Category Archives: General History

“The Borgias” vs. “Borgia” – Which was better?

“Borgia” vs. “The Borgias”

Canal+ vs. Showtime

Which was better?

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

I was very excited when Showtime announced that it had been working with Michael Hirst, of “The Tudors” and “Elizabeth I” to produce a show about the Borgia family, because I knew it would be visually beautiful. Nobody does costumes, sets and props better than Hirst. His actors are always top-notch, and this was no exception, with the inclusion of Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI.

Between the first and second seasons of the Showtime production, I signed up for Netflix Streaming service. I saw a production called “Borgia,” and thought it was Hirst’s. It was not. A completely different approach to the story of the Borgia family, it was produced by Canal+, a European company. It was and still is amazing.

The actual Borgias were a Spanish family, and when Rodrigo’s uncle became Pope Calixtus III he was made into a Cardinal. In 1492 he became pope himself, taking the name Alexander VI. He was popular with the common people, but deeply resented by the clergy, and his family was hated. He had at least six children, including the four that both shows represent, with a few more that are uncertain with later mistresses. Rumors spread about him and his children, including that he slept with his daughter Lucrezia and was the father of her children. The worst and most continually pervasive rumor was that his son Cesare killed his brother Juan because they were both sleeping with their sister and grew jealous. Cesare was deeply hated, known for his leaving a position as a Cardinal to attempt military campaigns, which killed him in the end. He was known to be cruel and unbending, harsh and arrogant, and may have been the inspiration for Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” as the two were friends. He was a patron of Leonardo da Vinci, who dreamed up weapons for him.

Cesare is more of the main character in both series, and with good reason. There is more information about him, and he is a very interesting character to use with as a writer. Pope Alexander is the next primary character, then Lucrezia and the rest of the family and their friends. Some historical information both shows got right, and some both got wrong.

When it came to casting, both shows seemed to have different objectives. Showtime’s series went after the best actors they could find for the parts, wither the actors resembled the portraits of the actual people or not. For example, the real Alexander was a large man, both in height and weight, but Irons is a thin man, and bares no resemblance to the pope. Every character was played with an English accent. Canal+ seems to have focused on appearance first. Each character looks like the portraits and other sources we have which show the appearances of these people. As for the accents, the producers of Canal+’s series pointed out that at that time Rome was a melting pot. They hired actors from all over and allowed them to, mostly, keep their accents. This works well in the Vatican and on the streets, but not so in the Borgia family. Rodrigo is played by an American, as was Jofre, the youngest; Cesare is played by an Irishman who takes an English accent; Juan was French; Lucrezia was Russian; their mother was the only one played by a Spaniard even though she was actually an Italian.

When it comes to the supporting cast, Canal+ covers them well. It presents the full compliment of cardinals, dukes, clergy, mistresses and friends, again with an array of accents. In Showtime’s production these are given only a cursory glance. We know that Alessandro Farnese is the brother of the pope’s mistress, Julia, but other than a few brief scenes we never see him. Farnese also became a pope, Paul III, and had a lifelong mistress named Silvia Ruffini and many children and grandchildren. We see him in an episode of “The Tudors” with the cardinals and his grandson, but in “The Borgias” we barely know who he is.

Lucrezia’s first husband and marriage are very misrepresented by Showtime, and more accurately shown by Canal+. She was only 13 when she was married to Giovanni Sforza, an illegitimate member of the Milanese family. Showtime has him taking Lucrezia to his home, where he rapes and beats her until she runs away. The reality is that she never left Rome, and the marriage was later annulled due to lack of consummation, which is shown by Canal+.

The final very important secondary character to be altered by Showtime and correctly represented by Canal+ was the “villain” Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere. Showtime has him running all over Europe, constantly looking for ways to kill the pope, who he resents for getting the papal throne which he believed he was due. While Della Rovere was never friends with Alexander, shortly after his election they began to work together, and he stayed in Rome. He was a political adversary, not a terrorist. After Alexander’s death, Cesare worked with Della Rovere and helped him become Pope Julius II. Canal+ shows them going from anger to friendship, which is never achieved by Showtime. In both shows he is an active homosexual, which he may have been.

Alexander himself is played better by John Doman, even though is not as talented an actor as Jeremy Irons. Beyond his physical similarity to the actual Alexander, Doman plays the pope as a politically active, conniving man who has one singular purpose, to further the causes of his own family and his friends. Irons plays him as a mainly innocent man, who is bent by the wind of his family’s actions, nearly clueless as to the cruelty they inflict. In the first season he seems surprised that the other cardinals do not like him. In Canal+’s production we see more of who Alexander was, because the series opens with Rodrigo in his position as Vice-Chancellor for the previous pontiff, Pope Innocent VIII, who then dies and opens the path for him. Showtime starts with the election, so we only see Rodrigo as Alexander.

Cesare is a very different man in both series, and this is one place where I think that Showtime excels. Firstly, they correctly place Cesare as the eldest of Rodrigo’s children with Vannozza de Cattanei. I do not know why Canal+ swapped him and Juan in birth order, except perhaps because it seems odd that the elder brother would be forced to go into the church while the younger would carry a title. It only makes sense once you realize that Cesare was not the eldest son of Alexander, and that their family was one built on the church. The eldest son was Pedro Luis, from Rodrigo’s relationship with an unknown mistress, as well as the eldest daughters Isabella and Girolama. They remained in Spain, and Pedro Luis had the title of Duke of Gandia, which was passed to Juan upon his death.

In Canal+’s show, the Cesare of the first season is whining, tortured and weak. He acts out of desperation and lives in regret, constantly complaining and committing harsh acts of penitence for his previous actions. In the second season, now seeing the way to free himself from the church, he becomes more calculating and less reactionary, and the true hardness of the actual Cesare begins to show. In Showtime’s production, Cesare is constantly calculating, willing to do anything at anytime so that he can further his and his family’s interests. He makes the harsh choices without regret, owning everything he has done. In my opinion, this cold and brutal man is more in line with the historical Cesare.

Lucrezia is a different woman in both shows. In Canal+’s production, she is just as calculating and cruel as her brothers, in some cases worse than they are. In Showtime’s she is a gentle, innocent girl who just wants equality with her brothers. The real Lucrezia had as much political savvy as her brothers, and knew how to position herself and her family to their benefit. She was the subject of many, many rumors, including affairs and illegitimate children, which are not believed to be actually hers. I believe she is more like Canal+’s character and less like Showtime’s.

There is one major plot point difference between the two shows. While the siblings in Canal+’s show flirt and proclaim their love, physical love nearly happens once, but it does not go far and none of the children are lovers. Showtime decided to take the rumor of Lucrezia and Cesare being lovers and make it real. In the 3rd season, they sleep together, and act like lovers at all times afterward.

While the costumes and sets for the Showtime production were beautiful, Canal+’s were a bit more honest. When you see the cardinals in Canal+’s show, their robes are different, varying colors and fabrics, which is more realistic. Not every cardinal was wealthy, and some may not have been able to afford the fabric dyed as richly as others, nor of materials of equal luxury. They seemed to have used fewer costumes and jewelry, and you see the same gowns repeatedly, which is also more honest. Even the very wealthy could not afford to only wear a garment once. The makeup is very natural, and I was surprised to learn that many of the characters are wearing wigs- the quality is very good, and it’s hard to pick out who is wearing one without already knowing. The only character whose hair I do not like is Lucrezia, who is played by an actress with red hair when she was a blonde.

In the end we will have three seasons of both shows, but because Canal+’s moves much faster I hope that we will have the total story of the family, at least to the point of Alexander’s death, if not after. Showtime pulled the plug on “The Borgias” close to the end of the 3rd season, and the story was never really finished. I have wondered if their choice to give credence the incest rumor led to the downfall of the viewers and support for the show.

Both programs use nudity and violence, but Canal+ does not make the violence humorous, nor the nudity illicit. It uses more nudity, and nearly every actor in the production has removed their clothes, but it is properly situational, and natural bodies are celebrated. The violence is brutal, but very realistic and accurate. There are several criminal executions, which I cannot watch because they are exactly as they were done at the time.

Each show chose a different culprit for the murder of Juan Borgia. I will not give it away, but as the murder was never solved, I like the direction Canal+ took for its creativity alone. Both show Lucrezia having an affair with a boy, who impregnates her and is killed, in Showtime’s by Juan and in Canal+ by Cesare. This did not happen, though there was a rumor that she had an affair with Pedro Calderone, shown in Canal+’s show, but while the rumors say that Giovanni Borgia was her son, it is believed that he was in fact Alexander’s son.

Both shows have wonderful opening titles. The music used in the first season of “Borgia” is an outstanding piece of work in its own right, and the second season and all seasons of “The Borgias” have wonderful music as well. In the first season of “The Borgias” several pieces from “The Tudors” and other Hirst productions were mixed in with famous paintings that had been slightly altered, which I found both lazy and distracting. You see Henry VIII stroke Anne Boleyn’s neck, and all I could think was that Hirst needed filler. The first season of “Borgia” contains a bit of nudity, the heaving chest of Julia Farnese, but it works so well with the music and show to not be offensive. I have to give the edge to Canal+.

So, in the end, which is the better show? They are equally inaccurate, in different ways. Just as Showtime gave us a show that was practically rose-colored, Canal+ gave us a show that was gritty and dark. In the end, it is Canal+’s production that I watch over and over again, which I enjoy every time. I cannot wait for the 3rd season to come to Netflix, so I can watch the end of the story.

Both shows are available on Netflix Streaming, and are available on DVD.

My main sources for the history were:

Bradford, Sarah. “Lucrezia Borgia.” 2004. Viking, New York.

Hollingsworth, Mary. “The Borgia Chronicles; 1414-1572.” 2011. Metro Books, New York.

And my husband, who found this family perpetually fascinating and devoted much study to them.

 

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Could Roland de Veleville’s Death Have Influenced the Execution of Anne Boleyn?

Anne Boleyn was executed on May 19, 1326. That she was executed at all is one of the reasons we remember her and King Henry VIII so well. Before this, unwanted queens had been sent away or forced to go into nunneries, as evidenced by Louis XI of France’s first wife, Joan, and Henry’s own attempts to divorce Katherine of Aragon by sending her away. The change in personality and behavior that Henry exhibited just prior to and after Anne’s execution have become a very hotly debated topic- was he justified because she was cheating on him? Did the fall from his horse damage his brain and cause his changes? What sparked such a venomous hatred?

I have one idea which may not have been thought of before. Roland de Veleville died the year prior, in June of 1535, as evidenced by his replacement as Constable of Beaumaris Castle with Sir Henry Norris, a man executed as one of Anne Boleyn’s lovers.

Even if we ignore the evidence that Roland was Henry’s illegitimate older brother, he was a man who had considerable influence on the king. His words were enough of a threat to Henry’s counselors that he was sent to Fleet for speaking against them. He was often in the personal presence of the king, despite his “criminal” mouth. He had an unparalleled and hard to understand connection with Henry.

That connection started in Henry’s childhood, as Roland lived in the royal apartments and was a dominant figure in Henry VII’s personal life. He personally attended on Henry VIII, and was part of his entourage at some of the most important points of the young king’s life, including the Battle of the Spurs and the Field of Cloth of Gold. He mourned the loss of infant Prince Henry with the royal house. Even though he had been sent to Wales in 1509 (which I have my own theory about), he was never far from the king’s mind, and was consistently called back to court.

His influence on Henry VIII cannot be understated. Even though we have no information on it, I cannot believe that Henry took Roland’s death lightly. If we re-insert their family connection, his death becomes even more of a tragedy for the king. Roland was his last living brother, and since his sister Margaret was in Scotland and his sister Mary had died in 1533, Roland was his last sibling at court.

Roland’s opinion of Anne Boleyn and Henry’s denouncement of the Catholic Church are not known. Having spent so much time in the company of Henry VII could have made him a Catholic supporter, and since he had known Katherine of Aragon since she arrived in England he must have had a good relationship with her. But he does not seem to have been a conservative man, having lived with his wife prior to marriage and was known to be a gambler and drinker. Having no son of his own, he may have understood Henry’s drive to marry Anne and further their family. Or he may have not supported Henry’s turn from the Pope and casting aside of Katherine, and it may have contributed to his infrequent trips to court before his death. In either case, his opinion and counsel may have been valued by the king, even if it wasn’t in support for his actions.

With Roland’s death, Henry was very much alone. While we see Roland as a fun-loving and hot-tempered jouster, perhaps Henry’s older brother was a stabilizing influence on his life. Roland spent more time with Henry VII in a much more familiar way than Henry did, and perhaps he learned more of that style of governance from him, which he passed along to Henry. Henry called Roland to his side often, and especially at times where he was in need of counsel. Then Roland died. This must have been a shock to Henry’s stability.

Most of this is speculative, but based on information we do know. If Roland was a treasured counselor who Henry relied upon, his death may have sent Henry into an emotional and moral tailspin. Not only did he no longer have the advice or opinion of his brother, he no longer had anyone to be held accountable to. Roland may have been the last tie to Henry VII, and advice similar to what their father would have given. What would his brother have said if he had executed Anne while he was still alive? Would he have told the king to send her away, and been disgusted at the idea of killing her? Would she have been treated differently?

We may never know the real reason Henry turned so suddenly and violently against his wife, but this new idea may give a little more insight into the mind of the king who killed the woman he worked so hard to have.

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Game of Thrones and English History

To mark the occasion of the season 4 premier of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I have decided to write down some of the general comparisons of the plot with English medieval society and history.

Game of Thrones is an awesome television show, based off of books written by George R. R. Martin, which my husband tells me are awesome (he has read them multiple times; I have not). The characters stir up emotion in the audience. You cry for the characters you like when they are killed and hate the evil characters with a fiery passion. With dragons, magic and living dead people the show is soundly in the realm of fantasy fiction. But there are hints of actual history alive in the show.

When the show opens, the first things we are treated to is the map of Westeros, a fictional country bordered on three sides with ocean and to the north with ice. The map itself is very similar to the map of the English Isle, if you remove the North, though Westeros seems to be much, much bigger. The Wall, where the men of the Night’s Watch protect the south from enemies coming down from the north, is similar to the boarder with Scotland, where for several hundred years skirmishes and battles broke out to keep the Scots from invading England, and vice-a-versa. London is located where King’s Landing is. The Isle of Mann is located where the Iron Islands are. Even the English Channel is similar to “The Narrow Sea,” and the cities where Daenerys Targaryen travels remind me of the different duchy’s of France, though the culture and language are more like the Middle East.

In Westeros each noble house is easily identified by their “sigil,” a badge worn on clothes or held as banners, which makes all the “bannermen” easily identifiable. They are easy to compare with both coats of arms and medieval banners. Even the sigil animals are similar to those used in Britain. England is a Lion, since the first Plantagenet king Henry II, while Scotland is a unicorn and Wales is Dragon. Edward IV used a sun, Richard III used a boar, Richard II was a stag. Stags, wolves, dragons, lions, and more animals are seen in Westeros. The “bannermen” are the lords who are sworn to uphold another lord’s cause in times of war, which is exactly what English nobles were expected to do throughout the medieval period.

While watching the show it is easy to see how the armor and fashion which are taking their cues from medieval England, as is the food, boats and litter carriages. The only character which wears clothing in a more modern style is Margaery Tyrell, as it is way too revealing and even Cersei Lannister complains about it showing too much skin. The citizens of Westeros have the same entertainments and work as medieval society, such as needlepoint, music and tournaments. They engage in warfare that is exactly like what was around during the medieval period, except without the “wild fire” that killed so many at the “Battle of the Blackwater.”

Most characters have a version of the English accent, some with an Irish or Scottish twang to it, and in the case of the beautiful, red-headed Wildling soldier Ygritte, my husband just informed me that my guess that she was using a Yorkshire accent was correct. Listening to the actual accents of the actors in interviews is enlightening, especially in regards to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who plays Jaime Lannister, because even though you hear no hint of it when he is acting, he is actually Dutch and talks with a strong Dutch accent when he is being himself. There are other accents of course, such as the German accent of Shay, Sansa Stark’s maid and Tyrion Lannister’s lover, as she is an immigrant to Westeros. Much like London, the highest variety of accents is in King’s Landing, because it’s a bastion of trade, immigration and class distinctions.

King Robert’s Rebellion mirrors the rebellion of Henry IV against Richard II, and the current warfare Westeros is going through is very similar to the Wars of the Roses. While Henry VI was not as unpopular, distanced and hated by the people as Joffrey, Rob Stark, the “King of the North,” is very similar to Edward IV, a younger man fighting because his father was killed (though in battle, not execution) and he believes he is the rightful king. Balon Greyjoy had called himself the “king of the Iron Islands,” and prior to 1485 the Stanley family had been the Kings of the Isle of Mann, with Thomas Stanley downgrading the honor to “Lord of Mann” so as not to offend his stepson, King Henry VII. In England there were fewer sides, but there were many battles and the interchanging of nobles, titles and the throne.

I am not sure how much of these similarities are intentional, but the more I start to ponder the more I find. Have you seen any that I have missed in this post? Please leave a comment and let me know!

If you haven’t seen Game of Thrones yet I urge you to give it a try. There is a reason it is so wildly popular, even though it’s a costumed drama that has no problem killing off its main characters and is heavy in both violence and sex. That’s because the plots, the characters, the sets, the special effects, the romance and the drama are unmatched. It airs on Sunday nights at 9pm EST, on HBO. If you can, watch it in HD because the costumes, sets and and visual textures can be missed in standard definition.

The show is based on a series of books, collectively known as “A Song of Ice and Fire,” written by George R. R. Martin. Five are currently available in bookstores, A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance for Dragons. There are two more novels to still be written and released. The show is currently midway through the third book. We should be seeing several more seasons before we learn who will finally sit on the Iron Throne.

You can purchase the books on Amazon.

For more information, please check out A Wiki of Ice and Fire.

 

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Modern Politicians can Learn from Henry VII

This post is different than my normal posts, because I am going to talk about politics a bit. It is hard to watch what is happening in the American government and not think about how far from the law we are, and how much more freedom the English people had under a king than we Americans do now.

In the minds of most Americans the British monarchy is synonymous with King George III. We hear the title “king” and our gut reacts like George Washington’s- “It will be Mr. President.” We think our government of “for the people, by the people,” this quasi-democracy, is the best it can ever get. And why not? A little less than half of the population gets their way and we’re supposed to all be happy.

The modern politician is an amalgamation of a fast-talking snake oil salesmen and a mini-tyrant. We’ve heard Former-Mayor Bloomberg telling us that he knows what we should eat and drink and will force us to comply. We’ve heard President Obama brag about being able to write laws unilaterally because he has “a phone and a pen.” This is all acceptable to them because under their logic the people voted for them, so any action they undertake is what the people want, or at least what they signed on for, by electing that politician. And, the logic follows, if we don’t like the policies or laws that one administration creates, once their term is up we can get in a new person to undo the damage. Let’s be clear: The damage is never undone and with each consecutive bad politician the policies get worse and the law oversteps into individual rights.

The US Constitution was based on a mix of the Magna Carta and the ideas of liberty that came from the Enlightenment. A major grievance of the colonies was that parliament and the king were ignoring the rules of law set forth in the Magna Carta, saying that it only gave protections to the people who lived in the British Isle, not to the citizens in the colonies. When the war was won and the US had to make its own laws, they took a great deal of direction from the Magna Carta itself. It was there that limits on taxation were first penned. It was there that personal protection from the government originated. It was there that due process under the law became standard. This comes back to the difference between a Limited Monarchy verses an Absolute Monarchy and how that difference effects the lives of the citizens of a country. France was an Absolute Monarchy and its people starved. England was a Limited Monarchy and its people thrived and grew wealthy. The Magna Carta, and the Constitution, both limited the powers and rights of the government, not of the people. A king is the personal embodiment of a government, and though not elected still has to keep the needs of the people in his focus or lose their support.

My plea for politicians to act more like Henry VII.

No, Henry was not a greedy miser who taxed the common people nearly to death. It was not possible for a king to enact taxes that were not approved of by parliament, and Henry was not in a solid position with parliament. There were still Yorkists who wanted him gone and dead, and other nobles who wanted to take the throne. Without parliament’s approval a king could not collect taxes, and the taxes that they approved had to fulfill very strict criteria. Unlike our modern system of taxes, taxation under the Magna Carta had to be for a specific purpose- a war or building project for example- and had to have a specific start and stop date. Taxes could not just give the monarch more money to spend however he wished, and could not be open-ended. Henry VII could not get around those rules, not even to attack France, the normal enemy of the English. When he asked for the taxes to do so parliament refused. And he had no choice but to work with them or give up. He couldn’t just say that all Englishmen must give him this much money every year indefinitely.

So how did Henry get such a full treasury, if he couldn’t tax the people in such a way? He was a shrewd businessman who invested his private money to support trade, which increased the amount of tariffs the crown received from such trade. He also managed the royal lands better than his predecessors, taking a personal interest in the management and cutting out waste. At the end of his reign the royal lands had produced 10,000-pounds under Edward IV, compared with 42,000-pounds per annum.

There was an increase in business due to the increase in security Henry VII fostered. He reigned in relative peace, while Richard III, Edward IV and Henry VI all reigned under violent civil war. This peace created a safer situation on the roads and on trade routes. As well, Henry VII extended the crown’s justice in the realm, so that disputes could be resolved quickly and fairly in his name. Security for the people breeds more income for the government.

“But wait!” I can hear you say. “He made lots of money by creating laws which forced noblemen to pay fines for keeping standing armies and made them bond each other, so he could get rich!” It may be a surprise to hear, but Henry VII did not create those laws, nor did he enact them often. The laws against Retaining and for supplying “Recognizances” were on the books prior to Henry’s reign and were used by both Edward IV and Henry VI. The laws against retaining had to do with noblemen paying for and keeping standing armies in times of peace. In war time every noblemen must bring an army to the field or else pay for it later, but in peace time they could not keep that army to fight among themselves with other nobles or be threatening the king. Under Henry VI and Edward IV it was illegal to do so, but with the constant warfare it wasn’t as enforced as it should have been.

“Recognizances” were a different system. One nobleman was found to be a “risk” to the crown and country, so one of his noble friends would promise to pay a sum of money to the crown if the first nobleman was found to be guilty of treason. If his friend turned on the king in rebellion the nobleman would have to pay the crown for the offense. In a time of warfare this system could have provided a nice income for the crown while giving the nobles a reason not to commit treason. But just as the laws against retaining were rarely enforced, prior to 1485 “recognizances” were rarely used as well.

It is true that Henry used them more, but he did not fill his coffers with these fines, taking an income from them that was only slightly higher than Edward IV’s. Because he was still very precarious on the throne, Henry preferred to have the noblemen feel indebted to him. When a nobleman was found guilty of breaking these laws the penalty would be levied by the courts and was expected to be handed over to the crown. But Henry forgave more of these offenses than he collected on, preferring to seem generous and forgiving and to give the noblemen an example of fair treatment. By forgiving the debts Henry made the noblemen thankful to him for their continued prosperity, and more likely to defend him if rebellion did stir up. He appeared to be merciful and gracious in his actions, and gained more support for his seat on the throne.

Henry VII knew that you catch more flies with honey. By taking actions to keep money in circulation and increasing trade with investment and peace in his realm, Henry gained more revenue than he could have if he had been allowed to increase taxation with a heavy fist. His time as a “beggar earl” in exile made him thrifty and never wanted to be at the mercy of others’ monetary support again. He made the mechanics of government more efficient and cut waste, and knew how to encourage the country to make money for themselves, which in turn made money for him in legal and fair ways.

This is something that is lost on our modern government, who believe that increasing fines and taxes will increase their own funds. It won’t. Instead of cutting waste and operating at a minimum expense they continue to pay for and encourage waste. We focus on things like the fact that some people make very large sums of money while others do not, instead of focusing on how high the standard of living is for even the very poor. The politicians promise to make income equal, instead of focusing on what we already have and how blessed we are. Our lives today are better than Henry VII’s- heat, AC, plumbing, TV.

Judge John Fortescue knew that a limited government made the people wealthy and happy, and that absolute government strangled the people, keeping them poor and miserable. Somehow this message has been ignored. And only by returning to it can we continue to have the freedom and standard of living that made this country a destination for the “troubled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Resource:

Grant, Alexander. “Henry VII.” Lancaster Pamphlet. 1985. Routledge: London & New York.

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William Hastings, the Man Richardians Want to Forget

When I have spoken with Richardians about Henry VII they often point out the innocents who were executed during his reign. One name is always brought up- Edward, the 17th Earl of Warwick. Warwick was the son of George, Duke of Clarence, and grandson of Richard Neville. He had spent most of his life as a prisoner. Under Henry VII Warwick was found to be guilty of treason because he had given his support to Perkin Warbeck. The 24-year-old earl was executed on November 28, 1499. He is believed to have been a simple boy and the charges against him may have been dubious, but in the end Warwick was too risky of a prisoner and had to be executed to make Henry and his family safe on the throne and prevent the country from returning to the days of civil war.

“Richard never killed anyone innocent like that!” his fans have often exclaimed, while we all know that Henry VII did just that. Of course there is one name that will cause them to look very uncomfortable: Baron William Hastings.

The death of Hastings is a little questionable, but there are some things we do know about what happened that day. When his friend and cousin-by-marriage Edward IV died suddenly, Hastings promised to do everything in his power to assist the next king, Edward IV’s son Edward, now known as Edward V, and make sure that he was safe on the throne. With his brother now dead, Richard of Gloucester had his nephews confined to the Tower, where they were never seen again.

It is not clear where Hastings’ loyalties actually lay. While he was a loyal and true best friend to the now-deceased king, when Richard seized the throne he did so with the support of Hastings. Richard kept Hastings in his seat on the Privy Council, and most accounts of the days before the day he died show that there was no rift between the two men.

What we do know is this:

On the 13th of June, 1483 Richard called a meeting of the privy counsel to the Tower, where he was residing. Hastings came in and by some accounts the meeting went well and Hastings left with the other council members without incident. Some accounts show that as the meeting came to an end Richard turned on Hastings, accusing him and other council members of working with Elizabeth Woodville’s family through Edward IV’s former mistress (who had become Hasting’s mistress) to restore her son to the succession. Hastings was allowed to leave while of the other members of the council were arrested.

While the activities inside of the Tower are up to debate, most agree with what happened when the meeting ended. While the true motive is unknown, when Hastings stepped out of the Tower onto the Green the guards grabbed him and hastily removed his head. No charges were given against him and no arrest was attempted. He was executed very suddenly, and the real reason for it is unknown.

I have heard Richardians say that he made Richard mad, and that’s why he was executed. Of course that doesn’t sound like the makings of a good king, since under the Magna Carta no monarch can end a citizen’s life without charges and a trial. Though some have said that the trial of the Earl of Warwick was a sham, he still had charges and a trial. By executing Hastings in such a way, Richard not only became a tyrant but frightened all the other lords and made them question their own safety. If Richard did not think it was necessary to give someone due process before their execution, there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t kill anyone else at any time. More frightening, there was no reason to believe that Richard would follow any of the laws that were supposed to be imposed on him by Magna Carta, which made him even more dangerous. Is it any wonder that so many lords had no problem turning on him in 1483 and again in 1485?

My apologies to any Richardian who thinks that this is an unfair assessment. In my opinion Richard was NOT a good king for no other reason than he thought he was above the law. Compare that to Henry VII, who went through with trials of people he believed to be threats against him and went to Parliament to raise funds to go to war. This show a healthy respect for law, even if it forced Henry to undertake actions he may have found superfluous or unnecessary. Richard clearly did not have any respect for the law, and if he had been king longer, I don’t doubt we would have seen more deviations from the rule of law in the rest of his reign.

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A Tudor Enigma: Roland de Veleville

Roland de Veleville was born c. 1474 in the duchy of Brittany. While the identity of his mother is still unknown, she appears to have been related to the Counts of Durtal, who lived in the town of Nantes. He came to England at some point between 1485 and 1494, when he participated in a joust. During the reign of Henry VII he lived comfortably, but was kept in a slightly extended form of adolescence. Under Henry VIII he became his own man and started a family. In 1967 Professor S.B. Chrimes wrote a short paper that was published in the Welsh Historical Journal. In this paper Chrimes claimed he had disproved the centuries-old belief that de Veleville was Henry VII (Henry Tudor)’s illegitimate son. In the following two decades this paper influenced historians who were writing about Henry VII, because if Chrimes wrote it then it must be accurate. De Veleville was written out of the history, only beginning to regain attention and time in the 1990s. Chrimes’ paper has now been widely discredited, but the question he rose continues to influence attitudes towards de Veleville.

I first stumbled into the story of Roland de Veleville’s life in the fall of 2011 when I was researching Henry VII’s time in exile. Quickly I became fascinated with him. Who was this man, whose life was so extraordinary? Where did he fit in? The information on him in secondary sources is limited but very illuminating. Is it a coincidence that our limited information on the identity of his mother’s family shows that they may have lived in the same town that Henry Tudor was being housed in around the time that de Veleville would have been conceived? Though the exact date of de Veleville’s birth is not known, based on his age when he was active in the Tudor court places it about 1474.

At the beginning of October, 1473, Henry Tudor was moved to Nantes. Early in 1474 he was separated from his uncle, Jasper Tudor. His English servants were replaced with Bretons, and he was moved to the care of the Marshall of Brittany, Jean IV de Rieux, at his house in Largoet. Henry’s accommodations in the Marshall’s house were on the 6th floor, and even though he had always been a prisoner now he became more of one. Could it be that Henry had found a Breton girlfriend, and she was pregnant? The debate about the identity of de Veleville’s mother has pointed to the Admiral of France, Jean de Quelenhec’s wife’s family, so if Henry had started a relationship with a relative of hers it would have been motive to move him away from that area.

Please keep in mind that at this point Henry did not have any prospects. From 1471 until 1483, his mother worked to have his lands and his title, Earl of Richmond, returned to him and for him to be guaranteed safe passage back to Wales from King Edward IV. There were several times when this offer was extended to Henry but he never accepted it. His place in the line to the throne was not certain until 1483, when Richard III took the throne, declared his nephews and nieces bastards, and the “Princes in the Tower” went missing. In 1474 Henry was a beggar- a 17-year-old man without a title and without income, and no sure way to gain either back. That he would have remained a virgin until he was married night when he28-years-old is not only incomprehensible but very much against the times. Noble men without bastards were seen as abnormal- even his uncle Jasper had at least one bastard, and he spend the better part of twenty years in exile as an attainted traitor.

The unbelievable part of de Veleville’s life started after Henry of Richmond became Henry VII, following the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. While there is no proof that de Veleville was in England at this time, we know that he had started living at Westminster before 1494, when he participated in a tournament to celebrate his half-brother Henry’s ascension to Duke of York, though some records show that he may have been in the king’s house by 1488. Under Henry VII he had only one official address: he lived in the palace of Westminster, where he was housed in the royal apartments. He was not noble, and was not given any titles. He was knighted after the Battle of Blackheath in 1497, but never achieved any title higher than knight. He was given a pension of 40 marks per year by the king. Henry VII is known for being notoriously cautious when it came to money, never spending more than he could, to the point of being called a “miser.” This makes the gift even more astonishing. While living with the royal family, de Veleville had no job or position in the house.

The unofficial job that de Veleville seems to have filled was that of a royal companion, spending his time with the king. He is recorded as being an “obsessive jouster,” which made him into an excellent soldier and later commander, and practice seems to have been how he spent most of his time. He went hunting and hawking with the king and was permitted to enter the falcon mew and interact with the royal birds. He seems to have spent the rest of his time gambling and drinking, and his income would have provided ample funds for this. He does not seem to have been a good businessman, and did not try to gain property until later in his life, and had not built up an estate by the time of death. It would seem that never having to pay for anything involved with his upkeep for 24 years did not give him a sound financial education.

His participation in the joust in 1494 has larger implications, because he was not yet a knight. Only knights and noblemen could participate in a tournament, and for him to be allowed to participate. That the actual peers were willing to participate with him shows that they knew how high he really was, that they would not see it as in insult to their honor to be forced to joust with him.

De Veleville held some notable positions in the public ceremonies of the royal house. He attended the funeral of Henry VII, and he was one of the mourners at the funeral and interment of Henry VIII’s son, Henry, in 1511. He fought in the Battle of the Spurs, and was in the royal party at the Field of Cloth of Gold in Calais in 1520.

In 1509, Henry VII died and his son Henry VIII was crowned, Roland de Veleville had not moved past the position he held since coming to the Tudor court. In July of 1509 he was created the Constable of Beaumaris Castle in North Anglesey, Wales. It is unclear if this position was initially granted by Henry VII but signed to law by Henry VIII after their father’s death. This was de Veleville’s first official job, and it came with it the second-highest income in North Wales (the highest went to Charles Brandon). When parliament tried to block the payment of both of these pensions, Henry VIII reinstated them. De Veleville moved from the king’s court to Beaumaris, where he lived for the rest of his life, only leaving when Henry VIII ordered him to court or to war. This position comes at a key moment, because de Veleville was given the mechanism to leave court right as his half-brother became king and wouldn’t want an older bastard brother hanging around, despite their affection for each other.

This affection between brothers has been recorded several times. De Veleville was imprisoned for several months in 1517 for “slandering the king’s Council.” He was released when he wrote an apology (though it seems to have taken him some time to agree to do so), but his release was contingent upon him “attending upon the king and not departing without license.” De Veleville having been ordered to stay in the household of the king until given permission to leave means that he had to stay with the king, at court, until the king released him so he could return home to Wales. It is a weird way to punish a criminal, but the crime itself is one that shows how close he was to the king. Keep in mind that he is not a peer of the realm, but his speaking out against the members of the king’s council was enough of a threat to their positions at court to warrant an arrest and imprisonment. This means that he had a close enough connection to the king to be able to influence him and damage other courtiers. This is not the kind of influence you would expect from a random knight in Wales, and shows that he had a connection to the king beyond his position as Constable.

After de Veleville’s death in 1535, Henry VIII is recorded as remembering him fondly. In 1544 when Henry was calling in troops for a campaign in France he was told that no men would be coming from North Wales. He is said to have to have been surprised, because when de Veleville was Constable he was able to bring in a great number of men and leave enough to maintain the castle and the port. This is shows their closeness, because it is the only known record of this king commenting on the skills of a knight. Henry VIII was also not known to miss anyone after their deaths. His recorded statements of lament for courtiers, advisors and even wives who had died are very few. For him to be looking back at de Veleville’s service and lament the loss of him as a commander is one of the most unique things about either of the men.

Based on all the evidence we have currently, it seems more likely than not that Roland de Veleville was the bastard son of King Henry VII. There are far too many odd coincidences, and he was positioned way too close to the throne to say that he was just “lucky,” or that he was a recipient of royal favor like the sons of of fallen men that Henry VII owed a debt to. His favor remained for his entire life, into the reign of Henry VIII, with whom he had a personal and affectionate relationship. It is a shame that the paper in 1967 has corrupted de Veleville’s memory, because he was an extraordinary and fascinating man.

Further Reading:

Chrimes, S.B. (June 1967). Sir Roland de Veleville. Welsh History Review, Vol. 3, no. 3. Pages 287-289.

Cook, E. Thornton. (1928). Her Majesty: The Romance of the Queens of England, 1066-1910. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company.

Jones, Philippa. (2009). The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards. New York: Metro Books.

Milne, Graham. A Man of Kingly Line and of Earl’s Blood. Retrieved from: http://www.happywarrior.org/genealogy/roland.htm#21

Robinson, W.R.B. (June 1991). Sir Roland Veleville and the Tudor Dynasty: A Reassessment. Welsh Historical Review, Vol. 15, no. 3. Pages 351-367.

Skidmore, Chris. Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors. (2013). London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Soden, Iain. (2013). Royal Exiles: From Richard the Lionheart to Charles II. Gloucester: Amberley Publishing.

Weir, Alison. (1989). Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy. London: Vintage Books.

Weir, Alison. (2013). Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World. New York: Ballantine Books.

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Jasper Tudor and Edward IV- No Love Lost Between Enemies

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Katherine Woodville and Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and Duke of Bedford

I have been re-reading the section on Jasper Tudor’s life prior to 1485 in Ralph A. Griffiths’ and Roger S. Thomas’ book, The Making of the Tudor Dynasty. I felt compelled to share some of their conclusions, because Jasper has been misrepresented in the fictional world recently.

Jasper is one of the possibly four children born to Katherine of Valois and Owen Tudor (Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur), and generally believed to be the youngest boy. He and his brother Edmund spent their youth at Barking Abbey, where they were raised as the noblemen they were. Their half-brother, King Henry VI, ennobled them with the titles Earl of Richmond and Earl of Pembroke, which made them the highest ranking earls in the country, second only to dukes.

Thomas and Griffiths have hypothesized that Henry VI was grooming his half-brothers to become his heirs if his marriage remained childless, which is an interesting idea (p. 33). Could two men who were half-Welsh and half-French claim the throne of England? It wouldn’t be the first time someone of non-Anglo blood would take the throne. However, this idea may have been pushed forward when Henry VII was king, since if his father was the heir of Henry VI after his son Edward died, that would mean that Henry was taking his father’s place as the heir to the king.

Jasper’s relationship with Richard, the 3rd Duke of York and father of Edward IV, is a stark contrast to his later relationship with the son. When Henry VI first slipped into his “waking sleep,” Richard of York wanted to be made into Regent instead of Queen Margaret of Anjou. Richard was of royal blood and a descendant of King Edward III, as was his wife. He did not want the French queen to have control of the country in her husband’s absence, and Jasper Tudor supported him in this effort, presumably because he knew that his sister-in-law was not popular with the people, nor truly capable of ruling the country by herself. Her lack of English blood only made Richard’s case stronger.

Richard and Jasper served on the King ’s Counsel together, and there are no reasons to think that their relationship was anything but pleasant. The later fissure started when Richard took up arms against Henry VI, and demanded to be made into Henry’s heir instead of Prince Edward of Lancaster. This was not a position Jasper could support, and he took up arms to support his brother. The duke was killed in battle at Wakefield in 1460. Richard’s head was put on a pike with a paper crown on him, as he was a traitor who wanted to be king. His son Edward, then the Earl of March, took up the cause of his father and was crowned in 1461.

Griffiths and Thomas make an interesting comparison between the death of Duke Richard and the execution of Owen Tudor. Edward took Owen as prisoner in 1461 after the battle of Mortimer’s Cross. Instead of being ransomed or forced to support Edward’s side, as was customary, Owen was executed. Griffiths and Thomas say that this act was revenge for the death of Duke Richard a year earlier (p. 52-53). We do know that Owen did not believe that he would be executed, and it’s said that it wasn’t until the axman moved his collar out of the way that he finally realized that he would die, saying, “That head shall lie on the stock that was wont to lie on Queen Katherine’s lap.”

Through the deaths of both of their fathers, the enmity between Edward IV and Jasper Tudor was solidified. Jasper was attainted for treason in 1461 and had his title and property confiscated by the crown. He spent the next eight years in exile, until Henry VI was restored in 1470. He went into exile again in 1471 when Edward came back to the throne and Henry VI died, but this time he took his 14-year-old nephew with him, the future Henry VII.

Jasper had a large amount of influence on the young boy. Edward IV promised that if Henry returned to Wales, he would have his title and property returned to him. The king later sweetened this deal by promising him one of Edward’s princesses as a bride. Henry’s mother , Margaret Beaufort, was involved in this exchange, and is recalled as giving her support to Edward so that her son could come back home. Henry did not accept this bargain, and until 1483 he did not leave Brittany.

I believe that Henry’s refusal to accept Edward’s terms was influenced by Jasper. Given their encounters in 1460-62, it is not a surprise that Jasper was not keen to give Edward his trust. Jasper’s attainder meant that he could never return to England, unless Edward or his successors gave him a pardon. All of the temptations given to Henry did not extend to his uncle, so Jasper would have been in exile alone if Henry had returned to Wales. I also think that Jasper would not tolerate the idea of his nephew having a place in the court of the man who killed both his grandfather and his uncle. After Edward’s death it would have been easier to accept Henry’s inclusion into the royal family, but while Edward was still alive I think that Jasper would have seen that as a betrayal of everything he had fought for and lost.

We may never know how much of Henry’s reluctance to return to Wales was due to Jasper’s influence. But the Earl of Pembroke and the York king could never have become friends. As Jasper had his nephew in his care, he could not have been eager to send the boy to a place of possible danger. If Jasper and Edward had been friends, the shape of the next 118-years would have been very different.

References:

Griffiths, Ralph A. & Roger S. Thomas. The Making of the Tudor Dynasty. 1985. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

For more information on Jasper Tudor, you can check out Debra Bayani’s blog, War of the Roses Catalogue. She is currently working on a well awaited biography of Jasper.

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