Saturday, May 31, 2008

Anne, Duchess of Exeter, and Her Two Husbands

A few days ago, I was thumbing through a Ricardian novel and noticed a scene where Richard III’s oldest sister, Anne, begs him to spare her husband, Thomas St. Leger, from execution for his participation in the rebellion of 1483. I call this sort of episode in historical fiction a “Dead Man Walking” scene, because Anne couldn’t have begged for her husband’s life or anyone else’s in 1483: she died in 1476. (One suspects that if Anne’s ghost had been the one begging for St. Leger’s life, Richard might have been more inclined to give way.)

So who was this little-known royal sister?

Anne, Duchess of Exeter, was the oldest of the children of Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. She was born on August 10, 1439, at Fotheringhay—the same castle in which her youngest surviving sibling, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, would be born in 1452. In 1446, when she was six, she was married to fifteen-year-old Henry Holland, who would shortly become the second Duke of Exeter. The Duke of York offered a large marriage portion—4,500 marks--probably because Henry VI was childless at the time, putting the young Henry Holland in line for the throne. Only 1,000 marks of the portion were paid. It was a poor investment in any case, for Exeter proved to be solidly Lancastrian. He also seems to have been exceptionally quarrelsome, falling out with his father-in-law and with all manner of people during the 1450’s and serving time in the Tower. Among those with whom he seems not to have gotten on well with was his own wife. The couple had one child, Anne Holland, but evidently lived most of their lives apart.

Exeter was attainted in 1461 and eventually joined Margaret of Anjou in exile abroad. Meanwhile, the Duchess of Exeter was granted the duke’s Holland inheritance for life. For a brief time beginning in 1464, she had the custody of the nine-year-old Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, a ward of the crown. Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville later that year. Probably around Easter 1465, he transferred Harry to the care of his queen, whose youngest sister Harry married.

The Duchess of Exeter’s young daughter, Anne, had been promised in marriage to George Neville, a nephew of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick. George at the time had the potential to be a quite wealthy young man, as the Earl of Warwick had no sons and the Neville lands were entailed in the male line. Elizabeth Woodville, however, wanted the heiress Anne for her own eldest son, Thomas Grey. She paid the Duchess of Exeter 4,000 marks to break the contract with the Neville family. This was certainly sharp business practice on the queen’s part, but it was hardly unusual for the times: rich young heirs and heiresses were hot commodities. Certainly Elizabeth could not have made the arrangement without the approval of Edward IV, the Duchess of Exeter’s brother. The Duchess of Exeter was no less keen to look after her own interests than the queen: as part of the marriage arrangements, the Holland inheritance was settled on little Anne, with a remainder interest in the duchess herself and in the heirs of her own body.

During the Readeption of Henry VI in 1471, the Duke of Exeter moved back into his London house of Coldharbour, which had been granted to the Duchess of Exeter during his exile. Probably the Duchess of Exeter prudently took herself off to one of her other residences during this period.

The Duke of Exeter fought with the Earl of Warwick at Barnet in 1471. There he was badly injured and was left for dead on the battlefield until a servant discovered signs of life in him and took him to a surgeon. He was later smuggled into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, but Edward IV removed him and imprisoned him in the Tower of London. While her husband was still a prisoner, in 1472, the Duchess of Exeter took the opportunity to have their marriage annulled. Presumably the Church did not recognize allegiance to the house of Lancaster as a basis for an annulment, but the actual grounds are not known.

The duchess soon remarried. Like her brother the king, she married a social inferior—in her case, Thomas St. Leger, a knight who had probably been her lover for some time. As Anne Crawford notes, Edward IV had been showing St. Leger a great deal of favor for many years, including a substantial grant of eight manors in the early 1460’s. He was no gigolo, however; he served Edward IV militarily and administratively for years.

In 1474, the duchess’s child by the Duke of Exeter died, triggering the duchess’s remainder interest in her lands. The following year, Edward IV set off on an expedition to France, which ended in a peace treaty instead of the anticipated military engagement. Anticlimactic for most people, the expedition was fatal to one—the Duke of Exeter. He had been released from the Tower and allowed to join the expedition, presumably so he could prove his loyalty to the king in battle, but on the return journey, he was drowned. Whether his death was accidental or murder is unknown, though rumors of the latter abounded.

The Duchess of Exeter, meanwhile, had a daughter by Thomas St. Leger in late 1475 or in January 1476. The little girl, named Anne like her mother and her deceased half-sister, soon became motherless, for the duchess died in January 1476, possibly in or soon after childbirth. She was buried in the Chapel of St. George at Windsor.

Following his wife’s death, St. Leger remained on good terms with his brother-in-law the king. He served as Edward IV’s controller of the mint and as master of the king’s harthounds. In 1481, he was granted a license to found a perpetual chantry of two chaplains at the Chapel of St. George, in memory of his wife. He never remarried.

Thomas Grey, the Marquess of Dorset, who had married the Duchess of Exeter’s eldest daughter, Anne Holland, had remarried after the young girl’s death and now had a son of his own, who was contracted to young Anne St. Leger. The arrangement under which Anne was be deemed the heir to the Exeter estates was formalized in an Act of Parliament in January 1483. Richard Grey, Dorset’s younger brother, also benefited from the Act, in which part of the Exeter inheritance, worth about 500 marks, was set aside for him. The loser in this transaction was Ralph, Lord Neville, who was the heir of the Holland family, although since the Duke of Exeter had been attainted, the crown had some justification in treating his inheritance as it liked.

This arrangement fell apart when Richard III took the throne in July 1483. Thomas St. Leger attended the new king’s coronation and was given cloth of silver and velvet for the occasion, but he was soon afterward deprived of his positions of master of harthounds and controller of the mint. His daughter, meanwhile, was ordered to be handed over to the Duke of Buckingham. Perhaps, as Michael Hicks has suggested, Buckingham had the girl in mind as a bride for his own eldest son. This never came to pass either, of course, for both St. Leger and Buckingham ended up in rebellion against the new king.

St. Leger has been criticized for his lack of loyalty to Richard III, but Richard, having removed him from his offices, had given him no reason to remain loyal. Moreover, St. Leger had been unshakably faithful to Edward IV and, like many of the other rebels, was undoubtedly distressed at Edward V having disappeared from sight after having been deprived of his crown.

Unlike many of the rebels, who gave up the fight after Buckingham’s execution on November 2, St. Leger continued the fight in Exeter, but was ultimately captured. He was executed on November 13, 1483, at Exeter Castle, despite the offer of large sums of money on his behalf. St. Leger, described by the Crowland chronicler as a “most noble knight,” was buried with his wife Anne at Windsor. They are depicted here:

One last bit of business remained: the disinheritance of Anne St. Leger. In 1484, Richard III’s only Parliament overturned the acts under which Anne had been declared the heir to the Exeter estates. The beneficiary, however, was not the Exeter heir, Ralph Neville, but the crown itself.

Poorer but still well connected, Anne St. Leger ultimately married Sir George Manners, Lord Ros. Their eldest son, Thomas Manners, became the first Earl of Rutland. It is this earl’s countess who is credited with telling the supposedly sexually naive Anne of Cleves, “Madam, there must be more than this, or it will be long or we have a duke of York, which al this realm most desireth.”

Monday, May 26, 2008

Whole Lotta of Reviewing Going On

Here are some historical fiction reviews I did for the February 2008 issue of the Historical Novels Review. There's quite a variety here!

Lady Macbeth
Susan Fraser King, Crown Publishers, 2008

As the descendant of Scottish kings, young Gruadh is a valuable prize, as a man who marries her can claim the throne of Scotland. Married, pregnant, and widowed within a matter of months, Gruadh after her husband’s death is immediately claimed in marriage by another man—the warrior Macbeth, killer of her first husband.

King paints a vivid picture of the often brutal world of eleventh-century Scotland, where allegiances constantly shift and where peace is always elusive. Gruadh, who bears little resemblance to her Shakespearian counterpart, is a compelling heroine, fiercely protective of her lineage, proud of her Celtic heritage, and determined to fight for what she holds dear. Macbeth is not only a man of intense ambition, but a man of honor, a quality that Gruadh shares with him and that she gradually comes to recognize in her husband. Their evolving relationship, one between two strong-willed, intelligent people, is rendered skillfully. Gruadh tells her own story in a narrative voice that evokes the atmosphere of her time and place without feeling contrived or stilted.

As King points out in a detailed author’s note, little is known of the historical Lady Macbeth. Working with the information available, King has created a memorable portrait of a courageous woman.


More Letters From Pemberley
Jane Dawkins, Sourcebooks, 2007

When we left Elizabeth Darcy in Letters From Pemberley, she and her husband had been married for a year or so and were expecting their first child. More Letters From Pemberley picks up shortly thereafter and follows the Darcys and their family through 1819, shortly before the end of the Regency period.

Though Letters From Pemberly was an agreeable read, More Letters From Pemberley is a much better novel. The allusions to Austen’s other works, while still present here, are far less abundant than they were in Letters From Pemberley; the result is a novel that feels less like fan fiction and more like a novel that can stand entirely on its own. There’s considerably more focus and dramatic tension here as well, due in large part to the author’s determination to show a maturing Elizabeth and to “include the sometimes unpleasant realities of everyday life,” as Dawkins states in her preface. The result is not grim realism but a touching portrait of how one of fiction’s most beloved couples might have dealt with life’s inevitable reversals of fortune. Even more to her credit, Dawkins accomplishes this task without sacrificing charm and humor and while remaining true to the characters as they were conceived by Austen.


Fancy Pants
Cathy Marie Hake, Bethany House, 2007

Newly arrived in the United States in 1890, Lady Sydney Hathwell cannot bring herself to enter into a loveless marriage with the man her deceased father had chosen for her. Instead, she determines to stay with her uncle at Forsaken Ranch in Texas until she comes of age and receives her inheritance. Unfortunately, Uncle Fuller, deceived by Sydney’s masculine-sounding name, is expecting a nephew, not a niece. Sydney, therefore, dons men’s clothes and heads for Texas, where her uncle’s partner, Tim Creighton, determines to make a man out of Fuller’s foppish English relation.

Though there’s very little doubt about the resolution of this novel, Hake makes getting there an enjoyable journey, complete with Sydney’s first visit to a bordello (where Sydney’s new acquaintances allow her to take bubble baths undetected). With lively dialogue and engaging characters, Fancy Pants is tailor-made for fun.


Whispers Along the Rails
Judith Miller, Bethany House, 2007

In this, Miller’s second novel set in the 1890’s “company town” of Pullman, Illinois, Olivia Mott is not only working as an assistant chef at the Hotel Florence but riding the rails incognito, checking to see how Pullman’s services can be improved—or does her enigmatic boss, Mr. Howard, have another goal in mind? Meanwhile, Olivia’s former suitor, Fred, finds himself becoming involved in the labor movement, while lack of money causes Charlotte, daughter of an earl and mother to an out-of-wedlock child, to move into a settlement house in Chicago and take a job at the Marshall Field department store.

Whispers Along the Rails is well researched, well plotted, and peopled with sympathetic, three-dimensional characters who must make increasingly complicated—and risky—decisions as their situations become firmly intertwined. As was the case with its predecessor, In the Company of Secrets, Miller leaves the reader hanging and eagerly awaiting the next installment. (Fortunately, the recipes that Miller includes in the back matter can be enjoyed straightaway—allowing, of course, time for cooking.)


On Wings of the Morning
Marie Bostwick, Kensington Books, 2007, $14.00/C$17.50, pb, 384 pp, 9780758222565

Georgia Carter and Morgan Glennon have something in common: both grew up as out-of-wedlock children. They have another thing in common as well: both have a passion for flying airplanes. World War II gives both the opportunity to serve their country by doing so, Georgia as a member of the now-little-known Women’s Air Service Pilots.

Morgan (whose mother is the heroine of Bostwick’s first novel, Fields of Gold) and Georgia recount their own experiences, which eventually intersect to form a love story. Just as important as the romance between Morgan and Georgia, however, is the manner in which both characters come to terms with their backgrounds and with the harsh realities of war and sexism.

The characters here, major and minor alike, are rendered vividly and sympathetically, and Bostwick makes 1940’s America come alive. The dialogue is natural, with a nice period flavor to it, as are Georgia and Morgan’s narrative voices. Spending time in these people’s company was a pleasure.

For those wishing to learn more about the history behind the novel, Bostwick has included an informative author’s note in which she discusses the Women’s Air Service Pilots and Charles Lindbergh (an important character in this novel).


Cassandra’s Sister
Veronica Bennett, Candlewick Press, 2007

Cassandra’s Sister opens in revolutionary Paris as a young man is guillotined. In due time, his English widow, Eliza, makes her way to an English rectory, where her glamorous, tragic marriage and pragmatic outlook on life make a deep impression on one of her country cousins—the young Jane Austen, called Jenny by her family.

This quiet, often gently humorous, and elegantly written biographical novel tells the story of Jane Austen’s coming of age, both as a woman and as a writer. As Jane and her sister Cassandra go about their daily lives of social calls and occasional visits, suitors come and go for the sisters. Jane’s novels are started, completed, rejected, put away, and revised. Like a Jane Austen novel, a great deal happens without much seeming to happen at all. Jane Austen’s life influences her art—and, at a crucial moment, Jane Austen’s art will influence her life.

Intended for young adults, this novel doesn’t require a familiarity with Jane Austen’s own novels, but those who know at least some of them will probably find Cassandra’s Sister more enjoyable than those who are strangers to Austen. Older readers, Janeites and non-Janeites alike, are likely to find this novel to be a pleasant tea or cocoa companion as well.


Vicki Grove, Putnam, 2007

In 12th-century England, fourteen-year-old Rhiannon is fascinated by the fate of King Henry's White Ship, wrecked just months before. After all, many of the passengers who perished were not much older than Rhia herself. Soon, however, Rhia's thoughts turn in another direction when a man is found murdered in nearby Woethersly. When Jim, one of the kindly locals, is accused of the crime, Rhia determines to clear his name by searching for the real murderer. Her quest will not only put her and her friends in danger, but lead to another question: Did the king's son survive the wreck of the White Ship?

Rhia is resourceful and endearing, as are the friends, old and new, she enlists in her mission. There's a large, varied cast of characters, from Rhia's healer mother to a handsome young oblate to some loutish young aristocrats to Rhia's aged, noisy, and protective groshawke, Gramp.

Grove's prose style is highly readable, with turns of phrase that give her narrative a medieval feel. With its blend of mystery, adventure, and romance, and even a dash of the supernatural, this is a novel that young readers should thoroughly enjoy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Well, Dog My Cats, as We Say Down South

Announcing 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards Results
12th Annual IPPY Awards to be presented in Los Angeles on May 30th


11. Historical/Military Fiction
Gold: The Traitor’s Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II, by Susan Higginbotham (iUniverse)
Silver (tie): Trail of the Red Butterfly, by Karl H. Schlesier (Texas Tech University Press) and Hundred in the Hand, by Joseph M. Marshall III (Fulcrum Publishing)
Bronze: Rosebloom, by Christine Keleny (CK Books); The Telemachia: A History by Antimenes of Argos, by Michael Barnes Selvin (

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

When Felicity and Populating in Peacefulness Are Just Not Enough

Every now and then, as with this example from a couple of months ago, a review of The Traitor's Wife will get sucked in by an online translator and spat out. Here's the latest very strange example:

of Both Universes
“The Traitor’s Married woman: A Novel of the Sovereignty of Duke of Windsor II” author Susan Higginbotham: BOOK REVIEW
May 20th, 2008

The Treasonists wife is the story of Eleanor de Clare, the Granddaughter of Male monarch Edward VIII I. The story starts with Eleanor as a young teen got hitched with to Hugh le Despenser. The friction match makes both Eleanor and Hugh very felicitous but felicity is not enough for Hugh. He pushes and fights to derive more until he carries off his own devastation. Eleanor lives through the sovereignties of Edward II, her beloved uncle, and Duke of Windsor III, her first cousin. She is flipped about by the intrigues and eyed monsters of others in a mode that can only be through by Queens, Rexs and consorts. Through all of this her only desire is to populate in peacefulness with her kids and Hugh.

I acknowledge that it was puzzling for a spell stating all the Jonathan Edwards, Hughs, Joans and Isabelles apart but the story, disdain the superfluity of Eleanors, was gripping. It had got fascinated, schemes and romance. I matted up every hurt and iniquity that was imposed upon Eleanor and her house. Queen Isabella, Queen regnant of Edward VIII II was a dead on target scoundrel. She was self wrapped, grabby and mean. I cherished Eleanor to be felicitous. I cherished Female monarch Isabella I to decease an ugly decease. Alas, Isabella the Catholic populated to be an older adult female.

The castanets of this story came up from historic fact and corroboration devising the fictional characters all the more existent to me. As with most historic fable it exalts me to larn more of the time period. I would advocate this book to anyone with an interest in the mediaeval time period.

The Treasonists Married woman

(The unmangled review can be found here.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Lucky Winner of The Crimson Portrait Is . . .


Sorry for the delay in the announcement. Boswell wasn't cooperating. Anyway, Aarti, e-mail me at with your snail mail address, and we'll have your book ready to go!

Friday, May 16, 2008

More Tacky Covers

We've had a little tacky-cover-fest here in blogland, between Suburbanbeatnik's Toga Porn post (courtesy of Sarah's link) and Sarah's own post on The Epitome of Tackiness. So here's a couple of more tacky covers to start your weekend off right. (Long-time readers of this blog will have seen the last two already--which depict Jane Shore and Katherine Howard--but I thought I'd post them again for the newcomers here, especially since I didn't have the scanner when I posted them before.)

Ride East! Ride West!, incidentally, is set in the 1340's. The heroine's scanty clothing is doubtless an arcane reference to Edward III's sumptuary laws, which regulated what materials could be worn by persons of various social ranks.

Hugh's Catalog Card

Visited Alianore's blog today and was shocked (yes, shocked) that Hugh le Despenser the younger had no Catalogue Card. (Of course, we efficient Americans call it a "Catalog Card.") So here goes:

We feel much better on this blog now, thank you.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Is Jean Plaidy Blushing in Her Grave?

As promised a few posts ago, here's a picture of my latest acquisition: a 1950's paperback of Madame Serpent by Jean Plaidy. The heroine is Catherine d'Medici, and judging from her state of undress, the weather must have been quite balmy in France at the time. I haven't read the book yet (and won't be reading this copy; it's too fragile), but it's probably safe to say that Plaidy didn't write anything that quite lives up to the promise of the cover.

Here, by way of contrast, is the cover from the recent UK reissue of Madame Serpent.

It's just not the same, is it?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Some Mother's Day Sympathy for Margaret of Anjou

Of all the mothers in the Wars of the Roses, Margaret of Anjou, queen to the unfortunate Henry VI, has surely been the most maligned. She's regularly portrayed as an adulteress and a vengeful harpy. One historical novel even has her repeatedly trying to murder her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville, though I never quite figured out why. (I'm not sure the author knew either.)

Derived from Shakespeare, a set piece in many a Wars of the Roses novel, even some recent ones where the authors should have known better, involves cruel Margaret ordering immediately after the Battle of Wakefield that the severed heads of the Duke of York and his teenage son, the Earl of Rutland, be displayed and the Duke's head bedecked with a paper crown. In fact, Margaret was not at the Battle of Wakefield; she was in Scotland at the time. There's even been considerable doubt cast as to the extent of the atrocities supposedly committed by her troops.

Margaret's position is surely deserving of more sympathy than she has received. Criticized at first for her failure to conceive a child, when she finally did become pregnant, her enemies accused her of adultery. (There's simply no proof that she had sexual relations with any man but her husband.) During her pregnancy, her husband lost his reason; eventually, the loss of his crown followed. Believing that the throne of England was her son's birthright, she fought for it until his death at the Battle of Tewkesbury. She was brought to London as a prisoner, only to have her husband murdered the night of her arrival. No longer regarded as a threat by the Yorkists, only as a financial burden, she was finally sent back to France, where she died in obscurity.

Margaret is frequently compared to an earlier French-born Queen of England, Isabella of France, and the traditionally negative portrayal of each of them has often been ascribed to misogyny and xenophobia. Both women, indeed, have recently benefited from recent interest in medieval women and medieval queens and have attracted some sympathy from historians, female and male alike. Yet popular culture has lagged behind, for while Isabella has been portrayed sympathetically by a number of novelists, especially female ones, Margaret of Anjou has met a quite different fate at their hands. She's frequently little more than a cardboard villain, and even when she's given some semblance of depth, the myths such as her presence at the Battle of Wakefield are trotted out. (Ironically, this portrayal of Margaret, which owes so much to Shakespeare, is often perpetuated by the very same novelists who decry the Bard's portrayal of Richard III.)

Strangely, Isabella, an adulteress who was disloyal to her husband and even to her own son, has attracted defenders because of those very facts. They attribute her adultery as being the natural reaction of a wronged wife and her deposition of her husband as being a commendable reaction against royal tyranny. Yet the loyalty of Margaret to her husband and to her son is depicted as the power-mad reaction of a vengeful woman. Evidently even her modern-day detractors feel that she should have settled back and worked on tapestries while her son was being deprived of his crown.

So this Mother's Day, why not spare Margaret of Anjou a little kindness for a change? She might well have hoped to have been a traditional queen, smiling at her husband's side, doing good works, and procuring favors for her subjects. Instead, with an incapacitated husband and competing claims to the throne, she found herself thrust into a situation that had no easy solutions, either for the men involved or for Margaret. Novelists have recognized the complexity of the situation these men faced; it's time they did the same for Margaret.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Saturday Night's All Right for Back Patting

I was pleased to hear this morning that The Traitor's Wife has been named as a semifinalist in the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards' historical/military fiction category. Results will be announced on May 23, 2008.

OK, back pat over.

Anyway, while we're on the subject of--er--me, C.W. Gortner, whose historical novel The Last Queen is being re-released by Ballantine Books, has an interview with me over at his blog, Historical Boys. Take a look, and enjoy the rest of his blog!

Friday, May 09, 2008

In Which I Give Away Books That Have Nothing to Do With Medieval England

Up for a book giveaway? Of course you are!

The folks at Back Bay Books, an imprint of the Hachette Book Group, have sent me two novels to give away here: The Crimson Portrait by Jody Shields and The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani. The Crimson Portrait is set in 1915 England, The Blood of Flowers in seventeenth-century Persia. Both have received excellent reviews.

Now, read carefully, because I'm doing something different with each book. As some of you might know, I spend a fair amount of time hanging out over at Historical Fiction, a great bulletin board full of friendly people who love historical fiction. The Blood of Flowers is being given away there as well, so instead of having a separate giveaway here, I'm adding my copy to the kitty over there. So there will be two copies of The Blood of Flowers being given away over at Historical Fiction. Just leave your comment here (you have to join the board, but that's a cinch) before May 17, and you'll be in the running! Only catch is that you have to be in the United States or Canada (overseas postage can get pricey).

Now for The Crimson Portrait. All you have to do to win that book is to leave a comment on this blog before May 17 (again, US/Canada residents only). On May 17, Boswell will choose the winner by placing his paw on the entry of his choice. He's such a clever dog.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Manual Labor

From Booking Through Thursday:

Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries–if any–do you have in your library?

I generally don't read them. I used to read a fair amount of writing magazines in my younger days, but these days I just write.

For my day job, I have a copy of Diana Hacker's Pocket Style Manual, as it's the style we follow. I also have a Chicago Manual of Style, which I was introduced to during my days as a freelance copy editor and proofreader and which I still find useful in my own writing. I own a Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, probably an edition or two out of date, and a Webster's International Dictionary, which sits ignobly in the garage because it's too damn big to keep anyplace else. I don't think I've cracked it open in years, thanks to the Internet.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Thistle and the Rose by Jean Plaidy

This hasn't been a very productive year, reading-wise--more than anything, I've been reading bits and pieces of nonfiction, mostly for research. So I'm pleased to say that I actually read a novel from front to back: Jean Plaidy's The Thistle and the Rose, about Margaret Tudor, who married James IV of Scotland.

This novel, told in the third person, picks up with Margaret in her early girlhood at Henry VII's court and ends with her death in Scotland after having given birth to two surviving children and married three husbands.

As I knew little about Margaret before reading this novel, I found it quite interesting. Margaret's first marriage ended when she was still quite young, leaving the widowed Margaret to choose first one unsuitable husband of lower rank, than another. I can't say that I found Margaret a particularly likable character, but Plaidy did do a good job of portraying the difficulties she faced from warring factions in Scotland, pressures from England and France, and her own stubborn nature. In some ways, Margaret reminded me of Mary, Queen of Scots, with the difference being that Margaret ultimately died in her bed.

One thing I did wish had been included in here was a genealogical table, not so much for the English characters but the Scottish ones. That aside, I found this to be an interesting introduction to Margaret, one that will have me on the outlook for nonfiction about her as well.

Speaking of Jean Plaidy, I won an old paperback of one of her novels that has a splendidly tacky cover. I'm counting the days till it arrives so I can post it here!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Happy Anniversary to Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

On May 1, 1464, twenty-two-year-old Edward IV, on his way north to deal with a Lancastrian threat, combined pleasure with business. He left his camp at Stony Stratford for the nearby town of Grafton, where he married Elizabeth Woodville, a widow several years his senior with two small sons and a very large family. The marriage remained secret until September, when Edward IV announced it to his dumbfounded council.

No one knows when Edward IV and Elizabeth met or when they began courting, although Elizabeth’s father, Richard Woodville, had been a member of the king’s council for some time. Chroniclers added various embellishments over the years—that Elizabeth, in difficulty about her dower lands, waited under a tree with her young sons, then threw herself at the king’s feet when he passed by; that Edward IV, at first planning to seduce Elizabeth rather than to marry her, placed a dagger at her throat; that Elizabeth herself put a dagger to her throat—but the couple themselves kept a demure silence on the matter. Even the May 1 date has been questioned by some; Elizabeth’s biographer David Baldwin suggests that it was assigned pursuant to romantic tradition and that the couple actually married later in the summer. What is clear, though, is that as late as April 13, 1464, Elizabeth herself seems to have no idea about the impending nuptials, for on that date she entered into a financial arrangement with her neighbor William Hastings, Edward IV’s boon companion. The arrangement, under which William promised to assist Elizabeth in recovering some of her lands in return for a share of profits, would have hardly been necessary had Elizabeth known she was shortly to be queen of England.

Only one source, Fabian’s Chronicle, details the wedding itself. According to Fabian, no one was present at the early-morning wedding but the spouses, Elizabeth’s mother, the priest, two gentlewomen, and a young man who helped the priest sing. “After which spousals ended, [Edward] went to bed, and so tarried there three or four hours, and after departed and rode again to Stony Stratford, and came as though he had been hunting, and there went to bed again.”

Elizabeth’s mother was later accused by a follower of the Earl of Warwick of having brought the match about by witchcraft. Although she was acquitted of the charge in 1470, it made a reappearance in 1484 in Titulus Regius, the document spelling out Richard III’s claim to the throne, where both mother and daughter are accused of using witchcraft to lure Edward into matrimony. The accusation has provided much fodder for historical novelists and for Ricardians, who have noted with delight that April 30 was St. Walpurga’s Eve and thus a fitting day for Jacquetta to work her black arts in preparation for the marriage the next morning. One Ricardian, W. E. Hampton, in “Witchcraft and the Sons of York” (The Ricardian, March 1980), even suggests that Edward IV’s fatigue at Stony Stratford can be attributed to “the orgiastic nature of the rites to which he may have been introduced.” (More generous minds might attribute his fatigue to three or four hours in the bridal bed, perhaps not sleeping the entire time, plus a journey on horseback to and from Grafton, or one could suppose he was feigning fatigue from his nonexistent hunting trip.) Generally not noted by the Woodvilles-as-witches contingent is the conventional Christian piety Elizabeth exhibited during her time as queen.

Once Edward IV himself made the marriage public, he treated his new bride in duly royal fashion, presenting her formally before his council at Michaelmas in 1464 and giving her a grand coronation the following May. Though little is known about the private relations of the couple, Elizabeth bore the king’s children regularly, a mark of his continuing interest in her even after she had produced the needed “heir and a spare,” and played an influential role in the bringing-up of their eldest son, Edward, a mark of the king’s trust in her.

Strangely, and sadly, it was nearly nineteen years later to the day that Elizabeth’s brother Anthony, also having stopped at Stony Stratford, would leave his lodgings there to meet Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who proceeded to make Anthony and Elizabeth’s son Richard Grey his prisoners on April 30. Fearful for her own safety after these arrests, Elizabeth Woodville, recently widowed, would spend her nineteenth anniversary of May 1, 1483, in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey.