My latest book review, of Derek Birks‘ latest novel, Scars From the Past, the first novel of his stunning new series, set 10 years after the conclusion of his fantasticRebels& Brothers series, has gone live over at The Review today!
Scars From the Past is the first novel from Derek Birks’ new series and, I have to say, it is the ultimate page-turner! It is a new direction for the author. While there is just as much action as in the first series, the story is less about national politics and more family orientated, as the Elders fight to survive, and to avoid the family imploding.Where the first series concentrated on duty and feudal loyalty, this new novel examines more personal relationships; love and friendship.
The original Rebels & Brothers series told the story of Ned Elder, a Sharpe-like hero who fought his way through the Wars of the Roses and Edward IV’s battle to win – and hold – the throne of England. The new series, set ten years after the end of the fourth book, The Last Shroud, follows the adventures of the next generation. Ned’s son, John, is a young man finding it difficult to live up to his father’s legend and the reader follows his journey as he realises his own identity and that duty and responsibility are not so easy to run from…..
To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning a hot-off-the-press signed paperback copy in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!
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Today I would like to welcome author and historian Sean Cunningham as part of his amazing blog tour. Celebrating the release of his new biography, Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was, Sean has written a wonderful article on the wedding of Arthur and Catherine of Aragon – just for us!
The Wedding of the Century: Prince Arthur, Catherine of Aragon and the Politics of a Teenage Marriage in 1501
The private and public lives of England’s late medieval royal families were no-doubt as fascinating to their subjects as the Windsors are to many citizens today. In a world without social and other media or mass literacy, however, popular discussion of the visibility of the fifteenth century royals is almost completely hidden from modern view. We do know from the propaganda produced by competing sides in the Wars of the Roses that public opinion mattered to the ruling elites. Since rivals for the crown were basically cousins who shared royal blood in more-or-less equal degrees, appeals to popular support were important in the search for political advantage.
Records of royal progresses, visits, formal entries and days of estate stand out in civic records of towns and cities because it was rare for the ruled to see their rulers in close proximity within public spaces. For that reason, we might expect evidence of more ambitious manipulation of London’s concentrated population in spectacular set-piece events like royal marriages. It is not found in the fifteenth century. Lancastrian and Yorkist leaders seem to have shied away from public view when they took their wedding vows.
Joan of Navarre was a thirty-three-year old widow when she married Henry IV at Winchester in 1403; a comforting arrangement, not necessarily to increase numbers of royal children. Henry V’s marriage to Catherine de Valois at Troyes in 1420 was a quiet soldier’s wedding, which very few English people witnessed, despite its massive political implications (or maybe because of them). Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou had a low-key ceremony at Titchfield Abbey in April 1445. Edward IV became Elizabeth Woodville’s second husband in a secret service in 1464. Richard III had married the widowed Anne Neville within Westminster Palace while he was duke of Gloucester in 1472. Henry VII’s own wedding did not occur until January 1486, despite the certainty that many of his supporters had followed him only because of his promise to marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth. It was not a state occasion, and received far less interest from heralds and chroniclers than King Henry’s first royal progress the following spring.
Political circumstances, cost, and the uncertainty of factional politics and civil war account for some of these understated royal weddings. Henry VII had no such reservations about the match of his son and heir, however. The series of events surrounding the marriage of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon in November 1501 were carefully planned and stage-managed for maximum public impact on an international scale. The marriage reveals a great deal of what the king, his mother and their family thought about themselves and what they wanted their subjects to remember as key messages relating to Tudor power, right, ancestry, and fitness to rule.
In terms of its ambition and complexity, the marriage of Arthur and Catherine was planned as one of the greatest spectacles ever seen in England. Catherine would have a ceremonial journey from her place of landfall to London; pageants of welcome to the city and on the river would explore symbolism and allegory as well as being fantastically entertaining displays by human actors and mechanical devices; the interior of St Paul’s had been reconfigured to present the wedding service as a ceremonial royal performance; the public would enjoy a never-ending wine fountain near the west door of the church; tournaments in the rebuilt tiltyard at Westminster Palace would show off the martial skill of Henry VII’s courtiers; the wedding feast would be served on gold and silver worth as much as the crown’s annual income from taxation; lodgings within the royal palaces and other public spaces had been repaired and refreshed for over two years in preparation for a few days of occupancy; gifts, jewels and paintings were purchased from around Europe to be given away as a demonstration of the king’s magnificence. As the public face of England’s alliance with the Spanish kingdoms of Aragon and Castile the marriage was Henry VII’s single-minded statement of intent about the future of Tudor power.
Henry VII could aspire to build Arthur’s future in this way because 1500-01 was the high-point of his reign. Perkin Warbeck, the pretender to the crown, who had disturbed Henry VII’s sleep for most of the 1490s, was dead. His scaffold confession in November 1499 that he was an impostor (whether forced or genuine), was meant to remove all belief that the sons of Edward IV had survived the reign of their uncle, Richard III. The earl of Warwick – son of Edward IV’s other brother, George, duke of Clarence – was beheaded in the same month as Warbeck. He was the last male Plantagenet of lineal descent from Henry II. These executions made Henry VII’s queen, Elizabeth, the sole direct heir of the House of York. Emphasising that fact strengthened Prince Arthur’s position as inheritor of her ancestry and family loyalties. By 1500, it looked like the Tudor king had finally thrown of the shackles of the Wars of the Roses. Only when England was free from these lingering threats, did the Spanish monarchs agree to start preparations to dispatch Princess Catherine in the summer of 1501.
The nature of Henry VII’s reign meant that things were not stable for long. Indications soon emerged that the king’s dynastic struggles might recur. Henry’s failure to expand the ranks of his allies meant that he soon felt the effects of deaths within his circle of old friends. Two long-standing supporters, John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, and John, Lord Dynham, Treasurer of England, had helped to shape Henry’s power since 1485. They died in September 1500 and January 1501 respectively. This problem would accelerate after 1502 and was magnified by other factors.
More alarmingly, Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, one of the queen’s nephews, fled overseas in spring 1501. With the help of Sir James Tyrell, he was contemplating launching a claim for the crown. Tyrell was a rehabilitated loyalist of Richard III. His defection and the seeds of another attempt to start a pro-Yorkist conspiracy can only have filled the Tudor royal family with dread. Suffolk’s departure might have been prompted by the certainty that Arthur and Catherine’s marriage would strengthen Henry VII’s power even further. Evidently he felt it was worth taking a risk to secure foreign help before that happened. Although he was persuaded to return, Suffolk soon fled again to the protection of Maximilian Habsburg, Archduke of Austria and ruler of the Low Countries. He became another pretender intent on deposing the Tudor family. King Henry moved quickly, therefore, to finalise the preparations for the wedding of his son with Princess Catherine while the political situation remained in his favour.
Ferdinand and Isabella were able to exert pressure on Henry to demonstrate that England was a stable place for their daughter’s future because their nation was a rapidly-rising world power. With little prospect of recovering former lands in France, the Tudor regime in England had recognised almost as soon as it came to power that the Spanish should be wooed as a new centre of gravity in European diplomacy. In 1501, it was less than ten years since the Columbus had discovered a new world for the Spanish monarchs. Later voyagers were only just beginning to realise the potential of the Americas, but at that time the Spanish had no rivals (following the Treaty of Tordesillas with Portugal in 1494). The reconquest of Granada at the very start of 1492 also allowed a unified Spain to begin a new focus within Europe. By the end of 1494, King Ferdinand had entered the alliance against France which soon drew many European states into the Italian wars. In the years since 1489, when Henry VII had opened negotiations for a marriage alliance, it was clear that Spanish influence was under transformation. A European superpower was emerging and the English king put himself in exactly the right place at the right time to take full advantage.
Catherine left Corunna on 17 August 1501. Storms and delays meant that she landed in Plymouth and not Southampton, as planned, on 2 October – a month later than expected. She therefore had to endure a far longer land journey towards London; but that did give more people the chance to see her on the road. Henry VII was annoyed by the disruption this caused to his arrangements, but could do little until Catherine got nearer to his base at Richmond Palace. Records suggest that genuine excitement travelled ahead of the princess and down the road to London as she, her massive and exotic entourage, and the English nobles and gentry accompanying her crossed southern England.
At the centre of all of this complex activity were two teenagers. When looking at the lavish and elaborate events that were part of the marriage, it is really important to remember that Arthur and his bride had only just met. Sixteen-year-old-Catherine had been in the country for six weeks by the time of her wedding on 14 November. She had barely paused for more than a few days after a direct journey of almost two hundred miles from Plymouth to London.
This was an arranged marriage, too. Although both young people had been bred and trained for a demanding public life, nerves and perhaps shyness must still have been part of their first meetings. Language was certainly an issue – even conversational Latin was tried. Having seen England’s future queen, Henry oversaw a renewal of the couple’s marriage vows in person at Dogmersfield in Hampshire on 6 November. The king and Arthur then headed for London. Catherine stayed in Lambeth until 12 November when she was met by Prince Henry, the duke of Buckingham and many other lords in St George’s field, south of London Bridge, for the start in earnest of her wedding festivities.
The king and his council had worked with the mayor and aldermen of London for almost two years to devise and to build pageants of welcome. The first was at the south side of London Bridge. It depicted the story of St Catherine and St Ursula. Actresses playing those saints flattered Catherine’s virtue and honour as part of an astrological allegory on the constellations of Ursa Minor and Arcturus. At the other end of the bridge, a second setting contained a castle covered in Tudor badges and imagery – the Castle of Policy. Catherine was presented as the evening star whose noble presence spontaneously opened the castle gates. A third construction on Cornhill was a mechanical zodiac that placed Arthur and Catherine in heavenly proximity to God. Arthur was depicted as an ideal knight in splendour on the heraldic fourth pageant on Cheapside; while the fifth, outside the Standard Inn, was even more celestial. God’s throne and a representation of heaven presented a dazzlingly-armoured Arthur as divine Justice. At the sixth pageant, by the entrance to St Paul’s churchyard, the Seven Virtues guarded empty thrones awaiting Arthur and Catherine next to an actor representing Honour. The clear message was that honour could only be reached by virtuous living.
Much of the level of detail would have had little impact upon the mass of onlookers. It was meant to be visually stunning but not necessarily understood in all of its allegorical complexity. The constant use of badges and beasts like the red rose, portcullis, red dragon, and greyhound made for a quick visual association between the spectacle and the king’s authority. Ramming home the message that Arthur and Catherine were deserving inheritors of this extravagant power was vitally important. This need continued on the wedding day itself.
Arthur and Catherine were meant to be seen together. This marriage was a union of two people and an alliance of two nations. The setting of the church and orchestration of the ceremony reflected that. A raised platform built from thousands of deal planks formed a walkway that stretched along the interior of St Paul’s. Henry and Queen Elizabeth watched from a small closet so that they did not detract from the focus on the married couple. The bride and groom wore white satin. Catherine was escorted towards the altar by Arthur’s brother, Henry. Her Spanish style of verdugeo dress and highly fashionable hood were noticed by the herald’s keen eye. Before the service, a formal exchange of agreements and documents took place. They guaranteed Catherine’s status and income and firmly endorsed Ferdinand and Isabella’s alliance with Tudor England. The most notable moment in the ceremony came when Arthur and Catherine, now married, turned at the door of the choir to look back down the body of the church. It is easy to imagine their dazzling outfits and the faces of hundreds of people, who then spontaneously began to shout in celebration.
Outside another strange pageant was constructed like a mobile mountain, complete with rocks, trees, herbs, fruit and metal ore. A river of wine confirmed this as the allegorical source of all the things that the king’s subjects needed. It was the riche-mont, a pun on Henry’s former title of earl of Richmond. The presence of the Christian Nine Worthies placed Henry VII and Arthur in the same category of ruler as Charlemagne, King Arthur and Godfrey de Bouillon.
The magnificent wedding banquet then followed in the bishop of London’s palace. Spanish and English lords and ladies intermingled as the king’s chefs excelled themselves in inventiveness. It was also remarkable that the feast was served on magnificent silver and gilt plate while another set of dishes and jewelled chalices remained on display within the room. Henry’s proclamation of his wealth was hard to miss. The feasting and drinking lasted for most of the afternoon. In the early evening, chambers were prepared for the wedding night. What happened next (and its implications), is another part of the story and one that requires longer discussion elsewhere.
Here we must leave Arthur and Catherine at the end of their exhausting wedding day. In the full glare of attention and with a weight of expectation around their shoulders, it would be no surprise if a good sleep was all that the couple managed that night. They had time on their side and in the middle of November 1501, the future for Tudor England looked to be strong and dynamic. Henry had spent a fortune in coin and energy in ensuring that the political dimension of his son’s wedding was achieved spectacularly and flawlessly. No-one could have expected that within fifteen months the regime would once again be creaking on the point of collapse as both Prince Arthur and Queen Elizabeth were dead in their tombs. The wheel of fortune had turned once again for Henry VII. How he recovered would depend on a radically different strategy to rescue control over the succession of the crown, then reliant on the survival of his only surviving son, Prince Henry.
Dr Sean Cunningham, has worked at the UK National Archives for over twenty years, where he is currently Head of Medieval Records. He is the author of several works on late medieval and early Tudor history, including Henry VII in the Routledge Historical Biographies series and the newly-released Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was, for Amberley. Sean is about to start researching for a major funded project on the private spending accounts of the royal chamber under Henry VII and Henry VIII. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and co-convenor of the Late Medieval Seminar at London’s Institute of Historical Research.
Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was is available from Amberley, Amazon and other online outlets and bookshops.
Pictures of Catherine of Aragon and Old St Paul’s are courtesy of Wikipedia, all other pictures courtesy of Sean Cunningham.
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Few English monarchs had to fight harder for the right to rule than King Edward IV – Shakespeare’s glorious son of York. Cast in the true Plantagenet mould, over six feet tall, he was a naturally charismatic leader. Edward had the knack of seizing the initiative and winning battles and is free from the unflattering characterisations that plagued his brother, Richard III, having been portrayed as a good-looking and formidable military tactician. Described sometimes as reckless and profligate, all sources remark on his personal bravery. In the eleven years between 1460 and 1471 he fought five major battles in the Wars of the Roses. Three of them – Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury – rank among the most decisive of the medieval period.
This is a history of Edward IV’s struggle to gain and retain the kingship of England during a period of sustained dynastic turmoil during the Wars of the Roses.
Jeffrey James’ biography of Edward IV is a wonderful introduction to the Wars of the Roses from the Yorkist point of view. Told in a chronological narrative, it covers the events from the very outset of the Wars, telling the story from Edward’s birth, through the struggles of Richard, Duke of York, and the outbreak of war. It concentrates on Edward’s fight to win – and keep – the throne, covering the various battles, and Edward’s military tactics, in great detail.
With the author’s background in military history, it is no surprise that where this book shines is in the assessment of the military engagements, troop movements and battle plans. It places Edward’s story in the wider context of the Wars of the Roses, while highlighting the individuality and personality of Edward, which made him such a successful warrior and king.
Scattered among the narrative are insights into Edward’s personality:
Normally relaxed and easy-going – a man who disliked unpleasantness for its own sake – Edward nonetheless had a fiery temper, usually vented against those of noble rank who angered or disappointed him. Though more often stressing the king’s good nature contemporaries sometimes touch on this aspect of Edward’s character.
More marked was the king’s man-management skills.
Jeffrey James uses contemporary sources in abundance to back up his arguments and theories. Extensive footnotes and a comprehensive bibliography provide limitless opportunities for further reading. Maps and family trees at the beginning of the book help to provide a basic understanding of the scale of the Wars, and of the personalities involved. The narrative is also supplemented by 40 photographs, portraits and illustrations, providing a further visual aid to the people, locations and battlefields involved in the conflict.
Edward IV, Glorious Son of York is an engaging, accessible narrative which provides thorough analysis of the king’s actions – and the actions of the chief players in the Wars of the Roses. Edward’s relationships with his family, allies and, even, his enemies – foreign and domestic – are discussed and assessed, providing interesting insights into the great personalities of the 15th century.
It provides some fascinating little tidbits of history:
There may have been mercenary pikemen, as well as halberdiers, professional soldiers – forerunners of the famed continental landsknechts – whose habit of slashing their clothing seeded the fashions of Tudor times.
Unfortunately it does get a little fanciful in places, claiming that “Leaden images, depicting a man and a woman, found discarded in an orchard nearby, suggest enchantment” when talking about the wedding of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV. He also suggests Richard of Gloucester (the future Richard III) hero-worshipped his brother, without any contemporary evidence to back this up.
However, such dubious claims are few and far between and, on the whole, the author’s research is impeccable and supported by contemporary sources and evidence from archaeology. Jeffrey James also acknowledges the work and theories of fellow historians, such as Amy Licence and Charles Ross, analysing their assessments in relation to his own.
In keeping with the author’s background in military history, his Jeffrey James’ analysis of military events and tactics is insightful:
If Warwick was stirring up trouble in the North he was – to use a modern phrase – ‘operating well under the radar’, using proxies in a manner designed to circumvent the activation of any immediate royal redress. Today we might use the term ‘hybrid warfare’ when describing acts like theses: acts designed to surprise, confuse and wear down an opponent.
Although the book concentrates on Edward’s fight to win and retain the throne, it also looks into Edward’s family life and the implications of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville; on England, his allies and international politics. It provides and in-depth analysis of where Edward’s relationship with the Earl of Warwick broke down, and of Edward’s various successes and failures. He doesn’t shirk from discussing where Edward made mistakes, nor looking at where he could have done better, or been more – or less – ruthless.
Edward IV, Glorious Son of York is a well-written, entertaining biography of one of England’s most fascinating kings and his fight to win – and keep – the throne.
Pictures taken from Wikipedia.
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Amy was also kind enough to answer a few questions for me; about her love of writing and history.
What made you become a writer?
I’ve always been a writer, since I could write, since I could formulate a narrative. I wrote my first story when I was three and I decided that was what I wanted to do when I was eight years old – that was after I rejected the possibility of being a ballerina, an actor, an architect and an interior designer. I sent off my first novel at sixteen – it was rejected, of course! Since then I’ve always written, it was just something I had to do, I don’t feel right it I’m not writing: if I’m breathing, I’m writing. Words – their meaning and rhythm – are how I make sense of the world. I kept doing it all through university, and while I was a teacher, having articles, poems and stories published, but it wasn’t until 2011 that I finally signed a contract!
With young children around, how do you discipline yourself to write?
Luckily for me, it’s not a question of having to discipline myself. Writing is my escape and my relaxation; I feel most myself when I’m writing, so it’s essential for me to do it. Finding the time can be difficult though, so I write by stealth, whenever and wherever I can. It’s not too hard because I love it; I always have a book in my hand to research from or a notebook to jot ideas in. My hands will be changing a nappy while my head is in the fifteenth century. I have to be very organised to divide my time between my children and my work so I choose how I spend my time and try not to waste it. I don’t watch a lot of TV, for example. I have to be able to switch in and out of it quickly, as I’ll be writing and then a plaintive voice will ask for a drink, or for a story to be read, so I’m off for ten minutes then back to finish my thought.
How do you organise your writing day?
Usually it fits around the school day, so it’s balanced between getting my eldest son ready and out on time and playing with my younger one. I manage to do my best work in the morning once I get back, between about 9 and 11, often with my younger boy sitting beside me, drawing or playing. We’ll have lunch together and play in the afternoon. The boys will happily play together for about an hour when we get in from the school run so I sometimes manage another hour then. I’ll try and do some more in the evening too, or at least sit with my family if they’re watching TV with a pile of books and do some research. We try and spend as much time together as we can on the weekend but if I have a deadline looming, my husband will take the boys out for a morning.
How many projects do you have going at once, or do you concentrate on one at a time?
It depends upon my deadlines. I usually have four or five ideas for different things running in my head and work on them at different speeds. Typically, I might have one main book to be written, which I’m preparing for a deadline, and a second in the planning and research stage, plus a couple of novels I’m tinkering with and a number of articles and/or reviews. Each has a different speed. I have two reading piles too; one with books for my writing, which I’m dipping in and out of, and another for escapism reading. I like to have four or five books on the go that are totally different to what I’m writing about – the Post-Impressionists, Ted Hughes, D.H Lawrence and Tolstoy at the moment.
How long do you spend researching your subject before you start writing?
This is an odd one because it has been a slow-burning process. I’m not coming to any of my topics new, so although I’m writing about them now, I’ve been reading about them for 25 years. By the time I was 15 I’d read all the books in my local library about the Tudors and I completed my MA in Medieval and Tudor history in 1995. Since then I’ve been reading everything new about them I can get my hands on. So the general research has been on-going. With each book though, I do more specific “honing” research, which is the trawling through primary sources and that can take between 6 and 9 months.
What do you enjoy most about writing as a career?
I actually enjoy the process of writing! It’s lovely when a book comes out and the reviews start to come in; it’s great to see my name on Amazon and it’s a real buzz to give author talks to people who are interested in my work. Best of all though, is just me sitting down at the computer and writing. It takes me to another place.
What is the worst thing about writing as a career?
That it’s not a viable career. I work long hours, very hard, building on years of perseverance and dedication, overcoming rejections and I get paid less than if I was working in a supermarket stacking shelves.
How long does it take to do a project from start to finish?
Again this can vary, given that the ideas have been brewing for a long time, but the period from signing a contract to submitting the book is usually about a year, sometimes more.
Have you ever considered writing a novel? What would it be about?
Novel writing was my first love. I worked for ten years with a top literary agent and submitted about five novels to them; they loved them and said my writing was beautiful but that the market wasn’t quite right for them. I like to write literary fiction; my heroes are Woolf, Dostoevsky, Gorky and Nabokov but the current market isn’t particularly welcoming for new authors in this style. I have written historical fiction too; while I was at university I wrote a novel about the death of Amy Dudley and more recently, one about a teeth stealer on the battlefield of Waterloo, plus I’m half way through one about Edward IV. It’s just finding the time to finish it!
Who are your favourite personalities from history?
Quite honestly, I get interested in most characters I research. I don’t go for particular sides or affiliations, but I am drawn to people who challenged or defied the rules in some way, either breaking the law or transgressing social boundaries. I’m interested in people’s motivation under duress and the people who really carved out their own niches and made their own luck so I am fascinated by the lives of Edward IV and Richard III.
Which is your favourite and why, the Wars of the Roses or the Tudor era?
I like both very much, I like the century straddling the two, from about 1450 to 1550. I think we tend to perpetuate something of an artificial divide between them and I’ve just submitted a book proposal that covers exactly this period, both Wars of the Roses and Tudors and looks at the continuity. If I had to choose between one or the other, I’d probably go for the court of Edward IV, simply because the Tudors have already received so much attention.
Why Edward IV and Elizabeth? What is it about them that fascinates you?
I think there are so many interesting things about this pair, individually and collectively. The more I research Edward, the more of an interesting figure I find him, in terms of his personal rule, charisma and abilities: he was a supremely able man who conquered the country twice and held it together by force of his personality. I really think he has been overlooked by history. His marriage to Elizabeth and their relationship intrigues me too. I also feel that she has had a very raw deal from historians, almost written up as a caricature, typifying the notions of patriarchal history and “cherchez la femme”, and she deserves to be analysed far more objectively. Despite the initial objections to her background, birth, age and marital history, Elizabeth can be seen as conforming to contemporary notions of ideal queenship; beautiful, fertile, submissive. She is a paradox who has divided historians for centuries, but much of that is the repetition of a patriarchal mind-set that has remained unchallenged until recently.
What era that you haven’t yet written about would you like to get your teeth into?
Good question. Definitely the English Civil War and its aftermath; I’d love to do something on the failed experiment of the radical sects in the C17th, or on Charles and Cromwell, or the period slightly before. I’d also quite like to write about Eleanor of Aquitaine and I’m very keen to do another early C20th book, about some of the makers of Modernism. I have plans in the pipeline for that last one.
A lot of your work has been about women in history. What attracted you to their stories?
I wrote my first published book, In Bed with the Tudors, because I’d just had my first child. I was interested to explore the experiences of women during pregnancy and birth in the past, so I suppose it does have a lot to do with the fact that I am a woman. However, I’m also drawn to write about marginal figures whose stories have been overlooked and I’m fascinated by alternative narratives. In my forthcoming “Red Roses” (The History Press, March 2016) I trace an alternative thread to the male metanarrative that has dominated historiography, connecting the women of the Lancastrian dynasty between the 1340s and 1509 and seeking common themes in their lives. The study of women’s history is comparatively new and it’s shocking how often their lives are simply retold in the same ways, without attempts being made to get inside their heads and see things from their perspectives.
Do you every get writer’s block? If so, how do you get round it?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. If you’re a serious writer, you have to be professional about it and just get on with it. There is always something to be done, even if it turns out not to be perfect. If you’re finding one section difficult, write another part, or go back and revise. If writing is tricky that day, research, read, make notes, collect images or jot down some ideas. You can always go back and change them, or reject them entirely, but it’s a process of crafting and clarification, so the next time you attempt that bit, it will be that little bit better. If you produce nothing, you have nothing to work with, you’re still at step one. My mantras are: “the worst thing you write is always better than the best thing you don’t write” and “the only way to do it, is to do it!”
Do you find social media – such as Facebook – a help or a distraction?
Both. It has been invaluable for connecting me with wonderful, like-minded people from all round the world. I thank them profusely for their friendship and kindness, for sharing their thoughts and research; I’ve made some great friends on Facebook who have inspired and influenced me and kept me sane. It is also my shop-front and without question, has helped me reach a far wider audience and update people about my work and appearances. However, it can be a huge time waster. Sometimes, especially with deadlines looming, I have to step back from it, or else I would get nothing done.
What is your next project?
I’ve signed three contracts and am about to sign one more, to keep me busy for the next couple of years. I will keep some of those projects secret for a while, but can tell you I’ve begun writing a huge biography of Catherine of Aragon. Catherine tends to get often in terms of her gynecological record and marriage to Henry but I want to analyse her as a queen in the context of her childhood and parentage. I want to explore the influence of her mother Isabella – who expelled the Jews from Spain and founded the secular branch of the Inquisition, as well as patronising female humanist scholars – and how this shaped the mind-set of a woman who never forgot she was Isabella’s daughter and resisted Henry’s demands because she felt the higher calling of God. I want to see Catherine as a Renaissance woman in her own right. Henry is definitely taking a back seat for this one.
“Traditionally it happened on May Day, early in the morning … two women slipped away from the manor house … They were a mother and daughter … They hurried on foot across the Wydeville land, towards the edge of the estate …. There stood a small priory or hermitage, dedicated to St Mary and St Michael … Waiting inside was a tall, athletic and distinguished young man in rich clothes, a priest and a choir boy and two gentlewomen, to act as witnesses. There, before this tiny group, Elizabeth Wydeville was married without pomp or ceremony to the King of England.”
It is the stuff legends are made of – and fairy tales. The story of how a penniless widow rose to become the Queen of England. After examining the lives of many of the characters of the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor period, author and historian Amy Licence has turned her attention to the greatest love story of Medieval England; Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, a true Cinderella story if ever there was one.
Amy Licence’s latest book, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance, is remarkable in that it is not a fairy tale, it’s not a historical fiction novel. It is the true story of how Edward IV came to be married to a mere ‘commoner’. In a wonderfully lively retelling of the lives of Edward IV and his queen, Ms Licence leaves no stone unturned. She tells the story from the beginning in a fascinating and engaging narrative of the lives of her main characters, and the lives of those around them.
“Edward has become the ghost of a king, a historical filler before Richard III assumed the throne, a bit-player in Shakespeare’s trilogy about Henry VI, the father of the Princes in the Tower, the husband of the White Queen. Edward has become one of our many ‘missing kings’.”
Amy Licence goes into great detail about Edward’s love life and relationships, examining all the accusations ever levelled against him. Her love of her subjects shines through. The book provides a thorough analysis, whilst being lively and enthralling.
“A True Romance” is a marvelous piece of research presented in such a manner that will have the novice and the expert glued to every page. The controversies surrounding the couple are discussed in detail: their secret marriage, Edward’s reputation, Elizabeth’s social status.
This romance is presented in the context of the period in which it happened. The author gives a comprehensive overview of the Wars of the Roses, and the characters involved, detailing the lives of the individuals close to Edward and Elizabeth, and the separate lives of the couple themselves before they come together. Their relationship is not only presented as a love story, but also in the context of the period in which they were living, demonstrating how big an upset it caused on the international stage.
“… Elizabeth Wydeville, an unlikely queen, whom he had chosen in spite of tradition, in spite of advice, perhaps even in spite of himself. Her beauty was legendary but on almost every other level, she was an unacceptable choice for an English queen.”
In this book Ms Licence demonstrates not only her extensive knowledge of the events of the era, but of all aspects of the period; from May Day traditions to the Sumptuary Laws, to the people themselves.
Amy Licence’s writing style is so easy to read and free-flowing, it is as if she is in the room talking to you. She brings the past to life in a vivid and entertaining way. Crammed full of facts and information taken from primary sources, the book tells the story not only of Edward and Elizabeth, but also of their wider family and affinity, demonstrating how the lives of their friends and family are interlinked and how it influences the couple, their decisions and the world around them.
The book discusses all aspects of the evidence available. This is presented in an objective and fair way; from the chronicles of the time, to literary representations and even rumours and archaeological evidence. The reliability and veracity of the evidence is explained and thoroughly analysed in detail, leaving the reader nodding in agreement at the author’s conclusions; her arguments are thorough and persuasive.
A major strength in Ms Licence’s work is that she shows respect when discussing the theories of fellow historians; whether she agrees with them or not.
This biography of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville leaves no stone unturned. Amy Licence discusses every legend related to the couple, explores the development of their relationship and its effects on the lives of the couple, their families and the nation at large. Every aspect of their lives is discussed, leaving no situation unexamined and no rumour ignored.
Amy Licence presents a marriage and relationship that is as human and complex as any celebrity marriage of today. This is a wonderful study of one of the most famous love affairs in history in a book which is at once sympathetic, vivid and lively.
In short, this book is a fabulous biography of a romance that changed English history a forever. Thoroughly researched and stunningly presented, it is a must-read for all lovers of history, romance and the Wars of the Roses, themselves.
Amy Licence has been a teacher for over a decade. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles on the Tudors. She is an author and historian of women’s lives in the medieval and Tudor period.
Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance is available on Amazon in the UK from Monday 15th February and in the US soon.
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Born sometime around 1382 Anne of Gloucester was the daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester, and Eleanor de Bohun.
Anne’s parentage was impeccable. Her father was the youngest son of the late king Edward III and his queen Philippa of Hainault, making Anne first cousins with the 2 subsequent kings, Richard II and Henry IV. Along with Henry IV’s wife, Mary de Bohun, Anne’s mother was co-heiress of the earls of Hereford.
Anne’s childhood would have been marred by the political conflicts of Richard II’s reign. By the late 1380s her father had set himself up in opposition to the king’s tyrannical rule and his reliance on personal favourites. As a leader of the Lords Appellant he was responsible for the arrest of Richard’s favourites and the curbing of the king’s powers.
Anne was probably born at Pleshey Castle and it was also the scene of her first wedding. In June 1391, aged only 8 or 9, Anne was married to Thomas Stafford, 3rd Earl of Stafford, who was about 15 years her senior. Thomas died in 1392, before the marriage could be consummated. Even before Thomas Stafford’s death, it seems, provision had already been made for Anne to marry one of his younger brothers. The brothers, William and Edmund, were wards of Anne’s father. The year after the elder boy William, died in 1395 (aged about 19), Anne was married to Edmund, now 5th Earl of Stafford.
In the year following her marriage, Anne was to suffer further tragedy when her father was personally arrested by the king, whilst recovering from illness at the family’s home of Pleshey Castle, Essex. Thomas was transported to imprisonment in Calais to await trial, under the care of the earl of Nottingham, from where his death was reported in September of the same year. A later inquiry established that Thomas Duke of Gloucester had been murdered, most likely on the night of 8th September, smothered under a mattress.
The Duke was declared a traitor and his lands and property were forfeited to the crown. Anne’s only brother, Humphrey, was made a ward of King Richard II and was with the king in Ireland 2 years later, when Henry Bolingbroke invaded England and claimed the crown as Henry IV. The new king ordered Humphrey’s return to England, but he died on the voyage home in August 1399, aged just 18.
Anne’s life was hit by 2 further losses in close succession. Her mother, Eleanor de Bohun died on 3rd October 1399. The Chronicler, Walsingham, said she died of a broken heart following the deaths of her husband and only son. Anne’s unmarried sister, Joan, died in August 1400. With her only remaining sibling, Isabel, taking the veil at the Minoresses in London on her 16th birthday in April 1402, Anne became one of the greatest heiresses in the kingdom. From 1399 she was recognised as Countess of Buckingham, Hereford and Northampton and was made a Lady of the Garter in 1405.
In these same years Anne gave birth to 2 daughters and a son. Of her daughters Philippa died young and Anne would marry consecutively her cousins Edmund Mortimer, earl of March and John Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter. Anne’s only son by Edmund Stafford, Humphrey, was born in 1402 and would go on to become the Duke of Buckingham. Loyal to King Henry VI at the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, he would be killed at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. Humphrey’s son, Henry, would be husband to Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort.
On 21st July 1403 Anne was made a widow for the second time, when Edmund was killed fighting for the king at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Still only in her early 20s Anne was left with 2 young children and a dower income of £1500 a year. However, with her dower properties stretched across the strategically important Welsh Marches Anne’s remarriage was of great interest to Henry IV.
Of immediate concern was the security of those dower properties, giving Henry IV’s ongoing conflict with Owain Glyn Dwr and the Welsh. Sir William Bourchier, Count of Eu, was dispatched to help protect Anne and her properties from any Welsh incursions. And it was with this same knight that Anne, taking her future into her own hands, contracted a secret marriage some time before 20th November 1405.
The king was displeased with the clandestine marriage and the couple were fined ‘great sums’. However, Bourchier it seems was highly charismatic, a capable soldier and valued administrator, all factors which, when added to his proven loyalty to the Lancastrian king, helped to ensure that the couple was soon forgiven.
Sir William Bourchier would continue his impressive career under Henry V; fighting at Agincourt in 1415, after which he was appointed Constable of the Tower of London and took responsibility of the high-profile French prisoners captured in the battle. In letters Anne described with pride ‘the valiant prowess, wisdom and good governance’ her husband .
The couple seems to have been genuinely in love and soon had a nursery full of children, with 4 sons and a daughter all born before 1415. Anne promoted the careers of all her children and arranged marriages for them.
William and Anne’s eldest son, Henry 1st Earl of Essex was married to Isabel of Cambridge, daughter of Richard of Consibrough. A Yorkist supporter, he fought at the Second battle of St Albans and at Towton, dying in April 1483.
Thomas Bourchier, most likely Anne and William’s second son, went to Oxford and then joined the Church. He rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1454 and was made a cardinal in 1467. Although he was Chancellor for a short time, in the reign of Henry VI, Thomas was a loyal supporter of and it was Edward IV himself who wrote to the pope urging for Thomas’s promotion to cardinal. In his position as Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas crowned both Richard III and Henry VII. He died in 1486 and was buried next to the high altar in Canterbury Cathedral.
Of their other sons; William Bourchier became Baron Fitzwarin in right of his wife and Sir John Bourchier who was created Baron Berners following his marriage to Margery Berners and was Constable of Windsor Castle in the 1460s. Anne and William’s only daughter, Eleanor Bourchier, married John de Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and was the mother of another John, the 4th Duke.
Although they seem to have been on opposing sides of the political spectrum, Humphrey Stafford remained close to his mother and his Bourchier half-siblings.
Anne was widowed for a third and final time when William died at Troyes in 1420. His body was sent back to England for burial at Llanthony Priory in Gloucestershire. Anne had an enduring friendship with the Prior, John Wyche, and corresponded with him in both French and English.
Although not yet 40 Anne never remarried. Throughout her marriages – and after – she was personally involved in estate management and her letters demonstrate a sound business acumen. Anne had loyal and talented administrators who helped her fight for her interests. As earl of Buckingham, Anne’s father had revenues of £1,000 a year from the lordships of Oakham (Rutland) and Holderness (Yorkshire). While Oakham was returned to Anne in 1414 she only recovered Holderness in 1437, the year before she died.
While Anne was cousin to the king, Henry V, both he and his father had resented the unequal division of the Bohun inheritance in her favour. Henry V was to eventually force a new settlement on the recently widowed countess in 1421, this time heavily weighted for the king’s benefit, leaving Anne just £1200 a year from her mother’s inheritance; and even this often fell into arrears.
Anne had shared a love of the church with her mother and was known for her piety and love of learning. She died in October 1438, aged around 55. Her will, written “in the Englyshe tonge for my most profit redyng and vnderstandyng”, remembered her “most trewe and diligent” reatiners (Register of Henry Chichele.
Anne of Gloucester, mother to combatants on both sides of the Wars of the Roses and granddaughter of Edward III, was buried beside William at Llanthony Priory where, in 1453, her children set up a perpetual chantry for the welfare of their souls.
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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon.; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; oxforddnb.com; geni.com; thepeerage.com.
What made you start writing?I always wanted to write. I started at about 17, writing adventure stories, but they were rubbish. Then I got caught up with other things. 40 years later I wanted to find out if I could do it. looking back, I couldn’t have written the books I have when I was that age.
Why are your stories set in the Wars of the Roses? It’s always been one of my favourite periods. The characters are so fascinating – you couldn’t make up the characters and situations if you tried.
Who were your major writing influences? Bernard Cornwell and Alexandre Dumas. I love the Musketeers stuff. And Bernard Cornwell was a breath of fresh air – his writing was less polite than anything else around at the time.
How do you approach your writing day? I write almost entirely in the mornings, staring around 7.30. I can write for as long as I want, but usually finish about 1 o’clock and then have lunch.
If you lose track, do you give up or carry on? If I hit a snag, to clear my mind I go for a walk, or a swim and don’t think about it – then the ideas pop in my head. It helps to make for a better plot, usually. The same happens if my editor – my son- says something is not working; I’ll think about it and come up with something better.
How do you kill off your characters?I started my first book writing something direct and full of action, but that meant some characters would die. By the 3rd book my characters’ attitude to death changed. In the first 2 there was no fear of the consequences. By the 3rd I looked at battle weariness and regret and the characters look at it differently. I changed my mind about killing a character I had always intended to kill off – and killed off someone else instead. In book 4, someone had to die, it was just a matter of deciding who.
Most books written about wars have women as peripheral characters, weak and helpless. Why did you write Eleanor as a fighter?There is an audience for a strong woman. I tried to have several different women’s roles, and Eleanor was the antidote to the traditional women’s roles. She’s a catalyst for control. She has an edge in that men don’t expect her reactions.
Do your characters talk to you? I don’t think they do. I sometimes go to bed thinking of the story line. But they do have specific theme music; Eleanor’s is Try by Pink and Ned’s is Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits.
Who do you think is your best character and who is your favourite? I would like to think Ned is my best character – and Eleanor is definitely my favourite. I can’t imagine Eleanor getting older. She was the hardest to develop through the book sand I hope she grew up.
If someone said they wanted to make a film, do you have an actor or actress in mind to play Ned and Eleanor? Ned would need to be someone with an amount of vulnerability – Sean Bean wouldn’t be right for it. Eleanor would be someone like the woman in Kill Bill – Uma Thurman?
Do you know how the book is going to end when you start it? Usually, yes. I wrote the end of Feud before writing the middle. With the 2nd and 3rd books yes. With the 4th I knew there was going to be an almighty clash, but didn’t know who would go – I was going to do a Butch & Sundance thing where everyone but 1 died, but decided that was less plausible. I hope the ending came across plausible.
Did you change any of your characters halfway through? With my 3 main characters – the 3 siblings – I had a clear idea of what they would be like at the beginning and where they were going. But I did change Robert. At one point he could be viewed as an out-and-out villain, but he was more complex in book 4. Normally I don’t change whether or not they are essentially good or bad.
What’s Next?I wanted to do something like Dumas did with the Musketeers sequel, you know, Twenty Years After. So the next series is set 12 years after, in 1482/3. Some characters from the 1st series will be in it. I’ve only written 10,000 words so far, so its in the very early stages. It will be a series, but it may go on for a while. I have learnt from writing the first series, the first of the new series will be written as a stand alone, with few or no loose ends.
A big thank you to Derek Birks for answering our questions.
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Derek Birks‘ ‘Rebels & Brothers’ series of 4 novels is a tour de force in Wars of the Roses fiction.
Many books claim to be ‘in the best tradition of Bernard Cornwell’ or ‘a worthy successor to Cornwell’. But very few live up to such promise. however, when I read Derek Birks’ debut novel I thought that, just maybe, I had found one that lived up to such high praise. By the 2nd book I knew the praise was well-deserved.
The Rebels & Brothers series grabs you on the 1st page and keeps you hooked until the very end. And yet they leave you bereft once you have finished, as you know you are not going to read another book as good anytime soon.
The books interweave the personal stories of the Elder family with the wider political and martial drama of the Wars of the Roses. We follow the 3 Elder siblings, Ned, Eleanor and Emma, as they try to negotiate a safe passage through the war, whilst battling a family feud and making enemies at the highest levels of society.
Feud: In 1459, as England stands on the brink of the Wars of the Roses, Ned Elder, a Yorkshire knight, finds himself caught up in the wars when his family is brutally attacked by a local rival, Lord Radcliffe. Ned’s sisters, Emma and Eleanor, are abducted and he must find a way to rescue them. With only a few loyal companions, Ned is hounded across the land by the Radcliffes. Ned and his sisters fight back, but they are young and they make mistakes – and new enemies – along the way. All will be decided on the snowy battlefield of Towton – for Ned and for England.
A Traitor’s Fate opens in 1464. The feud with the Radcliffes is over and the Elder siblings have won a hard-fought peace. But one man can’t accept the outcome and finds a new ally to help him achieve his revenge.
Ned is sent to confront a Lancastrian revolt by the new king, Edward of York, he finds his enemies are on his own side, as well as that of the rebels. Branded a traitor by his own commander, the Earl of Warwick, Ned is soon a wanted man in hostile territory and the price on his head only rises when he stumbles upon a royal secret.
Meanwhile, Eleanor and Emma watch over Ned’s pregnant wife, Amelie, with only a small garrison of old men and boys to protect them.
A condemned man, Ned fights to escape his pursuers before his whole family suffers destruction.
Having read Feud I was expecting great things from the 2nd book – and it did not disappoint. The story is told in great detail, the action is fast-paced and the characters elicit a great deal of sympathy and empathy. A Traitor’s Fate is one of those increasingly rare stories which are impossible to put down – and yet, at the same time as you can’t wait to get to the end, you don’t want it to finish.
Book 3 of the series, Kingdom of Rebels, takes you on a journey through one of the most turbulent periods of the reign of Edward IV, through the eyes of this one Yorkshire family trying to survive the feuds and battles of the Wars of the Roses, whilst simultaneously trying not to destroy each other. It is impossible not to feel invested in the characters – they are flawed and damaged, but trying their best to survive and you find yourself willing them on.
The story sees Ned Elder exiled to Burgundy by the Earl of Warwick, but for his enemies this is still not enough. At the same time, but far away on the Scottish border, Ned’s sister Eleanor defends the small, beleaguered fortress of Crag Tower; with only a handful of men, she desperately awaits Ned’s return.
Set against the backdrop of a nervous kingdom, where its 2 most powerful men – Edward IV and the Earl of Warwick – are at loggerheads, Ned must fight – yet again – to save his family.
One by one Ned’s family and friends are caught up in Warwick’s web of treason. The fate of the Elders and those who serve them lies once more in the balance as all are drawn back to Yorkshire where they face old enemies once more.
TheLast Shroud sees Ned Elder caught in the middle of Warwick’s rebellion against Edward IV. The king has enemies on all sides and flees to the Low Countries, leaving his few loyal retainers to keep their heads down until his return; when they must take up their swords for one last campaign…
But is Ned the warrior he once was? As the kingdom spirals into civil war, divisions between Ned and his sisters, Emma and Eleanor, threaten the family’s very survival. Out of the turmoil of rebellion steps an old enemy who offers to help, but can he be trusted?
Will the Elder family stand together when it matters most? They must, if they are to survive.
With The Last Shroud, the Elder family story comes to an end – and what an ending!
It has been a rollercoaster ride through the Kingdoms & Brothers series and this book is no exception. Following Ned and the rest of the Elders through the Warwick Rebellion against Edward IV and culminating with the Battle of Tewkesbury, the family fights to survive, mending some – but not all – bridges along the way, and still making new enemies.
As ever, the story telling is fast-paced and masterful, and the finale frenetic. A worthy final chapter to what has been a magnificent series.
There are several themes running through all 4 books.
The Elders face many enemies, and some change from book to book. But one enemy stays the same: the powerful Earl of Warwick. Offended by a young Ned at the Battle of St Albans, Warwick takes every opportunity to try to bring Ned down – and ruin his family. Using the feud with the Radcliffes he encourages and aids Ned’s numerous enemies in their endeavours.
Set in one of the most turbulent periods of Medieval history, the battle scenes are vivid, hectic and alive with action. The family doesn’t survive unscathed and it is the losses and hardships they suffer, and how they react to them, that makes them such sympathetic and likeable characters.
A great feature of the stories are the strong, independent women. They don’t just sit at home, sewing in the solar and waiting for their men to come home. They are not victims, nor powerless. They are fighters, women who take what life throws at them and battle on. But they find romance too, and face the trials and tribulations of love just as stoically as they do their enemies.
Derek Birks follows the historical story of the Wars of the Roses with great accuracy, dropping Ned and his family into the well-known events wherever they can cause the most drama, or see the most action. The Elders are present at all the key events, from the opening shots at the 1st Battle of St Albans, to the Yorkist victory at Tewkesbury.
To put it succinctly, this series is edge-of-your-seat action from start to end, leaving you breathless in your armchair. Believe me, you don’t want to miss a moment.