Tag Archives: War of the Roses

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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Henry Tudor, a Proud Welshman

I gotta say, I like the way Nathen thinks!

To the average member of the public, no Royal Dynasty has come to represent England and Englishness as the Tudors, a multi-generational 16th Century force that dragged England out of the bleak and dreary middle ages and into the renaissance period that enabled the Kingdom to become a superpower on the global scene. England became a mighty nation during the reign of sequential Tudors, rapidly growing in a self-assurance and assertiveness that would later blossom into the dominant British Empire under their successors. It was under this Dynasty that England broke with Rome, that the English vanquished their aggressive Spanish foe through the defeat of the infamous Armada and that the world was given the immortal playwright William Shakespeare. Arguably the most overlooked Tudor monarch is the very man who began the dynasty, Henry Tudor, that great opportunist who is arguably one of the country’s greatest overachievers. Born fatherless and…

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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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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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The White Queen- Episode 10, The Finale- Part Two

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The cast of “The White Queen,” as themselves.

 

…A continuation of White Queen Episode 10- Part One

The show’s version of the Battle of Bosworth Field has several inaccuracies in it. In the show it takes place in a forest, though quite clearly by definition it was at Bosworth Field.  The snow on the ground and the bare trees makes it look like the episode was filmed in winter. The actual Battle of Bosworth was on August 22, and there is no snow mentioned in any reports. We are shown a battle that was very small, at most two dozen men fighting, and that Henry had little support from any Englishman or Welshman. The actual estimates from the battle total almost 20,000 men, divided roughly into 5,000 for Henry, 10,000 for Richard, and about 5,000 with Thomas and William Stanley.

When Richard says that he will wear his battle crown so that “Tudor can find me,” it’s clear that they have removed the standard bearers. Bearers were important in a battle since they stood next to the king and kept his standard up so that the men knew he was alright. It was a position of great honor, and it was very dangerous. If you handled the standard you could not wield weapons. The advancement of Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, is due to his father, William Brandon, having died at Bosworth holding Henry VII’s standard, possibly cut down by Richard himself. Charles was a toddler at the time, and the king took responsibility for his upbringing as a thank-you to his father’s sacrifice.

John Howard, the 1st Duke of Norfolk has been removed as well, and his void seems to be filled by Sir Robert Brackenbury, who also died at Bosworth. After the betrayal of Buckingham, Norfolk was one of Richard’s few remaining friends, and had been raised in the peerage by the king. His death at Bosworth is considered one of the turning points to Tudor. He was the great-grandfather of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

There is debate about the location of the two Stanley armies, but the show has deleted William Stanley entirely, even though he has been referenced in dialog. The Stanley brothers were pivotal to the outcome of the battle due to the size of their armies, but nearly sat at the sides for the entire time. The actual events, as best we know from accounts, are as follows:

The battle started with Henry shooting his cannons. Richard and Henry sat towards the back of both sides, as the lords took out their regimens. Richard sees that Norfolk goes down, and begins what some historians have called a “suicide run” toward Henry. He makes it far enough to possibly kill Brandon, and Henry’s standard begins to slip. When William Stanley sees it start to go down, he starts his charge on the side of Henry. Seeing his brother go to battle, Thomas Stanley orders his charge. Richard is taken out by unknown soldiers. The battle is over, and Henry is the victor.

There is a very pretty myth that Thomas Stanley sees Richard’s battle crown on a bush, picks it up and places it on Henry’s head. Then the whole field kneels to their new king. There is no contemporary evidence of the origin of this story, but it does create a striking picture.

The fate of Richard’s body has been in the news recently, after his skeleton was discovered buried under a parking lot in Leicester. After Bosworth, Richard’s corpse was found on the field and Henry ordered that he be given a proper, Christian burial. That’s not what happened. Instead it was stripped, slung over the back of his horse (which is said to have been “limping”), and paraded around the county before being dumped into a grave in Grey Friars’ church yard. Why was he treated so badly? The stories about how he was such a great and loved king, that the hatred of him is all propaganda, is not true either. Remember the execution of Lord Hastings? It is one of the most important moments in Richard’s reign, because with that one action, the lords turned on him. They didn’t trust him, which is a separate issue than the disgust they felt if they believed that he was the one that ordered the deaths of his nephews. This enmity ran deep, so when the lords were left to deal with Richard’s burial, they wanted to disrespect him as much as they could. On a political level, showing the people his corpse ensured that nobody would claim to either be him or to rise up in his name.

This of course brings us to the show’s battle aftermath, when Margaret Beaufort comes out and orders that everyone stay on their knees, since she was now “Margaret Regina.” The insistence that everyone must bow to her, as a queen, is nonsense. Her official title at court was the Countess of Richmond and Derby (after Thomas Stanley became the Earl of Derby), and Henry bestowed on her the title “Our Lady, the King’s Mother.” She signed documents as “Margaret R”, but that may have stood for Richmond. She was an influential person at court, but while Elizabeth Woodville was there, she deferred to her, following her in processions and giving her precedence at events. She was not a monarch. After Elizabeth of York died, Margaret took over some of her duties, which should have been temporary. Once Henry remarried those duties would have been taken over by the new queen, but he didn’t marry again, so Margaret continued with them until 1509.

After the battle Henry became King Henry VII, dating his reign from the 21st of August, so that he was the monarch on the field, not Richard. He married Elizabeth of York, and the marriage grew to be one of love and support. They had four children who lived to adulthood, though the eldest, Arthur, died when he was 15. Elizabeth died almost a year later, and Henry never got over the loss. He was known for his business sense and for his thriftiness, and left his son, Henry VIII, a fortune. Henry’s reign became the age of the “Tudors,” who reigned for 118 years, and gave us two of the most well-known monarchs in English history- Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. He is the ancestor of the current royal house, through his daughter Margaret and the Stuarts. Not bad for a man who spent 14 years in exile, never knowing if he would return home or get his title and lands back!

Starz has bought the option for creating another miniseries based on Gregory’s book The White Princess. I do not know when the production will begin on it, but I look forward to seeing how that stands up to the history!

Further reading:

The Tudor Tattler- “The Tudor Tart: Elizabeth of York”

CNN- “New mystery at Richard III burial site: a coffin inside a coffin”

The Creation of Anne Boleyn- “Is Elizabeth Woodville Philippa Gregory’s Apology to Anne Boleyn?”

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The White Queen- Episode 10, The Finale- Part One

ImageThe Cast of “White Queen” in their costumes.

 

WARNING: This contains LOTS of spoilers.

This post has been cut into two parts, for ease of reading.

The episode starts with the restoration of Elizabeth Woodville to a peaceful life away from court, and Elizabeth and Cecily of York to positions in Anne Neville’s household at court. Margaret Beaufort is still under the care of her husband, Thomas Stanley, who enjoys taunting her about her possessions and the state of her rebellion. Richard III and Anne’s son, Edward, becomes sickly and dies. In the show, Anne takes his death as evidence that Richard was the one who killed the princes. Richard is not able to convince her that he is innocent. Anne falls ill after her son passes, and eventually dies at Westminster.

The show capitalizes on a budding romance between Elizabeth of York and Richard III, started before Anne has died. Richard claims that he is encouraging rumors of their affection so that Henry Tudor will be shamed and lose the support of those loyal to Elizabeth. Richard says that there is no actual love between them but we quickly see that this is not true, as Elizabeth tells Richard, “I’m in love with you,” and they start kissing. He loses his temper and throws her out of court when Anne dies, because her presence has caused rumors to circulate that the king has murdered his wife to make way for his niece, which hurts his honor.

This relationship is not a complete invention of Philippa Gregory, but very close to it. The origin of this story is from the reign of James I, based on a letter which is now long gone, so we do not know exactly what was said and how much of it was up to interpretation. Because we don’t know what it said, we are left to guess, which is what Gregory has done with this plot. If the standard of evidence we require becomes none that say it’s not true, we can make any statement and stir up doubt. I can say that when Richard III was a baby, his father dropped him and that’s what caused his spine to curve. It’s something I made up, but since you can’t say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it didn’t happen, it quickly becomes accepted as truth. In five years, students coming into college courses will ask their professors about how Richard was dropped as a baby. Enough years go by, and it’s accepted as fact.

Let me be very clear here- it is not based on any evidence we actually have. This relationship is supposed to be romantic, but it’s disturbing. The papal dispensations which were granted so that cousins can marry are twisted to include uncles and nieces, as if this could have been a viable option. It wasn’t. Since the pope did not always grant dispensations to cousins, and I can’t imagine any pope supporting the marriage of two so closely related. Oedipus has nothing on this story. As for the marriage to her, he was recorded as trying to arrange a marriage for her outside of England, and anything involving the two of them is only rumor without evidence to bolster it.

This reaches its climax when Elizabeth of York sneaks out of her mother’s house to Richard’s tent, to have sex with him. She returns and her mother smiles at her, as if she were pleased that they were now lovers. I have only one reaction to this: EW. It’s disgusting.

Thomas Grey is not just still in England after the 1483 rebellion, but free to roam where he pleases. Elizabeth Woodville charges him with traveling to Flanders to collect “Perkin” from the Warbecks. As I stated in earlier posts, there is no evidence that either she or her children had any connection with Perkin Warbeck. At the end of the episode, this boy comes to Grafton, and when he vows revenge for the death of his brother, Elizabeth tells him that she wants him to live with her in peace. The real Perkin Warbeck didn’t step foot in England before 1495, and then he was in Scotland. He was not raised in the English countryside. This twist only makes his claim to be Richard, Duke of York, even more implausible. This scene shows Elizabeth very disinterested in the politics, and it does not seem as though she even wants to return to court, preferring to stay at Grafton. After Henry VII’s victory, she came with her daughter and was very involved with the politics of court until she retired to Bermondsey Abbey in 1487.

We see Henry and Jasper selecting prisoners from a French prison, but the show doesn’t explain how they got to France or why they left Brittany. After the rebellion of 1483, the number of men surrounding Henry swelled into the hundreds, as nobles and their retainers fled from England. Richard was not sending any money to Brittany to help cover Henry and Jasper’s expenses, so the cost of this mock-court rested on Duke Francis II. The upkeep was very expensive and caused resentment in the Duke’s advisors. In 1484, Francis fell ill again, and his advisors made a deal to turn Henry over to Richard. Jasper, who had more freedom than Henry, was the first to cross into France, and two days later Henry and a group of 5 to 13 men followed.  He joined with Jasper in Anjou, and they were welcomed by Charles, given lodging and money. Henry left behind more than 400 English exiles, and once Francis was well enough to know what had happened, he permitted them to travel to France to be with Henry. It was King Charles who supported Henry’s final campaign in 1485.

The show has Margaret and Elizabeth of York fighting and torturing each other. There is no basis for this. Some historians believe that because of her strong personality and influence over her son, Margaret was, as David Starkey called her, the “Mother-in-law from hell.” Others think that she was one of Elizabeth’s most trusted friends. It comes down to a matter of opinion.

Elizabeth of York is not the only one to sneak around to the battle camps. In the episode, Margaret makes a trip to see Thomas Stanley, and when she leaves she runs into Jasper Tudor. He takes her to Henry’s camp, and she stays there until the end of the battle. In reality Margaret was not at Bosworth, nor are there any records that say that she saw Henry before his victory. On the contrary, one of the first things he did once he won was to go and see her, since it had been 14 years since they were last together.

To be continued…

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The White Queen- Episode 6

WARNING: This contains spoilers.

The episode opens with Anne Neville begging for a pardon from Edward IV. She professes that she had no choice but to marry the now-deceased Edward, Prince of Wales, as her father forced her. Edward responds with “that’s good enough for me, I forgive and pardon you.” Of course her father “made” her marry him; her father was the one who arranged her marriage. The show is obsessed with a girl-power image for these women, which is just not contemporary.

When Anne learns that George, Duke of Clarence, is her new guardian she retorts “I’m old enough to be a widow.” She was 15-years-old when she became a widow so still marriageable, and since her father had died she needed someone else to manage her income and set up her next marriage. George was her brother-in-law, part of her family, so it is very natural that he would become her guardian. Having her as a ward would also be income for him, and since he was the brother of the king it is not surprising that he would receive jobs and titles.

The scene where Anne confronts her sister Isabel about George’s control over her contains one of my least favorite moments in this episode. After their “cat-fight” Isabel says that Anne is behaving “like a rabid dog.” Rabies was not discovered as a disease at the time. The first cases of it were recorded in the mid-18th century, and it originated in the Americas.  The term “rabid” outdates it, but it first entered common language in the early 17th century.

We join back up with Margaret Beaufort when she receives the news that her mother is on her deathbed. Margaret’s mother, Margaret Beauchamp, died in August of 1483. This episode takes place in about 1471, as we are told that the next episode starts in 1473. I can only guess that it has been moved forward so that her death becomes a sign from God for Margaret, but it is more than a decade too early. Her early death means that Lady Beauchamp had nothing to do with her daughter’s fourth marriage. There are varying dates for Margaret’s marriage to Thomas Stanley, but most say that the ceremony happened before October of 1473, when Lady Beauchamp was still alive.

Elizabeth Woodville has problems with Edward IV several times in this episode. She fights with him about sending their son, Prince Edward, to Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches, which was what is done with every Prince of Wales. Her mother, Jacquetta, has to remind her that “When you married into the royal house their customs became yours.” It’s a beautiful line, but Elizabeth would have understood that her son would leave her house from the moment she became queen. At Ludlow he would have been with tutors, and had a mini-court of other children around him. It was the prince’s chance to learn how to govern, so when he became king he would already have practice.

When Elizabeth walks in on Edward making love to “Jane” Shore (her given name could have been Elizabeth, so calling her Jane may have been a way to differentiate from the queen), it is as if Edward had never taken another mistress. Edward was a very amorous man, and had been involved with other women for their entire marriage. Jane was not his only mistress, nor even the only mother of his bastards. Anthony Woodville explains it to Elizabeth, “Whoring is merely sport to Edward,” which is very true. Kings were expected to keep mistresses, and to have none was seen as a defect in his character. Richard II may not have had any bastards and Henry VI did not have any, and both were deposed. Henry VII’s illegitimate son is a source of controversy, and was born before he became king. His lack of mistresses and bastards was used as a critique against him by contemporaries. At the end of the episode Elizabeth confronts Edward after the death of their baby and of her mother, about the affair. His romantic assurance of how special she is because she is his “home” makes her forget there ever was another woman.

Margaret Beaufort requests a marriage to one of the king’s closest confidants, as “only a man at the heart of the court is of any value to me.” Anne Neville’s exclamation when she hears this inquiry makes my skin crawl: “She’s ancient! Ancient and ugly and fanatical!” When Margaret married Thomas Stanley, she was only 28-29, which is hardly ancient, even for their time. She was considered one of the most beautiful women in England, and while devout was not fanatical. She became more devout later in life, as many noble women did.

Margaret’s marriage to Thomas Stanley is not completely accurate. Yes, Thomas already had sons, but he would not have objected to having more. Sons died all the time, especially since the Wars of the Roses had not truly ended and young men often died in battle. While Margaret had not given Stafford any children, she had given birth to a son before that marriage, so there would be no reason to believe her to be infertile. We now know she was infertile because having Henry at such a young age damaged her body, but at the time it would have not been assumed so. There is no proof that the marriage was not consummated. The belief that it was a marriage based on politics and money comes from how it ended, in their separation and Margaret’s vow of chastity. This does not mean that the marriage started that way. Their chastity pledge was entered in 1499. If the marriage had not been consummated, it could have been annulled at any time, which makes it very unlikely that it wasn’t. Other writers have envisioned that Margaret and Thomas started their marriage deeply in love, which is just as likely as them hating each other.

Here is an interesting bit of trivia about Thomas Stanley, since he has now become a main character. His first wife, Eleanor, was a Neville and a sister to the Earl of Warwick. His son and heir, George, was married to Joan le Strange (he received the title Baron Strange from his father-in-law). She was the daughter of Jacquetta Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s sister. This gives their involvement with Edward IV and the cause of York a different meaning.

The birth of Elizabeth’s son too early and the juxtaposition to Jacquetta’s death are not accurate. Not only does Elizabeth not enter any form of confinement, but Edward running in to help her through the birth is completely out of place. Today we have men who hold our hands and feed us ice chips, but as I have already stated, in the middle ages men stayed far away from births. Even if they had feared for Elizabeth’s life, Edward would not have been allowed to enter the birthing chamber.

The history is very different. Elizabeth gave birth to a baby girl named Margaret on the 10th of April, 1472. The baby died on the 11th of December of the same year, not the same day. Jacquetta of Luxembourg died on the 30th of May, 1472. Having a boy born and die on the same day that Jacquetta died is very dramatic, but not accurate.

We are left with two newlywed couples- Richard and Anne, and Margaret and Thomas. Margaret comes to court to be a part of Elizabeth’s household. George is frustrated by Edward’s lack of delegation of power and that his financial hopes have been dashed. Coming up we have George’s death, Edward’s death, Richard’s usurpation and Henry Tudor’s eventual return and winning of the crown at Bosworth.

What do you think? What did you enjoy or dislike about the episode? What part of the actual history do you find interesting?

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The Dragon and the Rose by Roberta Gellis- A Review & Comparison

I first read half of this book, and put it down. Instead of having pauses in the writing when there is a change in location or time, it melts into the paragraph. This may be an issue with my edition, and it became very distracting. I would have to stop and go back and see if the new sentence was part of the last scene or the beginning of a new scene, and it took me a while to finish reading. I put it down once Henry won the Battle of Bosworth, but after about a week I was too curious to see where it was going, so I picked it back up again.

Gellis is a very good writer. Her descriptions are wonderful, and my main complaint is just the bleeding of scenes into each other. I love that she makes Henry VII more relatable, and delves into his psyche so we understand him as a person, not as an abstract and distant king. Henry is utterly human, a man who fears for his life and can’t eat or sleep when he or his family are in danger. In the beginning he trusts no one other than his uncle Jasper, but we understand why. Henry calculates everything he does, but even when he is cold to others he is warm to the reader.

Elizabeth of York is less developed and rarely the narrator’s focus, but she is a sweet woman who loves and understands her husband. She is tortured by her relationship with her mother, the Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth of York has to fight against her mother’s control but she can’t help but become very stuck in the middle of the politics. She becomes literally sick with worry when she hears of her mother’s plotting against Henry. Elizabeth is a natural diplomat and she has a wonderful sense of humor.

Gellis’ depiction of Margaret Beaufort is unique, and a breath of fresh air compared with the negative, crazy woman that is currently in the public’s imagination. Gellis portrays her as a soft, kind and sweet woman, who is not a religious zealot. She is the one that Elizabeth of York leans on and depends on, her friend whom she trusts implicitly. Because Elizabeth Woodville is shown as a conniving woman who cares about her own personal advancement, the vacuum in the two Elizabeth’s mother-daughter relationship is filled by Margaret. Margaret is one of the only people who are willing to stand up to Henry, and she refuses to do his bidding when he commands her to do something cruel or undiplomatic. She forces Henry to stop and think for the sake of the country and his marriage. She keeps him balanced.

Margaret’s marriage to Sir Thomas Stanley, who becomes the Earl of Derby, is vastly different to what we have seen in other fictional accounts. He is still a calculating man but he loves Margaret completely, is crazy about her, and begs for her to marry him. When he promises his support to Henry at Bosworth he is practically hysterical, declaring his love for Margaret and his desire to please her against the danger of his son being in Richard’s hands.

Nearly half of the book is spent on Henry’s time in exile, from 1471 to 1485. I am not sure if Gellis had access to documents about this period of his life, as this depiction is one of the only ways the book deviates from the history. The history shows that while Henry was a prisoner of Duke Francis of Brittany, he was not in the company of the Duke. At first, Henry and Jasper were housed together under the care of Admiral Jean de Quelenhec, and were moved from one of his houses to another of his houses. In 1474 the pair were suddenly separated, Henry’s English servants and guards were replaced with Bretons, and he was moved into the care of the Marshall of Brittany, Jean de Rieux. In 1476 they were reunited in Vannes. At this point Henry joins up with Francis’ court, but he had not been constantly in the company of the Duke, as he is in the plot of this book. They would have been on good terms, but Henry was not his companion; he was a prisoner and for most of his time in Brittany was treated as one.

The other major turn from the historical record is when Elizabeth becomes pregnant with, and then gives birth to, Prince Arthur. When Henry shows some hesitation about becoming sexual, fearing that it might hurt the baby or cause a miscarriage, Elizabeth talks him through it, saying that her mother was able to have sex when she was pregnant and no harm came of it. This is not the attitude of the times. Neither is her labor and birthing experience, where Henry is the only one by her side and promises not to leave her. As queen she had midwives, her mother and mother-in-law to help her. Henry had been on a progress and may not have even been at Winchester when Arthur was born, let alone allowed in the birthing chamber! It’s a modern spin which the reader can identify with, a worried daddy helping the mommy through her contractions, but it’s not historical.

If there is another printing of this book, I would suggest purchasing it to see if the timing issue is specific to my edition. I recommend this book for anyone who thinks that Henry VII has been getting a bum deal lately, and who would want to see Margaret Beaufort as someone other than an antagonist. If you are a fan of the king, then you will enjoy this book. Gellis sticks with most of the major historical events, and is able to add a touch of humanity to them. You will never look at Henry VII as a cold, greedy miser again.

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Cover of The Dragon and the Rose by Roberta Gellis. Playboy Press, copyright 1977.

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The White Queen, Episode 1 Part 2

Please note that this post contains spoilers.

This is a continuation of my previous blog, “The White Queen, Episode I Part 1.”

The scene where Elizabeth defends her virtue against Edward by removing his dagger and threatening him with it is based on a legend. The story goes that he attempts to have his way with her, but she refuses. To get him off, she holds the knife out at him, and he leaves in anger. In this show’s version, she turns it on herself, uttering the “girl-power” line, “Don’t doubt my courage, Your Grace, a match for any man.” This story sounds great- a woman standing up to the most powerful man in the country because she won’t sleep with him outside of marriage! We don’t know what really happened that day, but the earliest version of the story about the knife didn’t show up until 1483. I have seen many different versions of this story; where there is no knife, where he holds the knife to her throat, where she holds it to his, but the origin is not known. Again, the absence of evidence does not become proof.

In this episode, Elizabeth has no spark. She’s a beautiful woman, and the actress plays her very sweetly, but too naive. The real Elizabeth, though often depicted in a large range from “evil bitch” to intelligent but crafty in other fictional works, the Elizabeth of “WQ” not only seems to have no ambition and is very dismissive. Her brother Anthony is the one who tells her to question the honesty of Edward after their secret marriage, and she acts as if she never thought of the consequences if Edward had acted dishonestly. She is shocked when it occurs to her that he may refute the marriage and cast her aside. There is not much in her personality that shows a woman who was willing to do what it took to become the queen, to advance her sons and her family. This characterization of her is like a blade of grass, blowing in the wind that she has no control over. I cannot believe that she could have been this diminutive. Nobody who advances so far in life does so by being passive and letting others have their way.

One thing that Edward repeats several in the first few episodes is that “King Henry MURDERED my father and my brother!” or that Margaret of Anjou ordered their deaths. While there are some stories about how Edmund, the Earl of Rutland, was killed in 1460 trying to flee the Battle of Wakefield, his death is just listed as one of the casualties of the battle. Their father, Richard, Duke of York, did fall on the field. There is nothing to suggest that he had been hunted down, that had he survived the actual battle, had been taken hostage and then had been executed. He was not murdered, unless every man who dies in battle is considered a murder victim. As it was Duke Richard who took up arms against Henry VI first, he could be blamed for his own death. Ralph A. Griffiths and Roger S. Thomas in their book The Making of the Tudor Dynasty hypothesize that the execution of Owen Tudor at Mortimer’s Cross may have been retaliation against Henry VI, as Tudor was his step-father. This argument intrigues me, but it does not give any credibility to an Edward crying out in anguish that Henry VI murdered his father.

Towards the end of the episode we are introduced to Margaret Beaufort for the first time. When I first saw this episode my initial gut reaction was that the actress was way too old. In 1464 Margaret was about 21-years-old, though already a widow and a mother. In the show Jacquetta speaks to her, but she addresses Margaret incorrectly, and I do not mean that literally in the script she is corrected by Margaret. At first Margaret is called “Lady Tudor,” and then Jacquetta is corrected to say “Lady Stafford.” The name Tudor was not used at this time, and wasn’t even the surname of Owen Tudor, as we call him. He was named Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur: Owen Tudor is the Anglicized name he was given by the English court, though with the correct placement his surname should have been Meredith. The last name of Tudor was not used in their lifetimes, and is the modern way we describe this period, and the literal translation into Welsh is “Theodore”. They did not call it the “Tudor family” or “Tudor Dynasty,” and Margaret Beaufort wouldnot have been called “Lady Tudor.” She would have been called the Dowager Countess of Richmond, her title which she retained after Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond died. As Henry Stafford did not have a title, Lady Stafford would have been the best way to identify her at the time, but use of her title would have been just as acceptable.

Toward the end of the episode Elizabeth is introduced to courtiers, and eventually ends up in a room with a seated Cecily, Dowager Duchess of York. That she remains seated, and her attendants remain standing, is a grave insult towards the “King’s Wife.” What is not given in this scene is that Cecily is half-Beaufort: her mother was Joan Beaufort, daughter of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. She would have been very, very sensitive to words such as “whore” and “bastard,” for no other reason than her own mother had started her life as a bastard. As the treatment of Margaret shows the Beauforts never escaped that association, and the descendants of the Beaufort line were supposed to be barred from the royal succession. To have her sitting there, threatening to make her son illegitimate is just too much, which is a shame, because I do like everything else about this portrayal, and she may be one of my favorite characters. Caroline Goodall puts in a wonderful performance.

The conclusion of this episode leaves us with one more major problem. After yet another sex scene with Edward, Elizabeth enters into the room where her mother is practicing some more magic and her two sons are sleeping. When Elizabeth catches her own eye in the mirror, she freezes and as if in a trance she talks about a woman in red with “blood on her hands.” When Jacquetta pushes her, asking whose blood it is, Elizabeth exclaims that it’s “mine!” Of course this is a straight arrow directed right at Margaret Beaufort, as the “Red Queen,” but remains slightly vague enough that the blood they are referring to could be Elizabeth’s, or it could be her son’s. Both options are faulty. Elizabeth is not killed by Margaret, though some historians have said that her removal from court was due to Margaret’s influence on her son, as David Starkey in “Monarchy” says, there is no room for “two Queen Mothers.” Elizabeth has her lands removed and leaves the court, and she dies at St. Saviour’s Abbey in 1492. This also hints at Gregory’s stance that Margaret was the one who ordered the death of the two “Princes in the Tower,” and may be an attempt at foreshadowing this conclusion. My guess is that it’s sufficiently vague so that we have to guess at the meaning, but none are factually based.

Thus concludes the first episode. Compared with later episodes, this one may be the best. Even though I have compiled a large list of problems, there was enough of the truth in it to at least get us into the story and ready to watch the next episode. We are introduced to the actors, who each give an amazing performance. Max Irons as Edward does a great service to the king, as he is both commanding and emotional. James Frain, who somehow always seems to end up in historical dramas (“Elizabeth I”, “The Tudors”…), also gives a great and commanding performance. Robert Pugh, as Richard Woodville, looks how I always imagined Owen Tudor to look in my head. We meet most of the characters we will be rooting for or hating for the next 9 episodes. The sets, costumes and makeup are all delicious. There are a lot of characters with the same or similar names, but so far I think it is not too confusing as to whom everyone is.

For space I have just focused on the most major problems I have seen. Did I not focus on the one that drove you up the wall? Let me know in the comments section! I look forward to inspecting Episode 2 with you!

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The White Queen, Episode 1, Part 1

Please note that this contains spoilers. Because of the length of the total post, I have divided it into 2 parts for ease of reading.

The one thing I enjoy from this miniseries completely is the music. As a classical violinist, the theme is lovely. The intro was well done, with visual interest and a focus on the roses, both red and white. The acting is very good, and the actors are a good-looking bunch. I know there have been many blogs which focus on the inaccuracies in the sets and the costuming, pointing out zippers and rubber-soled shoes, and railings and glass panes. On the whole for me, just as with so many other programs, the sets are beautiful and the whole program is very visually beautiful, with lush green woods and sparkling water.

I first watched the BBC version of this episode twice on YouTube, prior to the beginning of the series on Starz. The copy was removed from YouTube about a week after I first watched it, for copyright violations. It has been the only episode that I have been able to watch as the BBC aired it, with limited nudity, though the additions of the bare breasts and male backside do not change the story. I have wondered why Starz demanded the changes, unless the publicity those changes garnered were the reason.

This episode is an attempt to explain to the audience how and why Elizabeth Woodville (otherwise spelled Wydville) became the Queen of England. It does not explain the causes behind the Wars of the Roses, other than a bit about Henry VI’s madness. We are quickly thrown into the world of the young widow who is trying to retain her lands from her former mother-in-law. This problem is not explained very clearly, though she repeatedly says how her lands have been taken away from her and her sons, but not by whom or why. Her father, Richard, at one point growles that she didn’t lose her lands, “they were TAKEN from her.” In my opinion, this is her primary reason for standing under a tree waiting for the new king Edward, not sleeping with him or becoming his wife.  As it is impossible to ever know what happens in someone’s head, this of course is up for argument. Philippa Gregory has taken the opposite view in her other books that Elizabeth was standing there to “capture” Edward. Her sons would be a testament to her fertility (“Look! I have already made boys!”), and the morning sun would put a flattering light on her beauty, the better to snare the young and randy king. The details are not known, but what we can say we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Elizabeth attracted Edward, and changed the monarchy for good.

The very first thing we are treated to in the episode is Elizabeth’s nightmare, reliving the last moments of her dead husband. Right away, I took issue with this. While Elizabeth’s mother, Jacquetta, held the title of Dowager Duchess and she would end up being the ancestor of the current monarchs, Elizabeth’s first husband was not a high-ranking peer. Sir John Grey was a Baron, the lowest on the pecking order of nobles, and his title was held by his mother. We do not know the exact way in which he died in 1461 at the second Battle of St. Albans, but it is fairly safe to bet that he was not chased away from the battle and beheaded by the king. Why? Because he was not worthy of royal concern. There were far more important people to locate and kill other than a country Baron. There were dukes and earls demanding his attention, especially the Earl of Pembroke, Jasper Tudor, half-brother to Henry VI. Pembroke was a very real threat because of the execution of his father, Owen Tudor (name explanation later in post), after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. Finding him would have been a top priority, and one that was not successful. There were other, lower ranking men who would hunt down Grey if he was fleeing, and Edward would be too busy to personally hunt for him. If he had been captured, being just a Baron he would have been held and ransomed instead of executed. There is a difference between Edward’s wrath this early in the Wars, and the bloodiness of later battles, such as Tewkesbury.

This dream is the beginning of a plot that is both in the show and in the books, that Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Elizabeth Woodville and her daughter Elizabeth of York were all witches. That makes for some great entertainment, watching them cast spells and bring up storms, but of course it is completely baseless. Gregory says that she discovered the story that Jacquetta comes from a line of women descended from the water goddess Melusina, and that of course they would have all be highly aware of it in her family. In her books Gregory has Jacquetta being married to her first husband John, the brother of King Henry V and the Duke of Bedford, because he wanted her to use her magic to assist in keeping France under English control (this is the first part of the plot of her book, The Lady of the Rivers). There is no evidence of this, and Gregory takes that to mean that it was deliberately kept secret, or anything that would have shown this was destroyed deliberately. When Jacquetta was charged as a witch, she was released and cleared, meaning that the charge was baseless. Other women, even of the noble class had been charged and found guilty, so there is no reason to think that she was practicing and someone the evidence wasn’t found. Of course this is not historical proof, and the absence of evidence does not constitute proof. Gregory has discussed this in several interviews, and in “The Real White Queen.”

I am much troubled by the removal of Sir William Hastings from the characters. He was the best friend of Edward, following him into exile. Hastings was a “bad boy” who kept up with the King when he was partying and whoring. He was with Edward when he first met Elizabeth, not the Earl of Warwick. His removal will cause problems in later episodes, as other characters try to fill the void his removal has left. Who will take over the care of Elizabeth (“Jane”) Shore when Edward dies? Who will Richard III execute out of nowhere to earn the enmity of the noblemen? We will have to wait and see.

When Elizabeth leads Edward and his gang back to Grafton, Warwick is very, very disrespectful to her mother. Likewise Elizabeth’s father and brothers are disrespectful to Edward until he announces his marriage to Elizabeth. This is not something that would be ignored. The Dowager Duchess of Bedford may have been married to a Baron but since she retained her title she outranked the Earl of Warwick. For him to mock her, to talk down about her husband would be massively insulting. He should have dismounted and bowed to her, but he doesn’t. And for the various Woodville brothers and Baron Rivers to not bow to Edward is unthinkable, as even if they didn’t recognize him as their king he was still the Duke of York. This level of disrespect can be best summed up with the phrase “fighting words.” To treat a person who outranks you in such a way was practically begging for a war. They would have been very conscious of this, and wouldn’t have behaved as such unless they wanted to “throw down.”

…To be continued.

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