Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Rosemary Hawley Jarman

It is with great sadness that I record the passing of Rosemary Hawley Jarman, author of, among other works, We Speak No Treason.

Few writers, if any, have captured the 'feel' of the fifteenth century so perfectly. Her novel introduced many to the 'cause' of Richard III, and is an example of how influential fiction can be.

May she rest in peace.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The True History of King Richard III - Part 4

The sack of Ludlow 1459

Richard's first teacher was Lady Mortimer, who taught him handwriting and country dancing. As Lady Mortimer's late husband had been on the very fringe (almost dropping off the end) of Richard's family tree, she also taught him something of genealogy, and he discovered that he was descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, which made him senior in the succession to Henry VI himself! It turned out that when the Lancastrians (who were descended from John of Gaunt, Lionel's younger brother) had stolen the throne in the early fifteenth century they had forced the York family to pretend that they were only descended from Edmund of Langley (Gaunt's younger brother.)

This injustice set Richard seething, but he was also delighted to find that he was much nearer to the (rightful) possession of the crown than he had previously imagined.

Richard's studies continued under the Reverend Doctor Stiffkey (of Stiffkey in Norfolk) who taught him Latin and Canon Law. George shared these lessons, but although he was Richard's elder he was a dull pupil who was often reduced to copying from his brother's book.

George and Margaret played together, as they were close in age, but Richard only had his pet pig, Henry. (Naturally he was already planning to turn Henry into sausages when Henry got big and fat enough.) It was having this pig that persuaded Richard to choose the White Boar as his personal badge. He also learned from Doctor Stiffkey that Ebor was York in Latin, so it was a pun as well, which Richard found amusing.

Margaret of Anjou called a Parliament to which neither York nor his friends were invited. This made York very suspicious so he sent for all his friends to join him at Ludlow with their soldiers. This led to at least one battle (Blore Heath) as Salisbury forced his way through from the north. Warwick came all the way from Calais and brought much of the garrison with him.

Margaret had an even bigger army, which she marched all the way to Ludford Bridge, just outside Ludlow. The even had Henry VI with them, and the sight of Henry's banner was enough to make many of York's followers desert, as the Lancastrian army was so much bigger they thought they might lose and then be executed as traitors.

This led to an urgent family conference. York, and his elder sons, Edward and Edmund, Salisbury and Warwick all slipped away in the night, taking only their hand luggage. Duchess Cecily, with only George and Richard and a pimply lad called William Hastings to protect her, walked down to Ludlow market cross, in the hope of picking up a lift to Fotheringhay,

The Lancastrian army arrived soon after dawn. The Duchess, drawing herself up to her full five foot eight plus hennin, told her children to be brave, and William Hastings waved a white flag as vigorously as he could.

The leaders of the Lancastrian army were in a foul mood, and they were just about to do terrible things to the Duchess and Margaret when they caught sight of the expression on Richard's face. As one man, they stepped back in fear, and several of them, including Lord Clifford, actually soiled themselves, which was very inconvenient given that they were all wearing armour. The Duchess, who had closed her eyes to think of England, believed ever afterwards that the Holy Trinity had saved her, but it was actually her youngest son, already by far the scariest person in the land.

Henry VI himself showed up - he was far too holy to be scared, but he pardoned the Duchess and those with her on the spot and put them under the guard of trusted men, which, in the circumstances, was quite unnecessary.

There then took place what is known as the 'sack of Ludlow'. This incident has been grossly exaggerated by Yorkist propaganda, much of it undoubtedly put about by Richard himself. In truth, no women were raped, no houses plundered to the bare walls. The Lancastrian soldiers merely knocked politely on doors and asked for contributions to 'Lancastrians In Need' which was a charity lately set up by Henry VI. The odd penny, or perhaps a loaf of bread, was all they wanted. The only real casualty was Henry the pig, who was slaughtered so that everyone could have a bacon sandwich.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The True History of King Richard III - Part 3


It is now time for a little housekeeping and explanation. The political situation between 1455 and 1459 is too boring and complicated to go into here. Suffice it to say that sometimes the Duke of York was in power, and sometimes the Duke of Somerset and Queen Margaret were. Of course, this Somerset was not the one Richard had killed, but his son, who most confusingly had the same title. Similarly King Henry VI was sometimes insane, and sometimes what passed for 'normal' in the case of Henry VI. In other words, he wasn't actually catatonic, and gave the impression that he was merely unworldly, and in fact quite holy. Had he been a friar, he'd quite possibly been made a saint while he still lived, but as a king he was more in the way of an inconvenience, often signing things he was not supposed to sign, and quite frequently granting the same thing to two different people.

Richard had a number of brothers and sisters alive at this time. The eldest was Anne, who was no longer at home being married to the Duke of Exeter. The idea of these arranged marriages was to build alliances with other noble houses, but unfortunately Exeter hated both Anne and her father, the Duke of York. (This is no reflection on Anne or York. as Exeter hated everyone except Lord Egremont, and was always going around annoying people and getting thrown into the Tower.)

The next eldest were Edward and Edmund. Everyone knows Edward, who was later to become King Edward IV. He was very tall and good looking, and all the ladies liked him, so he always got extra chips on his plate when he lined up for dinner. Eventually, as a direct result, he became rather fat. No one knows much about Edmund, though he was probably similar to Edward, but nicer. These two lived in their own establishment, which may have been at Ludlow, where they were mercilessly bullied by a boy named Croft. Or, as they called him, Bonzo. Later this same Croft became a faithful servant, which probably proves something about bullies.

Next was Elizabeth, who was married to the Duke of Suffolk. If you'd met Suffolk in the street, you'd have thought him a moderately prosperous turnip farmer with no more wits than he needed for the job. But he was in fact a duke, and Elizabeth must have loved him as they had lots of babies together.

Then there was Margaret, of whom little needs to be said except that she was exceptionally tall. Had the House of York put out a ladies' football team, Margaret would have played centre half. Then there was George, who shouted a lot and tried to be a bully. Then Richard himself. These three were in the nominal care of their mother. However the Duchess Cecily was very devout. She spent most of her time kneeling in the chapel, praying for the souls of her deceased children and also praying that she would have no more, just in case it turned out to be a three year pregnancy.

They were not always at Fotheringhay. Sometimes they would move to Ludlow, or to Berkhampstead, or to Baynard's Castle in London, which must not be confused with Barnard Castle, a place they did not own. Occasionally they even went to Sandal, which is in Yorkshire, although not very deep into the county. Although the Duke of York had 'York' in his title, he actually owned very little of Yorkshire. Indeed, much of the county belonged to Henry VI (in his role as Duke of Lancaster) or to various other nasty Lancastrian persons, like Lord Clifford for example. This had been set up just to confuse foreigners.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The True History of King Richard III - Part 2

The Battle of St. Albans, 1455

Having been two years in the womb, Richard was naturally a forward child, and in no time at all he was not only walking but wearing a little suit of armour. The Duke of York had this made for him by the village blacksmith,  an advanced craftsman who doubled as the castle armourer. This meant it could easily be adjusted as Richard grew.

Richard was not yet strong enough to lift what we call a two-handed sword, or a poleaxe, but he could manage what is politely described as a kidney dagger, and rapidly became an expert with it, through long hours of practice with the dagger in one hand and a rusk in the other.

The King at this time was Henry VI. As he was a Lancastrian he was obviously a very good man, but more than that he was saintly, so saintly that at times he didn't know who he was or where. His wife, Margaret of Anjou, was by this time doing most of the heavy lifting. People didn't like Margaret, even though she was Queen, as she was also French, and a woman, and had too much to say for herself. She also favoured men who weren't the Duke of York, especially the Duke of Somerset, who hated York and was also grossly incompetent. This team had already comprehensively lost the war with France, and the Government owed the Duke of York a lot of money. This made York very cross.

York got together with his brother-in-law, Salisbury, and his wife's nephew, Salisbury's son, the Earl of Warwick. (It's easier to refer to these two by their titles as the were both called Richard Neville, which was confusing even at the time.) There were other lords there too, but these men were less important and it might confuse you if I gave them names. Just imagine them grunting agreement in the background.

York and his friends had a few beers and they decided they must go to the King and tell him to get rid of Somerset. As the King had lots of people about him they didn't trust, this meant that for safety's sake they had to take an army with them.

York decided to take his youngest son Richard with him as a sort of mascot. The idea was that Warwick would hold little Richard's hand and lead him onto the battlefield before things started, to exchange pennons with the King's mascot.

However, when they got to St. Albans and met the King's army, it soon became apparent that none of this was going to happen. The King wasn't prepared to negotiate and he certainly wasn't ready to hand over Somerset. He and his men were well dug in behind barricades in the centre of the town, and York and his friends were at something of a loss.

Then little Richard suggested to Warwick that if they (and Warwick's men) sneaked around the back alleys and gardens, they could take the enemy in the flank and surprise them, And because no one had any better ideas, that's what they did.

The plan worked wonderfully, and soon Warwick, Richard and a host of followers were cutting their way through the Lancastrian leadership. As they charged they cried 'A Warwick! A Warwick!' which confused the Lancastrians, who thought they were in St. Albans - as they were.

Richard, of course, was very small, but he was just the right size to run between men's legs and stab them in the groin through the gaps in their armour. In no time at all he had killed the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Clifford, and the Duke of Somerset in just this fashion. Whereupon the enemy lost heart and surrendered, much to Richard's disappointment. He had really enjoyed stabbing those lords and now wanted to stab Henry VI.

His father forbade this. York was now quite content because Somerset was dead, and he and his friends were in a position to force the King to allow them to form his government. When Richard had a tantrum over this decision, York gave him a severe ticking-off and sent him to bed without supper.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The True History of King Richard III - part 1

This is something I have wanted to write for a long time. I did think about doing it as a book, but in the end I have decided to make it a serial on this Blog. Of course, it is all based on the best sources (More, Shakespeare, Weir) apart from the bits I make up. Well, if Sir Thomas, a saint, could make things up about Richard, so can I. And you get all this free...

Fotheringhay Castle October 1452.

The Duchess of York - aka the Rose of Raby - was not feeling very rose like. Unsurprising, as she had been pregnant for two whole years. I mean, you know how big some women get after nine months, so after two years she was big. With a capital B. And awkward, and uncomfortable, and all the rest of it. She was also bored with receiving the physicians and midwives who had travelled from all over Christendom to inspect her. Because you see, the word had got around. No one had ever known a woman be pregnant for two years before. Some thought it impossible. But here she was.

It was all the more amazing in that Thomas of York - who had sadly died - had been born in either 1450 or 1451. No one could quite remember when, not even the Duchess. But somehow this other baby had remained in her womb and continued to grow. Eventually a particularly learned physician - a Saracen with a beard and a crescent on his robes - suggested that maybe this new child was a sort of twin who had somehow been retained. However, he admitted he had not seen anything like it, not even in Damascus.

The Duchess was beyond caring. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the labour eventually began. And it went on a long, long time. It was lucky that the Saracen doctor was handy, as they ended up having to cut poor Duchess Cecily open, and usually when they did this in those days the mother was already dead. And if not she soon would be. But so skilled was the doctor that not only did Cecily live, she survived until she was quite old. What's more, her husband was even able to persuade her to have another child, a daughter called Ursula, who only stayed in the womb for the usual nine months. What marvellous chaps these Saracen physicians were!

Anyway, to return to the baby of 2nd October 1452 - he had a full set of hair and a full set of teeth. And the women crowded round the bed, who were all capable of foreseeing the future, said that he was going to bite the world. And when the Countess of Warwick - who was there in her role as amateur midwife - opened the baby's fist, she found that he was clutching a little silver dagger, which he'd be using to stab his mother for the past two years. No wonder she'd had such an uncomfortable pregnancy!

So they took him along to the big church next to the castle, and baptised him with the name of Richard. This was his father's name, and they chose it because he looked just like the Duke of York, which none of the other children did, as they took after their mother's side, the big blond Nevilles. Because of course no Plantagenet had ever been big, or blond, in all the years since 1154. York was a bit shorter than most Nevilles and had darkish hair.

Naturally, he peed in the font. The baby that is, not the Duke of York. Luckily the Duke was the patron of the church, so none of the priests made a big fuss. Instead they went off to the castle in procession and had a big feast, with boars' heads and stuff. And people threw bones over their shoulders and spat on the floor.

The Duchess had hers on a tray, as she was still a bit sore.

Friday, 30 January 2015

TIA Greyhound and Lurcher Rescue

Tia has a new website

This is a very worthy charity and any support from you will be welcome. Some of the photos on the website are, however, not for the faint-hearted, and reflect the abuse some beautiful greyhounds suffer. But the site is not all like that - there is positive stuff as well, because Tia is all about rescuing these dogs and finding them good and loving homes where possible. A few have to stay at Tia because they are too traumatised (or otherwise unsuitable) to live with a family.