On the Trail of the Yorks – new book by Kristie Dean

To visit places where people you´ve only read about once lived or visited during important frontcoverbooktimes of their lives can give a new understanding both of the individuals and the period in which they lived and died. 

In her book Kristie Dean takes her readers to the places that in different ways helped to shape the House of York. Below an excerpt from the book which will be out for sale today, March 15th 2016:

On the Trail of the Yorks – Amberley Publishing.

Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire

This tiny village, amid the breathtaking scenery of the hills of Northamptonshire, seems too small and peaceful to have been the scene of one of the more momentous events in the history of England. Prior to King Henry VIII’s changing its name, Grafton was known by Grafton Woodville and was home to the Woodville family. Here in Grafton manor, Edward IV’s future queen was born. The eldest child of Jacquetta, Dowager Duchess of Bedford, and Richard Woodville, Elizabeth was born soon after her parents’ marriage.

Elizabeth first married Sir John Grey, a Lancastrian supporter. Following his death at the second battle of St Albans, Elizabeth tried to gain control of her jointure, but was unsuccessful. From here, the story takes on legendary quality.

churchofstmaryat grafton (2)One variation of the story is that Elizabeth stood by an oak tree with her two young sons and begged Edward to help her. Hall says that Elizabeth was with her mother when Edward, out hunting, stopped by the manor.

She pressed her suit to him, and he was fascinated. He thought her to be an ‘excellent beautie’ and neither too ‘wanton nor to humble’. Impressed by her body and her ‘wise and womanly demeanour’, he asked her to be his mistress. Elizabeth rebuffed him, saying that if she was not good enough to be his wife, she would not be his mistress.

Mancini pushes the image further, having Edward pull a dagger, with Elizabeth coolly churchofstmaryat grafton (1)resisting his advances. Impressed by her character and enflamed with desire, Edward decided that she would make a fitting royal spouse.

The most accepted date for the marriage is 1 May 1464. Edward left Stony Stratford and hurried to Grafton. Here, Edward and Elizabeth were married, quietly and privately, with only the bride and groom, her mother, the priest, two gentlewomen and a young man who assisted the priest in singing. Whether this happened at the manor, the Hermitage or in the parish church is unclear, but Edward and Elizabeth did marry before she was publicly proclaimed his queen in September of that year.

Grafton Manor

The manor at Grafton officially came to the Woodville family in 1440, but it is believed they had been tenants there prior, since the family had lived in the village for years. After Earl Rivers was killed, the manor passed to his son, Anthony, who was executed after King Edward’s death. His brother, Richard, inherited, and once he died, the estate came to his nephew Thomas Grey, Elizabeth’s son by her first marriage. His son gave up the property to Henry VIII, who largely extended and renovated the existing manor home. The house was set on fire and ruined during the Civil War.

churchofstmaryat grafton (3)Visiting Today

Sadly, there is little to see of the Grafton Elizabeth would have known. The manor lands are not open to visits. It is possible to visit the parish church of St Mary, however. Some historians speculate that Elizabeth and Edward were married at the Hermitage, which was a small friary. However, the parish church was adjacent to the manor and would have offered a more private venue, especially at an early hour.

Elizabeth was almost certainly christened in the Norman font that still stands in the church today. The family was unquestionably active in church affairs, and Elizabeth’s grandfather, John Woodville, built its tower. The church warden speculates that a Woodville chapel may have stood to the left of the high altar. John Woodville’s alabaster altar tomb may still be seen in the church.

Grafton Regis is located just off the main Northampton road. If headed north, take the second right into the village; if headed south, take the first left. Park near the village hall and walk down the quiet country lane. After a short stroll through beautiful scenery, the church will be on the left, just past the entrance to Grafton Manor. Prior arrangements should be made by email to see the interior.


kristiesmallpic (2)About the Author

For as long as she can remember, Kristie has had her nose buried in a book about history, especially medieval history. It was this passion that led her to earn her master’s degree in history. Today, she writes about the medieval period at night and teaches history to students during the day. In her rare spare moment, she can be found at home with her husband, three dogs and two cats.

Birthday of Richard III

On this day in 1452 Richard III was born at Fotheringhay Castle in Richard_III_earliest_surviving_portraitNorthamptonshire.

It is safe to say that no other medieval king has stirred such emotions over the centuries as Richard, first known as the black king who killed his nephews and over the last few years, the tide has turned drastically in Richard´s favour.

The truth of who the man was can most likely be found somewhere between the “black” Richard and the “white” Richard. The fact is, however, that he all through his brother´s, Edward IV, reign was a trusted and loyal Lord of the North and known as an excellent soldier.

The events about which opinions will most likely differ forever took place after Edward´s death:  the arrests of the lords Rivers and Grey at Stoney Stratford and their subsequent executions, the confinement of young king Edward V and his brother Richard at the Tower, the alleged pre-contract and the following Titulus Regius which made all children of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville illegitimate, the very dubious execution of lord Hastings and finally the disappearance of the princes from the Tower.

These are the things we know happened, even if we may never fully find out the answers to why and how. What kind of king Richard would have made in the long run is almost impossible to say as he only held the throne for two years before being killed at the Battle of Bosworth where he met Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII in 1485.

As we all know, the remains of Richard was found under a carpark in Leicester in September 2012, on the site where the Grey Friars church once stood. He was put to his final rest in Leicester Cathedral earlier this year.

Today we wish him a happy birthday!

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

We have just gotten over the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn when today, May 27, it´s time to rememberMargaret_Pole,_Countess_of_Salisbury_from_NPG_retouched another one of the horrendous acts that were so frequent in the very last decade of the reign of Henry VIII: the execution of Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury.

Something, other than the actual execution, that kind of send chills up my spine is that one might say that this was an act that definitively put the previous Royal House to rest, because Margaret was the daughter of George, duke of Clarence  -immensely troubled brother of Edward IV and Richard III – and Isabel Nevill, the eldest daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker.

Margaret who together with her future issue had been barred from the throne through the attainder against her father when he was convicted and executed (according to legend by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey) for treason against his brother king Edward IV, had married Sir Richard Pole, with whom she had 5 children, one of whom was Reginald Pole, cardinal and from 1536 a thorn in Henry VIII:s eye.

Margaret and her brother were kept by Richard III at Sheriff Hutton until 1585, when her brother Edward, earl of Warwick was put in the Tower after the battle of Bosworth and later executed allegedly for plotting against Henry VII together with Perkin Warbeck.

In 1487, Henry VII gave Margaret in marriage to Sir Richard Pole with whom she had 5 children. She became a widow in 1504 with limited land left to her by her husband, whose funeral were paid for by Henry VII.

At the time of Henry VIII:s accession, Margaret Pole was returned parts of her lands, and she was one of the gentlewomen of Catherine of Aragon. Despite her Plantagenet background, she was loyal to the Tudors, and she most likely never posed any kind of threat to Henry VIII, and she was also made governess of the young princess Mary. She had devoted her son Reginald to the church, and when the changes came in the 1530´s, he had warned against the marriage with Anne Boleyn and already in 1526 he had gone into voluntary exile as a response to Henry´s demand for support in the planned divorce from Catherine.

In 1536 the rift became irreparable when Reginald Pole after he had first spoken out against the marriage to Anne Boleyn and consequently encouraged the royal houses to depose Henry. In 1536 he had slipped back to Rome and in 1537 he was made a cardinal even though he had yet to become an ordained priest.

The previous “insubordination” of Reginald Pole would come to have a disastrous effect on his family back in England.

We will most never know in a “black and white” if he based it or fact or his convenient wishes, but Henry uncovered the Courtney conspiracy. It was an assumption of treason on the part of Margaret Pole, her son Henry and other individuals. The evidence was fragmentary, based on conversations and memories but most likely mostly based on Henry´s feelings for Reginald.

The Courtney conspiracy was an idea of marrying Edward Courtaney, grandson of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, and thereby second cousin of Reginald Pole to the disinherited princess Mary.

But with Reginald Pole out of reach for Henry, he instead turned on the family, not least on the aging countess who was imprisoned for two years in the Tower. She was executed on May 27th 1541 at the age of 67 in a display which clearly showed the horrors of capital punishment.

She refused to put her head on the block, but the inexperienced executioner delivered a blow anyway which instead of severing her head gave her a deep cut in her shoulder. Legend has it that she was chased around the block, being struck several times before she finally died, something which in large part is confirmed by contemporary state papers.

Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, was beatified December 29th 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.

The poem below is said to have been carved into the wall of her cell.


             For traitors on the block should die;

I am no traitor, no, not I!

My faithfulness stands fast and so,

Towards the block I shall not go!

Nor make one step, as you shall see;

Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!




Henry VIII – Elizabeth Wooding

 The execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury – The Anne Boleyn Files

 Executions and beheadings at the Tower of London









William Caxton – printer pioneer

William_Caxton_-_The_first_printer_at_WestminsterWhat did Margaret Beaufort and Anthony Woodville have in common, other than starting out as Lancastrians and for different reasons and with different amount of heart in it was forced to accept Yorkist rule?

The answer to that question is their patronage of William Caxton, the man who brought the art of book printing to England and made education and reading accessible to a larger percent of the population.

The date, or even year, of his birth are not quite known, nor is his parentage, but he is believed to have been born sometime around between 1415 and 1426. There are also uncertainties around where he was born, in the book “Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye”- a French novel about courtly romance by Raoul Lefevre who was the chaplain of Philippe III of Burgundy – which Caxton translated and printed, he states that he was born and educated in the Weald of Kent. Oral tradition has him to be both from Hadlow and Tenterden.

The estimation of when he was born is based on an apprenticeship fee being paid in 1438 when the Mercer´s Company recorded his apprenticeship with Robert Large, a wealthy London dealer in luxury goods at the Mercer´s Company and in 1439 Lord Mayor in London.

In the late 1440´s or early 1450´s he was making trips to Bruges and settled there in 1453, where he over the years became prosperous enough to become Governor of English Nation of Merchant Adventurers, for four of the actually 30

years he spent in Bruges. During the period he also entered the household of Margaret of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, something that let him travel and it was on one of these journeys he came into contact with the printers in Cologne, which in their turn was inspired with the German printing that had been invented but Johannes Gutenberg at the turn of the 1430´s and 1440´s.

Apparently this appealed immensely to William Caxton, and it doesn´t seem that he wasted much time to put up a press at Bruges, where he printed the earlier mentioned “Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye” which he himself translated. It turned out that this was one may call a success, and in 1476 he was on his way back to England, not only with a printing press in his “back pocket”, but also, most likely, in the company of the Dutchman Wynkyn de Worde (some claim that Caxton didn´t bring de Worde to England until 1481 to be able to counter the growing completion).

Canterbury Tales - Caxton First EditionWilliam Caxton set up his printing press in Westminster Abbey, and the first book to be printed on it was Geoffrey Chaucer´s “Canterbury Tales”, and somehow it´s interesting that in a time when religious books were important, Caxton still chose a secular book to print. Maybe one can assume that that says something about the nature of Caxton himself.

It was also during this time that William Caxton came into contact with Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers, as he himself Caxton_Showing_the_First_Specimen_of_His_Printing_to_King_Edward_IV_at_the_Almonry,_Westminsterhad translated a book, “Dictes or Sayengings of the Philosophres” – a (before Woodville´s translation) French text translated from Latin and originally in Arabic, written in the 11th century by an Egyptian emir – during a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in Spain, and he wanted Caxton to proofread the text. He did and also added an epilogue to the story. This would be the first book printed in England that has both a date and the printer´s colophon which showed the name of the printer and the place it was printed.

It is also likely that Anthony Woodville commissioned William Caxton to print another two books, also based on his own translations; “The Morale Proverbes of Cristyne” in 1478 and “The book named Cordyal” in 1479. As Anthony Woodville was very close to his nephew Edward, it is also likely that it was he who prompted Caxton´s dedication to the prince of “A Boke of the Hoole Lyf of Jason”, 1477. It has also seems that it was actually Anthony Woodville that carried the cost of printing Canterbury Tales.

Caxton_deviceAnthony Woodville became a most likely important and steadfast patron of Caxton´s, and he didn’t take he didn´t take kindly to the fact that this man, who may even have been a friend, was the first victim of Richard´s usurpation of the throne. Less than a month before the Battle of Bosworth he published a part of the so called Winchester manuscript – the oldest surviving version of Thomas Mallory´s Le Morte d´Arthur and the kind of arturian romance appreciated at the time – with his own little twist. In the scribed original there is a section where Arthur has a prophetic dream of a horrendous struggle between a dragon and a bear during his campaign against the Roman emperor. The bear is killed and a ‘phylozopher’* tells Arthur that the dragon represents himself, while the bear ‘betokyns som tyraunte that turmentis thy peple’.

It is here the indignant, maybe grieving and quite possible horrified Caxton sees his chance. In his own printed version of the segment, the bear is replaced by a white boar, a symbolism which can hardly be mistaken. And only weeks later the white boar was indeed killed by the welsh dragon.

With that victory, Caxton also received a new patron. Margaret Beaufort was genuinely interested in learning and Plack, William Caxtoneducation, and both translated books from French to English as well as, in time, founded colleges. When her son had ascended the throne after the battle of Bosworth she started turning her attention to William Caxton and his printing press in the almonery of Westminster Abbey. It was the possibility to bring reading to a wider number of people that awoke her interest, and she was to become one of his leading patrons.

Her support helped him to once again getting the attention in court circles he most likely had enjoyed during the patronage of Anthony Woodville, and the appreciation shows in a dedication from Caxton to Margaret Beaufort in the book “The Hystorye of Kinge Blanchardyne and Queen Englantyne his Wyfe” where he flatter her by calling her the Duchess of Somerset.

William Caxton died in 1491, but Margaret Beaufort continued to hire the services of his worker and successor Wynkyn de Worde who kept the business running for another 40 years.

He is buried in St Margaret´s Chapel and in Poet´s Corner a white stone plaque can be seen with the text “”Near this place William Caxton set up the first printing press in England.”



Caxton, William – Dictionary of National Biography

Caxton and the first English printed books – Dr Anne Marie D´Arcy, University of Leicester (course material)

Caxton, Woodville and revenge – Dr Anne Marie D´Arcy, University of Leicester (course material)

Chaucer´s Caxton – The British Library

Margaret Beaufort-Mother of the Tudor Dynasty – Elizabeth Norton

William Caxton-a biography – George D. Painter




Interview with historian David Baldwin

David BaldwinHistorian and author David Baldwin has been kind enough to answer some questions of mine, for which I´m very grateful. As well as having written several interesting books, among those the book Lost Prince – the survival of Richard of York – of which I have written in an earlier post – he has spent many years as a lecturer at Leicester. David Baldwin is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society



Back in 1986 you wrote that Richard III was most likely buried in Grey Friars, and that we might see him found during the 21st century. What were your thoughts when his remains were discovered?

Surprise actually. I had supposed that an excavation would only be possible when a major redevelopment of the Grey Friars site was undertaken – to find Richard in the one small area in which it was possible to dig (the Social Services car park) was incredibly lucky. My main argument my 1986 article was that his ‘slight remains’ had not been exhumed and lost at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and could, therefore still be discovered ‘at some time in the twenty-first century’.

Would you say that the work around the discovery of Richard III has in any way changed the way we view history, or how it will be dealt with in the future?

I don’t think there will be any fundamental change. We have learned much about Richard’s appearance, his medical conditions, and how he died, but no more about his character and intentions or what made him ‘tick’, as the expression has it. We must hope that new discoveries in archives will bring us closer to answering these questions in due course.

One of the biggest mysteries in English history – which you yourself has written about – is of courseElizabeth-david the princes Edward and Richard. Do you think anything would be put to rest if the bone fragments in Westminster Abbey were to be tested?

If the Plantagenet Y-chromosome could be extracted from remains preserved in Westminster Abbey there would be little doubt that they were the bones of the missing Princes. But we would still not know precisely when they died or by whose hand.

In your very fascinating book The Lost Prince: The survival of Richard of York you suggest that the youngest of Edward IV’s sons was brought to Colchester and lived out his life as a bricklayer; while you yourself say in the book that you´re not sure if it´s fact or fiction – do you personally think that is what might have happened?

Lost princeI’ve continued my research into this subject in the years since The Lost Prince was published, and have discovered other pieces of corroborative evidence. But it is unlikely that we will ever find definitive proof of what would have been a closely guarded secret even then.

What person would you really like to write about that you haven´t already, and why?

I’ve considered and abandoned a number of projects when it became apparent that not enough was known about them. Francis, Viscount Lovell, Richard III’s friend and chamberlain, has always been a particular interest of mine, but details of his life are thin on the ground.

Last but not least; your latest book ‘Henry VIII’s Last Love’ is about Katherine Willoughby. Would you like to say something about it?

Katherine is a fascinating character, but one who has been little noticed Henry´s last loveuntil now. At the age of 14 she was married to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, Henry VIII’s closest friend, and after Brandon died in 1545 it was rumoured that Henry meant to wed her himself.

A committed Protestant, she spent four years ‘on the run’ in Europe during Queen Mary’s reign, and after returning to England had an uneasy relationship with Queen Elizabeth whose attitude towards religion was more tolerant than her own. At one point she feared that Elizabeth was about to have her executed, but she survived to die in her bed. Her many letters  to William Cecil reveal a feisty character, outspoken and opinionated, often complaining, sometimes having to apologise for her intemperate words or for being slow to answer, and imbued by the single-minded conviction that her version of religion was the only one acceptable to God.



Books and other productions:

King Richard´s Grave in Leicester – Transactions of the Leicester Archaeological and Historical Society: 1986

Elizabeth Woodville, The History Press: 2004

The Kingmaker´s Sisters: Six Powerful Women in the Wars of the Roses, The History Press: 2006

Stoke Field: The Last Battle of the Wars of the Roses, Pen and Sword Books: 2006

The Lost Prince: The Survival of Richard of York, The History Press: 2007

Robin Hood: The English Outlaw Unmasked, Amberly Publishing: 2010

Richard III, Amberly Publishing: 2012

The Women of the Cousin´s War – with Philippa Gregory and Michael Jones, Simon & Schuster: 2012

The White Queen – What happened to the Princes in the Tower, BBC History, 9 August 2013

Richard III. The Leicester Connection. Pitkin 2013/2015

Henry VIII’s Last Love. The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby. Amberly Publishing: 2015







Events at Stony Stratford


GOLDSMITH(1800)_p2_084_EDWARD_VIt was today, 532 years ago. What, you may wonder. It was on this day that Richard, Duke of Gloucester took control of his 12 year old nephew, the new king Edward V.

After finding out about his death April 14th, Edward, who had his household in Ludlow, under the charge of his maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl of Rivers, assembled the King´s escort on April 23rd and the following days started the journey towards London.

Apart from the King himself, Rivers, the King´s tutor, Bishop Alcock, his servant Vaughan and Sir RichardRichard_III_earliest_surviving_portrait Haute, there was 2 000 men travelling along Watling Street, the old Roman (originally Briton) road which stretches from the borders between Wales and England down towards Canterbury and Dover. By then the King´s older half-brother, Richard Grey, had arrived from London, bearing the urgent request from their Mutual mother, the former Queen Elizabeth Woodville – now in sanctuary in Westminster Abbey – to press on towards London.

After the arrival of Grey, he and Rivers rode on to the neighbouring village of Stony Stratford which is located fourteen miles further south. According to legend, Rivers commandeered the inn the Rose and Crown for his young master, and house that still stand and most likely would have stories to tell, could it speak. Having the King settled for the night, The Rose and CrownRivers returned to Northampton while Grey stayed with the King. By now the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Buckingham was waiting in Northampton, most likely angered by the fact that the King was gone, but keeping up appearances. There, on April 29th, they spent what has been passed down through history as a pleasant dinner and evening together.

What did they talk about? Someone once said in relation to history that reading it, studying it and researching it is like watching people through a thick pane of glass. You can see them talking, but you will rarely ever know, or find out, what they were actually saying. Much of the sources existing suggests that there already existed a conflict between Richard and Anthony Woodville, the former having been named Lord Protector during the King´s minority, and Anthony Woodville, having been able to form the King´s mind and affection since Edward set up his own household.

But at the same time, Richard of Gloucester and Anthony Woodville had a history together. Not least had they been exiled together during the rebellions of Warwick and George of Clarence. I would say that being privy to the conversations, and the thoughts of the men present would be a dream to many. Because it would soon start, the initial phase of what would lead to one of the great mysteries in English history – the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower – and the ground stone of the reputation of Richard III, this evening still Richard, Duke of Gloucester, would be laid.

Regardless of what was said in the evening, the next morning, April 30th, all joviality that may have existed the previous night was gone. According to Thomas More, who obviously wasn´t present and who had been born only five years before the actual events (but no doubt had access to credible sources when writing his chronicle), Gloucester, Buckingham and a ducal councillor from the north where Gloucester had his power base, Richard Ratcliff, had been up late the previous evening, long after Rivers had retired to bed, discussing more of what is now unknown to us.

The chronicler Polydore Vergil states that it was “commonly believed” that Richard´s plans to usurp the throne wasPontefract_Castle,_2010_(1) already well on the way by now, and that it had already taken form when the news of his brother´s death. This is also stated by both More and the Croyland chronicle.
When Anthony Rivers woke up, it was to find himself under arrest. The two Dukes had pressed on to Stony Stratford, where they fell on their knees for their King. The vail would soon fall, however, as also Richard Grey was arrested, and the King´s retinue was dismissed. And there he was, a 12 year old boy, deprived of those he knew well, in the hands of an uncle he hardly knew at all, as Richard had spent most of his time in the north.

The young King wouldn´t see his uncle or half-brother again. Both Rivers and Grey would be brought to the north for imprisonment and would during the following months have their lands redistributed to other nobles, more to Richard´s liking. They were both beheaded at Pontefract Castle on June 25th that same year, whether they received a trial is often debated.
Young King Edward V was brought to London to be crowned King, something that was never to happen. Like other Kings, he was taken to the Tower to await his coronation, but unlike them all, he was never to emerge from there again.



The Princes in the Tower – Alison Weir

The Croyland Chronicles

The History of King Richard III – Sir Thomas More


Pontefract Castle – Tim Green


The death of Edward IV, an observation or two

Today is the day which must be said to have been the starting point of a number of odd and inexplicable events. It was the start408px-Edward4 of a process that would lead to the arrest, sketchy trial and subsequent execution of Richard Grey and Anthony Woodville, the summary execution of Lord Hastings, the pronouncing of a number of children, among those the heir to the English crown, as illegitimate and not least, the disappearance of the princes in the Tower.

So, what was it that happened today that initiated this chain of events? Edward IV died.

After taking what is said to have been a fishing trip on the Thames, during Easter 1483 and was bedridden for a number of days, during which he added some codicils to his will, one of which named Richard, who at the time was in Yorkshire, as the Lord Protector during his son Edward´s minority.

Now, maybe more than ever, speculations are rife as to what would have happened if Richard had followed the wishes of his brother and seen to that his eldest nephew had been crowned. How would history have played out if there had actually been a king called Edward V who in his youth had been counselled by his two uncles, Richard, the Duke of Gloucester and Anthony Woodville, the Earl of Rivers. No amount of digging, DNA or search for lineage (referring to the search and research around the discovery of Richard´s remains) will of course tell us that. But it´s clear that it didn´t play out as King Edward IV had planned as he drew his last breath.


Richard III and the murder in the Tower

This is not a book to my liking. While that is not a general requirement for books, it is a requirement for books I read.

It´s not that I am unused to reading academic texts, but this is just too much, and fact is that when I read it I can´t avoid the feeling of being at a lecture where the speaker is so enthusiastic over his subject so he just don´t know where to start or really where to go.

Peter A Hancock´s aim is to analyse the events surrounding the murder of Will Hastings by – even if by proxy – Richard III, or as he was titled at the time; Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector under the minority of Edward V.

The author Peter A. Hancock want to find the answer to if Richard all along had the ambition to take the throne for himself, of if he was “just a man of his time” and acted on information given to him on the day of Lord Hastings death.

He makes the assumption that it may be connected to Edward IV:s alleged pre-contract with Eleanor Butler, and spends a great deal of time attempting to prove that such a contract even existed, which is quite a fruitless endeavour, because even in the event it existed at the time, any evidence is long gone.

But he goes through the connections of Richard of Gloucester and Edward IV to see how, where and when contact could have been made between Butler and Edward, he goes through William Catesby, well basically his entire family tree, as well as for Lady Butler, analyse the behaviour of Bishop Stillington who allegedly was the one who let the cat out of the bag; that is to say; revealed that there was a such a thing as a pre-contract which made the marriage between Edward and Elizabeth Woodville null and void, and thereby all their children illegitimate.

While there are many non-fiction books which work perfectly to read as a novel, this is not one of them, it may be better served in rather small portions, if at all.

It contains a lengthy reference list, but I find that Peter A. Hancock not to the extent I would like makes it clear in the actual text on what he based his assumptions, guesses and speculations on. This may sound like I belittle his work more than is required for making a point of not liking the book, but in this topic assumptions, guesses and speculations are all any of us have. The only “evidence” any of us have around the reason why Richard of Gloucester acted as he did when he assumed the crown for himself.

This book is clearly directed to the most staunch of Ricardians, and while I don´t see Richard as a villain, I´m not one of them, which may be a reason to why I can´t bring myself to think this is a book that was really worth the “trouble”.



Richard III murder in tower

Philippa Gregory – Queen of historical novels

A few days ago I announced an upcoming surprise interview, and here she is: well-established and much loved author and historian Philippa Gregory hardly needs an introduction. Through her novels both the court of Henry VIII and his daughter has been brought to life and over the last few years she has let us all get to know the main players during the Wars of the Roses through the book series “The cousin´s war”. Needless to say, I was more than delighted when she took the time to answer a few questions of mine


Philippa_gregory_2011Your books about the Cousins´ War and the Tudor court are immensely popular. What is it that makes events taking place at courts and in battlefields centuries ago so alluring?

It’s all very exciting (if you’re not actually there with a real risk of being beheaded)! History can be better than anything you can make up, and I think people particularly like that they are reading about something that actually happened. The period was also so significant to how our world has become what it is today – it marks the transition from the medieval to the modern period. When you read these stories you realise the small bits of chance which led to England being a Protestant country, not being ruled by Spain, forming a United Kingdom with Scotland and more than anything else creating an empire. All of us have a personal history which reflects these great events, and these events take us back to the medieval world.

While history in general tends to be the story of men, you have allowed a number of strong and fascinating women to come out from the shadows of time. Are the Middle Ages and the Tudor era exceptional in the number of women who were determined to shape their own lives against all odds, The other boleyn girlor do you believe they can be found in any period of time?

For years I have talked about the ‘exceptional’ women that I found in the historical record as a footnote or as a companion to male actions; but just recently I began to see that if I keep finding them they can’t really be exceptional – there are so many of them! There are many many powerful decisive active interesting women struggling with the times they were in, and their stories are sometimes to be found if the historian can be bothered to look, but sometimes they have almost disappeared. I don’t agree that ‘history in general tends to be the story of men’- I think we really have to examine this. English history as published up to 1950 was almost completely written by men (since women could not attend university until 1920)  and was almost exclusively about power and the levers of power – military and political history and the men (all men) who were generals and politicians. So while the world of the past is populated with men and women, all of them living their lives, taking decisions and acting on their circumstances, the history up to about 1950 studied only a few of them, mostly men. It was a huge breakthrough when historians started to look at the history of labouring people, common people, enslaved people and women. I think that when you look for the history of a group you will find it, and there are as great a proportion of active brave courageous women in the Tudor period as there is now. They didn’t have our opportunities, and they were often not acknowledged but I think the ability of women extends across time.

One of the biggest causes for under-reporting of women of ability is the disapproval of the society – so some powerful and able women conceal their activity (like mother of Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort in The Red Queen,) and some are reported very unjustly, like the so-called she-wolf, Margaret of Anjou. I see you ask about her below!

The white queenAt least three of these women, Margaret of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville, have been portrayed rather unflatteringly both by their contemporaries and historians through the centuries. Do you believe that their reputation would have been different if they had been men?

Yes, absolutely – the criticism levelled at Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville was unwomanly ambition. Once the society defines natural feminine behaviour in a very small compass, any woman who steps outside it is going to be criticised for being ‘unnatural’. Think of Lady Macbeth steeling herself for murder by praying ‘unsex me here’ as if women cannot commit murder. The chroniclers of the period were all educated by the misogynistic church, and very quick to detect the folly or wickedness of Eve.  Interestingly, Margaret Beaufort commissioned the historian of her son’s reign, Polydore Vergil and whitewashed her own reputation. We know that she was deeply involved in rebellion against Richard III but she ensured that his history blames the Duke of Buckingham for the rebellion and credits her son and Thomas Stanley for the alliance which won Bosworth. Margaret Beaufort rightly knew that you could not be a woman held in high regard if it looked like you fought for your place in the world. (Hilary Clinton knows this too)>

Is there a character, man or woman, in your books – and in history -, that you have become The red queenparticularly attached to while writing?

Many! I get attached to each one of my main characters during the research and writing process, as I try to get into their heads and their circumstances. Among my favourites are Katherine of Aragon, Elizabeth Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg. They were each so courageous in forging their path. Katherine of Aragon stuck to her principles despite the cost, Jacquetta made her own marriage completely against the values of her class, and Elizabeth Woodville is just so charismatic with such an extraordinary story of love, ambition and survival. Currrently I am fascinated by the last wife of Henry VIII, Kateryn Parr as I am working on her now.

Just one last question, this one in regards to the adaptation of The White Queen for TV; the actor Aneurin Barnard has almost reached cult status for his portrayal of Richard III, not least for being so far removed from earlier interpretations. Is he, in appearance, how you imagined Richard while researching and writing?

Aneurin provided an excellent portrayal of Richard and I think matches the looks of the young Richard very well – although of course Richard ages a lot more during my books than can be shown in a TV show. I think his acting really captured the ambiguity of the character – a man that so many either love or hate. You struggle to tell what Aneurin as Richard is really thinking, and yet you sympathise so much with him. He’s a particularly nice man, he was so thrilled to be crowned king, I enjoyed the time I spent with him on set. I was so pleased to hear that he has been cast in War and Peace, I think he will be brilliant.


The Lost Prince – the survival of Richard of York

I´m sure it happens to all reading people on rare occasions (or for the really lucky ones, more often) that we become Richard_of_Shrewsbury,_1__Duke_of_Yorktruly mesmerized by what we´re reading. It has happened to me now, and what has gotten me in this stage is this truly excellent book by historian David Baldwin (yes, the same David Baldwin I hardly mentioned at all in my last book review because I was slightly fed up with Elizabeth Woodville.

This book review is in perfect line with my earlier post  ”The Princes in the Tower – how it started”. As the title suggest, it revolves around the possible survival of the youngest of the princes, and I have to be really careful here to make sure I tell you enough to make you want to read it, and not so much you don´t feel there is any reason left for you to read it yourself.

I have to admit that I previously haven´t given much thought to the possibility that one or even both of the boys could have survived, more than a passing notion that maybe for example Perkin Warbeck was who he said he was. In all honesty, I didn´t even know that there existed such a variety of theories of which maybe I just know of a fragment now.

David Baldwin starts off by recounting a number of them, of which I find the one which may be the least credible the most “endearing”, that Richard lived out his life under the nose of the authorities as the son in-law of Thomas More. But for reasons better explained in the book than by me, this is highly improbable, and it isn´t the theory that David Baldwin choses to pursue. Instead it is the well-established rumour that the youngest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville lived to an old age as a bricklayer.

This I dare say, because this much you will learn just by googling the book.

What is fascinating is how – even though he starts out by stating that he himself is not sure whether it´s a book of fiction or non-fiction he has written – David Baldwin managed to tie together the different clues; “If that happened, then this most have been the case afterwards”

I can only imagine the satisfaction and the butterflies in the stomach he must have felt when he manages to prove his different assumptions and thesis.

Like I said at the beginning, I won´t reveal so much that I ruin anyone’s reading of this book, but I don´t any longer believe that two princes died in the Tower in the late summer of 1483. Edward may have died, young people did in those days when things that are curable or no longer existing harvested lives, but Richard survived to an impressive age. I do believe that.

The Lost Prince