Sunday, April 29, 2007

Everything's Coming Up Roses

As we know thanks to Sarah, Philippa Gregory is set to write three novels set during the Wars of the Roses: The White Queen, The White Princess, and The Red Queen. Gregory's popularity can't help but aid other historical novelists publishing about the Wars of the Roses in finding readers, so with that in mind, I'm planning some novels of my own. Here are just a few:

Knights in White Satin

A mix-up by a royal clerk leaves Henry VI's troops scrambling for armor at the last minute, and Henry doesn't even notice.

Red Roses for a Blue Lady

After the Battle of Barnet, Somerset tries as best he can to cheer up Margaret of Anjou.

Better Dead Than Red

Before heading out to battle at Tewkesbury, Edward, George, and Richard enter into a suicide pact if things don't turn out as they've planned.

The White Stuff

To his horror, Edward IV discovers that even kings can get dandruff.

The White Bore

Since becoming king, Richard III's had a lot on his mind, and Anne starts to realize that he just hasn't been a lot of fun lately.

Red Letter Day

Nothing makes the exiled Henry Tudor happier than receiving a letter from Mum.

The Red in the Black

Thanks to Henry VII's new treasurer, the crown is solvent once again.

Red, White, and Blue

With nothing to fight about after the Battle of Stoke, Yorkists and Lancastrians alike are down in the dumps.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A New Blog Announcement, and Some Therapeutic Ranting

At the suggestion of Deborah Homsher, autor of The Rising Shore--Roanoke, a few of us historical novelists who are self-published have banded together to bring you a new blog, Yesterday Revisited. Check it out! Deborah's already been posting, and the other members will soon be following suit.

Speaking of yesterday, Wednesday for me was sort of a microcosm of what this entire month has shaped up to be so far. I went over to the bookstore closest to us in the expectation that it would have Jean Plaidy's The Queen's Secret, which came out Tuesday, and not only did they not have it, the single copy they had on order wouldn't be in for a week or so. (And these guys wonder why Amazon's stock is going up? I'd have it in my hands today probably if I'd ordered online.) Then on the way home from this fruitless errand, I almost got rear-ended (on purpose) by some cell-phone-using redneck in a pickup truck who decided that I wasn't traveling fast enough for him. (If my sense of humor was in better tune today, I could probably comment on the incongruity of having a redneck chatting away on his Blackberry, but I'm not sure I'm up to it.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Snippet and the Order of the Garter

At Windsor Castle, Will, now the Earl of Salisbury, preened in his new robe, powdered with little blue garters. "How do you like it, sister?"

"It suits you well," Bess said absently, though she was not even looking at her brother but at her wedding ring. Recalling herself, she added, "Particularly with your new beard."

Will grinned and stroked it.

Bess had a habit these days of talking to Hugh in her head, and she’d had a fine conversation with him about the king’s ridiculous new scheme, which as far as Bess could tell was simply another excuse for men to dress up in matching robes and joust. “Order of the Garter?” she had asked Hugh. “Could he have found a sillier name?”

“Order of the Breech-cloth,” Hugh had suggested. Then, "Now, now, Bess. Remember the motto. Honi soit qui mal y pense."

Bess scowled. Yet she could not deny that if Hugh had been alive and wearing one of the silly garters on his leg, she’d probably not found it ridiculous at all.

See? I really am writing something else, and that was an excerpt to prove it.

Elizabeth de Montacute and her brother William, of course, are speaking of the founding of the Order of the Garter. Enduring as the order has been, its origins are peculiarly obscure.

The long-cherished story, of course, is that while dancing, the lovely Countess of Salisbury (either Joan the Fair Maid of Kent or her mother-in-law, Katherine de Montacute) lost her garter, to her great embarrassment. Edward III gallantly came to her rescue, holding the garter aloft and proclaiming to all and sundry, "Honi soit qui mal y pense." ("Shame on he who thinks ill of it.") Thereafter, the king put the garter and his comment to good use when he decided to form a highly selective chivalric order. Recent historians, those killjoys, have cast doubt on this story and even on whether women wore garters at all in the 1340's (though I find this latter point unconvincing; surely they had to have something with which to hold up their hose). Instead, they've suggested, the motto refers to those who thought ill of Edward III's claim to the French throne, the garter to an item of knightly apparel. Ian Mortimer, whose biography of Edward III, The Perfect King, contains a thorough discussion of the Order of the Garter (and to whom this modest blog post is heavily indebted), also points out that Edward III had worn pearl garters in the 1330's and that Henry of Grosmont, later Duke of Lancaster, had a liking for them as well.

If that's not bad enough, no one's sure exactly when the order originated. Though at one time it was held to have its origins in the Round Table festivities of 1344, the current consensus seems to be that the order was founded sometime in 1348 and that its first assembly took place on April 23, 1349, at Windsor Castle. To confuse things just a little more, in 1348 there also seems to have been a Companionship of the Garter for the Black Prince and his friends. As Ian Mortimer suggests, Edward III may well have borrowed the idea, and even the motto, from his son, or perhaps from the garter-loving Henry of Grosmont.

Ian Mortimer also makes another important point: the April 23, 1349, ceremony took place while the Black Death was still ravaging England, killing perhaps a third of its population. Those who made the journey to the inaugural tournament at Windsor, including the king himself, did so at a time when the instinct of many must have been to huddle on their estates in a state of despair. Thus, as Mortimer points out, the founding of the order should perhaps be seen as a morale-building measure on the part of the king, a proclamation of "business as usual" (p. 264).

What is clear, at least, are the identities of the twenty-six founding members, most of whom had some connection with the king's French campaigns. The precise criteria for admission, however, is (you won't be surprised to hear) obscure. Probably a number of factors were involved. Though several earls or future earls were among the founding members, high rank, though helpful, didn't ensure inclusion: for instance, Richard Fitzalan, the third Earl of Arundel and a very wealthy man, was never a member. Young William de Montacute, the second Earl of Salisbury, whom we met at the opening of this post, was at the beginning of his career and was probably included mainly as a tribute to his late father, the William de Montacute who had orchestrated Edward III's seizure of Roger Mortimer. Other men, quite obscure today, were simply members of the king's household or that of his son the Black Prince

One particularly interesting inclusion was that of the young Roger Mortimer, grandson of the executed Earl of March—another sign of Edward III's admirable refusal to hold men responsible for the misdeeds of their forebears. I like to think that Hugh le Despenser, son of the notorious Hugh le Despenser the younger, might also have been awarded the garter due to his military achievements in France, but if Edward III had had him in mind as a choice in 1348, Hugh's death in February 1349 forestalled any such plans. His heir and nephew Edward, however, was made a Knight of the Garter in 1361.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My Friend the Semicolon; And Its Relation the Comma

I love semicolons; I really, really do.

What prompted this revelation is a discussion that I've been having at the day job. (Yes, the glamour of my day job overwhelms even me at times.)

Regardless of the outcome of the work discussion, I'll continue in my admiration and esteem for the semicolon. I don't think that it was ever discussed much in English composition in my grade school; it's a punctuation mark I pretty much began using on my own. I have to guard against overusing it in my writing; because one can have too much of a good thing.

Thinking about the semicolon has made me consider its more common and humble relation, the comma, and its role in the death of Edward II. The legend propagated by Geoffrey Baker, familiar to those who know Marlowe's play, is that Adam of Orleton, the Bishop of Hereford, acting on behalf of Mortimer and Isabella, sent an unpunctuated message to Edward's jailers at Berkeley Castle reading, Edwardum occidere nolite timere bonum est. The message could be interpreted in two ways, depending upon where the reader chose to insert a comma. Placing the comma after "timere" produces: "Do not fear to kill Edward, it is a good thing," while slipping the comma back after "nolite" produces, "Do not kill Edward, it is good to be afraid."

Instructive as this legend is in the "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" tradition, it's been disproved for some time. Orleton was out of the country at the time and had fallen out of favor with Isabella and Mortimer, and he in any case would hardly have been likely to send a written message so incriminating. Evidently, Baker lifted the comma story from a thirteenth-century incident recounted by Matthew Paris.

Nonetheless, the comma story continues to appear, usually in historical novels but occasionally even in nonfiction. I submit that it's because these are the type of shenanigans one expects of a comma. The noble semicolon, on the other hand, behaves itself; no skulduggery for it.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Geraldus Redux

I don't know if you overseas readers have noticed this, but we in the United States have been awfully apologetic lately. We've had a radio host apologizing for making racist remarks, we've had the president of the World Bank apologize for getting his special lady friend a handsome raise, and we've had our president apologize to Walter Reid hospital patients. In my corner of the country, we've had a district attorney apologize for pressing rape charges against three innocent men, and our state house has apologized for slavery, following the example of our neighbor Virginia's apology for slavery. We're just a sorry bunch these days, it seems.

Anyway, in light of all these apologies, I was pleased to find an especially timely manuscript in what scholars now know as the Geraldus de Springerus archives. It appears that Geraldus, believing the last appearance of Isabella and a very special surprise guest to have been popular amongst the audience, invited the pair back in an attempt to stage a reconciliation between them. The discovery of this particular transcript is particularly exciting: it suggests that the medieval concept of a "loveday," wherein disputes could be settled amicably out of court, had permeated a much wider range of affairs than previously thought. One can only wonder at what further discoveries lurk in these archives.

Geraldus: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm pleased to introduce again our most gracious lady, the Dowager Queen Isabella, and, er--

Edward: King Edward the Second.

Isabella: You cannot call yourself the king. You are a humble monk now.

Edward: I'm very well aware of that, my dear. You reminded me of that twice backstage.

Isabella: After all, you resigned your crown.

Edward: If you call that farce a resignation.

Geraldus: If I may. Your graces, let's face it. Neither of you is getting any younger.

Edward: I beg to differ. I've never felt healthier. All of this fresh air, and exercise, and—

Isabella: We know. You were born to be a peasant.

Edward: Maybe you ought to get outdoors a bit yourself, my dear. You're looking a little peaked.

Isabella: I am not. (Consults hand mirror)

Geraldus: Your graces. Both of you look wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. But as I said, time is passing. As my people told your people, it's time to put the past behind you and apologize to each other. You've each come prepared, I believe.

Isabella (Pulls out a long sheet of parchment): I certainly have.

Edward: That's what you want to apologize for? All that? Really, my dear, it's not necessary.

Isabella: Don't be silly. These are the things I wanted you to apologize for. It's a checklist.

Edward: Oh.

Isabella: Item one. There's the time you gave Gaveston my wedding jewels.

Edward: Oh, come. They suited him and not you. You were a skinny little girl of twelve and he was—magnificent. (Sighs longingly)

Isabella: Oh, for God's sake, get your mind out of your crotch and attend to item two.

Edward: All right. Item two.

Isabella: You ignored me after the coronation.

Edward: You had all of your irritating French relatives to sit with, didn't you? Besides, you got to talk to them about the jewels.

Isabella: All right. We will skip item two for now. Item three—

Edward: If you're going to claim I abandoned you to the Scots, I'm leaving.

Isabella: No, no. But I did forget Bannockburn, come to think of it.

Edward: I have to apologize to you for Bannockburn?

Isabella: It was a great blow to my pride as a queen.

Edward: Oh, all right. (Aside) God forbid we should injure her precious pride as a queen.

Isabella: I heard that. Back to item three. Hugh le Despenser the elder.

Edward: Hugh the elder? What did he ever do to you?

Isabella: He spawned Hugh the younger, which accounts for items four to one hundred.

Edward (Sadly, to audience): She just never did understand poor dear Hugh.

Isabella: Oh, I understood him all right. Well. Are you ready to apologize?

Edward: I suppose. (Stiffly) My most gracious lady, I humbly beg your pardon.

Isabella: I accept your humble apology.

Geraldus: Now, that's real progress.

Edward: Her turn! Let's talk about my deposition. And your killing my friends, and your trying to kill me, and Mortimer, and your locking me up, and your keeping the children from me, and—

Isabella: You never did have an orderly mind, did you? Well, let's get this over with. My gracious lord, I humbly beg your pardon.

Edward: Oh, come on. If that's humility, I'm the king of France.

Isabella: They wouldn't have you as the king of France.

Edward: Oh, Lord. (To audience) Now we're going to hear about the glories of France. And you wonder why we only had four children together? We're lucky we had that many.

Isabella: Oh, just accept my apology so we can get out of here.

Geraldus: Your grace, you could stand to look a bit more humble, in my opinion.

Isabella: Which no one asked you for, did they?

Edward: Oh, she still has her touch with the common people, doesn't she? (To audience) Tell us. Which queen do you like better? Isabella or Philippa?

Audience (Roaring): Philippa!

Edward: That nice, sweet lady. Always a kind word for everyone.

Isabella: How dare—

Edward: So gracious. So loyal. So merciful. The way she begged for those burghers in Calais—

Audience: Ahhh!

Isabella: Are we going to spend the rest of the afternoon talking about that irritating Hainaulter woman, or are you going to accept my apology?

Edward: Now I think she owes our dear Philippa an apology for that, don't you?

Isabella: Damn it, I came here to apologize to you, not her, and now I'm not going to apologize to either of you! (Stalks away)

Edward: Well, then, I'm going to withdraw my apology. (Shouts in Isabella's direction) She-wolf!

Isabella (From offstage): Sodomite!

Geraldus: Well. Sometimes people just aren't ready to let go of the past, it seems. Folks, join us next week for "Ten Pilgrimage Scams to Avoid."

Audience Member: Wait. She didn't make a sincere apology, and he withdrew his apology. Shouldn't we get our money back?

Geraldus: No. You'll just have to accept my humble apology for that, I guess.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Gloucester, Greed, and Granny: Richard III and the Countess of Oxford

Here's a scenario for you: You're a widow in your sixties, in ill health and living in a nunnery. Your husband and eldest son have been executed as traitors. Your second son is busy trying to overthrow the king. Your son's lands have been forfeit to the crown. A vigorous young man of twenty, a duke who happens also to be the king's favorite brother, barges into the room and demands that you give him your own lands. What do you do?

If you're Elizabeth de Vere, Countess of Oxford, the king is Edward IV, and the young man is Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later to be Richard III, you release your lands.

Born in about 1410 as Elizabeth Howard, the countess was married to John de Vere, the twelfth Earl of Oxford. The family was loyal to Henry VI, and after Edward IV became king, the pro-Lancastrian activities of the earl and his eldest son resulted in both being executed in 1462. Elizabeth herself was kept under house arrest for a short time before being released by the king. Edward IV then made overtures to Elizabeth's second son, twenty-year-old John, allowing him to assume the title of earl and to officiate as chamberlain at Elizabeth Woodville's coronation in 1465. John was also allowed to marry Margaret, a younger sister of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as Warwick the Kingmaker. This was perhaps a mistake, for when Warwick rebelled against Edward IV, his brother-in-law John de Vere, whose sympathies probably always had been with his dead father and brother and their cause, joined him. During Henry VI's brief resumption of the throne, the Earl of Oxford had the satisfaction of presiding over the trial and execution of John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, the man who had sentenced Oxford's father and brother to death.

Oxford was at the Battle of Barnet in 1471, where the Earl of Warwick died and the Yorkists scored a victory. John de Vere fled to Scotland and continued to plot against the Yorkist government. By 1473, he had turned to piracy. His luck ran out in 1474, when he was captured and imprisoned. (He finally escaped in 1484, hooked up with Henry Tudor, and was one of the commanders of the forces that defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field.) Edward IV granted the bulk of the Earl of Oxford's estates to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in 1471. (Though Richard's loyalty to his brother the king during Edward IV's lifetime is often praised, the fact that it was also amply rewarded with real estate tends to be overlooked.)

In the meantime, in December 1472, the thirteenth Earl of Oxford's mother was living in a nunnery at Stratford le Bow. Whether she had been confined there because of her son's activities or whether she had gone there to be nursed, as aging or infirm ladies often did, is unclear. Though her son's estates had been forfeited by his treason, the Countess of Oxford still had a number of lands of her own inheritance. She had taken the precaution of enfeoffing them by use, so that she could devise them by will. In such an arrangement, the feoffees held the lands not for their own benefit and were required to convey them according to Elizabeth's wishes.

Richard, however, had considered his collection of Oxford estates and decided to complete it. Around Christmastime of 1472, he, along with what must have been a suitably intimidating number of retainers, barged into the countess's lodgings in the nunnery and told Elizabeth that he had been given custody of her and her lands. The old lady was made to hand over the keys to her coffers, which were searched by Gloucester's men.

Richard's men, having presumably met with little resistance by the nuns, then hauled the countess off to Stepney, where Gloucester's household was staying in the house of Thomas Vaughan. (Gloucester repaid Vaughan's hospitality ill in 1483 by executing him at the time he seized the throne.) There, Elizabeth was confined to a chamber until she agreed to sign over her lands to Gloucester. The countess sent for one of her feoffees, Henry Robson, and said that if she did not sign over her lands to Gloucester, he would send her to Middleham, a journey the old lady doubted she could survive considering her old age and "the grett colde which thenne was of Frost and snowe." She added that she was grateful to have the lands which now would save her life. Meanwhile, the countess's confessor, a Master Baxter, was being bullied by Gloucester's crony Thomas Howard, who called him a false priest and a hypocrite, evidently because Baxter, another feoffee of the countess's, appeared to be having misgivings about the proposed transaction.

The countess was next moved to Walbroke, where she was again placed among Richard's men. (In dragging the countess from hostile setting to hostile setting, young Gloucester demonstrated a sophisticated knowledge of interrogation techniques that is quite at odds with Paul Murray Kendall's picture of him during this period of his life as an idealistic youth longing only to escape from court to the moors of northern England.) There, she apparently signed the release. Robson added his seal out of "ferying the same duke." The releases were made in January 1473.

The countess, who had already told Robson that "she was sory that she for savying her lyff had disheritt her heires," returned eventually to the nunnery, where by early 1474 she had died. Before her death, she asked a former servant who came to visit to remind her son John that she had released her estates out of fear.

Not all of the feoffees, however, had cooperated in sealing the release. William Paston was one of the holdouts, despite Gloucester's attempt to bring pressure on him via Robson, who had been commanded to tell Paston that a refusal would "cost hym that he loved best." Despite this heavy-handed message, Gloucester resorted in 1473 to gentler tactics: a suit in chancery against the feoffees. Not surprisingly, the chancellor ordered Paston to make the release.

In the chancery suit, heard in 1474 after the countess's death, Richard claimed that Elizabeth had agreed to a release of the lands in return for an annuity of 500 marks (a mark was 2/3 of a pound), the payment of 240 pounds in debts, the promotion of a son studying at Cambridge to benefices, and "dyvers benefaites, costes, and charges" in aid of the countess, her children, and her grandchildren. Michael Hicks, who has looked at the whole sordid transaction thoroughly, found nothing to indicate that Richard actually carried out any of these promises. Even if he did keep his part of the bargain, he must have known at the time he entered into it that the elderly countess was unlikely to require the annuity for very long. For Richard's part, he received 28 manors, which James Ross in a study of the Oxford estates reported brought in an income of about 600 pounds per annum.

Richard's supporters have often praised his piety, but it was Elizabeth who was the hapless source of some of the duke's most notable gift-giving. Richard gave the countess's manor of Foulmere to Queen's College, Cambridge, in 1477, with the proviso that prayers be said for a number of people, living and dead. Gloucester was considerate enough to include Elizabeth's and her husband's in the list of those souls who were to receive prayers. Richard also gave some of the countess's manors to St. George's Chapel at Windsor and to his collegiate foundation at Middleham.

Following Richard III's death at Bosworth, Elizabeth's son Oxford, an ally of Henry VII, succeeded in having Parliament annul the releases made by the countess. In 1495, worried that his title to his mother's lands might someday be impugned, Oxford procured depositions from six witnesses, including William Paston and Henry Robson, who gave their recollection of the events of 1472-73. As Hicks and others have been careful to point out, the witnesses had been picked by Oxford and thus were not likely to give testimony hostile to his cause. Nonetheless, the depositions, which have been reproduced by Hicks, do not read as having been rehearsed; the deponents often state that they have forgotten names, places, times, or particulars, as would be expected after over twenty years had passed. And the undeniable fact that Richard was forced to resort to chancery proceedings to get some feoffees to release the lands (from which they did not personally benefit) is a strong indication that these men believed that their countess had been fleeced.

In his pro-Ricardian book Royal Blood, Bertram Fields, a lawyer, attempts to clear his client Richard of the charges of coercion. He argues that Edward IV had already turned over the countess's wealth to Richard, so that in effect Gloucester was doing the countess a service by compensating her for her loss. In fact, the lands Edward IV had turned over to his brother were those of the countess's son, not the countess herself. Richard would have hardly had to go to the trouble of getting the countess and her feoffees to release her lands if they had nothing to release in the first place. Fields also heaps scorn on the countess's "fear of the cold weather at Middleham," stating that the place was "hardly the equivalent of being put on the rack" and that it was "preferable to a return to the convent." This argument disregards the fact that the journey from London to Middleham in the north would have been a formidable one for an elderly, ailing lady in the winter. It also ignores the fact that the lady's threatened stay at Middleham would have been that of a prisoner, far away from her friends and retainers in the south.

Fields, however, does deserve credit for mentioning the episode of the countess and her lands, which is more than some other pro-Richard writers have done. Paul Murray Kendall, whose biography of Richard III is virtually holy writ for the most devoted followers of the king, omits the incident altogether. Perhaps because of this, Ricardian novelists, who tend to rely on Kendall's romanticized view of Richard instead of the more critical works of Charles Ross or A. J. Pollard, have overwhelmingly followed suit in ignoring this unseemly land-grabbing by their hero. The sole exception I've come across is Reay Tannahill in The Seventh Son, who also is one of the few novelists who depicts the dispossession of Richard's mother-in-law, Anne Beauchamp, from her estates by her sons-in-law Richard and George.

If you'd like to read more about this episode—where in relieving a widow of the burden of her lands, Richard seems to have taken some cues from his wife's fourteenth-century ancestor, Hugh le Despenser the younger—the most detailed account is in Michael Hicks' collection of his articles, Richard III and His Rivals: Magnates and Their Motives in the Wars of the Roses. A. J. Pollard also comments on it in his Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, as do Charles Ross in his biography of Richard III and Desmond Seward in The Wars of the Roses. James Ross discusses the estates themselves in "Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and the De Vere Estates, 1462-85," an essay published in the 2005 volume of The Ricardian, the scholarly journal of the Richard III Society. Reading these sources, it's difficult not to conclude that when Richard wanted something, he wasn't about to let anything—be it a defenseless old lady or his two young nephews—stand in his way.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

My Thinking Blogger Awards

I'm in a quandary, because Alianore and Tanzanite have kindly nominated me for a Thinking Blogger Award (which started here), and I'm having a very difficult time narrowing my own awards to five choices.

I'll first have to return the favor and nominate Alianore all over again, because I love reading about all things related to Edward II. It was an utter delight to me when I first discovered her blog, and it's still the first I check every morning. (By the way, most of the conversations I have about Edward II run thusly: Me: "It's about Edward II." Them: "Isn't he the one who married Wallis Simpson?")

Reading the Past, Sarah Johnson's blog is a treasure trove of information for readers of historical fiction, with industry news, reviews, and posts that are just plain fun.

Tea at Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal is full of fascinating posts, especially those about Marie Antoinette and her contemporaries, and I've learned a great deal from reading it. Truly a thinking woman's blog.

Nan Hawthorne's The Blue Lady Tavern is one of the more clever writer's blogs I've come across. I always enjoy stopping by for a mug.

The fifth? It's too hard to pick just one, but I'm going to go for Carla's, because I first ran across it on a day I was feeling really lousy in a number of ways, and it cheered me up immensely.

There's many other worthy blogs on the sidebar here. Don't know what I did without them all, really!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Mr. Darcy's Diary: A Review

Given my choice of Jane Austen heroes, I lean more toward Captain Wentworth or Mr. Knightley than Fitzwilliam Darcy. But all three have their good points, so I was content to while away a couple of hours in the company of Mr. Darcy, courtesy of Amanda Grange in Mr. Darcy's Diary, published in the UK in 2005 and recently released in the United States by Sourcebooks.

Mr. Darcy's Diary begins at about the time that Darcy rescues his young sister from the fortune-hunting Wickham and ends not long after his marriage to Elizabeth Bennet. (If you consider these spoilers, you clearly aren't the target audience for this novel. Go read Pride and Prejudice and the rest of the Austen novels immediately. Then read them all over again. Then you're ready to try the retellings.)

As is proper, Grange doesn't attempt the impossible task of competing with the Divine Jane, but tells Darcy's story in her own style, with charm and a gentle wit. While her characters are true to Austen's creations, a couple of surprises lurk, only adding to the reader's pleasure.

The well-known scenes between Elizabeth and Darcy are here, of course, and I found that the novel dragged a little at such points, with the retelling suffering in comparison to the original. Fortunately, there are plenty of entirely fresh scenes, such as the ones where Mrs. Bennet decides to serve Darcy sauces and where Darcy tries to make small talk with a dimwitted heiress, in which Grange's own humor and warmth shine, making this an amusing and diverting read for Austen fans.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Mystery of the Princes in the Tower Solved

Poring over the Latin manuscript of Sir Thomas More's History of King Richard III, in which More squarely lays the blame for the murder of the Princes in the Tower on Richard III, cryptographers have made a shocking discovery as to the Princes' real cause of death.

Five-year-old Thomas More himself was the killer.

The tragedy occurred when young Thomas, visiting the Tower with his father, who had legal business there, encountered the young Princes shooting on the grounds. When Edward offered to let Thomas have a turn, Thomas's arrow went awry, landing in Edward's back. When Richard ran over to help his brother, Thomas, thinking Edward IV's eldest son was "playing dead," took a second shot—fatally wounding Richard as well.

"He was a great humanist, but a lousy archer," concludes a professor at Cambridge University, who preferred to speak anonymously until the whole amazing story is published in a scholarly journal.

But why, knowing his own guilt, did Thomas smear Richard III's name? Explains the professor, "He was so shocked at what he had accidentally done, he was in denial, as we might say now. For years, he probably did really convince himself that Richard III did it. Then something—we don't know what—caused him to recover his lost memories, and he remembered what had really happened. But he'd written such a compelling tale, he really didn't want to change it, so instead he added this coded confession, knowing that someday the code would be broken. Took us long enough, didn't it? But we did get a damn good Shakespeare play out of it, you'll have to admit."

Though the team of cryptographers have remained close-lipped as to the precise details of the code, it appears that More took the Latin version of the manuscript with him to the Tower during his imprisonment there by Henry VIII. There, he made revisions that to the untrained eye appear to be superficial changes but that in reality formed a sophisticated code in which he confessed his guilt. "He had a lot of time on his hands," explained the professor.

Why was young More never punished for his actions? "He ran off, and when the guards came across the bodies and realized what had happened, they were afraid they'd be accused of negligence and lose their heads, so they buried the bodies quickly and started rumors that the boys had been smothered by the king's agents. It was a really successful cover-up for such rank amateurs. Goes to show that there's hope for us all, doesn't it?"

Asked to comment, an official with the Richard III Society said, "On the one hand, it's complete vindication; on the other, it pretty much puts us out of business, doesn't it? I think I'll go down to the local and have a pint or two."