Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Edward II in Love, and a Special Appearance by Robert the Bruce: Search Terms!

susan higginbotham download ebook

You heard the man. Do it.

edward second in love


6 articles of faults drawn up against edward ii

That's no way to treat a man in love.

edward ii ending

All good things must . . .

king william 147? married to elizabeth woodville

If only someone had thought to tell Richard III. It might have saved a lot of trouble for everyone.

elusive woodville

Until King William came along.

did edmund beaufort lose france

Yes, but the Duke of York kept trying to tell him where to find it.

fun photography susan higginbotham

My prom picture, in which I am depicted with my eyes shut, is considered quite amusing by some.

leeds castle child out of wedlock

Someone really needs to address the growing immorality of medieval castles before it gets out of hand.

anglo saxon law cats divorce

Until William the Conqueror came along and ruined everything, of course, by restricting the right of divorce to dogs.

robert the bruce rapes queen isabella

He leered at Isabella, his haggis-laden breath heavy on her neck. "It's time, lass," he whispered, "that ye larned what a real man was like."

Isabella made a pretense of struggling under the mighty Scotman's embrace. At least, she thought to herself, I shall finally see what they keep under those sexy little kilts of theirs.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Henry VIII Washington Weekend

I took advantage of the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend to travel to Washington, D.C., where I was lucky enough to catch "Vivat Rex! An Exhibition Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII." The exhibition was mounted at the Grolier Club in New York in 2009 and traveled to the Folger Shakespeare Library this fall. (You can still see it in Washington through December 31.) The exhibit contains a number of objects associated with Henry VIII, his family, and his contemporaries. I particularly enjoyed seeing Elizabeth of York's inscribed prayer book, a New Year's gift roll from 1539, and a book of instructions given by the widowed Henry VII to his ambassadors, who had been sent to scout out the Queen of Naples as a possible bride. ("To marke hir brestes and pappes whether they be bigge or smale.")

I'm the sort of exhibition-goer who always leaves wishing I'd looked at certain exhibits more closely, so naturally I couldn't resist purchasing the exhibition guide, which is worth purchasing on its own if you can't get to the exhibit. It contains pictures of the items on display and short commentaries on them, along with essays by John Guy, Dale Hoak, and Susan Wabuda.

To coincide with the exhibit, the Folger has been staging William Shakespeare's Henry VIII, which has the distinction of having caused the Globe Theatre to burn down when it was produced in 1613. It's a rather odd play, which focuses on the downfall of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, the schemes and fall of Cardinal Wolsey, and Henry's infatuation with and marriage to Anne Boleyn, to the cost of Catherine of Aragon. It ends with the christening of the future Elizabeth I, whose glorious reign is predicted by Thomas Cranmer. In this production, a number of the roles are taken by Henry's Fool, Will Sommers. I found the acting and staging excellent and was delighted that I had a chance to see this little-performed play!

My Henry VIII weekend continued in my reading matter for the trip: Giles Tremlett's new biography of Catherine of Aragon. I found it well written and insightful, especially as to Catherine's years in Spain. My one quibble is that the edition of the book published in the United Kingdom has no end notes; a set taken from the American edition, however, can be viewed at the website of the British publisher, Faber and Faber. This is one instance where I wish I had been a little more patient and waited for the American edition, but at least I can print out the notes.

So there you have it, my Henry VIII weekend! I only wish I could have stayed until Monday, when author Margaret George will be doing a reading, but at least I have her upcoming novel on Elizabeth I to anticipate.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mary Dudley Sidney Writes in a Book

One of the things I enjoy most is finding things that the people in my novels wrote themselves--letters, wills, and, in some cases, poetry.

Mary Dudley, the oldest surviving daughter of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, married Henry Sidney in March 1551 at Esher in Surrey, in a private ceremony; in May, a public wedding was held at Ely Place, Northumberland's London mansion. (At that time, Northumberland was the Earl of Warwick, having not yet become a duke.) Sidney, eight years older than Edward VI, was a companion to the young prince and became a gentleman of his privy chamber after the young Edward VI became king. Why the young couple had two wedding ceremonies is unexplained: had the pair made a runaway match? Henry Sidney was a few months shy of his twenty-second birthday; Simon Adams has estimated Mary Dudley's birthdate as being anywhere from 1530 to 1535. After Northumberland's ill-fated attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne in 1553, Henry Sidney was soon reconciled to the new queen, Mary I, but he remained loyal to his wife's family and was among those who helped the surviving Dudley brothers regain their freedom following their lengthy imprisonment in the Tower. Mary Sidney became a favored lady of Elizabeth I, a decidedly mixed blessing, for she nursed Elizabeth through an attack of smallpox, caught the infection, and was badly scarred. Mary is shown here in a portrait by Hans Eworth, dated between 1550 and 1555.

Henry Sidney and Mary Dudley are most notable, perhaps, for being the parents of Philip Sidney, the celebrated poet-courtier. Their daughter Mary, Countess of Pembroke, was herself a writer and a literary patroness.

Mary Dudley also tried her hand at writing, as did her husband. On two blank pages of Hall's Union of the Two Noble and Illustrate Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke, now in the hands of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., the spouses traded verses, Henry in Latin, Mary mostly in English, with a bit of French and Latin mixed in. I've obtained photographs of the pages and would love to post them here, but I haven't yet obtained permission to do so. I hope to get permission, because the couple's handwriting is lovely and quite legible. The first two verses have been transcribed by Alfred Bill in Astrophel, or the Life and Death of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney; the last two are my own maiden attempts at transcription (if anyone more accustomed to reading sixteenth-century English than I am wants to have a stab at a transcription, I'd be happy to pass the photograph on to you!)

To whyshe the best and fere the worst
are to points of the wyese.
To suffer then whatt happen shall
that man is happy thryese.

Mary Sidney
fere God

Of all thinges the newest is the best,
save love and frinship, which
the elder it waxeth is ever the better

Escript par la maine d'un
femme heuruse assavoir

If not for to spede thou think again
Will not the thing that thou moveth not attain
for thou and none other art cause of thy [lett? loss?]
if that which thou mowest not thou [?]
to express scriptini manire felix

Upon thy good daye
have thou in mind the [unware?]
woe that may come behind

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Dukes That Were Left Behind

Karen over at A Nevill Feast has been posting some scenes she left out of her work-in-progress, and if the outtakes are any indication, I'm looking forward to the completed product! Anyway, that inspired me to post two of the snippets that didn't make it into the The Queen of Last Hopes, one involving Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (Henry VI's uncle) and the other involving Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter. (This novel went through several false starts, some in first person and some in third person, before I finally got swinging--it ended up being told in first person through the eyes of Margaret and several male characters.) I was rather sad at leaving the Humphrey snippets behind, mainly for the loss of Humphrey's daughter, Antigone, who did indeed exist and who did indeed bear that name in a world of Margarets, Elizabeths, and Annes.

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester:
“My fool nephew is in quite the coil,” said Humphrey that December at Powis Castle in Welshpool, the home of his bastard daughter, Antigone, and her husband, Henry Grey. “He fully intends to surrender Maine, but he’s in the minor difficulty that no one who’s actually in Maine wants to surrender it, including Edmund Beaufort.” Edmund Beaufort was the Earl of Somerset and the governor of Maine. “It’s causing Henry and Wooly Will no end of headaches.”

“Papa, how do you manage to learn all of these things?”

“I may not be welcome at court, my dear, but I have my ways of finding out things. I have some very obliging men at court who provide me with information. For a fee, of course, but it’s well worth it to keep apprised of happenings. The entertainment value in itself justifies the expense.”

“So what do they plan to do about it?” asked Henry.

“Oh, this is splendid. They’ve made Beaufort lieutenant general of France and Normandy, in order to keep him sweet. Of course, the Duke of York has been expecting to be reappointed to that position, so they’ve cultivated themselves other enemy in the process. Wooly Will must have nothing but that substance between his ears.” He leaned back in his chair—the family was dining privately—contentedly. “I predict absolute disaster. Do they really think that Somerset’s going to be bought that cheaply? And what are they going to give York in return? Ireland would be my best guess, but face it, given the choice, what man would prefer life among the savages in Ireland to the civilization of France? But my nephew and his merchant better hope that Somerset and York aren’t pleased, because if they do give in and cooperate in ceding Maine, the people will never forgive Henry and Suffolk. And it’ll be even worse for the French Wench. What did she bring to England? Nothing. What will she cost England? Maine, at the very least. How has she proven her worth? Not at all. The girl’s of prime child-bearing age, almost seventeen. And not a hint of a child to come. The people won’t stand for that state of affairs forever. God knows, I’m having a hard enough time doing so. My poor brother, the noble king Henry. That his England should have come to this!”

“Father, you are upsetting yourself too much over these things.”

“No, my girl. You would be upset too if you were old enough to remember a different time. England was not always ruled thus.”

“But it seems so futile, for you to waste your life brooding over what you cannot change.”

Humphrey’s hand tightened on his wine cup. “Who says I cannot change things?”


“Antigone, I must make you promise me something.”

The Greys were alone, Humphrey having taken his leave several hours before. “Goodness, you sound grim.”

“I am. I know you love your father. I am fond of him too. But you must promise not to involve yourself in any schemes of his.”

“Schemes? What on earth are you speaking of?”

“I believe he is plotting treason.”

Antigone said confidently, “That is nonsense, Henry, and you know it.”

“Do I? Listen to the man, Antigone. During his stay, he did nothing but rail against the king and the queen and Suffolk and how good it was in his late brother’s time. From one of our shepherds, that might be nostalgia. From the heir to the throne—and it looks as if that’s not going to change any time soon, if this French girl is indeed barren—that’s alarming talk. What do you think would happen if King Henry got wind of it?”

“He is just blustering, my dear.”

“Is he? Your father's popular here in Wales, and you know how the people here can be. Wild. If there is a place he could raise support for an insane scheme to steal the throne from his nephew, it’s here. Mind you, I’m not saying that he’s tried. Yet.”

Antigone sighed. “Very well. I assure you, if he were to do anything so stupid and foolhardy, I would not become involved or give him aid. But I am quite sure that all of your fears are for naught. Men! How suspicious they always are.”

“Someone has to be.”

Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter (after the Battle of Barnet):

As the afternoon wore on, a man limped slowly about the dead, kneeling from time to time to turn a face in his direction or to stare into a pair of glazed-over eyes, only to rise and continue his search. As he was clearly not competing for the spoils of the battle, the Yorkist soldiers left him to his grim task in peace.

Presently, the man stooped and lifted yet another face. What he saw when he brushed off the mud and blood that all but obscured the features before him made him cry out: this was the man he had grown up beside and served for nearly three decades, the man he’d followed in and out of prison, in and out of exile. He lifted his fallen master to a sitting position and hugged him against his chest, weeping.

Then his face changed. He put his hand to the man's chest, then to his wrist. He had not been wrong; the Duke of Exeter was drawing breaths, faint but regular. “My lord?” he whispered. “My lord! Do you know me?”

Henry Holland opened his eyes a slit, then groaned and shut them without any sign of recognizing his servant. But it was enough. Lifting his master in his arms, and paying no mind to the pain that shot through his own injured leg with every step, the duke's man began his slow trek to the town in search of a surgeon. With the gold he’d secreted on his person for just such an exigency, there would be no difficulty in finding one.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Guest Post by Lila Rhodes: Going, in Armor, for the Gold

I'm pleased to be hosting a guest post by Lila Rhodes, with whom I've been chatting back and forth for some time about one of my favorite families, the Woodvilles (or Wydevilles, if you please). Without further ado, here's Lila!


Hi, I'm Lila Rhodes.

Back in '83 I met (through fiction) my knight in shining armor: Anthony Wydeville (1440-1483). Yup, I fell for this guy 500 years to the month after he was beheaded by order of (soon to be) Richard III. In Shakespeare's Richard III, he appears as Earl rivers. Before long, I was mainlining history, drafting scripts about Anthony, and playing with the Society for Creative Anachronism. There, my persona is Agatha Whitney—who subsequently appears in my fiction. [Did you ever write yourself into a novel?]

Going, in Armor, for the Gold

by Lila Rhodes

A Ceremony

After mass on the Wednesday before Easter 1465, Anthony Wydeville strode through Shene Palace to visit his sister. At twenty-five, he was Lord Scales, a baron. It had been only seven months since he had the surprise of his life: King Edward had married his sister. Without warning, he was the king’s brother-in-law.

Anthony found Queen Elizabeth, a young beauty with the delicate features of a china doll, seated on a carved chair and flanked by her ladies in waiting. One of her ladies-in-waiting was Anthony’s wife. Another was their sister Anne, another of the thirteen Wydevilles.

“Lord Scales,” the queen acknowledged him.

Anthony Wydeville, an athlete, stepped forward and sank to his knee. He doffed his velvet hat and let it fall upside down beside him on the richly colored carpet. “Your grace?”

“Are you practicing handling a pitcher and goblets on horseback?”

“Yes, your grace. I will be ready to serve spiced grape juice at your coronation feast.”

The queen nodded. The ladies moved forward and surrounded Anthony. Something glittered in Lady Scales’s hand. She and Anne Wydeville settled on either side of him. Lady Scales reached under her husband’s extended leg and handed one end of a band to Anne and they fastened it above his knee. It was a series of golden links shapes like 8’s, set with precious gems, and adorned with a flower of enameling on gold—for remembrance.

Another lady dropped something in Lord Scales’s hat before they all returned to their places.

Recognizing the honor, Anthony responded, “This comes nearer my heart than my knee.” In his hat, he found a scroll of parchment tied with a gold thread.

The Challenge

Anthony, Lord Scales, recognized at once that the flower was an emprise to be won by meeting the challenge described in this scroll. Eager as he must have been to read it, Anthony was a wise courtier. He took the scroll to King Edward and explained. “Her grace’s ladies have honored me with this emprise.”

Edward IV—who was twenty-three, huge, and handsome—broke the seal and read the message. “You are instructed to joust with a champion of your choice. The first day’s encounter will be on horseback and the second on foot.” He grinned at his brother-in-law. “Who might you challenge?”

That was a question. It had only been four years since Edward seized the throne, and civil war sputtered on. People from either side could easily be offended.

Lord Scales wrote at once to Comte de la Roche, an illegitimate son of the Duke of Burgundy and a famous jouster.

King Edward sent his Chester Herald with the jeweled emprise, to deliver the challenge. This called for a ceremony in the elegant court of the Duke of Burgundy in Brussels. The Chester Herald displayed the sparkling band of gems on gold and spoke to Count de la Roche. “You have the opportunity to meet Lord Scales in London to win this emprise for yourself.”

Count de la Roche, whose name was Antoine, asked about Anthony.

The herald answered, “He showed himself an able jouster at King Edward’s tournament last spring. Like yourself, he has also seen battle.”

A great deal of negotiation followed on the rules of this tournament. At one point the articles considered, with horror, the possibility that one of them could be hurt.


It was two years before Comte de la Roche, and four hundreds of followers, made it to London. On May 30, 1467, seven barges of key lords and Londoners escorted him to his landing place.

The count was the houseguest of a bishop. Lord Scales and the royal court paraded through the city. Some­thing, maybe the elegance of his entourage, tipped Anthony off when he came to the count along the parade route. He turned his horse, and, for the first time, the opponents saw each other.

Comte de la Roche visited the opening of parliament and attended many feasts and dances. Meanwhile, the stockyard at Smithfield turned into their venue. The lists and three-story stands were built for the event.

The tournament began on June 11. The queen wore a very high-waisted houpland that obscured the fact that she would be having a child in July. The king’s purple robe spread out behind him over the sand, but the garter of the order on his leg was plain to see. He climbed two flights past knights and squires to join his counselors on the podium. Hundreds of important and wealthy Londoners entered, knelt before the king, and took their places in the opposite stands.

There was a knock on the wooden door at the end of the lists. The marshal of the tournament called out, “Who would enter?”

Lord Scales answered, “My name is Escallis. I am come to accomplish a deed of arms with the Bastard of Burgundy...” Lord Scales and his horse entered wearing cloth of gold. The horse trappings had gold fringe half a foot long. Behind him, came eight more horses ridden by his pages. The boys all wore green velvet, but the horses were all dressed differently in trappings clear to the ground. Three wore damask of different colors and patterns. Two wore velvet, and two fur. The last horse glittered in cloth-of-gold.

Next Count de la Roche received permission to enter. Some in his parade of horses wore fur, cloth of silver, and gold and silver bells.

The Marshal delivered a warning. “Viewers must not approach the lists, wave, or make any noise. Anyone doing so will be imprisoned until he pays whatever ransom the king demands.”


At the king’s signal, the jousters lowered their lances, rushed together, and missed each other completely. Tossing the lances away, they began fighting with their swords. Steel rung on steel and the horses churned up the sand.

Suddenly the count’s horse reared. The count clung to him as he rose higher and higher. The weight of the armed knight toppled the stallion over on top of him.

Lord Scales rode slowly around his opponent as the marshal crossed to the fallen count and thrashing horse.

There are many conflicting accounts of what happened. Some Burgundians even said that Lord Scales rammed his sword down the horse’s throat. Another version has Scales’s horse wearing an illegal spike on its faceplate. Some said there was blood around the horse’s mouth, other its nose. One version says it was pierced through the eye and killed instantly.

The day’s combat was over. Lord Scales was stripped in front of everyone as officials searched him for hidden weapons.

Miraculously, Count de la Roche walked away. When he was asked if he could fight, the count said, “Today I fought a beast. Tomorrow I will fight a man.”

And he did. They fought on foot with pole axes (a knight­’s version of a Swiss army knife equipped with spear point, blade, hammer, and hook.)

The two champions pried pieces off each other’s armor. Each fought to put his opponent in a position where he could make no further moves. The baron brought his spear point up and wedged the tip in the count’s visor. Thrusting with this advantage, Lord Scales forced his opponent onto his knees. “Whoa” cried a lone voice in the stands. His command was picked up and repeated by the king’s marshals and heralds.

Anthony and Antoine removed their helmets. The count told the king and the marshal that he wished to continue.

The Marshal replied, “If you resume, it will be from the same position. You were on your knees with a spear point in your visor.” The count conceded.

King Edward called on them to shake hands and never fight each other again. There is no evidence of hard feelings between them.

It was probably clear to all the spectators who won the day. However, King Edward wanted an alliance with Burgundy and declared it a draw. Let us hope that Lord Scales, as well as the count, was given a jeweled band with a flower of gold for remembrance. In any case, this tournament is one way Anthony Wydeville is still remembered.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Sack of Ludlow: The Margaret/Cecily Face-Off

As I mentioned on Margaret of Anjou's Facebook page, a number of novels set during the Wars of the Roses have a scene where Margaret of Anjou's troops sack the town of Ludlow, usually resulting in carnage that makes the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre look like a minor street brawl. To top things off, few novelists can resist having the courageous Cecily, Duchess of York, bravely taking her stand at the town's market cross, come face-to-face with the vengeance-crazed, merciless Margaret of Anjou. After all, it's a perfect opportunity for an encounter between Good (Cecily, need you ask?) and Evil (Margaret, natch). Throw in a callow young George, Duke of Clarence and a saintly, frail little Richard, Duke of Gloucester, trembling at Cecily's side, and the chapter practically writes itself.

There's no doubt that Henry VI's troops did loot and pillage, and probably rape as well, after the Yorkist leaders fled from Ludford Bridge in 1459. Gregory's Chronicle reports:

The mysrewle of the kyngys galentys at Ludlowe, whenn they hadde drokyn i-nowe of wyne that was in tavernys and in othyr placys, they fulle ungoodely smote owte the heddys of the pypys and hoggys hedys of wyne, that men wente wete-schode in wyne, and thenn they robbyd the towne, and bare a-waye beddynge, clothe, and othyr stuffe, and defoulyd many wymmen.

[It's interesting that the poor women are mentioned here almost as an afterthought to the bedding and clothes. But I digress.]

Hearne's Fragment tells us:

And in the year of our Lord 1459, and then being the 38th year of King Harry the 6th, the Duke of York fled from Ludlow into Ireland. And this Edward, with the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, departed into Devonshire, and from thence into Guernsey, and so to Calais, &c. After the which departing King Harry rode into Ludlow, and spoiled the Town and Castle, where-at he found the Duchess of York with her two young sons (then) children, the one of thirteen years old, and the other of ten years old: the which Duchess King Harry sent to her sister Anne Duchess of Buckingham.

Benet's Chronicle, as translated in Elizabeth Hallam's The Wars of the Roses, simply reports that after the Duke of York and his companions fled, "The king ransacked all of their property between Worcester and Ludlow."

The English Chronicle mentions Ludlow only after discussing the Parliament that followed the battle:

Thanne was a parlement holden at Couentre, and they that were chosenne knyghtes of the shyres, and other that had interessc in the parlement, were nat dyfferent but chosen a denominacione of thaym that were enemyes to the forseyde lordes so beyng oute of the reame. In the whiche parlement, the sayde duk of York and the iij. erles and other, whos names shalle be rehersed afterward, withoute any answere, as traytours and rebelles to the kyng were atteynt of treson, and theyre goodes, lordshyppys and possessyons escheted in to the kynges hande, and they and theyre heyres dysheryted vn to the ixthe degre. And by the kynges commissione in euery cyte, burghe, and toune cryed opynly and proclamed as for rebelles and traytoures; and theyre tenauntes and there men spoyled of theyre goodes, maymed, bete, and slayne withoute cny pyte; the toune of Ludlow, longyng thanne to the duk of York, was robbed to the bare walles, and the noble duches of York vnmanly and cruelly was entreted and spoyled.

Abbot Whethamstede, with uncharacteristic brevity, simply reports that the town and the surrounding area was sacked. (If anyone's up for some Latin translation, I'll be happy to send you the relevant paragraph.)

It's plain from all of these accounts, as I said, that Ludlow did suffer at the hands of the Lancastrians after the rout at Ludford Bridge. (It wasn't the first town to suffer in this manner during the Wars of the Roses, however. According to Whehamstede and other sources, St. Albans was looted by the victorious Duke of York's men after the first battle there in 1455, but the same novelists and historians who wax horrific about the sack of Ludlow breezily pass by the Yorkist misdeeds at St. Albans.) What's also plain, however, is that not a single source states that Margaret of Anjou was present at Ludlow, much less has her cackling with glee at the Duchess of York and her terrified youngsters. As none of these sources were friendly to Margaret, it's hard to believe that they would have failed to mention her malevolent presence at Ludlow. Most likely she had stayed behind at a safe place with her son while her husband and his army made their way to Ludford Bridge.

As for Cecily, Duchess of York, it does seem from Hearne's Fragment, quoted above, that she and her two younger sons (whose ages the chronicler gets wrong) were at Ludlow. The English Chronicle also speaks of her being "entreated and spoiled," though whether this refers to the duchess's person or her property is unclear. It seems more likely that it refers to her property, as a physical attack on the duchess and her young children would have surely provoked the fury of the pro-Yorkist chroniclers.

But was she taking a stance at the market cross? This is where Paul Murray Kendall departs into one of his historical flights of fancy. In the text of Richard the Third, he writes, "When the troops of the King stormed triumphantly into the undefended town the next morning, they found Cicely, Duchess of York, and her sons Richard and George courageously awaiting them on the steps of the market cross." Only when one reads to the end of the paragraph in which this sentence appears does one find an end note, in which Kendall cites the passage from Hearne's Fragment quoted above and explains, "It is reported that Cecily and her two boys were found in the village. Since she was a woman of spirit and was apparently trying to protect her villagers, I have conjectured that she took her stance at the market cross" [italics mine]. Kendall may not have intended to mislead his readers, but it is nonetheless the fact that many, not bothering to flip to the end note, have come away with the conviction that it is established historical fact that Cecily outfaced the Lancastrians at the market cross. In fact, pace Kendall, one can't be sure from the wording of the fragment ("spoiled the Town and Castle, where-at he found the Duchess of York") that she was even in the village; it appears more likely that Cecily was within the castle walls.

So to sum up, while there was certainly looting and pillage at Ludlow, there's no evidence that Margaret was there, and none except for a twentieth-century historian's admitted conjecture that Cecily was defiantly standing at the market cross. As Stacey Schiff so aptly says in her new biography of Cleopatra, however, "For well over two thousand years, a myth has been able to outrun and outlive a fact." Thanks to the power of fiction and fictionalized history, there may be a lot of life left in the story of Cecily and Margaret facing off at the market cross.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Guest Post by Jeri Westerson: Richard II

I'm pleased today to feature a guest post by Jeri Westerson, author of The Demon's Parchment. Without further ado, here's Jeri!

Richard II, like his great grandfather Edward II, came to his throne with great promise, and like his famous predecessor, experienced a great fall at the end of his unfortunate reign.

Born on the feast of Epiphany in Bordeaux, France, and in the presence of three kings (Jaime IV, King of Majorca; Richard, King of Armenia; and Pedro, the deposed King of Castile [deposed by Richard’s uncle John of Gaunt]), Richard’s birth seemed particularly charmed. It was not expected that he would be king so soon. But his father, Edward of Woodstock, whom we know today as the Black Prince, died untimely, leaving the ten-year-old Richard bound for a throne he, nor his country, was ready for him to take. Perhaps this childhood on the throne is responsible for the man doing what always seems to be the downfall of any monarch, and that was to bestow unwarranted favoritism on undeserving men, insulting the powerful men of court who felt their opinions and authority were being usurped.

But in the beginning, all was well. At Richard’s coronation banquet on 16 July 1377, the tradition of the Champion of England was re-introduced. This is an office thought created by William the Conqueror and held for a long time by the Marmion family. This title came to their descendant, Sir John Dymoke for Richard’s coronation and has continued as a hereditary right for the family ever since. At William the Conqueror’s coronation, the Champion would ride into Westminster Abbey, fully armed and challenge all comers for the duke’s right to take the throne. But in Richard’s case, Sir John was persuaded to wait until the banquet and rode into Westminster Hall and publicly challenged to combat anyone who dared dispute the king’s title to the throne. (This ceremony has not been conducted since George IV’s day. A pity.)

As exciting as this surely was and though no one challenged the young king, it was nevertheless a portent of things to come.

His reign was much overwhelmed by many events: it followed on the great plague where his countrymen were still recovering from great economic losses. Parliament passed laws limiting wages but failed to regulate runaway prices, and so in 1381, Wat Tyler led the famous Peasant’s Revolt, protesting the restriction of wages. The rabble cornered the Archbishop of Canterbury (in charge of the king’s treasury) in the Tower of London, yanked him out, and brutally murdered him. The king agreed to meet with Tyler and when he did, Tyler was killed, thus ending the revolt. This was considered a shrewd move on Richard’s part at the time, but this did not help later when Richard’s relationship with his favorites—Michael de la Pole, Robert de Vere and others—angered Parliament. It was Richard’s contention that he, the crown, could make all the decisions of his reign himself without the recommendations or mandates of Parliament. After all, it was he who was anointed at his coronation. Special powers were bestowed upon him by virtue of this singular ritual. In fact, he began to insist on being called “Majesty” and be treated with all the proper deference. He could dissolve Parliament at his will as a royal prerogative. So anyone who opposed Richard and his choice of minister would be considered a traitor to the crown. As one can imagine, Parliament wasn’t pleased by this, and they formed the Lords Appellant in 1386. The Appellants represented the noble families that Richard in his naiveté had scorned and they declared his favorites to be traitors. Battles broke out and the Lords Appellant took over, even removing Richard from the throne for a few days, and then executed four of his knights. The Appellants now controlled the government, and Richard—who had moved to reinstate the divine right of kings with ultimate and overarching power—saw himself little more than a figurehead.

If only he saw the writing on the wall.

But ego has a lot to do with how kings reigned and their subsequent decisions. And remember how young Richard was at this time. By 1389, Richard was twenty-two and declared his own majority, that is, he didn’t need any more handlers. He was fully king now and the Appellants were abolished just as his uncle John of Gaunt returned to England after his campaigns abroad.

Yes, think of it. All this happened before he was twenty-two. Remember when you were twenty-two? Think of all your wonderful decisions. What if an entire country had to live with the consequences?

So in this fertile environment, I have placed my fiction. My protagonist Crispin Guest, a disgraced knight turned detective, has crossed Richard since day one and finds himself constantly at war with the one who wears the crown, skirting the edges of acceptability. The history is my quilt and my fictional detective becomes some of the fancier stitching. It’s outrageously fun to be able to do this. If I am allowed to continue to publish these novels, they will continue on until the year 1400, intimately following the historical timeline while my characters get to play on that set stage.

For now, we are still in 1384 with my newest novel in the series, THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, exploring medieval Jews and medieval attitudes about them. And murder. Don’t forget the murder.

You are invited to explore it with Jeri by reading the first chapter of THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT on Jeri’s website www.JeriWesterson.com.