Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Support Group of Historical People Inordinately Praised in Modern Day Books

Another support meeting, based on an idea by Kathryn Warner. The Support Group of Historical People Inordinately Praised in Modern Day Books. It´s about both novels and non-fiction books, and while of course everyone has different favourites, it has occured to me that in many cases, inordinate praise has a lot of unfortunate implications. So here is this rather sarcastic blog post.

(This does not mean that any of the people here didn`t have amazing qualities as well. It just means that they, in a certain sort of book, are portrayed as too good to be true and their bad actions are either ignored or explained as not actually bad.)


Henry V: “Hello everyone, to the Support Group of Historical People Inordinately Praised in Modern Day Books. I will be your chairman for this meeting. Who else would it be; as many books will reliably tell you, I am a born ruler and leader, just downright brilliant at it. Yes, you sometimes need to commit a little war crime or two, but that doesn`t really mean I can`t be praised for a “strong moral compass” despite this, does it? After all, it was for the greater good, me becoming King of France. Which would have been an excellent thing, because after all, their actual king at the time I attacked was mentally ill, and therefore he can be dismissed and mocked. 

Henry VII: Hello there! It´s your wife`s grandson. Thanks for letting me join the meeting, although I admit I wasn`t sure if I should attend this one or the one for Historical People Terribly Maligned in Historical Fiction. I`m both; novels portray me as the next thing to a vampire, even drinking blood. But modern day non-fiction will tell you that this is complete nonsense, which of course it is, and that I was Practically Perfect In Every Way. I mean, not that I don`t agree, but some of the things I have been praised for even I did not realise were actually acts of kindness by me. When I imprisoned Thomas Howard and demoted him to Earl of Surrey, rather than letting him inherit the dukedom of Norfolk from his father, simply for not committing treason for me, I thought it was a ruthless but necessary action. But thanks to modern history books, I know now that it was perfectly fine and in fact a special kindness by me to release him after three years and allow him to be at court again. And I`m pleased many modern people realise that me first attempting, then succeeding at invading a country that had been at peace for a decade, killing the sitting king and thereby causing another battle less than two years later, and a number of rebellions as well, actually counts as ending a civil war. I said so all along, but my contemporaries tended to be so stroppy and picky about it, murmuring something about it being re-starting a war. 

Edward III: War is just amazing, don`t you see? If you successfully won some battles, history books will be much more ready to insist you were such a great amazing wonderful king or general than they would if you just changed some boring laws to protect some boring people. Look at me - I`m brilliant! Have always been told so. Who cares about me hanging a ten-year-old to convince his father to do what I wanted; it`s a bit mean, yes, but also clearly it`s the ruthlessness needed to be a good leader and as such actually praiseworthy. Plus, we`re all straight, so that helps too. Who cares you used your wife Catherine to disinherit her brother, my dear friend Henry V? It will still be gushed over as a great romance, and you a great prize for her. As is my marriage to Philippa. I loved her, but that`s actually irrelevant. Instead we`re just assured that she loved me. Isn`t it amazing how just being straight can get you praised. My poor father just didn`t get that. 

Henry VII: I loved my wife Elizabeth, too, and our marriage has been praised as the best thing ever. Although I must say, I also couldn't help but noticing that her cousin John, Earl of Lincoln, had a rather shapely bum. 

Edward III: Hush! Don`t say it! 

Henry V: We`re all very straight here. It makes us wonderful people.

Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March: Talking about straight romance? Time for me to butt in, as apparently, I was England`s greatest love machine, the perfect guy to give poor victimised Queen Isabella some good manly loving and save England from all the terribly gayness by deposing Edward II, who was bad because he was gay, and also totally didn`t have an illegitimate child. My wonderful loving relationship with Isabella that is absolutely factually true and not at all invented makes it obvious all I ever did was good. Because after all, it is all that needs to be known about me; such details as me imprisoning children because the city of Chester rebelled against me or throwing doubts on my cousin`s parentage to steal his inheritance, among other similar details, are utterly irrelevant and are not needed to form a complete picture of me. And that bit with me forcing three of Hugh Despenser`s little daughters to become nuns is also irrelevant, because after all, their father was King Edward II`s lover and as such, it was really a good thing to do. After all, I only did it as Queen Isabella`s adoring lover, whom I definitely, 100 percent, was, so who could question it was done for the best of everyone?

Queen Isabella, Consort of Edward II: We were just the hottest and best couple to ever absolutely doubtlessly be a couple, a couple who could do not wrong at all. My wonderful heterosexual reign in my son`s name was just what England was waiting for, wanted desperately, and many many modern books about me will tell you so. How could anyone think a primary source actually said that England began to hate me when I was ruling? Why should they? Certainly not because I spent such a lot of money that when my son finally took power from me, his treasury was almost empty? Or because I took a honking great deal of money from Robert the Bruce to make peace? Why should anyone think that a bad thing?

Edward III: Perhaps, mother dearest, because I never saw a penny of it?

Queen Isabella: Shush, son, mummy is speaking! 

Anne Neville: Like Henry VII, I was not sure if I should attend this meeting or another one - in my case the Meeting for Women Constantly Reduced To Helpless Victims in Historical Fiction. I actually chair that one! But it ended early, so I could come here, to tell you all what a wonderful person I am for surviving an arranged marriage. Obviously, not falling over dead from having to follow customs is a massive achievement and very praiseworthy. As is bearing my coronation without complaint. And generally existing. I`m pretty great not for anything I have done, or not done, simply for existing. I`ve been praised for my husband leaving the rule of his lands to me over our son when he was Duke of Gloucester, and I am sure that must have happened and I was amazing and brilliant for it. Who really needs such a thing as evidence this ever happened. 

Katherine Swynford: Evidence is for losers. Hello, everyone. Are you bowled over by my beauty yet? I am the most beautiful woman to ever exist. Helen of Troy hides behind me. At least so many modern novels say, with absolute conviction, and they have convinced many people this is the truth, so really, it must be the truth. I am so beautiful, and my extremely beautiful beauty also makes me a good person. Obviously. I`m much better than my lover`s wife. Who isn`t beautiful. I`m also kind, as evidenced by my very existence. My beauty and kindness are dazzling. Have I mentioned I am beautiful? And kind. But mostly beautiful. So therefore me sleeping with a married man is really nothing terrible and there is no reason at all to be funny about it or point out that my studmuffin even had a wife, except perhaps to point out she was nowhere near as appealing and kind and beautiful as I am. 

Edward IV: So lovely to meet you, great-grandmother dearest. I too am very very beautiful. I was called the most beautiful prince in Christendom, and the fact that the same was said, by the same person who said it about me, about Maximilian I in my life time is utterly insignificant. I am a very beautiful, golden hunk of a man who just had to kill Henry VI, and anyway you should blame my brother for it. Or possibly my wife`s brother. I might only a bit have been involved but I was really sad about it, so it doesn't change that I was a great wonderful hunk of a perfect king. I was jovial and liked a party and women loved me, so don`t pay any attention to that nasty little rumour I passed on discarded mistresses to my courtiers against the women`s will. You will read almost nothing that pays any attention to it. Or to the fact that I gave my sister Elizabeth and my brother-in-law John the wardship of an orphaned teenager and then punished them for trying to help the boy regain his possessions. And that bit where I married my aged aunt to my wife`s brother so he would inherit when she died is really my wife`s fault, not mine. I`m a wonderful golden giant of a handsome hunk. Everyone says so! 

Henry V: I suppose we can only congratulate ourselves and each other for being such perfect wonderful human beings. It`s hard to be as amazing as we are, isn`t it? So much wonderful humanity in one room. We should break up this meeting and celebrate. The meeting is hereby closed. 

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Support Meeting Of Women Constantly Reduced To Helpless Victims In Historical Fiction

This blog post was inspired by Kathryn Warner`s fabulous Support Group for People Unfairly Maligned in Historical Fiction. While I have often been complaining about a certain sort of historical fiction featuring Francis, especially that a lot of this fiction does not even seem particularly interested in him, I have also noticed that the female characters are very often reduced to victims if they are meant to be sympathetic. 
It goes without saying that this is creepy in all sorts of ways, and very often extremely sexist, so this post was born. 


Anne Neville: “Hello everyone. I`m Anne Neville, or Queen Anne if you want, and I will chair this meeting of the Support Group for Women Constantly Reduced to Nothing but Victims. If you don`t mind, let me start. I was the second daughter and co-heiress of one of the richest men in England in the fifteenth century. My father, the Earl of Warwick, was also one of the most important men in the kingdom, and when he seemed likely to lose that power and King Edward IV would not allow him to marry me and my sister to his brothers, he rebelled. He married me to Henry VI`s only son, intending to make me a queen. When that eventually failed, I chose to marry King Edward IV`s youngest brother and eventually became queen after all. I thought I was quite successful at life, but modern day novelists clearly think I was the greatest victim imaginable. What haven`t I been all called a victim for: of my father`s, for him arranging a marriage for me. A marriage to make me queen, no less, but still I have been called a “pawn“ for it, and one famous novel literally says “damn Warwick for what he had done to her“. As if I was too stupid to understand customs and that I had to fulfill them like everyone! 

My first husband, Edward, has also been claimed to have victimised me. Just because someone invented that he stated at the age of seven that two traitors should be beheaded. To be honest, I like a bit of a ruthless streak in a man! How else would he succeed at court and give me the position owed to me? But poor Edward did not say that anyway. 

My brother-in-law George, Duke of Clarence has also often been claimed to have victimised me, supposedly even hiding me away so I would not marry. That story does not even make sense, but it is claimed to be true because he did not want me to marry his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester. I damn well hope he did not, because it meant he would not get money that was owed to me! But apparently it makes for a better story if I don`t care for money and just want to marry for purest love. Because I just happened to fall in pure love with a prince, the only one to be able to act in my interest against Clarence. Right.

Look for someone else to make a victim of! 

Eleanor of Aquitaine: I feel your pain, Anne. I have been portrayed as a helpless victim as well several times, by authors who apparently felt they could not justify my actions otherwise. I`m telling you, you did not need to be victimised by my husband Henry II to rebel against him! His pure presence is enough to make me mad! But novelists somehow think I am more sympathetic if they insist he raped me to conceive our last son, John. As if! He was much less annoying in bed than out of bed, so really, I was glad to have him there. It`s the only area where I miss him – but I digress. Novelists have also decided that I was a victim of Thomas Becket. Of Thomas! Like Henry, he could be a bit hard to bear, but he was also one of the few who dared contradicting him, together with me, so really I was glad for his presence. Honestly, what am I, thirteen? Jealous that my boyfriend has friends and doesn't focus on me? And that time he greeted foreign visitors instead of me, that novelists use as evidence he somehow usurped me? I was in confinement! Just preparing to give birth! I could not have received them; he was substituting for me. Honestly. How is that so hard? Nor did he steal my oldest son`s love. What do these novels expect, I would have rather handed young Henry to a household with someone he hated?

And no, I also did not rebel against Henry because he cheated on me with Rosamund. I knew he cheated, and guess what? I did not care. I even saw to it that some of his illegitimate children were raised together with mine. I thought they could be a calming influence. I should have guessed that would not work. After all, they were all Henry`s … but different story. Point being, I was not victimised by anyone. And do not get me started on that novel in which poor hapless Louis, my first husband, sexually abuses me. That is really too weird to even address.

Isabel Neville: Hello, sister dearest, hello Eleanor. I hope I can join in this meeting, given that I have been made a victim of my husband George with an alarming frequency in novels. This, as I am sure you will guess if not know, is based on absolutely nothing by way of evidence. George and I were quite happy actually. I mean, I even chose to side with him rather than my father when George decided to go against him, and there is no way he could have forced me in any way. 

This, by the way, does not mean that my father in any way abused me, though that has sometimes been claimed as well. Apparently, it was abusive of him to marry me to George, rather than let me decide for myself whom I want to marry. Because apparently, like my sister, I was just too stupid to understand that customs that counted for everyone like me also applied to me. Some novels even manage to make me a victim of both my poor father and my husband, saying that my father married me to George despite knowing what he was like. Weirdly enough, I have never seen anyone call my grandfather Richard Beauchamp abusive for marrying my mother to my father when daddy was by far too young to guess “what he was like”. Or Richard, Duke of York, for marrying his own daughter Anne to Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, who really was a sleaze. It's always just my father who gets the abusive edit for marrying me to George, and Anne to Edward, and that even though they were perfectly good marriages. But I immediately stop being a victim the moment my father died and Anne became a member of my and George`s household. Then I am suddenly haughty and mean to Anne. The need to see Anne victimised apparently trumps the need to see me victimised. It`s weird. 

Isabella of France: I know just how you feel. I have been victimised for absolutely everything in my life, unless it`s something modern novels see as “badass”, in which case I suddenly stop being a victim and I`m instead a strong, empowered woman. But this is not in any way consistent - I apparently switched back to being a victim at a moment`s notice. 

Do I really need to tell you that this is untrue? I was not a victim of my husband Edward II, and honestly it`s creepy to see it written that he should have focused more on me and less on his boyfriend Piers when I first became his wife. I was twelve! In what universe does my husband not being sexually and romantically interested in me when I was twelve make me a victim? Nor was I a victim of my husband loving Piers when I was old enough to be Edward`s wife in more than name. Just between us, I quite liked Piers - I even gave him money once. He was hilarious and charming, and Edward was always so happy when he was around. Nor did he ignore our children, thereby making me terribly miserable and victimising me. Wouldn't our kids be more the victim in that case anyway? But really, Edward was a good father, and we were perfectly happy for quite long; it was only when that terrible man Despenser turned up that things turned sour. But as much as I hated Despenser - and trust me, I hated him. I wouldn`t have put anything past him - he did not rape me. Why does everything always have to be reduced to rape anyway? Like Eleanor rebelling against her husband - why does rape have to be the motivation? As if, because we`re women, we`re not able to have any political thoughts unless we have been sexually assaulted?   

Anne Neville: I know what you mean! Apart from my poor first husband Edward, I have been claimed in novels to have been molested by a lot of random men. William Stanley, for example, for … no real reason I can discern. Another novel has my brother-in-law Edward IV leer at me and openly contemplate if he wants to rape me to pay back my father for rebelling against him. I`m just … speechless, really. But in my case, these novels always use these invented sexual assaults to explain why I have no interest whatsoever in politics. I know I kept fairly low profile, but this was just because I was perfectly happy doing that, not because my lack of political interest was due to sexual assault.

Elizabeth of York: Oh no, Anne, a lot of these novels reducing us to victims do not make all our political motivations, or lack thereof, based on sexual assault. Other sexual motivations such as rejections or simple desires also figure in. For example, I have been claimed to have been a victim of being rejected by my uncle, and therefore wanted to see him overthrown. Sexually rejected by my uncle! That one has actually even been claimed by something that said it was non-fiction. I mean, honestly. I was not actually a victim of my uncle, either, though. Yes, I didn't like he said I was a bastard, and no, I`m not going to discuss the truth or lack thereof now. This is beneath me! But honestly, though I did not like it, I did not sit around helplessly, wondering how such a thing could possibly happen. I was only four when my godfather, my father`s cousin, went against my father and overthrew him for half a year. I was aware of how dangerous politics could be from a very young age, and I had quite a good time at my uncle Richard`s court. He was going to marry me to a Portugese royal duke. But nor was I a terrible victim for my uncle being overthrown. After all, that meant that I became queen, and I was fond of my husband Henry. He could be a bit tight with the money; but I just went and bought what I wanted on loan. It was an annoyance, sure, but I can`t say I really felt victimised. In fact, most of what has been used to victimise me in novels was really not more than an annoyance. My sometimes a bit overbearing mother-in-law, for example. She could be a bit much, but nor did she make me sit around in the cold, only giving me fire wood when I was pregnant, as one novel has it. As if I spent my time just sitting around being a victim!

Anne Neville: Don`t you know that your whole life was shaped by you watching me being adored by my husband? At least, I know three novels that say so, and I am sure there are more I can`t think off, from the top of my head. 

Elizabeth of York: … oh please. 

Katherine Swynford: Hello, ladies. I don`t know if I am happy to see I am not alone in being victimised by random people, or be depressed it seems to be so wide-spread. Like for you, Anne, there is a very influential novel that insists that my first husband, Hugh, was a terrible person, who raped me and from whom I was eventually saved by my second husband. It`s insulting, really. Hugh was a perfectly good man, and he was the father of several of my children. And yes, I really did come to love my second husband, John, son of Edward III. I wouldn't have agreed to become his mistress if I had not. But it`s really selling me short to portray me as a damsel rescued by him and not having anything but purest love on my mind when finally starting a relationship with him. I mean, what kind of idiot do you have to be not to realise both the advantages and the disadvantages of becoming the mistress of a prince? I`m also sometimes claimed to have been the victim of my first mother-in-law, for reasons I have yet to fathom, and of pretty much every man I ever encountered. Apparently, all of them desperately desired me and knowing they could never have me, all of them wanted to rape me. You`d think at least most of these men would have better things to do with their time than lecherously lust after me! 

Anne Neville: Thank you all for coming, ladies! Until our next meeting, by which time I hope we`re all seen less as helpless victims and more as interesting people in our own right. Good evening, you all! 

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

The skeleton at Minster Lovell Hall

 A subject that often comes up, when discussing Francis`s fate after the Battle of Stoke, is that of a supposed skeleton find at Minster Lovell Hall. This find is meant to have happened in 1708: workmen are supposed to have found an underground chamber at the manor and, upon opening it, seen a skeleton in fine clothing sitting at a desk. Sadly, however, before anyone could examine the skeleton, or whatever papers where lying on the desk, both the human remains and the papers crumbled to dust.

The main reason why this legend has often been taken as evidence of Francis having gone back to his ancestral manor and died there is Francis Bacon`s statement that there were rumours that after the Battle of Stoke, Francis lived "in a vault or cave" for a long time. 

Sadly, while it makes a good story, it is rather unlikely, for a number of reasons. Francis did not spend a lot of time at Minster Lovell Hall during his life, and we know most of his friends and associates were in the north of the country, so that it is unlikely he would return to an unloved manor to hide. Moreover, the story clearly gears towards an end, the point always being that Francis went there and died. However, this would hardly have been the plan a rebel fugitive had at the time, and if it was simply about hiding, any number of other places offered a better and more luxurious option. 

Even leaving all such considerations aside, which rely a lot on guessing people`s motivations, there are simple physics that contradict this tale, most notably that skeletons do not simply crumble to dust after two hundred years. The legend always claims this happened upon the skeleton being exposed to air, but logically, there would have been air to breathe in any underground chamber, for Francis to have lived there for years and not have suffocated within minutes, and thus also air to which his skeleton was exposed. Furthermore, Minster Lovell Hall is situated directly next to the river Windrush, which makes it unlikely there were any underground chambers, unless of course they were built with the intention of them being too wet to ever use.

Therefore, the story is sadly unlikely. However, the story of there being a skeleton at Minster Lovell Hall, even an ass of yet undiscovered one, still exist, and of course, it is possible. Minster Lovell and its manor have a long history, and skeletons have been found in many structures. If a skeleton is found at Minster Lovell Hall and actually is found to date to the 15th century, there is someone who it is, in my opinion, much more likely to have been that Francis: Francis`s thoroughly unloved father, John Lovell, 8th Baron Lovell.

Of course, for him as much as for Francis, all the problems about underground chambers and inexplicably crumbling skeletons hold true, and the most likely thing to have happened was that he died - under somewhat mysterious circumstances - at the age of 31, was buried either in his father`s tomb in the church of St Kenelm`s next to his ancestral manor or in an unmarked tomb in the church, and then forgotten as much as possible by his family. 

However, it is notable that there are some irregularities about his death: said to have happened on 9th January 1465, it was only confirmed on 14th January 1465. Though this could have been simply slowness by clerks, or difficulties of travelling in winter, which explains why his Diem Clausit Extremum was issued later after his death than that of his ancestors, it is notable that there was confusion when exactly he died. While it was officially given as 9th January, some documents actually claim it was 14th - the day it was recorded.

Moreover, it seems as if his death was sudden and unexpected. Again, in itself, this is nothing particularly strange - there was any number of accidents or illnesses which could have killed him unexpectedly, without any warning, even if he was perfectly healthy beforehand. 

There isn`t much of a case to be made, really, though we know John Lovell was extremely unpopular, to the point of his own father, William, refusing to name him or identify him as son in his will and his son, Francis, refusing to have prayers said for him - to say nothing of his father-in-law speaking about his daughter being married to him "to the fury of God". We know he died at Minster Lovell, and we know he died suddenly. That`s it. The coroner rolls for that time and that place sadly no longer survive (though they survive for the City of Oxford and are very interesting), so that we have no indication whether or not his death was considered suspicious or if there were any suspicious circumstances surrounding it. Most likely, it would have been recorded if a nobleman died in his own manor and his body was not found, but of course, there would have been ways to make it seem somewhat plausible. 

All that said, I consider it almost certain that John Lovell was buried somewhere in St Kenelm`s church and neither his wife, mother nor children could ever be bothered to put a marker on his tomb. I`m just saying that if there is a skeleton found, of a man of around 30 years, closely related to the man lying in William Lovell`s tomb - I wouldn`t exactly bury him under Francis`s name. 

I wouldn`t be responsible for any hauntings. 

Sunday, 11 April 2021

"The Last Daughter" by Nicola Cornick

It is something of a clichee that it is easier to write a scathing review than a glowing one. 

If so, I would be in trouble, because "The Last Daughter" by Nicola Cornick, which will be published on 8 July, is a great book, about which I can only gush. 

Like Cornick`s other books, this novel is a timeslip novel, with dual story lines - one taking place in the 15th century and following the life of Anne Lovell, wife of Francis, and the other taking place in modern day England, following the original character Serena. 

Serena`s story is somewhat more complicated than Anne`s. While Anne`s story starts with her, age just five in 1465, being told her uncle has decided she is to marry the king`s ward, 8-year-old Francis Lovell, and then follows her through several important events of her life as baroness, as Francis`s wife, as a 15th century noblewoman, Serena`s story starts more tragically: a young woman at the end of her twenties, who, in her own words, runs "a bespoke historical tours company", she has lost her twin Caitlin when Caitlin vanished as a teenager. As the story begins, Caitlin`s body has just been found near Minster Lovell Hall, close to where she disappeared ten years before the story starts. Serena, who has often spent time in her grandparents` house near the manor as a teen, returns to the village to find out what happened to her sister. As she does so, she not only finds out that there are some very strange circumstances surrounding her sister`s death and burial, she also reconnects with old friends, in particular her old crush Jack, and finds out more about her own background than she bargained for when returning to Minster Lovell.

The thread tying the stories of Anne and Serena together - apart from a spoiler, which I will not give away in this review - is, in fact, the Legend of Mistletoe Bough, which is given a rather unexpected twist in this book, a twist that affects the lives of both Anne and Serena. For most of the book, the effect of this legend and this storyline on Serena seems more significant than on Anne, though at the end, it becomes clear that Anne is just as affected by it. 

Since giving away more would be giving away key elements of the plot, I will instead simply say that it is a quite interesting storyline, and that the modern story surrounding Serena and the dashing Jack was an interesting one, and the characters sympathetic and relatable - no mean feat, seeing as how they had to vie for my attention with the storyline surrounding Anne and Francis. 

This storyline is, of course, what attracted me most to this book, what was my main interest. Without beating around the bush: it was the very best portrayal of Anne Lovell I have ever seen anywhere. Respectful, engaging and relatable without giving her any 21st century traits to make her more attractive to the reader, this Anne shines, and she shines in a way close to what evidence suggests. 

Anne`s story, narrated by her as an adult but starting in her childhood, was naturally familiar to me, but even so, the twists Cornick wove into it managed to surprise me. Her Anne is a curious child, who retains her curiosity into adulthood. She`s very loving and adores her husband, who loves her too, but she is also very stubborn. This combination of characteristics drives one twist in Anne`s story - and it is used to explain why Anne, unlike her mother and sister Elizabeth, did not choose to become Queen Anne Neville`s lady-in-waiting. Personally, I think that the most likely explanation is that she simply did not like Queen Anne, but Cornick chooses a more dramatic explanation - one that works very well in the story. I`m mentioning this to point out that even in instances when the narrative chooses a different conclusion to the one I come to, it worked well to engage me, and I do not simply praise this book because it echoed all my views. 

The side characters are equally well-drawn as Anne is. Of particular note is Alice FitzHugh, Anne`s mother, who is a powerful if somewhat stern woman, who is all too aware of her important ancestry and struggles to bond with her headstrong daughter, though their relationship thaws somewhat when Anne realises her own similarity in many ways to her mother, particularly their shared stubbornness. It never becomes quite as warm as Anne`s relationship to her adored father, though, whose role in this book, as indeed in Anne`s real life, is sadly short. 

Joan Lovell, whose part is equally regrettably short, is described, even as a child, as having "a brisk air of organisation" as well as a "slightly protective way she spoke about her brother" with, both touches I loved. Frideswide is intelligent and self-confident, which also seems very close to what evidence suggests.

And then, of course, there is my leading man himself. Francis. Anne`s adored husband. I will admit, I was slightly afraid that as the obvious love interest of one of the novel`s protagonists, he might be suffering a bit from what I call the Male Hero Protagonist syndrome - being too streamlined, too heroic, too flawless. I need not have worried; Cornick is too good a writer for this. Though he is the best of men in Anne`s eyes, he does have flaws, and he does have weaknesses. One touch about his characterisation I especially liked was that for all his dealing with the highest and mightiest of the realm, he was essentially an extremely private person, keeping his emotions close to his chest, and even Anne does not always know them. From what we know, this seems extremely realistic. 

It was easy to tell that this novel was immaculately researched, and there were only very minor mistakes; that really I only noticed because I can recite the facts about Anne and her family in my sleep. I don`t think anyone but me would care, or even notice, that Anne`s sister Alice is said in passing to have been younger than her sister Elizabeth - and even I can`t say that it bothered me much. The great research of the book was noticable and made the book even more enjoyable for me. 

Some of the things I enjoyed most about this book were 

(1) that in her part of the story, it was Anne`s story. It was not her story but busy comparing her to another woman. She was the heroine. (Worth of note, looking at pretty much all other portrayals of Anne Lovell, ever, was that her cousin Anne Neville did not even really turn up. She was mentioned once or twice, as naturally she would be, but that was it. For once, she did not steal all of Anne`s storyline and thunder.) 

(2) that Anne did not showcast any 21st century values, describing herself as a pawn who wants to marry for love, or any of these clichees. She knows what life is like, and she doesn`t think it very strange. 

(3) the ending with Anne and Francis. No spoilers, but that was very touching, and makes me wish that it would/could have ended like that. 

(4) though Anne does not have any children, there is no huge fuss made about that. She would love to have children, and this becomes a plotpoint, but there is no huge row made about it, it does not serve as a "but" to her and Francis`s marital happiness, and is not used to make her lesser. 

Finally, mostly to be utterly honest and complete, here are some tiny points of criticism: 

(1) The book is not long enough! I need more information on everyone - the dashing Jack in the modern part of the story, the tactless and understandably frustrated Inspector Litton (who I don`t think was meant to become an Ensemble Darkhorse but for me, absolutely did - I could understand her!), and Rebecca Shaw and Mr Anstruther. In the 15th century storyline, I would have loved to see more of Joan and Frideswide Lovell, to meet Richard FitzHugh, Anne`s brother to whom she was very close, her sister Elizabeth - everyone. I`d also have liked if the one miscarriage we have evidence Anne suffered had been mentioned, as surely it affected her. 

(2) Francis was, in my opinion, somewhat too political before Richard III`s accession. It works very well in the context of the story, but ... well. I did say I would bring up some tiny points of criticism, and this is one. Francis was, even as Lord Chamberlain, pretty unpolitical. 

And finally, the only thing I would say actually did slightly bother me, more than just me taking a note because I noticed something. It was nowhere near enough to spoil my enjoyment, but it is my only actual serious point of criticism:

(3) Edward Franke`s actions in 1488, concerning Anne Lovell, are ignored. 

However, all in all, I can only say I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It is the only book featuring Anne and Francis Lovell prominently which I can absolutely, unreservedly recommend, and I do hope it does fabulously well and everyone buys it and meets the amazing Anne Lovell. 

Friday, 2 April 2021

Upcoming books

 Hello everyone!

This blog has lain dormant for nearly one and a half years, but finally, I am starting it up again. 

Things have happened since my last post on here, but it has taken me until now to finally re-activate this blog. I`m apologising to everyone who likes reading it, if indeed anyone does. 

Though a lot has been going on in the world, and in my life, I am focusing on the positive here, and this will be the centre of this first post after a long time:

New books I have written, shall write, or am currently writing.

(1) A book on John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, and his son, the ever-so-creatively named John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. Brother-in-law and nephew respectively of Edward IV and Richard III, and guardian and foster brother (again, respectively) of Francis Lovell`s for some five years. The book has been provisionally titled "De la Pole, Father and Son: The Duke, the Earl and the Struggle for Power", and is going to be published by Amberley Publishing. There is no publication date yet, but I finished the manuscript in the summer of 2020, and Covid-19 allowing, it is meant to be published early next year.

(2) A book on Alice Chaucer, Countess of Salisbury and Duchess of Suffolk, mother and grandmother of John, Duke of Suffolk and John, Earl of Salisbury. A powerhouse in the early and mid-fifteenth century, a woman who was born a commoner and died a dowager duchess, who was close to a king and queen, who held political power and managed to come through the Wars of the Roses unscathed. A truly fascinating woman, living in a truly fascinating time. The provisional title for this book is "What is Better than a Good Woman? Alice Chaucer, Commoner and Yorkist Matriarch", and it, too, is going to be published by Amberley Publishing. I sent the finished manuscript to the publisher earlier this week, and presumably, the book will be published next year. 

(3) A book on mental health in late medieval England and France, and the many myths that have grown up around famous cases of men and women afflicted with mental illnesses at that time, their treatment and how such illnesses were viewed by their contemporaries. It is also going to explore the societal and religious implications of mental illnesses, and how these changed during the fourteenth and fifteenth century. Provisionally titled "Medieval Mental Health: Uncovering the Myths", this is the manuscript I finished in later September this year. It will probably be published in around a year, by Pen&Sword Books. 

(4) A book on the wardship system in medieval England, and the treatment of orphaned underaged heirs and heiresses. Though a fact of life for sadly very many rich and famous figures through the Middle Ages, it is a subject that has not really been examined in its own right. It will detail the advantages, but also the many pitfalls of the system, and use examples for the many weird, sad, odd and interesting things that could happen to an orphaned heir or heiress, whose wardship had fallen to the king or one of the king`s men - or women, for that matter. In fact, the part woman played in this system, of which they are often assumed to have been victims but not active players, will be a significant part of this book. Its title has provisionally been announced as "A History of Medieval Wardship: The Trials of Orphaned Noble Children", and the deadline for handing in the finished manuscript is 1 October 2022. Therefore, it will not be published before autumn 2023, also by Pen&Sword Books.

(5) A book on fertility, childbirth and all the many problems, theories and difficulties surrounding it during medieval times. This book is going to focus on the many, often conflicting, ideas of what caused infertility, how it was treated, how women who could not have children (be it because of any illness or problem they suffered from themselves, or due to some illness or problem their husband had) were treated, and how such (supposed) infertility could even have an effect on political issues. However, this is not going to be the only focus of the book. It will also discuss pregnancy, how it was regarded in medieval England, what remedies were suggested for any ailments or difficulties experienced during it, as well as childbirth and all the troubles that could arise during it, how they were anticipated, dealt with and often faced when they could not be avoided. Though the focus of it is going to be royal women such as Anne of Bohemia, for whom we naturally have much more evidence than for commoner women, there will be information about such less recorded women as well. Provisionally titled "Fertility, Pregnancy and Childbirth for Royal Women in the Middle Ages", the headline for handing in the finished manuscript is also 1 October 2022, and it will mostly likely be published around a year later by Pen&Sword Books. 

(6) A book on the FitzHugh family, their position in English medieval noble society and going into the careers and lives of the many interesting members of this family. It`ll lay a special focus on how this family could navigate the many pitfalls and difficulties of public life in the 14th and 15th century and manage to come out on top. The connections this family made by marriage will be examined, as well as their religious life and how this shaped society around them. Its provisional title is "The FitzHughs: The Barons of the North 1321-1513" and it is due on 1 November 2022, and will therefore most likely be published in the winter of 2023/4, by Amberley Publishing. 

(7) A book on medieval royal households, and how they were structured in England during the high and late Middle Ages. This book will examine the many interesting people who were involved in such an intimate way with various kings, what positions they were and how they could be used for political gain, as well as a tool to influence royal reputations. For this, a special focus will be laid on the households of Richard II and Henry IV, though others would naturally also be examined. Provisionally titled "Medieval Royal Households: Between Ambition and Service", it is due to be handed in on 2nd October 2023 and will probably be published around a year later, by Pen&Sword Books. 

(8) A book on William Stanley, the man widely known to have swung the Battle of Bosworth in Henry Tudor`s favour, and to have later been executed by him for treason. A man, for obvious reasons, better known to me as Francis Lovell`s stepfather. This book will examine all the political parts of his life he is famous for, and try to understand why he chose to take the actions he took. It will, however, also look at the less famous parts of his life, his quiet service under Edward IV, the support he initially gave Richard III and equally the relationship to his family, especially with his brother Thomas, with whom he is so often confused or lumped together. The book will also look at his private life, at the side of the man who married for love and was a doting father of three children. Its provisional title is "Medieval Kingmaker and Traitor", and the finished manuscript is due to be handed in by 1 March 2024. It will, therefore, not be published before 2025. 

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Joan Beaumont, Margaret Beaufort and historical notions of fertility

Since I started reading Dr Nicola Tallis`s fabulous new book on Margaret Beaufort, I have been thinking about Margaret, her extremely early pregnancy with the future Henry VII, as well as Francis`s mother Joan Beaumont and her similarly early pregnancies.

The trigger for all these thoughts, and for this article, was Tallis´s statement that though it is usually assumed that Margaret had no more children after Henry because her giving birth at only 13 years of age made her infertile, this is not actually proved, and there might have been other reasons for it.

Naturally, I have nothing to say against this statement. It`s indubitably true. There was no way, with the medicine known in the 15th century, to ascertain infertility, even less the cause of it, and so today, we can only guess about the issues that affected the men and women at the time. However, in the light of all this, the thoughts and opinions of people in the 15th century about fertility and extremely young births are interesting and very telling.

Famously, by law, the age of consent in the 15th century was 12 years for women and 14 years for men. It is sometimes assumed that because of this, sex at this very young age was common and accepted. This is not so; and though it was not punishable by law, society at large did not look kindly on such early consummation. [1] Margaret`s extreme youth when she became pregnant and her husband Edmund Tudor`s decision to consummate their marriage this early caused a lot of unfavourable comments in contemporary and early modern sources, and there is evidence she herself considered it far too early. Many years later, she would counsel her son Henry VII not to allow his daughter, her granddaughter Margaret, to be married too early, as it could "injure her health". Obviously, she had her own experiences in mind and did not consider these experiences as normal and expected.

Nor was Margaret a special case, who was commented on because of the high status she had and the even higher status she got in later life. Though her case was lesser known than Margaret Beaufort´s, for the simple reason than she was of somewhat lesser birth and status, her contemporary Joan Beaumont`s very early pregnancy was similarly regarded with disgust by those who knew of it.

Born two years before Margaret, Joan became pregnant at some point in late 1454 or early 1455, at the age of just 13. She was, therefore, only a few months older than Margaret was when she became pregnant. She gave birth either shortly before or - somewhat more likely - shortly after her fourteenth birthday, to a boy called John, after his father. Though this small boy`s birth did not cause the comments Henry Tudor`s birth did, Joan`s pregnancy was not greeted with joy by her relatives. Her father-in-law, already less than friendly towards his son, Joan`s husband John Lovell, in his will, added a codicil shortly before his death, by which time he must have known of his daughter-in-law`s pregnancy. In this codicil, John Lovell was all but disinherited, with his father making sure he would only receive a pittance of his large fortune, and almost nothing for nearly as long as it would take for Joan`s child to reach majority. It is hard not to see a show of his feelings about his then 22-year-old son`s actions in consummating his marriage with his barely teenaged wife in this, but Joan`s own father was to make his feelings even clearer. In his own will, written in 1456, by which time Joan, then 14, was already pregnant again, he left a small amount of money to his baby grandson, but stated that his daughter ("my daughter Lovell, my life") was "to the fury of God, wife of John my son". It is, therefore, quite clear that so early consummation was not something that was accepted and expected. Like Margaret advised for her granddaughter, with her own experiences in mind, it seems that Joan`s son, Francis Lovell, took his mother`s experiences to heart when contemplating marriages for his sisters. Both of them were only married after their sixteenth birthday - a clear sign that like Margaret, he didn`t want to take any chances.

However, there is an obvious difference in the cases of Margaret Beaufort and Joan Beaumont, which harks back to the original point of the cause of Henry Tudor remaining an only child. Though only a few months older than Margaret when she first gave birth, Joan remained very fertile. Within only a couple of months of her first birth, she was pregnant again, and the pregnancy was successful - doubly remarkable as this second pregnancy resulted in a twin birth, something that was even more dangerous at the time than a single birth. That Joan survived both those births, together with all three babies, and remained fertile even after this, giving birth twice more in the following ten years, could suggest that it was not Margaret`s extremely early pregnancy and birth that caused her apparent infertility after Henry`s birth.

However, it is sheerest guesswork, and does nothing more than perhaps throw a doubt on this assumption. We know far too little to say that these cases were so similar that such a comparison makes sense. It is entirely possible that despite being nearly Margaret`s age, Joan was taller and stronger than Margaret, who was said to be very small even in her adult years, and therefore able to recover better from the births. It´s also possible, and in the case of her second pregnany, even likely, that Joan went into labour somewhat prematurely, and giving birth to therefore smaller babies did less lasting damage. All of this is possible, none of it is verifiable, and cannot therefore be used to debunk or confirm the cause of Margaret`s infertility, and Joan`s continued fertility.

It is notable, however, that Margaret herself apparently seemed to think that her early pregnancy and birth had caused her infertility, or at the very least contributed to it, as can be seen in her statement that if her granddaughter was married too early it could "injure her health". This is particularly interesting in that while it obviously assumed it was because of her that her subsequent marriages after her first husband`s death had not produced any children, she saw her first husband´s actions in making her pregnant so early as at least partly responsible. In an age when infertility was almost always seen as the woman`s fault, this is certainly remarkable. That Margaret`s son and daughter-in-law apparently agreed, both supporting her point of view about this and their daughter`s marriage, suggests that the connection between too early births and infertility was at the very least seen as logical and a risk not worth taking - in addition to the very real and provable risk to a mother and child`s life in the case of a birth at too young an age.

Of course, what really caused Margaret`s infertility cannot be ascertained, but she herself, and her contemporaries, seemed to connect it with her experiences and her too early pregnancy and birth. Joan Beaumont was lucky in that she did not suffer those consequences, but she faced other perils. Her husband John Lovell, apparently an unsavoury character, did not seem to treat her well, even apart from forcing her to become pregnant so very early. Nor did he seem to treat his twin children well, with his relationship to his first son, John Lovell jr, who sadly died in childhood, unknown. With the birth of twins being in several legends seen as caused by a mother`s sexual appetites, in some cases even casting doubt on the twins` paternity, it might have given John Lovell ammunition for his bad treatment. All that can be said is that, through no consideration of his own, he definitely did not destroy his young wife`s fertility, while in the case of Edmund Tudor, he very well might have, and was at least contemporarily thought to be responsible for destroying Margaret Beaufort`s chance of having more children.

[1] In fact, most people only married in their twenties. It was only nobility who married so very young in the first place.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Stop treating Anne Lovell badly!

This is going to be another installment in something about which I have spoken before; my deep-seated problem with the horrible, historically inaccurate and very sexist way Anne Lovell is treated in fiction. Her portrayals in fiction are so nasty that the novels most friendly to her simply ignore her existence, while those in which she is mentioned seem to be vying for the best way to portray her as the most horrible person anyone has ever encountered, and the most horrible character in the entire novel. There are novels which are sympathetic to Richard which portray Anne Lovell with more vitriol than Henry Tudor.

Now, being all for historical accuracy, I don`t condone inventing any inaccurate portrayal of Henry Tudor, either. Of course, in a novel about Richard, he is by necessity not a sympathetic character, but there need to be no inventions for it. But it`s more than a bit weird that authors who choose to invent nasty qualities for characters would do so for the wife of Richard`s best friend rather than for someone who actually did something bad to Richard, in a novel sympathetic to him.

There are three ways in which Anne Lovell is treated in novels, and none of them is good.

(1) "Yesterday upon the stair, I met a girl who wasn`t there".*

This is the most wide-spread version in non-fiction, and in the more sympathetic fiction, as at least it doesn`t slander her. For non-fiction it is somewhat explicable, as even Francis is often barely mention. It is a missed opportunity, as it ignores Anne`s very likely participation in Francis`s rebellions, that she committed treason for him and was considered dangerous by Henry VII`s government, but it is only logical that such subjects will not be addressed in non-fiction which barely mentions Francis`s rebellions. (Or doesn`t mention one of them at all, as often happens with the 1486 rebellion). In fiction, it is somewhat more jarring, as in non-fiction it can at least be assumed he probably was married at some point, while fiction of that sort sometimes glosses it over so much even Francis never thinks about it. In some of these cases, he has affairs with or outright relationships with other women, without him, them, or anyone else ever thinking about his wife, or even the fact he had a wife, at all. For all intents and purposes in those novels, it is as if she never existed.

(2) "She wasn`t there again today. Oh how I wish she`d go away."

This is a more common take in fiction; of Anne Lovell who is mentioned in passing as being Francis`s wife, but whose existence then never influences the plot, Francis`s actions, or even his thoughts and feelings again. Usually, this is explained by casual mentions of Anne being horrible, but at least it isn`t expanded upon and her supposed horrible horribleness made a plot point. A typical example is one novel in which it is claimed that her mother would not let her live with Francis as man and wife. This baffling statement is never explained, and in the whole rest of the novel, Anne is only brought up occasionally to be quickly dismissed (at various points as "weepy", "limp" and similar adjectives) and provide an excuse why Francis can`t marry his OC mistress, the author obviously being angry her existence stopped such a plot development. Another typical novel has Francis bring her up shortly to say his marriage isn`t as good as the supposedly perfect one of Richard and Anne Neville, and she`s never mentioned again. 

(3) "And every tale condemns me for a villain."

This is the worst, and sadly the most wide-spread version of Anne Lovell in fiction: a horrible woman who has all the bad qualities the author can think of. Various novels have called her ugly in colourful (and massively sexist) language, have insisted she is "unlikeable", "one of those miserable creatures who is happiest when pulling another soul to pieces" and other completely far-fetched and historically inaccurate claims. (And to make this whole thing even worse, more often than not, such qualities are told, not shown, which makes it seem like an excuse by the other characters for their relentless bullying of Anne Lovell.) Fairly often, this also comes at the expense of actual facts about Anne. Many novels age her up so Francis can state at a time when she was twelve in real-life that his marriage has failed, even that it is "hell". One claim that is found especially often is that she is frigid and sexless, and/or that she is so horrible Francis can`t bring himself to consummate the marriage, to explain why she and Francis had no children, as if infertility was an invention of the 20th century. (See below.) Also found often is the claim that she is so very religious, which somehow makes her bad. It`s all absolutely nasty (and this doesn`t even go into the implications of a woman apparently being bad when she doesn`t want sex for some reason).

Now, all of this would be bad enough if this was all there was to Anne`s portrayal in fiction. But it is not, because a lot of these portrayals do not only try and fill gaps in our knowledge in the worst possible way for Anne and based on no evidence, a lot of them actually take things we do have evidence for and which show her in a very good light, and claim the opposite.

The most obvious example for this is her and Francis`s childlessness. The most obvious explanation for this would be that one or both of them were infertile, and that it had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of their marriage. With a fair bit of digging, however - or reading my book, which I just mentioned here to advertise it and which of course couldn`t be done until three months ago - it becomes clear that Francis somehow knew it was his fault they couldn`t have children (which, given the lack of exact knowledge about reproduction at the time, almost certainly means he and Anne had to stop having sex at some point, possibly because of sickness or trauma), that she wanted children and that he was very sorry about this. It is perhaps expecting too much of novelists to do that much digging about what is essentially a side-character, but it also means that when these novels portray their childlessness as caused by Anne being horrible, they take an issue that was obviously painful for her and her husband, that was caused by something nasty for Francis and during which Anne supported her husband and stood by him, and use it as evidence she was horrible.

It`s similar with her being so religious and therefore horrible. It is not only offensive in itself, as if religiosity was somehow inherently wrong, it not only imposes modern values on medieval characters, whose understanding of and attitude towards religion was completely different to ours, it takes a sign of Anne`s love and loyalty to her husband and somehow turns it into the opposite. At some point before December 1489, age just 29, Anne took a religious vow of some sort, which meant she would never be able to marry again. It came after years of Anne committing treason to find Francis, committing treason to help Francis`s rebellions, standing by him through difficult time and being known to be an influence on him, and therefore clearly meant she didn`t want to be married to anyone but Francis. This is not as hard to find out as the issue with fertility above, and yet, somehow, her effectively making it clear that she did not want any other husband but Francis, gets presented as proof she hated him and didn`t want to be married at all.

The bottom line of all this is, I`m really sick of Anne Lovell`s portrayal in fiction.

*Yes, I know, it`s "man who wasn`t there", but it made neat headlines for these two subsections of poor Anne`s treatment in fiction.