Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Home Again, with Pictures!

Me and My Hennin:

Don't Mess With Guys Carrying These:

The Woodville Family:

(Well, I thought that last Coca-Cola I drank tasted a little strange.)

I did thoroughly enjoy the Annual General Meeting. (As you can see from the picture of the Woodville family, who were housed across the street at a mini-golf course, we were in the heart of Tacky Tourism Country. That's only half of the Woodvilles, by the way--more were outside the picture.) We heard a very interesting theory that William Catesby, not Bishop Stillington, revealed the supposed precontract to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, enjoyed a presentation about Oxford University during the Wars of the Roses, were serenaded by several types of recorders, and had a visit from the Lincoln Company, a living history group that brought an impressive collection of reproduction armor and weapons for us to examine, including those in the picture above. As a writer who had to send one of my characters into battle, I found the last presentation particularly helpful for visualizing how he would have had to fight. In short, I was left with lots to think about, and I'm glad I went.

I got a couple of books read on the flights to and fro, and I'll be posting reviews in due course. Now, back to work!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Wild Ricardian Weekend

I'm off this weekend to the Richard III Society American Branch's annual general meeting, held this year in Orlando, Florida. Since I diss the man so much on this blog, you might be surprised to hear that I'm a member, but it's a great organization for anyone interested in Richard III and the Wars of the Roses. The publications in particular are a treasure trove for anyone doing research into the period.

Anyway, the meeting includes a Saturday night banquet, for which members are encouraged to don medieval garb. My fourteenth-century-style gown is a little out of period, but if anyone calls me on it I'll tell them the Nasty Woodvilles stole all of my newer ones. (See? I'm getting into the spirit of things already.) My head at least will be in the right era, because I bought a nifty hennin last weekend, complete with veil. This led to a spirited exchange with my daughter, who told me that it looked like a dunce cap. (Teenagers. You've got to love them. Or at least they say you do.)

Speaking of Richard III, I was on my way to fetch said daughter from school the day before yesterday (I should have worn my hennin and really embarrassed her) when I spotted a mini-bus with the name "King Richard Transportation Service" on it. My first thought was that America had turned into a monarchy without anyone informing me, which would certainly explain a few things about the past eight years. My second thought was no, someone just liked King Richard, but which King Richard? I don't really associate any of the three with transportation, but let's face it, there's something a little sinister about Richard III transporting people, given his tendency to, er, lose them. Especially if they're children, which I assumed were the intended passengers here, since this was the time of day for taking them to and from school. In this I turned out to be wrong, however, for when I got home I Googled and discovered that the company is in the business of transporting the elderly. Which is even more odd, since none of the Richards lived to a ripe old age. So the mystery lives on: which King Richard gave his name to these buses?

While you're pondering this, I'm off to Florida, hennin and all. If I come back and start pontificating on how everything in England would have been perfect if it hadn't been for those upstart Woodvilles, you'll know someone slipped something into my drink down there.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Jacquetta Woodville

I'll be going away later this week (more about that later in the week), so here's a loooong post to start out:

Jacquetta Woodville was the daughter of Pierre of Luxembourg, Count of St. Pol (d. 1433), and Marguerite de Baux of Andria. Her uncle, Louis de Luxembourg, was bishop of Thérouanne and chancellor of France during the time that John, Duke of Bedford, was serving as Regent of France for the government of the youthful Henry VI. Another uncle, Jean de Luxembourg, is known for having held Joan of Arc in captivity before she was handed over to the English.

The Duke of Bedford, a younger brother of Henry V, was widowed from Anne of Burgundy in 1432. At Thérouanne on April 20, 1433, just five months after the death of his first wife, the forty-three-year-old John married the seventeen-year-old Jacquetta of Luxembourg. In honor of the occasion, Bedford presented the Church of Notre Dame in Thérouanne with a peal of bells. Not for the last time when Jacquetta was concerned, the match was a controversial one, the offended party being Philip, Duke of Burgundy, Bedford’s former brother-in-law. Not only had the Duke of Bedford (whose first marriage was childless) remarried in unseemly haste, he had married Jacquetta, one of his vassals, without Burgundy’s permission. Bedford was to remain estranged from Burgundy for the rest of Bedford’s short life.

Jacquetta first came to England in June 1433 in the company of her husband. George Smith notes that the citizens of Coventry presented her with fifty marks and a cup of silver and over-gilt. The Duke and Duchess of Bedford made a grand entry into London, a city where Jacquetta was to find favor in later life.

Bedford and Jacquetta returned to France in July 1434. Though Bedford was only in his forties, his health was failing, possibly from the stress of dealing with difficulties in both England and France. He died on September 14, 1435 at Rouen Castle. His marriage to young Jacquetta had been childless, though Bedford had sired two out-of-wedlock children earlier in life and Jacquetta’s second marriage would produce a dozen children who lived to adulthood.

By all accounts, Bedford had had great affection for his first wife, Anne of Burgundy. What he and the much younger Jacquetta felt about each other is unknown, but Bedford certainly tried to take good care of his young bride upon his death. He left Jacquetta a life interest in all of his lands in England, France, and Normandy, except for one estate that went to his bastard son, Richard. (Henry VI held the remainder interest.) Partly because of the requirements of English inheritance law, partly because of the claims of Bedford’s brother Humphrey, partly because of English losses in France and Normandy, Jacquetta received only some of what her husband had left to her.

On February 6, 1436, Jacquetta was granted dower in England, Jersey, Guernsey, and Calais. The grant was conditioned on Jacquetta’s not marrying without royal license—a condition that Jacquetta soon broke, and spectacularly so. She married one Richard Woodville, the son of her husband’s chamberlain. Richard had been knighted by Henry VI ten years earlier, having been in royal service in France since 1433. From Northampshire gentry, he was hardly Jacquetta’s social equal. The unsanctioned match infuriated Jacquetta’s Luxembourg relations, and Henry VI fined her 1,000 pounds. The couple paid the fine before March 23, 1437, apparently with funds gained from the grant of certain lands to Cardinal Beaufort.

Despite their controversial marriage, Jacquetta and her husband found favor in the court of Henry VI. When the king married Margaret of Anjou, Jacquetta and Richard Woodville were among those who escorted her to England. Jacquetta often received New Year’s presents from the queen, and in 1457 she and Woodville are named as being present with the queen at a Corpus Christi pageant. Jacquetta’s chief occupation during this time, however, was bearing children: twelve survived to adulthood, with Elizabeth, probably the eldest, being born around 1437 and Katherine, probably the youngest, being born around 1458.

In 1459, Richard Woodville, who had taken the side of Lancaster against the Duke of York, was captured at Sandwich and taken to Calais, where according to William Paston he was “rated” by the Earls of Salisbury, Warwick, and March for his low birth. According to Gregory’s Chronicle, Jacquetta was captured along with her husband; thus, she may have been a witness to this humiliating scene. If she was, she must have enjoyed the irony five years later when the Earl of March, who had become King Edward IV, made her and her low-born husband’s daughter Elizabeth his queen.

Jacquetta performed a service for the city of London in February 1461 when its aldermen, fearing devastation at the hands of Margaret of Anjou’s forces, sent a delegation to the queen, in the words of the Great Chronicle, to “entreat for grace for the City.” The delegation included “divers Clerks and Curates” and three women: the widowed Duchess of Buckingham, whose grandson would marry Jacquetta’s youngest daughter; Lady Scales, whose son-in-law was Jacquetta’s son Anthony; and Jacquetta herself. All had ties with Margaret of Anjou. The delegation returned with the news that no pillaging would take place but that the king and queen would punish evildoers, after which a second delegation, again including the three ladies, was sent to Barnet. Ultimately, it was Yorkist troops who entered the city, while Margaret withdrew to the north.

Edward IV became king soon after these events, on March 4, 1461. Jacquetta and her family, who had been supporters of the House of Lancaster, soon made their peace with the new reign. Jacquetta’s husband Richard Woodville eventually became one of the young king’s councilors. Sometime in 1464, however, a much stronger tie was forged: Jacquetta and Richard’s daughter Elizabeth married Edward IV.

The royal marriage is usually supposed to have taken place at Grafton on May 4, 1464, although there is some evidence that it could have taken place as late as September 1464, shortly before Edward IV announced it to his councilors. Whatever the date of the ceremony, Jacquetta is described by the chronicler Fabian in 1516 as having had a prominent role in the secret marriage. She is said to have been one of the witnesses to the marriage, after which Elizabeth over a four-day period “nightly to [Edward’s] bed was brought in so secret manner that almost none but her mother was of counsel.”

Following Edward IV’s announcement of his marriage, he arranged for a grand coronation for his bride, which took place on May 26, 1465. Jacquetta was prominent among the ladies who followed Elizabeth in the procession. At the banquet following the ceremony, she sat at the middle table on the left hand of the queen.

Also present for the festivities was Jacquetta’s youngest brother, Jacques de Luxembourg, representing Philip, Duke of Burgundy. The current Wikipedia entry on Elizabeth Woodville claims, without giving a source, that Jacquetta’s relations appeared for the coronation “carrying shields painted with the figure of Melusine, a ‘water-witch’ (actually a medieval version of the old pagan goddess) described variously as a mermaid or possibly as a female figure depicted as a snake from the waist down, but with the face clearly that of the young Queen. This immediately caused whispers of witchcraft to circulate throughout the Abbey, as it was indeed the intention of the Luxembourgers to suggest an accusation of witchcraft thereby.” This story probably comes from historical fiction, not history. Such an incident is not mentioned in any contemporary source that I have seen, nor is it discussed by Elizabeth Woodville’s modern biographers or by historians hostile to the Woodvilles like Paul Murray Kendall, who could certainly be counted upon to make the most of such an episode. Jacquetta’s relations would hardly gain from implying that either Jacquetta or Elizabeth was involved with witchcraft, especially as her older relations had seen the consequences of such allegations firsthand when Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

Elizabeth Woodville gave birth to her first royal child, Elizabeth, on February 11, 1466. Jacquetta was one of the baby’s godmothers, the other being the king’s mother, Cecily of York. Cecily had been none too happy about her son’s marriage; how the two new grandmothers got along on this occasion is sadly not recorded.

Following childbirth, it was customary for a medieval woman to seclude herself for a period, after which she would attend church for a ceremony of purification. A celebration often followed. At the banquet following Elizabeth Woodville’s "churching," a Bohemian observer noted that Jacquetta knelt before her daughter, being bidden at times to rise. This has been taken as proof of Elizabeth Woodville’s insufferable haughtiness—even her own mother had to kneel before her!—but there is no indication that Jacquetta found this demeaning or that this highly formal occasion was typical of the daily interaction between mother and daughter. For all we know—and we don’t—Jacquetta might have insisted that her daughter observe all the formalities of what was her first churching as queen.

Perhaps the most damaging incident associated with Jacquetta is one which occurred in 1468: the arrest of Thomas Cook for treason. The original story has been distorted to suggest that the treason charges against Cook were concocted to allow Jacquetta to lay her hands on an expensive tapestry that Cook had refused to sell her, but reality, as usual, is more complicated. According to the Great Chronicle, Jacquetta did indeed dislike Cook for his refusal to sell her the arras, but Cook’s arrest was only one of many in a time when Edward IV genuinely feared that Lancastrian plots were afoot, and he was implicated by one John Hawkins, a Lancastrian agent. Cook’s house was searched and agents of Jacquetta’s husband Richard Woodville (who had been created Earl Rivers and made the treasurer of England) seized Cook’s goods, including the infamous tapestry. Ultimately, Cook was convicted by a jury of misprision. As Anne F. Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs note, Fabian never says in the Great Chronicle that Jacquetta actually acquired the coveted arras; rather, he implies that it was used to set off Cook’s fine for misprision. Fabian also does not state that Cook was innocent of the charges on which he was convicted, only that Jacquetta and her husband (and the king) were displeased by the verdict. Whatever the fate of the arras, Cook was not ruined by the episode, but was still a wealthy man when he died ten years later. He was back in Edward IV’s good graces at the time, having been pardoned for his Lancastrian activities in 1472 and appointed to a royal commission in 1475.

The year after the Cook incident, 1469, was without doubt the worst in Jacquetta’s life. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as the “Kingmaker” for his role in helping Edward IV to the throne, had become disaffected from the crown for a number of reasons, including the rise of the Woodvilles, Edward IV’s growing independence from him, and differences over foreign policy. Meanwhile, the honeymoon Edward IV had enjoyed with his subjects was ending, thanks to taxation, growing lawlessness, and the diehard Lancastrians still within and without England. Warwick joined forces with Edward IV’s younger brother George, Duke of Clarence, and the two men issued a manifesto blaming the Woodvilles and other royal favorites for the country’s ills. Jacquetta, her husband, and her sons Anthony and John were among those accused of “deceitful, covetous rule.” In the upheaval that followed, Edward IV was briefly taken prisoner by Warwick. Jacquetta’s husband, Earl Rivers, and one of her sons, John, were seized by Warwick’s troops and murdered. (According to Michael Hicks, who cites a King’s Bench record, Jacquetta later brought proceedings against 34 men in connection with her husband’s murder, but he does not report the outcome.)

Jacquetta had risked her reputation and her livelihood to marry Richard Woodville over thirty years before. Her agony at his violent death, coupled with that of one of her sons, can only be imagined. Her son Anthony’s life was in danger as well. It was then that Thomas Wake, a follower of Warwick’s, accused her of witchcraft.

Wake brought to Warwick Castle a lead image “made like a man of arms . . . broken in the middle and made fast with a wire,“ and alleged that Jacquetta had fashioned it to use for witchcraft and sorcery. He claimed that John Daunger, a parish clerk in Northampton, could attest that Jacquetta had made two other images, one for the king and one for the queen.

As an accused witch, Jacquetta faced imprisonment at best, burning at the stake at worst. With this accusation coming on top of the deaths of her husband and son, she must have been devastated, but Jacquetta was not a woman who was easily cowed. According to Cora Scofield, who cites the London Journal, the Duchess of Bedford appealed to the mayor and aldermen of London, who remembered the service Jacquetta had done for the city by interceding with Margaret of Anjou in 1461. They agreed to intercede on Jacquetta’s behalf with the king’s council, which at the time was essentially Warwick’s council, as Edward IV was still a prisoner in the North.

By October 1469, Edward IV was once again at liberty, Warwick having found that his own popularity was not so great as to allow him to govern through an imprisoned king. As a result, the witchcraft charges against Jacquetta fell apart. Neither Thomas Wake nor John Daunger, summoned before men appointed by Edward IV who could be counted upon to be friendly toward the king’s mother-in-law, produced any images, and Daunger, who stated that “he heard no witchcraft of the lady of Bedford,” refused to say that there were any images of the king and queen. As a result, Jacquetta was cleared by the king’s great council of the charges on January 19, 1470. For good measure, she obtained letters of exemplification from the king in February 1470, taking the opportunity to have it recorded as well that she was a believer “on God according to the truth of Holy Church.”

Other than the accusations of her enemies, there is no reason to disbelieve Jacquetta. It should be noted that Jacquetta did own a copy of an “ancestral romance” entitled Mélusine, featuring a legendary figure who was associated both with the houses of Luxembourg and Lusignan, but as noted by Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, the romance was a popular one at the time, and copies were found among the inventories of other high-born ladies.

Edward IV’s recovery of his throne was brief, and when he was forced to flee England in late September 1470 to avoid capture by Warwick, a heavily pregnant Elizabeth Woodville went into sanctuary, accompanied by her daughters and Jacquetta. With Henry VI restored to the throne, neither Warwick nor his followers attempted to revive the allegations of witchcraft against Jacquetta, although the government admittedly had more pressing concerns. Indeed, Warwick had been a member of the great council that recommended that letters of exemplification be made to Jacquetta.

His enemies vanquished at Barnet and Tewkesbury, Edward IV regained his throne in May 1471. With Warwick killed at Barnet, the king the proud father of a son born to his queen while in sanctuary, and Jacquetta’s son Anthony carrying on his father’s title, Jacquetta must have felt at peace, but she did not have long to enjoy it. She died on May 30, 1472. I have not found any mention of her will or her funeral, though the latter must surely have been conducted with all due ceremony.

In 1484, Richard III in Titulus Regius, the document spelling out to Parliament his claim to the throne, revived the old accusations of witchcraft against Jacquetta. He—or, more accurately, those presenting the petition, which certainly had to have had his wholehearted approval—stated that the marriage between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville was invalid because, among other reasons, it was made “by sorcerie and wichecrafte, committed by the said Elizabeth and her moder, Jaquett Duchess of Bedford, as the common opinion of the people and the publique voice and fame is through all this land.” The drafters of the petition added that if the case required it, the allegations of witchcraft would be proved sufficiently “in tyme and place convenient.” No such proof was ever offered by Richard III or his government, and Elizabeth was hardly in a position to defy the king and attempt to clear her and her deceased mother’s names. Sadly, the unproven charges, elaborated upon in lurid detail by historical fiction writers and even by some nonfiction writers, continue to blacken both women’s reputations today.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wedding Bell Research Blues: A September Anniversary for Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville?

It’s generally stated that Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were secretly married on May 1, 1464. But is this their actual wedding date?

It’s been noted by several authors that as late as April 13, 1464, Elizabeth and William, Lord Hastings, Edward IV’s close friend and chamberlain, entered into an agreement whereby one of William’s as-yet-unborn daughters would marry Elizabeth’s eldest son, Thomas. William and Elizabeth were to share in the profits of Elizabeth’s Grey lands, which she had apparently enlisted William’s help in recovering. Because Elizabeth would have hardly needed to enter into such an agreement if she knew she was shortly to be the wife of Edward IV, it’s generally assumed that at this point, neither Elizabeth nor Hastings knew that a royal marriage for Elizabeth was in the works.

Less well known, however, is the sequel to this agreement: a grant dated August 10, 1464, in which Edward IV gives William Hastings the wardship and marriage of Thomas Grey. As far as I know, only Michael Hicks in his book Edward V notes the existence of this grant, which can be found in the National Archives at DL 37/33, entry no. 28. (I have a transciption of it at hand.) As Hicks points out, if Elizabeth had married Edward IV in May, why would Edward IV subsequently grant her eldest son’s wardship and marriage to Hastings? Indeed, after Edward IV’s marriage was made public, a marriage for Thomas was arranged that was far more lucrative than the planned Hastings match the August grant appears to have been made to further. One could argue that Edward IV made the grant as part of a ruse to hide his marriage from even his closest friend, but it seems rather more likely that he at this point had not yet married Thomas Grey’s mother. Hicks notes another piece of evidence of a later marriage date: on August 30, 1464, Edward IV granted the lordship of Chester, traditionally reserved for the heir to the throne, to his younger brother Clarence. Would Edward had made such a grant had he been already married to a woman who could be hoped to give him an heir?

Neither of these grants prove that a May 1, 1464, wedding didn’t take place, and it could be argued that there had been a wedding on May 1 but that Edward IV as of August had not yet decided to come clean about it. Still, they do serve as a reminder that as with so many things about this period in history, the May 1 date (described by Ricardian writer Annette Carson as “beyond dispute”) is open to question; moreover, as David Baldwin notes in his biography of Elizabeth Woodville, the idea of the May wedding might have been “borrowed from romantic tradition,” or it might have arisen due to confusion with Elizabeth’s May coronation the following year.

Even if the May 1 date is a romantic fiction, it doesn’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things. Still, a wedding date after August 30, 1464, does give rise to two considerations. First, since Edward IV revealed the wedding to his council in September 1464 and presented his new bride to his council on September 29, 1464, a marriage date after August 30 means that the wedding was kept secret for less than a month, which undermines the argument that Edward had dishonorable intentions of never making his marriage public.

Second, those who have accepted the claim of Richard III that the marriage was procured by sorcery on the part of Elizabeth and/or her mother have gleefully pointed out that May 1 was the day after Walpurgisnacht, a Grand Sabbath of the witching year and thus an apt night for Elizabeth, Jacquetta, and their witchy ilk to cast spells upon the hapless Edward IV. One Ricardian, W. E. Hampton, in “Witchcraft and the Sons of York” (The Ricardian, March 1980) posits that Edward IV’s fatigue at Stony Stratford after the wedding, as described by the chronicler Fabian, can be attributed to “the orgiastic nature of the rites to which he may have been introduced” at a wild Walpurgisnacht in the forest of Grafton. While a September wedding could still have been procured by witchcraft, of course, the accusation loses a bit of its punch without Walpurgisnacht to lean upon. If the couple did marry after August 30, they could have at least done Richard the courtesy of waiting until All Hallows’ Eve.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Double the Annes, Double the Fun

Sourcebooks has been reissuing a number of historical novels, including two classics by Margaret Campbell Barnes about two of historical fiction's perennial favorites: Henry VIII's wives. Brief Gaudy Hour is about Anne Boleyn; My Lady of Cleves about Anne of Cleves. I was pleased to be sent review copies of the two reissued Barnes novels.

Having read an out-of-print version of My Lady of Cleves some time ago, I'll repeat what I said earlier about it:

My Lady of Cleves was published in 1946; it contains a dedication to “the women who lost the men they loved in the fight for freedom.” For a sixty-year-old historical novel, it’s held up remarkably well. Barnes's prose is uncluttered and easy to read, nothing purple or fusty about it.

Barnes’s characterization of Anne of Cleves is interesting and refreshing. Though there doesn’t seem to be much reason, historically, to take Henry VIII at his word in describing her as a “Flanders mare,” she’s often treated as such by novelists. Here, Anne is attractive, though not in the style that appeals to Henry, and she’s even given romantic yearnings for none other than Hans Holbein. How accurate this is I have no idea, but as the relationship isn’t depicted as having an effect on history or as giving rise to any offspring, I can live with it. Anne’s a capable woman who longs for children of her own and who satisfies her maternal instincts by mothering Henry’s brood. At the same time, she’s no saint; jealous of Hans Holbein’s mistress at one point, she takes the opportunity to sleep with Henry VIII, now on his fifth wife.

My Lady of Cleves is an appealing story of a woman who makes the best of a bad situation. As she has been relatively neglected by historical novelists, it's nice to see this novel in particular being reissued.

Brief Gaudy Hour, which I first read in the reissued version, tells the much more familiar story of Anne Boleyn. Originally published in 1949, it too doesn't show its age, but can hold its own--and then some--against any of the numerous historical novels about Anne Boleyn that have been published in the past few decades.

Barnes concentrates on the psychological aspect of Anne's story, which here spans the period from her service with Henry VIII's sister to her death on the scaffold. Anne's thwarted relationship with young Henry Percy is especially well done, as is her developing, then deteriorating relationship with the king. If you're one of the few people on earth who hasn't read a historical novel about Anne Boleyn, this one would be an excellent one to start with; if you've read many novels about the queen, this one is a worthy addition to your list.

Each reissued novel comes with a reading group guide prepared by Barnes's great-granddaughter. Let's hope some more of her books will be re-released!

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Trio of Book Reviews

A busy weekend lies ahead, and I'm still working on a long blog post about Jacquetta Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville's mother, so I'll leave you for the week with several reviews I did for the August Historical Novels Review. Two of the reviews, you'll see, were for nonfiction. I enjoyed all three of these books, but I heartily recommend the Mary Tudor biography.

Sister’s Choice
Judith Pella, Bethany House, 2008, $13.99 pb, 350pp, 9780764201349

It’s 1882, and Maggie Newcomb, just turned eighteen, is determined to win handsome Colby Stoddard for her husband—if, that is, she can keep him from being snared by beautiful Tamara Brennan, who’s visiting Maggie’s small Oregon town following a broken engagement. When Evan Parker, newly graduated from Harvard Law School, returns to his family in Maintown, Maggie sees the perfect opportunity. Not only can the awkward young lawyer defend Maggie’s friend Tommy against murder charges, he can join forces with Maggie to keep Colby and Tamara apart.

The second book in Pella’s Patchwork Circle series, which revolves around the members of a quilting circle and their daughters, Sister’s Choice is a charming and often gently humorous novel, with engaging characters, especially its heroine, who’s refreshingly blundering and down-to-earth. It also features that rarity in romantic novels—a bespectacled hero. I look forward to spending more time with these characters.


Lancaster Against York: The Wars of the Roses and the Foundation of Modern Britain
Trevor Royle, Palgrave, 2008, $29.95/C$32.95, hb, 368pp, 9781403966728

Lancaster Against York has a somewhat misleading subtitle: this is a study of the Wars of the Roses, certainly, but not an assessment of their influence on modern Britain. Subtitle aside, this is a well written and engrossing history of this turbulent time by an author without an axe to grind on behalf of either side.

There are a few irritating errors here—Richard III did not imprison the young Earl of Warwick in the Tower, for instance. Occasionally, too, Royle seems unaware of recent research, such as the discovery of a dispensation for the marriage of the Duke of Gloucester and Anne Neville. There are no annotations, which I found frustrating when I wanted to check a source, but there’s a useful bibliography and a helpful section listing the key players of the time.

On the positive side, Royle packs a great deal of information from a wide range of sources into a relatively short space, and his assessments are fair and balanced. For those wanting an introduction to the Wars of the Roses, as well as for those wanting to refresh their general knowledge, this will be a useful book.


The First Queen of England: The Myth of “Bloody Mary”
Linda Porter, St. Martin’s, 2008, $27.95, hb, 464pp, 9780312368371

If any historical figure is due for a reassessment, it’s surely Mary Tudor, characterized alternatively as a bloodthirsty fanatic and as a pathetic hag. In this lucid and intelligently written biography, Porter does an admirable job of showing us the woman behind the myth.

Porter gives us a full picture of Mary, reminding us that the queen who is often regarded as dour and sickly enjoyed fine clothes, gambling, and hunting. Her religious persecutions are not glossed over, but are placed in the context of their time and in that of Mary’s more positive actions regarding religion. Especially interesting is Porter’s examination of Mary’s fraught and highly ambivalent relationship with her younger sister.

It is not the “Bloody” Mary of popular history, or the lonely wife familiar from historical fiction, who emerges here, but the courageous woman who fought through many obstacles to get to the throne, then to stay there. Porter is to be commended for bringing this complex and much-maligned woman to life.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday Stuff

As I work on a long post planned for later this month, I wanted to quickly mention a couple of things. First, Julie Rose was nice enough to interview me for her blog, Writers and Their Soundtracks. Take a look (and a listen)! And thanks, Julie!

Second, I've veered a little bit off the track of my usual reading with a biography, Martha Washington: An American Life. Having read a historical novel about Martha (my review of it will appear in the Historical Novels Review's November issue), I was curious to learn more about America's first First Lady. This biography is an excellent place to start: it's well researched and written in an accessible, readable style. (I rather wish I had read it before I tackled Barbara Hambly's novel Patriot Hearts a few years ago; I never could sort out all of Martha's relatives there.)

Brady never falls into the vice of judging Martha Washington by twenty-first-century standards; she doesn't condemn Martha for not holding modern views about slavery, for instance, and she doesn't turn her devotion to her husband and to her family into a saga of male oppression. Instead, she reminds us of Martha's fortitude amid heartbreaking losses (all of her children by her first marriage predeceased her), her husband George's evident respect and admiration for her, and the courage she displayed during the turbulent times of the American Revolution. At the same time, Brady shows us a side of Martha that's left out of American schoolbooks: her business acumen, grit, and charm.

This biography, in short, is well worth reading for those interested in American history and/or the role of women in history. Give it a go this election season.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

First Amendment? Oh, That Silly Thing

Not that I had any intention of doing so in the first place, but here's an excellent reason from today's New York Times not to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket:

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were “rhetorical.”

If banning books is one of the first things Palin as a small-town mayor would try to accomplish, what do you think she would get up to if she ended up as President? Scary, very scary.