Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Duke of Suffolk Has an Accident, And Odds and Ends

As part of my research for my novel in progress, I've been looking into the question of whether William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, wrote the poems attributed to him. (Short answer: no one knows for sure.) Anyway, in researching this (and trying to be careful that my novel doesn't turn into The Tragical History of the Duke of Suffolk, with a Little Bit About Margaret of Anjou Also), I came across this headache-inducing tidbit from a 1915 article by C. Rutherford entitled "The Forgeries of Guillaume Benoit" published in the English Historical Review:

We know that Suffolk set out from Paris with Ralf Boteler, the abbot of Fecamp, and Giles Clamecy, on or about 12 November [in 1424]. On the following Tuesday he met with an accident in a certain village near Amiens, a beam falling on his head as he lay in bed.

Ouch! Suffolk was taken by litter to recuperate in Paris, where, according to Guillaume Benoit, the then-unmarried Suffolk was pining for love. To cheer him, Benoit read him love poetry (which to me would have the opposite effect, but what do I know?) and summoned the musician Gilles Binchois, to whom Suffolk gave two ells of scarlet cloth in exchange for writing a rondeau.

I do hope I'll get to work this into my novel somehow, as aside from the poetry, it's not every day that the ceiling falls in upon a man lying in bed.

Now for some odds and ends. Having finally finished reading some books for review, I've had a chance to start Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter, which I'm enjoying thoroughly. Pick up a copy!

And thanks to my darling daughter and thoughtful husband, I am now the proud owner of a Snuggie ("the blanket with sleeves"). Mine is blue, and I can hardly wait for winter to come so I can bedazzle my neighbors by walking Boswell in it. (I can even buy Boswell a matching one.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Twelve Ways to Liven Up History for Historical Novelists and Historical Revisionists

Having stopped by Alianore's blog this morning and enjoyed her post "Misinformation about Edward II," it's occurred to me that while there's been plenty of advice on how to strive for accuracy in historical fiction, no one's offered any advice on how to throw reality to the winds and distort facts with abandon. So without further ado, here's some guidance for aspiring nonhistorical novelists (and for those who like to embellish nonfiction as well):

1) Question parentage at all times, and don’t be afraid to spread sexual slander. After all, most children are conceived out of public view, so who knows who was really present in someone’s bed? (Extra points if you can make the father someone who was dead or 1,000 miles away at the time of conception.)

2) Add or subtract a decade or so from a historical figure’s age, depending upon your needs. Not only can this be helpful with (1), it often opens up a variety of possibilities for enlivening your characters’ sex lives.

3) Not sure what caused a historical figure’s death? Make it murder, and be sure to lay the guilt at the feet of someone you don’t like.

4) Proof is for pedants and bores. If you haven’t got adequate facts to support an assertion, make it anyway.

5) Conspiracy theories are your best friends forever. In fact, those who prefer historical accuracy are really part of a vast conspiracy to keep people from learning the Real Truth.

6) Reanimate the dead. Just because someone died five years before an event or scene took place is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t include him in it. Especially if you can defame him while doing so.

7) If two people have the same name, this is your heaven-sent opportunity to freely confuse them with each other. If their parents didn’t want you doing this, they should have had the foresight to give the kid a different name.

8) If you’re unsure of a fact, by no means check it. Trust your instincts and run with it, particularly if the assertion could ruin a historical figure’s reputation.

9) If there is an innocent explanation and a sinister explanation for an event, the sinister explanation must prevail.

10) No historical figure must ever be given the benefit of the doubt about anything, unless he’s (a) your hero or (b) Richard III.

11) If you’re caught in an error by one of those cranky sorts who appreciate historical accuracy and meticulous research, blame your error on the bias of either male chroniclers, academic historians, or the victors, as the case might require.

12. If you can’t find any of the above to blame, keep repeating your error. Sooner or later, people will start to believe it, and your worries will be over.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Will and a Letter from William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk

Yesterday, while doing research for my novel about Margaret of Anjou (don't worry, I'm actually doing some writing for it also), I came across the will of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, who was responsible for arranging Margaret's marriage to Henry VI. It's one of the more moving wills I've come across.

Suffolk wrote the will on January 27, 1450, just before he was hauled off as a prisoner to the Tower of London. The English had met with drastic reversals in France, and Suffolk, though by no means the only person in England who had brought about the disaster, was being made the scapegoat for the government's missteps. The primary charge that would be brought against him--that in 1444 he had promised the surrender of Maine without being authorized to do so--has long since been disproved by historians. (Henry VI, however, explicitly promised the surrender of Maine in a letter dated December 22, 1445.) Among the wilder accusations against him was one that he had married his young son, John, to little Margaret Beaufort with the intention of killing Henry VI and making John king.

As Bertram Wolffe points out, Suffolk was in an impossible position: though he vigorously defended himself against the charges that were brought against him by the Commons, he could not do so adequately without attacking the king, who bore the ultimate responsibility for the disasters in France. But Suffolk was unshakeably loyal to Henry VI, and in any case, he depended upon the king for his life. Henry tried to save Suffolk by ordering that he be banished for five years. (Echoes of Edward II?) Unfortunately, the commoners, for whom Suffolk symbolized all of the shortcomings of Henry VI's reign as an adult, wanted Suffolk's death, not his disappearance. As Suffolk sailed toward Burgundy, his ship was intercepted by a vessel named Nicholas of the Tower. Suffolk was forced off his own ship, given a mock trial, and beheaded on May 2, 1450, after six strokes from a rusty sword. Whether the murderers acted entirely on their own or in the hire of someone more highly placed remains a mystery.

Among the slanders that were later to be circulated about Suffolk was that the 53-year-old Suffolk and the 20-year-old Margaret of Anjou were lovers. There's no evidence to support these allegations, which seem to have originated in Tudor times with the chronicler Hall and which were given vigorous life by Shakespeare. (Shakespeare, at least, has the excuse of borrowing from Hall; one 21st-century historical novelist who has accused Suffolk of fathering Edward of Lancaster in 1453 despite having been dead since 1450 is on rather shakier ground.) What makes these slanders so patently cruel is the evidence that whatever else his faults, Suffolk dearly loved his wife, Alice Chaucer (granddaughter of Geoffrey), and their son. Having ordered that his body be buried at Charterhouse at Hull, Suffolk (who wrote his will in his own hand) directs:

where y wol my ymage and stone be made and the ymage of my best beloved wyf by me, she to be there with me yf she lust, my said sepulture to be made by her discretion in ye said Charterhouse where she shal thinke best, in caas be yat in my dayes it be not made nor begonne; desiringe, yf it may, to lye so as the masses that y have perpetuelly founded there for my said best beloved wyf and me may be daily songen over me. And also ye day of my funeralx, the day of my berieng, that ye charge thereof be bysette upon pore creatures to pray for me, and in no pompes nor pryde of ye world. Also y wol yat my londes and goodes be disposed after that that y have disposed them in my last wille of ye date of these presentez, and only ordeyne my said best beloved wyfe my sole executrice, beseching her at ye reverence of God to take ye charge upon her for the wele of my soule, for above al the erthe my singuler trust is moost in her, and y wol for her ease, yf she wol and elles nought, that she may take unto her such on personne as she lust to name, to helpe her in yexecution yerof for her ease, to laboure under her as she wold commande hym. And last of al with the blessing of God and of me, as hertely as y can yeve it to my dere and trew son, y bequethe betwene hym and his moder love and al good accorde and yeve hym her hoolly, and for a remembraunce my gret balays to my said son.

(The "gret balays" seems to have been a ruby.)

Suffolk's one son, John, having been born late in Suffolk's and Alice's marriage, was only seven at the time of his father's murder. Before leaving England for what would prove to be his fatal journey into exile, Suffolk wrote an affectionate letter to the young boy in which he further emphasized his love for his family and his loyalty to his king:

My dear and only well-beloved son, I beseech our Lord in Heaven, the Maker of all the World, to bless you, and to send you ever grace to love him, and to dread him, to the which, as far as a father may charge his child, I both charge you, and pray you to set all your spirits and wits to do, and to know his holy laws and commandments, by the which ye shall, with his great mercy, pass all the great tempests and troubles of this wretched world.

And that also, weetingly, ye do nothing for love nor dread of any earthly creature that should displease him. And there as any frailty maketh you to fall, beseech his mercy soon to call you to him again with repentance, satisfaction, and contrition of your heart, never more in will to offend him.

Secondly, next him above all earthly things, to be true liegeman in heart, in will, in thought, in deed, unto the king our aldermost high and dread sovereign lord, to whom both ye and I be so much bound to; charging you as father can and may, rather to die than to be the contrary, or to know anything that were against the welfare or prosperity of his most royal person, but that as far as your body and life may stretch ye live and die to defend it, and to let his highness have knowledge thereof in all the haste ye can.

Thirdly, in the same wise, I charge you, my dear son, alway as ye be bounden by the commandment of God to do, to love, to worship, your lady and mother; and also that ye obey alway her commandments, and to believe her counsels and advices in all your works, the which dread not but shall be best and truest to you. And if any other body would steer you to the contrary, to flee the counsel in any wise, for ye shall find it naught and evil.

Furthermore, as far as father may and can, I charge you in any wise to flee the company and counsel of proud men, of covetous men, and of flattering men, the more especially and mightily to withstand them, and not to draw nor to meddle with them, with all your might and power; and to draw to you and to your company good and virtuous men, and such as be of good conversation, and of truth, and by them shall ye never be deceived nor repent you of.

Moreover, never follow your own wit in nowise, but in all your works, of such folks as I write of above, ask your advice and counsel, and doing thus, with the mercy of God, ye shall do right well, and live in right much worship, and great heart's rest and ease.

And I will be to you as good lord and father as my heart can think.

And last of all, as heartily and as lovingly as ever father blessed his child in earth, I give you the blessing of Our Lord and of me, which of his infinite mercy increase you in all virtue and good living; and that your blood may by his grace from kindred to kindred multiply in this earth to his service, in such wise as after the departing from this wretched world here, ye and they may glorify him eternally amongst his angels in heaven.

Written of mine hand,
The day of my departing fro this land.

Your true and loving father

John de la Pole became the second Duke of Suffolk and (his childhood marriage to little Margaret Beaufort having been dissolved) went on to marry Elizabeth, a daughter of Richard, Duke of York, making him the brother-in-law of Edward IV and Richard III. Though his own son, the Earl of Lincoln, would rebel against Henry VII, with fatal results for the earl, the second duke seems to have generally followed his father's advice with regard to kings: having deserted the Lancastrian cause in 1461, he would thereafter be loyal to Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII in turn.


Michael Hicks, ‘Pole, John de la, second duke of Suffolk (1442–1492)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 20 Sept 2009]

C. L. Kingsford, Prejudice and Promise in Fifteenth Century England.

J. N. Larned, A Multitude of Counselors (a version of Suffolk's letter in modernized spelling; the version with the original spelling can be found in Gairdner's edition of The Paston Letters).

Surtees Society, North Country Wills

John Watts, ‘Pole, William de la, first duke of Suffolk (1396–1450)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 20 Sept 2009]

Bertram Wolff, Henry VI.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Guest Post by Jeri Westerson: Don't Call 'Em Dark Ages

I'm pleased to be part of Jeri Westerson's 2009 fall blog tour for her new novel, Serpent in the Thorns, which will be released on September 29. As part of it, here's a guest post from Jeri:

Don’t Call ‘Em Dark Ages

By Jeri Westerson

Continuing my blog tour to promote my newest Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novel, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, I’ve been discussing the various erroneous thoughts people seem to harbor about this most interesting period, the Middle Ages.

One mistaken idea was that this period in time was “Dark” as in “Dark Ages.” Everyone was just waiting around for the Renaissance. It must have been so tedious being in the dark and waiting to be enlightened!

Scholars of any repute do not refer to the Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages.” This usually means the period between 500 and 800 AD. We call this the “Early Middle Ages.” The Early Middle Ages has also been called the “Gothic Period,” but this is also an insult, although an acceptable one. The Italians in the first throes of the Renaissance referred to some of the old, outdated architecture from this early period as “Gothic,” in other words, created by uncivilized barbarians like the Goths who hacked their way through Europe from Germany. (No, they weren’t wearing black lipstick and nail polish with a cynical take on the world.) These were some of the original barbarians (along with the Vandals of Spain. Ain’t history fun?) The Visigoths were the fellows who sacked Rome in 410 and cut a swath in the Empire, tolling its death knell.

The period from 900 to 1100 is referred to as the “High Middle Ages,” and the period between 1200 and 1500 is considered the “Late Middle Ages,” just in case you wondered.

The notion that the Middle Ages was a stopping point in man’s creativity and scientific exploration is ridiculous. The medieval period—a period roughly between 500 and 1500 AD—was coined by the Victorians. “Medieval” means “middle ages,” that is, the period between the classical period of Greece and Rome and the modern (Victorian) era.

One thousand years is a long time. And in that period, there were many innovations, not the least of which is the button and the button hole. There was also the growing science of optics, begun in earnest in the Muslim world around 800 AD, including the notion that the speed of light was finite. The discussion of optics didn’t reach medieval Europe till about the twelfth century and between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, monks were using “reading stones,” crystal orbs cut in half for magnifying tiny writing.

Optics for glasses didn’t come about till the sixteenth century and lenses for microscopes and telescopes a bit later.

Paper was created in the 1200s, which was handy for all that printing that was about to happen on those printing presses with moveable type, invented in 1440 or so, by the German goldsmtih Johannes Gutenburg.

The hourglass and then the clock were also medieval inventions. The first tower clock in London got to ticking in 1288. Time pieces were first created so that monks and nuns could follow the Divine Office, a series of prayers done in set times throughout the day. Bells were rung to let the populace know when these hours of prayers arrived. Eventually these time pieces became more and more sophisticated.

But before that, there was the sundial, invented in this time period, along with astrolabes for figuring latitudes, and compasses for naval navigation.

Yup, as you can see, they were just sitting around twiddling their thumbs. In the dark. Do you ever get the feeling you were cheated in school all those years ago?


Jeri tries not to cheat in her medieval noir novels. You can read more about her latest release, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, on her website

Thanks for stopping by, Jeri!

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Melusine Sighting, A Brand-New Theory, and a Father's Love

In 1445, Margaret of Anjou was present at Nancy at the wedding of her sister, Yolande, to Ferry de Vaudemont. It was a grand occasion, marked by days of jousting, and King Charles VII himself showed up. But what image was on his shield, pray tell? None other than Melusine, the fairy that with a little help from Warwick the Kingmaker and Richard III launched dozens of historical novels claiming that Elizabeth Woodville and her mother practiced witchcraft.

Now, the naive might suppose that Charles VII bore Melusine on his shield because he thought it was a nice story, but this would violate the Two Chief Rules of Fifteenth-Century Revisionist History: (1) if an action has a sinister explanation and an innocent one, the sinister explanation must prevail, and (2) no historical figure can ever be given the benefit of the doubt about anything except for Richard III. We can safely assume, then, that Charles VII's shield was a clear statement that the entire French court was no more than one giant witches' coven. When we consider that the year before, Charles of Maine, uncle to Margaret of Anjou, married Isabella of Luxembourg, sister to the witchy Jacquetta Woodville, and that both the houses of Anjou and Luxembourg were knee-deep in Melusine, our case is closed. In fact, we can probably say that witchcraft, not diplomatic and military bungling, would eventually cost the English the territories that they had gained in France. (I'm proud of this theory, so if anyone tries to steal it, remember you heard it here first.)

What is truly amazing, though, is that long before Edward IV fatally entangled his house with the descendants of Melusine by marrying Elizabeth Woodville, his own father was attempting to match him with the French royal family! In 1445, Richard, Duke of York, tried to arrange a marriage between little Edward and one of Charles VII's daughters. The marriage never took place, possibly because of rising tensions between England and France but more likely because a horrified Duke of York, having learned of Charles VII's allegiance to Melusine and the Forces of Darkness in general, wisely drew back from the abyss yawning before his innocent son. Unfortunately, his fatherly concern could do nothing to save his son from the eventual fate that awaited him at the hands of the sinister Jacquetta and Elizabeth and their ancestress, Melusine.


Because I said so. And lots of Novocaine at the dentist's office.

(But yes, Charles VII is recorded as wearing a shield with Melusine on it in 1445, and the Duke of York did indeed try to marry his son Edward to one of Charles's daughters.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Word From My Cover Designer

A few posts back, I posted the cover for my forthcoming novel, The Stolen Crown (March 2010), and someone asked me the name of the cover designer. I posted it in the comments, and I was delighted to hear from the designer herself, Cathleen Elliott at FlyLeafDesign. It seemed a shame to have Cathleen's remarks about the cover design process get buried in the comments, so with her permission, I'm reproducing them here:

There is an early scene where Kate sees the secret marriage taking place. She is given a gold chain to keep quiet. This image spoke to me most in the way that the gold chain is there and it is also wrapped around her neck like it is silencing her. She is tugging on it. Which I think is symbolic.

The apple is really just the whole forbidden fruit thing. It's a general feeling about these forbidden marriages. The way she is holding it is seductive and secretive. The apple (figuratively speaking) is the moment when man was driven out of the garden and there was a separation between God and Man. Not that this is a religious reference but here it symbolizes the division between the houses York and Lancaster.

There is also the scene with the apple. Susan, I thought you chose the apple in that scene because there were talks of leaving Kate. That he should just say "She seduced him"

As for the dress it can be so hard to get everything just perfect in one image. This dress is slightly more modern but the feel and the symbolism were right on. The dress is close but mostly serves as a beautiful backdrop.

Yes, I do read the books I work on. It's one of the best pleasures of my job! Lucky me! :-)

There is nothing that makes me happier than a happy author and readers. You all made my day. Truly.

I've posted the cover again, so you can see what Cathleen's talking about without having to go to the sidebar. Thanks again, Cathleen!

EDIT: I'm stopping by to add that the series design work for my three Sourcebooks covers--i.e., typography and the overall layout--was done by Kimberly Glyder at Kimberly Glyder Design (who has a blog here and a website here). Here they are so you can see all three of 'em side by side and note the common elements:

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Giveaway Winner, and Some Splendidly Purple Prose

First, we have a winner for Brandy Purdy's novel! I've notified Terry, who won. Thanks to all who stopped by and entered.

Second, last night, I was trying to find some more information about Reculee, where the widowed Margaret of Anjou settled following her return to France. In doing so, I came across this 1912 biography by one Edgcumbe Staley, entitled King Rene d'Anjou and His Seven Queens, which contains a section on Rene's daughter Margaret. As this book kept me up for a good hour past my bedtime, forcing me to muffle my laughter in order not to disturb the slumbering family, I thought I'd share some highlights. (The whole thing is available on the Internet Archive if you're so inclined.)

Henry was as weak as water; he hated political questions, caring very much more, of course, for peaceful intercourse with his fascinating spouse . . .

The slaying of the Duke of York at the Battle of Wakefield (remember, Margaret was in Scotland at the time):

A troop of horse, headed by young Lord Clifford, and followed immediately by the Queen, mounted and armed, made an impetuous dash to where the Duke's standard hung heavy in the still, damp air. It they captured, and forthwith threw it over Margaret's knees, and with his sword Clifford struck the rebel leader down from his horse, and slew him as he lay at Margaret's feet. In a trice he had severed the head of her mortal enemy, and upon his knee he offered the ghastly trophy to his Queen. "Madam," he said, "the war is over; here is the King's ransom!" The Queen turned sick at the terrible sight, and hysterically sobbed and laughed alternately, and she screamed aloud when soldiers stuffed the blood-dripping head into a common chaff-sack.

In exile, Margaret loses none of her eloquence:

One more affecting speech of the heroic Queen must be recorded. "When on the day of my espousal," she said, "I gathered the rose of England, I was quite well aware that I should have to wear it whole with all its thorns!"

Sadly for Margaret, however, Edward soon avenges his father's death:

Edward, yielding to the base instincts of a cruel nature, very soon got news of Margaret's hiding-place, and with a demoniacal scowl, "Ah, ah !" he cried out, "we've settled the cub; now for the she-wolf!"

. . .

At Coventry, of all places for further outrage, a place so greatly agreeable to Henry and herself, ill-fated Margaret was subjected to personal insults from her vanquisher. In reply she reviled him, and thrust him with abhorrence from her. In revenge he ordered her to be fastened upon a common sumpter horse, and he ordered a placard to be placed on her breast, "This is Queen Margaret, good lieges," and her hands were tied behind her back. Thus was the most valiant, most unselfish, and most loyal Queen that England ever had led to grace the mock triumph of a royal murderer. She was thrust into the foulest dungeon of the grim Tower, and there remained, bereft of food, of service, and well-nigh of reason, too, for seven dreary, weary months.

At last, poor Margaret (still alive after having been deprived of food for seven months) returns to France:

Gently but firmly she had to be restrained, lest she should do herself some harm and injure others. Alas ! Margaret of Anjou came to her death, not in the halo of sanctity, but in the mist of mental obscurity, and thus she died alone perhaps unlamented, and certainly misjudged by posterity. Near her end languor and paralysis seized her, and she passed away unconsciously on August 25, 1482.

Incidentally, Mr. Staley's book was reviewed in the September 1, 1912, New York Times, which pronounced it "graphic and entertaining." I just hope I can match it.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Margaret the She-Wolf?

I thoroughly enjoyed Alianore and Rachel's recent joint post on Isabella, Edward II’s queen. Aside from being very funny, the point it makes is quite valid.

This got me to thinking about Margaret of Anjou, the subject of my novel in progress. Margaret is usually depicted in historical fiction as a vengeful and half-mad harpy, intent on destroying anyone who gets in her path. But how does her body count compare to those of male commanders during the Wars of the Roses?

Not very well, it turns out.

Margaret is said to have ordered the executions of three men, Thomas Kyriell, Lord Bonville, and William Gower, after the second Battle of St. Albans, by having her young son, Edward, pass judgment upon them. The men had been guarding her husband, Henry VI, who was then in Yorkist captivity. Some versions claim that the men had been promised their lives by Henry VI; others claim that Margaret and the prince simply watched the executions and that others gave the orders. Edward IV’s 1461 Parliament mentions only Henry VI in connection with the executions. Having rather disingenuously condemned the hapless Henry for failing at St. Albans to “join his person and blood to the defence, protection and salvation of the same lords and persons coming to assist him by his authority and command [i.e., the Yorkists], like a victorious and a noble captain, but like a deceitful coward,” Parliament goes on to complain that Henry

wilfully allowed those worthy and good knights, William, Lord Bonville, and Sir Thomas Kiryell, called to the order of the Garter for the knightly prowess they had demonstrated, and William Gower, esquire, the bearer of one of his banners, to whom he had given faith and assurance on the word of a king, by his own lips, that he would keep and defend them there from all harm, danger and peril, to be murdered and after that tyrannously beheaded, with great violence, without process of law or any pity, contrary to his said faith and promise, abominable in the hearing of all Christian princes.

Notably, at St. Albans, as Helen Maurer points out, three other Yorkist prisoners, including John Neville, the Earl of Warwick’s younger brother, were spared execution—an odd act if Margaret was indeed the vengeful she-wolf of popular imagination.

The best-known deaths attributed to Margaret, though, are those of the Duke of York, his son Edmund, and Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, at the Battle of Wakefield. Few historical novels set during this time fail to depict Margaret cackling in glee over their displayed heads after the three are executed in cold blood. There are several problems with such scenes, though. First, Margaret was not at Wakefield to cackle; she was in Scotland at the time of the battle. Second, although one report does indicate that the Duke of York survived the battle long enough to be jeered at by his Lancastrian captors before being executed, most reports indicate that he died in battle. Likewise, it seems more likely that young Edmund died while fighting in the rout instead of being murdered while a helpless captive. As for Richard Neville, although he was captured alive, he was lynched by a mob at Pontefract before his head was put on display.

In fact, the Yorkists, generally depicted by novelists as a chivalrous lot, have a rather higher body count to their credit than does Margaret. Following the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, the future Edward IV executed the sixty-year Owen Tudor, Henry VI’s stepfather, along with at least several others (the lists of those executed vary and in some cases have been shown to be inaccurate). After the Battle of Tewkesbury, Edward IV executed no fewer than a dozen men, having first broken sanctuary to do so.

Following the Yorkist victory at Northampton in 1460, where Henry VI fell into Yorkist hands, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, succeeded in forcing the defenders of the Tower to surrender it to him. Thomas Browne and six people associated with the Duke of Exeter, the Tower’s constable, were executed at Tyburn, charged with treason against the very king they were supporting, Henry VI. Later, in 1469, Warwick, while nominally still supporting Edward IV as king, executed the elder Richard Woodville, his son John Woodville, and William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke—executions that had no legal justification whatsoever, as all of the men were loyal to Edward IV.

Exeter himself had ten men put to death at Sandwich in 1460 for sending supplies to Warwick. After Warwick had turned Lancastrian, the Yorkist John Tiptoft hung, drew, and quartered several of Warwick’s men.

So to Margaret personally, we can ascribe at most three executions--assuming that she, rather than her commanders or her husband, authorized them. The lives of those three men should not be viewed as unimportant, but assuming that the executions were indeed a breach of a promise made by Henry VI, they were no more unjust than those ordered by Edward IV after Tewkesbury and by Warwick in 1460 and 1469, and no more brutal than those ordered by Tiptoft. (It’s not quite fair to pick on Richard III here, but because for some reason the same novelists who portray Margaret of Anjou as a crazed she-wolf generally also depict Richard as a virtual saint, it should be pointed out that within a twelve-day period, he executed William Hastings, Anthony Woodville, Richard Grey, and Thomas Vaughan without trial, or with only the semblance of a trial, on charges that were never proven. Bonville and Kyrielle, by contrast, at the very least were guilty of deserting the Lancastrian cause for that of the Yorkist one.)

Much of Margaret’s bloody-minded reputation, of course, comes from the chronicles that describe the devastation inflicted by her troops following the Battle of Wakefield. B. M. Cron, however, has analyzed the evidence supporting these accounts and found it markedly lacking. Both she and John Gillingham cast doubts on the accounts of the Croyland Chronicler and Abbot John Whethamstede: Gillingham writes that Croyland’s account does not specify any places that were actually pillaged, but rather “is couched in the vague and emotional rhetoric of unsubstantiated atrocity stories.” Cron concludes that there would have certainly been “pillaging, petty theft, and unpaid foraging” by Margaret’s troops, marching in mid-winter, but that the army “did not indulge in systematic devastation of the countryside, either on its own account or at the behest of the queen.”

Propaganda, it’s too often forgotten, did not begin with the Tudors. Just as it served the Yorkist purpose to paint Margaret as an adulteress, thereby casting doubts on the legitimacy of her son, it also served the Yorkist purpose to depict her and her army as singularly vengeful and cruel. Just because such propaganda served a purpose in the fifteenth century, however, is no reason for us to blindly perpetuate it today.


B. M. Cron, “Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrian March on London, 1461.” The Ricardian, December 1999.

John Gillingham, The Wars of the Roses. Louisiana State University Press, 1981.

C. Given-Wilson et al., eds., The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England. (CD-ROM version).

Helen Maurer, Margaret of Anjou: Queenship and Power in Late Medieval England. Boydell Press, 2003.

A. J. Pollard, Warwick the Kingmaker. Hambledon, 2007.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy: A Giveaway

I'm pleased to be offering a giveaway of an advance review copy of Brandy Purdy's The Boleyn Wife, featuring Jane Boleyn, sister-in-law of Anne. The Boleyn Wife was originally self-published as Vengeance Is Mine. I never got to read it in its original version, because it was snapped up by Kensington very quickly, so I'm looking forward to the revised, expanded version.

Brandy and I have known each other for a while online, and we now share the same agent!

Here's the back cover description from The Boleyn Wife:

Shy, plain Lady Jane Parker feels out of place in Henry VIII's courtly world of glamour and intrigue--until she meets the handsome George Boleyn. Overjoyed when their fathers arrange a match, her dreams of a loving union are waylaid when she meets George's sister, Anne. For George is completely devoted to his sister, and cold and indifferent to his bride. As Anne acquires a wide circle of admirers, including King Henry, Jane's resentment grows. But if becoming Henry's queen makes Anne the most powerful woman in England, it also makes her highly vulnerable. And as Henry, desperate for a male heir, begins to tire of his mercurial wife, the stage is set for the ultimate betrayal...

Encompassing the reigns of five of Henry's queens, THE BOLEYN WIFE is an unforgettable story of ambition, lust, and jealousy, of the power of love to change the course of history, and of the terrible price of revenge.

You can enter through September 7. I will send the name and address of the lucky winner to Brandy. (US residents only, sorry.) For more information about Brandy and her books, visit her website.