of England, the Yorkists can't possibly be faulted for saying that her son is a bastard. Showing the Yorkists as capable of spreading lies to further their cause adds an unsettling element of moral ambiguity, which many novelists prefer to do without.

There's also a third answer, I think: the old Good Girl/Bad Girl dichotomy, where historical women are made to fall neatly into one of two distinct categories. (Anne Boleyn: Bad/Catherine of Aragon: Good is one of the most common variants of this.) One sees this with historical men to some extent, but much more so, I think, with historical women.

So do female novelists owe some sort of higher duty when dealing with female historical figures? That's a hard question to answer, but to an extent, I would have to say yes. I dislike perpetuating myths and unfounded assertions about historical figures in general, both men and women. I'm also not one of those women who finds sexism lurking under every tree. But sexism and misogyny, and the slanders based thereon, have colored our view of historical women in a way they haven't of historical men, and for that reason I do find it especially bothersome when female novelists perpetuate these slanders--thereby ensuring that they live on and even giving them an added credibility that they might lack if they came from a male novelist. As the teacher in the movie Mean Girls said to a group of female high school students, "You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores."